Founder Stories: Kate Van Pelt of Synaptek aims to improve concussion care

Avoiding concussions is part of the game for athletes. But when concussions happen, it’s important to detect them as soon as possible and be proactive in healing them. But how do you track the progress of that healing, and who helps track it? That’s where Synaptek comes in. 

Backed by Keyhorse, Synaptek is a concussion management platform that describes itself as a “start-to-finish solution” providing symptom evaluation, cognitive testing, clinical notes, and more via an easy-to-use app. It allows athletic trainers and entire sports medicine teams to take the reins in recovering athletes and avoiding longer-term damage. 

We asked the company’s CEO and co-founder, Kate Van Pelt, a few questions about her journey, inspirations, and predictions for the future of concussion management and remote monitoring. 

How did you become interested in concussion care?

I grew up playing all different sports but really loved ice hockey. Most evenings and weekends were spent at the rink. Ice hockey, and sports in general, provided me with a community and unique experiences to travel and meet people I otherwise would have never met. As I grew up, I realized how important sports could be. In college, I became interested in the brain and became a psychology major. I was fascinated by how simultaneously resilient but fragile the brain could be. I began to merge my passions for sport and the brain by working with and studying traumatic brain injuries and, eventually, concussions. 

While concussion care and research have exponentially grown over the past 20 years, there is still a lot we do not know. The continual search to better understand what puts an athlete at risk for a concussion, what factors influence their recovery, and what the likelihood of the long-term effects are questions I think about constantly.  

What inspired you to co-found a company?

Besides being a concussion nerd, I am also a data nerd. I believe by having the right quality data, we can answer key questions in concussion care and help improve athlete well-being. This belief is what motivated me to co-found Synaptek, which aims to make data capture and documentation easy and provide intuitive data to clinicians to help improve concussion care.

Tell us about your team: Who’s on it, and how did you meet?

Synaptek is a team of four full-time employees. There are three co-founders: Doug Van Pelt, James McCollum, and myself. Doug is not only a co-founder but my husband. We met in grad school at Michigan while both getting our PhDs. Doug met James while rolling around on the mats training Jiu-Jitsu here in Lexington. James had the product and development experience we needed, and Synaptek was solving a compelling problem for James. 

The three of us needed support getting the initial product built, so we did contract work with Justin Hall of 2819 Studios and Awesome Inc. He had one of his developers, Rachael Yoder, work on the project as well. Rachael blew us away with her problem-solving and forward-thinking. We knew after working with her in a contract role we wanted to bring her on full-time. With the pre-seed round we completed in December 2021, we were able to bring Rachael on full-time in January 2022.

Remote patient monitoring will dramatically improve patient outcomes and healthcare efficiency in the United States and globally.

Where do you see concussion care headed in the future?

It is difficult to predict exactly where concussion care will head in the future, as it is a rapidly evolving field with many complex and interrelated factors at play. However, there are a few trends and developments that are likely to continue to shape the direction of concussion care in the coming years.

One major trend is the increasing recognition of the long-term effects of concussions and other brain injuries. As research continues to emerge on the subject, it is becoming increasingly clear that concussions can have far-reaching and sometimes permanent effects on an individual's cognitive abilities, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life. As a result, there is likely to be a continued emphasis on identifying and treating concussions early to prevent or mitigate these long-term effects.

Another trend is the growing use of technology and data analytics in concussion care. This includes using technology (e.g., eye-tracking) or biomarkers (e.g., blood samples) to diagnose, prognosticate, and evaluate the effectiveness of treatments. Overall, the field of concussion care will continue to evolve and change in response to new research, developments in technology, and changing attitudes and awareness about the impact of concussions on athletes and the general population.

What does success look like to Synaptek in the short term and long term?

It is an interesting time to get asked this question. We recently completed our NSF Phase I project, which produced extremely promising results. The project demonstrated proof of concept that Synaptek’s innovation can leverage machine learning to help remotely track patients’ symptoms. This creates a large opportunity for Synaptek to expand its impact and market. 

In the short term, we are pursuing funding to commercialize Synaptek’s innovation. We just submitted our Phase II application to the NSF. This grant would provide Synaptek with $1M to test, scale, and prototype the innovative technology to move us closer to commercialization. Additionally, we are currently fundraising to support and grow our existing team and accomplish key milestones to bring this technology to market.

Long term, we think focusing on our innovative technology will have substantial societal and economic impacts. Remote patient monitoring will dramatically improve patient outcomes and healthcare efficiency in the United States and globally.


Find out more about Synaptek at Are you a startup based in or looking to relocate to Kentucky? Keyhorse’s current quarterly investment cycle is open! Apply now.

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