Google founder and U-M alum Larry Page is associated with the popular mantra of having a healthy disregard for the impossible. It’s a concept that has launched countless dreams and inspired two first-generation science scholars at U-M.
They asked questions like: What if the future we want, the technology that will remake our world, is already inside of us? What if the future is our brain, unlocked?
Adam Molnar began his journey toward exploring these mysteries in 2011. That’s when the New York City native and first-year college student put down roots in Ann Arbor as a student in the Program in the Environment, a collaborative program led by LSA and the School for Environment and Sustainability, where he could obtain a multidisciplinary education focused on topics like sustainability and the complex interactions between humans and their environment. It was a natural fit for Molnar, who was intrigued by the idea of finding ways to preserve the energy economy through business as global warming accelerates.
In his senior year, when he learned he could minor in entrepreneurship, he enthusiastically enrolled. He was motivated by his immigrant parents’ American Dream-come-true: the couple had built a successful business from the ground up.
Molnar (A.B. ’15) decided to take a summer semester to finish his required classes, and it was during that time that he met Ramses Alcaide. Alcaide was pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience, inspired by Daniel Ferris, a former biomedical engineering and kinesiology professor at U-M, and Jane Huggins, director of the U-M Direct Brain Interface Laboratory. The program allowed him to explore potential relationships between the brain and prosthetic devices. Alcaide (Ph.D. ’17) was also motivated by family and his life experiences.
“When I was eight, my uncle got into a trucking accident and lost both of his legs,” says Alcaide. “At the time, prosthetics weren’t that great. I started to think about how I could create technology for people with disabilities.”
Molnar and Alcaide shepherded their vision from idea to start-up to successful company. Neurable, which they co-founded, has now raised more than $20 million for wearable devices that record brain activity and allow average people to control technology and the world around them.
The U-M connection was a vital part of the company coming into existence. In 2015, students in Alcaide’s entrepreneurship class through the Stephen M. Ross School of Business were tasked with starting a business. Both Alcaide’s and Molnar’s companies were accepted by the TechArb Student Venture Accelerator, which helps launch student start-ups ready for the next stage of investment.
Their experiences serve as a reminder that the road to a successful business is not always linear. Molnar’s bartering company, which used machine learning to reduce friction between the transactions of goods and services, fell apart after his business partner backed out with the intellectual property.
“I was really struggling. I was going through a lot in my personal life aside from the failure of this business, and I was at a crossroads, trying to decide whether to move back to New York or not,” Molnar recalls.
The next step became clear when he heard from his TechArb peer. “Ramses and his company were a star in our cohort,” Molnar says. “I remember when he sent me an email asking if I wanted to join him; I was shocked.” Now the head of partnerships at Neurable, Molnar can look back at those difficult times that were full of uncertainty about his future and smile.
“You know that saying when one door closes, two open?” he asks. “At U-M, it’s like four doors open.”
Today, Alcaide and Molnar can use Neurable’s wearable devices to track the progression of Alzheimer’s disease or anticipate when a person with Parkinson’s disease is going to experience a tremor based on brain wave patterns.
“Pinpointing cognitive biomarkers allows us to give control back to those that have lost it. We can use this technology to help people positively change their life experiences and improve their livelihood,” Alcaide says.
The human mind manages who we are and what our capabilities are, so Neurable’s co-founders hope their devices can empower people to live the lives they want—whether they have multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, general anxiety, depression, or a multitude of other diseases and conditions.
With devices such as headsets, patches, and contact lenses, this technology could learn things from your brain—like what kind of music you like to play while you’re studying or what light setting you prefer before winding down for bed—and the device could alter your environment without your having to take a single action.
Molnar and Alcaide say they’re dedicated to exploring this frontier responsibly and ethically, offering people the option to achieve a level of wellbeing and to understand themselves in a way that has never been possible, reducing the disparity between humans and computers in the realms of communication and understanding.
“This technology changes what it means to be human and what it means to use technology,” Molnar says.
Alcaide adds, “If humans are innovative and we can help people dream big, to give people that have a disability access to life experiences that they’ve been excluded from or have lost, I feel obligated to see how we can improve humanity.”
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“Receiving an LSA scholarship was the life-changing sign I needed that I truly belonged and would be valued at the University of Michigan.”
—Nur Muhammad Renollet, LSA Class of ’25
A high school internship at U-M introduced Nur to his passion for biomedical research. Now he’s an MCDB major in LSA pursuing a career in cancer research. Your generosity creates new opportunities for learning and innovation and allows us to maintain our deeply held values of exploration, common good, and inclusion. Help LSA meet the moment by making a gift today.
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