Lake Nona neurotech firm a ‘miracle’ for teen’s brain health

LAKE NONA – The symptoms came in several forms for young athlete Lily Kemp in high school.

Headaches. Nausea. Sensations of her eyes “not working together,” which of course affected her vision.

Uncharacteristic periods of both a lack of interest in school and emotional outbursts.

“There were many weeks I was just in school, wearing a hat and sunglasses,” she said. “I was just trying not to get a headache. But I was out of it, especially when it was pretty bad.”


Even when she tried to apply herself, basic activities like reading would make her dizzy.

It was the aftermath of multiple concussions she had suffered in various ways.

“It was like she was a different person,” recalled her mother, Kelly Kemp. “She was so much more emotional than she’d ever been before. She was tanking at school.”

While desperate for some explanation, Kelly and her family discovered NESTRE Labs in Lake Nona through one of Lily’s former lacrosse teammates.

The company deploys neuroscience and machine learning to personalize programs meant to improve mental and cognitive strength and health. As part of National Mental Health Awareness month, the company has offered free access to its brain improvement mobile app for a month.

For 19-year-old Lily Kemp, just a few sessions with the company’s proprietary hardware had her noticing a a difference.

Brain training is the new wave industry

NESTRE CEO Tommy Shavers makes it clear that his company focuses on mind and brain fitness. It’s not a company that claims to prevent or treat concussions.

NESTRE CEO Tommy Shavers

Instead, it’s a mind and brain fitness company that helps athletes, CEOs, high school students and moms.

For Lily, that meant working on brain fitness after that series of injuries.

“We focus on how much better we can make humanity by giving people an opportunity to exercise the mind and brain the way we exercise the body,” Shavers said. “We can do some tremendous good in that way. Lily is an example of that.”

Shavers has experienced firsthand the rough nature of sports competition.

He was team captain of the UCF football team and became the program’s life skills coordinator shortly after graduation.

Despite the nature of athletics, Shavers said passion often drives athletes to perform after suffering injuries.

“We are all athletes in our own arenas,” he said. “There are things that may seem irrational that certain other individuals would not do but to athletes it makes total sense.”

That was the case with Kemp, who continued to play lacrosse despite having suffered as many as six diagnosed concussions in two years.

For love of sport

Lily Kemp had been an active teenager.

She was a member of The First Academy School’s lacrosse team, played intramural flag football and, in her recreation time, enjoyed wakeboarding.

But along with competing hard comes the risk of injury and concussions. In fact, within a span of a few activities, Lily strung together a few in quick succession.

To combat them, she tried several forms of therapy. While each method worked to an extent, she still felt something was off.

Although a full supporter now, she says she was skeptical of NESTRE then.

“I didn’t tell them where I’d hit my head because I was super-suspicious of what it was going to be like,” she said.

When the staff at NESTRE showed her heat maps of areas of her head that displayed evidence of damage, her skepticism disappeared.

More importantly, however, it proved to her and her family that there was actual damage she was dealing with and not just teenage angst-like characteristics.

“I wasn’t crazy,” said Kemp, now a student at Florida State University who said she likely would not have been able to go to college without NESTRE. “Something was actually going on. So that was comforting just to begin with.”

As Lily retold her story, Shavers appeared to have an emotional response.

“This is what created the drive and purpose to do this,” he said. “There is a visceral response because I know what it was like because I lived it. I know what it was like to not be able to formulate words and sentences, with people looking at you not knowing what was going on.”

A concerned mother finds a ‘miracle’

For Lily’s mother, Kelly, discovering NESTRE seemed like a miracle.

She had noticed a change in her daughter, who had long been a solid student but seemed to have been prioritizing schoolwork less.

Initially, she dismissed it as just Lily being a teenager.

I feel like they care about my girl. I feel like they all love her. It’s a friendly environment. It’s a miracle, really. I can’t imagine what she would be like if she hadn’t had this opportunity.

Kelly Kemp, mother, on NESTRE’s effect on her daughter’s recovery from concussion aftermath

But Kelly became more concerned when she seemed to dismiss college admission essays despite friends pushing her to complete them.

In fact, at one point, Lily could not even figure out how to copy-and-paste her resume into a document.

“We didn’t know what was wrong,” Kelly Kemp said.

So, when Lily mentioned NESTRE, Kelly went along to see if it could help.

She quickly bonded with the team that would help Lily improve.

More importantly, however, she soon started to see her upbeat, silly and athletic Lily returning.

“I feel like they care about my girl,” Kelly Kemp said. “I feel like they all love her. It’s a friendly environment. It’s a miracle, really. I can’t imagine what she would be like if she hadn’t had this opportunity.”

Walking through a haze in high school

Lily remembers the time before she started visiting NESTRE, though the memory can sometimes be hazy.

Sometimes, it was scary, she said, when she would try to type something and not recognize the words that came out.

Or she would read something aloud and mess up simple words.

“It was a lot,” she said.

But after a few sessions, her reading came back to her normal level.

“I was like, ‘It worked,’” she said.

That led to her finishing her senior lacrosse season, despite the risk.

“I was thankful to go back and finish my season with my friends,” she said. “I felt completely better and ready for college. I don’t think I could have gone to college if I wouldn’t have come to NESTRE.”

NESTRE and the pros

NESTRE has the potential to become one of Central Florida’s biggest tech success stories.

It’s already well on its way.

If you need the flashy names, just look at the list of people who have backed the company so far.

Hall of Fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson. His former Detroit Lions teammate Rob Sims.

An institute backed by Hall of Fame linebacker and former Tampa Bay Buc Derrick Brooks.

Jaylon Smith, a former pro bowl linebacker who is a free agent right now.

“Whether it’s Olympic champions, Hall of Fame athletes, Heisman winners, we have had the gamut come through here,” Shavers said. “They have all been beyond excited and impressed. This is a muscle you have to train.”

So far, results have been strong.

You don’t have to be broken to get better.

NESTRE Labs CEO Tommy Shavers

Since as far back as 2018, when former NFL QB Josh McCown told ESPN that NESTRE was part of the reason that he had his best season at 38 years old, NESTRE has been grabbing the occasional national headline.

At the time, McCown was coming off career highs in several passing categories with the New York Jets.

Meanwhile, former San Francisco 49ers WR Kyle Williams has said NESTRE’s brain training saved his life.

“The technology has begun to quantify the rewards and benefits associated with playing sport,” Shavers said. “How can we proactively optimize cognitive health and resilience?”

Return to lacrosse risky but worth it

While the backer list is certainly impressive, Shavers clarifies as much as possible that NESTRE isn’t just for world-class, professional athletes.

The majority of the people who have explored the company as a solution are everyday athletes and others who need optimal cognitive training to work a 9-to-5 or executives who want to be at their best.

However, on a recent day, as NESTRE’s lead neurotrainer Everett Talbert tucked Lily Kemp into a small skull cap-like contraption equipped with dozens of small nodes to track activity in multiple parts of her brain, she said getting better allowed her to finish up her senior year in high school on her terms.

“Yeah, I went back, of course,” she said. “It was definitely a risky move but I was so thankful to be able to go back and finish my season with all my friends.”

For Shavers, Lily’s story illustrates an extreme example of how NESTRE can help.

But he stresses that the goal is to build a network similar to gyms but for your brain.

“We want to create that kind of environment that you come in, you work your brain out and you get better,” he said. “You don’t have to be broken to get better.”