Medstartr to launch after Kickstarter rejects (some) health projects

By Brian Dolan
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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsThis week health and medical-focused crowdfunding platform Medstartr plans to officially launch on Wednesday. As the name suggests, the website is following in the footsteps of the leading crowdfunding website, Kickstarter, which has helped launched at least two health-related startups that we have covered in MobiHealthNews: smartwatch maker Pebble and smartphone-enabled, inexpensive microscope developer SkyLight.

Pebble actually became the poster child for crowdfunding when it raked in more than $10 million in funds from Kickstarter earlier this year. That made Pebble the most funded project Kickstarter had ever supported. With that kind of success are other crowdfunding sites really necessary? Is there really a need for health, fitness or medical-focused ones?

You bet.

Officially, Kickstarter does not allow startups or developers working on health, fitness, or medical projects to hawk their wares through the site. For that matter, you can't use Kickstarter for baby products, causes, automotive products, pet supplies, electronic surveillance equipment, or pharmaceuticals either. The list of prohibited categories of projects numbers at least 30 by my count.

What's so interesting about the most successful Kickstarter campaign is that while the smartwatch maker didn't position itself as a fitness device at the beginning of its campaign, when it still had two more weeks to raise money it announced that the first app it would integrate with its platform was a leading fitness app. RunKeeper is its first partner. That's some trick. Had the smart watch maker started with the fitness app as part of its core pitch, it seems likely that it would have been denied entry.

MobiHealthNews has learned of two startups that were denied entry to Kickstarter assumedly on the grounds that their offerings were medical or health-related: Duet Health's EndoGoddess diabetes management app and Axio's EEG sensor-enabled concentration device.

Duet Health co-founder and endocrinologist Dr. Jennifer Shine Dyer told MobiHealthNews that when she submitted her Kickstarter campaign to the site earlier this year, she received a notification about a week later that it had been denied because it did not follow the site's guidelines. Axio's co-founder Arye Barnehama told MobiHealthNews a similar story: The startup had planned to launch a Kickstarter campaign in mid-June only to realize by way of rejection from Kickstarter that its device also did not follow the site's guidelines.

EndoGoddess has since turned to a health and medical-focused crowdfunding site that is set to officially launch this week: MedStartr. Alex Fair, founder of FairCareMD and organizer of the NYC Health 2.0 chapter, is the founder of MedStartr, too. The crowdfunding site was built by Mike Pence, who was the original lead developer on the Kickstarter project, Fair told MobiHealthNews in a recent interview.

Like Dr. Dyer, Fair applied to Kickstarter earlier this year for his other company FairCareMD, an online marketplace that enables patients and healthcare providers to meet and agree on fair prices, and like Dr. Dyer his application didn't work out. So he started pursuing the launch of Medstartr, invited Dr. Dyer to crowdfund her project there too, and began using the site to raise funds for FairCareMD and Medstartr itself.

Fair talks about the need for Medstartr and what sets Medstartr apart from other sites that are not health-specific in similar terms as the health incubators used when they launched last year. Medstartr understands healthcare and it will help its "Medstartrs", which is what Fair calls the projects that leverage his platform for funds, to succeed. Fair also said that Medstartr will help projects reach patients, physicians, hospitals and big pharma companies, medical device companies, and payers. Most crowdfunding sites only target consumers.

As Health 2.0 News reported last week, a few other health-focused crowdfunding sites plan to set up shop soon, including Health Tech Hatch and WeFundr. Fair also pointed to Petridish, the life sciences-focused crowdfunding site as another parallel effort.

Kickstarter will likely embrace fitness projects, Fair believes, because of the success of projects like Pebble and the simple, consumer-facing business model most of these devices and apps adopt. Fair points to the recent success of LUMOback, the health startup that is working on a good posture sensor and app, which raised more than $100,000 in recent weeks on Kickstarter -- another exception to platform's stated guidelines. Isn't back pain a health issue?

Fair said that Medstartr will also work hard to bring the right crowd to its funding platform. It has already held an event in New York City to introduce its beta "Medstartrs" to would-be early adopters and it plans another when it launches in the coming days. It also plans to hold events at upcoming mobile health industry events, including the mHealth World Congress here in Boston later this month.

At that event Fair plans to announce an incentive program and partnership with the makers of the Pebble smart watch. Pebble will donate one of its devices to each of the first five developers who submit projects for medical app projects that will run on the smart watch.

That's right -- Pebble, Kickstarter's $10 million poster child. Whether through rejection or exceptions, Kickstarter started this trend of crowdfunding health projects. Should be interesting to watch whether this new crop of platforms will be able to replicate any of its forbearers' success.