InteraXon wants to help you access the inner reaches of your mind, so you can lead a more engaged, present and happier life. And the technology company, which launched seven years ago and released its first commercial product in 2014, had an auspicious first customer — Chapters/Indigo.
You may not picture Chapters as a purveyor of Muse, a headband that analyzes your brain patterns to determine if you’re in the meditation zone you want to be in, or if your mind is wandering wildly. But when Chapters CEO Heather Reisman saw the portable brain-sensing technology, she liked it and stocked it the technology section of 10 of her stores. Not only that, she became an investor in InteraXon.
Muse combines EEG and brain-sensing technology and converts it into a simple, intuitive user experience.
“We’ve taken the technology out of the laboratory and made a consumer tool,” said CEO Derek Luke. “EEG [electroencephalogram] is used for all kinds of things, such as diagnosing traumatic brain injury and treating ADHD. We did some market segmentation studies and we brought out a product focused squarely at meditation.”
Meditation is now widely practised across North America and it’s also used in clinical settings. And Muse has been used by such institutions as the Mayo Clinic, Harvard University, MIT and the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. More than 1,000 published studies have shown meditation has benefits including reducing stress and anxiousness, increasing self-awareness and focus, promoting better sleep and improving physical health.
While the company says the product isn’t intended to replace traditional meditation, it is a useful tool to make the practice more accessible.
“We’re seeing it adopted across retail and online,” Luke said. “Meditation is increasingly accepted by psychologists and psychiatrists to integrate into their programs.”
Interaxon isn’t allowed to release the names of the teams to which it has sold Muse, but Luke said they’re “major league professional sport teams.”
What’s next for the company? A deal with a multinational for a product that will tell if people are paying attention to anything requiring vigilance or concentration, such as driving.
“The multinational isn’t interested in meditation, but wants to know how we can use this technology to study consumer driving habits, industrial machinery and pilots,” Luke said.
Exporting has been a way of life for the 50-person, Toronto-based company, since Day One.
“From the outset, our vision was to drive InteraXon to a multi-billion valuation,” Luke said. “The market to support the required growth trajectory had to be global. This was never questioned.”
More than 70 per cent of its Muse products are exported, mostly to the U.S., but another 15 per cent go to Germany and Scandinavia. It doesn’t hurt that its investors are a notable bunch, including Sir Ka-shing Li’s venture firm Horizons Ventures, Austin Hearst, son of Randolph Hearst, and business guru Jeff Walker.
In fact, those investors came on board in the early days when the company was selling EEG or “thought-controlled” experiences, such as a thought- controlled beer tap and a levitating chair.
“It was clear that selling experiences was limited in its market growth,” Luke said. “However, the money earned from the winter Olympics in Vancouver where 5,000 people had the opportunity to control the lights on the CN Tower, the Canadian Parliament Buildings and Niagara Falls, did provide the exposure necessary to attract the venture capital to launch the current product. The latter was led by Li Ki Shing’s Horizon’s fund based in Hong Kong. This just reinforced that the market was global.”
To get Series B funding in April 2014, the company had to show market penetration in the previous holiday season.
“This was achieved mainly through domestic growth with Best Buy Canada, and international growth with Gaiam, which is headquartered in the U.S.,” he said. “We are now selling units worldwide through our website, but also starting to see significant orders from distributors in Europe, Japan and South America. The problem we solve as we expand beyond a meditation market to a health market is a global one.”
Through exporting, the company has learned that there is a real demand for services and products produced in Canada.
“We are world leaders in this area and we could easily have the same significance as oil and gas to our economy if we invest wisely,” he said. “Our universities hold their own with the best in the world. We have partnered with University of Toronto, McMaster, University of Victoria and others to show our platform has many wide-ranging applications for generating IP, revenue and jobs in Canada.”
Asked for his best tip for other exporters, Luke said they must have a “deep knowledge of the help that’s available from entities such as EDC and Global Affairs Canada. “That’s absolutely essential. I would also add that you need the vision and confidence to know you can compete on the global market.”
EDC resources to help you export