Mindfulness technology: Interview with Moha Bensofia, Mendi CEO
Mendi is a clinical-grade headset you can use to exercise your brain. It was built to provide access to neurofeedback in a cost-effective way. The wearable uses gamification as a way to strengthen your brain and build focus.
Essential reading: Train your brain like a muscle with Mendi
I tested an early prototype device for a few weeks and found it works very well. There are three sensors on the inside of the headband that shine a red light and read the blood flow in your frontal cortex. By simply controlling the game on your smartphone you are stimulating a flow energy (oxygen and nutrients) to this area of the brain. This improves your mental fitness over time. The whole thing is an interesting and fun concept.
Now the company has turned to Kickstarter to raise awareness of the product. The campaign has smashed through its $50,000 fund raising goal in a matter of hours and is now up to nearly $900,000. It should top $1 million considering there are 16 days to go before it closes.
I sat down with Moha Bensofia, Mendi CEO, for a short Q&A session.
I found Mendi to be a really unique wearable – unlike anything I have come across before. What I like most is how simple it is to use and the game-like aspect. Can you give us a bit of background on the product?
Mendi was born in a neurofeedback clinic. The founders, Sammy and Rickard, both engineers, have an extensive background within neurofeedback. In February 2018 they were discussing how they could possibly bring this type of training methodology to more people, and Mendi was born by the simple idea of compressing the most vital parts of the clinic equipment into a wearable device for home use. That’s when the possibility of bringing brain training to the masses was born and the first iterations of Mendi were born.
How does Mendi measure activity in the prefrontal cortex? I understand it’s a combination of sensors that utilise infrared light to measure blood flow and oxygenation.
The Mendi hardware is based on functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) technology. The headset emits an infrared light which monitors activity in the front of your brain. The app provides exercises to train your brain, requiring focus and calm to control the game, subsequently increasing activity in your prefrontal cortex. While the headset measures your progress, it’s really all about the software that stimulates your brain and delivers results.
In my time with the headband, I did my own little experiment where I would do a session not focusing on the game, and then immediately follow with a session where I would focus intensely on the game. I’ve done this multiple times and in every instance the score in the app was higher the second time around, at times much higher. To me this indicates the wearable does work as advertised.
I understand there is a third-party study that confirms the efficacy of Mendi? Could you please gives us a bit more detail on this? Are there additional studies planned?
Yes! We have concluded our first study with Lennart Högman, a PhD senior researcher and lecturer in the department of psychology at Stockholm University. The results showed that Mendi’s measurement capabilities are on par with research-grade technology. The results have now been submitted for publication and will be available later this month.
We will continue conducting studies with Mendi and share our learnings with the scientific community to advance research and understanding of neurofeedback for specific conditions. Right now we’re focused on upcoming studies to evaluate the effects of Mendi on specific cognitive abilities.
As we aim to contribute to a larger understanding of the brain, it’s important to be able to conduct large scale studies and leverage aggregate data to find patterns. We’re excited to offer an affordable, easy to access tool that will make this possible!
I was told you have plans on adding new games to the app. Could you please elaborate a bit on what kind of games and when we can look forward to this?
Definitely! We are working on new game designs for training with different visual representations of your brain activity, this is something we aim to roll out later this year and early next year.
Our long term mission, as we get more insights from data and research, is to create training games and exercises specialized for certain types of brains and functions, as well as more personalized training. Mendi is a software company, and the whole premise is to get the best game creators in the same room as the experts (doctors, neuroscientists…) in order to create condition and age specific games.
Who do you see as your competition? There is Muse with its meditation headband and other stress oriented wearables – but they are slightly different. In the market you are in there is no real direct competition at this price-point. Is that correct?
As far as who Mendi’s competitors are, it is reasonable to say that as neurofeedback research continues to advance, there are different products popping up to deal with different conditions—the most popular of which are focused on relaxation or sleep. Mendi is not siloed to one category or use case, and we’re excited continue to develop a product that mirrors the efficacy of neurofeedback clinics at home.
Is your target the average person or do you plan to get involved with professional sports teams and athletes? Depending on the sport, I can imagine the wearable could be adapted to suit various needs.
Of course! It’s important to note, however, that clinical-grade neurofeedback technology has long been available to athletes, executives, and astronauts. It is simply too expensive or inaccessible for everyone else.
We believe in building a product available to everyone because we know the impact improved mental fitness can have on our daily lives and long term health. Top level athletes and sports programs are already using Mendi with excellent results, such is the case of the Basketball program of the University of Cincinnati, as well as members of the Swedish Olympic squads.
The Kickstarter campaign for Mendi is doing extremely well. Were you surprised at the level of interest? Do you have plans to launch a second campaign on Indiegogo or another crowdfunding platform?
We’re thrilled with the response to the Kickstarter campaign—it’s clear to us that there is a growing community ready for Mendi to hit the market! Our aim is to make Mendi available to as many people as possible, so we will plan to expand our efforts and share more details in the coming weeks.
Where do you see this technology heading in the next 4-5 years?
fNIRS is a relatively new technology in the space and it takes time for it to become adopted. Currently fMRI is the holy grail of measuring and studying brain activity, but it comes with severe disadvantages which make it too expensive and unscalable. There are a lot of synergies and different applications in the area, such as Neuralink who are creating the next generation BCI. More and more, technology is driving biology and this is part of it.
It is still not too late if you want in. Mendi will be available on Kickstarter for 16 more days. Assuming all goes well with production, a pledge of $299 (40% below RRP) will have the device delivered to your door in September.
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