An Interview With David Leichner
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Brickler.
Chris Brickler is the CEO and founder of MyndVR, the leading provider of Virtual Reality solutions for senior living communities, home care agencies, Veteran homes, and individual adults aging in their own homes. The company’s work exemplifies how digital therapeutics are reshaping the healthcare framework. Through constant expansion of the technology and researching how virtual reality can support healthy cognition and rehabilitation progression, Chris and his team are in a dedicated pursuit to improve the quality of life for older adults.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
Well, I grew up in small-town Indiana with an amazing family and friends. I started my first profitable business at 12 years old, taught myself how to compose music, and learned how to play basketball that carried on through college. Larry Bird was a very influential, motivational figure that really bugs my Los Angeles friends! My mom was also very influential in my life as I watched her break the glass ceiling in corporate America. She was very successful and a shining example of workplace inclusion.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In 2004, I filmed an interview with my grandparents who had been married for 63 years. I simply wanted to document their beautiful, lifelong marriage for our internal family to enjoy for years to come. What they said was really powerful and inspired me to make my first film. I interviewed them every year until their 70th anniversary along with the world’s top relationship scientists. Never in human history have we seen 70-year marriages. The film explored so many dynamics in our culture that work against long term commitment. The project gained global distribution and was nominated for an Emmy in the first year the Academy looked at broadband as a legitimate media format.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I think we’re living in an era of way too much information. I learned early in my career the importance of focused, intentional communication to drive business results. In my twenties, a mentor suggested “Be bold, be brief and be gone!”. That has stuck with me and has never failed!
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Adaptability. When I tell people I went to three different high schools in three different regions of the country, they generally offer their condolences. However, this early transience in my life has prepared me for long and fruitful career across the US, Europe and Asia.
Laser focus. In a TMI/ADD culture, I see so many entrepreneurs chasing shiny balls. I think it’s very important for a startup to be adaptive, flexible and resilient. But I think the opportunity for leaders and organizations to commit to a focused vision is paramount.
Purpose-driven. I firmly believe that people and organizations that can rally behind a purpose, have a greater chance of success. In the case with MyndVR, our purpose around impacting the lives of our elders drives me every day. It’s not often you get the opportunity to build technology that is so meaningful.
It would be difficult to overstate the challenge and complexity of the aging care landscape. Many people in healthcare and our society are familiar with the term ‘The Grey Tsunami,’ which refers to the massive growth of our aging population. In a nutshell, there are simply not enough young people to take care of our old people. In 2034, the US will have more people over 65 than under 18 for the first time in history. We believe that VR/AR, robotics, and AI/ML will undoubtedly play a big role in making healthcare more efficient and efficacious as we approach this aging health crisis.
How do you think your technology can address this?
MyndVR applies the core principles of reminiscence and relaxation therapies in an immersive scenario to transport users to environments where they feel happy, excited, and connected. The fully immersive nature of VR effectively blocks out the surrounding environment, allowing a patient to feel as though they are in a completely different world. This can not only provide better focus but can also open up a sense of wonder and exploration that makes VR treatments more enjoyable to patients. So, in addition to an increase in efficacy, accessibility and scalability, therapy can actually become a fun and enriching experience for both the elder and their caregivers.
Oh, and one more thing — on top of our large and growing catalog of immersive content, we also have MyndConnect, which allows family members to join the elders in their experiences from anywhere in the world. Let’s say you live in New York and your grandmother lives in Arizona. When she enters an immersive session, you get a notification, and all of a sudden, the two of you are off on an adventure along Route 66. This kind of connectivity and experience with loved ones is incredibly valuable to patients and their families and can make all the difference for someone who may be feeling isolated.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
My co-founder, Shawn Wiora, was managing nearly 100 skilled nursing communities in Texas and was implementing a very provocative therapeutic program called “Music and Memory”. This is when customized playlists of memorable music were used on iPods to provide a cognitive awakening in dementia care. I had been a music producer for a long time and was working with Facebook on a VR music application in Menlo Park. We hadn’t seen each other for several years. When Shawn and I got together, we came up with the idea to build a virtual reality health care platform geared for older adults. Especially those adults struggling with cognitive decline. almost every family I know has had to deal with this including our own.
How do you think this might change the world?
Well, like I said, we’re up against a very big challenge with our aging population, and it’s likely that the quality of care our elders will receive will worsen as issues with resources increase. The opportunity for our immersive therapy is to create a drastic shift for people living in long term care and memory care facilities. We envision a future in which the window to the world that our elderly have is simply bigger.
Absolutely. I spent a good part of the 1990s developing the Internet into an industrial strength network for real-time communications and video distribution with Verizon and British Telecom. We understood the persuasive power of Internet video, but I don’t think any of us at that time properly estimated the power of misinformation, lack of data privacy or the depths of the “darkverse.”Fast forward to 2023, we are now distributing digital therapeutics in the form of VR experiences using a secure Internet. I don’t think these social networks like Meta and Tiktok, who are also two of the world’s largest VR companies, were designed with HIPPA in mind. So, for aging adults and their families — we certainly don’t want Grandpa’s private health data in an echo chamber. At MyndVR, we are super committed to driving a new code of ethics as VR therapeutics and clinical excellence. I think it also safe to say that Social VR networks weren’t designed with HIPPA in mind.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Well from my vantage, I am not sure young people need a lot motivation! If there is anything good that has come from the pandemic, I would say that I’ve seen a greater sense of empathy in our younger culture as it relates to senior isolation. We were all isolated for the past few years and now everyone knows how that feels. When we first started MyndVR, we partnered with my alma mater, the University of Texas. Over 60 engineering students joined our project to create our very first prototype. I saw tremendous energy from our younger generation get behind our cause.We are also seeing a tremendous amount of younger support in our www.DigitalThearpyNOW.org grassroots, educational campaign.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Mark Cuban. He and I emailed back and forth a few years ago when MyndVR was at an infantile stage. He sent me a blog that he wrote in 2015 about VR therapy literally saving his life from a very strange case of vertigo. Very inspiring. He can be such a champion of important causes. I’d like to share how far our VR-based, digital therapeutics is moving and hear his 10-year vision around healthcare in the US.
How can our readers further follow your work online
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.
Thank you for this opportunity.
About The Interviewer: David Leichner is a veteran of the Israeli high-tech industry with significant experience in the areas of cyber and security, enterprise software and communications. At Cybellum, a leading provider of Product Security Lifecycle Management, David is responsible for creating and executing the marketing strategy and managing the global marketing team that forms the foundation for Cybellum’s product and market penetration. Prior to Cybellum, David was CMO at SQream and VP Sales and Marketing at endpoint protection vendor, Cynet. David is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Jerusalem Technology College. He holds a BA in Information Systems Management and an MBA in International Business from the City University of New York.