In the ever-evolving landscape of start-up culture, a story that vividly showcases resilience is that of MindTension, an Israeli tech company based in Kibbutz Nir Am, just a few minutes’ drive from the Gaza border. The company, which raised a promising seed round earlier this year, was on the verge of releasing a groundbreaking product when, on October 7, its world was shaken to the core.
From innovation to survival
Imagine being part of a team that is working on cutting-edge impact technology designed to improve the mental and emotional health of society’s most vulnerable people, while also facing the harsh realities of living in a region marred by ongoing threats of violence. This was the stark reality for the MindTension team when their office, located on the Gaza border, came under attack, and the entire area was declared a closed military zone. Key employees were not just facing professional challenges; their lives were directly impacted as they navigated through attacks, loss of homes, and the relocation of their families.
The war brought trauma to MindTension’s doorstep, affecting employees like Yonatan Kudlash and Rotem Ben Ari. Kudlash, the company’s data analyst, spent harrowing hours holed up with his family in a safe room before being evacuated. Ben Ari, the neuroscientist, was relocated to Eilat after escaping with her family from nearby Kibbutz Nirim. Her family had hidden in a safe room while terrorists roamed the kibbutz – attacking, killing, and kidnapping anyone they could find. It was a challenge for Ben Ari to keep her young children safe and quiet so they would not be found.
Undeterred by the chaos around them, the MindTension team pressed on with the development of their revolutionary technology. Their focus? A device that will be able to accurately and objectively quantify attention across a variety of neurodevelopmental, behavioral, trauma-associated, and other mental health conditions. In a field where there are too few trained experts, and subjectivity complicates a more precise diagnosis and treatment, MindTension aims to introduce objective metrics that will revolutionize the way mental health is approached and accessed.
The birth of MindTension
MindTension’s journey began at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, where a decade of research in Prof. Avi Avital’s lab laid the foundation for the groundbreaking technology. Located in the SouthUp technology incubator in Kibbutz Nir Am, MindTension is part of an initiative, started by businesspeople from the region and San Diego, aimed at fostering entrepreneurship and economic recovery in an area plagued by ongoing security challenges.
Ofir Libstein, the former head of Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, recognized the start-up’s breakthrough work and potential benefits for his community. Tragically, Libstein lost his life on October 7 while defending his home community, leaving behind a wife and four children. His life’s work underscores the resilience of southern Israeli communities which, despite adversity, continue to embrace innovation and development.
From ADHD to PTSD
MindTension’s technology is centered around a five-minute test involving auditory sounds and reflexive responses. The test originally focused on conditions like ADHD. However, a surprising revelation during local trials opened up a new avenue for the company to research. Testing children from the Gaza envelope revealed response patterns that appeared to be different than classical ADHD. Based on other pilot data, these patterns seemed to correspond with trauma responses. These children, constantly exposed to shelling and rockets, seemed to be hypervigilant and on high alert for the “next attack.” Knowing that youth with ADHD are more prone to developing PTSD prompted the team to look further into this field.
Hadas Shatz Azoulay, the company’s COO, emphasized the urgency of addressing stress and PTSD, particularly in a society where one in three Israelis reports experiencing symptoms since October 7. MindTension’s technology is sensitive enough to characterize attention and provide profiles to aid in differential diagnosis or determining co-occurrence of conditions like ADHD and PTSD. It also provides objective data, filling a crucial gap in a field often reliant on self-reported symptoms or on parents’ reports of their child’s behavior.
The company is preparing for FDA approval and is about to begin clinical trials for its use as an aid in the diagnosis of ADHD. The study will take place at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, under the oversight of world-renowned psychiatrist Prof. Jeffrey H. Newcorn.
From tragedy to opportunity
The company’s management, recognizing the impact of these traumatic events and the importance of boosting the team’s morale, implemented several measures of support. They continued paying salaries to alleviate financial stress. They also offered psychological help to those who needed it. And they defined professional objectives to give employees something productive to focus on, or at least something to distract them during this difficult time.
One of these involved using the opportunity and technology at their disposal to begin testing evacuees with the device. Being in close proximity to other survivors at the Eilat hotel, Ben Ari begin collecting data from her fellow displaced community members and started feeling that she was doing meaningful work.
A vision for the future
While MindTension remains dedicated to its medical applications, CEO Zev Brand envisions a broader impact for their technology. Beyond mental health, the company has shown that the device provides important information about alertness of medical residents and pilots and is exploring applications in various professions that require high attention levels. The goal is to create a tool that can assess attention levels for sectors such as home fronts, airlines, hospitals, and heavy machinery operations to improve safety and prevent deaths and financial loss.
“We are blessed with a solid team of global investors and strategic partners who are helping us achieve our objectives,” says co-founder and CEO Zev Brand. “Our vision is to create a ubiquitous impact tool that will be available on camera, which is easily scalable, affordable, and available to all socioeconomic groups.
“The best compliment I received was when I presented the technology to professor Joseph Biederman, a leading Harvard psychiatrist, at a conference a few years back. He jumped up with excitement and said, ‘I’ve been looking for this my whole life. Anything that has the ability to transform the diagnostic and treatment monitoring process into a more objective and physiological one is a game-changer.’”
MindTension’s journey exemplifies resilience in the face of adversity. From a promising start-up on the brink of innovation to a company navigating through the chaos of war, its story is a testament to the indomitable spirit of Israeli entrepreneurship. In a region marked by constant challenges, MindTension not only perseveres but thrives, delivering innovation that transcends borders, and promises a brighter future for mental health diagnostics and beyond. ■
Galia Kut is an early-stage investor, general partner and board member in several Israeli funds and companies. She also manages her own family office. Heidi Zaidel represents global investors. She also provides business development and strategy services to companies. [email protected]