Personalized weight loss startup Retrofit raises $8M

By: Jonah Comstock | Nov 15, 2012        

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Withings WiFi Body ScaleThis week saw launch announcements for three activity trackers: Jawbone’s UP, Fitbit One, and pre-orders for Misfit Wearables’ Shine. But even the best tracking data doesn’t always lead to the behavior change necessary for sustained weight loss. That’s where Retrofit comes in.

Retrofit, a year-old start-up formerly known as Strong Suit Wellness, announced an $8 million round of funding this week. The startup combines health tracking technologies with personalized instruction from trainers to deliver a managed weight loss action plan. Over the course of 12 months, customers can pay $259 a month for a program that aims to help them lose 10 percent of their body weight or $349 a month to lose 15 percent. The monthly fees include a Withings wireless weight tracking scale, a Fitbit activity tracker and weekly Skype sessions with a dietician, a behavior coach, and an exercise physiologist. The coaches will use the tracking data to help them tailor the weight loss plan for that particular customer.

The funding leader for the $8 million round of series A financing was Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a venture capital firm with investments in a number of companies, including Epocrates. DFJ contributed $6 million to the round. Other new investors were Correlation Ventures and Hyde Park Angels, with existing contributors New World Ventures and I2A fund also chipping in. This raise brings Retrofit up to $10.7 million in total funding, which they’ll use to continue to develop the service and for acquiring new customers. The company currently has 80 full time employees and claims that 90 percent of their users are losing weight.

Given the price tag, Retrofit is obviously a high-end weight loss solution, but the company does offer need-based scholarships on their site. Retrofit also announced the Retrofit My Company contest Tuesday. Applicants write a 500-word essay for a chance to win a year of free Retrofit service for up to 100 people at their company, a $300,000 value.

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Text4baby partners with Feel Rich to reach more expectant moms

By: Jonah Comstock | Nov 14, 2012        

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newwealthSince it’s 2010 launch, Text4baby, the government-supported public health initiative that sends free tips to expectant mothers, has always had the low-income women as their target demographic. Low income and minority populations still have a disproportionately high infant mortality rate, and texting was chosen as a vector because it’s adoption numbers are high in that group. Now a new partnership with health media company Feel Rich and R&B singer Tyrese Gibson hopes to zero in on that population even further. Feel Rich Moms will encourage women to sign up for Text4baby for a chance win a personalized lullaby from Gibson or a year’s supply of baby products from Text4baby founding sponsor Johnson & Johnson. The contest runs from November 14 to December 14.

Text4baby is run by National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, powered by Voxiva and funded by partners that include Johnson & Johnson. They’ve signed up 450,000 moms for their service: an impressive number, but one that falls short of their target — one million moms in 2012 — by half. National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition CEO Judy Meehan responded to earlier criticisms about the low adoption by pointing to the data showing that sign-ups are concentrated in zip codes with lower average income and higher incidence of low birthweight babies.

This is the first venture into mobile health for Feel Rich, but the partnership is a natural fit for the one-year old media company, which aims to use social media and celebrity  role models “to make every ‘hood in the world healthier.” The impetus of the partnership came from Feel Rich, which was co-founded by Grammy and Emmy Award-winning producer Quincy Jones III (AKA QD3) and digital media entrepreneur Shawn Ullman.

“Tyrese and QD3, my business partner, were raised by single mothers and a major part of Feel Rich has been focused on making health easier for single moms,” Ullman told MobiHealthNews. “When we heard about Text4baby we thought it was a genius product, so an associate reached out to them on our behalf. We asked ‘What can we do to help?’ They said, ‘We’d love for you to help generate awareness.'”

Feel Rich’s main project is a multicultural health-focused YouTube network with 335,000 subscribers and over 85 million views. Feel Rich plans to use the YouTube network, as well as their established Twitter and Facebook communities, to get the word out about Feel Rich Moms.

“Most health websites promote going to the gym, buying at Whole Foods or organic stores, but that is not an option for everyone,” Ullman said in an email to MobiHealthNews earlier this year. “Feel Rich is health on your terms, fitness in your own style, and food choices that make sense on the streets where you live. We don’t use overly scientific information that hugely bores people. We promote health by showing how it will make your game better, your concerts livelier, your grades better, your hustle stronger.”

R&B singer Tyrese Gibson’s involvement is an example of the sort of star power that drives Feel Rich, which focuses on using authentic celebrity role models to promote health engagement. Gibson has a longstanding relationship with QD3, and both see mother’s health as a personal cause. The Feel Rich Moms contest will award one lucky mother with a meeting with Gibson and QD3, likely over Skype, Ullman said. They’ll learn her name, the name of the baby, and about some of her values, then they’ll produce a video for the song, and also facilitate a live performance.

Feel Rich will also host a citywide baby shower in the city of Houston to promote the contest. The event, hosted by celebrity fitness guru Crystal Wall, will be a party with entertainment and activities geared toward expectant mothers, like “mommy makeovers” and “mommy Zumba.” To get in, mothers will have to prove they’re enrolled in Text4baby.

Ullman says the audience his company is geared to reach aren’t app-users, by and large. For example, some are Boost Mobile users, and many engage with Twitter through texting on mobile phones rather than through smartphone apps.

To enter the contest, participants can text the word “BABY” to 511411, and when prompted, enter the participant code FEELRICH.

“We’re really excited to enter the mobile space through Text4baby and we have some other things planned,” Ullman told MobiHealthNews.

Misfit Wearables launches Shine, an elegant but rugged activity tracker

By: Brian Dolan | Nov 14, 2012        

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Misfit Shine 3 use casesEver since AgaMatrix Co-founder and Chairman Sonny Vu left the iBGStar-maker last July, industry watchers have kept a close eye on his new startup, Misfit Wearables. After bringing on former Apple CEO John Sculley as an investor and co-founder, raising a $7.6 million initial round of funding with participation by high-profile investors like Vinod Khosla, and building a team of about two dozen people working in San Francisco, Wales, and Vietnam, Misfit Wearables has finally revealed its first offering.

Today Misfit soft launched a simple, all-metal, activity tracker called Shine through crowdfunding platform Indiegogo.

“Everyone thinks we are making a shirt that measures everything, and we’re not,” Hadi El Heneidi, Misfit Wearables’ Commercial Lead told MobiHealthNews. “We’re not making a shirt. Our company has been focused both on the consumer side and on the medical side, but as a new startup, by focusing on the consumer side we can benefit from lower barriers to entry. [Starting with a medical product] means starting in a quicksand kind of scenario where you have to worry about regulations.”

While there are a number of activity tracker devices already available in the market, Misfit believes that there is room for yet another one if it can deliver a truly wearable device.

“We studied other activity monitoring devices that are out there and found out that the most important thing for people was to find out whether they had met their goal,” El Heneidi, who previously worked with Vu at AgaMatrix, said. “In order to keep things very simple our product does not have a display; instead it has a series of LED lights that allows it to communicate whether or not you hit your goal.”

Misfit set out to develop a “thoughtfully simple”, wearable device that helps people answer the question: ‘Am I moving enough?’ Shine is carved out of a solid block of aircraft grade aluminum metal by micro laser drills. The company describes its design as “smart, elegant and really strong”. The device, which is about the size of a quarter and weighs as much as two quarters, around the wrist with an accessory wristband (sports or leather), or it can clip onto a pocket with a clasp or shirt like a brooch. Since the device is magnetic it is fairly easy to clip it onto clothing. It has a battery life of about six months and a replaceable Lithium battery.

El Heneidi said that a good wearable is something that a lot of people wear for a long time, all the time. That means it needs to be useful. A display that communicates more than what the wearer wants to see is less useful. El Heneidi notes that while Shine is simple it also tracks more than just steps: It can also count cycle revolutions or pedals on a bicycle as well as the number of strokes a swimmer takes. While other activity tracking devices, like Jawbone’s recently re-released UP have claimed to be water-resistant, few have committed to waterproofing.

While the device is waterproof, it also has thousands of tiny holes drilled into its surface — 2,900 of them to be exact. These micro laser drilled holes are what allow the device’s LED lights to shine through. Shine uses the LED lights to communicate how much progress toward a goal the user has made as well as which mode the device is in. The device’s current iteration requires the user to select an activity mode by tapping the Shine’s surface before the device can track steps, strokes, or pedals. The modes are represented by clever LED configurations that look like legs moving, water moving, or a tire spinning. El Heneidi says future versions of the device may automatically determine the type of activity, but for now it needs to be manually selected.

Misfit Shine syncing on phone

In addition to its novel metallic design, Shine also uses a new form of wireless data transfer, according to the company. Because of its solid aluminum build, the device is not able to leverage the more common wireless transfer technologies like Bluetooth. Instead Misfit said it had to develop its own wireless transfer technology to move the activity data from Shine to an app on the user’s smartphone. To move the data users simply open up Misfit’s app on their phone, place the Shine device on their phone’s screen, and watch as the app recognizes that Shine is present and begins the upload. Once complete the app confirms how far along the Shine user is to their goal.

While Misfit will not discuss its wireless transfer method, but because it also works when the iPhone is in “Airplane Mode”, it seems similar to the high pitch sound method — also known as “data chirping” — that iPhoneECG-maker AliveCor uses to move data from its ECG device to its smartphone app. Misfit would not comment on that speculation, but said it would likely reveal more on its own method at a later date.

Misfit had planned on launching the product through the better known crowdfunding site Kickstarter, but like many others working in digital health, the startup found Kickstarter to be unreceptive.

“Kickstarter prohibits all fitness, sports, health, and medical products across the board,” Vu told MobiHealthNews. “Despite the number of exceptions they’ve made, they wouldn’t bend the rules for us. Indiegogo on the other hand, embraced us with open arms… so the choice was fairly obvious. We made the decision [to go with Indiegogo], then the next morning we got the rejection [from Kickstarter] so it was meant to be.”

El Heneidi said that Misfit decided to soft launch Shine through a crowdfunding platform because the company wanted the community’s blessing before committing to a full launch.

“We want to show that people want it,” El Heneidi said. “Crowdfunding is very different from focus groups where people can tell you they ‘might’ wear it. Crowdfunding sites like [Indiegogo] make is easy for people to learn about your product and actually have the opportunity to have the product, too. So by offering it early and at a strong pricepoint relative to what it will retail for — we think it will go well.”

Misfit says it will update its iOS app every three weeks in an effort to learn from its community of users and improve its offering quickly. The current version of Misfit’s app is basically a GPS-enabled running app currently since the Shine device is not yet available. The company refers to the Shine app as a “smart goal assistant”. Users can select an “easy”, “medium”, or “hard” plan and the app builds an activity plan for the coming week. If the user keeps the app in the know about progress by syncing Shine regularly, the app will know when goals aren’t met and begin to adapt the activity plan so that the user can make up missed runs later in the week. It will also send notifications if a goal appears to be out of reach and ask users to help it develop a new plan. Misfit is also launching an open API so that third party developers can create their own apps for the Shine activity monitor.

Assuming enough people sign up to buy Shine devices from the Indiegogo platform, the first Shine devices should ship by March 2013. Indiegogo buyers can get a Shine for about $49, while the expected retail price will be about twice as much. A full retail launch will follow the next month, according to Misfit, if the Indiegogo response is a positive one.

For more, check out Misfit’s Shine Indiegogo page here.

UPDATE 2: After 10 hours, Indiegogo users had fully funded the Shine project with more than $100,000 in pre-orders. UPDATE 1: After about two hours Indiegogo users have already spent more than $40,000 on pre-orders for Shine. Misfit aimed to raise $100,000 between today and December 16th, but within a few hours the company has already met almost half of its goal.

Case Western offering master’s in wireless health

By: Neil Versel | Nov 14, 2012        

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Mehran Mehregany, West Wireless Health Institute

Need more proof that Southern California in general and San Diego in particular are the center of the wireless health universe? This fall, Case Western Reserve University’s Case School of Engineering launched a master’s program in wireless health, just months after graduating its first certificate class in the burgeoning field.

The thing is, Case has been a fixture in Cleveland for nearly a century and a half, but the wireless health program is in San Diego.

As the Plain Dealer reports this week, the program grew from a chance meeting between Mehran Mehregany, director of the Case School of Engineering’s fledgling San Diego operations, and a well-known figure in wireless health, Don Jones, then the vice president of health and life sciences at Qualcomm. Mehregany had set up shop on the West Coast in 2007 to act as a salesperson of sorts for the engineering school. Within six months, he found himself sitting next to Jones at a local event.

“[Jones] said he was interested in wireless health and I said, ‘I do sensors,'” Mehregany tells the Plain Dealer. “He said, ‘Come see me.'” By 2009, Mehregany was planning a program in wireless health, but took leave from the university in November of that year to become chief of engineering research at the West Wireless Health Institute – now known as the West Health Institute – in nearby La Jolla, Calif.

He returned to Case in August 2010, but not before launching West’s engineering program and overseeing that institute’s first product developments, including wireless fetal monitor Sense4Baby. He subsequently established the wireless health program, said to be the first graduate program anywhere dedicated to the subject.

Classes began online and in San Diego in August 2011 with 27 students enrolled in a graduate certificate program, covering either electrical or biomedical engineering. “Mostly they were corporate employees, in particular Qualcomm,” Mehregany tells MobiHealthNews in an e-mail.

That first class graduated in May. The inaugural master’s class convened this school year with 23 students, many of them carry-overs from the certificate track, since the credits count toward a master’s of science degree, according to Mehregany. Case will award its first MS in wireless health next spring.

This year, Qualcomm and Qualcomm Life awarded Case an $80,000 grant to promote the program. The telecommunications company also is providing classroom space on its campus.

The Plain Dealer reports that Mehregany is looking to build a research operation in wireless health for the university and possibly expand the program to other cities. The newspaper named Minneapolis as one possible site.

Jawbone got knocked down, launches UP again

By: Jonah Comstock | Nov 13, 2012        

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JawboneJawbone, a company known for fashion-minded Bluetooth headsets and iPod speakers, has announced the launch of UP, a durable, water-resistant bracelet that feeds a companion app with sleep and activity data. Sound familiar? It should. This is actually the second launch for UP, which made headlines when it was announced in July 2011, and sold hundreds of thousands of units on Black Friday of last year, according to CEO Hosain Rahman in an interview with Wired.

That launch was followed by three weeks of users reporting major problems with the device, and finally by a voluntary refund program and a halt on production in early December. Although Jawbone has been lauded for an artful and responsible handling of the fiasco, it was still a major setback for the company’s first foray into self-tracking.

Engadget reported that the device’s widely reported problems — issues with devices not holding a charge or failing to sync with the mobile app — stemmed from two issues. One was with water: the company reportedly only conducted tests with pure, room temperature water, but consumers exposed the bands to warm, soapy water, which compromised the promised water resistance. The other issue was that the electronics inside the bracelet weren’t up to the twisting and bending users subjected the device to. It was a lesson for the industry in what it takes for a wearable to be truly wearable.

Jawbone offered a full refund at the time, with or without a return of the device, and announced a temporary stop on production — which ended up lasting nearly a year. They’ve used that time to troubleshoot the hardware problems with the device, but also to refine and develop the software. Their new press release boasts “nearly three million hours of real-world testing” on the device, but otherwise conspicuously ignores the product’s previous incarnation.

The bracelet, designed by fashion and tech designer Yves Behar, comes in eight colors and three sizes and syncs with the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. The bracelet itself tracks movement and sleep, and gives feedback in these areas — reminding the user to get up and move if they’ve been inactive too long and waking them up at an ideal point in their sleep cycle. The UP system also tracks mood and eating habits, but these have to be logged directly into the app by the user. The food tracking, while still mostly manual entry, is more sophisticated than it was last year, allowing for barcode-scanning and calorie tracking.

UP’s relaunch takes it into a wide field of competitors like BodyMedia FIT, Nike FuelBand, and Fitbit, whose FitBit One product was also announced today, and also offers a sleep tracker with a silent alarm. Fitbit One also boasts Bluetooth syncing, unlike UP, which still syncs and charges with a cord. Health tracking is shaping up to be a crowded field this holiday retail season, and shoppers will be voting with their wallets for the next leader in the market. That will be one test of Jawbone’s comeback. Another will be how the new UP bracelet will be fairing over the next three weeks — and the years to come after that.

Entrepreneurs expect IPOs from Practice Fusion, Castlight, ZocDoc

By: Neil Versel | Nov 13, 2012        

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IPO surveyIt’s purely speculative, but a survey of entrepreneurs working in digital health suggests that Practice Fusion, Castlight Health and ZocDoc could be the next companies in the sector to go public.

Venture capital firm InterWest Partners queried more than 100 entrepreneurs about the future of digital health and found that 26 percent of them thought Practice Fusion, the current darling of the small-practice EHR market, would be the next to hold an initial public offering. Another 21 percent said the next IPO in digital health would be consumer health information platform Castlight, while 19 percent named appointment booking engine ZocDoc.

Castlight has publicly indicated that it is investigating an IPO. Investment bank Goldman Sachs reportedly has been courting ZocDoc for a public offering, and already has invested $25 million in the New York City-based company.

Lower down on the list were AirStrip Technologies, Humedica, SeeChangeHealth, TelaDoc, Doximity and Best Doctors.

Interestingly, Castlight Health and ZocDoc also came up often in response to another question in the survey: “Besides your own, which company do you wish you founded?” While InterWest did not break down these answers by percentage, only by a word cloud, it appears that Google came out on top. AirStrip and EHR giant Epic Systems also had prominent positions.

Epic ranked high in a dubious category. Some 14 percent of respondents said Epic and primary competitor Cerner were the biggest challenge to innovation in healthcare. Leading that list, however, was reimbursement, named by 27 percent, followed by government, at 19 percent. Only 5 percent saw the venture community as the top challenge to healthcare innovation.

Despite the fact that entrepreneurs tend to be viewed as innovators, 14 percent of survey respondents said “disruptive innovation” was the most overused phrase in digital health today. However, that was barely half of the 27 percent who said “gamification of healthcare” had become a trite buzzword and also behind the 23 percent who named “big data” or “predictive analytics.”