An ‘iPhone moment’ for wearables may be close

By | Apple, Healthcare | 8 Comments

The wearables industry at the moment can be likened to smartphones in the pre-iPhone era. As it was with Nokia Communicators and Blackberrys, quite a few people have them but the experience is generally not very satisfactory and the mainstream isn’t buying yet. In large measure I think that’s because most of them don’t do much more than count steps and step count data isn’t that interesting. Heart rate, galvanic skin response, and accurate motion data are on the roadmap for all sorts of wearables companies and they hold out the promise of realtime data that is useful on an ongoing basis – e.g. to monitor stress levels and alert you before you realise yourself. These could be game changers in the way the iPhone and Apple App Store changed the smartphone game.

The other thing that could change the game is a big push from Apple. Judging from their new ad for the iPhone 5s embedded below that support is upon us.

As an early stage investor I’m excited by the potential for new wearables startups. I think backing companies at the concept stage with enough money to get them through a Kickstarter campaign is an interesting play.

Tiny lab-grown heart beats on its own

By | Healthcare | 8 Comments

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 14.57.09Scientists in the University of Pittsburgh have grown a tiny heart that beats on its own.

The researchers took a mouse heart from which everything had been removed but the basic structure and laid onto it cardiovascular cells developed from human induced stem cells. The human cells specialized into endothelial (or lining) cells, smooth muscle cells and muscle contractile cells. The resulting heart beat on its own and responded to medications.

The beat was irregular and the heart was small so there is still a long way to go before lab grown hearts can replace human transplants, but the day when we will be able to is clearly getting closer. Heart disease is the world’s biggest killer and it is technologies like this will enable radical life extension, most likely in our lifetimes.

Interestingly, most people say they don’t want to live much longer. Assuming no degradation in quality of life I am all up for living much longer. There is so much to do.


Opportunities in consumer health

By | Healthcare | 6 Comments

I’m on a panel tonight at the launch of the startupbootcamp healthXL Accelerator programme sponsored by IBM. Ahead of that I have been rethinking why and where I think there are startup opportunities in consumer health:

  1. Population ageing in the developed world is increasing the target market of people who might pay for health services
  2. These populations are increasingly aware that improved health leads to improved quality of life
  3. They will pay to improve their health – particularly for minor cases that the mainstream medical industry doesn’t cater for – e.g. mild obesity
  4. Advances in technology (particularly sensors) and psychology are enabling effective services to be built and sold at consumer prices
  5. Widespread availability of high quality information gives consumers the confidence to take control of their health

In other words the demand is growing at the same time as enabling technologies are coming on stream. Exciting times.

We are still early in this revolution. One area that is getting traction is life tracking devices like the Fitbit, Jawbone’s Up, and Nike’s Fuelband. These are all great devices, but still relatively simple, whilst more powerful equivalents like the BodyMedia armband aren’t quite mass market ready yet (and not available in the UK….). The other area that is getting traction is apps for tracking exercise and food consumption. Myfitnesspal and Runkeeper stand out as the most successful services here, but they are still a bit too much effort for most people.

In his recent essay on Ambitious Startup Ideas Paul Graham (founder of Y Combinator) suggested that ‘Ongoing Diagnosis’ will be a huge area for innovation going forward. By that he meant that we will continuously run diagnostics that tell us when the very first signs of illness emerge so that we can be treated long before we have symptoms. The services I mentioned above are early examples of that, as are smartphone connected blood glucose monitors, heart rate monitors and diagnostics for other conditions. The USA Today did a good roundup back in August.

Rock Health’s latest crop of startups

By | Healthcare, Innovation, Venture Capital | 11 Comments

Rock Health, probably the leading healthcare focused accelerator programme announced their latest class of companies this week. They are profiled on Techcrunch here and briefly summarised below.

I’ve written a reasonable amount on here about the coming opportunity in health and as regular readers will know I think the most exciting opportunity is in consumer oriented healthcare services delivered online and over mobile. Many of these will be cheap enough that they can bypass traditional health distribution systems (e.g. the NHS here in the UK and insurance companies and doctors in the US) and many will leverage smartphone technology for diagnosis or data capture purposes. The big question for this investment thesis is unsurprisingly timing. I am confident we will see a wave of companies coming, but the key to making successful investments is to time your activity with the first burst of market growth. One way to think about that is when penetration moves from say 0.25% to 5% – that is typically when companies can grow really fast and valuations sky rocket as analysts and incumbents come to recognise that a major market shift is underway. Founders need greater prescience and will be best placed start their companies a year or two earlier, but probably not five years earlier.

So when I saw the Rock Health list of companies I read the profiles in search of pointers about the timing of the market for my hypothesis about the opportunity in healthcare, as well as for signs of other potential investment theses.

Going through the list of 13 companies I found 4-5 that are consistent with my hypothesis (Agile DiagnosisCardiioCare At HandSessionsSano Intelligence) which I take as evidence that the timing for this market may well be now.

The Rock Health companies

Achievemint – rewarding consumers for healthy behaviour – with real world goodies paid for by insurers

Agile Diagnosis – web and mobile app for doctors to improve speed and accuracy of diagnosis

Avva – patient focused cancer management tool – helps patients and families get the information they need

Cardiio – technology that turns a smartphone camera into a sensor – e.g. to measure heart rate by looking at someone’s face

Care At Hand – monitors patients at home – e.g. to report on non-compliance

ChickRX – health Q&A site for women, will also sell products

Cognitive Health Innovations – service allows therapists to communicate with their patients via mobile and social

Docphin – health information system, initially providing doctors with access to medical news and research

HealthRally – crowdfunding platform to enable friends and family to reward healthy behaviour

Medmonk – a tool to help pharmacists find discounts for customers who cannot afford to pay

Nephosity – medical images on the iPad

Sessions – a personal exercise coaching platform

Sano Intelligence – wearable patch that tests the blood via micro-needles and sends results to doctors at regular intervals