Nikhil Patel is the kind of founder who investors adore. He’s a brainiac who, before studying computer science at Yale, spent three years in high school working as a research associate at the University of Central Florida. “I started working there before I could drive, and it was the most embarrassing thing to get dropped off by my mom at the office,” he says with a laugh.
Patel also has a personal connection to the problem he is trying to solve, that of trying to diagnose and address Alzheimer’s disease as early as possible. Watching his grandmother lose ground to Alzheimer’s, and understanding, from a young age, that an early diagnosis and intervention can delay the onset of dementia, he centered his research on building Alzheimer’s-related computerized diagnostics — which wasn’t easy to pull off as a teenager. (He says he finally found one professor who was willing to publish his findings under the auspices of the lab after more than 100 others turned him down.)
Patel did get distracted. After graduating from college, he logged time at a “couple of different hedge funds” and at Goldman Sachs. But by early last year, as another relative was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he returned to earlier work, founding Craniometrix, which is today a tiny, three-person operation with sizable ambitions.
So far, the team has raised $6 million in seed funding for a HIPAA-compliant app that, according to Patel, can help identify Alzheimer’s disease — even years before symptoms appear — after just 10 minutes of gameplay on a cellphone. It’s not purely a tech offering. Patel says the results are given to an “actual physician” affiliated with Craniometrix who “reviews, verifies, and signs that diagnostic” and returns it back to a patient.
But the company’s backers — including Quiet Capital, Defy.vc, Olive Tree Capital, Rebel Fund, J Ventures, Cathexis Ventures and Y Combinator — and really betting on Patel and his bigger vision to create a one-stop, direct-to-consumer tele-medicine platform that not only helps with early Alzheimer’s detection but that also provides ongoing support to patients and their caregivers.
It’s a concept that Neil Sequeira of Defy says he rallied around easily, given his firm’s interest in startups that use tech to improve upon legacy healthcare businesses. (Others of Defy’s bets include a cloud-based lab management startup called Genemod and Apploi, a healthcare hiring platform.)
But Sequeira suggests that he might back anything Patel worked on. In fact, he says he met Patel through another CEO whose stealth startup Defy has funded and who, when asked about the smartest person he has ever met, pointed to Patel.
Only time will tell whether those smarts will successfully bolster a big business, but unsurprisingly, Patel already has a roadmap.
While step one centers on people who are concerned about developing Alzheimer’s, want to self-screen at home, and will receive a doctor-reviewed diagnostic report from the company within 48 hours, Craniometrix expects to soon offer real-time doctor access to customers who may have questions and concerns after receiving their report.
Craniometrix also plans to create bundled monthly subscriptions that will include point-in-time screenings, access to live doctor assistance, and other tools to address symptom management and caregiver support.
It’s a big market, Patel argues. He asserts that caregivers today spend $3,000 a year out of pocket on the types of services that Craniometrix will eventually offer online. He also notes that while the direct-to-consumer market alone is a big opportunity, he is already having “interesting conversations” with health plans about using tools like those that Craniometrix is developing to cut down on unnecessary patient visits.
Says Patel, “a lot of today’s visits could easily be served by a chat service or an offline communication service.”
Ultimately, Patel says, the idea is to eliminate the need to go to a medical office. But it’s also to “keep people on better footing” when it comes to managing the disease.
Considering that Alzheimer’s currently afflicts 6 million Americans alone and that those numbers are growing fast as the overall population ages, the company could well be one to watch. Stay tuned.