A team of Imperial students are hoping to make avoidable blindness a thing of the past with a revolutionary imaging tool.
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Nora Abdoun, Founder (Medicine 2021)
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Students in the midst of revising, Alzheimer’s patients and people with depression are just some examples of people for whom memory problems cause daily struggles. The Memory Palace technique has the potential to transform their lives but unfortunately, in its traditional form, the technique has some barriers to entry.
The Memory Palace is an ancient Greek technique used by 9 out of 10 world memory champions that has been shown to be 100 times better at improving long-term memory retention than other techniques. The Memory Palace is based on the idea that humans are far better at remembering familiar places than other, non-spatial, forms of information. It works by picturing a familiar place and placing the information you would like to remember, in the form of a story, as you imagine yourself travelling through this space.
However, despite the evidence behind the technique, there are a number of issues preventing its widespread uptake:
It requires the use of a familiar space which is often the user’s house or journey to work, but using the same location to store multiple sets of information is difficult and confusing.
The technique is creatively taxing as it requires an individual to constantly make vivid and abstract visualisations.
The user may wish to share their memory palaces or collaborate in creating them with others. However, the lack of tangibility makes sharing the palaces challenging and difficult for individuals to revisit their memory palaces after extended periords of time.
Hippocampus is a virtual reality application that eliminates the barriers to entry for the Memory Palace technique by allowing users to build and share their memory palaces in an immersive 3D environment.
For the first time, users can visualise what they are building in a virtual environment, reducing the creative burden associated with the traditional method. They have countless photo-realistic places in which they can build their palaces, and they can share and re-visit memory palaces with ease whenever they like. Moreover, the application of machine-learning algorithms will make the process much easier and far more time-efficient than the traditional method.
Our vision is a world in which useful information is easier to remember and we’re starting with the people who need it the most.
The idea for Hippocampus came to me whilst studying for my medical school exams. I was desperate to find a way to retain huge amounts of information so I began researching. I came across a wealth of videos and articles detailing the unparalleled power of the memory palace technique, alongside scientific literature which supported the technique’s ability to improve memory retention.
Nonetheless, I was still sceptical and kept wondering why this technique wasn’t more widespread if it was so successful? By asking this question, I discovered that the technique posed three barriers that make it difficult for the average person to adopt. I felt that if it were possible to transform the process of building a memory palace into something more tangible, it would become more accessible. This was when I came up with the idea of using virtual reality.
At the moment, I have a working prototype but, it doesn’t yet have all of the functions I would like to include. The next step is to find a more technical co-founder with an interest in combining VR with machine learning to build a fully-functioning Minimal Viable Product (MVP).
Advisors and mentors
I’ve had some incredibly helpful and high-profile advisors on board. Their expertise ranges from healthcare to tech and their advice has been crucial in providing Hippocampus with the clear and structured guidance needed to take things to the next step. The advisors became involved in the company though a range of different methods: one was assigned through the Kickstart London pre-accelerator programme, another through the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur programme and I met the third at the Y Combinator 120 conference.
Enterprise Lab Support
Taking part in the WE Innovate programme – and making it to the semi-final – was an incredibly valuable experience. At the start of the programme, I had difficulty executing my ideas, but the one-to-one coaching sessions included in the programme provided the clarity and direction needed to take Hippocampus to the stage it is now.
I’ve also benefited hugely by being a part of the community at the Enterprise Lab. The culture here is one of immense positivity and it’s always motiviating to meet other students working on their own start-ups. There’s this infectious enthusiasm about the place and I love it. It’s like a little hub on campus; a safe space for all things creative and enterprising, where nothing is impossible.
Successes and setbacks
The biggest successes have been building our prototype, attending the Y Combinator 120 conference and exhibiting at Imperial Lates. The challenges have been simplifying the original idea and refining the vision, gaining the skills to build the prototype and finding a technical co-founder. I’ve overcome the first two challenges and I am still working on the third!
Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs
Don’t be a reactive quitter and avoid giving up when things start getting hard. You will find results on the other side of the peristant challenges that you will inevitably face. Also, take a leaf out of Elon Musk’s book and always reason using first principles. That way you’ll avoid building your start-up on a minefield of assuptions. Finally, take the initiative and seek out opportunities… don’t wait for them to come to you.