Known for his impressive work alongside FanX Salt Lake’s Dan Farr, co-founder Bryan Brandenburg is turning his superhero-like mind towards ‘Zenerchi,’ a project that has been in the works for decades, going back to his years and involvement in the biotech industry, long before the 2013 birth of FanX.
“…the human body, along with everything else in the universe, is the most beautiful, elegant creation by far. We think we’re smart by designing skyscrapers and Tesla’s and solar panels but compared to the elegance of the universe and the human body, we’re light years away from that kind of design. What we’re doing is creating access that makes it possible to simulate and visualize the elegance and beauty of the human body in a way that has never been done before.”–Bryan Brandenburg, CEO and Founder Zenerchi
“Zenerchi,” formulated from the words, “zen,” “energy,” and “chi” can be applied to a wide variety of use-cases, far beyond just the biomedical and pharmaceutical sectors. It gives superpowers to every entrepreneur, medical professional, legal practitioner, and student, regardless of industry, to help lend x-ray vision to unmasking the atoms and data that comprise the human anatomy.
The company plans to unveil its first public-facing tech implementation next year with a simulation visualization AI lab, according to its October announcement.
In an exclusive interview with Grit Daily, Brandenburg unveiled and dove into Zenerchi. In the company’s latest news, Zenerchi’s platform is built upon open source physiology simulation software that was developed by teams at Stanford University, MIT, Indiana University, Harvard’s Medical School…and oh yeah, the U.S. Department of Defense.
Grit Daily, which has covered FanX Salt Lake for the past two years, is very familiar with Brandenburg’s background. We found this project to be quite the game-changer once unveiled to the public and it can bring a positive if not paradigm shifting impact on wellness, biomedical, pharmaceutical, and legal research.
Get Your ‘Zenerchi’ On
Grit Daily: Let’s talk about your transition away from FanX Salt Lake into the world of Zenerchi and physiology. Can you walk us through your background?
Bryan Brandenburg: I went to college in math and physics after repairing computers and electronics on fighter jets for the Air Force. I dropped out about one semester short of a double degree in math and physics to start writing video games on the Commodore 64 because I thought video games were the future, and I wanted to be part of it on the ground floor. Turned out the timing was good and I had some really good success. I started a company called Sculptured Software, which was later acquired by Acclaim, and worked on IBM PC, Atari, Amiga and Apple, too. I had a great gaming career.
GD: You have extensive experience in the gaming sector. Can you talk about that?
BB: From my involvement with Sculptured Software/Acclaim, I then started another game company that was acquired by another publicly traded company. There I executive produced products for Disney and Hasbro. Fast forward five years later, I was Chief Profit Officer at DAZ3D creating 3D software and 3D models with Dan Farr, my partner at FanX. The company built a library of about 10,000 models and 3D software and sold these products online to about a million artists and animators worldwide on the Internet. After that, I took over as CEO of Zygote Media Group, who does world-class anatomy and visualization for physiology.
Brandenburg describes most of his career as being “a scientist with real-time high-performance graphics and scientific visualization expertise:”
“I really got to thinking about when I was at Zygote, the whole concept of fractal physiology. It was something that they didn’t have an appetite for at the time. It was probably too early. I really thought there was a great opportunity to visualize the human body from gross anatomy all the way down to atoms and quarks.”
But it wasn’t until 2012 that Farr brought Brandenburg into his vision of creating a comic con that set itself apart from the almost infinite number of “comic cons” out there today.
“Back in 2012, Dan and I were actually working on a 3D software company when he said, ‘Let’s start a comic con.’ I really was familiar with them but had never been to one. I went to one in Portland with him and thought it was pretty fun. I thought I would help him get it started and get back to software.”
Yet, successful as FanX was and still is, the Utah-based comic-con still stirred pots outside of the state.
“This group down in San Diego decided that even though there were 150 comic cons out there, we were somehow causing problems,” Brandenburg explained, and added that “[he] spent a lot of time helping Dan get through all of that.”
But Brandenburg anticipates FanX’s final chapter is likely to be a “happy one” for he and Farr in the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court.
“I felt like we got through that very successfully. The company is in a good place and is very strong now. I was able to devote myself full-time starting early this year.”
Giving ‘Zenerchi’ to Millennials
For the average millennial who may be in school, whether it’s medical school or nursing school, our question was how this technology could, if at all, be implemented into and utilized by the millennial demographic?
“That’s a great question,” Brandenburg responded, adding his even better answer:
“I have millennial children. One of them is a nurse whose mother is a nurse and grandmother is a nurse. I have another daughter who has a Masters in Speech Therapy. My son-in-law has a master’s degree in social work and works in mental health. I think the great opportunity for young people in ‘why this is the future for you and for everybody’ is—I believe that augmented reality is a computing platform of the future. We are building a platform based on augmented reality, virtual reality, high-end visualization, the kind you would see in Fortnight and video games of today’s era. Young people today want to reach their highest potential physically, mentally…we’re creating tools to do that like never before.”
GD: So, let’s take the “wearables” industry for example—apply some Zenerchi!
BB: If you think about how best to understand your body, there is the whole world of wearables for wellness and fitness. Just last week, Google announced it bought Fitbit for a little over $2 billion. I think that is very much an indicator of where all of this is going. People using the Internet of Things (IoT) and advanced technologies like augmented reality (AR) and VR are going to be able to understand their body more than ever. The person who is going to live to 150 years old—he’s alive today. He is probably a millennial. We think we’re going to be creating world-class visualization simulation AI tools that will bring in a whole new era of understanding of the human body.
GD: In our full conversation, you mentioned the FDA and being able to work alongside it, rather than against it. Can you expand?
BB: The FDA requires testing right now on real people. We think we can complement FDA clinical trials with tests on simulated people. Instead of doing 1,000-10,000 at a time, we can do one million-10 million at a time using genome data and an understanding of human physiology that has never been had before. We can use the same technology to test products that can’t afford FDA approval like nutritional supplements.
Entering Into the Courtroom!
From a lawyer’s perspective, I have my own criminal defense practice. I used to intern and work at a personal injury and medical malpractice firm, where, as many know, is all about understanding the mechanics of the human body and anatomy. In today’s digital age, utilizing visual aids in the courtroom is a major advantage and almost essential in communicating effectively with the jury.
GD: Have you thought about how this could eventually be used in a courtroom, where it could be a licensed platform for the legal system?
BB: Absolutely. To go back to the late ‘90s, I sold my game company to a publicly traded company called Engineering Animation. They have since been acquired, but they were one of the premier companies in the country that did visualization for the legal industry for court. They visualized things like the Oklahoma City bombing, many accidents and medical malpractice situations. Even back then, I was thinking, ‘this is amazing that we can recreate the impact on the human body in a video animation.’
GD: So, let’s apply “real-time” to that equation.
BB: Now, what we’re doing today is doing it in real-time and being able to simulate in real-time multiple outcomes. This is right on track and an area where I do have experience. For us back then, it was almost a $100 million-a-year business to do visualizations for CNN and the courtroom and pharmaceutical companies to demonstrate how their drugs worked. This is right on track for being able to utilize a real-time simulation platform to do the same thing.
Medical Device Simulations
Transitioning from the courtroom and adding in a potential use case, whether in the courtroom or outside of it with respect to medical education, Brandenburg presented us with such a scenario:
“For example, we have, cardiovascular simulations that actually analyze and visualize the blood flow through the arteries. As part of that simulation, we can add medical devices like stints into the artery and examine how it will affect blood flow and prevent strokes from blood clots in the arteries. Being able to visualize that with the particular medical device companies, a stint, is super valuable, where you could play, here is a variety of patients, and you can simulate across multiple patients how that device would perform and validate or invalidate the case in question.
In terms of medical education, we have developed an interface into our practical physiology where across all of the major anatomy systems from cardiovascular, circulatory, nervous system, digestive, endocrine, and so on, we can drill down from major to minor systems going from the circulatory system to the heart and arteries to heart tissue to heart cells to the proteins and molecules that make up the tissue all the way down to the atomic and subatomic level.
That kind of visualization is now available on modern devices but we can drill down in a fantastic voyage paradigm and provide a level of understanding that is unprecedented. If you look at where all the breakthroughs are being made in the medical community, it’s not about gross anatomy medical products anymore; it’s about pharmaceutical products that are re-engineering and creating new proteins that create a paradigm shift in the biochemistry and physiology. Being able to visualize at a protein and molecular level is the right thing at the right time.”
Bringing In Educational Powerhouses
With the support from universities such as Stanford, MIT, Indiana University, Harvard Medical School, and the U.S. Department of Defense, Brandenburg explained the collective vision behind Zenerchi.
“What we discovered in the initial planning of this company was that there were over 1,000 physiology simulation and visualization software products being developed by world class organizations, including the ones you mentioned,” he explained.
“We systematically evaluated which ones were being utilized and would have long-term importance, which ones had the most activity and the most potential. We said, ‘You know what? We have the opportunity to create a holistic platform where you have a brain simulator, a cell simulator, a molecular dynamic simulator, a cardiovascular simulator, that were all very different designs, and none of them talk to each other.’ We designed a platform where we could systematically bring in the open source software that are freely available, as long as we credit organizations, and then create an interface between the modules so that not only are they much more accessible than they were before and produce much more meaningful visual results, but now they are going to start to talk to each other.”
GD: What was the general feedback you’ve had from these universities?
BB: We have been reaching out to universities, including Stanford, MIT, and Harvard—we have relationships there and they’re excited about our ability to take their babies and paradigm shift them into the 21st century with modern technologies like cloud technology and real-time gaming engines like Unreal and Unity.
GD: The software itself is “open-source.” Can you explain to readers how that works?
BB: As a lawyer, if you understand the nature of open source, most of the licenses are the MIT open source license, which basically anybody can use it, just credit the creator. If you modify the core source code, contribute it back to the open source project, which we’re adhering to. The intellectual property which we’re building which will make it extremely valuable or already has is the visualization, simulation, AI in a cohesive platform, where if you think of these as self-contained simulation packages within a broader platform solution, with a visualization and artificial intelligence layer on top of that, that is where our IP gets very valuable.
GD: How could you make this more of a “license” to those who wished to have more specialized access?
BB: Can we make the individual units, for example, Wholecell from Stanford or the SIM vascular project from Stanford or the protein prediction software out of MIT, can we make that more valuable? Absolutely. That is an open-source product. But the real opportunity for us and the community as well is the broad platform of connecting the simulation products and providing a world-class visualization solution, taking all that data into the cloud, and then being able to, using artificial intelligence and machine learning, learn from the simulations and predict results that will create opportunities in medical treatment and disease prevention.
Protecting Data and User Privacy In the Cloud
While exciting, the company’s software also presented a very realistic concern that anyone in today’s digital age would be curious on—data protection and privacy. With companies such as Facebook, Capital One, and other tech giants finding themselves victimized by data breaches, it’s a question that doesn’t go unspoken.
Brandenburg touched on his four-year history at Symantec, the company known for its Norton security suite of utility products.
GD: Touching on the cloud, how does cybersecurity and data come into play here—from a software development standpoint and of course rolling out to the general public?
BB: While working at Symantec, I worked at the Peter Norton group as the external development manager for the Norton family of products. I wrote the first security business plan that then became the core business for the company. I had a small contribution to that, but I spent a lot of time visiting with people like New Scotland Yard and the Dutch computer crime unit as part of my work. I have good background in cybersecurity. Two of the members of my team are Symantec veterans as well. We understand that medical data and personal data is going to be ultra-important. Our solution that is in the works is going to use blockchain to protect that data.
GD: Moving forward, what would you consider to be one or some of the bigger challenges that you feel the company currently faces before its public unveiling? In other words, what’s the next obstacle to overcome in the company’s journey moving forward?
BB: The biggest obstacle to come? I think the more we get into this, the more we realized what an amazing opportunity it is. The total addressable market is $10 trillion. If everything goes right, we might exceed .01% of that. It’s a ginormous market. We think we have the right product at the right time.
The biggest challenge is it’s a $10 trillion market so there are lots of well funded companies in the space. We have to be very strategic with the funding we raise and the product we develop. We have to be wise and choose the right direction in the sea of very large indirect competitors. We have to carefully position ourselves to find our place within that $10 trillion market and be able to get traction and get to market in a way that is meaningful.
GD: On the flip side, what do you think is the biggest strength from this project, from the team you’ve seen thus far?
BB: Our biggest strength is—I’m not going to disclose some of the key things because they’re proprietary, but I do think that our approach for fractal physiology is one of a kind. We haven’t identified anyone who has taken this approach to medical education, to simulation, to visualization. People are focused on gross anatomy or cells or molecules and proteins, but nobody is connecting the dots like we are planning to. It’s very much a fractal world in the human body, where you have to pay attention to what is going on at an atomic level, a protein level, a cellular level. All the systems are connected in a meaningful way. Our strategy of bringing Electronic Arts veterans to visualize in a high-performance way along with medical doctors and medical illustrators and animators, and our vision for the product, nobody has our unique vision and we have lots of meaningful experience to execute on that vision. I’m certain of that. That is our strength.
GD: In terms of education, do you see in the future having some internal education programs for- Let’s say you’re hiring a new candidate or an intern or whomever may be potentially joining this product. What if somebody isn’t as familiar with the blockchain or the experience of blockchain and AR and VR? Do you think having programs in place, if you don’t already, could be valuable? Is that something you guys have thought about at this point with regards to the project itself?
BB: No. We take a little different approach. My strategy for building successful companies has been to go down the path of hiring really smart people who love to learn, to hire Renaissance people, that already are polymaths in their own right, in their own area. People that have no problem saying, “Oh my gosh, I get to learn about blockchain at work,” or, “Awesome! I get to learn about human physiology,” and be excited about that. There isn’t any formal training other than hiring people who love to learn and are really smart.
GD: Whether you’re speaking to the millennial demographic (including your children), or the average entrepreneur, what do you want individuals to take away from Zenerchi?
BB: If I could choose one takeaway for the vision of our company in the context of our conversation, that would be that the human body, along with everything else in the universe, is the most beautiful, elegant creation by far. We think we’re smart by designing skyscrapers and Tesla’s and solar panels but compared to the elegance of the universe and the human body, we’re light years away from that kind of design. We’re creating access that makes it possible to simulate and visualize the elegance and beauty of the human body in a way that has never been done before.