For Karen Crow, it was a double whammy.
Her baby son was waking up at least five times during the night, “primal screaming,” but doctors couldn’t figure out why. Her mother, a role model and source of inspiration, was declining after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Crow’s response to both life-changing events matched her Type A personality – she dove in and did as much research as she could.
What emerged is NeuroGeneces, Inc., a Santa Fe startup Crow co-founded that relies on sleep science to enhance memory retention while taking deep measurements of brain health so early interventions can be made if necessary.
The user wears a type of headband that uses audio stimulation to enhance the sleep phases in which information is transferred from temporary memory to long-term memory. The band, expected to hit the market in about 14 months, also tracks brain function and watches for any changes.
That might be the time to see a doctor, Crow says, because “if you start early enough and if you can identify if you’re at risk or showing biological decline in brain function, then that’s the time for effective intervention.”
It’s not the first time Crow has come up with a creative way to fix a problem.
She co-founded a nonprofit business, WiserGiving.org, to help suddenly wealthy Silicon Valley friends figure out their “giving style” when it comes to philanthropy by developing a free online tool.
And earlier, when the colleges in which she was interested lacked a women’s water polo team, she went down the list and found one that would let her play on the men’s team.
Says Crow, “You see a problem, you’ve got to fix it.’
Please solve the mystery of your son’s sleep issues.
“My kid had a sleep disorder that took us years to figure out. And he had all these gastrointestinal issues, so we were at UNM Pediatric GI every quarter, doing exams, doing tests. This was from literally birth until he was about 3, 3½. He was up five, six, seven times a night, primal screaming. Finally, someone said to me, ‘Maybe he’s not waking up because he has GI problems, but maybe he has GI problems because he has a sleep issue.’ At that point, I was willing to try anything. I was a sleep-deprived lunatic. So we started down the sleep path and found out he had sleep apnea. It never occurred to us. His tonsils were normal, but they were very flaccid, and so every time he’d lay down, they were suffocating him. The screams that we heard were from a little kid yelling that he was suffocating. So we ended up doing a tonsillectomy and literally from that day, he has never not slept through the night. It was life-changing, life-transforming for us.”
And that led you to NeuroGeneces?
“I really started learning a lot about sleep science and became absolutely fascinated and began thinking, ‘What in the world would have happened if we had not figured this out?'”
What prompted you to start WiserGiving.org?
“I was in the Silicon Valley, worked there for many years and had colleagues who had done very well. They started diving into philanthropy, but were getting pretty frustrated pretty quickly and realized that the philanthropy business is kind of a different world than the for-profit world. They were always very good at analyzing the issue that they wanted to embark on, but often times what they were missing was the – what do we call it? – the giving style. What do you inherently believe is the best way to have lasting impact? Is it through policy and doing laws? Is it direct services, helping individuals, hands on and helping them evolve? Is it big ideas and research? We developed, with the help of some experts, an interactive tool to help people understand what they think, without their ability to articulate it, really drives change. It’s their Myers-Briggs (personality test) of philanthropy. It’s free; anyone can take it. We have seen so many times that people will take the quiz and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, that’s why I never felt fulfilled when I was working with this nonprofit or when I was doing this. That was an X type of style, and I’m really a Y type of style.’ It’s really pretty fascinating.”
What were you like as a kid?
“I was kind of a perfectionist. If you do something, you want to do it right. (I was) valedictorian, I was a top athlete. Whatever you did, you put your all into it.”
What sports were you into?
“My main sport was water polo. I actually went out for the Olympics, but didn’t make it. But my claim to fame was that I played on the men’s water polo team during college. When I was looking at schools, I was zeroing in on New England and the Ivies, and many of the schools did not have women’s (water polo) teams back then. So when I would ask them if I could go out for the men’s team, Brown, Yale, all these liberal schools said, ‘No. You’re a woman, you can’t go out for men’s teams.’ I get to kind of male chauvinist Dartmouth, and they say, ‘Sure. Have at it.’ So sure enough, I went to Dartmouth and played on the men’s team.”
What worries you?
“What keeps me up late at night is seeing what’s happening to our democracy in the U.S. The political scene just scares me to no end. I don’t know how we get to a world, to a nation, where we can work together with one another in a productive, collaborative way for the greater good. I think that so many people have lost what the greater good means – that everyone gives up a little bit to move the whole forward. They’re more willing to not move the whole forward, if that means they can prevent someone else from having a win. And that mentality is something that I don’t understand, so I don’t know how to fix it. That, to me, is the scary thing.”
Who inspires you?
“I think my mom inspired me quite a bit. She was one of those go-get-’em people – outrageously optimistic, positive. When something would happen, she would always be able to figure it out. She was just one of these people, she saw a problem, ‘OK, I can help out. If there’s a need, I’ll fill it.’ It’s contagious.”