As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Dubon, CEO and co-Founder of Long Beach, California-based MieronVR, a brand-new, cutting-edge virtual reality (VR) technology that doctors and medical practitioners are using to help patients rehabilitate from spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries using neurotherapy. A serial entrepreneur with expertise in media, technology and audience interaction, Josh also is the founder of the award-winning creative agency, DayDreamCinema. He has served as the creative director for various activations, including a lead role in the development of original content for the launch of Snapchat Discover, as well as producing award-winning content series and innovative marketing strategies for various Fortune 500 companies worldwide, including ESPN, XGames, Snap, Rolling Stone Magazine and a handful of others.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
First off, thank you for having me.
So long before we created MieronVR, my business partner and co-founder, Jessica Maslin, and I had launched a virtual-reality production company what was focused in entertainment as part of my original endeavor, DayDreamCinema.
We had created a VR experience with Greg “Craola” Simkins, a well-known graffiti artist turned fine artist. We did an interactive narrative VR experience with him creating a mural at a friend of mine’s restaurant, Lola’s in Long Beach. Using VR, we gave viewers an opportunity to experience what it was like to be there with Greg as he created the mural and shared some of his artistic inspiration. It was a very moving project.
About six months after we finished that project, Greg reached out to us and shared a story about his five-year-old niece who had suffered a spinal stroke while doing a simple backbend in her living room. She was your average active little girl, and the spinal stroke left her paralyzed from the waist down. The family had heard about VR helping people with mental health and pain management and Greg had asked if we had looked into it or if we could do anything to help his niece, Eden Hoelscher. As I was on the phone with Greg, I explained that we had seen a lot of great outcomes with research in the medical field and while we didn’t have anything specifically for her, we would be more than happy to meet Eden and her family to see if there was something we could do to assist so Jessica and I flew out to Kentucky where the family had moved so Eden could participate in a rehabilitation program and we spent two weeks out there with Eden and the Hoelscher family.
During those two weeks, Jessica and I got to see just about everything that spinal cord injury rehabilitation entailed, including the daily struggles that Eden was going through, but also the trials and tribulations that her parents were going through as well, and I’ll always remember one thing that Eden’s mom Kylee said. She remarked that “if life was just about Eden never walking again, it would be so easy, but there was so much more to it because you were dealing with a five-year-old having a spinal cord injury and facing the possibility of never being able to walk again.”
Almost instantly, Jessica and I fell in love with the family and we decided that we would do anything we could to help them out. One of the first things we did was to delve into some preliminary testing after sitting in on some of Eden’s rehabilitation and locomotive-training sessions to better understand what the doctors were trying to accomplish and how they were going about it. One such exercise that they had Eden do was an assisted crawling exercise where a nurse held her hips while she tried to engage her core and draw her knees forward. Eden clearly didn’t enjoy doing the exercise as it appeared both painful and frustrating, and furthermore, she didn’t want to feel like a baby crawling around. After seeing it first-hand, we took a chance and put a VR headset on Eden just to see if she would wear it and if it would make her dizzy or uncomfortable or even nauseous. The headset we chose had a pre-programmed VR experience that we had created of professional skateboarding legend Christian Hosoi skateboarding in the infamous Vans Shoes pool in Huntington Beach. We had Eden watch Christian through the headset while she was doing her assisted crawling exercise and almost instantly she started smiling while creating her own game of trying to hit Christian’s skateboard away from him each time he skated by her in the experience. We were blown away because not only was she doing great in her exercise, but we could also see in her face that she was having fun doing it.
After she finished and we took the headset off, Eden’s parents pulled us aside and showed us the analytical results they were seeing of what had just happened. With the VR headset on, Eden’s perception of pain almost completely disappeared, she was able to exert herself with an increase in intensity for a longer period of time, and her overall state-of-mind and level of perceived happiness went through the roof as she smiled from ear-to-ear. Without a doubt, that right there was our ‘aha’ moment. We knew right then and there that there was definitely something we could do that could help her out.
Jessica and I returned to California and right away we started creating experiences that could help Eden and others like her to get through arduous rehabilitation sessions, just like the ones we witnessed during those two weeks in Kentucky.
That is ultimately what led Jessica and I, along with our business partner, Mike Jones, to launch MieronVR, and since then, we’ve collaborated with dozens of healthcare facilities around the world to create a comprehensive library of virtual reality neurotherapy exercises based on the same principles of locomotive training, physical therapy and occupational therapy that doctors and nurses use with their patients on a daily basis.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I like to say that everything that is happening at MieronVR has nothing to do with Jessica or myself, or with what has happened to either of us personally. It’s all about the stories that we get to hear about how MieronVR is helping its users recover from their injuries or physical limitations while helping them improve their overall quality of life.
The stories that people share with us about using MieronVR are what keep us going and inspired to work harder each and every day. Learning from facilities that we’ve partnered with, like the one in Australia that is combining functional electrical stimulation (FES) with MieronVR, and receiving feedback that its users are reporting feeling more sensation in their affected areas when combining Mieron with FES, those are the type of stories that keep us motivated to push further and further each and every day. It’s those stories that make all of the time, effort and sacrifice worthwhile.
Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Virtual Reality is a very powerful tool, and there are number of verticals with which it is now being used, among them, training, learning and entertainment. At MieronVR, we are focusing on helping people effectively change their lives and what they can achieve by using this tool in the form of Virtual Reality Neurotherapy (VRNT). The difference is that we focus on the principles of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and neuroplasticity in exercises designed for all levels of mobility and dexterity. There are other companies that may say they are medical applications of VR, however most of them are focused in pain management by using distraction techniques. It is easy to distract someone, especially in VR, but using it as a more powerful tool to really trick the brain into firing new nerve pathways, or eliminating self-imposed limitations, or even providing more motivation to exert yourself to achieve more gains, that’s where MieronVR is really is breaking down barriers in new and innovative ways. And by focusing on how we can improve people’s mobility, we’re providing a pathway for greater independence and quality of life that can affect millions of lives around the world.
How do you think this might change the world?
MieronVR has the ability to change the world because some of the world’s largest companies, like Google and Lenovo for example, are supporting our mission and they have introduced us to great people and products in their ecosystem who are helping to make MieronVR as powerful as possible. And while that is amazing in and of itself, it’s really the end-users and practitioners who have welcomed MieronVR into their lives and rehabilitation programs with open arms. Our slogan is we believe you can “Achieve More with MieronVR,” more mobility, more independence, less pain and a greater quality of life for all ages, and that’s how we have an opportunity to change the world.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Virtual Reality is no different than any other technology or anything in the world that people can take into their own hands and abuse the power of. Focusing on the positive outcomes of what we are doing at MieronVR, and not allowing ourselves to focus on the negative uses that some rogue individuals might assume VR to have is important to us. Going to the gym as a fully able-bodied individual and depriving yourself of particular food groups to have a certain physical aesthetic is widely abused in our society, so even a ‘healthy’ exercise can have drawbacks depending on the individual performing it.
For people who have full mobility, who have no paralysis and can walk to the store with no problems, they may not understand the value of putting on a headset and taking a walk down the beach, and what that does for your quality of life and mental well-being. But even the simple act of having the sensation of going for a stroll outside and not having to fear being stared at has an enormous impact on the mental well-being of people who are using MieronVR.
Most of us will never be able to comprehend the challenges that someone with a life changing injury faces on a daily basis, but MieronVR is meant to serve as an ancillary tool for practitioners, and it’s not meant to be an isolating experience. In fact, we’ve built tech into the program to ensure that practitioners may participate with their clients during their MieronVR experiences.
And if you can emerge from a MieronVR experience and have a more promising outlook, we believe that you’ll make better connections in the real world after that, and hopefully that better day will carryover outside of your VR experience. And taking it a step further, if you’re able to now have enough mobility and strength to do a simple task like lift your toothbrush to your mouth and maintain your balance to brush your teeth, that’s a win which we know that you’ll celebrate for a lifetime.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
It was definitely the moment when we saw that there was a chance that this type of technology would legitimately help Eden through her recovery. It was at that very moment that we decided to take a pivot in our individual careers to focus on creating tech that would help her and others like her.
And I feel like we reach a new milestone each and every week as the company continues to grow. We are already making a global impact by having facilities in US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland using Mieron’s VRNT system. We’re the leaders and pioneers in creating Virtual Reality Neurotherapy for rehabilitation, and we look forward to evolving this tech even further.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
Mieron is growing rapidly. We have healthcare providers and home-users using our products around the world on a daily basis. To secure even more widespread adaptation, we are focusing not only on the product itself and our users, but also capital partnerships and strategic partnerships in insurance, tech and hardware to help us grow and evolve even further.
Right now, something we’re really focused on is working with insurance companies to adapt VRNT to their lists of covered treatments. Besides reducing prescription costs, MieronVR can also benefit insurance companies, especially if patients are spending less time in hospitals because they don’t have to go in for things like pressure sores, infections, septic build up from opioid use, or even broken bones from avoidable injuries if they had just been able to perform weight-bearing exercises at home or on a more frequent basis. MieronVR has proven to be an effective tool for preventing all of these, while at the same time and more importantly, keeping people healthier and happier.
And even if insurance companies don’t adopt MieronVR right away, users will see the value in adopting it and we believe our organic growth and validation will continue to help us grow and become more widespread.
If even one person that reads this article learns about MieronVR and thinks it can help them or someone they know, that would mean the world to us.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
In all honesty, we haven’t really focused on aggressive marketing just yet because we’ve been so hyper-focused on the end users and clients first and foremost. We have an amazing product that continues to help people achieve more in so many ways, so when it comes to marketing a company like MieronVR, we’ve tended to allow the end-users and practitioners to tell the story themselves. Jessica and I can sit here talk about it all day long, but it’s really the real-life testimonials of the people using MieronVR that will make the most significant impact.
Their ability to tell those stories and share how Mieron is benefiting people like them with spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, strokes, Parkinson’s and any of the other long list of musculoskeletal disorders is inspiring to us and to the people that can benefit from MieronVR the most.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
At this particular stage of my career with my focus on MieronVR, someone who stands out not only to me, but to our entire team as a whole is our fellow co-founder and partner, Mike Jones. Mike is the former CEO of MySpace and the current CEO of Science, Inc., a startup and VC studio in Santa Monica. Mike’s vast resume of experience in the tech world building and scaling companies and his seemingly limitless knowledge and insight has proven to be invaluable to both Jessica and I, and really to our entire team as a whole. I don’t pretend to know everything and it’s a tremendous asset to have someone like Mike on our team as he is someone who is able to share with us more knowledge and experience than most entrepreneurs will be exposed to in a lifetime.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I really think we’re bringing goodness to the world thru the lives that we’re changing. With accessibility being top-of-mind, we have created a technology that is bringing goodness to the world by creating opportunities for our users to get back to living normal lives the way they formerly did. MieronVR is not only an outlet for rehabilitation, but a path to regain independence.
I should mention too that we have hospitals which are also using MieronVR for other things besides rehabilitation. Doctors and medical practitioners in areas like oncology and palliative care are using it to help ‘remove’ people from the hospital during their treatments to give them a reprieve from traditional clinical settings.
Bringing goodness to the world with VR isn’t just about entertaining and distracting people. It’s about quantifiable data, it’s about powerful and quality interventions, and it’s about life changing confidence and independence.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
These are some things that I wish someone had told me back when I was teenage entrepreneur.
- Embrace the hardships and everything in between that lead you to the bigger picture.
From the time I was a teenager, I worked every job I could to get the things I wanted in life. When I was a young kid who wanted a new skateboard, I worked masonry with my uncle on the weekends. When I later wanted to film skateboarding, I worked at a fast food restaurant and a graveyard shift as a janitor to save enough money to buy my first production-level camera. I remember working at the fast food restaurant and talking to people through the drive-thru, making jokes through the intercom. I exuded happiness and positive energy and people would drive out of their way to the restaurant just in hopes that they would see me at the window and get a good laugh and fun experience with their food. I knew I wasn’t trying to have that job forever, but it was giving me the tools to start what I wanted to do and that kept me motivated during that time in my career. The lesson there is that if you work hard for what you want and have fun doing it, that means will help bring you to the desired end or the next beginning.
2. Morals and values are more impressive than a college degree.
A college degree is nice, but it’s not the end-all that is-all. In our society, you can learn just anything online if you are passionate and willing to put in the work. There are no excuses for not being able to do what you love. People won’t invest in you and your ideas based on what school you went to, but more so based on their impressions of you as an individual and how you are perceived in the real world.
3. It’s ok to delegate work and to trust your team to do as good or a better job than you can accomplish alone.
There have been times in my career where I believed that nobody could do the job as well I could or with the same passion and creative eye. And while sometimes that can be true, in order to grow your business, you need to trust your team and delegate work so it can be accomplished effectively. Clear communication is a key and setting expectations in advance makes delegating work easier for everyone. You can be an effective leader and be open to collaboration as well as critique. As a leader, your team comes to you for answers, but they also like being able to come to you with ideas and you have to be able to embrace those ideas to build confidence for collaboration.
4. Take more risks, but make them calculated.
Like many people out there, I’ve taken risks that have ended up not being worthwhile for one reason or another, but each of those risks taught me valuable lessons. They’ve taught me not to rush decisions, take the time to ask all the right questions, and also to take time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. It’s about being able to evaluate those outcomes that makes taking the next risk even more rewarding.
5. Your dreams and ambitions are yours only, and nobody is going to chase them for you.
You don’t deserve anything in life, you earn what you work hard for. With that, you don’t need other people to understand your dreams. You are the only person that needs to understand your vision. Don’t be afraid to welcome suggestions and collaboration, or to ask for help when you need it, but in the end, always trust your gut, because more often than not, it’s usually right.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think the world needs to focus more on accessibility and how that should be the first thing you think of when starting any kind of company.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Without a doubt, “your network is your net worth.” To me, that means that it’s important not just to have a large quantity of people in your life, but it’s more important to surround yourself with quality people in your ecosystem who can help you achieve your goals and dreams, and also build out your ideas.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Mieron is a Virtual Reality Neurotherapy company. We believe that we have created the world’s most effective VR rehabilitation system and we’re already making a global impact. Our MieronVR library focuses on the principles of physical therapy, occupational therapy and neurological engagement. We have two products, Mieron Rehab Pro for healthcare providers and MieronGO for consumer use at home. MieronGO has been offered to a consumer base with millions of users who are benefitting from a rehabilitation regiment at home since most insurance providers typically only cover patients for eight weeks of rehabilitation services and MieronGO allows them to continue well past those eight weeks.
MieronVR also can be paired with other hardware or used on its own as an effective treatment tool for spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, strokes, Parkinson’s Disease, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis and a litany of other musculoskeletal disorders.
At MieronVR, we are focused on the software and VR development side of the industry. We develop everything in-house and we do not license content. All of our experiences are our IP, and we are platform agnostic. We are very passionate about our product and the roots of why we started this company, but we’re also passionate about creating profitable business models so that technology like MieronVR can exist and continue to evolve.
To learn more, you can visit us at MieronVR.com or email me, firstname.lastname@example.org
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