The UBC Entrepreneurs Behind A Tech Startup Using iPhones To Assess Athlete's Concussion
MBA graduate Kerry Costello co-founded HeadCheck
This month's Super Bowl served as a reminder of growing public concern over the damage concussion causes. Kerry Costello, a Vancouver entrepreneur, reckons she can help.
Co-founder and UBC PhD candidate Harrison Brown developed the tech. Kerry, who has worked in marketing at insurance group BCAA, brings the business acumen. The pair incubated on UBC’s Lean Launch Pad program.
HeadCheck features a balance scoring algorithm which takes the subjective grading out of the test. It incorporates gold-standard concussion assessment measures, used by organizations like FIFA, the NFL, and the NCAA.
It works with large universities and sports teams. But also seeks to help the recreational coaches and parents, who often don’t have the tools to identify concussion. Unlimited testing and tracking will cost $25 per athlete per year.
I understand the product traces its roots to the MBA class in tech entrepreneurship. How did the idea come about?
HeadCheck Health’s product came from one of my MBA classes called “Writing a business plan”. A master’s student from the School of Kinesiology had been given special permission to participate in the class so that he could learn how to commercialize his master’s thesis project — an objective, balance-scoring technology.
I love meeting people, so I introduced myself to the “new guy” in the classroom and offered to help him work on this project. His technology evolved into HeadCheck.
What is HeadCheck’s mission?
We are hoping to protect athletes who put everything, including themselves, on the line to achieve their goals. If we can protect them properly, we can reduce the 200,000 permanent brain injuries that occur each year as a result of returning to sport too soon after a concussion.
We are just starting to get mass adoption in understanding that concussion can have serious consequences.
Our head is like a raw egg: the yolk (brain) is suspended perfectly inside the shell (skull) by a thin layer of fluid. When you move at a rapid pace and then stop suddenly, the brain continues to accelerate inside your head only to be stopped by the skull, causing bruises and a reversible paralysis of the brain’s nervous function. In addition, you see a host of [other] effects, which could include: adverse physical and/or emotional symptoms like headaches and anxiety or depression, gaps in concentration or memory, and/or balance problems.
Can an algorithm really evaluate concussion better than a human?
The HeadCheck app features a balance scoring algorithm which takes the subjective grading out of the test.
When using the HeadCheck app, the sports doctors would put a wireless headband on an athlete and ask the athlete to perform the same test. The difference is that the athlete’s movements are collected by the headband and the data gets fed into an algorithm which scores the balance test for the team doctor.
This provides a much more reliable scoring method from athlete to athlete and has improved the accuracy to 91% — making HeadCheck best-in-class.
Who is your target market, and have you secured any clients?
We are working with universities and semi-professional hockey teams including UBC, the University of the Fraser Valley, the Victoria Royals, the Edmonton Oil Kings and another Canadian university. We have a number of teams on our waitlist, and are speaking with recreational sports leagues, physios and doctors.
All of the work we are doing now is helping us evolve our product so that we can help the recreational coaches and parents who don’t have a medical professional on the side-line. In many cases, these teams don’t have the tools or resources to identify concussion and that is a huge miss.
What support have you had from UBC’s Lean Launch Pad program?
I can’t say enough about the team and the curriculum, which is built around developing your value proposition and solution to address the real problems of your real customers.
The team brought together some of Vancouver’s best entrepreneurs as guides and mentors. The quality of the feedback was incredible and we learned as much from these entrepreneurs as we did from the customers.
We graduated from the accelerator in June and have continued to receive mentorship from some of the entrepreneurs who volunteered their time. To date, these individuals have helped us develop our sales strategy, our customer management processes, and even helped us with a partnership agreement.
In addition, we’ve been working out of the entrepreneurship@UBC offices, which are in the Robert H. Lee Alumni center. We’ve been matched with an entrepreneur-in-residence, have been connected with industry experts and technical leads, and have received the personal and professional support of many of the team members.
Why is an MBA a great choice for entrepreneurs?
I pursued my MBA to advance my strategic thinking, marketing, and finance skills. Somehow, I stumbled into an entrepreneurship course which not only taught me all of these things, but also showed me how I could make an immediate difference in the BC economy. Hooked, I took other entrepreneurship and product development courses.
I am 100% certain that I would not have seen these opportunities without the exposure to the high-calibre and inspirational peers and faculty in the Sauder MBA program.