Inside Track

Startup Showcase: How Sharper Sense’s Wearable Neurotechnology Enhances Athlete Performance

The brain is one of the last undiscovered frontiers of medicine.

Recently, a large amount of scientific effort has been focused on the brain, and we’re seeing more and more of these cutting-edge technologies trickling into the world of sports. While athletes’ awareness of mindfulness and well-being is just one part of the mental health equation, there is work happening that reaches deep into the realms of how athletes train, prepare, remember, and recall vital information.

This inflection point, where the brain can be trained like a muscle to train in tandem with and complement physical assets, is a meaningful way forward in the world of sports technology. An athlete can leverage knowledge and recall in real-time during competitive situations by strengthening these areas during training.

Sharper Sense is a neurotechnology company that enhances brain function through a wearable patch that delivers targeted neural stimulation. This patch optimizes brain senses, including perception, vision, hearing, and touch. For an athlete, this neural interface enhances an athletes’ perceptual ability—leading to improved awareness and reaction times while they train and compete.

We recently talked with Charles Rodenkirch, founder and CEO of Sharper Sense, about how his experiences with our accelerator shaped his company and the plans for the future.

You joined our accelerator program during a global pandemic, one of the most challenging times in modern history—what did that teach you about yourself and the work you’re doing as a startup founder?
Sharper Sense was incorporated in March of 2020. Operating out of New York City during the peak of the pandemic was truly challenging. Months were spent quarantined indoors as the city’s venues, theaters, parks, and restaurants were empty and the hospitals overfilled. We used this time to thoughtfully lay out plans for Sharper Sense, investigating the many ways we could use our sensory enhancing neurotechnology to improve users’ lives and experiences. Interviewing with and ultimately being invited to join the Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech Accelerator was a pivotal moment in our company’s journey. Knowing the accelerator team and their partners were just as excited about Sharper Sense as we were furthered our confidence in the company’s potential. When we started the accelerator in the spring, the worst of the pandemic was behind us and this year it has been truly wonderful to watch both New York reopen, and Sharper Sense continue to grow.

Was there a moment in the program when you realized that joining the program was not just a good decision, but an important shift for your business and momentum as a startup?
Throughout the SportsTech program, one of the most helpful aspects for us was learning how to tell the story of our company to the rest of the world. Between excellent advice from the SportsTech team and experts in storytelling like Claudio Sennhauser and Nathan Gold, we not only improved our pitch but also gained a better understanding of our own motivations behind what we’re building. Through tapping into our team’s passion for developing technology that enhances human performance we’ve been able to better communicate this passion to our supporters and further begin to conscientiously think about how to build a company and culture that can accomplish our goals. We are now more excited than ever to be working at Sharper Sense developing ways of enhancing human performance and safety through targeted neural stimulation. We look forward to packaging this technology into comfortable, noninvasive nerve stimulation patches, that can be easily taken on and off and worn during any task that could be better performed with a clear vision, hearing, and touch.

What aspect of the program did you enjoy the most? What was the hardest part for you? What surprised you?
First, it was a pleasure to work with everyone in the program, the mentors, partners, and other startup teams were all both smart and friendly. Our main points of contact at SportsTech, Ken Durand and Mark Faulkenberg, worked hard to ensure our team had all the resources we needed. It was clear the program put a lot of thought into putting together a great group of individuals. The SportsTech team really helped us deal with one of the hardest parts of commercializing a cutting-edge technology, which is learning how to communicate the great potential of the technology in a way that everyone can understand. I was pleasantly surprised by how much effort SportsTech put behind tailoring the program to Sharper Sense’s needs. It was great working with partners in fast, sensory-intensive sports like NASCAR and U.S. Ski and Snowboard. For these top athletes, Sharper Sense can reduce misperceptions and miscommunication through improving their vision, hearing, and touch, improving their play and safety. SportsTech also paired us with an amazing set of mentors with relevant experience who were extremely helpful like Nakia Melecio who provided immense experience in commercializing deep-tech and Anne Herron who gave great insight on optimizing user experience.

You’ve had a few months since you’ve finished the program. Tell us about your traction since – media coverage, new customers, milestones, growth, investment, etc.?
You can see our media coverage here. We closed a preseed round of investment from Cornell Tech, Joyance Partners, Social Starts Health, Happiness Fund (SH2), and angel investors Yuchia Lin and Samir Chokshi in the months following completion of the accelerator. Cornell Tech’s investment is part of their Runway Startup program that we were selected for that will provide up to two years of funding, facilities, mentoring, and support for Sharper Sense. The progress Sharper Sense made during SportsTech played a critical role in being able to raise support from these savvy, connected, and supportive investors that we’re very happy to be working with. We have now moved our office space to Cornell Tech’s New York City campus where we will be testing and refining Sharper Sense’s first applications in humans.

What are you working on right now that you’re most excited about? Or, what new sports tech trends do you see that are most exciting?
Within Sharper Sense, we’re excited to have finished building our human experimental suite at our office space in Cornell Tech and are looking forward to beginning our first-in-human testing shortly. We are excited to watch how technology like Sharper Sense and other wearables can help athletes improve their performance and reduce their risk of injury. We continue to be excited about the lasting relationship we’ve built with NASCAR and U.S. Ski and Snowboard through the SportsTech accelerator and look forward to testing our technology with them as it becomes commercially ready.

What advice do you have for our next class of SportsTech startups?
We’re happy to share some advice to future classes of SportsTech and the Sharper Sense team looks forward to getting a chance to meet them as they join the alumni network. The SportsTech team does an amazing job of customizing the resources, networking, and education they provide based on each team’s needs, so make sure you’re vocal and tell them exactly what would be a gamechanger for your company. The chance to network with Comcast NBCUniversal and the renowned sports partners they’ve brought into the program is priceless—take advantage of every chance you have to engage them. The other startups you’ll work with in the program will be another great resource of knowledge, support, and camaraderie. In short, take advantage of all the program has to offer and enjoy building lasting relationships and friendships!

Closing with a Clear Vision for the Future

As the product grows on the field, Sharper Sense sees much broader applications of their technology.

Their team strives to work in clinical settings for seniors with impaired senses and children with sensory processing disorders. Ultimately, the partnerships with sports and medicine is one that will help athletes hone their skills while providing help to those who need it most as startups like Sharper Sense continue to unravel the mysteries of the brain.

You can learn more about Sharper Sense by checking out recent interviews with their team on the news section of their website and following their journey on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Subscribe to Inside Track: