A racing heart, sweating palms, dizziness, fuzzy vision — you’re having an anxiety attack.
Growing up, Daniel Couser witnessed how debilitating anxiety can be by watching his childhood friend battle it.
“I got to see how difficult anxiety disorders can be and how debilitating they can really be,” Couser said. “No matter where you go, when you’re having intense stress, anxiety attacks, it can follow you from the comfort of your home to work, school, social life, it doesn’t matter.”
Couser, a senior entrepreneurship and innovation management major, is the CEO and founder of Kovarvic LLC, a medical technology company that designs tools to manage cognitive disorders like anxiety. The company created CALM, a golf-ball-sized handheld device that relieves anxiety attacks with vibrations.
CALM, which Couser calls “a reset button for the brain,” fits in the palm of a user’s hand and has a ring that fits around the middle finger.
At the start of a panic attack or in times of high stress, a user turns on CALM and it releases pulse vibrations. By situating the device behind the ear near the base of the neck, the vibrations can help reduce anxiety by acting like an anxiety-reducing drug within a minute.
During anxiety attacks, the body goes into fight-or-flight, a physiological state humans once needed to either fight predators or escape to safety. Today, anxiety attacks can kick in during everyday situations, like exams or public speaking engagements.
“I realized there wasn’t really a tool that utilized an efficient way to help individuals de-escalate this rising stress response in the moment,” Couser said. “All treatment options, the majority of it was around de-escalation not in the moment, but more of a preemptive try to mitigate anxiety as a whole.”
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States and affect about 40 million adults every year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Nathalie Dragwa, a senior psychology major who struggles with anxiety, said she used to take medication, but stopped because she felt it subdued her personality.
Dragwa works out almost every day to help minimize her anxiety but said there are times when she’s in class that she’d use CALM.
“I haven’t found anything that helps me calm down in a minute,” Dragwa said. “If I have anxiety in class, I can’t just get up and go to the gym.”
Couser came up with CALM, which is still in prototype stages, after seeing research indicating pulse vibrations, electrotherapy or light can stimulate the brain to thwart fight-or-flight. Using the Blackstone LaunchPad at Temple, an organization that helps students get their inventions and companies off the ground, Couser brought CALM to life.
Julie Stapleton Carroll, the Blackstone LaunchPad program director, said Couser stood out because of his dedication to his idea and willingness to accept criticism.
In 2018, Couser’s CALM pitch won the undergraduate track of the Be Your Own Boss Bowl, an annual business-plan competition hosted in the Fox School of Business.
“He was in here almost every day practicing over and over and over again,” Stapleton Carroll said.
In 2017, CALM also won the undergraduate track of the Innovative Idea Competition, another university-run entrepreneurship competition. Kovarvic LLC launched in July 2017 and began working on CALM about 18 months ago.
Recently, Couser landed the opportunity to participate in the 2019 LaunchPad Lift Cohort of the competitive accelerator program Blackstone LaunchPad Powered by Techstars. Couser will work remotely with a mentor via video calls throughout the 10-week program on CALM.
Couser hopes CALM will soon be distributed to private practice clinics, where a small number of users will try it during beta testing. CALM’s effectiveness and feedback on its comfort, convenience and design will be recorded.
Couser’s ultimate goal is to get CALM on the market for the general public.
“It’s a passion project and definitely something that I see bringing a lot of help to a tremendous amount of people,” Couser said. “There’s a lot of reasons why I’m in this, and I’m very fortunate and happy to continue to step forward in this path.”