Salt Lake City-based neuroscience company, Blackrock Microsystems, whose core brain-computer interface (BCI) technology was developed through the University of Utah’s College of Engineering, has closed a $10 million financing round, led by Christian Angermayer’s re. Mind Capital with participation from Peter Thiel, German entrepreneur Tim Sievers, and Sorenson Impact’s University Venture Fund II.

In addition to the investment announcement, Blackrock announced it will begin using the brand Blackrock Neurotech to better reflect the company’s longstanding focus on neurotechnology and BCI. The company will keep the Blackrock Microsystems brand in place for continuity with its thriving research community.

Blackrock is just one of many examples of U College of Engineering research that has been successfully commercialized in order to bring technologically advanced products to market.

“Blackrock is at the forefront of making BCI in humans a reality,” said Marcus Gerhardt, CEO and co-founder of Blackrock Neurotech. “Dozens of human patients are currently using our implants and technology to accomplish things directly with their minds that were unimaginable ten years ago. We have spent over a decade developing our technology with several hundred of the world’s leading research institutions and over 20 clinical partner centers.”

Department Chair
Professor Florian Solzbacher

University of Utah electrical and computer engineering professor Florian Solzbacher (pictured), who is also co-founder and chairman of Blackrock Neurotech, added: “We have achieved all this by running a revenue-focused business servicing our customers in the research community and supported by Friends & Family – but in essence we were bootstrapped. Now imagine where we are able to take things having closed our first institutional investment round. Our goal is to provide every person in need access to our technology by partnering with leading medical device companies and universities who are building applications on our unique platform.”

Blackrock Neurotech has powered a wide range of “firsts” in human BCI applications: for example, the first to provide tetraplegic patients the ability to control robotic limbs directly from and with the brain; and the first to enable a fully locked-in ALS patient to talk again via a voice synthesizer, directly controlled by their mind.

Patients equipped with Blackrock’s small in-brain implants have demonstrated usable lifetimes of over seven years. Blackrock is the only company in the world with an implantable penetrating array with almost 100 electrodes per device, that is already FDA cleared and used in humans. Some patients even use several devices.

Blackrock Neurotech was founded through the development of the Utah Electrode Array (“Utah Array”) technologies, which were invented by University of Utah biomedical engineering Professor Emeritus Richard Normann and are recognized as the leading approach for selective communication with hundreds of neurons in the central and peripheral nervous systems.

The Utah Array is a computer chip that is implanted in and takes signals from the brain. It transmits them in a way a computer can understand – in short, a neural interface. Solzbacher has improved how the chip works and pioneered its applications. Versions of the Utah Array are being used in projects to develop an advanced prosthetic hand that can move with the person’s thoughts and an implantable device that will allow a deaf user to hear sounds with higher resolution than standard cochlear implants.

While the Utah Array is a core component, the key to the success of Blackrock was its collaboration with the many academic partners that use the devices as well as the development of an entire system architecture of materials, devices, electronics, software, and tools that make the devices robust and reliably enable their use in the human body.

Solzbacher’s translational development work on implantable systems is focused on making devices reliably work by systematically analyzing and addressing failure modes. The focus on restoring function in people with neurological disorders has led to a portfolio of dozens of technologies, many of which were patented by the University of Utah and are licensed and commercialized by Blackrock Neurotech.