“There are no limits when you have a natural calling”

On our journey into the future of Digital Health, we caught up with Ana Maiques, CEO of Neuroelectrics, a company that’s working to minimize brain disabilities and improve the quality of life for patients. Read the story of Ana’s journey from a bankrupt company in Belgium, to a thriving startup operating out of Barcelona and Boston, and discover how sometimes the worst situations bring us opportunities to redefine and reinvent ourselves. Also, find out what her curious headpiece choice is all about! 

In a nutshell, for those who don’t know Neuroelectrics, what is it that you do? What’s special about your company?

Neuroelectrics is a creative and high-tech company founded in 2011 in Barcelona and with offices also in Boston. As of today, we offer the best non-invasive high definition electrical brain stimulation technology for personalized neuromodulation.

What’s special about Neuroelectrics on one side is our wireless cap that reads brain activity (EEG), it contains electrodes that inject small currents and allows us to see what is happening inside the brain. With these same currents we can build a 3D model of the patient’s brain and decide where to inject the current, how much current we have to give, non invasively, and with how much intensity to improve the brain pathologies.

On the other side is the goal that brings the whole team together,  to restore brain health, by measuring and modifying brain function. We want to minimize brain disabilities like epilepsy, Alzheimer, depression among others. We aim to be able to provide a better life quality to our patients by creating a new therapy to help patients with brain diseases.

Tell us more about the most recent project you are working on.

We are currently working on two clinical trials toward FDA approval, one for epilepsy (aiming to reduce seizures in patients that do not respond to medication) and a fully at home depression study. These are really relevant projects to bring our technology closer to patients and help millions in need.

‘The biggest learning during the Pandemic is that, despite of the worst situations, opportunities and new avenues may open, so resilience and pivoting is key for start ups navigating troubled waters’

Now that a year of the Pandemic is behind us, how did it affect Neuroelectrics? What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic? And your biggest learning?

2020 was a challenging year for everyone. We had to redefine the strategy and reinvent ourselves and the way we work not only internally but also with our main clients. However, this is a great opportunity for all the healthcare community, especially health tech companies to collaborate together and address the three main topics that we have seen during this pandemic: efficiency, efficacy and affordability.

In case of Neuroelectrics we have taken this opportunity to start working towards the goal of bringing our technology at home with Starstim-Home Solution. One of our main missions is that our technology reaches as many patients as possible, treating pathologies related to the brain from home. Now more than ever during these times, it is needed and we are actually seeing it happening. One clear example was the greenlight of the  FDA to start a fully at home depression study to help depression patients that could not access their current in hospital treatments because of the pandemic.

Copyright Neuroelectrics

The biggest learning is that, despite of the worst situations, opportunities and new avenues may open, so resilience and pivoting is key for start ups navigating troubled waters.

Can you tell us a little bit about your personal journey from Barcelona to becoming the CEO of a successful science-based startup operating in both the US and Spain? Any word of advice for younger professionals who are aspiring to succeed in this space?

I was living in Belgium when the company I was working for filed for bankruptcy. That was a decisive moment that changed the course of my life. Along with my partner we decided to take over and continue with the job they were doing, I often say this is the moment where I became an entrepreneur, where faced with two roads ahead I decided to take the riskier one following my inner voice. This is the moment we became enterpreneurs leading Starlab Barcelona first in year 2000 and later founding Neuroelectrics in 2011, three years later we expanded into the USA with our Boston office.

I would say go for it. We need more people in science and when you are passionate about something and you manage to create a project as beautiful as Neuroelectrics, that has an impact on people’s life, the value is incalculable. There are no limits when you have a natural calling, follow your dream and give it time to become something real. The path is long but eventually you’ll get there and when you do, you’ll look back and realise that all the effort you put was completely worth it. So I often say to entrepreneurs that you have to ask yourself why did you start a company?If you are doing it for the right reasons you will be able to endure the difficulties and be successful.

‘In the area that I know, that is brain disease, there is still a tremendous need for innovation’

What is your mantra when it comes to work and innovation?

You have to be a V.E.P have Vision (something you have to be willing to change, a need that you want to fulfill), Execution (it is very important to focus on how to implement your vision, it is the secret of success, many people have good ideas but those implementing them right will succeed) and Passion (you need to do it for the right reasons, aligned with your values).

At 4YFN, we are witnessing a “boom” of digital health startups in the local ecosystem in the past couple of years. In fact, our “Digital Health Hub” that focuses on startups and innovation in healthcare, is one of the most sought-after programmes. Do you too share this feeling? In your opinion, what is the future holding for health tech?

Totally, in the area that I know, that is brain disease, there is still a tremendous need for innovation. In epilepsy 30% of all patients do not respond to medication, in Alzheimer we do not still have a drug and in depression many patients are still struggling in spite of taking meds. With the above I just want to make the point that digital health solutions are really needed to help patients in need, now with pandemic more than ever.

‘The energy in 4YFN and the attitude of “we are building the future” is not easy to find in other events’

We are thrilled that you’ll be speaking at 4YFN this year. What is the most exciting thing for you about your participation at 4YFN 2021?

I totally love 4YFN and have attended before. To me being surrounded by the start up community is always really inspiring. The energy in 4YFN and the attitude of “we are building the future” is not easy to find in other events. As a woman CEO and founder I always try to inspire other women and learn how good we are doing in diversity as a field.

At 4YFN, we encourage all innovation ecosystem players to “Join the startup movement”. What do you understand as the “Startup Movement”?

The unconventional, the outside of the box profiles, the ones that want to invent the future! The ones that choose the difficult, more risky path, the ones that imagine and follow their dreams.

Finally, we just LOVE your photo with the EEG electrode helmet. Tell us more about it, what exactly are we seeing there?

Yes, this helmet is Starstim, its function is dual, on one side to monitor brain activity and on the other to inject low-voltage electrical currents into the brain. The effect of these electrical currents is to excite neuronal or inhibitory activity, while causing neurons to fire more or less. The technology is being applied in clinical trials with the aim to become a new therapy for patient suffering from epilepsy, depression or Alzheimer, amongst other brain diseases.

Thank you Ana for sharing your thoughts with us, see you at 4YFN 2021!