Like many entrepreneurs, Abyssinia Bizuneh’s great idea grew out of personal experience.
When Bizuneh, a biomedical engineering major at Arizona State University, was diagnosed with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, she decided to forego stimulant medication. Instead, she used neurofeedback therapy, a procedure that measures brainwaves and provides real-time data about brain function so patients can train themselves.
“After 10 sessions, I saw improvement in reading comprehension and my ability to sit down and do homework got better,” she said.
Her experience, combined with what she was learning in her major, led her to consider creating an at-home feedback device for people with ADHD. She collaborated with her classmates in her senior capstone design group to form Captavate, and their venture was the big winner at the spring 2023 Demo Day pitch competition on April 22, scoring $40,000 in funding.
Captavate, of which Bizuneh is the CEO, was one of 77 startups that pitched as part of Venture Devils, a program to support ASU students, staff, faculty, alumni and community entrepreneurs within the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute at ASU. A total of $332,500 was awarded in seven funding tracks this semester – the most ever. Venture Devils teams also get access to mentorship and space.
At first, Bizuneh’s idea was just to create the feedback experience.
“I had the idea of having it as a practical device where when you do homework it would tell you when you were distracted, but I didn’t think it would work,” she said.
But after a lot of work with her team and some help from her psychologist, they came up with a plan.
Captavate is prototyping an EEG headset that will be connected to an app. Users wear the headset while doing homework or other focused activity and receive a haptic vibration when the device senses that their focus is wandering.
So far, the team has the software and EEG components, and they will spend the summer integrating and refining the device as well as working toward filing a utility patent.
Bizuneh is graduating this semester and will start in the biomedical engineering master’s program in the fall.
“A lot of our biomedical engineering classes drive us toward creating new devices and ideas on how to solve medical issues and conditions,” she said.
“With that background, going into the biofeedback and thinking about our senior design problem, it made sense to do this because it could have a lot of impact.”
Captavate won in the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative funding track, which is for student-led ventures in early stages of development. All of the funded ventures in this group are eligible for follow-up funding and additional support at the fall 2023 Demo Day. Other winners in that group were Thrively Foods, which develops innovative food and beverage products, $30,000; and Canned Goods, which creates sustainable food packaging, $20,000. There were six $10,000 winners: Astro Seed, DocYou, Foodtrax, Greenloop, Lake Litter Solutions and the Molecules Company.
Other winners at Demo Day were:
Edson E+I MedTech Venture Challenge: MTology Innovations, a male contraceptive venture led by Candace Pless, a graduate student in industrial engineering and the MBA program in the W. P. Carey School of Business, won $10,000. Other winners were Visven, $5,000; Medvise, $3,000; and Koko Ni and Smart Stryder, $1,000 each.
Edson E+I Social Impact Challenge: These ventures are often a nonprofit entity or for-profit venture with a social mission such as sustainability, circular economy, health, education or community development. This track is supported by Good Work Capital, Canon Solutions America and anonymous donors. Two ventures won $15,000 each: Archeate Health Innovation, started by engineering undergraduates Benjamin Voller-Brown and Michael Li, who created a repair kit for malaria mosquito nets; and Xiga Money, a platform for people to send and receive money to Africa, started by Gibson Sigauke, a student in the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU. Other winners were EquiBraille and HAIRTAGE, $10,000 each; Hug Your Head Foundation, $5,000; and PLANponics, $2,500.
The eSeed Challenge: This track, supported by the Prescott Student Venture Fund, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and Venture Devils, is for early-stage student ventures. Concious Gear, a line of outdoor-activity clothing for larger-sized people founded by Charlotte Bowens, administrative director for the Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics at ASU, won $7,000. Other winners were Keruki Studios and LaundryBud, $5,000 each; ARCHHUNTERS and Tenance, $2,000 each; Lafellus and Contak, $1,500 each; and Heirway, $1,000.
Mastercard Foundation Scholars Scholarship Entrepreneurship Fund: Mastercard Foundation Scholars, who come to ASU from Africa to complete their degrees, are expected to return to their home countries equipped to empower their communities. This year’s $50,000 funding allocation was twice as much as previous years. Cocoa Potash, a recycling venture, and Godsway’s Agri House Limited, a venture to increase food security, both won $8,000. Other winners were: Bojuf Solutions, Sua IT, Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services and Toda Healthy Beverages, $6,000 each; and Best Tech Point, Career Genie, Emicon Group, Hope for Cameroon, Parantaa Africa Foundation, Tegridy Farms and Zyleme, $1,000 each. In addition, six ventures did not compete in Demo Day but were awarded $500 each.
Sarsam Family Venture Challenge: This track is open to any ASU-affiliated ventures. Winners were Daydule, $10,000; Effy, $5,000; Uplighten, $3,000; and iWaandr, $2,000.
Veteran Ventures: PLANponics, $5,000; Sua IT, $3,500; and SexGenMD, $1,500.
The Hug Your Head Foundation, which won $5,000, is another venture created out of personal experience. In 2016, Lukas Karlsson was struck by a car while he was riding a motorcycle and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Years later, Karlsson, and his sister, Elizabeth Karlsson, a biomedical science major, formed the nonprofit group to raise awareness about TBI and provide support resources.
Lukas Karlsson, a business communication major, said that winning the money was unbelievable.
“I am a TBI survivor turned advocate myself and to bring awareness to this invisible disability and for my sister and I to help survivors and other families out there going through a similar experience, it means the world to us,” he said.
Elizabeth Karlsson said it’s amazing to have a winning venture with her brother.
“He’s one of my best friends, and the thought of losing him – I never want another sibling to go through that.”
Top image: Sparky joins Abyssinia Bizuneh and Michael Li, both biomedical engineering majors, after they won $40,000 for their entrepreneurial venture Captavate at the spring 2023 Demo Day pitch event at SkySong on April 22. Photo by Samantha Chow/ASU News.
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