Brain freeze will soon mean something totally different, if Enrico Giuliani has anything to do with it. His company, Neuron Guard, is developing a wearable device that treats stroke victims by lowering their brain temperatures.
The concept is rooted in Giuliani’s work at a northern Italian hospital, where he is an anesthesiologist.
“I had a problem as a doctor,” said Giuliani, Neuron Guard’s founder. Patients sometimes suffered permanent neurological damage in the lag time between brain injuries and medical attention. Giuliani asked the question: What if the brain was cooled and its blood flow quickly suspended in those first moments after trauma such as a stroke?
Giuliani patented a collar that delivers mild hypothermia to the wearer’s brain. “If you had one of these in shopping malls, you could intervene before the ambulance came,” he said.
Neuron Guard is one of 26 teams from 20 countries convening in Silicon Valley Nov. 3-6 for the 2014 Intel Global Challenge. Part Shark Tank and part accelerator, it’s a learning competition for the world’s most promising startups.
Over the course of a busy workweek, IGC teams will be exposed to top tech mentors from Silicon Valley, Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. The companies will demo their problem-solving products to win $100,000 in prizes.
And they’ll show how “tech for good” is the next big thing.
“When I was a child, I would get showered with herbicides and pesticides,” said Santiago Maiz, a professor of mechanical engineering at Buenos Aires’ Universidad Nacional del Sur who grew up on a farm in Argentina. Today, his InnoBBar team has created an intelligent system for spraying crops.
Using color-mapping sensors that detect chlorophyll, their smart-ag device identifies weeds and controls the delivery of both pesticides and nutrients to fields.
Another upgrade for agriculture comes from SmartVineyard. Tapping into their country’s winemaking heritage, this Hungarian team created a network of wireless sensors for grape-disease monitoring, and to prevent excessive pesticide application in vineyards.
All of the featured IGC participants proved their mettle in regional competitions — and each team has a special pitch for the IGC’s American audience.
“California is the optimal location,” said Csaba Arendas, CEO of SmartVineyard. “There are so many (venture capitalists), wine lovers and wine regions.”
Among the other social-impact inventions at IGC, there’s Drin-Q, a way to purify water using UV technology, which was created by two high school students from South Korea.
Another startup with teenage inventors is Vound, representing Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The team created a wearable device to help speech- and hearing-impaired people better communicate with the world around them.
The device — which features glasses with built-in applications — is based on a 2013 science fair project that Vound founder Aly Mohamed won while in high school.
The lack of science equipment in Latin American universities inspired the Lab4U team from Chile.
“Why not use the sensors of the smartphone and tablet, and use camera and GPS?” Lab4U CEO and Universidad de Chile biochemistry graduate student Komal Dadlani asked. “Why not make use of this technology and democratize science?”
To turn a smartphone into a colorimeter or spectrophotometer (lab instruments that can run from $150 to $1,000 each), Lab4U is developing a web platform, connected to mobile applications, which visualizes data from mobile sensors.
The sole U.S. entrant at the IGC is the digital health startup PlushCare. CEO Ryan McQuaid cofounded the San Francisco-based business to solve the headaches around in-person doctor visits. PlushCare connects doctors with patients via phone and video platforms.
“The average wait to get into a doctor’s office is 19-and-a half days across the U.S.,” McQuaid explained. “And 50 percent of people delay going to the doctor because they know they’ll have to wait.”
McQuaid, who is taking time off from his Haas School of Business MBA at UC Berkeley to work on PlushCare, just launched the company out of beta.
Like most his fellow IGC participants, McQuaid isn’t motivated only by market size and the promise of financial gain, but by the potential of technology to change things for the better. “I look at our mission to help people have healthy and productive lives,” he said.