In 2002, Toronto-based entrepreneur Eric Dolan had the worst year of his life – Dolan contracted a flesh eating disease in his leg at 10 years old, and his mother, who already suffers from epilepsy, had an open back surgery.
“My mom has had a slew of conditions, it’s kind of become second nature with the management and the expectations along with it,” Dolan says. “I just remember really low points, and that’s what drives me.”
Since then, Dolan has wondered why there are no reliable tracking and monitoring devices that could possibly prevent the situation.
Today, him and his brother are the co-founders of Neutun, an app made for the Pebble Watch which helps epilepsy users track seizures. Users can download the application onto their Pebble Watch, and an accelerometer runs in the background. If someone starts moving at a certain pace continuously and in a way that is difficult to track, the app will be triggered and send a notification asking users if they’re conscious, as some users may just suffer from hand tremors. They can then check their metrics on the web app. The app even got a shout out from Pebble founder Eric Migicovsky on This Week In Startups.
“The thing about wearables is that, compared to web and mobile, these technologies can just fade into the background,” Dolan says.
From the beginning, Dolan says that the development of Neutun has been grounded in the community. At Hack The North last September, Dolan and his brother developed Pebilepsy, which was only meant to be a real-time accelerometer for tracking SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death In Epilepsy) while people slept – a condition that happens suddenly and can’t be stopped because there’s no way to track it. After a 45-minute conversation with Migicovsky, with Sam Altman of Y Combinator happening to pass by and joining in, Dolan was motivated to continue with his vision.
“I don’t even think I’d have the opportunities or the motivation that I have today if it wasn’t for that,” says Dolan.
That idea eventually evolved into what Neutun is today, and they are currently in beta with just under a hundred users. Dolan says this is intentional, as trying to rapidly grow might mean they miss some important things their users have to tell them.
“Every single one of our users has both my and my brother’s email. We’ve given them full reign to email us at any time of the day,” says Dolan. “And the way they’ve responded, I have to say we have some of the most engaged users.” At some points, users have sent him step-by-step PDFs of things they like and don’t like, and one user sent him 10 paragraphs worth of suggestions.
Working out of the Digital Media Zone at Ryerson University, Dolan is excited about the potential for wearables and apps like Neutun to be integrated into life. But he is more motivated by his desire to truly help people who are experiencing what him and his family went through so many years ago, and is working on including a feature that lets Neutun notify loved ones or 911 about epileptic events in real time.
“It’s just been a long road and even if I can help one person, that’s enough,” Dolan says. “It’s something that I wish my family had back then and if it’s possible now, I feel that it’s my moral duty to do this.”