Kathryn Fantauzzi is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Apollo Neuroscience, the company that developed and launched the first scientifically-validated wearable technology that actively improves energy, focus, and sleep. Originally invented by a team of physicians and neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh, Apollo uses a novel touch therapy that signals safety to the brain, accelerating stress recovery and supporting mental and physical resilience.
Experienced in early-stage tech commercialization, Kathryn joined the University of Pittsburgh research team in 2016 to raise funding for clinical research and to accelerate the technology’s availability to the public. After clinical trials demonstrated Apollo’s efficacy, Kathryn founded Apollo Neuroscience, raised over $6 million and alongside her co-founder (and husband!), Dr. Dave Rabin, brought the Apollo to market in January 2020.
Kathryn is dedicated to innovation: delivering groundbreaking new science out of the lab and into people’s lives. As CEO, Kathryn has built a highly-skilled team of physicians, researchers, engineers, and designers to transform the Apollo technology from a futuristic concept into a simple but powerful tool. She spearheaded the company’s go-to-market strategy and cultivated a network of investors, researchers and partners while leading the launch of the flagship product.
Kathryn has in-depth experience in incubating early-stage technology startups. Prior to founding Apollo, she helped develop and launch a $20M tech commercialization accelerator through the NY State Energy Research & Development Authority. Through this project she identified promising academic innovations, evaluated their market potential, and funded their development. She also led an initiative to incentivize investment in sustainability called Green Jobs Green NY, where she oversaw a $13M funding pool and approved projects for financing.
Born and raised in upstate New York, Kathryn holds a B.A. from Smith College and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) with a focus on behavioral economics and finance from the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy.
She and her co-founder are happily married and split their time between Monterey, California and Pittsburgh, PA. Kathryn grew up in a big family and loves the outdoors, so when she isn’t leading the charge on digital therapeutics, you’ll find her whipping up food for family and friends, hosting get-to-togethers, hiking the California coastline, and biking, swimming, sailing or skiing.
Where did the idea for Apollo Neuroscience come from?
We built Apollo to help solve a fundamental problem – mindfulness alone is not enough to save us from the mental health crisis. We as humans are not evolving fast enough to deal with the toll that modern life is taking on our bodies and minds. The digital revolution is gravely affecting our health and well-being; leaving us stressed out, underslept, overweight, and burned-out. While mindfulness practices can help, they’re not enough on their own. Learning to meditate, practicing breathwork, and even establishing a workout routine are physiologically harder to do when we’re already stressed out. We as humans have an environment that’s stacked against our natural state, and it’s ok that we need some help to take back control. Our team of neuroscientists and physicians developed Apollo as a technology to help us be more human by working with the body’s natural ability to heal and recover through one of our more elemental senses — our sense of touch. We built Apollo to empower people to take control of their own internal environment, to regain that sense of balance, and to facilitate a state of mind that enables you to make those healthy choices.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
As the CEO of a startup, no day is the same. The nature of a startup is that you’re constantly and dynamically growing. I am not one to sit back – I dive straight in. The key for me is to maintain balance and find the touchstones between the constant hustling. It also helps to be very mission-driven and laser-focused on what matters most.
I get up very early in the morning – 5:30 am – because I manage people across the West and East Coasts and overseas. I spend the morning taking care of myself and make a point not to check my email first thing. Dave and I are serious coffee aficionados and enjoy our coffee on the deck. We make breakfast – usually something like egg tacos – and we love our diverse range of delicious salsas. We go over the top priorities that each of us have for the day, and when we will spend quality time together and reconnect.
After breakfast, we work out. Then I sit down and write out my schedule for the day, when all my meetings are, when all my breaks are, when I’m going to do creative work and when I’m going to stop working. We grind for 8-10 hours and then we have dinner. We spend the evening winding down, reading and listening to music and then we go to bed at 9 or 10 pm.
My mindfulness practice is generally a moving meditation, one of unity between mind and body. – I like to hike, swim, cycle, sail, ski.
How do you bring ideas to life?
If you have an idea, it’s not going to get “done” all at once. First, identify why what you’re creating needs to exist and whether what you’re building is novel. Talk to lots of people – get advice that aims to validate what you’re doing and whether it’s worthwhile. Along the way, you will find other people who want to create it along with you.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The psychedelic movement and the revolution in mental health.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Setting three top goals for the day. Part of goal-setting for the day is being intentional about how much time I spend on things and taking strategic breaks.
I find that a lot of people get wrapped up in back-to-back-to-back meetings … with no time to really think. You might be doing a lot but you’re also wasting a lot of energy. I like to make sure I have 5 – 10 min breaks. By going outside and stretching or having a cup of tea or staring out the window for a minute, I can come back with renewed energy.
Also, you can’t compare yourself to other people. Write down a list of things you get enjoyment from and schedule at least one a day! You can’t just trudge along without meaning; you have to restore yourself.
What advice would you give your younger self?
A lot of people are going to tell you to “mind your business, stay in your place, wait your turn,” and you’re going to think about whether they’re right or not. You should be respectful and polite but pay it no mind and keep on doing what you’re doing. Those are not your people!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Very simple: Truly taking care of yourself is not selfish.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I’m very intentional. I set priorities based on why I do what I do. I check in with myself daily about why I’m doing what I’m doing with my time.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
While I’m aware of what I’m good at, I also know what I don’t know. I spend a lot of time surrounding myself with people who are aligned with our mission, who have subject matter expertise that I don’t and skills that complement my own. Every single one of those people is aligned with the idea that the work they do needs to create positive good in the world.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Entrepreneurship is just a series of missteps and getting back up. When things don’t turn out the way you conceived of them, it doesn’t really mean it’s not supposed to be like that.
Who would have thought that launching a startup in January 2020 as the pandemic began would be a good idea? When the whole pandemic started, there was a lot of uncertainty, but there has been no other moment in our lifetime where our product was needed more.
The key to being able to deal with the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship is to be aware and to be present and to adapt.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There should be a rental agency for dogs – Rent a Hound! Someone do this please!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best thing I ever bought was this A-frame pop-up camper – I used it to see my family on the other side of the country during the pandemic and along the way I saw 25-plus states. I love to travel and this gave me a great appreciation for what is beautiful about our country and what we need to work on. Of course it wasn’t just $100 but … oh well.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Apollo Neuro! Seriously, this tool is my secret superpower. I guess it’s not so secret anymore.
I also use the 5 Second Journal every day – it’s a hardcover journal and you write down how you feel, why you feel that way, what your top priorities are for the day, and why they matter. It takes me 2 minutes. I use it as my touchstone every day.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Start with Why – I read it very early on. When I was first starting Apollo, I read nearly every startup book; that one was short and sweet and really helped me frame my thinking.
What is your favorite quote?
Our suicidal poets (Plath, Berryman, Lowell, Jarrell, et al.) spent too much of their lives inside rooms and classrooms when they should have been trudging up mountains, slogging through swamps, rowing down rivers. The indoor life is the next best thing to premature burial.
- Be intentional.
- Find people who align with your ‘why’.
- Take care of yourself.
- Take care of those you love.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.