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[blog] NeuroTechX Is Making the Global Local: An Interview with Co-Founder & Executive Director Yannick Roy

posted 2018/08/26

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In recent years we have seen the explosion of artificial intelligence and machine learning; there is widespread interest across industries as companies determine how best to harness these novel technological resources. Another boom is on the horizon as neurotechnology steps away from the lab and into the public sector. We’ve seen rampant excitement surrounding preliminary brain-computer-interface products and expressed interest from top CEOs. The current homepage for Elon Musk’s highly anticipated Neuralink is simply a call for experienced scientists and engineers. But how can companies looking to foray into this expanding field find reliable talent?

 

We at neumo would suggest NeuroTechX.

 

At its most rudimentary level, NeuroTechX (NTX) is a non-profit organization interested in advancing the field of neurotechnology by providing members with key resources and learning opportunities. But in reality, NTX is poised to become one of the leading global neurotech communities. During our recent interview with co-founder and executive director Yannick Roy, we delved into the origins of NTX and what Roy and his team are planning next.

NeuroTechX co-founder and executive director Yannick Roy, speaking at a NeuroTechBOS (Boston) event

 

On the Origins of NeuroTechX

Talking to Roy, an engineer based in Montreal, Canada currently working towards his PhD, he describes the scarcity of neurotechnology resources as recently as 2014. Roy would spend countless hours on YouTube searching while the majority of neurotech tools remained hidden behind the ivory towers of academic institutions. Eventually, Roy and a few like-minded peers organized a Meetup event for neurotech enthusiasts to come together and exchange ideas. With twenty people in attendance, the event was deemed a success and future gatherings were scheduled. Thanks to social media; as momentum grew in Montreal, others began inquiring about hosting similar events in their area. This was notable; while these individuals could have easily created independent events, there was a specific interest in establishing connections between regions. Therefore, in the summer of 2015, NTX officially launched with three chapters in Montreal, New York City, and San Francisco. Today, NTX consists of seventeen chapters spanning four continents with fifteen affiliated student clubs. There are over 2500 members on the NeuroTechX Slack workspace, and the organization has a monthly reach of 15 000+. Clearly, NTX has made significant advances since its recent inception; so what is the secret to their success? According to Roy, it is a strategic, “bottom-up approach” focused on fulfilling needs as determined by the neurotech community. In particular, NeuroTechX has identified the following areas of focus:  

 

Chapters: These are local community groups, which act as points of entry for neurotechnology enthusiasts. Chapters are instructed to facilitate collaboration and the exchange of ideas. Depending on the needs of the community, some chapters focus on hacknight projects, while others work to develop foundational skills in neurotech or host engaging speakers. When possible, NTX strives to provide each chapter with access to neurotech devices to assist with projects. In addition, chapters are encouraged to form relationships with neurotechnology companies in the area. One of the most prominent examples of this is NeuroTechTO (Toronto), and it’s strong affiliation with InteraXon, the developers of the Muse brain-sensing headband. The company has hired five members of the NTX community and is a regular event sponsor.  

NeuroTechX consists of seventeen chapters spanning four continents with fifteen affiliated student clubs.

 

Slack: The major form of communication between NTX community members is the NeuroTechX Slack workspace. Here members all across the world can interact, and the workspace includes channels focused on specific areas of neurotech (ex, EEG, deep learning, etc.). Through the Slack network, NeuroTechX has created an international connectome for growth and idea exchange. Chapter-to-Chapter communication on Slack has allowed burgeoning neurotech communities to learn from the experiences of more established groups and has facilitated the trading of resources/opportunities across regions.

 

Undergraduate Clubs: Roy and his colleagues developed the affiliated student clubs program to allow the next generation of neurotech professionals the opportunity to explore the field firsthand. Their goal was to help prepare students for graduate work and to spare them the laborious hours scrolling through YouTube they had previously endured. In the two years that the student clubs program has been running, it has developed into an online, professional-level competition with participants across the globe. This year’s competition included an open and fixed challenge with renowned experts acting as judges.

 

NeuroTechEDU: Again, in an attempt to expedite access to information, NeuroTechX has developed an educational platform, NeuroTechEDU. Here members can find open-source lessons on BCI and an extensive list of resources. NeuroTechX also maintains a Medium blog and hosts webinars, including a recent webinar where a N170 ERP was captured live on YouTube. As with all its endeavours, NTX has long-term goals and ambitions for its education platform. Roy hopes their organization will become one of the top education providers in the neurotech space, and intends to develop courses and certification programs.

 

Over the course of the interview, certain themes emerged regarding the direction and approach taken by this industrious community. First, NeuroTechX is undoubtedly playing the long game. Recognizing that the neurotech explosion is still likely years away, NTX is focusing its efforts on training undergrads and future neurotech professionals. According to Roy, NTX wants to ensure that when neurotech does take centre stage, these future leaders are well equipped to fully harness the potential of neurotechnology, and maximize its use for the benefit of society. Another point of emphasis for NTX is quality; while the organization runs solely on volunteer efforts, the members of the NTX community are passionate and engaged. Each project is managed and executed with precision to produce the highest quality work. NeuroTechX is laser-focused on identifying the needs of the neurotech community and developing high-quality solutions. And with their latest endeavour, NeuroTech Services, they are poised to revolutionize the neurotech industry once again.


NeuroTech Services:

As mentioned earlier, there is currently significant interest in identifying talented individuals with the skill sets necessary to thrust neurotechnology into the spotlight. Both industry and academia are looking for ways to locate reliable talent; simultaneously, gifted scientists and programmers are looking for organizations that will most effectively utilize their skills. Once again, recognizing a demand in the field, NTX devised an international corporate services platform, NeuroTech Services, to help companies and research labs with recruiting and consulting needs in the neurotechnology domain. While NeuroTech Services is still one of the more recent endeavours out of NeuroTechX, the platform already includes numerous resources including a consulting service, a head hunting program, and a job board. For a small fee, currently being waived for NTX sponsors, academics and corporations can post jobs/internships on the job board reaching the entire community of highly specialized NTX members. NeuroTech Services allows employers to reach prospective candidates across the globe they might not have had access to previously. For example, the author of this article is a scientific writer based in Toronto who was connected to neumo through a NTX link. Simultaneously, NeuroTech Services provides NTX community members with a job board wholly tailored to their expertise.  By making global talent accessible, NeuroTech Services is creating mutually beneficial connections for companies and employees.

 

But of course nothing at NTX remains on the small-scale; the long-term aim for NeuroTech Services is to leverage the NTX community to create a highly effective headhunting program. Roy describes this as “relationship-based recruitment” where NeuroTech Services will work alongside the client and facilitate connections between employers and top prospects within its membership. Previously, NTX has helped companies identify job candidates by hosting Hacknights incorporating company tools and devices. By sponsoring the event, the companies gain publicity and are able to evaluate candidate performance. This methodology allows companies to essentially conduct a technical assessment in advance of the interview process.

 

In essence, NTX hopes to replicate this online and on a global scale with NeuroTech Services. As Roy explains, given the expertise within the community, NTX is in a unique position to identify top candidates and provide referrals on experience. The distinct advantage is the additional confidence gained when selecting new hires. Think of it like LinkedIn endorsements, but with improved accuracy as the referrals come from knowledgeable experts in the field. NTX believes this additional “expert referral” component will give NeuroTech Services more added value compared to other job platforms. Facilitated job connections will decrease the job/candidate search and expedite the interview process ensuring both parties, company and candidate, are satisfied with the final outcome. Also, the NeuroTech Services consulting platform will give companies the opportunity to further benefit from the expertise within the NTX community; for example, consultants can help with strategic project development, creating workshops, and developing reports for academic and industry stakeholders.

 

In discussing NeuroTech Services with Roy, it is clear he intends for this platform to advance progress in the neurotechnology domain in a dramatic fashion. According to Roy, the goal for the platform is two-fold. First, to meet the growing demand from employers and professionals to make job connections within the highly specialized, and niche neurotech community. In fact, very recently, Ed Boyden – famed MIT neuroscientist, recognized this need as well and launched a LinkedIn group aimed at academic and industry professionals at the executive level. While the “Neurotechnology and Neuroengineering” group may not fill Neuralink’s employee roster, hopefully, it will facilitate communication between top leaders in the neurotech space. Either way, it is clear from the positive feedback surrounding these endeavours; there is a need for increased accessibility to neurotech positions.

 

The second aim is perhaps even more compelling; Roy hopes NeuroTech Services will be a form of inspiration for the industry. By displaying the job prospects, Roy and his team hope NeuroTech Services will be a source of encouragement for young professionals as they await the impending neurotech boom. As Roy describes, NeuroTech Services will “put a lens on the neurotech space” as no generic job platform can. By identifying trends, NeuroTech Services will provide professionals with insights into valued and hireable skills worth developing. Also, NeuroTech Services hopes to track industry growth to demonstrate progress in the neurotech domain. These “progress insights” will be especially valuable for onboarding novice neurotech enthusiasts and encouraging the recruitment of talented individuals from other industries. By highlighting advances in neurotech, NTX hopes to attract top candidates to neurotech to ensure that when the inevitable boom occurs, the industry is prepared to develop the field as quickly as possible.

 

More than a Meetup:

Undeniably, NTX is more than a series of Meetups, but rather a strategic organization intent on shaping the future of neurotechnology. While the organization is still barely three years old, it has already cemented itself as a prominent, international community. These impressive strides can be attributed to NTX’s obsession with quality, hyper-focus on the future, and insightful strategizing to meet the needs of its members. As neurotechnology expands into the consumer market, the job and project opportunities will grow at an exponential rate. Thankfully, NTX and their new NeuroTech Services platform will be there to make connections and help lead meaningful progress in this budding industry.

For more information, please see the neurotech services webpage, or contact us at neumo here.

 

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