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Why Neuroscientists Make Great Entrepreneurs

This past week I had the opportunity to participate in a hackathon organized by Brainstorm IL and hosted by Brainvivo. Brainvivo is a company with an aim to digitize the human brain. They challenged us to come up with an innovative product using their brilliant technology. We had less than a week to come up with a product, research the market size, competition and come up with a business model. The final challenge was to pitch the product in under five minutes to a panel of judges. The entire experience was an incredible learning opportunity and I felt that the biggest takeaway was learning to use my skills as a neuroscientist in an entrepreneurial setting.

Where is the gap in the market?

The first step was coming up with an idea for a product along with my team of fellow neuroscientists. We brainstormed and bounced ideas that sounded interesting. It soon became apparent that in order for a product to be successful there needed to be a serious need for the solution it offered. This immediately reminded me of my experience developing a research topic. To develop a research topic, scientists begin by researching existing literature in a particular field. Researchers are then able to distinguish where the gap in the literature is and from there they can develop a research question. A good research question addresses a gap in research and its implications further contribute to its field of science. Similarly, a good product provides a solution to a problem that exists and is widespread.

How big is the market?

Our team came up with many products that addressed various problems, but we were advised by the mentors of the hackathon to focus on the business aspect. The business aspect meant addressing how widespread the issue is, and more importantly, how much money there is in the market. My teammates and I had similar backgrounds in neuroscience, none of us had ever done a market size analysis. The task was a bit daunting, but we soon realized that determining a market size was exactly like a statistical analysis. Scientists are all too familiar with statistical analysis, we use it when analyzing data from research. Scientists also often read hundreds of published papers and come across various statistical references that they are required to understand. We used our scientific expertise to understand population sizes and growth as well as market growth. Additionally, we were able to address the issue analytically, for example, just because a proposed product provides a great solution, it does not mean that the product will be successful if its projected market growth is weak or if the population it serves is too small.

The proposed business model and competitors

Assaf (Asi) Horowitz the CEO and co-founder of Brainvivo, told us at the opening event, that every one of our ideas will have a competitor, and if we couldn’t find a competitor, then we should consider why. Asi was right, every one of our ideas had a competitor, but the challenge was finding how we differentiated from them. Often times, researchers conduct research that is identical or comparable to existing research. The challenge for these researchers is defining how their research differentiates. A researcher may propose that their research methods are better and they will need to create an argument defending it. Our team came up with arguments to prove why our product was superior to competitors and defend it to the judges.

The final presentation

To date, my favorite exam from my bachelors degree in neuroscience was in neurophysiology. It was not because the

topic intrigued me. Rather, I loved the challenge that the professor had given us on the exam. He had us read an article in neurophysiology and answer questions on the article. The challenge? Our answers were limited to 1-2 sentences. I learnt from this exam that if you are proficient enough in a subject you should be able to describe it in a sentence. Researchers are constantly faced with this challenge, whether it is a poster presentation, a conference or science writing. I found this skill useful when it came to writing our seven slide pitch deck and pitching it to the judges. The goal for the pitch deck was to keep the slides short, but to make sure they provided the necessary information. The same was true for the pitch itself, we needed to be clear, concise and to the point, in under five minutes. It was mind boggling that we were truly able to depict what we worked on for the past week in under five minutes, but it was no surprise that we managed.

One of the goals of the Brainstorm community is to bridge the gap between academia and the tech industry. If we can learn anything from the past event is that the gap that exists between the two is entirely in our minds. Academic neuroscientists make for great entrepreneurs, we have all the skills required for the task. The only challenge we face is taking those skills and applying them to real world solutions.


Natania is a M.A student in Cognitive Affective Neuroscience at Bar Ilan University.

Her thesis focuses on Human Robot Interaction, and she is interested in finding better mechanisms to measure human responses to social robots. She doesn't really have free time because she is a Mom, but in those rare quiet moments you can find her reading. Her favorite author is John Steinbeck.

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