If sleep comes naturally to you, and you get the recommended 7-9 hours every night, you can consider yourself lucky. For many, going to sleep is a struggle and a stressful experience. In the United States, over 30 million people suffer from insomnia, and 70 million have chronic sleep related problems. Women are up to twice as likely to suffer from insomnia than men. Additionally, 90% of people who suffer from depression also experience insomnia.
So why haven’t we found a better solution to insomnia than a sleeping pill, which clearly isn’t working? Meet Dr. Madhvi Upender and Amrit Bandyopadhyay, cofounders of Awarables, a company that develops hardware and software solutions for sleep monitoring and improvement at a clinical level, all in the comfort of your home.
We sat down with Madhvi and Amrit to talk about why sleep is such a neglected health issue, their MakeOffices experience, and exciting developments at Awarables to help solve insomnia.
Tell us about yourselves.
Amrit: My background is in multiple startups in unsolved problems. My first startup co-founded with Dr. Gilmer Blankenship (Awarables’ CEO) in 2004, was a company that invented and brought to market arguably the industry’s first infrastructure-free tracking for personnel indoors (i.e. indoor GPS). It was founded with firefighter rescue in mind.
Madhvi: I’m a neuroscientist, cancer geneticist and entrepreneur. My previous startup, which was sold to a large pharma company, developed the first clinical diagnostic test for early detection of cervical cancer.
What was the spark to start Awarables?
Madhvi: I am motivated by challenge and translating science to solve important problems. Listening to NPR one morning, I heard an interview with Judy Owens, a world renowned pediatric sleep doctor, stating that 80% of children with autism struggle with proper sleep. Also, kids with behavioral disorders, such as ADHD, are often misdiagnosed and prescribed drugs like Ritalin, when the underlying causes of their behavior could be related to a sleep disorder. After speaking with many parents and doctors, it was clear that there was a gap in education and options for these people. All these concerns gravitated me towards sleep and developing science supported solutions to help people sleep better and live better.
How did you get into sleep improvement?
Amrit: Insomnia is poorly cared for in a medical system geared towards sleep apnea patients. Our customer discovery interviews revealed that most insomniacs want an alternative to sleeping pills. They are frustrated that temporary-fix pills are the only solution offered by their doctor, often bypass the medical system due to lack of solutions, and are tired of trying every online remedy from sleep hygiene to herbs, without knowing what’s working. “Tell me how to improve” was stressed by most interviewees, and almost none of them had ever heard of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTi), the first line of clinical treatment for chronic insomnia. Through these demands our product’s role became clear. Everyone should have the right to feel their best so that they can work towards being their best. Healthy sleep is a huge part of that goal, and our mission for our customers.
How can Awarables improve sleep?
Amrit: Track. Analyze. Improve. By tracking your sleep quantity and quality (e.g., REM and restorative deep sleep) with our wearable, analyzing your data through our proprietary algorithms, and delivering personalized recommendations on how to improve your sleep at a clinical level via our SleepBetter App.
We just rolled out our free app for iPhone and Android for you to track your daily sleep, lifestyle, and get sleep improvement recommendations. Our CBTi upgrade will hold your hand through the therapies, and our optional wearable quantifies daily/weekly improvements that a user may not be aware of themselves, providing qualitative data, motivation, and promoting adherence (much like a weighing machine for weight loss). Also, just to get the word out about Awarables, and get some users and good karma, we have started a series of “sleep talks” around DC (launched at MakeOffices locations) where we give out all the sleep improvement knowledge that is missing at your doctor’s office for free with “Insomnia Cookies.”
What has been your biggest hurdle so far?
Amrit: Funding is always the biggest challenge for hardware companies. DC tends to lean towards a finished product with existing customers for significant fundraising, creating a catch 22 scenario. Sleep, health-tech, and wearables are all hot, but both investors and consumers have been burned by companies that have raised a lot of money and created a lot of hype, and have not delivered. We need to prove and provide value in this noisy ecosystem.
What inspired the move to MakeOffices?
Amrit: There was a lack of inspiration and community in our previous workspace. We wanted people around us on a similar journey and doing killer work.
Why did you choose MakeOffices?
Madhvi: It was an affordable solution for our startup. The conference rooms can compete with board rooms at other companies. We like the open area and the supportive environment.
What do you like most about being a MakeOffices member?
Amrit: We conducted over 150 customer interviews, product focus groups, and beta tests for Awarables, and many of our first participants were members of MakeOffices Bethesda (shout out to the MoB for getting us started without having to leave the building). We had a wide range of ages and backgrounds to gather information on sleep problems.
There is a diverse background of companies from digital health to lawyers, campaigners, and advertisers. Learning what makes them tick and the things they work on daily is fascinating, and a great break from work.
Many of my closest friends are people whom I’ve met at MakeOffices Bethesda. I also love that there is no shortchanging, and that we’re not nickel and dimed for things.
Do you have a morning routine?
Madhvi: Espresso first. Followed by a long shower, thinking about the day’s plan.
Amrit: Drowning in coffee, black and strong. I spend time visualizing my day and meditating in the morning. I’m really possessive about my time in the morning for problem solving, strategy, or analytics, so I prefer not to start meetings before 10am (unless it brings funding)
What’s on the playlist?
Madhvi: Kendrick Lamar and Khalid in the car with my son. At work, Eddie Veder/Pearl Jam.
Amrit: My rock band Bad Krohma in the car (plug!), Pearl Jam at work, 2Pac and Eminem in the gym.
What’s next for Awarables?
Amrit: Organic growth to get more app users and get feedback on the product. We’re already starting to get our first hardware users, which is very exciting. If our users find value, love our product, recommend it to a friend, while we cover costs and make a profit, we have a business. This would strengthen our next commercialization funding round.