Why I Founded Savonix

Dr. Mylea Charvat, CEO & Founder

Growing up in Kansas, I was part of a large extended family. My father restored cars and built custom kayaks, and my mother ran a hair salon and a restaurant. After school, I often went to my mom’s salon to talk to customers while they had their hair done and practice my concepts for hairstyles on the mannequins. When I was older, I helped out at the restaurant, seating customers and working the bakery counter where locals lined up for her famous lemon and rum raisin meringue tarts. I was a bookish kid who was into music and learning, a mismatch to the football culture of small-town Kansas.

My grandparents had a ranch where I spent my summers running through wheat fields, chasing rabbits, hiding among cornstalks, and swimming in lakes with my many cousins. When my grandfather lost his battle to bone cancer, my grandmother Edna moved in with us. I loved being with her because we did Jane Fonda work out videos together, and she helped me with my homework. She told me about her life during the war and funny anecdotes about our family.

Then one day, she forgot who I was.

Dementia is a slow, progressive disease, and back then, my family didn’t know what we were facing. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, but with what I know now, I think it was vascular dementia. Eventually, she needed more care than we could provide, and we placed her in a nursing home close to our church. I still visited her several times a week.

At the home, I remember seeing many older people who had no visitors. I could not understand leaving a family member so vulnerable, alone, and afraid. It felt cruel. That experience profoundly shaped me, and I knew I wanted to be a “brain doctor” when I grew up to help people suffering from dementia. I wanted to do something to reduce the pain, suffering, and loneliness I felt and witnessed. Even at 13 I understood that we all grow old, and we deserve the right to age with dignity. That’s what led me to pursue a career in psychology.

In the fall of 2013, I was a fellow at Stanford’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences department, where I supervised students and saw patients. I had completed my hours for boards and was interviewing for a faculty position at the trauma department at UCSF.

During my clinical training, my husband Mark was hit by a drunk driver while riding his bike. Getting access to his health records was a major challenge and finding the right providers to help him recover proved to be a herculean task. It was a rude awakening to the massive problems with our healthcare system in terms of accessibility and transparency. This experience and the realization that if my grandmother were alive, she would have had to wait 18 months to see me for an evaluation and could not afford me, caused me to reevaluate my career path.

I felt an urgent drive to solve this substantial problem of access to healthcare, specifically, to cognitive testing. Why not “productize” as much of the neuropsychology profession as possible? There were several digital products on the market, but I was not impressed with their design or user-interface. I wanted something better – mobile, scalable, and usable anywhere in the world by anyone without an expensive specialist clinician like me.

Cognitive testing to the masses

The idea kept growing. The goal that I had been pursuing for the past 12 years had changed. I felt compelled to leave academic and clinical medicine behind to bring this solution to millions of people. There is no need to assess one person at a time with pen-and-paper cognitive tests when we are surrounded by so much new technology. In January of 2014, I left Stanford to figure out how to bring cognitive testing to the masses.

I wanted to start a company.

It started as an idea, which I incorporated, pitched to investors and then secured financing to build the product, but I still needed a name. I tried so many things. I didn’t want “brain” or “neuro” or “cog” in the name. I thought of the best brands – like Apple and Amazon – which have nothing to do with what the company does. I brainstormed everything from Greek goddesses or terms from neurology like Voxel – but Vox was a media company, and it wasn’t working for me.

Roots of our name

Then our ER physician friend Martin suggested a name for me: SAV-ONIX. The word was built from two roots: “Sav” from the Latin sapere (“to be wise”) by way of Middle French, where “savant” is the present participle of savoir, meaning “to know.” “Savant” shares roots with the English words “sapient” — possessing great wisdom—  and “sage” — having or showing wisdom through reflection and experience. And “Onix”, Martin explained, is a term from computer science that refers to a distributed control platform for large-scale networks. There is no more complex network than the brain.

I had a name for the company! Savonix. To know your brain.

With an amazing team, we’ve developed the world’s first fully mobile cognitive assessment platform that’s accessible on any smartphone or tablet devices, using gold-standard testing methods. Our app can easily measure brain health and track it over time so we can detect impairments earlier and deliver interventions faster. Growing old is inevitable, and we want to help everyone to remember their life-long achievements and cherished moments.

About Mylea:

As CEO and Founder at Savonix, Mylea brings more than 20 years of experience as a clinical neuropsychologist and neuroscientist, business leader, and entrepreneur. At Savonix, Mylea drives strategy to address dementia globally with business and clinical leaders. Read more>