Valkee, The Profitable Startup That Shines Lights Through Your Ears, Raises $9.7M

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Valkee, the Finnish company that built a contraption that shines lights through your ear canals to treat seasonal affective disorder, closed $9.7 million in funding from current and new investors.

Beyond the ones that were already revealed last year like Finland’s Lifeline Ventures, Esther Dyson, Jaiku and Ditto co-founder Jyri Engestrom and former EA EVP Kristian Segerstrale, the company isn’t sharing the identities of its new investors.

While Valkee’s product does sound a bit wacky, it’s backed by research from the company’s co-founder Juuso Nissila. While studying the circadian rhythms of birds up in the way, way north of Finland in Oulo, he found that there were light-sensitive proteins on the surface of these animals’ brains that could help regulate their sleep schedules. He wondered if the same photo-sensitivity could be found in human brains.

He partnered with a longtime Nokia researcher Antti Auino and built the Valkee, which looks like an MP3 player with a set of fancy headphones attached to it. The earbuds actually have a pair of lights attached to them that run for 12-minute sessions at a time. The idea is that by shining light into sensitive areas of the brain, it will stimulate a special OPN3 protein in parts of the brain that help regulate serotonin, melatonin and dopamine production.

They started selling the product back in 2010 under Europe’s CE Class II medical device certification and have their biggest customer bases in German-speaking Europe, Scandinavia and Japan.

They’re using the funding to expand to other markets while expanding existing clinical trials for applications in treating jetlag, cognitive performance and depression.

Given that it’s such a controversial product, Valkee has tried to be relatively open to both praise and criticism with its presence on Facebook. The company has so far published two clinical trials for seasonal affective disorder using 13 patients in an open trial and 89 patients in a controlled trial.