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Ex-Neuralink President Invests in Competing Brain Startup

New York-based Synchron Inc.—a competitor to Elon Musk’s brain-machine interface company, Neuralink—has won financial backing from Neuralink’s co-founder and former president.

Max Hodak, who left Neuralink last year, has invested in Synchron and joined its advisory board, he wrote in a post. He did not say how much he was investing.

“I jumped at the chance to work with them,” he wrote, saying the company’s technology could benefit tens of millions of patients. Synchron aims to treat conditions like paralysis by inserting its Stentrode implant in human brains. That is similar to Neuralink, which also plans to use implanted devices to help treat paralysis and similar conditions.

Unlike Neuralink, whose device will be implanted by drilling into skulls, Synchron to implant its device via blood vessels, which Hodak called “a different, really quite elegant idea.” Synchron has already tried the Stentrode in four patients and has received Food and Drug Administration permission to launch a clinical trial in the United States. That puts it far ahead of Neuralink, which is now recruiting a trial director.

Brain computer interfaces have become a hot investor area. Halfway through last year, startups in the field had already raised more cash than they did in all of 2020, according to PitchBook. Neuralink, which raised $205 million last year, is the best-capitalized, but plenty of others exist, like Paradromics Inc. and Precision Neuroscience Corp., as well as Synchron.

Hodak became president of Neuralink in 2017. When he left, “it wasn’t my choice,” he wrote in a September blog post.

There was a lot left there I still wanted to do. But as usual, Elon was right: it was time for me to go.

He raised at least $47 million for a new neuroscience venture, Science Corp., according to a July filing with the SEC.

I really don’t want this to be construed as a knock on Neuralink, Hodak said in an email, adding that he has not sold any of his Neuralink stock. I’m sure they will also get into humans soon too, he wrote, noting that Synchron is an older company. There are many different ideas worth trying in this space.

While it is unusual for an executive to leave one company and invest in a rival, a long history exists of startup executives forming or joining competing companies. Silicon Valley was born after the so-called “Traitorous Eight” quit Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory to found Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957. Decades later with tech’s cutting edge dominated by software, marketing executive Whitney Wolfe Herd left Tinder and founded competing dating site Bumble in 2014.

Hodak gave an implicit acknowledgment of the rivalry toward the end of his blog post. 

Engineering the brain is such a profoundly powerful concept that I expect there to be multiple trillion-dollar companies to emerge in this space as it matures, he wrote.

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