Bert-Jan Woertman falls under the spell of an unused Philips invention: headphones that take away stress. He may develop and market the product himself. The corona crisis strikes at the point of launch.
On a Friday afternoon, Bert-Jan Woertman (49) walks into the research department of electronics company Philips. He once worked there as a personnel officer, but he still occasionally visits it at the end of his working week at the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven and then asks if anything exciting is happening. Engineer Ad Denissen has him put on headphones. It contains electrodes that record the activity in his brain.
“I have to listen to his playlist,” says Woertman. “He can measure how relaxed I feel through the electrodes.” Woertman listens to hard rock from the eighties (‘not my kind of music’) for ten minutes, slowly starts to yawn and asks what exactly happens. “It works,” says the engineer.
Surgeon and hypnotherapist
The invention is an algorithm, a computer code that changes the quality of music very slightly. A listener is not aware of this, but the brain responds to it in milliseconds. The brain becomes somewhat relaxed. In doing so, the brain creates a certain type of brain waves, which are measured with electrodes. Then the algorithm adjusts the music a little bit again. This continues until the brain is completely relaxed. That’s when Woertman starts yawning.
“I am immediately fascinated,” he says. “Philips may want to do something with it in the medical sector, but I see an application for people at home.” He writes a plan, but Philips does not want to license him.
Eight years later – Woertman has long since left Philips and has just registered as an independent entrepreneur – he comes across the same invention again. In a newsletter from the High Tech Campus, he reads that the electronics company is making its ‘neurofeedback technology’ available for an entrepreneurial competition on campus. He immediately recognizes the device that he once put on his head in the research lab.
Woertman forms a team with participants in the competition, and some old acquaintances: a hypnotherapist, a former purchaser, a serial entrepreneur who is also an artist and a surgeon. “Everyone is excited,” he says. “After three weeks, we have a business plan. And Philips gave us permission to get started with their patent. ”
He will then be included in HighTechXL, the special start-up program of the campus. With the help of lawyers, business coaches and some money, the team has to set up a business in a few months. In December 2019, AlphaBeats, as the company is now known, will be assessed for the first time by, among others, Philips and ASML. The team already has a prototype that no longer needs to read brain waves. A smartphone is enough. When placed on the abdomen, it can measure through breath whether the body is under stress. This is done with the gyroscope (a motion meter) that is in almost every modern mobile phone.
Woerman is allowed to continue, and in March he will receive another positive assessment. The four-person company remains with HighTechXL, but is now also allowed to approach external investors. Then the crisis strikes. Agreements with investors are canceled.
Stress in corona time
“Fortunately, we are in the middle of the High Tech Campus,” says Woertman. “This corporate network keeps us going. We are now being prepared for a round of discussions with investors via video connections. The documents for the license agreement with Philips, the notary documents for your own private limited company, the accountant’s statement, everything is ready. And we are applying for the government’s special corona measures. ”
Woertman is convinced that the product is ready at exactly the right time. “Stress is an increasingly social problem,” he says. “Especially during the coronavirus.”