June 11, 2019
Kate Van Pelt
Last week, we announced five May Amber Grant finalists. Today, we’re delighted to share the recipient and the qualifier for our $25,000 year-end Amber Grant.
Congratulations to Kate Van Pelt, Co-Founder of Synaptek. In our interview below, Kate reveals how and why she’s entering the concussion care space, shares excellent advice for female entrepreneurs and more.
WN: What led you to create Synaptek?
KVP: Synaptek is a culmination of my personal experience playing ice hockey and studying concussions for my PhD. I grew up playing ice hockey and saw first-hand the negative impact of concussions during those years, which motivated me to become a scientist studying concussions.
During my PhD, I studied why certain people were more at risk for a concussion and what factors influence someone’s recovery after a concussion. During this study I was fortunate to work with many colleges and U.S. military service academies. I was surprised to see how much clinicians struggled with concussion data management. In a time when most healthcare is being digitized, much of concussion-related care is still completed with pen and paper. This is a problem because concussion management is complicated, requiring multiple tests per athlete per year. Without a digital system, all this concussion data becomes a large burden for clinicians to manage and interpret.
Therefore, I came up with the idea for Synaptek, a concussion data management system. Synaptek will address the issues clinicians have with concussion testing and data management by digitizing the currently recommended concussion tests. By putting the concussion tests onto a tablet system we solve three problems: 1) We can ensure proper administration of tests, 2) Clinicians will directly enter data into an electronic system, 3) Data will be accessible to clinicians anywhere and anytime they need access. We believe this core feature of Synaptek will reduce clinician burden, saving them time and money. Most importantly, we believe Synaptek with further improve athlete safety. However, my vision for Synaptek is not just to digitize the status quo. We will leverage my scientific and statistical background to drive new innovations related to concussion care and recovery. We will use the data collected via Synaptek to better understand concussions and how we can improve an athlete’s recovery. Synaptek will drive innovation and hopefully guide the future of concussion care and management.
Luckily, Synaptek is not just my vision. My co-founders are my husband, Doug Van Pelt and our friend James McCollum. Doug and James have been invaluable assets to the Synaptek team. Doug brings his expertise in exercise science and also has his PhD. We will be working together to apply for SBIR grants and other funding mechanisms. Additionally, he will help develop Synaptek’s system to track recovery after a concussion. James is an award winning product manager who has extensive experience with user experience within healthcare, athletic, and government industries. James has thrown himself into developing our Synaptek prototypes and our marketing strategy. We are excited to be working together to get Synaptek into the hands of clinicians.
WN: Are there certain partnerships you’re pursuing? More broadly, how are you marketing Synaptek?
KVP: We are currently working with local athletic trainers, organizations, and physicians to test out Synaptek prototypes. Recently, we demonstrated Synaptek to members of the Kentucky Athletic Trainers’ Society. The athletic trainers and physicians at this meeting discussed with us their difficulties with concussion management. These discussions highlight the problems we want Synaptek to solve. We are still seeking out any clinicians that deal with concussion management to hear and learn from their experiences. This process will ensure we build Synaptek as a tool that addresses the needs of our clinicians. While Synaptek is research-based, it is clinician-driven.
This process has resonated with the clinicians we have met. They appreciate the time and thought we are putting into building Synaptek. The time we take to discuss Synaptek with clinicians will be a part of our marketing strategy because we feel that this process is one aspect that makes us unique.
WN: How are you monetizing the platform?
KVP: Synaptek will charge institutions like colleges, high schools, or professional team for Synaptek. Synaptek will be a subscription-based service, which will ensure that Synaptek can be scaled for athletic programs of all sizes.
WN: What are your plans for the grant funds?
KVP: First, we are grateful and honored to the Amber Award recipient for May 2019. We are inspired by the work of current and previous Amber grant winners and are excited to share Synaptek with the WomensNet community.
The monthly and annual Amber grant awards would help Synaptek meet our upcoming milestones. The monthly $2,000 grant is going to support beta testing of Synaptek with a local university and possibly local high schools. More specifically, these funds will enable us to purchase server space to host the data we collect, purchase software for the development of the Synaptek platform, and hire developer time to build a beta version of Synaptek for testing. Additionally, a portion will be used for networking with potential customers, investors, and advisors.
The annual $25,000 grant would enable us to further develop the digital Synaptek platform and obtain our first customers. In addition to further software development fees and networking, the $25,000 award will fund travel to the 2020 National Athletic Trainer’s convention. Attending the 2020 National Athletic Trainer’s convention will allow us to have a vendor booth at the largest athletic trainers conference. This exposure will demonstrate to a massive set of potential customers the Synaptek platform and how Synaptek will address their concussion care needs.
WN: What advice would you give an aspiring female entrepreneur?
KVP: My biggest piece of advice would be to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Being an entrepreneur forces you to wear a lot of hats and learn a lot of new skills. These roles and duties can be out of your comfort zone but you are absolutely capable to taking on these challenges and succeeding. Pushing yourself to be okay with doing things that make you uncomfortable will open more doors and possibilities you could ever imagine. To help you push open these doors, build a community of fellow entrepreneurs and mentors that you can learn from, lean on, and support. Knowing you are not the only one experiencing a problem can empower you to tackle whatever challenge is in front of you.
I had to learn to be comfortable with testing out my idea for Synaptek. For a while I was afraid to let anyone know about my idea because I was worried they would think it wasn’t viable. However, I learned and realized I had to think more like the scientist I am. I had to be okay with making a hypothesis about my company, testing this hypothesis, and evaluating whether I was on the right track. I quickly saw how valuable this process was. My perspective quickly changed, and fear turned into passion. Instead of being afraid of criticism, I welcomed it. Because understanding someone’s criticism is just a tool to make Synaptek even better.