San Diego move is propelling Co Down weight-loss device inventor to success
A move from rainswept Donaghcloney in Co Down to sun-soaked San Diego in California beckons for hospital doctor and inventor Jason McKeown.
His start-up company Neurovalens has scooped the top spot in the Propel Awards, celebrating the success of innovative, export-focused firms who've completed Invest NI's annual Propel programme.
Jason and his Scottish business partner, Dr Paul McGeoch, have developed a medical device with huge potential in the multi-million pound weight loss market. Stimu Slim is a small electronic headset that targets an area of the brain known to regulate appetite.
"You know how some people seem to eat what they want but stay slim? There's an area of the brain that controls metabolism and how much fat and muscle we have," said Jason. "For years, people have been trying to influence this. In the United States, you can have implants inserted, costing up to $20,000.
"The area we're targeting is close to the surface of the skin so it's fairly simple to stimulate it using a small device similar to headphones which are placed just behind the ear and worn for about an hour a day.
"The headset pushes the metabolism gently and gradually in the direction you want, which is a leaner, healthier physique. Test results on volunteers have been very encouraging."
Jason said that people who've been wearing the device for two hours a week over a 10-week period have achieved, on average, an 16% reduction in body fat without special diet or exercise.
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"We're targeting two main types of user, those who are affected by medical obesity, in that their weight is causing medical problems, and those who will use it for general lifestyle purposes, to shape up and improve their appearance."
Jason studied medicine at Queen's University and has worked in emergency medicine and neurology all over the UK. He's currently based at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry. Paul McGeoch studied at Aberdeen and specialises in neurology and neurosurgery.
Jason and Paul developed Stimu Slim while working together as visiting scholars at the University of California in San Diego. Their company will continue to be based in Northern Ireland, creating six jobs initally with plans for more as sales grow. But Jason intends to relocate to California to continue his research work in the prestigious Centre for Brain and Cognition in San Diego.
Stimu Slim will be manufactured in Hong Kong and is expected to come to market early next year, retailing at about £250, after receiving European certification.
The next step will be approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
"That's two to three years down the line," said Jason. "The US is the world's largest weight loss market, so there's huge potential for us there. At the moment, we're finalising some funding through techstartNI and next year we hope to raise up to £1.5m from medical technology venture capital funds in the United States."
Now entering its sixth year, Propel is an intensive 12-month programme which helps participants fast track their business ideas with support of up to £20,000. Applications are currently open for the next programme, targeting early stage export-focused businesses with an innovative product or service.