Founder Spotlight: Iris BCI, Free Ventures Fall ’16 Batch

As we transition from one batch to the next, the Free Ventures team sits down with each of our teams to reflect on their experience in our incubator program, and hear their advice for future founders.

We recently sat down with Yash Goenka and Vikram Baid from Iris BCI, and what follows is an excerpt of our chat.

Getting Started

Before commencing their studies at UC Berkeley, Yash (EECS ’19) and Vikram (CS ’18) grew up together in India, both constantly working on various research, software, and hardware projects. Vikram built a digital marketing tool his junior year of high school which attracted over 100,000 users and Yash found a new method of manufacturing graphene, that is used to build supercapacitors that can charge a smartphone in 12 seconds.

A few months into their first semester, Yash’s friend was diagnosed with ALS. Soon after, Yash and Vikram started working on an embedded system device to allow individuals suffering from severe disabilities that impede speech to speak using only their brainwaves. They named their product Iris BCI — Iris evoking the greek goddess of communication, and BCI a shortening of Brain Computing Interface. The team developed a headset and proprietary software, that was successfully able to generate speech using brainwaves in November 2016.

Leveraging Team Dynamics to Make a Mark on the Market

In the market of assistive communications technology, the team realized that the solution involves and requires the use of a combination of software and hardware. Although the team claims that their “novelty lies in the software”, they decided to rebuild parts of the hardware in order to further improve the accuracy of existing EEG devices that detect brainwaves.

When sitting down with Vikram, he commented,“one of the reasons why we work so well on this project together is because I am more of a software guy and [Yash] is more of a hardware guy… we thought that would be a nice bridge.”

Life as a Student Founder in Free Ventures

Despite the sense of accomplishment of being a student founder, striking a balance between time for class and working on Iris remains a challenge.. After eight months of work and deciding to take an easier course-load last Fall to spend more time working on Iris BCI, Vikram was looking for a DeCal when he came across Free Ventures.

As a part of the batch, he and Yash received two academic units and a structured program complete with mentorship, funding, and resources to scale. It was there they met Bashir Ziady, a technical advisor at CreativeVentures.vc. “When meeting with him we were able to grill him about the technical problems that we were facing and going to face in the future,” Vikram remarked. Reflecting on the program, they both commented that Free Ventures helped with putting aside specific time to work on the project each week, and offered invaluable perspectives into their work from mentors.

Next Steps

With one of the team members taking a semester off, Vikram and Yash will be spending a lot more time working on Iris BCI over the next five months. They recently became finalists in the Big Ideas Challenge, where they are excited to pitch to potential investors.

If you have any questions about Iris BCI or Free Ventures, email blake@freeventures.org.