News Column

Austin startup Axelo hopes its technology can lessen brain injuries

February 1, 2014

By Lori Hawkins, Austin American-Statesman



Feb. 01--When former Dell Inc. executive Denis Tracey invested in Austin startup Axelo Inc., his goal wasn't about making a profit.

Tracey, who has made multiple investments in Austin companies since retiring from the computer giant, said he just wants to see the company succeed.

Axelo, founded in 2007, is developing technology designed to reduce traumatic brain injuries, particularly for football players and other athletes who wear protective helmets. The seven-person company believes its 3-D sensing technology and nanotechnology can help prevent head injuries.

"My days as an angel investor went out with the dot-com bust," Tracey said. "I'm not interested in making any money -- just to have their product in every school and every team across the USA, and spread to other sports. That is why I decided to invest a small amount to help them get started. I can be a small part of something that will do a lot of good."

Axelo could soon be closer to achieving that goal. The company was recently awarded a $250,000 grant from Chase Bank to speed up development and testing of its technology.

It was one of 12 small U.S. businesses this year -- and the only one in Texas -- to receive a grant from Chase's Mission Main Street initiative. The grants also include a mentoring trip to California-based Google Inc. to discuss technology, marketing and growth strategies.

Nearly 35,000 small businesses nationally submitted applications for grants, which are intended to promote small businesses.

Criteria for grant selection included a feasible growth plan, the ability to make a positive impact in the local community and the likelihood of success within a two-year time frame.

What stood out about Axelo was the ground-breaking potential of its technology and the passion of its leaders, said Chase executive Pete Nardo.

"What they're trying to do is so critical and could really change a lot of peoples' lives," he said. "They're so excited about what they're doing, and we hope the grant money will help move the needle for them."

Axelo was founded by Pierre Touma and Ravi Rao, both veterans of the microchip technology and healthcare industries. It has raised what Touma describes as "small investments" from angel investors and is now seeking to raise up to $3 million.

The company originally focused on developing a natural movement three-dimensional game controller for the personal computer and gaming markets.

It shifted from entertainment to the health care market after it teamed with a San Antonio company to develop technology to alleviate spatial disorientation and motion sickness for the U.S. Air Force.

The company still markets its technology for those uses, but it is now focused on using sensor technology to prevent brain injuries. Its solution involves embedding motion-sensory technology into the helmet and protective gear of football players.

When an injury occurs, Axelo's technology will assess the impact and relay it to sideline personnel.

"It detects the impact the moment it happens, its location on the head, its direction and records the frequency over time," Touma said. "The immediate goal is to trigger an alert when you have an impact. At the same time, we'll be collecting data for brain research."

Touma said the grant from Chase "will allow us to finalize our R&D, get into the engineering phase and have a market-ready prototype within a year and a half."

This month, Touma and Rao will head to Google'sMountain View, Calif., campus to meet engineers and marketers, which Touma believes could open new opportunities.

"We think a couple of the technologies we have, such as our motion sickness alleviation, would be quite useful for Google, especially in terms of how it could be combined with Google Glass," he said, referring to Google's soon-to-be-released wearable computer device. "We hope it will be a very fruitful visit."

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Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)


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