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Got Brain? Investing in Our Most Precious Asset in 2013

Open a week­end New York Times or Wall Street Jour­nal and you’ll find a whole sec­tion with detailed infor­ma­tion and advice for indi­vid­u­als look­ing to invest wise­ly. What you will not find, how­ev­er, is com­pa­ra­ble infor­ma­tion and advice for invest­ing in your most impor­tant asset of all: your brain. Pre­cise­ly because it (usu­al­ly) does its job so smooth­ly and effec­tive­ly, it’s all too easy to for­get that your brain is there and that it needs to be invest­ed in just as with any­thing else we val­ue and want to con­tin­ue reap­ing ben­e­fits from. And with more than 2 bil­lion peo­ple world­wide cur­rent­ly suf­fer­ing from brain-based health and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty chal­lenges with a result­ing glob­al eco­nom­ic bur­den of more than $2 tril­lion, it’s also an issue of some impor­tance.

We’ve made a lot of progress over the last cen­tu­ry in under­stand­ing the brain, but it wasn’t until the last few decades that we’ve come to under­stand the ways in which our every­day behav­iors affect, for bet­ter or worse, our brains’ health and per­for­mance. We now know that cer­tain basic activ­i­ties, includ­ing phys­i­cal exer­cise, prop­er nutri­tion, stress man­age­ment, and men­tal exer­cise, are inte­gral com­po­nents of a brain-healthy lifestyle, and peo­ple are wak­ing up to the fact that they need to be proac­tive in mon­i­tor­ing and man­ag­ing the health and fit­ness of their brains. As detailed in our new mar­ket report on dig­i­tal brain health, the large major­i­ty of respon­dents to a 2012 Sharp­Brains sur­vey of 3,000+ deci­sion-mak­ers and ear­ly adopters in the field found that the major­i­ty believe that brain health should be a health­care pri­or­i­ty, that adults should take charge of their own “brain fit­ness,” and that dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies sig­nif­i­cant­ly aug­ment tra­di­tion­al approach­es.

As a grow­ing num­ber of con­sumers, inno­va­tors, and deci­sion-mak­ers invest in dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies to bet­ter mon­i­tor and enhance cog­ni­tion across the lifes­pan, we are wit­ness­ing the rapid growth and devel­op­ment of a new dig­i­tal brain health mar­ket­place. Right now, the dig­i­tal brain health mar­ket – which includes both soft­ware appli­ca­tions and bio­met­ric hard­ware prod­ucts designed to mon­i­tor, assess, enhance or repair neu­rocog­ni­tive func­tions such as exec­u­tive atten­tion work­ing mem­o­ry, emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion – can be divid­ed into four main cus­tomer seg­ments: Con­sumers, Health­care, senior liv­ing, and insur­ance providers, K12 school sys­tems, and Employ­ers. Con­sumers have become the pre­dom­i­nant cus­tomer seg­ment, sur­pass­ing healthcare/insurance providers, as the com­bi­na­tion of an increase in the diag­no­sis of learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties, anx­i­ety dis­or­ders, and aging Baby Boomer pop­u­la­tion with a keen inter­est in main­tain­ing their men­tal sharp­ness, and the trend­ing desire for a healthy lifestyle, has con­sumers look­ing for health­i­er, non-inva­sive alter­na­tives to exist­ing drug-led and ther­a­pist-led approach­es. Not only that: self-mon­i­tor­ing options for bet­ter man­ag­ing one’s cog­ni­tive and emo­tion­al func­tion­ing are already becom­ing avail­able to con­sumers at user-friend­ly prices and pack­ag­ing, and strong sig­nals sug­gest the next fron­tier in the con­sumer appli­ca­tion of bio­met­rics is going to be brain health.

The over­all mar­ket has kept grow­ing since 2009 despite the over­all eco­nom­ic chal­lenges, both in the soft­ware and hard­ware seg­ments. We esti­mate the glob­al mar­ket for brain health appli­ca­tions of soft­ware and bio­met­rics to be over $1 bil­lion in 2012, and we fore­cast it will reach $6 bil­lion in 2020. The indus­try is still made up of many small com­pa­nies, which has been a lim­i­ta­tion for the marketplace’s mat­u­ra­tion giv­en con­tra­dic­to­ry, con­tro­ver­sial mar­ket­ing claims. That being said, siz­able recent invest­ments by strate­gic and finan­cial investors sug­gest boom­ing prospects and the increas­ing pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion of the sec­tor. As ana­lyzed in our new mar­ket report, five lead­ing com­pa­nies –Brain Resource, CogState, Emo­tiv, Lumos Labs, Neu­roSky- are already gain­ing sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket and research trac­tion, and recent devel­op­ments, such as Bay­er part­ner­ing with Cog­niFit and Mer­ck with CogState, under­score the sector’s grow­ing lev­el of matu­ri­ty.

We can expect sev­er­al dri­vers to fuel con­tin­ued growth and inno­va­tion. Equip­ment which used to be expen­sive and cum­ber­some is becom­ing user-friend­ly and inex­pen­sive, and tablets and mobiles phones are becom­ing a major deliv­ery vehi­cle for dig­i­tal brain health solu­tions. Heavy invest­ment into online plat­forms are geared to gain con­sumer mar­ket share, with many com­pa­nies offer­ing free or freemi­um sub­scrip­tions. Over the course of this decade, we will like­ly see Big Data and cloud-based appli­ca­tions that will enable tru­ly per­son­al­ized brain health solu­tions, and a more devel­oped ecosys­tem built around users and tools.

And while it’s unlike­ly that we’ll see peo­ple devot­ing as much time and atten­tion to invest­ing in their brains as in their finances any time soon, dig­i­tal brain health solu­tions going main­stream among both con­sumers and health­care providers will be a big step for­ward.

Because the fact is, we all got a beau­ti­ful human brain. We can invest in it to bet­ter live, love, work, inno­vate.

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About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters, and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm and think tank tracking health and performance applications of brain science.