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CogCubed: Games to Improve Your Mental Health

CogCubed: Games to Improve Your Mental Health

Monday May 20, 2013 , 5 min Read

Kurt Roots
Kurt Roots

CogCubed, founded by Kurt Roots and his wife Dr. Monika Heller, is a Minneapolis-based game and data company engaged in creating games that produce data to improve health and education outcomes. Dr. Heller is a practicing Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist.

I spoke to Kurt Root who shared with me CogCubed’s plan to change the lives of millions across the world through their games leveraging technology and psychiatry.

Monika Heller
Monika Heller

I met the entrepreneur couple at a dinner event hosted by Google in Silicon Valley and was amazed by the passion they displayed toward bringing a great product to the global market. Now over to the conversation with Kurt.

Starting Up

Our team is a cross between computer science, neuroscience, and psychiatry. We started this company after I showed some new and innovative technology from the MIT Media Lab to my wife, Monika Heller, MD, who is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. I was interested because there was an SDK for this new manipulative gaming system, which means I could program games for it. She was immediately interested because it meant that we could use data collected from sensors and games to understand behavior. The Sifteo Cubes are wireless blocks or cubes, which have been described as a cross between Legos and Nintendo. They contain a variety of sensors, can be touched and moved spatially, and have an LCD screen for high-resolution graphics. As medicine, Monika’s domain, is very subjective, we thought it might be a great opportunity to see what objective data we could collect from game play and then analyze it to both identify and improve cognitive health.


Founders’ Background 

I spent roughly five years at Oracle as a programmer and have graduate degrees in Software Engineering and Information Systems. I also have an MBA. Prior to working on CogCubed full-time, I was a management consultant focused on data and analysis-driven results in health care and retail verticals. What drew me to this though was that computationally it is not very different than what I had been doing. Also, I have a brother with special needs and so the problems we are trying to solve mean a great deal personally.

Monika was completing her Fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota. Prior to CogCubed, she had already practiced in a variety of settings including schools, community outreach programs, and medical/physical rehabilitation units. She is still actively involved as a clinician, in addition to being Adjunct Faculty at the University of Minnesota.

On Capital and Funding

The barriers to entry are the lowest they have ever been to start a company. With that said, starting a company in health care can take more capital. We recently completed a clinical trial, with analysis done at the University of Minnesota. Further, in health care, proving out an idea can typically take longer time, thus more money. Lastly, because we are based in Minnesota, we have to be creative with how we raise funds and find talent. It was said at Google I/O that while money is liquid, venture capitalists are not. Minneapolis is a great city, but it is not Silicon Valley.

Product Market Fit and Go-to-Market Strategy 

We have done a lot of work analyzing the market and need for our product. For example, neurological illnesses affect more than 50 million Americans annually and cost more than $500 billion to treat. It’s estimated that 830,000 children/adolescents have Autism, with a treatment cost of $29 billion annually. ADHD impacts 5.4 million children/adolescents and costs $3.2 billion annually to diagnose and $79 billion annually to treat. These are two disorders we care deeply about.

To apply our solution to the marketplace we are currently working with schools and clinics in our local area to build additional evidence to prove both the technology and the business model. We are also going to be running controlled business experiments where we test price points, delivery mechanisms, and overall solutions over the next few months.


We are creating a suite of fun and engaging games, based on neurological correlates, which span a spectrum of behavior behavioral disorders. We are also fundamentally a data company, where we collect large amounts of data in a new way, and then utilize sophisticated and novel algorithms to extract value from it.

How is it to be an entrepreneur?

Being an entrepreneur is hard. Elon Musk was right when he said, “Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death.” We have been at this for about 1.5 years, and it has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, things we have done.

Road Ahead 

We are proving out our solution in the United States first, but definitely have international plans. Without being too specific in regards to our strategy, we will be focusing on Asia and will be coming to India.

Digital well-being is touted to be more than $ 2 trillion market and with the world embracing a more frenzied lifestyle, we believe huge opportunity lies in addressing this market. While the journey of CogCubed will be worth following, we look forward to hearing from you on what is your big idea in this space.