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Not satisfied to sit on the sidelines, Kerry Costello focused her entrepreneurial skills on revolutionizing concussion testing for athletes and is set to roll out a new app and wearable tech system that’s poised to be a game-changer.
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thechallenge

When former NFL player Dave Duerson shot himself fatally, he left a note requesting that his brain be studied for trauma. Sure enough, the post-mortem revealed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease common among athletes who’ve suffered concussions.

Recent research shows that those who incur repeat concussions, like Duerson, are four times more likely to commit suicide. Statistics like this have motivated recent UBC Sauder MBA grad Kerry Costello, an athlete and coach herself, to invest her entrepreneurial energy and acumen into turning the situation around.

“I wanted to give trainers and team doctors on the sidelines a more efficient method of identifying concussions than the subjective, paper-based tests they currently use,” she said.

Her solution came in the form of HeadCheck, a mobile app and wearable technology that accurately and instantly measures concussion risk.

thepersonality

Growing up, Costello was a sports fanatic and now shares her love of athletics by coaching basketball at her former high school. “It’s great to be able to help grow the next generation of athletes and team leaders,” she says.

A natural leader herself, Costello’s early forays into management at Starbucks were encouraged by her father. “My dad likes to send me advice, like negotiation columns from the Harvard Business Review. That’s how our relationship works.”

She followed his path into business, deciding to pursue an MBA at UBC Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School, where she opted to take courses in entrepreneurship.

UBC Sauder MBA application button

“A lot of what I learned in my MBA, particularly in the Technology Entrepreneurship class, I apply to HeadCheck,” says Costello. “Working with a very limited budget, it was crucial that I spent our initial funding round efficiently, implementing my newly-learnt knowledge of finance, strategy and organizational planning.”

It was in an entrepreneurship class at the school that Costello met UBC PhD student Harrison Brown, who specializes in human motor behaviour and had developed a way to objectively measure balance. Together they evolved the idea for HeadCheck.

theexperience

Joining forces with a third co-founder – UBC Sauder BCom alumnus Alexey Manov – Costello and Brown honed prototypes for HeadCheck, working to digitize the testing methods recognized as the gold standard.

The team developed a headband with sensors that connects wirelessly to their mobile app. “The app lets team doctors measure concussion risk by assessing symptoms, cognition and balance. It features an algorithm which objectively measures balance, making the gold-standard test more reliable.” explains Costello. “Both faster and more accurate, it helps to protect athletes from their biggest enemy – themselves – by stopping them re-entering a game if they test positive.”

Kerry Costello, Sauder MBA grad - pull quote

In 2015, while beta-testing their product in market, Costello and her team were accepted into the e@UBC Lean LaunchPad Accelerator Program. There they received mentorship from UBC Sauder marketing instructor Paul Cubbon and entrepreneurship lead Adjunct Professor Blair Simonite, who were instrumental in helping her define target customers and move the ball forward.

Cubbon says Costello’s success shows how a business school can provide an invaluable training environment and launch pad for aspiring entrepreneurs.

“Entrepreneurship as a career is very real, and Kerry is a great example of one of many pathways to achieving this,” he adds.

Paul Cubbon, Sauder Marketing Instructor - pull quote

Costello left her full-time job with BCAA in May 2015, two years after obtaining her MBA to develop HeadCheck Health full time. She says support from her former classmates is what gives her a healthy perspective when the going gets tough.

“I have a group of girlfriends from the MBA program that I meet with regularly and they’ll provide advice and feedback on any concerns I raise over my business.”

thechange

The HeadCheck Health app is being tested by all of the UBC and University of the Fraser Valley sports teams, as well as two pro hockey teams, the Edmonton Oil Kings and Victoria Royals.

HeadCheck Health mobile app and headband“The student athletic trainers and physiotherapists who’ve been trying out the app say it’s saving them considerable time on the sidelines and they’re feeling more confident in their decision-making,” she says.

Looking to launch the app in North America this spring, Costello says the next step is to seek another round of investment. “In the meantime,” she says, “we’re confident our trial customers will buy from us given their positive experience with it.”

Going beyond the field of play, Costello says she and her team plan to expand HeadCheck Health to serve other areas where concussions are a problem – from the military to the ER.