Ever wondered how successful entrepreneurs turn their dreams into reality? What drives them to push the envelope, create change and advance their industries? Canadian small business owners share how they transformed their ideas, goals and passions into realities.
Saccade Analytics co-founders Dr. Mimi Galiana and Isabel Galiana are tapping into the expertise of the SheEO network to bring InSightTM, a testing device for more than 200 neurological disorders, to more people. With a mission to improve brain health and neurological care, Mimi and Isabel are translating 30 years of advanced research into accessible tools — tools that can be used in clinics, hospitals or the sidelines of sports fields.
Co-founder Isabel Galiana shares the Saccade Analytics story, and how the support from SheEO is making a difference in both the future of the standard of patient care.
Q: Why did you found Saccade Analytics when you did?
Galiana: My co-founder (and mother) Mimi has been researching the neurophysiology of eye movements for over 30 years. She always worked closely with clinicians who asked her to transform her research into clinical tools. She had mentioned the idea of starting a business a number of times over the years, but I never took her seriously.
I had done an undergrad in Environmental Science, and then was a professional volleyball player for a number of years. I retired from volleyball and was doing my PhD in Economics at McGill when I realized she was serious. At the time, I was working on the theory of technological innovation and consulting with governments and NGOs on pricing mechanisms, regulatory affairs and leveraging programs.
Working with my mom on Saccade allowed me to translate all those skills to building a medical device.
Q: What is the product you developed?
Galiana: InSightTM evaluates brain function based on eye and head movements in a quick seven-minute test in virtual reality (VR). More specifically, what InSightTM does is provide diagnostic metrics to health care professionals to evaluate the extent of a deficiency and to provide direction for personalized rehabilitation.
Essentially what Mimi had developed was a method to accurately and quickly analyze eye and head movements and provide metrics that can be used to evaluate concussions, vestibular disorders (dizziness) and, in fact, over 200 neurological disorders that present in eye and head movements.
Back in 2016, only very specialized medical-grade equipment could measure eye and head movements accurately, but we knew that virtual reality goggles with eye trackers were on the verge of appearing in the market. We are fortunate to be completely software based and can work with any number of eye tracking tools.
Q: How did you fund the business and product development?
Galiana: Along with a few angel investors, we have leveraged every government program possible. In Canada there are so many available opportunities, and we were lucky to have a team with a great deal of grant writing experience. We also won a number of competitions with prize money, including the McGill Dobson Cup, the Centech Award, Action TI, Hakim Family Clinical Innovation Award, and most recently the L’Oreal Women in Digital Award.
Q: Who are the primary purchasers InSightTM?
Galiana: We sell primarily to physiotherapy clinics, athletic therapists, sports teams and vestibular clinics. We help them acquire the hardware, and then they pay a monthly fee for analysis.
Q: Who supported you on your journey?
We were extremely lucky to be supported at the beginning by the Dobson Centre at McGill University and currently by Centech. They were indispensable in helping us navigate the startup world, which is sometimes a strange beast. We are also very grateful to our scientific and business advisors who have guided us throughout the process. We have regular meetings to present ideas and discuss challenges.
More recently, the SheEO community has been incredibly generous. Beyond the interest-free loan we received as a SheEO Venture this year, we have received offers of support on all fronts, including marketing, strategy, and business introductions.
Q: What was the best advice you received starting your business?
Galiana: Be genuine. Don’t try to change your core fundamentals to accommodate anyone.
Q: Is there anything you would have done differently?
Galiana: I would have set up structured governance from the beginning.
Not that we had any specific challenges, but it’s the kind of thing you want to have set up before investors come into play. In particular, it’s important to make sure your board is supportive of your vision.
Although we had an ‘informal board’ for quite a while, I felt they had a lot of influence on my decisions. At the same time, because they were not formally on our board I felt less bound to vet them. I believe if we had decided to set up a more formal governance structure early on, it would have forced us to reflect on the type of company we wanted to be, and issues of purpose, diversity, and culture would have been clearer sooner.
But then again, sometimes it may be best to let things develop, and then create structure around them. Because we waited, we now have access to the SheEO network where I have met some brilliant women who I would love to have on my board!
Q: What skills do you look for when you hire?
Galiana: Saccade’s products and business model don’t sit neatly in any single current checkbox. We are a combination of health, VR, signal processing, rehab, artificial intelligence, and wellness. We actively seek diversity (age, gender, race, sexuality, social) in our team so we can develop the best possible solutions. I admit though that we are still learning how to present opportunities within the company to attract the greatest quality people from diverse backgrounds.
Q: What it was like to be selected as a SheEO Venture?
Galiana: It has honestly been — and continues to be — one of the most enriching experiences I have had. The selection itself is of course satisfying, but the continued support from strangers from around the world is unbelievable.
Q: What’s next for Saccade?
In the long run, we believe that brain function evaluation should be a part of everyone’s annual checkup. When you see your doctor, she checks your weight, blood pressure, heart rate, maybe does some blood work … but never checks your most vital organ: your brain. Type of evaluation has been cost prohibitive, with wait times sometimes over 26 weeks in Canada.
Wouldn’t you want to know if there was a sudden change in your brain functions? It may be a vestibular issue that could perhaps prevent a potentially fatal fall, or an indicator of the beginning of neurodegenerative diseases.
We would love to get InSightTM in the hands of GPs, and we hope that everyone will have the opportunity to have their brain function evaluated on a regular basis. The federal government has just come up with a national dementia strategy with three pillars: Prevention, therapies, and finding a cure. Early detection will be key to all three and we believe InSightTM is a simple and accessible way to do it.
We are working on a few approaches to facilitate the integration of InSightTM but are still in the early stages, but we’re always happy to hear suggestions if readers have any.
In November 2018, 23 women were recognized at the 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. These exceptional women, and their trail-blazing companies from a variety of industries, share a common goal — to be the best at what they do.
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