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Axio, Cambridge start-up working on a wearable device to enhance concentration, gets into new accelerator program in China

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 3, 2012 08:27 AM

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What if you could put on a pair of headphones that would help increase your focus and performance?

And not just by playing Parliament Funkadelic really loud?

A Cambridge start-up called Axio is working on just such a device, leveraging an auditory phenomenon called binaural beats. Essentially, the theory is that playing two tones of different frequencies in each ear can have a beneficial effect on the listener's brainwaves.

Axio founder Arye Barnehama isn't saying too much about the start-up's product. But he says that "focus is a huge problem, for athletes, programmers, students, and business executives. Our goal is to be a consumer health product. We're looking at a couple different form factors, but one is a headset that would integrate with a smart phone and a PC." The headset would include an EEG sensor for monitoring brain activity. And similar to the Zeo sleep monitor, Axio would be able to chart the ups and downs of your concentration level over the course of a day or week on a phone or PC screen.

Barnehama says Axio's headset would work in tandem with "cognitive training feedback software" that would help users "train their brain to maintain that optimized state."

The company has already raised a seed round from local angels, including Bill Warner, and has also won admission into Haxlr8r, a brand-new accelerator program especially for start-ups working on hardware. The program runs for fifteen weeks in Shenzhen, China, where it focuses on designing and testing a prototype, and then wraps up with investor presentations in Silicon Valley. "The idea is that you're close to the manufacturers who are going to make your device," Barnehama says, "and that lets you do faster iterations because you're right there."

Barnehama and co-founder Laura Berman are both students at Pomona College in southern California; they're both studying cognitive science and computer science. Barnehama is originally from western Massachusetts. "I started the company last summer, and for our college winter break, I sort of came home and stayed," he says. Ben Rubin, co-founder and CTO of Zeo, has signed on as an advisor to Axio.

"It's one of those companies that could end up back in Boston after three months in China or not," Rubin writes in an e-mail. If it boomerangs back to Boston after Haxlr8r, it would be "part of the cluster we are building around consumer health technology," he says. The start-up is currently working out of the Cambridge Co-working Center in Kendall Square. Barnehama and Berman head to China later this month.

"Everyone knows those days when they felt amazing, whether it was on the golf course or in the library studying," Barnehama says. "You don't have them every day. But we believe we can use technology to make that possible."

Who wouldn't love that? I'm eager to try it out...especially since it took me much longer than it should have to write this post.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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