Dramatic growth since commercializing its product in 2019 is only the first chapter of Brightlamp’s story, says Chief Executive Officer Kurtis Sluss. The Indianapolis-based startup created a smartphone app called Reflex; initially envisioned as a method to detect a concussion within seconds, Sluss says “the single most exciting thing is seeing how [its use] seems to be fanning out.” Now with evidence that it’s also a useful tool within opioid recovery care, Sluss says even more applications are on the horizon—proving Reflex is “more useful than being just a diagnostic tool for head injury.”
“[Growth has been] 90% each year since 2019 on a cash basis; it’s actually 180% minimum on an accrual basis,” says Sluss. “And that’s with under $1 million in funding.”
Used with a smartphone, the Reflex app is software that measures a person’s pupillary light reflex, which is the constriction of the pupil when exposed to bright light. Using the light on a smartphone, the app creates a flash of light and records five seconds of video of the person’s eye. The video is uploaded to the cloud and analyzed within seconds.
“We don’t market it as concussion device. That’s what we’re most known for—and we do express its utility for concussions—but we actually market it as a more general neurology tool. [Its purpose] has matured since , as part of revelations from new data and new third-party research that have been occurring in parallel with us commercializing the product,” says Sluss. “It seems like on a monthly basis we find somebody using it in a different manner to help with a different problem.”
Sluss says Brightlamp is marketing Reflex now as “what we call a neurological vital,” giving insight into how a person is functioning neurologically and autonomically, which refers to the network of nerves that controls the body’s unconscious processes. About half of Brightlamp’s customers are functional neurologists, which are chiropractors that specialize in neurology, and neuro-optometry specialists comprise the other half of users.
While Reflex is being used in ways even its creators didn’t initially anticipate, concussion is still an important focus for the company. After researchers at the University of Maryland rated Reflex as the highest-scoring clinical concussion tool, the school partnered with the U.S. Department of Defense to use the app in a two-year clinical trial. The DOD-funded trial is evaluating 1,200 soldiers with brain injury.
A second study funded by the National Institutes of Health revealed that Reflex’s pupillometry analysis could help battle the opioid epidemic. As part of the study, a data science company in North Carolina called OpiAID found that Reflex outperformed standard methods of assessing opioid withdrawal, which are self-reporting and observational measures.
“[The focus of the study was] how to optimize recovery and therapy for someone who is coming off opiate addiction,” says Sluss. “At the [recovery and treatment] clinic, they’re testing patients and monitoring when they need to provide additional therapeutic assistance to help with their recovery care. [Reflex] was found to be a strong predictor of withdrawal.”
In addition to the opioid application, Sluss says other organizations have used Reflex in a variety of ways, ranging from sports performance to dementia.
“Organizations have used [Reflex] to optimize their athletes and their athletic output to see if they’re over-training or under-training. We’ve had people utilize it for early dementia-related assessments and a lot of geriatric-type usage,” says Sluss. “Even auditory-type research; rather than using the light, they’ll use sound to initiate the pupillary response and monitor it using Reflex.”
Brightlamp says it’s already serving 210 clinics, and the cost of Reflex is significantly lower than other devices and hardware used for similar purposes. The annual rate for the app starts at $400 for a single account, which can be used for unlimited tests.
Brightlamp’s list of investors include several from Indiana: individuals from Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine, Purdue Research Foundation and Indianapolis-based Elevate Ventures. Looking forward, the startup plans to expand clinical partnerships to gather more third-party research and work toward making Reflex reimbursable, which Sluss says will attract customers outside of functional neurology and neuro-optometry.
“It’s exciting to see how [the app’s] utility is unraveling in the marketplace—what else [Reflex] can help with,” says Sluss. “We had an idea and now it seems to be fanning out or getting more broad. What we don’t know is most exciting to us right now.”
Sluss says Brightlamp is uniquely positioned to take advantage of market growth opportunities.
Sluss says Brightlamp has opened up investment in the startup through StartEngine, a regulated crowdfunding organization.