For ages people have wanted their brains to work better -- it would be pretty handy to be smarter, have a better memory, and a sharper ability to focus, after all. Consequently, there is no shortage of traditional, low-tech recommendations. Both exercise and naps are touted as cognitive wonder drugs. Then there are various learning techniques, and memory tricks.

I like this stuff. I write about it a lot. But some folks are taking things a step further. Rather than just tweak their routines or their diets, they're looking to technology to fashion them a better brain. And a host of start-ups are popping up to help them.

CB Insights recently combed through their data to find these companies, coming up with eleven start-ups that promise to help customers improve their brains, either by alleviating mental illness or boosting well-being. "They use a range of methods, including nootropics [ingestibles that affect cognition, i.e. mind-altering substances, i.e. drugs], gamified brain training, app-led meditation, acoustics, non-invasive therapies, and wearable devices," explains the post. Here's a sample.

1. Nootrobox

Nootrobox raised a $2.3M seed round last year from the likes of Andreessen Horowitz. They sell supposedly mind-enhancing supplements known as nootropics.

2. Thync

Another startup backed by Andreessen Horowitz among other high-profile VC firms, Thync is touting a mood-enhancing wearable device that uses electric pulses to stimulate the brain.

3. Elevate Labs

Elevate Labs sells a game-based cognitive training tool. CB Insights points out it "was selected as the app of the year by Apple in 2014″ and "claims to have more than 10 million app downloads."

4. Lumosity

Lumosity is another company in the brain-training business, which, it should be noted has plenty of critics. This start-up in particular, settled with the FTC over misleading claims about the benefits of its products.

5. Headspace

Another category highlighted by CB Insights is meditation apps. (They also have their doubters.) Headspace is one fairly well-known example. It's raised $39.6 million to help customers beat stress and improve focus and creativity through mindfulness.

Proceed with caution

If these type of high-tech brain hacks appeal to you, be cautious before proceeding. While no one doubts that science will eventually figure out safe and effective interventions to boost our brainpower, for now a lot of these interventions remain untested. Here, for instance, is a fascinating article in STAT on the current evidence surrounding nootropics. In short, there isn't much.

"They haven't been clinically proven to work, and there's emerging evidence that some could be dangerous," notes writer John M. Glionna, "but nootropics, also called smart drugs, have become popular among young type A personalities on Wall Street, in the Ivy League, and here in the frenzied startup culture of Silicon Valley."

Are you interested in giving any high-tech brain hacks a try?

Published on: Feb 29, 2016