BehaVR headset

BehaVR Pico Interactive headset

Working virtually is all the rage in the COVID-19 era, but local tech startup BehaVR promises something more powerful: healing virtually through the medium of virtual reality. “We create digital wellness programs and digital therapeutics—the difference really being about levels of clinical evidence and FDA regulatory scrutiny,” said founder and CEO Aaron Geni. The four-year-old company offers products for chronic pain (developed with Louisville-based Confluent Health), chronic stress, and addiction, and it’s currently working with a large pharma company on a digital therapeutic for anxiety.

Linking all these products is VR, a burgeoning technology that’s good for more than just immersive gaming. “The unique ingredient is virtual reality, and we think that is important because of the very specific neurological and psychological power of the medium of VR,” Geni said.

The Pico Interactive headsets patients wear are the most visible aspect of BehaVR’s products, but the most important aspect is invisible. It’s the Dynamic eXperience Engine (DXE), the company’s cloud-based platform, which both collects patient data and determines in real time what happens next inside the headset. Geni knew from day one that securing the DXE would be critically important, given the potential for online mischief. “A Zoom-bomb of a 2-D screen is annoying,” he said. “Something like that in a multisensory experience could be traumatic.”

To guarantee the most secure environment possible, BehaVR partnered with Austin-based ClearDATA to handle data security and privacy. In May, the companies’ collaboration earned them one of the six Health Innovation Awards Microsoft presented this year. (These awards recognize “Microsoft customers and partners deploying solutions that deliver better experiences, insights and care.”)

BehaVR increasingly operates virtually (and has even held meetings in VR), but it remains firmly rooted in the Bluegrass State. Geni founded the company while he was chief technology officer at Humana, where he worked from 2006 to 2018, and leads the company from Elizabethtown, where he grew up. BehaVR also has an office in Nashville.

“When you look at what we’re doing, it’s healthcare-centric and we need to work with payers,” he said. “Well, you have a national company in the form of Humana here in Louisville. You have an aging-care innovation center here.”

What’s more, he said, the quality of life is better—and cheaper—than in hotspots like San Francisco and Boston. And he thinks the secret is getting out these days. “As people are realizing we really can work virtually, they’re going, ‘Why do I need to work virtually in my tiny little apartment for $4,000 in the city? Why don’t I move out where there’s a little bit of space and a better quality of life and my apartment is just $1,000—or I can afford a nice home with a backyard?’”

Depending on how the pandemic plays out, that reality may end up being even more powerful than the VR experiences BehaVR offers.