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April 21, 2019
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Health

Soylent now sells solid snack bars

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Soylent is leaving liquids behind as it journeys deeper into the packaged food business with a selection of snack sized bars.

The 100 calorie bar has 5 grams of plant protein, 36 nutrients and probiotics for digestive health. Snack bars come in three flavors — chocolate brownie,  citrus berry and salted caramel.

It’s the second new product launch for Soylent this year. In January the company came out with a single sized version of its pre-packaged meal replacement shakes called the “Soylent Bridge”.

Pitching snack-sized bars opens the company up to an even bigger market than its shakes and liquids. Data from Research and Markets indicates that snack bar sales in the U.S. alone could reach $8.8 billion by 2023.

“It’s very much a step on the road. It’s a  big one for us and one that we’re extremely excited for given the focus for better for you sustainable nutrition. We’re moving into the chewable bar space in a more disruptive way,” says chief executive, Brian Crowley. “We’re on this journey of moving from a morning meal replacement in drink, ready to drink and powder to a complete nutrition platform you can enjoy throughout the day.”

Soylent snack bars

Its expansion into the snack bar scene also serves to differentiate Soylent (whose name is derived from the soy bean and lentil food featured in the 1960’s novel “Make Room! Make Room!” and not the better known version which made its way into the big screen adaptation) from competitors like Huel.

Launched in the UK, but with a strong presence in Los Angeles now, Huel raised $26 million (GBP 20 million) from Highland Europe to expand sales of its powders and packaged drinks into new geographies (chiefly, it would seem, in the U.S.).

Meanwhile, French consumers are already enjoying solid snacks and shakes from Feed — a Soylent-like startup that’s selling in Europe.

Soylent consumers shouldn’t expect to see the company move into some of the more arcane arts practiced by the “self-optimization” crowd. “Look at the Bulletproofs and the functional supplements and the nootropics… There is good science behind them, but it’s serving an affluent audience,” Crowley says.

Crowley wants Soylent to be a low-cost highly nutritional option for every consumer.

The company says all the bars contain the same ingredients as the company’s lines of ready-to-drink liquids and powders — macronutrients combined with 26 vitamins and minerals, 9 amino acids, 2 essential fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6.

The bars do add probiotics to support digestive health and contain 3 grams of sugar.

Currently, the bars are only sold online by the case — and each case holds 30 squares.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Consumers get another digital home health offering as Tyto Care and Best Buy launch TytoHome

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Best Buy is partnering with the Israeli technology Tyto Care to become the official retailer for the company’s all-in-one digital diagnostics kit through its physical stores in California, the Dakotas, Ohio and Minnesota and through its online store.

Tyto previously sold its technology through healthcare plans, making its handheld examination device with attachments that act as a thermometer, a stethoscope, an otoscope and a tongue depressor available to families with insurance that wanted to reduce the cost of checkups through remote monitoring. The company’s handheld device comes with an exam camera so it can prompt users on where to position the device to get the most accurate readings.

 

Now, through Best Buy, consumers can buy the company’s kit for $299.99. Through a partnership with American Well, users of the TytoHome kit have access to the company’s LiveHealth Online consultation service (if they live outside of Minnesota or the Dakotas). Which means patients can use the device to perform a medical exam and send the information to a physician for a diagnosis any time of the day or night.

As part of the deal, Tyto Care is partnering with additional regional health care systems to provide medical care to consumers throughout the country. The first is Sanford Health, a Minnesota-based not-for-profit health system operating in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. 

For Best Buy the move builds on the company’s attempts to move quickly into providing digital healthcare services just like it provides technical support through its Geek Squad.

Last year the company bought GreatCall, which sells connected health and emergency response services to the AARP crowd.

“We’re excited to partner with Best Buy, LiveHealth Online, American Well and regional health systems to extend our on-demand telehealth platform across the U.S., enhancing primary care delivery,” said Dedi Gilad, the chief executive and co-founder of Tyto Care, in a statement.

The company, based in Herzliya, Israel, has raised $56.7 million to date from investors including Sanford Health, the Japanese Itochu Corp., Shenzhen Capital Group, Ping An, LionBird, Fosun Group, Orbimed and Walgreens.

The company said at the time that it would use the cash to expand in the U.S. and to other international markets in Asia and Europe.

“These strategic partnerships will enable us to gain further momentum and accelerate our growth, deepening our foothold in the U.S. and other new strategic markets,” said GiladTyto Care said in a statement at the time.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Kindbody raises $15M, will open a ‘Fertility Bus’ with mobile testing & assessments

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Kindbody, a startup that lures millennial women into its pop-up fertility clinics with feminist messaging and attractive branding, has raised a $15 million Series A in a round co-led by RRE Ventures and Perceptive Advisors.

The New York-based company was founded last year by Gina Bartasi, a fertility industry vet who previously launched Progyny, a fertility benefit solution for employers, and FertilityAuthority.com, an information platform and social network for people struggling with fertility.

“We want to increase accessibility,” Bartasi told TechCrunch. “For too long, IVF and fertility treatments were for the 1 percent. We want to make fertility treatment affordable and accessible and available to all regardless of ethnicity and social economic status.”

Kindbody operates a fleet of vans — mobile clinics, rather — where women receive a free blood test for the anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH), which helps assess their ovarian egg reserve but cannot conclusively determine a woman’s fertility. Depending on the results of the test, Kindbody advises women to visit its brick-and-mortar clinic in Manhattan, where they can receive a full fertility assessment for $250. Ultimately, the mobile clinics serve as a marketing strategy for Kindbody’s core service: egg freezing.

Kindbody charges patients $6,000 per egg-freezing cycle, a price that doesn’t include the cost of necessary medications but is still significantly less than market averages.

Bartasi said the mobile clinics have been “wildly popular,” attracting hoards of women to its brick-and-mortar clinic. As a result, Kindbody plans to launch a “fertility bus” this spring, where the company will conduct full fertility assessments, including the test for AMH, a pelvic ultrasound and a full consultation with a fertility specialist.

In other words, Kindbody will offer all components of the egg-freezing process on a bus aside from the actual retrieval, which occurs in Kindbody’s lab. The bus will travel around New York City before heading west to San Francisco, where it plans to park on the campuses of large employers, catering to tech employees curious about their fertility.

“Our mission at Kindbody is to bring care directly to the patient instead of asking the patient to come to visit us and inconvenience them,” Bartasi said.

A sneak peek of Kindbody’s “fertility bus,” which is still in the works

Kindbody, which has raised $22 million to date from Green D Ventures, Trailmix Ventures, Winklevoss Capital, Chelsea Clinton, Clover Health co-founder Vivek Garipalli and others, also provides women support getting pregnant with in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI). 

With the latest investment, Kindbody will open a second brick-and-mortar clinic in Manhattan and its first permanent clinic in San Francisco. Additionally, Bartasi says they are in the process of closing an acquisition in Los Angeles that will result in Kindbody’s first permanent clinic in the city. Soon, the company will expand to include mental health, nutrition and gynecological services.

In an interview with The Verge last year, Bartasi said she’s taken inspiration from SoulCycle and DryBar, companies whose millennial-focused branding strategies and prolific social media presences have helped them accumulate customers. Kindbody, in that vein, notifies its followers of new pop-up clinics through its Instagram page.

In the article, The Verge called Kindbody “the SoulCycle of fertility” and questioned its branding strategy and its claim that egg freezing “freezes time.” After all, there is limited research confirming the efficacy of egg freezing.

“The technology that allows for egg-freezing has only been widely used in the last five to six years,” Bartasi explained. “The majority of women who froze their eggs haven’t used them yet. It’s not like you freeze your eggs in February and meet Mr. Right in June.”

Though Kindbody touts a mission of providing fertility treatments to the 99 percent, there’s no getting around the sky-high costs of the services, and one might argue that companies like Kindbody are capitalizing off women’s fear of infertility. Providing free AMH tests, which often falsely lead women to believe they aren’t as fertile as they’d hoped, might encourage more women to seek a full-fertility assessment and ultimately, to pay $6,000 to freeze their eggs, when in reality they are just as fertile as the average woman and not the ideal candidate for the difficult and uncomfortable process.

Bartasi said Kindbody makes all the options clear to its patients. She added that when she does hear accusations that services like Kindbody capitalize on fear of infertility, they tend to come from legacy programs and male fertility doctors: “They are a little rattled by some of the new entrants that look like the patients,” she said. “We are women designing for women. For far too long women’s health has been solved for by men.”

Kindbody’s pricing scheme may itself instill fear in incumbent fertility clinics. The startup’s egg-freezing services are much cheaper than market averages; its IVF services, however, are not. Not including the costs of medications necessary to successfully harvest eggs from the ovaries, the average cost of an egg-freezing procedure costs approximately $10,000, compared to Kindbody’s $6,000. Its IVF services are on par with other options in the market, costing $10,000 to $12,000 — not including medications — for one cycle of IVF.

Kindbody is able to charge less for egg freezing because they’ve cut out operational inefficiencies, i.e. they are a tech-enabled platform while many fertility clinics around the U.S. are still handing out hoards of paperwork and using fax machines. Bartasi admits, however, that this means Kindbody is making less money per patient than some of these legacy clinics.

“What is a reasonable profit margin for fertility doctors today?” Bartasi said. “Historically, margins have been very, very high, driven by a high retail price. But are these really high retail prices sustainable long term? If you’re charging 22,000 for IVF, how long is that sustainable? Our profit margins are healthy.”

Bartasi isn’t the only entrepreneur to catch on to the opportunity here, as I’ve noted. A whole bunch of women’s health startups have launched and secured funding recently.

Tia, for example, opened a clinic and launched an app that provides health advice and period tracking for women. Extend Fertility, which like Kindbody, helps women preserve their fertility through egg freezing, banked a $15 million round. And a startup called NextGen Jane, which is trying to detect endometriosis with “smart tampons,” announced a $9 million Series A a few weeks ago.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Ro, a direct-to-consumer online pharmacy, reaches $500M valuation

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Venture capitalists have valued direct-to-consumer telehealth business Ro at $500 million with an $85 million Series B financing, sources confirm to TechCrunch.

The fresh round of funding comes seven months after Ro — widely known for its men’s health brand Roman, a cloud pharmacy for erectile dysfunction — made headlines with an $88 million Series A. 

Ro didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company’s outsized Series A, led by FirstMark Capital, was used to launch and scale its second digital health brand, “Zero,” a treatment plan meant to help men and women quit smoking. Zero sells a $129 kit complete with a month’s worth of prescription cessation medication Bupropion, nicotine gum and access to an app used to track progress.

Its latest infusion of capital will likely be used in part to support its third personalized health brand, Rory, a purveyor of women’s health products the business unveiled last month. Targeting menopausal women, Rory offers six products treating four conditions — including prescription medication and supplements for hot flashes, over-the-counter treatments for insomnia, prescription vaginal estrogen cream and an all-natural water-based lubricant for vaginal dryness and Latisse, which helps grow eyelashes — which are available for purchase and direct-to-consumer delivery.

“Right now, we have [millions] of women experiencing menopause,” Rory co-founder Rachel Blank told TechCrunch last month. “They are walking around and frankly, their vagina hurts and they are uncomfortable. Really, what we are building at Rory is a lot of the educational content around this to let women know they have choices and they can take control during this phase of life where they feel like their bodies are rebelling against them.”

When asked whether Ro was fundraising to bolster the new effort, Blank, a former investor at Ro-backer General Catalyst, declined to comment. Curiously, a source with knowledge of Ro’s fundraising said there was no mention of the imminent launch of its women’s brand, Rory, in its pitch to VCs earlier this year.

Ro was started by a trio of entrepreneurs: Rob Schutz, Saman Rahmanian and chief executive officer Zachariah Reitano in 2017. Reitano had previously co-founded a Y Combinator -backed startup called Shout, Rahmanian is a co-founder of the WeWork-acquired business Managed by Q, and Schutz worked as the vice president of growth for Bark&Co before building Ro.

The startup initially launched under the name Roman, which became its flagship brand when the business adopted the umbrella name Ro last year. Roman offers men a $15 online doctor’s consultation, which, if they are an appropriate candidate, gives them access to an instant prescription for Viagra, Cialis or generic drugs that can be filled at Roman’s in-house cloud pharmacy.

In a 2017 interview with TechCrunch’s Josh Constine, Reitano said he began experiencing ED at 17-years-old: “I think in a good way I’ve become numb to the embarrassment,” he said. “I remember the embarrassment of having the condition with no solution, and that’s much worse than sharing the fact that I had it and was able to fix it myself.”

Ro has previously raised $91.1 million in venture capital funding, hitting a valuation of $154 million with its Series A, according to PitchBook. Its investors include Initialized Capital, Box Group and Slow Ventures, as well as angels like Y Combinator partner Aaron Harris, Benchmark’s Scott Belsky and the chief executives of Casper, Code Academy and Pill Pack.

Founded just two years ago, Ro was amongst the first of a new cohort of men’s health businesses supported by VCs. Hims, one of the leading brands in the space, has similarly landed big rounds of capital from top-tier investors. Most recently, Hims brought in $100 million at a $1 billion valuation from an undisclosed growth-stage fund.

Several other companies, including Numan, Manual and Thirty Madison, have raised capital to support men with hair loss treatments and ED medications delivered to discreetly their doorsteps, among other products.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Juul launches a pilot program that tracks how Juul devices get in the hands of minors

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Juul Labs is today launching a pilot for its new Track & Trace program, which is meant to use data to identify exactly how Juul devices wind up in the hands of minors.

Juul vaporizers all have a serial number down at the bottom, by the Juul logo. However, it wasn’t until recently that Juul had the capability to track those serial numbers through every step of the process, from manufacture to distribution to retail to sale.

With Track & Trace, Juul is calling upon parents, teachers and law enforcement officials to come to the Juul Report web portal when they confiscate a device from a minor and input the serial number. Each time a device is input in the Track & Trace system, Juul will open an investigation to understand how that minor wound up with that device.

In some cases, it may be an issue with a certain retail store knowingly selling to minors. In others, it may be a case of social sourcing, where someone over 21 years of age buys several devices and pods to then sell to minors.

Juul will then take next steps in investigating, such as talking to a store manager about the issue. It may also enhance its secret shopper program around a certain store or distributor where it sees there may be a spike in sale/distribution, to youth to identify the source of the problem. To be clear, Track & Trace only tracks and traces the devices themselves, and does not use personal data about customers.

Juul isn’t yet widely publicizing Track & Trace (thus, the “Pilot” status), but it is focusing on Houston as a testing ground with banner ads targeted at older individuals (parents, teachers, etc.) pointing them to the portal. Of note: The ad campaign is geofenced to never be shown in or around a school, hopefully keeping the program a secret from young people illegally using Juul.

The company wants to learn more about how people use the portal and test the program in action before widening the campaign around Track & Trace. That said, the Report portal is not limited to Houston residents — anyone who confiscates a Juul can report it through the portal and trigger an investigation.

“It’s important to note that the pilot is an opportunity for us to learn how the technology is working and optimize the technology,” said Chief Administrative Officer Ashley Gould. “It’s not just at the retailer level. It’s a whole process through the supply chain to track that device and find out if everyone who is supposed to be scanning it is scanning it, and the software that we’ve created to track that serial number through the supply chain to the retail store is working. The only way we’re going to know that is when someone puts in the serial number and we see if we have all the data we need to track it.”

According to Juul, every device in production will be trackable in the next few weeks. In other words, Juul vapes that are years old are likely not fully traceable in the program, but those purchased more recently should work with the system.

Juul has been under scrutiny from the FDA and a collection of Democratic Senators due to the device’s rise in popularity among young people. Outgoing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has called it “an epidemic” and enforced further restrictions on sales of e-cig products.

Juul has also made its own effort, removing non-tobacco and non-menthol flavored pods from all physical retail stores, enhancing their own purchasing system online to ensure online buyers are 21+ and not buying in bulk, going after counterfeits and copycats posing as Juul products and exiting its Facebook and Instagram accounts.

But Juul Labs also committed to build technology-based solutions to prevent youth use of the product. Co-founder and CPO James Monsees told TechCrunch at Disrupt SF that the company is working on Bluetooth products that would essentially make the Juul device as smart as an iPhone or Android device, which could certainly help lock out folks under 21.

However, the Track & Trace program is the first real technological step taken by the e-cig company. And it has been an expensive one. The company has spent more than $30 million to update its packaging, adjust printing standards, change manufacturing equipment and integrate the data and logistics software systems.

For now, Track & Trace is only applicable to Juul vaporizers, but it wouldn’t be shocking to learn that the company was working on a similar program for its Juul Pods.

Editor’s Note: This article mistakenly said that Republican senators were scrutinizing Juul. It has been edited for accuracy.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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