Innovation Blog

Why Human Potential? MassChallenge’s Drive for Cross-Industry Collaboration to Enhance Human Health and Longevity 

The human quest for extending life, the tantalizing prospect of inhabiting space, the critical need for enhanced pilot performance, the relentless pursuit of elevated athletic capabilities, and the everyday desire for improved well-being all contribute to our unceasing pursuit of maximum human potential.  

These aspirations, spanning from the profound to the commonplace, underline the depth of our fascination with what we can achieve as individuals and for our societies. 

Startups are stepping in.  

The field of Human Potential has grown in interest and activity within both MassChallenge’s Health and our Dual-Use focus areas. This domain is marked by its inherent complexity, where innovators often grapple with multifaceted challenges from technical, to regulatory, to go-to-market.

Related read: MassChallenge Human Potential Startup Showcase ‘Pushes the Boundaries’ of What Humans Can Do

Companies venturing into the realm of Human Potential typically find themselves at the intersection of diverse disciplines, melding hardware, biological advancements, and cutting-edge software to forge holistic solutions. Furthermore, their success frequently hinges on collaboration with established industries and even government entities, necessitating a harmonious partnership between the public and private sectors. These startups may require a unique blend of financing that accommodates the multifaceted nature of their pursuits, further emphasizing the intricacy of their path from launch torealization. 

MassChallenge’s embrace of the field of Human Potential is motovated by our unique commitment to nurturing startups that extend beyond conventional venture capital.  

By fostering collaboration between commercial startups and public organizations (as well as corporate partners), new avenues for innovation may be unlocked. In this realm, MassChallenge supports startups focused on developing innovative life support systems, bioengineering solutions, and psychological resilience training, preparing humanity for potential intergalactic ventures, preemptive diagnostics, higher athletic achievement, and emphasizing its dedication to long-term visionary projects and human-centric innovation.  

What Is Human Potential? 

We define Human Potential as the category of innovations that will augment and extend human health, performance and longevity. As written in an AXIOS feature, we are seeing the application of incredible emerging technology – including artificial intelligence, exoskeletons, wearable sensors, and biomarkers (to name just a few) – to the question of human potential.  

3D Scan for Orthoses

This innovation is being fueled by sectors such as human health, aerospace and sports where there is both a desire and a need to extend and augment human performance to achieve strategic outcomes – including human life in space. The big, hairy, audacious goal is that these advancements will enhance both physical and cognitive performance and longevity, ultimately to push the boundaries of what humanity can achieve.  

Healthcare and Medical Advancements 

In healthcare, technology is increasingly being harnessed to improve patient outcomes. Technologies that enhance human potential are revolutionizing medical diagnostics, treatment, and care. Wearable devices, biofeedback systems, and health monitoring apps empower individuals to proactively manage their health. These innovations can monitor vital signs, detect early warning signs of diseases, and provide real-time feedback to help individuals make healthier lifestyle choices.  

Such tools have applications in chronic disease management, preventive healthcare, and telemedicine, making them adaptable across various healthcare disciplines. 

Sports and Fitness 

Sports tech example: Real time analysis and metrics for crew rowing

In the realm of sports and fitness, emerging technologies are optimizing athletic performance. Athletes and sports enthusiasts benefit from wearable devices, data analytics, and biometric feedback systems that offer insights into their physical and mental condition. These technologies allow for personalized training programs, injury prevention, and real-time performance tracking. 

The adaptability of these tools extends beyond professional athletes to everyday fitness enthusiasts, as they strive to reach their full physical potential. 

Aerospace and Astronaut Training 

Space exploration and astronaut training represent another industry where human potential technology plays a pivotal role. Space agencies like NASA are investing in innovations aimed at improving astronauts’ adaptability to the harsh conditions of space. This includes advancements in life support systems, radiation protection, and psychological resilience training.  

The knowledge gained from astronaut training can be adapted for various applications on Earth, such as disaster response, ocean exploration, BlueTech innovation, and extreme environment survival. 

Defense and National Security 

In defense and national security, the concept of human potential is crucial, particularly in the development of future defense capabilities. This includes the integration of wearable technology, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence into military operations. Such technologies enhance the decision-making abilities of soldiers, providing real-time data analysis and situational awareness.  

The adaptability of these technologies extends to law enforcement, disaster response, and emergency services. 

Education and Learning 

Human potential technologies are also revolutionizing education by personalizing learning experiences. Adaptive learning platforms use data analytics and AI to customize curricula based on individual student strengths and weaknesses.  

This adaptability allows for improved engagement, retention, and performance across diverse educational settings, from K-12 schools to higher education and corporate training. 

Cognitive Enhancement and Brain-Computer Interfaces 

Cognitive enhancement technologies, such as brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), are pushing the boundaries of human potential. BCIs enable direct communication between the brain and external devices, offering new possibilities for individuals with disabilities.  

The adaptability of BCIs goes beyond medical applications to fields like gaming, communication, and enhancing the abilities of healthy individuals. 

Entertainment and Virtual Reality 

The entertainment industry is utilizing human potential technologies to create immersive experiences. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) offer new dimensions for storytelling, gaming, and interactive experiences.  

These technologies adapt to diverse entertainment genres, from gaming and cinema to education and virtual tourism. 

Workplace Productivity and Human-AI Collaboration 

In the professional world, human potential technologies are facilitating improved collaboration between humans and artificial intelligence (AI). Exoskeletons, wearable AI, and augmented reality tools are enhancing worker productivity in industries like manufacturing and logistics.  

These innovations are adaptable across various sectors, including healthcare, construction, and retail, where physical labor is required. 

The Challenge of Industry Intersection 

It’s not very often that one piece of novel technology could be adapted to so many applications and fields. Any entrepreneur would say that the product-market fit is an essential component, homing in on a niche and growing from there.  

At MassChallenge, we believe that uncommon connections create uncommon outcomes – for companies and for industries. We also believe that uncommon outcomes may require uncommon models – including patient capital, gant capital, novel partnerships – to incubate and validate novel applications in novel firleds.  

Collaborations with institutions like the Human Performance Institute, MIT, NASA, and NOAA (to name a small few) and organizations like AARP, UPS, Nestlé, and IBM underscore a unique network that aims to support emerging startups with adaptable tech solutions. 

“MassChallenge specializes in technology transfer across industries, offering greater success toward tech development, partnership, and funding,” said Vijay Sekhara, Director of Strategic Partnerships at MassChallenge. “Uniting an ecosystem of innovators to understand the true bounds of human potential will accelerate solutions at a greater rate than attempting to solve these challenges separately.” 

Consider, for instance, NASA, where the pursuit of space exploration hinges on human adaptability. A federally funded organization like NASA, can’t simply approach the startup world in the same way a VC group could, or a corporation could. There are more regulations and less splashy dollars, it’s a slower kind of collaboration.  

However, removing the hurdle of dollars and on-boarding gestation, would any startup pass on a chance to have NASA as a customer or a collaborator or a proof-of-concept partner?  

MassChallenge thrives in this hypothetical. It wants to “de-risk” the situation for both startup and organization to allow for more open innovation. By creating this environment for the fields of life support systems, bioengineering solutions, and psychological resilience training, MassChallenge commits to prolonged investments in ventures aimed at solving complex, long-term challenges. 

Startup Spotlights 

Pison, a Boston-based tech startup specializing in the development of smartwatches and wearables equipped with advanced biosensors capable of monitoring neurological changes, has become a part of the accelerator cohort with a mission to bring their innovative devices to market. 

Co-founder Dexter Ang initially envisioned the product as a means to assist individuals in detecting symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s disease. However, he has since broadened the horizons of their application, considering avenues like aiding professional football players in real-time measurement of head injuries’ impact. 

After years of dedicated refinement and improvement, Pison is poised to introduce its inaugural wearable device to the market next year. Ang emphasizes that the valuable feedback garnered during their participation in the accelerator program will play an instrumental role in shaping the product’s future development. 

Labfront is a health-tech startup specializing in digital biomarkers and signal processing, led by former members of Harvard’s Centre for Dynamical Biomarkers. It is currently disrupting the health research sector with its Labfront platform, a code-free solution for collecting and analyzing digital biomarkers. 

Amidst the recent explosion of sensors in the scientific community, Labfront is aiding health researchers in processing the overwhelming amount of complex data and transitioning to a data-rich future. Launched in 2021, its platform is currently utilized by over 100 leading research institutions, including Stanford, Harvard, and MIT. 

Labfront has joined the accelerator cohort with the goal of enhancing research capabilities among the MassChallenge program partners, which include government and defense agencies. Jordan Masys, Co-founder of Labfront, notes that the connections forged through the accelerator program have broadened Labfront’s reach and impact within the extensive health research sector. 

MassChallenge has built an ecosystem of partners and investors that are committed to forging advancements in sports tech, health tech, defense, space and more. Through MassChallenge’s Human Potential Sprint, supporting partners such as Lyda Hill Philanthropies, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Stadia Ventures, and more, will secure access to the next wave of technologies solving for incremental improvement to human physicality and movement.   

Why Human Potential Now? 

Why now, more than ever, is innovation in Human Potential paramount? The answer lies at the intersection of scientific and technical breakthroughs, a growing sense of urgency and opportunity from key partners like AFRL and NASA, and the burgeoning community of entrepreneurs committed to advancing this field. 

Scientific and Technical Breakthroughs 

Breakthroughs in biosensors, artificial intelligence, wearable technology, and biotechnology have unlocked new dimensions in our understanding of human capabilities. These innovations provide a solid foundation for pushing the boundaries of what is achievable, from enhancing health and performance to exploring uncharted frontiers. 

Other incredible Human Potential technology: 

  • Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)  
  • Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs)  
  • Genetic Engineering and Gene Therapy  
  • Biomechanics and Exoskeletons  
  • Neurofeedback and Cognitive Enhancement  
  • Composite Materials  
  • High-Performance Batteries   
  • Data Monitoring & Gathering 

Sense of Urgency and Opportunity 

Key partners such as AFRL and NASA recognize the urgent need to harness Human Potential for both national security and space exploration. The challenges of our time demand rapid adaptation and innovation. These organizations view this field as an opportunity to foster agility, resilience, and innovation that aligns with their core missions. The sense of urgency is palpable, and the opportunity to drive transformative change is undeniable. 

Growth of Entrepreneurs in this Category 

In recent years a surge of new startups exploring and employing the new technology. There’s a list of 2023’s top 37 Wearables startups. There’s a new push for virtual reality and augmented reality to be better suited for learning and rehabilitation than merely gaming. And there are growing young companies in the like Blackrock Neurotech, brain-computer interface for several types of implants, that have funding and perfomance moving up and to the right. 

This growing community of innovators is eager to take on the challenges and explore uncharted territories. Their diversity in expertise and backgrounds mirrors the multifaceted nature of this field. They bring a fresh perspective, dedication, and a willingness to collaborate, thus propelling the entire ecosystem forward.  

Additionally, substantial federal funding has been allocated over the past two years for basic research, commercialization, and technology manufacturing. A notable example is the proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). ARPA-H focuses on advancing breakthroughs in the healthcare sector, particularly in areas such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and pandemic preparedness.  

This concerted effort aims to enhance collaboration between startups and government entities, pushing the boundaries of innovation in critical human health and technological areas. 

Progressing Human-Centric Innovation 

MassChallenge’s core mission centers on human-centric innovation. The focus on Human Potential is less of a sensational headline-grabber but in recognizing the growing need to cultivate innovations that transcend traditional industry boundaries. Nurturing these technologies and finding unexpected applications for them is a key component of MassChallenge’s ecosystem.  

As breakthrough technology continues to emerge, MassChallenge’s human-centric emphasis not only brings us closer to realizing the full potential of humanity but also inspires collective efforts that herald a future where the boundless possibilities of human potential redefine industry standards and usher in a new era of innovation. 

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