Two recent McGill University graduates are developing an earplug to fight insomnia, cracking into the $40 billion sleeping aid industry.
Cofounders Kristina Pearkes and Sean Kaiser are the duo behind Orbityl and the company’s smart earplugs that mimic cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), which is an approach to treating insomnia without medication. Today, Orbityl scooped up the Outstanding Next 36 Venture Award at Next Canada’s Venture Day.
“There’s technology that says you aren’t sleeping well, but won’t tell you what to do about it,” said Kaiser.
He and Pearkes—mechanical engineers by trade—worked with sleep specialists to develop the world’s first earplugs that monitor brain activity while the wearer sleeps. The earplugs track sleep cycles and develop a personalized sleep training program, harnessing the research and work typically done in a sleep lab and turning it into an earplug to wear at home.
The idea was conceived in Next Canada’s Next 36, an accelerator program for young entrepreneurs that provides mentorship, development, and funding—up to $80,000 in seed capital from VC firms. Pearkes and Kaiser came into the program with a different venture idea, but decided to use the pair’s mechanical engineering backgrounds to create a product for the mental health space.
“We kept seeing a link between insomnia and depression. And that’s where it started,” said Kaiser. “We transitioned from mental health to sleep to go to the source of the issue. It was through cold-calling sleep clinics when we heard about CBT-I.”
In North America, 10 per cent of adults suffer from chronic insomnia while 40 per cent have acute insomnia. Traditional CBT-I therapy costs as much as $2,000 and the wait-time at Canadian clinics can be up to two years long.
Through Next 36, Orbityl was born. The early-stage startup developed a functional prototype that’s currently attached to an electronic board.
Today at the MaRS Discovery District, Orbityl pitched their sleep product to peer, investors, program mentors, Toronto tech industry and Next Canada stakeholders.
The team is now headed to San Francisco for Highway1, a four-month incubator for hardware startups. The program has granted Orbityl $50,000 in funding.
“Highway1 is going to help us take the technology and put it into a form that is comfortable for someone to wear throughout the night,” said Pearkes.
Young entrepreneurs can apply online now until October 17 to join the Next 36 2018 cohort.