2017-12-08 / Community News

Entrepreneurs share their tune

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Owen McCarthy (right) and Brian Harris, talk to students in Scarborough High School’s entrepreneurship class about Med- Rhythms, a neurological music therapy company they launched in 2015. (Michael Kelley photo) Owen McCarthy (right) and Brian Harris, talk to students in Scarborough High School’s entrepreneurship class about Med- Rhythms, a neurological music therapy company they launched in 2015. (Michael Kelley photo) It is said that music is food for the soul and two Maine natives, Brian Harris and Owen McCarthy have taken that idea to heart with MedRhythms, a Portland-based business they started in fall 2015.

On Tuesday, students in Jonathan McHugh’s entrepreneurship class heard from Harris and McCarthy, about their business journey as part of Launch Lesson.

Launch Lesson is an initiative of Junior Achievement of Maine, an organization dedicated to, according to its website, “giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their futures and make smart academic and economic decisions.”

Junior Achievement developed the program last year and this is the first time the Launch Lesson has been brought to Maine, said Junior Achievement of Maine President Michelle Anderson.

“Junior Achievement established the program to put local entrepreneurs into the classroom to tell their story, their triumphs, the failures and how they started the business,” Anderson said.

Anderson said it was an easy choice to bring it to Scarborough High School as a pilot.

“We have a great relationship with the Scarborough school system. Every student in middle school gets Junior Achievement and we are working on programs at the kindergarten level. We picked Scarborough because we wanted school district that is supportive of what we are doing,” Anderson said.

“We are hoping the students can seem themselves in these young entrepreneurs. The whole purpose of Junior Achievement is to teach real world skills, but secondarily to expose kids to Maine opportunities and this is another opportunity for kids to see the great things happening in not only the business community, but the start-up community as well,” Anderson added.

MedRhythms harnesses the power of neurological music therapy to help those affected by neurologic injury or disease, such as traumatic brain injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease or Huntington’s Disease walk, by melding music, technology and neuroscience.

“Research shows the brain responds to music like nothing else,” said Harris, who met McCarthy (Class of 2010) while they were undergraduate students at the University of Maine where Harris (Class of 2011) was studying psychology and music and McCarthy biomedical engineering. Harris went on to get a degree in music therapy from Lesley University, where he learned about the power music has on the brain.

Harris saw the power of music while working with an 18-year-old who cognitively functioned at the level of a 1-year-old. After 10 minutes of music therapy, he functioned at a higher level “than his family had ever seen before.”

That, Harris said, “changed his life” and he knew that music therapy is what he wanted to do.

He experienced how music can help people regain mobility while working at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where he met George, a man who suffered a stoke, which left him with severe impairments in terms of walking. George spent several weeks in physical therapy, but saw drastic improvement after a neurological music therapy session using rhythmic auditory stimulation to get George to walk to the rhythm of Harris’ guitar playing and eventually to the point where he was walking twice as fast as he had at the beginning of the session. Despite another stoke and more music therapy, George is now back to normal and even enjoys dancing with his wife now, Harris said.

“When you have that external audio cue, it connects to the motor system in your brain,” McCarthy, a Patten native, said of rhythmic auditory stimulation.

McCarthy said in order to bring this technology to as many people as possible, MedRhythms has created an app that uses algorithms to record movement data and speed up or slow down to music to create a rhythm people can walk to. Any type of music can work in the app.

Harris, who grew up in Howland, said when the brain hears a rhythm, it prompts movement, even for those with damaged motor systems.

McCarthy said MedRythms is a year away from releasing a product for doctors to use with their post-stroke patients and eventually a direct-to-consumer product to help people age in place. The product is still going the process of being approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration as a medical device.

In the meantime, MedRhythms is bringing their technology to musical therapists all over New York and New England and has provided 10,000 of clinical care to approximately 2,000 people in the New England area.

Eventually, the technology could be used to help patients regain their speech or other movement and MediRhythm would be looking to release applications for that after the movement software proves successful.

Harris and McCarthy said getting their business up and running has not been easy.

“Inevitably there are going to be a lot of roadblocks you will have to get by,” McCarthy said.

He said he and his business partner couldn’t have gotten to where they have without a strong support system and belief in what they are doing.

“It’s important to believe you can make a change. If you can’t believe you are going to, you won’t,” Harris said.

McCarthy said “when you start a business or product, it doesn’t matter what you want. It’s about what do people want and how does it fit in your lives.”

Scarborough senior Connor Kelly told Harris and McCarthy he was impressed with MedRhythms.

“I think the product is super cool with everything you are doing with it,” he said.

McHugh was pleased with how the session went.

“I think they got a lot of good information. (Brian and Owen) were so passionate. To have these kids learn from someone who’s started their own business was great. You can only learn so much from a book or online,” McHugh said.

McHugh said he is always looking to get people in the business world to come talk to his students and will have a Dunkin Donuts franchisee speak with the class next week.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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