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5 May, 2021 - 14:46 By Tony Quested

Charco Neurotech smiles ahead and right on CUE in Parkinson’s disease campaign

Wearable medical technology from a startup built on Cambridge University IP is making great strides in improving the lifestyles of Parkinson’s disease sufferers.

And Charco Neurotech, the company behind the invention of CUE1 – a non-invasive device that uses controlled vibration to ease stiffness and slowness of movement in people with Parkinson’s – has paid tribute to the Accelerate programme at Cambridge Judge Business School for helping to shape the direction of the venture in the formative early days.

Co-founder Lucy Jung and her team are now scaling at an impressive rate – raising growth capital and headcount while making life more bearable for Parkinson’s sufferers. And she tells Business Weekly that Accelerate Cambridge was an early ally as the founding team mapped out the future of the company.

Lucy says: “We joined Accelerate when we were at very early stage of Charco Neurotech and the programme has been an incredible environment to be in.

“Not only does Cambridge Judge Business School provide resources, mentorship, and support for multiple facets of our business, but also it gives us direct access to the Cambridge technology ecosystem. As founders we were able to develop various skill sets through different expert coaches working with the programme

“The networking opportunities at CJBS have also been invaluable to us. We had introductions that resulted in an ongoing relationship with Eastern AHSN and also investment from Oxbridge Angels.

“Additionally, the founder community is very strong at Accelerate; we were able to meet incredible founders happy to spare their time to support fellow founders.”

Lucy believes that the best thing about Accelerate is that there is continuous support on tap at various of stages of a startup. Charco also participates in pitch events to continuously secure further advice and feedback.

“We were part of a venture mentoring session a few weeks back and it was such an honour to be able to give something back to the programme,” she says.

An official launch of this fledgling business will be held later this year but Charco is already raising steady growth capital and its engagement with partners has been ongoing.

Lucy says: “Our main driving ambition has always been to improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s and bring their smiles back. We are actively looking to further expand our team this year and will seek to recruit R & D team members, an electronics engineer, supply chain manager, customer relationship professionals and more.

“We were fortunate to have been oversubscribed in our latest fund round total of £545,000; shortly after we were offered KQ Labs £40,000 accelerator funding. We will be discussing another round to scale up our team.”

Altruism has been a driving force for the young business from Day One and Lucy says that co-founding Charco “has been an astounding reward in itself.”

She adds: “Growing, developing, and evolving our business has been a fantastic experience and we have met so many amazing people along the way – people with Parkinson’s but also amazing team members as well as expert coaches who have built Charco with us.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s a matter of downsides. There have been challenges, of course; but overcoming these has invariably been a reward in itself. We face the difficulties, learn how to solve them and move on as a team!”

One of the most encouraging aspects of business life so far has been the sheer weight of feedback from people with Parkinson’s – “both during our testing rounds and in their active involvement with other levels of our business.”

Lucy adds: “Crucially, the feedback we’ve received has consistently been constructive; learning about how we can improve has been one of the main forces in our development.

“Our current waiting list for the device is growing by 14 per cent every week and this number is increasing rapidly. We have grown our community to over 5,400 people.

“Charco is not about one device, one app. We have a strong team from various backgrounds working together with people with Parkinson’s and we have a product roadmap planned out.

“CUE1 is our first step to help people with Parkinson’s; it is not going to be perfect but as we continue our journey and by taking feedback from people, we hope to bring smiles back for people with Parkinson’s and everyone around them.”

The word ‘smile’ features frequently in the company’s lexicon and here’s why: Working on a project for her Innovation Design Engineering Master’s, Lucy met a man with Parkinson’s.

Although happy to meet her, he said he was unable to show it because “Parkinson’s took away his smile” – and this was the spark that first inspired Charco’s goal to improve the quality of life for people with the disease.

Lucy spent several years with her co-founder Floyd Pierres researching the use of stimulation for Parkinson’s therapy, discovering the history and potential of focused stimulation and cueing.

Returning to her Master’s, Lucy set out to apply her research and create a device that used stimulation to improve the movement symptoms of people with Parkinson’s.

It was during this period that Lucy met Ruth Brinkler, chairwoman of the Peterborough branch of Parkinson’s UK, and through her was able to work with lots of people with Parkinson’s to test and develop her device.

The Imperial College Innovation Fund has since invested £205,000 in Charco Neurotech to support the development of CUE1, which has been developed by a team of engineers, doctors and neuroscientists. Using removable medical adhesive to rest on the sternum, CUE1 can provide an immediate aid, activated by the simple push of a button.

Pilot tests have resulted in an average improvement of 16 per cent in movement tasks such as using tools, manipulating objects, walking and more. Most importantly participants felt their movement was smoother and better controlled.

Charco has raised a total £545k seed cash to date including contributions from Amadeus Capital Partners, Oxbridge Angels, Crista Galli Ventures and high net-worth individuals.

Parkwalk Advisors is another long-term and loyal investor. Parkwalk’s CEO Moray Wright says: “Our Imperial Innovation Fund I (like the first Cambridge fund all those years ago!) made its first investment into Charco which we’re very pleased with.”

Lucy and Floyd say they have been mentored by “amazing coaches” at Cambridge Judge Business School. Several full-time team members originally joined as part of a Santander grant for Cambridge ventures to hire University of Cambridge students.

All these links further demonstrate the ‘brain gain’ to be garnered through business-academia collaboration – a strategy which Charco is deploying to great effect.

• This is the second in a series of articles on companies that have benefited from the Accelerator programme at Cambridge Judge Business School.

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