Thursday, July 30, 2009

Alumni develop sleep analyzer

In 2003, three Brown University undergraduates, Eric Shashoua, Ben Rubin and Jason Donahue, sat in a school cafeteria and mused about their grogginess after an all-night study session. They knew that the stress of exams played a role, but they started wondering about the science of their exhaustion.

Little did they imagine that their discussion would eventually lead to the founding of Zeo, maker of the first direct-to-consumer sleep device that analyzes nighttime sleep patterns. Zeo's product, the Personal Sleep Coach, uses a soft headband loaded with sensors to monitor brain waves. The data are sent wirelessly to a small device on a nightstand; from there they can be uploaded to the Web site. then analyzes the data and e-mails back a strategy and suggestions for improving the next night's sleep.

However, once these three would-be entrepreneurs decided to create a science-based aid for the estimated 70 million Americans suffering from chronic sleep disorders, they realized they were lacking a key ingredient: an investor--or several--to fund their research and development.

Initial fundraising began in the cafeterias at Brown. "We literally went table-to-table to talk about our innovation and get people interested in contributing," Shashoua recalls. Those discussions led to introductions to wealthy Brown alumni, experts in sleep research and so-called "angel investors."

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