Shoot for the Stars: Astrophysicist Anna Barnacka’s Mission to Improve Health Through Intelligent EarbudsApril 1st, 2020
Perhaps no field has undergone as much transformation in recent years as the healthcare industry. Advanced technology has unlocked the ability to offer more effective, efficient, and personalized patient care, which has inspired industry leaders to further catalyze improvement in health care. While technology has ushered in a new era of health care, it takes brilliant people to ensure the combination of tech and health care results in revolutionary improvements. In our new blog series, “Meet the Female CEOs Who Are Driving Real Change in the Healthcare Industry”, you’ll hear candid insights from some of the most influential leaders in the healthcare industry. Each interviewee bears a unique story, but all are revolutionizing their respective fields for the better.
First up in our series is Dr. Anna Barnacka, CEO & President of MindMics. By building earbuds that monitor all of your vital signs and provide actionable data, Anna is empowering others to live healthy, happy, and informed lives.
Anna’s background is extensive, impressive, and wildly unique. While she now enjoys life as a tech entrepreneur, she previously worked as an astrophysicist, a professor, and was a NASA Einstein Fellow at Harvard (not to mention she flies planes in her spare time). Brought on by the stress that came from working long hours as an astrophysicist, Anna went looking for a device that she could use to help optimize her health. Nothing she found fit exactly what she was looking for so Anna took it upon herself to create a product that would easily allow users to track their vital signs and provide actionable data.
This is part 1 of 5 in our “Meet the Female CEOs Who Are Driving Real Change in the Healthcare Industry” series created in partnership with growth marketing agency Ideometry. Tune in next week for another installment!
Tell us a bit about MindMics?
Anna: MindMics started with a technology that I developed which allowed us to collect very high precision data about our health using earbuds. With our earbuds, you can listen to music, and at the same time receive quality medical data concerning your vitals. Once we filed patents to protect this technology, we started building the entire company around this technology platform that will allow users to monitor, optimize, and improve their health.
Our goal is to provide others with a much better handle on their health through an accessible and affordable technology that doesn’t require you to go to the hospital. I think the idea of just being able to put in earbuds and see how you’re doing health-wise could be revolutionary to the healthcare industry.
What milestones has your company achieved so far?
Anna: MindMics incorporated a little over a year ago, but I've been building the technology for much longer than that. We are currently raising our bridge round in the hopes of moving towards a series A round. We have 8 full-time employees working in Boston, as well a team in Poland that is helping take MindMics to the next level.
We’re currently in the process of filing a lot of patents regarding our technology, which is important because building the product portfolio is a critical step in building the business. We’re also very excited about our upcoming clinical trials that will validate the effectiveness of our technology in a clinical setting.
Is the plan to have this technology adopted by headphone manufacturers or will this be administered by health care institutions?
Anna: Initially, our goal is to put our technology in the hands of people who need it most. This would include people who have been recently discharged from the hospital, for example. But eventually, we would like to move into the consumer space where everyone can use this technology.
What's very disruptive about our technology is its functionality. Health monitoring devices that can be easily accessed and worn are convenient, usually providing low-quality data. On the other side, we have professional-grade medical devices that provide very precise information, but are usually expensive and bulky. So there really isn’t a technology out there that is both easily accessible and wearable, as well as high quality. MindMics is working on a unique strategy that combines the best of both worlds.
What’s the origin story of the company?
Anna: I’ve always liked learning about new technologies and trying new things. I worked as an astrophysicist for 10 years prior to MindMics, and was ready for a change in my life. I was working extremely long hours as an astrophysicist, which somewhat contributed to feeling stressed. Feeling stressed led me to looking into a lot of different technologies that could allow me to optimize my health and monitor my brain activity. As I started trying all of these different products, I was very disappointed with all of them. None of them provided any actionable data, and the precision of the data wasn’t great.
I thought it was crazy that, as humans, we could detect gravitational waves from all the way across the universe, but we couldn’t precisely measure our heart rates without going to the doctor. I decided to put my skills and knowledge into looking for a solution that could make this possible. I spent a lot of time figuring out a technology that would allow us to collect high precision data that could be used to optimize our health. Earbuds proved to be the best form of technology to accomplish this goal.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams but aren’t sure where to start?
Anna: What helped me grow as a leader and improve my leadership skills was surrounding myself with people who don't have biases, or at least are aware of them so they can correct them. They also need to be willing to teach and impart their knowledge on those who are willing to learn. Creating an environment that encourages people to communicate and work together allows other people to grow. We’ve all been in a place where we were new in our field, and in those times having leaders in your life is very important. On the other hand, once you’ve become a leader in your field, it’s important to help others so that they can go on to become leaders themselves. When you’re building a company, it’s important that the people around you are growing, not just yourself or a handful of executives.
Did you have any mentors yourself that helped you get to where you are today?
Anna: Absolutely. I’ve had a few wonderful mentors, and I’m very grateful for all the help and support they’ve given me. It’s so important to have a mentor that can guide you and let you know what the road ahead could look like. Having mentors not only helped me grow as a scientist, but now it’s helping me grow as an entrepreneur as well. You want to keep people close that can teach you things that you can’t find in books and know how to help you reach the next level. It’s also great just knowing that people believe in you and your mission to achieve even your loftiest goals.
Charles Dornbush is certainly an important mentor of mine. From the very beginning, he’s taught me how to be an effective leader and grow as an entrepreneur. He’s had a lot of success in his career, so it’s great to have mentors that are experienced and can help you find success as well.
How can people who are in need of professional guidance go about finding mentors in their field?
Anna: The easiest way someone can connect with professionals in their field is through their passions. In my case, I’m really passionate about karate, flying, and classical music. I met my co-founder, Charles, at a classical music event in Boston. So pursuing your passions and attending events that you’re passionate about could help you connect with the right people. It certainly did in my case.
I think it’s also helpful to have people in your life who may be slightly ahead of you from a professional standpoint. I had other female friends that we’re also building companies, and they were much farther along than me when I first started MindMics. Being able to pick their brains and learn from them was critical to my development. These connections also provide you with a network of people who are experiencing the same struggles that you are. Those shared experiences are great to have, and certainly help you feel more comfortable with your current situation.
Venture Lane, for example, is a great community to be a part of, because you’re working alongside leaders who are going through exactly what you’re going through. It’s very helpful from a mental health perspective, as well as a professional perspective. I love being able to walk up to any person in the building and learn what they’re going through, because oftentimes it can help me solve my own problems.
You mentioned some of your passions include karate and flying. Are you able to keep up with these hobbies and build a company at the same time?
Anna: I’m certainly not able to keep up with all of my hobbies. Flying, for example, is something that takes a lot of time and money to do, so it’s hard to find time to fly when you’re building a startup. I am able to do karate quite frequently though, which I love because it helps me feel less stressed and helps me re-focus. I think it’s critical to develop habits that help us manage our stress levels, and karate certainly helps me in that regard.
As a leader, we have to make a lot of hard decisions and pay attention to everything that is going on within the company. It requires a lot of effort and concentration to make sure that all of your employees are growing, so having a clarity of mind is really important. I don’t want to come into work on Monday and feel exhausted, and making time for my passions helps me feel rejuvenated and ready to get to work.
What’s it been like being part of the Venture Lane community?
Anna: It’s great to have people around you that are going through similar challenges. Working closely with our early stage startups is especially great because startups face unique challenges that many professionals wouldn’t be able to help you solve. When you have a community of leaders who are working through similar issues, it makes you feel empowered and think, “Okay, I’ve got this.” It’s been really fun to grow alongside the other Venture Lane companies and watch them succeed and help each other find success. Having that sense of community helps because building a startup can challenge you in all possible ways.
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Part 2 of our series will launch next week, so stay tuned for our next installment.
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