Our Investment in EmSense

by Ryan McIntyre

We are happy to announce that we’ve added another exciting company to our portfolio. EmSense, based in San Francisco, has created the first scalable physiological and brainwave measurement technology platform, which provides accurate and objective moment-by-moment analysis of how a large audience responds emotionally and cognitively to media messaging.

EmSense marks Foundry Group’s third investment in our Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) theme (joining Smith & Tinker and Oblong), as well as our second investment in a company whose technical founders, including CTO Hans Lee, hail from the MIT Media Lab, a place chock-full of big-brained wizards who can do magical things with technology. In our previous blog posts about HCI we’ve alluded to the idea that computers might one day react to our thoughts. In fact, that has been possible in the lab for years, and the technology that enables this is now leaving the labs and is being deployed in the real world.

EmSense’s technology is based on rigorous EEG neuroscience applied to thousands of participants and uses an elegant headset that enables non-invasive tracking of brainwaves and other biometric information including temperature, motion, eye movement, pulse and breathing data. The portability and scalability of the EmSense headsets facilitates multiple-response testing of an audience’s reaction to a media experience anywhere in the world.

Now that you’ve made it to the fourth paragraph of this post, you might still be asking, OK, but what does EmSense actually do? In the wide world of media, which for EmSense includes everything from advertising to video games to politics, marketers, brand managers and political candidates all want hard data on how an audience will respond to their product, be it a TV commercial or a first-person shooter.

The focus group, user-testing and surveys have traditionally been the means to gather these data, but such methods typically rely on the audience explicitly answering questions about their reaction to the media they’ve just experienced. Certainly, much of this information is useful and actionable, but, it isn’t always reliable, for all the reasons that humans aren’t always reliable witnesses, nor does it track these reactions in a way that can be directly correlated to a distinct moment during a media experience. EmSense’s technology, which correlates brainwave data and other biometric data, enables a reliable and (most importantly) a quantitative way to measure an audience’s cognitive and emotional engagement throughout an experience. We’re big believers in the market potential of technologies that make the formerly unmeasureable measurable, and therefore bring the power of analytics to decision-making processes that previously relied more on gut than brains, more on art than science.

One of things that attracted us to EmSense was the fact that they already have customers across the media spectrum, including advertising, consumer products, politics and gaming. In fact, Coca-Cola engaged EmSense to help them decide which two TV ads they should run in the Super Bowl. Not only did EmSense help them winnow down the list of candidate ads, the data from the finalist ads was used to make final edit decisions in the spots that ultimately aired.

In addition to EmSense’s technology credentials stemming from their MIT Media Lab DNA and their enviable early customer list, the company’s executive team really stands out – CEO Keith Winter’s background includes executive level roles at Exponential, Electronic Arts and Disney Interactive, Chief Analytics Officer Elissa Moses formerly ran Global Consumer Strategy at Philips, Chief Science Officer Michael Lee spent a decade at HP Labs, and board member and angel investor Tim Koogle is well known for his role as Yahoo’s first CEO.

We are excited to join the EmSense team at this stage in their development as a company. With their initial customer success well demonstrated in multiple markets, they are poised to further accelerate their growth, and we are delighted to be backing them and assisting them in the next phase of their journey.