Scott Burwell PhD, is CEO of Neurotype Inc., a company that is using portable brain sensing headset technology to improve the treatment of addictions.

Having completed a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Minnesota psychiatry department, Burwell developed a platform that uses electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets to record a patient’s brain reactions to pictures of drugs and naturally rewarding scenes. This brain response data may be used to more objectively estimate the likelihood of drug use or relapse, potentially helping clinicians and patients when planning appropriate treatments.

With a Small Business Innovations Research award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and assistance from the MN SBIR/STTR Accelerator, Burwell was referred to the SciTech Internship Program, where he could affordably hire STEM students to help him develop his technology.

The benefit of interns
“Initially, I was pretty hesitant to take on interns because I thought it was going to be a lot of work,” Burwell recalled. “But they’ve demonstrated to me that it’s the opposite. It’s a lot easier to have them working with me than when I was doing most of this on my own.”

Through SciTech, Burwell hired Subash Shrestha, a software engineering major at St. Cloud State University with app development experience, and James Vlasak, a computer science and psychology major at the University of Minnesota.

For first-time interns, Shrestha and Vlasak were given a great opportunity to prove themselves, working directly with the nascent technology and helping to build software products from the ground up. Together they built Neurotype’s website, and helped develop prototype apps to be used specifically in opioid treatment settings, such as the “picture task” that links with the EEG headsets.

Getting to make something from scratch, Shrestha said, was his favorite. “When I get the code working for the first time, that’s the most satisfying part.”

“My favorite thing that I’ve worked on was creating the website,” Vlasak added. “We talked a lot about how it’s really important to have that visibility, and Scott didn’t really have a landing page where people could go to be like, this is what Neurotype does, this is who we are. So, I thought that was really fun, messing with the styling and how it looks.”

A future in tech
“This has been the best experience,” said Burwell. “What they’re building is brand new. They are really experimenting with a future version of a new technology and that takes a lot of time, there’s a lot of debugging that goes into it. These guys have been my eyes and ears, to understand what the problem is at a given moment and how to get over that hurdle. It’s been an immense help.”

Where Burwell found hardworking developers, Shrestha and Vlasak found a meaningful opportunity that will stay with them long into their career.

“I could go on for 20 minutes about the things that I’ve learned, but I think the biggest thing is the [React JavaScript] Framework that we use,” Vlasak said. “It’s a way to create an application, and in the past couple of years it’s basically become the industry standard. I think it’s fun, but it will also look good to someone further down the line who I might work for.”

Shrestha most enjoyed the chance to work in a professional environment and the opportunity to refine his skills. As he thinks about his future, he said, “Who knows, maybe I’ll start my own startup company like Scott.”

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