AFEW years ago Ciara Clancy went to a dinner where a lot was at stake. One of the dinner guests was going to get €20,000 for their business, and if it wasn’t her, Beats Medical would probably be no more. It was right before the deadline for submitting patents, and the company — which makes a smartphone app that provides therapies for people with Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions — had run out of money.
“We hadn’t raised a large round at that point and when it comes to fundraising in healthcare a lot is put on patents. They say without a patent it’s very hard to raise, so I suppose I knew if we lost that, our ability to raise would be compromised,” says Clancy.
People were already relying on the product so the stakes were higher than would be the case for most startups on the brink.
But Clancy won the prize and immediately sent a photo of the oversized novelty cheque to her patent lawyer — the patent was submitted.
Fast forward to today and now Clancy is looking to raise €3m in Series-a funding to help drive the company to the next level.
It’s currently available directly from the app store to customers for €1 a day, but Clancy thinks business-to-business sales is what will really help scale the company quickly. The proceeds of the fundraising exercise will in large part be deployed towards growing that part of the business.
Devising corporate strategy is not something Clancy ever thought she would end up doing. From a young age she knew she wanted to enter the caring professions, and in her teens a volunteering stint with a local physiotherapist convinced her she wanted to help people struggling with Parkinson’s.
As a keen dancer, movement was a source of much joy in her life, and she wanted to help people reclaim their ability to move.
She went to Trinity and studied physiotherapy — but by the time it came to hands-on work with patients, she was left unsatisfied.
“I really felt after all those years that I was falling short, that I wasn’t doing everything I thought I could do. I thought I was going to help all these people with Parkinson’s disease, and I was helping them — but it was on such a small scale. I was helping them in hospitals and they were going home and the symptoms were persisting.”
The vast bulk of the care for Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions takes place in the home and so Clancy wanted to develop something that would work there.
So-called “metronome therapy” (where patients are asked to respond to a beat to train the brain to work more efficiently) had been shown to be effective but it was only available in hospital because it had to be individually tailored every single day.
So Clancy went about building the research that would enable her to develop algorithms for individualised prescriptions. Once that problem was solved, building a business became the challenge. There was just one difficulty — she had no business experience.
“Growing up, there were absolutely no plans to go into entrepreneurship. I had no interest in business. People say they set up mini-businesses and lemonade stands and things like that. I did none of that,” says Clancy.
She decided to build an advisory board that would enable her to leverage the experience of others. Telecoms entrepreneur Sean Melly — also an early investor — joined, as did Trinity physiotherapy professor Emma Stokes and Philips online sales veteran Graham Merriman.
All of this was designed to help deliver Clancy’s vision of making Beats the number one provider of non-intrusive solutions for neurological conditions. Among its functions are speech and language therapies, dexterity exercises, and tailored metronome therapy to help improve patients’ movement.