NeuVanta Helps Seniors Improve Quality of Life
The story behind NeuVanta, a Columbus-based education and information systems firm, begins back in 2011 when CEO and founder Mark Luciano joined a research study for exercise and Parkinson’s Disease.
Luciano, who had been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s Disease with a hereditary component, was one of the younger participants; most people in the study were between 60 and 75 years old and already significantly affected by Parkinson’s.
“In the first couple of weeks, I thought there was no way the older group could make it through the study,” Luciano said, “but within three months, almost 100 percent were improved in terms of mobility, gait, and balance. And 39 of the 40 finished the year-long study.”
Luciano was so impressed with these results—for himself and the other study participants—that, in his words, he was determined how to put the genie into the bottle.
He teamed up with Deborah Kegelmeyer, DPT and professor of clinical health and rehabilitation sciences at The Ohio State University (OSU), pairing his executive management skills with Dr. Kegelmeyer’s expertise in neurological degenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s.
A Vision, a Pivot, and a Unique Opportunity to Acquire Technology
As is often the case with startup companies, it took months, market validation, and a bit of serendipity for the NeuVanta team to figure out their approach.
In 2015, NeuVanta licensed Dr. Kegelmeyer’s intellectual property and formally teamed up and developed a prototype that utilized an Xbox.
“We presented to Rev1, and they loved it…and hated it,” Luciano said. “Our approach to the market—a consumer model required the acquisition of an Xbox by a demographic (senior adults) not receptive to that created a barrier.”
Undaunted, the NeuVanta team went back to the drawing board. “We knew we had good intellectual property,” Luciano said. “We had to bring it down to the most acceptable form of delivery for our target customers.”
About that time, Luciano, who has extensive prior experience in the e-learning industry, was presented with the opportunity to acquire lines of electronic courseware that he had managed for a prior employer.
He and other members of the NeuVanta team took the leap with their own resources. “We broke the piggy bank, and acquired it,” Luciano said. “It allowed an instant business and gave us the technical capability to build out the courseware for Parkinson’s and older adult balance applications. We went back to Rev1, and they helped us develop a business model that could be fundable.”
“Create a Better You” Includes Exercise and Dashboard and Reporting Tools
In senior living communities, there are older adults with balance issues as well as Parkinson’s, an ideal opportunity for NeuVanta’s “Create a Better You™” solution. The company is in concept pilot programs in three senior living locations.
Create a Better You™ begins with the training and certification of resident caregivers and the facility. The exercise protocol can be worked into an existing physical therapy routine, or it can be introduced in group sessions. It can be the cornerstone of a facility’s wellness strategy or can enhance what a senior living community already has in place.
Participants can register their accomplishments themselves via an easy-to-use dashboard or with a trained resident caregiver.
“We help people visualize a quality life and doing the things they enjoy and let that be the motivator, not a focus on exercise,” said Luciano.
From his own experience, Luciano understands how to help others. “The success is that people realize this is like renewable fuel in that every time they exercise, they see improvement,” he said. “It becomes psychological as well as physical—negative self-talk such as ‘I can’t do this’ turns into ‘I can remember when I couldn’t do this.’ There is nothing more rewarding for our employees to hear stories of when a person with Parkinson’s can now get out of a chair with no help required.”
The pilot locations are seeing 40 to 50 percent resident participation. Senior care communities are already using Create a Better You™ as an attraction for new residents.
“It’s a win-win for residents, their families, and gives the senior living community an edge,” Luciano said. “In one location, the facility got two new residents already because of our program.”
Relentless Product Modifications Succeed in Customer Acceptance
As experienced with business and customers as the NeuVanta team is, they remain very tuned in to customer and market feedback.
“We made some assumptions early on about certain aspects of the program that we thought everyone would love. That turned out not to be the case,” Luciano said.
“The things we took for granted that we thought they would like, they didn’t. The important lesson is to be really involved with the target customer early on in the process,” he said. “Gather as much information as you can through focus groups or any means of research you have. There is nothing worse than spending money on something no one wants.”
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