We have decided to dedicate a series of articles on the BrainTech market to show our investor perspective. After discussing the Brain Technology Revolution, Brain and Nutrition, BCI, Psychedelics and Sleep tech, this new article deals with Skills Enhancement.
Skills are defined as cleverness at doing something, resulting either from practice or helping children develop natural abilities. Throughout each stage of our lives, we need to acquire new skills, develop them to best match our needs, and to maintain them:
- Regarding early childhood, the focus is on fostering curiosity, education, and cognitive development. One of the first skills to be acquired by every human is the ability to communicate through language. It is a crucial phase of development, and retardation at this stage will have consequences later: researchers from Stanford showed a correlation between the speed of spoken word recognition and vocabulary size at 25 months and IQ at the age of 8. Contrary to popular belief, technology, and screens can be utilized to help children in their development, but only if they are used wisely, with appropriate content and post-exposure interaction, and for a limited period of time.
- Later, for K-12 and college the aim is to both enhance formal education and to prepare for professional life. Newfund has already been investigating these sectors, as illustrated by the investment in
- Implala in 2019. Impala enables students to make a 360° assessment of their skills, desires, values, and opportunities. They learn how to build a coherent career path that is in line with their strengths and to value themselves in a job interview context.
- For professionals, the main challenge of skills enhancement is continuous evolution and adaptability, which is essential for staying competitive in evolving industries. It involves continuous learning, adapting to new technologies, and embracing challenges, ensuring career resilience and growth in dynamic work environments. Moodwork, for example, helps employees to increase quality of life at work, by acting on well-being and emotional skills acquisition to facilitate communication and leadership at work. Leveraging the personal skills of each individual, people are able to prevent stressful situations, which are at risk for burnout. More examples of companies will be provided in the second part of this article.
- Finally, in retired life, the objective is to maintain cognitive abilities by focusing on exercises such as memorizing or developing social interactions.
In this article, we decided to focus on how non-medical startups can leverage data and neuroscience to improve people’s skills for personal and professional development purposes. Our conviction is that the next generation of Edtechs (Educational Technology) will be based on neurosciences and, therefore, capable of reaching even higher capabilities than the current generation. Indeed, neuroscience can be used to adapt learning paths to the learner's needs, thus maximizing training time. In a nutshell, take the most out of training.
Neuroscience & Tech to enhance the experience
With our fund, Heka, we are focusing on companies that leverage the vast amount of biological data related to the brain that has been generated in recent years with the help of AI. Specifically, in the field of skills enhancement, evidence-based training, backed by science, enables the replicability of inter-learner performance and ensures both the effectiveness of training for all and the sustainable growth of the company.
“Designing educational experiences without an understanding of the brain is like designing a glove without an understanding of the human hand” Leslie Hart -1983
Dr. Nawal Abboub has a PhD in cognitive neurosciences and is directing the course of Cognitive sciences in real life at Ecole Normale Supérieure. She is also the founder of the company Rising Up. She shared some insights about the underlying mechanisms associated with skills development.
Soft skills play a crucial role in the performance of companies, although they have often been poorly defined and underestimated. With the company Rising Up, Nawal Abboub and her team have scientifically redefined these skills by associating them with cognitive abilities, defined as "core skills." Unlike technical skills, soft skills are learned implicitly throughout life, either through professional or personal experiences. Rising Up has defined soft skills based on three key criteria: a specific mental action linked to observable behavior, their modularity over time, and their close connection to the context in which the individual evolves.
Cognitive science is a complex field based on neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, anthropology, artificial intelligence, and philosophy, and according to Dr. Abboub, very few companies base their approach on these different principles today, which are nevertheless the main lever for developing tools that will really enable us to develop our skills.
In the next part, we will further detail technological advances that can be leveraged and used as a tool to facilitate learning.
The Role of Technology: AI and Immersive Learning, Neuro-feedback (BCI)
Many tools can be used to enhance our “brain capital,” which encompasses an individual’s social, emotional, and cognitive resources to develop personal abilities, prevent mental health issues, and develop new skills adapted to our needs in quickly evolving environments.
Technological advances are reshaping our world. We need to take advantage of these, investing in our brain capital to harness the brain's innate neuroplastic abilities, adapt our capabilities, and seize the opportunities offered by new technologies.
In this article, we decided to focus on three technological levers: Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and Neuro-feedback.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI is now everywhere, and the following report from UNESCO highlights its impact on Skills Development. Even if VAK learning styles (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic) have not reached scientific consensus, it is well known in neurosciences that we all have different strategies for learning a concept. In the same manner, AI is used for content recommendation in the entertainment industry, and it can be used for adaptive learning purposes and skill enhancement. Adaptive learning is an educational approach that leverages technology to tailor instruction to the individual needs and progress of each learner. It utilizes real-time data and analytics to dynamically adjust the content, pace, and difficulty level of lessons, ensuring a personalized and optimized learning experience. By constantly adapting to the learner's abilities and preferences, adaptive learning enhances engagement, comprehension, and overall educational outcomes. Regarding education, Domoscio specializes in Adaptive Learning. Its technology connects cognitive science and artificial intelligence to personalize training and make it easier to measure its impact. For professionals, the startup Upskiled, for example, provides personalized podcasts to learn about specific topics based on the required level of complexity and available time. Upskyled for example provides personalized podcasts to learn on specific topics, based on the required level of complexity and available time.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Over the past few decades, VR was expected to become the next technological breakthrough, with first applications in the gaming industry and the hype surrounding the Metaverse. However, the adoption of VR in everyday life remains relatively low.
In this context, the intersection of EdTech and skills development could be a catalyst for this technology. VR has the potential to revolutionize the way we learn and acquire skills, creating immersive and engaging experiences that transcend the limitations of traditional methods.
Demonstrating the promise of VR in education, a PWC study revealed that VR learners:
- Are four times faster than conventional classroom learners to acquire new skills.
- Have a 275% increase in confidence to apply the skills acquired after training.
- Are four times more focused than those using traditional e-learning methods.
- Experience a 3.75 times stronger emotional connection to the content compared to their classroom counterparts.
An example is the company VictoryXR, which specializes in designing VR-class environments. VR companies rely on studies that demonstrate an increase in concentration and brain activity within a VR learning environment compared to traditional classroom settings, as demonstrated on the following poster realized by a research team at Saga University in Japan:
Neurofeedback is a technique based on neuroscience that involves real-time monitoring of brain activity and providing feedback about one's own focus and mental performance state to individuals. The goal is to help them self-regulate and optimize their cognitive functions. This approach is based on the understanding that by observing and acknowledging the brain's neural activity, it can be modified to improve performance and/or well-being.
The process typically involves using sensors to measure brainwave patterns associated with attention, relaxation, or focus. For more details on these sensors, feel free to consult our article dedicated to BCI.
Since skill development is not related to any medical condition, only non-invasive sensors are used today. These sensors are mainly in the form of headbands or earbuds capable of capturing brain activity like electroencephalography (EEG) or photoplethysmogram (PPG) signals, and this information is then translated into visual or auditory feedback, allowing individuals to become aware of their own brain activity. Through repeated sessions and reinforcement, users can learn to consciously influence and regulate their brainwaves, leading to enhanced cognitive functioning and emotional well-being. The companies Mendi.io and Sens.ai propose such solutions with the claim of improving productivity, focus, and overall brain functions.
In addition to neuro-feedback, some companies also go one step further, with products based on neuro-stimulation to act directly on the user’s brain activity.
We are also aware that companies working on brain implants are interested in these applications. Even if the current focus is on medical applications, Elon Musk never hid his long-term objective of developing a chip to augment everyone’s brain.
Professional Development: Lifelong Learning in the Workplace
Continuous learning is essential in a rapidly changing job market. Skills enhancement companies offer solutions for professionals seeking to develop new skills or improve existing ones.
This problem could be addressed in many different ways, and we will see in this part different approaches to improve performance at work. Here are some examples of startups that are enhancing professional development:
Targeting the whole brain performance
Neroes develops a mental training platform for the brain. The helmet records the brain activity (EEG) and is connected to a game in a software platform. It is the state of mind of the player that lets him play. The purpose of the game is to drive a spaceship up. If a calm and focused state of mind is activated, the spaceship goes up, reaching the next level. If not, the spaceship goes down. Each level is more complicated than the one before. Neroes has developed adaptive algorithms that adjust each training to each person and session to maximize brain performance. In order for the player to always play, he must be challenged at his best level.
Targeting a special skill that brings lots of value for the company or is highly at-risk
Lemony is focusing on soft skills in order to scale learnings of these skills with online training made by experts. They provide innovative learning tools in order to have interactive training in small groups.
Brain security uses neuroscience and gamification to provide cyber awareness training based on the industry's best practices. With a mission to fortify digital safety, the company offers unparalleled expertise and innovative solutions tailored to the unique needs of each client. From advanced threat intelligence to global impact, Brain Security stands as a proactive guardian, shaping the future of digital security.
Emotai decodes, analyzes, and responds to human emotions, offering personalized insights and well-being recommendations. From mood tracking to emotion analytics for businesses, Emotai is reshaping how we understand and interact with our emotions.
Targeting a special population like athletes
Alphabeat blends curated playlists, mindfulness exercises, and relaxation techniques to create a harmonious approach to mental health. With a user-friendly interface and personalized well-being journeys. Alphabeat helps athletes to master their minds in order to master their performance. Based on neurofeedback technology, people can train to control their alpha brain waves and enter a flow state to be fully focused on the game.
Myflow, an ETH Zurich innovation, is software that allows you to measure, track, and enhance your mental strength through eye-pupil analysis. Using a VR headset with integrated eye tracking, you can immerse yourself in the MyFlow environment and choose from various exercises tailored to your mental state. The beauty of MyFlow lies in its mobility, enabling you to train at your convenience. Data is securely stored on the MyFlow platform for analysis, allowing you and your coach to refine and optimize your mental training for peak performance. The goal is to train when and where it suits you and achieve your optimal mental fitness.
We showed that startups can leverage neurosciences and cognitive science to enhance the learners' performance. Once it is paired with new technologies that create synergies, such as VR, which makes immersive learning accessible, AI allows adaptive learning at scale and neurofeedback to go even further in a fully personalized experience. We also showed some interesting startups in that field that take on the challenge of next-generation Edtech. From an investor perspective, the EdTech market is now worth more than $11 billion (thanks to Statista); our conviction is that the sector is still at the beginning of its full potential.
Indeed, education needs are evolving in a fast-paced environment, and the need for tailored learning experiences is growing. Innovations in science will enhance the whole experience in the meantime, leveraging the tech progress. This way, it will bring the EdTech market to the next level. We are super excited to see what will come next, and if you are building a solution that aims to disrupt the skill enhancement sector, feel free to reach us.