Myndlift: An Israeli app being developed to treat ADHD

Aziz Kaddan and Anas Abu Mukh

Two entrepreneurs from Baqa al-Gharbiya are building an app-based neuro-feedback system for drug-free ADHD treatment.

Aziz Kaddan and Anas Abu Mukh were just 19 years old when they first thought of founding their start-up - an app to treat ADHD in children and adults. They are both young, 21 years old, but the fact that they had nearly all the requisite tools to found the start-up made the decision much easier. The two grew up together in Baqa al-Gharbiya near Hadera, and together participated in a program for gifted students through which they began working towards an undergraduate degree in computer science at Haifa University when they were just 16 years old. The fact that Kaddan’s father is a neurologist (“Dad wanted me to be a doctor too"), and his brothers have ADHD, provided the requisite goal, direction, and knowledge. “When we completed our degree studies, we worked a little as developers at high-tech companies, but after just a few months, we got sick of it and said ‘Enough,’” explains Kaddan. “We understood that it was not challenging enough. We wanted to do something with more responsibility, something more meaningful.” And shortly thereafter, they found their ‘something more meaningful’ in Myndlift.

Kaddan also managed to gain some significant entrepreneurial experience. When he was just 17 years old, he founded a local ADHD-diagnosis center in his village, which provided services to area residents. “When I finished my studies, I handed over the business, and it continues to operate without me today.” But while the business he founded focuses on diagnosis, the innovative start-up that he founded with his friend Abu Mukh is far more ambitious, seeking to replace existing treatment methods, by replacing medications, and making their alternative accessible.

Kaddan says that already today there is an effective, alternative treatment to drugs. “There is a good technique of neuro-feedback, which is based on reading brainwaves, and using a visual that appears on a screen, with the brightness changing based on the patient’s concentration level, so he practices and learns to improve it. This is a method that was originally developed by NASA.”

This method is very effective, but Kaddan says that the treatment in clinics today has a few problems. “Their graphics are not always good, because it is a medical technique. In general, the main problem is that the clinics are not accessible enough to the population. It’s a treatment that requires 12 sessions, at one of very few clinics, and costs thousands of shekels, and can cost as much as NIS 12,000. At each session the patients are connected to electrodes for 30 minutes to an hour.” The Myndlift venture hopes to solve these problems, and to bring the treatment to users as a convenient, accessible mobile app, and a much more attractive one, at that. The basic app is free, and will be available for Android users.

In addition to a mobile device, users must also equip themselves with what looks like headphones - a headset that wraps around the head, and reads brainwaves, and which costs $200-$300. There is also a premium version of the app, for $10 per month, or $100 per year. “People suggested we charge more, but part of what we’re trying to do is improve accessibility, also in terms of price,” says Kaddan.

The app appears to be just a nice little game. After putting on the brain-wave reader, there are a few different options: An amusing game in which there is a race between two characters. High concentration will make it possible for beat the virtual opponent. In another, there are fuzzy dots, which become sharper depending on the concentration level. Music-lovers can listen to a tune that gets louder only if you stay focused on it, and your mind doesn’t wander on to other things.

Climbing to the pinnacle of technology

But let’s go back a little. The impetus to found Myndlift came when Kaddan stepped out of a job interview at Google. “I felt that I had failed, because I wasn’t focused enough. This doesn’t only happen to me, it happens to 11% of the population. I called Anas and said to him: ‘Let’s found our start-up now.’”

A short time later, the two heard about the MassChallenge accelerator in Boston. “It is the biggest program in the world. Out of 1,600 applications, only 128 were accepted in 2014, including us,” says Kaddan proudly. “One of the parameters they looked at was where the start-up had ‘social impact,’ and of course Myndlift met the criteria.”

The young duo was welcomed in Boston with open arms, which increased their sense of optimism. “We were given airline tickets, living expenses, offices, and they helped us with networking. We worked hard, slept very few hours at night, and event won a prize as the group that worked hardest of all.” Being located in Boston was also an important advantage, because, as Kaddan says, it is one of the biggest medical technology centers in the world. One of the industry professionals whom Kaddan and Abu Mukh met was Dr. Naomi Steiner, a developmental behavioral pediatrician located in Boston. Steiner helped with the development of the product, and says she really believes in it.

“Myndlift is based on a portable EEG device, which is known as a neuro-feedback system,” Dr. Steiner explained in an interview with “Globes.” “It’s possible that fixed EEG systems are a little more accurate, but they are also more expensive and complicated. There is no doubt that there is a place for a program, and a portable EEG system. In the end, this will be the pinnacle of technology in this field. True, they are just starting out now, but they will continue to develop the app, and will make it even easier to use.”

Just a few months later, Kaddan and Abu Mukh reached the Y Combinator accelerator, and the sense that they had “made it big” only increased. “Many big start-ups have been there, such as Airbnb. We flew out for an interview in Silicon Valley, and we did not believe that in such a short time, half a year after launched, we were already in Silicon Valley. They gave us ten minutes to explain why we deserved financing. We left the meeting feeling good, but later, we were surprised to be rejected, because they claimed that the solution won’t reach billions of dollars.”

“I disagree, but it is their decision, and their right. We came back to Israel. We now have more staff to help us with the neurological side of things, like my father, Dr. Walid Kaddan, and Dr. Steiner, who helps us from Boston. We are working on improvements, and continued development. We are currently working on an iOS version. Another recent development of ours is a monitoring option, which is particularly useful for parents. They can receive notifications with feedback questions about behavioral changes and the child’s accomplishments, which will prove that it really works. I know that we have been working for a very long time, but that’s because we both tend to get hung up on the small details. In any case, we are already in the pilot stages.”

Where is the money from?

“It’s all our money. Now we are looking for an investor to help us grow. We believe that the product has the potential to treat other disorders as well, such as depression, PTSD, and even Alzheimer’s.”

“It will work. There is simply no reason for it not to happen,” confirms Dr. Steiner. “There are reputable studies that show that by using neuro-feedback, it’s possible to practice and improve concentration.”

Are there currently any better systems on the market?

Steiner: “It’s not yet possible to compare their app to the big, professional systems on the market. They will certainly claim that their systems are better, and more accurate, but the fact is that they also want to become more efficient, so there really is room for a more accessible and user-friendly neuro-feedback system. Myndlift’s software was planned to afford more flexibility, which means that it will be possible to use different hardware systems, so they will be able to integrate improvements in the future as well. This is the way to do business today. They have nothing to fix, it’s just development.”

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 4, 2015

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2015

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Aziz Kaddan and Anas Abu Mukh
Aziz Kaddan and Anas Abu Mukh
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