“Surprised by Antwerp as a dynamic, innovative city”

In september, start-up BestBrain was the winner of the Antwerp Pitch Competition at the DLD Innovation Festival in Tel Aviv. The prize of this competition was a trip to Antwerp for BestBrain’s founder, the Tel Aviv-based Paul Nurflus. Business in Antwerp was curious to find out how he enjoyed his stay.

BestBrain uses neurofeedback technology. What does that mean, exactly?
Paul Nurflus (Best Brain): ‘Neurofeedback is a way of training the brain to behave in a certain way. The user wears an EEG headset that measures the brain’s activity and the area of the brain that is active. It’s possible to train the brain by rewarding ‘desired’ activity. BestBrain does this by showing users a film that they can see clearly whenever the brain performs the ‘desired activity’ and goes dark when it stops doing that activity. The brain quickly finds out what it’s supposed to do in order to see the film. The brain likes to have fun, you see. It will do whatever it can to get that reward. This makes neurofeedback a very powerful therapy for people with autism, ADHD or Alzheimer’s disease. It’s also good at teaching overly stressed people to stop their stress reaction.’

Why aren’t we all using this technology already?
‘The greatest challenge is that every brain is different. What works for my brain, might not work for yours. That’s why the existing forms of neurofeedback therapy don’t always succeed. BestBrain has developed a way to personalise the therapy and to find out what your brain reacts to best. That way, we can make it available to anyone and even automate it. You won’t need a doctor present for every session: you’d be able to buy your personalised set online.’

Which goals did you want to achieve during your stay in Antwerp?
‘Our prototype is finished and ready for clinical trial. Because every brain is different, we’re going to need very diverse testing groups. I’ve made contact with several doctors and institutions in Antwerp to see if we can collaborate for clinical trials. The doctors I’ve spoken to were all keen to try our technology. I’ve also planned a few chats with potential investors. As a scale-up, you need people who believe in your ideas and are willing to support them financially. And I must say that Antwerp itself has surprised me very pleasantly.’

How so?
‘I used to live in Brussels before moving to Israel. My father worked in Antwerp as a diamond cutter. So I had been to Antwerp before, but I had no idea that it was bustling with so much innovative and entrepreneurial energy. There’s this culture of “if you don’t try, you’ll never know”. I strongly believe that. After all, anyone can have an idea. It’s what you do with it that makes a difference. I have a temporary workspace in Start it @KBC and at StartupVillage. I meet people every day who are doing fascinating work. There’s an openness and a multicultural mindset and I think that’s key. After all, if we all think in the same way, we would never get anywhere.’

What does the future bring for BestBrain?
“First of all, and hopefully very soon, clinical trials. I want this technology to become available for as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. The reason for that is, in part, personal: my own son couldn’t read until he was sixteen years old because of severe dyslexia. After about fifteen sessions of neurofeedback therapy with a well-known Israeli neurologist, he opened a book and started reading. He hasn’t stopped since. That experience is invaluable to me—and to him. Everyone should have access to that. It is my hope that in twenty years, training your brain will be like going to the gym.”

 

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