People with concussions or migraines often can’t use standard monitors at all because it’s too painful for them. Computer monitors are so bright these days and their refresh rates – that cyclical pixel flashing which happens so quickly most people don’t even notice, can really hurt a concussion sufferer and they become limited in what they can do at work or school. Enter Iris Technologies, a Canadian company that has developed special computer monitors for traumatic brain injury sufferers .
We spoke with Colin Harding about his company, Iris Technologies, at a recent visit to the Biomedical Zone.
My company is called Iris Technologies. We sell a secondary computer monitor which is built from a different kind of screen technology that helps people with a concussion or people who suffer from chronic migraines.
What we’ve done is basically built a monitor for those who are suffering from the types of symptoms caused from using a computer screen, which could be headaches, nausea, things like that. It allows them to use their computer screen and get back to work or get back to school.
Oftentimes people who have had a traumatic brain injury will have to take extend periods of time off instead of going to work or going to school.
The main reason is that most computer screens generate images by flashing pixels 60 times a second and they are also back-lit. For these reasons, it will trigger symptoms in people suffering from traumatic brain injury.
We started in 2015, at Queens University. My co-founder and I were students at the time. We spent about 15 months in product development and then in November of 2016 we started a clinical validation study at the Toronto Western Hospital with Dr. Charles Tator who is one of Canada’s leading concussion researchers.
That study ran from November 2016 until the fall of 2017. Now we are at the commercialization stage which is a much more exciting place to be in the business end of the company. After two years of R&D I am glad to be in the market now with a product, which is really exciting.
We are about to deliver our first manufacturing run of units to numerous different pilot partners.
It’s a display monitor, right?
Yes. It’s made from a different kind of screen technology that doesn’t need to constantly refresh, and it is also not back-lit. When you buy a cell phone or a computer the way it generates images is by flashing pixels at 60 Hz. To a healthy brain that may lead to some dry eyes at the end of the day, or maybe a mild headache, but someone with a brain injury, or to someone who suffers from chronic migraines it can almost instantly trigger debilitating symptoms and even prevent the use of a screen at all in severe cases.
So the benefit of our technology is that because it doesn’t need to constantly refresh and because it is not back-lit – it’s kind of like looking at paper – it allows them to use their computer. In the 21st Century if you can’t use a computer screen, it’s a serious issue because computers are just ubiquitous in the work setting.
How did you decide to focus on computer monitors for traumatic brain injury sufferers?
I was originally part of an entrepreneurship incubator at Queens University in the summer of 2015. They took about 40 students who were interested in entrepreneurship, gave them a few weeks of training, and told them to go out and start a business and go out and solve a problem.
My co-founder and I both had friends and family who had a concussion and their biggest barrier to returning t work was their inability to use a screen throughout the course of a full work or school day. From that problem we started developing ideas about how could we help these people. We landed on building a monitor out of a different kind of screen technology; we started doing focus groups and just built the idea onward from there.
For the first two years of the business I was in school and also doing this as well. Running a research trial while being in school was a pretty crazy period in my life. But now that I have graduated I just get to focus exclusively on IRIS Technologies which is exciting.
Has it helped you being here in the BioMedical Zone?
It has helped a lot. When we first joined the BMZ in September of 2016 we were two guys with almost no money whatsoever and an idea for a product but we hadn’t started any research yet and we hadn’t really thought too much about how this would turn into a business and not just a research project.
Over the last year and a half we have really fine tuned what we are doing as a company, what our value is to customers, and how we can help people. Taking it out of the project research phase and into an actual business where we have customers. BMZ helped us run pilots with various organizations. Now we have a fully fleshed out business model and we were able to raise private capital.
From idea to reality…
That’s the big jump – a lot of people can have an idea, a lot of people can maybe make a small product, especially in the hardware space or the software. But making the jump from research and development to revenue is a pretty significant one. The BioMedical Zone was instrumental in that.
Did you develop your own prototypes for this?
We originally started in the summer of 2015 really small. I wouldn’t even call it a prototype – that is being generous – and we just iterated from there. We started with 6 inch screens. We are now at a 13.3 inch screen. We had our first fully functional prototype by September of 2016. So after about a year into it we fine tuned the product a little bit before we started clinical trials.
From there we just continually improved the product and the one we are going to market with now is significantly better than the one we had 18 months ago in terms of its speed, size, functionality and portability.
The feedback we have gotten from customers is really great. Our first customer in June of 2017 was an accountant who was out of work for 4 months due to his concussion. The main issue for him was he was unable to use a computer screen for more than 2 minutes without it triggering symptoms. He would go to work, use his computer for 2 minutes, print off some emails, and then try to do 30 or 40 minutes of work, take a break and then try to use his computer screen again. That’s how sensitive he was to the refresh rate of the screen as well as the light.
After about a week of using our technology, he went back to work fulltime. Building a business is really great, but the impact we can have with customers is really exciting.
It’s not just about the productivity. In some cases you see a student who had a successful academic, career or social life and one slip on the ice or one football injury can take it all away. You might think that sitting in a dark room, which is the usual recommendation from doctors for a concussion, might be fine for a week, but when those weeks turn into months and you are not playing sports, not seeing friends, not going to school or work…
“we got him back to work full time and saved that organization a significant amount of money.”
It diminishes your world…
People use computers to read the news, to communicate with friends and family and for work. We have found in the short term a lot of people use our technology to communicate with friends and family, read the news, and just to feel connected.
Are people with concussions aware that using conventional monitors could be making their condition worse?
A significant element of our company will be educating the market. People can recognize that they have photophobia, which is really just a heightened sensitivity to light. But they don’t often make the connection between light sensitivity and computer screens.
They will tell me when they work for 6 hours it just hurts so much but their job requires use of a computer screen. The more we work with employers and insurance companies, the more we find that short and long term disability is one of their greatest costs. People being out of work for months and months adds up pretty quickly.
In the case of the accountant I mentioned earlier, we got him back to work full time and saved that organization a significant amount of money.
So how are people going to get your products?
We are partnered with numerous clinics across Canada. We also sell into schools, we are working with insurance companies as well as a lot of different physio and rehab focused therapists. Through those networks, people will find out about us, but also through our own marketing.
People can also purchase the technology directly from us here.