Meet Isabel Van de Keere

Dr ir Isabel Van De Keere is the Founder & CEO of Immersive Rehab, a digital health startup that is transforming neurorehabilitation by offering personalised and engaging neurorehabilitation programmes in Virtual Reality with the aim to improve patient recovery and reduce waiting times to access rehab. Following a long neurorehabilitation period Isabel went through herself due to a work accident in 2010, she decided to start Immersive Rehab in August 2016. With a MSc background in Electro-Mechanical Engineering and as a Doctor in Biomedical Engineering & BioMaterials Science, Isabel is an experienced healthcare technology innovator, product strategist & manager, scientist/academic, product designer, experimentalist, and collaborator across disciplines. She is passionate about healthcare technologies and digital health, immersive technologies and its applications in healthcare, tech for good, social entrepreneurship, and promoting diversity in tech.

1. How did you get your idea or concept for the business?

I had a severe work accident myself resulting in reduced mobility, loss of independence, isolation and a long rehabilitation period. As such, I know the physical & neuro-rehabilitation space and the current limitations well having been a patient myself.

2. What’s your company’s vision?

We are addressing an urgent need in healthcare and more particular in neurorehabilitation services for people affected by neurological conditions like stroke, spinal injury and multiple sclerosis. Immersive Rehab’s vision is to empower these patients and give them more independence back by providing access to engaging and personalised digital therapeutics neurorehabilitation solutions with the aim to improve patient outcomes and increase access to necessary services. 

3. What is unique about your business?

Immersive Rehab’s mission is to transform and improve the way neurorehabilitation is currently being approached by offering personalised and engaging neurorehabilitation programmes in Virtual Reality. Our aim with our digital therapeutics solution is to achieve important gains in a patient’s mobility and function beyond what can be achieved with current neurorehabilitation practices, thereby focusing in particular on improving upper limb & fine motor function and balance for patients affected by neurological disorders such as stroke, spinal injury, MS and ALS. 

4. What is your biggest achievement so far?

Building Immersive Rehab and its clinical community to what it is today. We have always relied upon the goodwill, trust and time of clinicians, neurorehabilitation therapists and their patients, and would not be where we are today without their trust, support and input.

5. How do you see your company in 10 years?

The aim is to have our digital therapeutics neurorehabilitation solutions implemented in hospitals, neurorehabilitation centres and patient’s homes for remote care globally, and to have reimbursement in place for our digital therapeutics solutions in order to reach the most patients in need. 

6. What are you like as an employer?

As an employer, my aim will always be to create a working environment where employees know they are heard and appreciated, where they can be themselves and develop their skills further, and where they know that mutual respect and two-way communication are core to my own values and those of the company.

7. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the XR industry? How do you deal with them?

Specifically for XR in healthcare applications, there are still a number of challenges:

– Rigorous clinical validation with enough patients and adoption by clinics around the world take time and substantial amounts of funding. 

– Regulatory matters (clinical, data privacy) need to be worked out in more depth for XR in healthcare in particular.

– Easy to clean/sterilisable headsets in a clinical setting are still lacking.

For the wider XR ecosystem, another issue related to inclusion is the cost of high-resolution headsets (HMDs). Wide-scale adoption of HMDs at lower cost will increase access and make the technology more inclusive. In addition, we need content to be more accessible, diverse and inclusive to ensure it addresses the needs and wants of a wide audience. 

8. How do you handle adversity and doubt?

By trying to get a full picture of the current situation and understand the reasons behind the adversity/doubts. Once it is clearer in my head what the current situation is, I will be able to better communicate what is going on and how to go forward.  

9. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in VR/AR, what would it be?

Be curious, let your exploration into this new world and ecosystem go across sectors to learn about experiences, and engage with the growing ecosystem. And above all, create accessible, inclusive and diverse content that serves a purpose.

10. What is one habit you wish you could break?

I have the habit of leaving too many tabs open on my laptop, usually of interesting articles I come across to read later. I am currently in the process of trying to optimise my online reading list and maybe break this habit of tabs overload in someway :).

11. What does creativity mean to you?

Creativity for me is letting my mind go to places that challenge my thinking and that lead me to more exploration and discovery. This state of mind is really where I feel most satisfied in work and life in general.

12. What book has inspired you the most?

I really liked the book “The E-Myth Revisited”. It is an excellent book for entrepreneurs and business owners. I would recommend anyone running a small business or thinking of starting a business to give it a read. 

13. What do you do when you’re not at work?

I exercise most days, try to improve my piano skills and spend my free time with friends and family. In non-COVID times, I would swim a few times a week and go to live concerts with friends, but sadly that is not possible today. Hopefully soon as there are few things more satisfying than going to good live gigs.

14. Who do you see as an inspiration in the industry? (Please name up to 3 people from the XR industry)

I would say Catherine Allen has always been an inspiration for me in the XR ecosystem. Catherine has an amazing background in immersive media and she has also always been a strong advocate of making the immersive industry more accessible by diversifying audiences and making experiences more inclusive.