#SVPFastPitch evolved this year and added a for-profit category. Seems contradictory, right? However, our ED Terri Wogan Calderón noticed a growing trend in the marketplace where more and more for-profit organizations have a mission of giving back. Think Toms. Remaining true to our roots of venture capitalism for a cause, we wanted to recognize and honor that work happening in the Valley.
In our inaugural year, we had almost 10 applications and three organizations were selected for the training. Jacob Hamman and Zenjoi rose to the top as our first-ever social enterprise recipient.
Zenjoi is building virtual reality technology designed to help ease the burden and emotional strain of Alzheimer’s on patients, families and caregivers. Jacob, with brother Justin, are at the forefront of developing therapeutic and reminiscence therapy in this space.
Here’s their story –
Living the life in Venice Beach, Jacob Hamman was working for renowned architect Frank Gehry and spending free time on the beach. While that was a pretty perfect arrangement for this Phoenix native, he realized there was a change in design technology impacting 3D design and creation as it relates to architecture. To stay ahead, he pursued an advanced degree in Technology Design from Harvard University. Jacob jetted to Cambridge, Mass., for his research-based degree. Idealistic right?
Meanwhile, as home in Phoenix, his 58-year-old mom was forgetting little things. The mother of four was working in childcare, and spending free time with her husband of 40 years and her four grandchildren, but darkness was creeping in. Her youngest son, Justin, who was 21 at the time and studying at U of A, called Jacob after a visit at home.
“Justin realized something wasn’t right. He was closest and most in tune with what was happening to mom,” shared Jacob. “He also has endless patience; I learn a lot from him.”
After a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s, Justin, with the support of his siblings and dad, decided to take a leave of absence from school to help at home with his mom. Jacob promised Justin that once his Harvard Master’s program was completed, he would also return to Phoenix to help.
Today, three years later, Jacob and Justin are CarePartners for their mom. While this in itself is a selfless act, they aren’t stopping there. Inspired by this devastating diagnosis, the brothers are finding the opportunity. Driven by a deep love for their mom and family and shared enthusiasm for technology, the brothers started Zenjoi.
Using their day-to-day experiences with their mom as a guide, Zenjoi is virtual reality technology designed to ease the burden of Alzheimer’s on caregivers and patients. Exploring the world of digital therapeutics, Zenjoi allows patients to interact with photos, art, videos, music in the comfort of their own home and a virtual space. It also triggers memories and gentle reminders for schedules and daily hygiene.
During Fast Pitch, Jacob found his voice. He had been having a hard time explaining Zenjoi, but with the encouragement of his mentors, he got comfortable sharing his family’s personal story and struggles. This authenticity made the difference. And that showed.
So what’s next for Zenjoi? The brothers are validating their research and continuing to refine the experience. The grand vision is to build a single platform for holistic services. They are working on a research study with Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. It’s that opportunity for observational study to validate their ideas and refine the direction of further development. Down the road, with medical substantiation to back them, they hope their technology will be reimbursable to make life with Alzheimer’s easier for another family.
That’s their silver lining.
Partners will have the opportunity to meet and experience the Zenjoi world at our spring fling event on Thursday. To learn more or to provide mentorship to this budding technology, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.