Better Concussion Detection

Penn State student utilizes the University’s academic and entrepreneurial resources to fuel startup company, Reflexion.

In his junior year of high school, Matt Roda slammed head first into a wall while playing ice hockey. He suffered a concussion, but the standard tests at the time didn’t pick up on it right away. Now as a junior biochemistry major at Penn State and a scholar in the Schreyer Honors College, he runs a company that has developed a new testing system he hopes will prevent other young athletes from going through what he did.

“Having had a very severe concussion like I did, I was able to see the ins and outs of the process and kind of where the flaws were,” Roda said. “Using that information, I joined up with two high school classmates and founded Reflexion, a way to more affordably and more accurately test for concussions.”

Matthew Roda touches an LED light on his display

Penn State Schreyer Scholar Matthew Roda demonstrates how to use the Reflexion Edge, a portable screening device designed to more accurately test athletes for concussions. Image: Pat Little

He and his friends first came up with the idea for Reflexion in the basement of his parents’ house. But since arriving at Penn State he has turned that idea into a full-fledged business. Through his major, Roda has found his passion lies in STEM-related fields. His focus on biological sciences has helped him develop mathematic and engineering skills, which he has been able to apply to work with Reflexion. 

He has taken Reflexion even further by working with Invent Penn State and the Happy Valley LaunchBox. He has also earned several grants and awards to help him grow his business.

“Penn State and Schreyer have been phenomenal in support for Reflexion. Beyond the competition and grants they have been able to give like Inc.U and PennTAP, the amount of advice and resources they’ve given us has been incredible,” said Roda. “The Happy Valley LaunchBox on Allen Street has been phenomenal. I do not believe we could have got where we are without the help of Penn State.”

Roda and his partners are speaking with several Pennsylvania high schools about using their device to monitor athletes.

Roda and Reflexion won $15,000 in a recent “Shark Tank”-style competition called “The Investment.” And Reflexion is already employing two Penn State students as business developers to help with the business side of the company. 

Reflexion has partnered with the Penn State Center for Sport Concussion Research and Service for clinical testing. The testing is expected to take two years. In the meantime, Roda and his partners are speaking with several Pennsylvania high schools about using their device to monitor athletes.

The machine he and his two friends built is a 6-foot-wide panel of blinking lights that respond to touch. Athletes can use the machine to perform a variety of tests that measure hand-eye coordination, reaction time and peripheral vision. The test takes about 30 seconds, significantly faster than the standard ImPACT test most states use to set a baseline for athletes at the beginning of the season. If an athlete suffers a head injury, they re-take the ImPACT test to see if there has been a change in brain function.

blue LED lights

Close up of the Reflexion light panel. Image: Michelle Bixby

Because Roda’s test only takes about 30 seconds, he recommends athletes test every week to track changes throughout the season and find potential problems faster. Athletes are motivated to test weekly because it will improve hand-eye coordination and reaction time by “exercising their brain” with the machine.

Roda said his design is innovative because it is portable and much more affordable than current industry-standard testing. The whole machine can break down to fit in a duffel bag and be easily taken from the trainer’s room to the sideline.

“From my concussion, I missed almost two months of school and then it was about six months before I was cleared to play ice hockey again,” said Roda. “I’m really motivated to see this device be implemented everywhere, to everyone who wants it, to prevent stories like mine from happening where someone has to stop playing the sport they love and experience a lot of devastation for months.”