When I first came to Joy Ventures nearly three years ago, I was excited about the bold mission to bring the world more science-backed consumer products that help mental wellbeing. Since then, I have had the opportunity to work across our entire portfolio, both with the companies we fund and our academic partners, to help them develop and bring their ideas and solutions to life. Fast forward to today; as I take on the role of CEO, I am eager to continue leading our quest to create technology that I believe will truly improve the human experience. But firstly, I want to thank Miri Polachek, our outgoing CEO, for paving the way with her expertise, leadership and dedication to Joy Ventures; she has brought us far in the development of this field, positioning us as a company builder and investment engine with 11 portfolio companies and more than 46 research projects.
I think we have only scratched the surface of what is possible. The convergence of neuroscience and technology coupled with the increasing awareness of mental health has opened up incredible opportunities to confront some of today’s most pressing challenges facing the human experience. As I write this, insomnia, anxiety, stress and depression are all on the rise; but, so are the possibilities for solutions.
Since my early days at Joy Ventures we have been dealing with these challenges by taking a unique multidisciplinary and multistage approach involving academics, scientists, technologists and designers. This collaboration allows those involved to see beyond their regular field of vision, find new potential answers and pursue them. This makes seemingly impossible things very possible.
Another key element to this ambitious quest to bring transformational solutions for the future is to get to the source of the issues we face as a society and actually create or advance science and technology that solve them. This is why we work not only with companies, but also closely with leading academics and researchers – being strongly backed by science ensures the efficacy of these products, that they are not simply a trend or attempt at a quick fix.
From working with our academic partners and grantees over the last year I also feel this is an especially exciting time for research, where I have seen a wide range of inspiring collaboration across fields and disciplines, and new understandings of old problems. For example, we are supporting a project at the Brain Attention and Time Lab at Hebrew University, which is working to develop a device to use environmental and body rhythms to induce flow experiences–something only possible because of the crossover of disciplines. At the University of Surrey, we are backing researchers studying how to reduce work-related rumination, which similarly requires cooperation among experts in psychology, computer science and neuroscience.
In addition to the importance of providing rigorous scientific backing for potential solutions, working with academic researchers in the early stages of their work is essential to advancing general scientific understanding that will pave the way for future breakthroughs. It is very inspiring to me to watch these ideas grow and evolve into the products that will improve the wellbeing of the individuals who use them. This rich scientific research helps guarantee a long-term pipeline of future innovation. This is key to continuing to uncover more of the secrets to wellbeing, and yes, there is still a long way to go -but we are equipped for the long and exciting journey.
Of course, we know a successful product isn’t just about the science, it’s about designing products that people love and creating habits that stick.
The journey to wellness should be one of joy and should not be a burden or inconvenient; for example, our portfolio company NYX is developing a sleep-improving headband that is not only effective but simple and comfortable to use. Similarly, GrayMatters Health has made neurofeedback more accessible and affordable, removing the need for expensive fMRI machines to deliver a treatment shown to help depression, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It has been inspiring to see how starting the process with our partners on the academic research level has allowed these ideas to expand beyond the walls of the university and reach the people who need them most.
While we have made great progress, there is still more to do in this long journey towards wellbeing. I believe innovation depends on patience and ambition as well as inspiration. I have always loved reading science fiction novels and find inspiration in the dazzling pictures of the future these authors create. At the same time, I notice that these worlds tend to be dystopian, that even when the author goes to great lengths to imagine a future of technologies, space travel and politics they often stop short of envisioning a reality where the basic emotional aspects of human existence have been improved. Human existence often stays the same – there might be automatic robotic doctors but people still do not have solutions for depression, anxiety or lack of motivation. I want to change that, to ensure that the future’s technology has a positive and lasting impact not only on efficiency, and convenience, but also on the human condition.