HabitAware has earned a name for itself within the Twin Cities startup community. Since 2016, the company’s product the Keen smart bracelet has secured significant funding grants from MN-SBIR and the National Science Foundation, took home the grand prize at the 2018 Minnesota Cup, was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the best inventions in 2018 and won the MEDA Million Dollar Challenge the following year.
According to John Pritchard, co-founder and electrical engineer at HabitAware, the secret behind their success comes down to two simple things: “Our founder’s story is just so real and approachable, and we’ve created a wearable product that works and matters to people.”
Aneela Idnani, along with her husband Sameer Kumar and co-founders Kirk Klobe and John Pritchard, developed the Keen smart bracelet to help Aneela manage her trichotillomania, or repetitive hair pulling. The bracelet senses specific, unwanted behaviors and sends a gentle vibration to alert the wearer to what their hands are doing and gradually retrain the brain to stop. After approximately a year of use, Keen helped Aneela achieve full hair regrowth and has since gone on to aid thousands others in more than 50 countries manage their Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors.
“The fact that we’re impacting people’s lives in a positive way is very fulfilling,” Pritchard said. “HabitAware Keen is not just another shiny gadget.”
Not just another internship
With more than 10,000 customers, Pritchard and his team of seven knew they’d need some assistance to stay on top of their ongoing product development. So, during the summer of 2019 they looked to the SciTech Internship Program where they hired Shriya Rai, a master’s student studying data science at the University of Minnesota.
With a computer science degree already under her belt, along with some industry exposure from working for Oracle back in India, Rai came to her data science internship with a good deal of experience and a lot to offer. In return, she said, she found an inspiring work environment with a startup company that’s not only making waves, but making a difference.
Compared to the large corporate setting that she came from, Rai said, “I prefer this environment. I got to learn a lot more about how these types of electronics work by working with the hardware that they use here.”
It was Rai’s responsibility to collect data and to create a protocol that would help detect certain repetitive behaviors. Her goal, she said, was to see all the data collected before her internship ended in August.
Much has changed since last July. At the time of the interview Pritchard told us, “We’re building off our two research grants and identifying new ways to serve underserved mental health communities.”
Like many within our medtech community, HabitAware is currently doing what they can to provide solutions and support to those effected by COVID-19. In a recent article with Minneapolis/St.Paul Business Journal, HabitAware was highlighted as a Minnesota startup using their tech to help the public maintain positive health practices during COVID-19 isolation. As the Keen bracelet helps alert users to repetitive behaviors, including skin picking, hair pulling and nail biting, its patented gesture detection algorithm is also able to help users reduce face touching, which experts say is one of the best ways to protect against COVID-19.
Rai is currently working towards her PHD and said last summer that she was thinking of switching her focus from data science to statistics.
“Statistics is more to do with the foundations of the machine learning algorithm,” Rai said. “I want to go deeper into the mathematics so that maybe one day, I can come up with something like this.”
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