June 23, 2024

There’s something to be said about the power of lived experience. An accident during service at the Royal Australian Air Force left Nerita Lewis adjusting to a new normal of managing chronic pain – not to mention navigating a notoriously complex healthcare system with a limited support network. It’s this experience that lead to Nerita founding Jaspen, a platform for people managing chronic pain. Here, she shares her founder’s journey.

Hi, Nerita – how did you get started in the Web3 space?

My business advisor and friend of 15 years JP Thor (Founder of THORchain, which reached $1 billion in 4 years) encouraged me to explore Web3. DeSci, DAOs and NFTs, and how they could be implemented in a healthcare setting, proved compelling.

I spent around 200 hours reading, listening to podcasts and X spaces to understand Web3. I attended networking events to meet others in the space. It took around one year to understand the basics of Web3, and it is a continual learning journey. The saying is true – once you go down the rabbit hole, there’s no going back! When I first started to explore Web3, I became completely immersed in the potential of this technology. With time, I reflected on the global environment and target market preferences, realising that building across both Web2 and Web3 is the best approach.

What was your motivator to start Jaspen?

I served for 10 years in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and was injured during my service. As a result I live with neuralgia, a type of chronic pain. I spent many years feeling isolated, helpless, and confused. It was an incredibly difficult time living with numerous symptoms and navigating the complexities of the healthcare system. As I discovered ways to manage my condition, my quality of life improved. I went from 22 medications a day to zero. I started taking notes in my phone about opportunities for improvements in 2016 whilst participating in a pain management program in hospital. It took years for my health to improve and reach a place where I had the capacity to dedicate time to this vision. What started out as curiosity turned into international research activities (funded through a Churchill Fellowship – I am the first Fellow to explore Blockchain as a theme) and now a vision for innovation.

Chronic pain affects 1 in 5 people globally. Only around 1 in every 100 people receive adequate care in Australia. There is enormous potential for improvements. Chronic pain significantly impact’s a person’s life, affecting employment, wellbeing, relationships and mental health. Our goal is to provide access to the latest neuroscience and techniques for self-management, and the ability to connect with others. Many pain experts that I have met, comment that it’s very rare for someone to “come out the other side” the way I have. This has been a real motivator to help others, ensuring that their path to an improved quality of life is possible.

How do you define Web3?

Web2 is about centralised ownership and control. Web3 is decentralised, with shared ownership that is open-source and transparent. I refer to Coindesk’s description often: “Rather than just using free tech platforms in exchange for our data, users can participate in the governance and operation of the protocols themselves. This means people can become participants and shareholders, not just customers or products.” Ultimately, Web3 gives more control to a wider range of people with transparency, something that is revolutionary in healthcare.

What do you determine to be the biggest societal opportunities that Web3 brings?

I believe that the biggest societal opportunities exist with DeSci, DAOs and NFTs.

DeSci works off the idea that scientific knowledge (considered a public good) should be accessible to everyone and that the process of scientific research should be transparent. It builds on the open science movement (started over a decade ago). The scientific community requires innovation, especially in the areas of data storage, funding and publishing. DeFi has and continues to interrupt the finance world, DeSci will do the same to the scientific world.

When it comes to DAOs, I’ve always been fascinated by flat hierarchical structures, the opposite of the traditional organisational hierarchical structure (very different to the military!). I believe that transparency, elimination of silos and community are fundamental in the health industry. Many of the best ideas within an organisation don’t come from the CEO or executive team, instead from those ‘on the ground’. Specifically, those who are using the technology and living with health challenges.

Whilst a framework is required (a DAO council for example), creating a transparent, open-source environment is where innovation and change can occur, capturing the voices of the people who will benefit from and use the technology. The nature of chronic pain is invisibility, DAOs offer a voice to those often ignored and not believed in the health system. This may be the first-time members have been listened to and their voices matter. Embracing cooperativism as a protocol rather than as a corporate structure.

NFTs bring art to everyone to enjoy and determine their value. NFTs don’t replace other art forms such as physical art or galleries, they are a different medium. Artists retain the IP and creative control and are rewarded more generously than traditional means (average of 2-10% commission on sales). The art world is notorious for being ‘high class’, exclusive and difficult to access. NFTs offer borderless art ownership and sharing.

Art is a powerful way to express feelings, and experiences. One of the most powerful benefits of NFTs are their role in building strong communities. People can belong to a greater community; they aren’t just a passive audience anymore.

And what do you identify as the biggest challenge for the Web3 on the road to mass adoption?

The biggest challenge is the narrative that Web3, often referred to simply as ‘crypto’ is a scam, and is complex and confusing. Whenever I mention Web3 to people, they usually say ‘I don’t understand it’, or talk about the very public collapses of the likes of FTX. I did not understand Web3, so I started to read to learn as much as possible and I’m still learning! The majority of people want the benefits of technology and aren’t interested in learning the finer details. Consider this: 2.9 billion people use Facebook, how many want the details of the technology that runs the platform? Web3 must provide user experiences with compelling benefits and smooth UX and UI. The goal is for users to not be aware that blockchain technology is behind a platform.

Whilst Web3 isn’t perfect, it offers considerable opportunities for innovation and society as a whole.

What’s coming up for you and Jaspen for the rest of 2024?

I’ll be visiting Canada to explore partnership opportunities and completing studies at Harvard University, which will shape the direction of Jaspen. These studies have provided a global strategic level overview of opportunities for transformation in the health industry. The program is taught through case studies and we have explored many exciting opportunities. The cohort is an incredible global network of healthcare innovators that I feel privileged to be connected to. The focus will be on building the product, testing, and experimenting with users and securing capital to do so and leveraging the numerous partnership and collaboration opportunities offered as a result of the Churchill Fellowship.

Ultimately, Jaspen will be built across Web2 and Web3. The core product will be built on Web2 and elements of Web3 will be explored with a focus on data capture and voting.

What inspires you to stay motivated?

I am driven by the potential for impact and systematic change at a community, national and global scale. Long-term outcomes for chronic pain must improve; they are currently trending backwards. There are many exciting opportunities, especially in Web3, such as incentivising participation, knowledge and data sharing, and funding scientific research activities.

Every day I come across people who either live with chronic pain or know someone that does. There is huge potential for impact.

I am a very curious person; I love to undertake research and study activities (I have four university degrees), and I see opportunities for improvement everywhere. So far in my entrepreneurial journey, the activities that I have undertaken feel like hobbies; they are a lot of fun. It’s incredible to find work that suits my skills and preferences. My love of learning has proven to be a great asset, from learning about startups activities to Web3 learning.

When you’re not working, where will we most likely find you?

At the local beaches on the South Coast of NSW, visiting art galleries, taking flying lessons and travelling. I spend around 6 months a year overseas and am living in Mexico and the USA this Australian winter.

You can connect with Nerita via LinkedIn and follow Jaspen on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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