Michael Waxman-Lenz

Technion Trailblazers: Adi Wallach on Mental Health Innovation and Giving Back

Amid tragedy and conflict, finding ways in which we can apply our work to support others is essential now more than ever. Fortunately, Start-Up Nation is up to the task. Bright minds within Israel, and Israelis all over the world, have worked to respond to the horrific events on October 7th and the war that has followed with rapid innovation and generosity.

Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with Adi Wallach, co-founder and CEO of CalmiGo and alumna of the undergraduate biomedical engineering program at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Her collaboration with her team and their generous donation of more than 1,000 CalmiGo devices to Israelis coping with extreme stress, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder embodies this deep concern and reinvestment in their community that is so vital during these times.

In my conversation with Adi, we discussed the story behind her startup, CalmiGo, and the company’s quick response to support communities back home.

Michael: Welcome, Adi! Can you tell me more about your time at the Technion? How did you become interested in biomedical engineering?

Adi: Before I joined the Technion as an undergraduate, I had worked in the engineering industry and fell in love with the field. When I decided to pursue engineering academically, the Technion was the clear choice given its high-quality education programs across multiple fields and its practical approach to engineering and entrepreneurship.

I chose biomedical engineering specifically because of its multidisciplinary lens, and the Technion enabled me to study across a broad range of topics. Applying my skills from the Technion in my career, I worked in the defense industry and 3D printing for several years before diving head-first with my incredible team to build CalmiGo into the product and brand that it is today.

In the time since I’ve graduated, I feel very lucky to have maintained close connections with the Technion. Shortly after the devastating attacks on October 7th, I was invited to host a webinar for the Technion community to offer support and helpful tools for managing the immense emotional impact that many people are struggling with right now. The conversation was incredibly moving and just one example of the support I’ve felt from the Technion throughout my career.

Michael: It’s always fascinating to hear where the Technion’s engineering graduates end up, because like you said, they study such a broad range of topics while working towards their degrees. We also feel very lucky to have your support for the Technion community, especially in these difficult times. When it comes to CalmiGo, though, jumping into the mental health and wellness space seems like an unexpected pivot from defense and 3D printing, what inspired you to make the leap?

Adi: My inspiration for CalmiGo came from a combination of my academic background and my own personal experience with anxiety. I’ve struggled with anxiety and panic attacks that, at one point in my life, triggered “avoidance behavior,” where I started avoiding situations that could potentially cause an attack. Although from the outside, my life looked perfectly normal, internally, anxiety took a huge toll on my quality of life. While my attempt at treating it with therapy, yoga, supplements, and other techniques reduced the frequency of these attacks, I still had trouble managing them in the moment.

I was committed to finding a non-pharmaceutical treatment, but I struggled to find one on the market. Even to this day, there are no drug-free instantaneous interventions for panic attacks available other than CalmiGo.

We talked earlier about my time at the Technion and ultimately, the most important skill I learned while studying there was how to solve complex problems. As an entrepreneur, challenges are around every corner, and my time at the Technion, and at high-tech companies, gave me the confidence to face that reality and to build creative solutions.

Michael: It surprises me that there are no other drug-free interventions available for panic attacks, especially in a time when many people seem very focused on natural health and wellness. It sounds like an extremely unique and powerful device; can you walk me through how it works?

Adi: CalmiGo is a small, handheld device meant to provide calm both immediately and in the long-term by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. In just three minutes, the CalmiGo device targets the “fight or flight” response with the combined application of three research-backed methods: adaptive breathing regulation, grounding, and olfactory stimulation. Our patented technology learns your breathing patterns using sensors and a machine learning algorithm and guides you to extend your exhalation with inbuilt lights and vibration cues. We’ve also developed scented plates made of solidified aromatherapy oils that attach to the front of the device. The components of the device – lights, vibration, olfactory stimulation, and handheld design – are intended to engage four of the five senses to help ground the user in the present moment and restore feelings of calm and focus.

While one use during moments of distress will reduce symptoms immediately, we also recommend users who struggle with chronic anxiety, stress, or PTSD to use CalmiGo even when they are not in the midst of a crisis. Clinical studies done with CalmiGo show that using CalmiGo regularly can lead to significant reduction in anxiety, PTSD, stress, and worry symptoms in the long-term.

Michael: It sounds like CalmiGo would be a particularly useful tool for many people around the world right now, which is part of the reason I can guess why you and your team made such a generous donation to Israel. Can you talk me through what you were thinking on and after October 7th and your motivations behind sending those devices to the south of Israel?

Adi: After we heard and saw what happened on October 7th, our hearts broke for everyone affected, and we knew that we had to act quickly to support those called to service, as well as the communities impacted by the attacks.

Research shows that we can reduce long-term symptoms associated with PTSD and anxiety after a traumatic event by providing intervention treatment as early as possible. Knowing that so many Israelis will carry the devastation of these times with them for the rest of their lives, my co-founders, Iko Hason and Dr. Orna Levin, and I understood that making treatment as accessible as possible – and as quick as possible – was vital to supporting our community and core to the mission of CalmiGo.

Our team truly went above and beyond, and with their incredible commitment and the help of donors and partners, we were able to donate 1,300 devices in Israel. They are now distributed through support centers working with survivors, through clinicians, and directly to survivors who can register through a dedicated website we created for this purpose.

Michael: Hearing you talk about your commitment to supporting communities in Israel, even after you have moved out of the country, is particularly inspiring. I find such a feeling of strength in community when hearing stories of innovators like yourself pivoting or making similar contributions to support friends, family, and strangers overseas. Even as we all continue to grapple with today’s particular challenges, I’m curious about what’s next for you and for CalmiGo as your company grows.

Adi: In the spirit of making our devices as accessible as possible, we are working to expand our offerings in clinical settings in addition to our direct-to-consumer approach. We’ve already established a great partnership with the Veterans Administration here in the US, which offers CalmiGo at clinics to veterans with PTSD and anxiety. We’ve also recently launched several additional studies and partnerships, including with hospitals, insurance companies, and healthcare organizations that will build on our already-successful clinical trials.

In the meantime, though, our hearts are with our friends and community in Israel, and we’re hoping for a better future soon.

Michael: Very exciting to hear about your next moves, Adi, and to learn about the impact CalmiGo has already had. Your story is another example of the remarkable innovation that every Technion graduate shares with the world.

About the Author
Michael Waxman-Lenz is the CEO of the American Technion Society. He joined ATS from the private sector as the CFO before entering the executive role in 2019.
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