Michael Bernick at Forbes:
Can venture capital drive innovation in the autism field, as it has in other fields? Can the dynamism of capital markets be applied to autism’s stubborn challenges of diagnosis, therapies, services and employment?
In the past few years, several autism-focused venture capital funds have been launched, including Moai Capital, Autism Impact Fund, and Neuvation Ventures. Their founders and chief leaders have family members on the autism spectrum, and come to their funds with a strong sense of mission and urgency. The funds are structured as traditional venture capital funds, aiming to maximize investor returns, but with focus on products for improving the lives of individuals with autism.
Anyone in the autism community today—persons with autism, family members, advocates—will be encouraged to see the innovation already underway in the field. Companies in the venture capital portfolios are rapidly advancing the sciences in diagnostic techniques, early intervention, and therapies/therapeutics to address autism co-morbidities.
Currently the autism diagnosis is a behavioral one—behaviors are observed and evaluated and fit into categories. The process is given to wide variation in interpretations and to misuse. Companies in the venture capital portfolios are developing blood tests and brain imaging tests that can far more effectively give meaning to any autism diagnosis.
The main behavioral intervention today is Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). ABA is difficult to access, very uneven in quality of services, and effective with only a limited number of children with autism. Portfolio companies, drawing on speech and language technologies as well as big data insights, are developing alternatives to ABA.