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Build for the future now with Mammoth Biosciences and Mayfield by Matt Burns originally published on TechCrunch

YouTube will show personal stories of patients in search results for health-related queries

YouTube announced Wednesday that it will show a new section called “Personal Stories” in search results starting this week when users enter health-related queries. The company said when people search for videos of certain health conditions on YouTube, it will show a panel featuring videos from people who are diagnosed with those disorders.

The company said it observed that a lot of people come to the platform to better understand complex things in a digestible way — such as human biology or complicated ailments.

The video streaming service said people also come to search for the more human-centric questions about conditions such as “How do I live with this?”; “How did other people live with this?”; “Does it ever get better?”;” How do I support my loved one through this?” — all questions the company interprets as seeking first-hand accounts from people with prior experience.

YouTube said that at launch, the Personal Stories section will show videos related to cancer and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Later, the company will expand this feature to cover other topics and other regions outside the US.

“To be eligible for the shelf, videos must primarily focus on a personal, authentic lived experience that is relevant to a specific physical or mental health condition. Content that is promotional in nature is not eligible for this feature, and all videos that appear in this feature must comply with our policies that prevent the spread of health misinformation,” the company said in a blog post.

While this feature is not meant for getting medical advice, YouTube has faced a lot of criticism over health-related misinformation — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, more than 80 fact-checkers across the world wrote to YouTube about taking stricter actions against videos related to COVID misinformation. No doubt YouTube will face scrutiny for what kinds of videos are featured in this new “Personal Stories” section and how well they’re able to moderate the content presented.

YouTube will show personal stories of patients in search results for health-related queries by Ivan Mehta originally published on TechCrunch

Withing’s new scale takes body-composition measuring to a new level

Following hot on the heels of the Withings Body Scan, the company today announced a new smart scale. Body Comp is a ‘complete body assessment scale’ that makes biomarkers that are usually reserved for professional clinical settings, available for at-home users. It also announced Health+, an enhanced service providing detailed health analysis and tools to help people improve their health.

“Knowledge is power, and to affect meaningful change, people need an in-depth understanding of health data, why it matters and how it changes. We have worked with a team of behavior change, fitness, medical and nutritional experts for over 12 months to help interpret market-leading data from Withings devices. Today we are thrilled to unveil Health+ along with Body Comp, the first device to benefit from its advanced health metric assessments and habit-building modules on 4 key pillars —sleep, nutrition, activity, and stress management,” said Mathieu Letombe, CEO of Withings in an emailed statement. “Providing services is an important strategic step for Withings, and with Body Comp and Health+, we have developed a bundled product that can provide ongoing body health improvement.”

The new device offers complete home health body assessments via embedded sensors that can monitor multiple biomarkers associated with general and chronic health risks, including:

  • Full body composition (weight, muscle mass, fat mass, water %, bone mass, BMI, and for the first time, visceral fat)
  • Cardiovascular assessment (Standing Heart Rate, Vascular Age)
  • Nerve health assessment (Nerve Health Score computed from Electrochemical Skin Conductance)

The company claims it is the first scale to measure body fat, visceral fat (the fat hidden around the organs in your belly), vascular age (the pliability of your blood vessels), and nerve health (the function of the nerves in your feet) in one consumer device.

Bundled together, Body Comp and 12-month access to Health+ will be available from October 4, 2022, priced at $210.

With schools increasingly focused on mental health, PsycApps raises Seed round for US expansion

I’ve been tracking PsycApps, a startup that came up with a gamified mental health game ‘eQuoo’, since 2016, and this company – and its founder – is nothing if not persistent in ‘pivoting into the wind’. The last we heard it had been approved by the UK’s National Heath Service and was even distributed by Unilever. And, of course, the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has only created a greater need for startups addressing mental health.

But now it is winning approval from the investment community in the shape of a $1.7 seed capital raise from US-based Morningside Ventures.

Describing itself as an ‘evidence-based gamified mental health game for teens and young adults’, eQuoo is now aiming its platform at the 50% of teens and tweens who self-report struggling with one or more issues of mental health.

PsycApp’s platform offers a mental health intervention game aimed at higher education institutions, many of which are now legally obliged to take care of students’ mental health. And because eQuoo has gone through clinical trials, it’s securing contracts with schools that need that validation in order to offer it to students. In theory, this means that any other platform trying to do the same thing will meet a barrier to entry into this market.

In a statement, Stephen Bruso of Morningside Ventures commented that low engagement in mental health apps is a problem, but he thinks eQuoo has cracked the model: “Digital health interventions will be critical in the way that our society addresses the second, ongoing pandemic of mental health issues. However, designing these interventions to maximize long-term engagement and outcomes will be critical to making a difference. Silja and her team have shown robust engagement and outcomes data in large clinical studies.”

Clinical Psychologist and Founder Silja Litvin – together with Co-Founder Vanessa Hirsch-Angus – points out that 70% of 16 to 28-year-olds are casual gamers, hence why she eQuoo has had staying power amongst young adults used to the gaming mechanic.

eQuoo’s EdTech appeal – it says – is that secondary schools, colleges, and universities are legally required to keep their students healthy, and that increasingly means mental – as well as physical – health as well. In the UK, Ofsted, the UK’s education regulator and schools and colleges assessor, has made it a requirement for schools and colleges to include a ‘resilience and personal growth program’ within their curriculum before they can achieve a top rating.

eQuoo claims it is the only tool covered by Ofsted that has clinical trials ‘proving positive impact on student’s resilience, anxiety, and depression,’ it says.

Regional College and Paragon Skills are two of eQuoo’s newest clients, covering nearly 20,000 students and apprentices in the UK.

Speaking to me over a call, Litvin said the startup had gained traction after switching from a short-term game to a long-term one, a move which tipped the balance for Morningside’s investment.

“We’ve done a complete reboot of the game, adding multiple stories, an in app arcade, and an in-app chat bot that gives you feedback on your well-being. We went from five weeks to 52 weeks. We have an in-app arcade with many games and many exercises that are all mental health related,” she told me.

“With this funding, we’ll make sure that it never ends. You could potentially use the game for the rest of your life if you wanted to, which is not an issue because it’s also in the domain of personal growth. So it’s not just about addressing mental health.”

I put it to her that selling into the education market is notoriously difficult, especially for startups.

She countered: “Ofsted just published an update that said if a school wants a full rating, it needs to have a resilience and personal development product program in place. We are the only evidence-based, indefinitely scalable product made specifically for that youth age bracket, that has clinical trials to prove its efficiency in resilience and personal development… Schools are scrambling to find a programme and most of the programmes aren’t evidence based and aren’t scalable, as eQuoo is.”

She added that Moningside has lines into “all the major universities in the US” which will help it to scale in North Amervia.

Litvin also added that the company had had to “run on fumes” for a while before securing the Seed round: “We scaled down. We didn’t pay ourselves for quite a few months. With this money, we can go into growth mode.”

MEDU takes in $4M to develop reusable personal protective equipment

In otherwise normal times, hospitals generate more than 5 million tons of waste each year, according to Greenhealth. Personal protective equipment (PPE) was in short supply over the past two years, and it was widely reported that some had to reuse what is typically a single-use item, like surgical gowns.

MEDU, a Mexico-based startup, wants to reduce that waste and replace single-wear medical garments through the creation of a line of sustainable, virus-resistant reusable pieces, including surgical gowns, head coverings and full-body suits.

The company was started in 2020 by CEO Tamara Chayo, a chemist and Thiel Fellow, who had family in the medical and textile industries and saw firsthand the need for PPE. She and her team began investigating fabrics to see which had the ability to capture viruses, and when they began getting positive test results from the lab, they formed MEDU.

The products are made with fabric that is certified level 4 AAMI PB70, the highest fluid and microbial barrier protection, providing maximum protection against particles, viruses and bacteria, she told TechCrunch.

The company started trials in Mexican hospitals, buoyed by an initial $400,000 investment, to test and certify the results and see if doctors liked wearing the products.

“Doctors said ours were comfortable for them, but we did a lot of modifying and learning from that experience,” Chayo said. “The products can be reused for up to 50 washes, so you can use the same gown instead of changing into a different one, which saves money and waste.”

Tamara Chayo MEDU PPE

Tamara Chayo, CEO of MEDU. Image Credits: MEDU

To figure out those 50 washes, embedded near-field communication (NFC) technology in the garments are tracked in real time and healthcare practitioners are informed via a mobile app how many times a gown has been washed. After the 50 wears, the garment is returned to MEDU facilities where it is then disinfected and converted into scrubs and sustainable packaging.

The company is profitable and continues to grow its revenue at a rate of 6x each month. Since January, it has deployed approximately 7,000 pieces of equipment, which Chayo said is equivalent to 3 million disposables.

By the end of 2022, the company aims to replace more than 20 million single-use PPE gowns and divert 6,000 tons of hospital waste from landfills or incinerators. In addition, the company has doubled in size and is working with hospitals in New York and Los Angeles.

Supply chain continues to be a big challenge, and MEDU is among other startups that came onto the scene in the last two years to help hospitals and healthcare practitioners get the equipment and PPE they need. That includes bttn, which raised $20 million in Series A funds in June for its medical supply marketplace enabling doctors to get supplies they need faster and at better costs.

MEDU itself is now flush with $4 million in seed funding in a round led by MaC Venture Capital, with participation from Halcyon Fund and a group of angel investors, including Ryan Shea.

The funding gives the company fuel to grow as it expands into the U.S. and continues development of its full-body suit. Chayo plans to partner with up to 15 hospitals across the U.S. by the end of the year.

She explained that the decision to go after venture capital was to gain partners that would help the company grow. She feels MaC Venture Capital fit that bill — it was already an investor in healthcare companies — and would be able to give the company hands-on support as MEDU looked to improve and expand in the United States.

MEDU is working on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for its garments, which Chayo expects to happen later this year. It also is applying for approval in the European Union and going to start building relationships in Israel. In the meantime, the company already has approval in Mexico and is working with five hospitals there.

Chayo’s personality, gumption and background as a chemist with family in the medical and textile industries made investing in MEDU “one of the easiest decisions I ever made,” Michael Palank, general manager at MaC Venture Capital, told TechCrunch.

“You couldn’t script this,” he added. “The traction that she has pre-FDA approval, including trials in some of the biggest well-known hospitals in the U.S., but also those hospitals are introducing her to other hospitals which is the best form of customer acquisition. MEDU is also doing well in Mexico, where it is in one of the country’s biggest hospitals. This couldn’t be more of a global company, and it is going to get very big quickly.”

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Tinder founder’s latest play is a ring for quantifying mental health

I’m not a branding expert. I can recognize, however, that one sets certain expectations by naming a product “Happy Ring.” Mental health is a delicate space, and not something to be taken lightly. As a rule, it’s best to avoid anything that promises to fix you without the requisite talk therapy and, perhaps, medication. No wearable is going to replace that — certainly not during our lifetimes.

Nor, of course, can a consumer device diagnose conditions. While doctors are increasingly recommending products like the Apple Watch to consumers, they’re best regarded a proxy for monitoring one’s vitals all the time we’re not at the doctor’s office.

Ultimately, I don’t think the Happy Ring name does its creators’ ambitions justice. It at once evokes the 70s mood ring fad, while suggesting that the product is punching above its weight in terms of its ability to create a profound transformation in the person who wears it. It’s a disservice, because there’s obviously something to the notion that our emotional states have physical manifestations in our body.

Image Credits: Happy Health

It’s something a lot of wearable companies are clearly working toward. Take a look, for example, at this internal Oura study, which attempts to answer the question of whether the ring can “help identify symptoms of depression and anxiety.” There’s also this report that finds Apple working with UCLA in an attempt to attempt to use its consumer devices to help identify conditions like anxiety, depression and cognitive decline.

Mental health is, understandably, a kind of wearable holy grail. Listen, it’s real tough out there right now. Who wouldn’t want to just pop on a ring to get a clearer picture of their mental health? Mental health is big, scary and inscrutable, and traditional methods of addressing it can seem insurmountable.

Happy Ring makes no claims of being a diagnostic tool. Rather, the company believes it has cracked the code of monitoring wearers’ progress, in a kind of mental health analog to fitness trackers like Apple Watch and Oura. Much like those products, it purports to be a method for monitoring those vital readings and presenting actionable data to help get the wearer back on track.

Image Credits: Happy Health

Tinder founder Sean Rad tells TechCrunch he teamed with LVL Technologies founder Dustin Freckleton to determine whether a wearable device can present an accurate picture of its wearer’s mood.

“There were all of these wearables that helped you understand your physical fitness or sleep,” says Rad. “But they were really ignoring the elephant, which is your mind. They weren’t doing anything when it came to mental health or mental states. We asked the question: can we somehow build a device that can passively start to monitor what’s going on in your brain? If we can do that, can we help people better understand, have the language and better identify what they can do to improve their mental health?”

In addition to the standard array of wearable sensors, the startup points to a custom-built EDA (electrodermal activity) detector as the product’s hardware differentiator. Fitbit announced its own version of the technology a few years back, as a method for detecting the wearer’s stress levels. Addressing “stress” versus “mental health” with a wearable seems like a more reasonable ask.

“If you’re public speaking, you’re going on a first date, you’re interviewing for a job, you hands start to sweat a little bit,” explains Freckleton. “That is the emotional sweat response. There are evolutionary reasons why that occurs. The EDA sensor is specifically designed to pick up those tiny changes that occur as a result of micro sweats on the skin and are a result of the activation of the autonomic nervous system.”

Image Credits: Happy Health

Founded in late-2019, Happy Health currently employs 40, 13 of whom are located in Austin, where the startup is headquartered. The firm also just announced a $60 million Series A, led by ARCH Venture Partners.

“Funding went to research development and manufacturing of, really, a best in class wearable device,” says Freckleton. “There’s no comparable device from a sensor level to data quality level to AI infrastructure level.”

The preorder waitlist for the product opens today. The company is offering a hardware-as-a-service model, straight out of the gate. There’s no upfront cost for the hardware, with plans starting at $20 a month. That includes things like sleep analysis, heart rate monitoring and journal prompts. Mindfulness content is limited. Happy says it’s not specifically looking to enter that already crowded market, and is instead exploring potential partnerships with third parties.

Image Credits: Happy Health

There is, however, an actionable aspect to the connect app, as well as an attempt to chart how your mental health changes over time.

“Every metric we’re giving you on your mind is actually real time,” says Rad. “So you could literally do something, open the app and see the result right away. But we also give you CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) exercises, breathing exercises, meditation, educational pieces — different things that are tailored to help you improve.”

Yelp update to warn consumers Crisis Pregnancy Centers aren’t abortion care providers

Following the overturn of Roe v. Wade, companies have been bolstering efforts and navigating the legal landscape to provide care to birthing people. Yelp is now following suit. 

The company announced, in an exclusive first shared with Axios, that it will add a consumer notice to crisis pregnancy centers (CPC) to differentiate them from abortion clinics. The notice will notify users and read that these centers “typically provide limited medical services and may not have licensed medical professionals onsite.” According to Planned Parenthood, these centers do not provide abortion services and attempt to convince birthing people to not get an abortion. 

The change will apply to religious and nonreligious centers in the U.S. and Canada. 

“It has always felt unjust to me that there are clinics in the U.S. that provide misleading information or conduct deceptive tactics to steer pregnant people away from abortion care if that’s the path they choose to take,” said Noorie Malik, Yelp’s VP, to Axios.

Yelp is probably most commonly known for restaurant reviews but is also a source of information for all types of businesses. According to Axios, Yelp began distinguishing CPCs from abortion centers in 2018. Additionally, a Yelp spokesperson told TechCrunch that “businesses that do not offer actual abortion services and explicitly mention being faith-based or having some type of religious affiliation are categorized as ‘Faith-based Crisis Pregnancy Centers.’” Businesses that explicitly state that they are anti-abortion or pro-life, but without any public-facing information about being faith-based, are categorized as “Crisis Pregnancy Centers.”

Users will see the notice at the top of a company’s profile after clicking on its profile to get more information. Though, it must be noted that not everyone going to a CPC is seeking abortion services. 

Image Credits: Yelp

According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, a pro-abortion advocacy group, there were close to 2,500 CPCs across the country and 23 states have laws supporting CPCs in 2015. Additionally, some states provide public funding to CPCs. 

Yelp’s move is just one in the search engine world. Google, in 2019, updated its advertisement policy so companies that want to run ads with a focus on anti-abortion-related keywords have to disclose whether they provide abortion services or not. 

Additionally, Google Maps also labels if a clinic provides abortion services or is a “pregnancy care center.” However, there has been scrutiny around the CPC results on the platform that led Congress members to ask Google’s CEO to limit those results. 

Although the move by Yelp is meant to better aid those seeking pregnancy services, according to Malik, the company has not explicitly stated how they plan to better serve those individuals other than the notice. 

“For people specifically searching for abortion services, we’ve increased our efforts to better match them with reproductive health services that actually offer abortions and make it less likely they will see crisis pregnancy centers in their search results,” a Yelp spokesperson told TechCrunch.

This year, alone, the company has evaluated 33,500 businesses and recategorized 470 of them as CPCs. The company plans on further evaluating over 55,000 businesses across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

As our populations age, this startup is turning live-in care into a gig-economy platform

As developed-world populations increasingly get older, healthcare is being rapidly digitized and “platformized” in order to meet the huge scale of change heading our way. I recently covered how Cera in the U.K. just raised $320 million to shift monitoring of patients into the home rather than over-flowing hospitals.

Now another startup aims to create an almost “gig-economy style” platform for people providing live-in care to the elderly, this time in Europe.

Marta, the European digital platform for live-in care, says when people try to arrange this kind of care for their elderly relatives, there are up to six intermediaries involved, and four out of five placements fail. Marta’s solution is an AI-driven matching platform where carers can be found for live-in positions. I guess you might call it UpWork for live-in care?

It’s now raised a €6.6 million seed round led by Capnamic, alongside co-lead Almaz Capital. Ithaca, GMPVC, SumUp Impact Fund, Verve Ventures and angels also participated. Existing investors such as Christian Vollmann, Johannes Schaback, Laura Esnola, Dr. Steffen Zoller and Julian Stiefel also participated.

The startup plans to now scale up in its European markets of Germany, Poland, Romania and Lithuania.

The market it’s addressing is an €18 billion market in the DACH region alone.

Given that Germany alone has more than 4 million people seeking at-home care and there are only 280,000 caregivers able to do this, the market is sizable.

Marta’s says its algorithm-based marketplace enables matchmaking between care seekers and caregivers, increasing transparency and a person-to-person experience.

“There are hundreds of examples of how elderly care can go wrong and it’s almost impossible for humans to accurately predict placement success because it’s just so many data points. We have seen how difficult it was to organize care with our grandparents. Aging is a normal process and should not pose a major problem. We believe that we can leverage technology significantly to help elderly people and their families as well as the caregivers,” said Jan Hoffmann, co-founder of marta in a statement.

Marta’s founders, Philipp Buhr and Hoffmann started marta in 2020 after having problems finding carers for relatives.

“Marta has created a transparent marketplace where it connects caregivers directly with families seeking care. At this point a truly unique approach based on digitization. We have been following marta for the past months and are impressed by the technology and traction the team has delivered. Most importantly, we are excited about the teams’ enthusiasm for solving a paramount societal problem,” added Jörg Binnenbrücker, founding partner at Capnamic.

Cycle-focused femtech startup, 28, grabs backing from Thiel Capital

Meet 28: A U.S.-based femtech startup founded by a wife and husband team that’s scored $3.2 million in seed funding in a round led by Thiel Capital with a fitness & wellness pitch that aims to connect women to the hormonal phases of their menstrual cycle for physical and emotional gain.

The startup is drawing on recent popular science that suggests there may be benefits for people who menstruate in adapting their workouts, nutrition other types of wellness-focused activities to the hormonal changes they experience each month, through their natural cycle.

The founders were bootstrapping prior to scoring backing from Thiel Capital. Others investing in the seed round include Learn Capital, Steel Perlot, and some unnamed private angel investors.

“A lot of women I know were experiencing painful periods and other hormone related symptoms. Women were tired of the pill and the negative impact it’s had on their brains and bodies. They were getting off it in droves and looking for natural alternatives,” says co-founder Brittany Hugoboom, discussing her inspiration for starting the business in a call with TechCrunch.

“Many women voice experiences of being dismissed or even gaslit by their doctors who would just tell them it was all in their head. And most alarming of all it became crystal clear that most women are totally clueless about their cycle works. And it’s not their fault because most women don’t get a lot of sex education. So the idea was born from those problems — we want to democratize the science of hormone and menstrual health. And provide women everywhere with tangible tools to physically and emotionally flourish.”

Hugoboom, who is a model as well as an entrepreneur, says she originally had the idea over three years ago but only started filming content for the program around 1.5 years ago, to prepare for a product launch.

The team is kicking things off now by offering free “cycle-based” fitness and wellness programs — which are soft launching (on the web) today, starting with a focus on gaining users in the US market. (NB: Android and iOS apps are in the works and slated to launch soon, in a month or so.)

28’s product takes the form of daily exercise videos, nutritional profiles — and “science-based emotional insights”, as its co-founder tells it — which are pitched as customized to the user’s cycle (and, at the least, that looks like savvy marketing which could help the startup stand out in a very packed fitness/wellness space).

The fitness/wellness program is geared towards four distinct cycle phases related to the female reproduction system’s hormonal fluctuations: Namely, the period itself, when hormone levels (and potentially energy) are low, as the body sheds the uterine lining it built up over the cycle to prepare for the possibility of a fertilized egg; the follicular phase, as the cycle starts again with hormones like estrogen and testosterone rising to encourage the release of a new egg; ovulation, when an egg is released, the window of fertilization opens and sex drive (and energy) is high; and the luteal phase, before the next period begins, when progesterone dominates and women may experience associated symptoms like PMS.

The startup classifies these phases into a low energy, self-care-focused “restore” phase; a replenishing, muscle-growth-focused “awaken” phase; a positive, high energy “perform” phase; and a winding down “balance” phase — to get an idea of how it’s configuring workout and wellness content to the user’s cycle.

28 app

The four hormonal phases of the cycle 28’s program is targeting (Image credit: 28)

“The great thing about 28 is that we’re incorporating a lot of different types of functional movement during different parts of your cycle,” says Hugoboom, suggesting there are both physical and emotional benefits for women in aligning their training, nutrition and other lifestyle factors with their cycles.

“So, for example, when it’s your menstrual phase you’re going to be doing more like a yin-yoga stretch detox. You’ll start doing more pilates-based workouts in your follicular phase. Ovulation you can do the hardcore kickboxing, circuit-training. And then you kind of go back down — but you ebb and flow with your cycle. So I think that’s what makes it really unique.”

She also emphasizes that while fitness is a big focus for 28 it’s just “one component” of a broader ‘holistic wellness’ play.

“When they log in it’s going to show them a workout of the day they can do, it’s going to show science-based horoscopes on their emotional insights, it’s going to show different nutrition you can have during that time that’s better for you — like maybe that time of the month you need more salmon or omega 3s and during another time of the month you need more iron. It depends on your cycle but it gives you all that information,” she explains, fleshing out how the product looks from the user point of view.

It’s worth noting that 28 is not (currently) providing a period tracking app itself (there are of course plenty of those already). Nor is it offering any hardware or other technology for women to actually track their hormonal levels, as some other femtech startups are. All 28 users need to do to get content configured to their cycle is to input the first day of their last period. (If a user doesn’t currently have a period, say because they’re pregnant or on the pill for example, the startup suggests using the lunar cycle as an alternative.)

Given that approach to on-boarding, it’s clearly only going to be able to approximate the hormonal phases of each user, since cycles can vary in length and regularity — which suggests there’s a limit to how close to the “science of the cycle” it can really get. (And talk of ‘detox’, or indeed ‘science-based horoscopes’, will surely get the average scientist hard-cringing.)

But a single data-point method is the obvious choice if you’re gunning for maximum consumer uptake, ease of access and scalability. (An FAQ on 28’s website also notes users can adjust the date point “as needed if future periods come late or early by updating your cycle in your profile settings”.)

Hugoboom does hint that the team is looking at developing additional technology — to boost personalization. “Right now we’re not a cycle tracker — but we are working on technology to make it more personalized and accurate,” she suggests.

Discussing 28’s overall approach to fitness and wellness, she says her experience of over-training — and associated injury issues — in her twenties, when she was routinely racking up six hardcore workouts a week, led her to seek out different trainers with a more “prehabilitative” approach, focused on injury prevention. And that philosophy has fed into 28 — with the website describing its “method” as “a rejuvenating, stability-based approach to feminine fitness designed by supermodel trainers and medical experts to work with your natural cycle”.

Brittany Hugoboom

Co-founder Brittany Hugoboom (Image credits: 28)

While 28’s first wave of customized lifestyle content is free to consume, it’s clearly not free to produce which could raise privacy concerns as there is the question of what happens to user data? The startup is alive to these concerns — and an FAQ on its website claims “we will never sell your data” (although targeted advertising may entail the sale of attention, rather than the actual user data itself, so privacy claims that frame the issue as all about the sale of data bear close scrutiny, at the least) — while lauding the “support of patient investors who share our vision”. (But, well, even very patient investors will want a return eventually.)

“We’re not going to be doing any third party advertising that has to do with selling user data,” says Hugoboom when asked about wording in its privacy policy that could imply it’s leaving the door open to monetizing user attention, such as via targeted advertising.

“We’re not doing any monetization that way whatsoever,” she reiterates when pressed for confirmation that the startup won’t be participating in monetizing user attention via ads. “The data we collect is strictly confidential and only used for the purpose of providing a customized user experience.”

So how, then, does 28 intend to monetize the product — assuming it’s able to scale usage as hoped? (She says its goal is to get to a million users in the next 12 months.)

“Right now we’re a freemium model and luckily our investors support that decision because we want to get as many women in line with their cycle as possible and learning about their cycle — but when we do monetize in the future it’ll likely be through premium content and physical products,” she suggests, hinting at a possible subscription plan ‘premium’ option down the line.

“We have some R&D on a physical product right now in development that will go with 28,” she adds, declining to specify exactly what kind of kit it’s working on. (It’s not hard to imagine the wide range of products that could be offered for sale to a community of active, health-conscious women — not least supplements which the product may simultaneously be suggesting a user ‘needs’ at a given point in their menstrual cycle.)

Who is the typical 28 user? The service is being geared towards women of any age, per Hugoboom — and is generally aimed at “holistic, health-conscious” woman — but she suggests young 20s is “probably” the primary demographic — as they may be at an age where they’re looking for a natural alternative to hormonal contraception.

Is she comfortable building a business out of the US that’s focused on women’s health — and processing data about their reproductive cycles — at a time when women in the country can face stark legal consequences for trying to access health services like abortion following the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade? The decision, earlier this year, led to a number of states banning abortions and means pregnant women in affected regions of the US can risk prosecution for seeking an abortion or if they lose their babies and authorities suspect a termination is not a natural miscarriage.

“We’re not selling any user data so I don’t think there would be an issue. It’s just women learning about their natural cycle and how they can benefit themselves so I don’t really think there’s any conflict there,” she responds on that, adding: “We talked to our lawyers about it a couple of weeks ago, when the decision [to overturn Roe v Wade] came out, and realistically it would be very hard [for state prosecutors to subpoena data that could pose a legal risk to users].”

We were also curious about 28’s choice of lead investor.

Peter Thiel, whose fund Thiel Capital is leading its seed, may not seem the obvious choice of backer for such a female-focused business — given certain (infamous) libertarian views, expressed in an essay some years ago, when he implied that the enfranchisement of women was bad for democracy. But Thiel’s interest here is perhaps a measure of the rising value investors are, at long last, beginning to place on women’s health startups — as the white-male-dominated VC class is, seemingly, starting to cotton on to the scale of the opportunity to sell stuff to half the world’s population.

Hugoboom says the seed investment from Thiel Capital came about after her husband (and her co-founder) got an intro to Peter Thiel through a mutual friend. “While I can’t speak for him I think the idea of creating a whole new category in women’s health was what intrigued [Thiel]. Like, why hasn’t anyone done this this way was the general feeling?”

“I think he’s a brilliant investor and he’s known for investing in people solving difficult problems so I’m excited to have him on board,” she adds.