Unilever had developed patented technology in the field of neuroscience for real-time spatial mapping of brain activity. Before committing substantial funds to developing the technology into products and taking them to market, Unilever Ventures needed answers to critical market questions. Using our proprietary methodologies to analyse adoption drivers, value drivers and the ‘So What’ test, Qi3 was able to provide the necessary information, validate the strength / size of market demand and provide a list of early prospects for the proposed products. This knowledge contributed to Unilever Venture’s decision to form a spin-out company–AlatheiaTM–to commercialise the technology.
For several years the Cognitive Neuroscience group of Unilever Research have been investigating brain function to gain new understanding of the basics of sensory perception and the mechanisms which drive satisfaction. During the course of this research Unilever developed and filed patents on technology for simultaneous fMRI scanning and EEG analysis of patients, which allows real-time spatial mapping of specific brain activity. This is a fast developing field of medical research and treatment.
Unilever Ventures was interested in exploiting these patents commercially. However, it needed to know if there was sufficient market interest and market size to justify investing considerable funds in developing products based on the patents and bringing them to market. Qi3 undertook a two phase Technology / Market Evaluation (TME) project to provide answers for the key decision making points in the investment process.
In phase 1 we focussed on answering the following questions:
- What are the research and clinical applications that need to make use of this capability
- What are the clinical and market drivers behind the adoption of the technology
- What is the size of the potential markets
- What are the barriers to adoption, such as the strength of competitive methods to providing similar information
- What are the available routes to market and their relative merits
Because of the multidisciplinary nature of the technology a small team was formed which included domain experts in fMRI, EEG and marketing / market research in electro-medical instrumentation. The domain experts provided detailed profiles of the fMRI and EEG markets, while Qi3 proprietary market research methodologies were used to investigate the level of interest in adoption by the market. A small group of leading edge researchers were very keen on the technology and its development, but it was essential to identify whether the wider community of neurologists, neurophysiologists, neuro-radiologists, neuroscientists, and psychologists had sufficient interest to create a significant sized market. Field research also investigated possible routes to market, barriers to adoption and competitive strengths.
As a result of the information, Unilever Ventures decided to invest in developing a proof-of-concept demonstrator for the technology.
Having completed the proof-of-concept , Unilever then needed to know the answers to two issues raised in Phase 1 of the market research:
- Are the application needs and market drivers in the neuroscience community (either academic or clinical) strong enough to ensure that functional EEG is adopted as a widespread research technique rather than remaining a specialist interest, and how quickly will this happen?
- Are the benefits of real-time signal processing sufficient to create sustained and long-term competitive advantage over existing techniques such as signal post processing?
To answer these questions we carried out a number face to face and telephone interviews with leading clinical consultants and academics in the fields of neurology, neurophysiology, neuro-radiology, neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology in the UK, Germany, Eire, and the USA.
Qi3 proprietary methodologies established the strength of the market drivers, the reasons for the long-term competitive advantages of the technology, likely speed of adoption, and practical issues for adoption such as availability of funds. Another valuable outcome from the field research was a list of opinion leaders across the world who were interested in evaluating the product when it became available and acting as beta test sites. This was, in effect, an early sales prospect list, and validated the strength of market interest in the technology.
Based on this feedback, Unilever continued development and formed a spin-out company to commercialise the product. It was established in 2004 with a vision to develop innovative solutions to the problems of data acquisition in fMRI environments. AlatheiaTM developed a breakthrough concept that is under development in its first product, fEEG. fEEG aims to use active noise cancellation techniques to eliminate MR scanner noise at the source. Once fully developed, this system is expected to help ensure the integrity of the EEG signal and moreover is expected to offer time, cost and efficiency benefits for academic researchers and clinicians.
* fEEG is not yet available for sale in the U.S. and is not yet safety tested or FDA cleared for use in the U.S.