Serena Williams, Mark Cuban invest $3 million in Mahmee, a digital support network for new moms

Tennis superstar and mom to a 22-month-old, Serena Willams has joined Mark Cuban to invest $3 million seed funding in Mahmee, a startup working toward filling the critical care gap in postpartum care.

For those who’ve never given birth or who (count your blessings!) never had any mishaps in the hospital or afterwards, the weeks and months following childbirth can be extremely hard on the new mom, with estimates as high as one in five women suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety and about 9% of women experiencing post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) following childbirth — and those are just the mood and mental health disorders.

Physical recovery, even for those with a healthy, run-of-the-mill birth, takes at least six weeks. Eight weeks if you’ve had a C-section. And, then there are all the medical complications. Williams, who has a history of blood clots, ended up basically shouting at the doctors to give her a CT scan that saved her life.

The real issue, at the heart of all this, according to Mahmee co-founder Melissa Hanna, is that “the data is fragmented.” She says this is why she built a network to get new moms the support they need — from their community, other moms and medical providers.

Mahmee provides not only online group discussions with other moms going through the same thing and at the same stage but also connection to your medical provider. On top of that, it adds support from a trained “maternity coach” who can flag if something is wrong.

One example Hanna used was a new mom who was exhibiting symptoms of septic shock. The co-founder says a coach was able to call this mom on the spot and get her to contact her OB-GYN right away.

There are other online services like Postpartum Support International (PSI) and the Bloom Foundation, which both provide a sort of digital network and resources for new moms but Hanna believes it is that missing link to medical professionals after mom has gone home from the hospital that really make a difference.

“We’re so focused on delivering a healthy baby that mom gets side-lined,” She told TechCrunch. Adding in a statement, “And this industry is lacking the IT infrastructure needed to connect these professionals from different organizations to each other, and to follow and monitor patients across practices and health systems. This missing element creates gaps in care. Mahmee is the glue that connects the care ecosystem and closes the gaps.”

While other sites mentioned above are free to use, Mahmee, which goes beyond social support to providing engagement and patient monitoring, makes money through group and individual video calls (the introductory session with a coach is free) and various support groups. There are also different payment tiers starting at $20 a month and up towards $200 per month where new parents can ask unlimited questions through a HIPAA-secure, online dashboard connecting them with their medical providers and Mahmee coaches.

Do new moms need to pay someone to help them out and monitor them medically after they get home from the hospital? Possibly. Some local hospitals and medical networks also provide various types of help — both through counseling and new parent support groups. But often it can take weeks to get a counseling session at a busy hospital and your OB may have too many patients to call and check up on you. Having this type of support could just save your life — and, if anything else, checking in with a group of moms going through the same thing could be the key to saving your sanity.

Hanna admits it’s early days for her startup but tells TechCrunch there are over 1,000 providers in the Mahmee network so far. She plans to use the $3 million to grow her team out, including engineers, clinicians and sales staff and hints she’s working on several partnerships within the healthcare industry right now.

With a fresh $10 million in the bank, DotLab hopes to bring endometriosis test to market

Thirty-three-year-old founder of personalized medicine company DotLab, Heather Bowerman, wants to shake up the women’s health industry with what she believes to be a better, cheaper, less painful test for endometriosis.

Her company has just completed a Yale University -led validation study and raised $10 million in Series A funding from CooperSurgical, TigerGlobal Management, Luxor Capital Group and the law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati to bring a new, non-invasive diagnostic test to market.

DotEndo

Endometriosis is an often painful disorder in which tissue begins to grow outside of the uterus and into a woman’s ovaries, fallopian tubes and pelvis. The disease may affect up to one in 10 women of childbearing years and about half of all women who experience infertility, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

However, even with clear symptoms of the disease, doctors often try to test for endometriosis as a last resort. The only way currently to test for it is through an invasive laparoscopic procedure, which comes with risks like internal bleeding, infections and hernia.

Called DotEndo the new DotLab test eliminates that risk with a simple diagnostic test. “The rationale for using our test is to test as early as possible and also to use it non-invasively,” Bowerman told TechCrunch.

The CEO was also quick to point out DotEndo is not a genetic test, as there are plenty of tests out on the market helping women discover possible genetic markers around fertility. Rather, it’s a physician-ordered diagnostic test you would take through a lab to find out if you have this specific disease.

“The revolutionary technology behind DotLab’s endometriosis test could improve the lives of the hundreds of millions of women affected by this debilitating disease which has been under-researched and deprioritized for too long,” Bowerman said in a statement.

While there has been some innovation in the space lately — U.S. regulators just approved a new pill to treat endometriosis pain — Bowerman is right in that we definitely still have a long way to go in diagnosing and curing the disease and that will take a lot more capital from investors in the future.

Meanwhile, the next step for DotLab will be to get its test into the hands of physicians, with the hope they recommend DotEndo right off the bat to patients exhibiting symptoms.

Meet Hatch Baby’s portable, WiFi-enabled sleep device Rest+

Menlo Park-based Hatch Baby has prided itself on introducing “smart” nursery devices — including Grow, a changing pad with a built-in scale and Rest, a device doubling as a sound machine and night light.

Now, the company is introducing an updated version of Rest with Rest+ as part of an effort to help further establish Hatch Baby in the family sleep space.

The Rest+ device will still have the sound machine, night light and a “time to rise” feature found in the original. But, with feedback from many customers and Amazon reviews, Hatch Baby has now included the addition of an audio monitor and a clock.

The audio monitor is essential for letting parents check in on baby while they sleep without going into the room and potentially waking the baby up.

The clock is also a fantastic addition, in my opinion, especially for those with toddlers who can read numbers. These little people are big enough to get out of their beds but not mature enough to know moms and dads need to sleep at 4 a.m. Often advice passed from parent to parent is to put a clock in the baby room and tell kids not to come out until it shows a certain number.

It also helps establish healthy sleep habits in little ones. Most toddlers (ages one to 3) need about 12 to 14 hours of sleep in a day, spread out between nighttime and naps, according to the National Sleep Foundation. However, as any parent knows, the older a baby gets, the harder it is to get them to want to go to bed.

Rest+ features include:

  • Audio monitor: Parents can now check in on their child in their room without the risk of disrupting their little one’s sleep right from their phone — no extra gadgets necessary.
  • Sound machine: Parents can choose from a range of sound options, from white noise to soft lullabies. They can simply crank up the volume remotely when the dog barks or the neighbors throw a party.
  • Night light: This feature, which stays cool to the touch, provides soft and soothing
    lighting for midnight feeding sessions or bright and reassuring light when the dark feels scary for older kids. Parents and kids can choose from a rainbow of colors to make it their own, but the optional patented toddler-lock setting makes sure that parents are the only ones in control when needed.
  • Time-to-Rise: Green means go! This feature enables parents to teach toddlers and
    preschoolers to stay in bed until it’s time to rise once the light changes color (and enjoy those extra minutes of sleep).
  • Clock: Rest+ features an easy-to-read clock so that parents can stay on track with their busy schedules and can help teach children to read numbers.

Any one of these features could cost parents a good amount of dough when purchased separately. A Phillips Avent audio monitor runs just under $100 on Amazon, for example. However, Rest+ is just $80 (slightly more than the original $60 price tag for the Rest device), for all five features.

Something else that may make the Rest+ attractive to parents — it is WiFi-enabled and portable so you can take it with you when you travel.

Whipping a sound machine, nightlight, audio monitor and clock all into one portable, WiFi-enabled device can also save precious space in the nursery and makes this a must-have item for many parents hoping for just a little bit more sleep.

Hatch Baby co-founder Ann Crady Weiss tells TechCrunch the Rest+ will only be available on the Hatch Baby site and is part of a plan to launch a full line of products aimed at getting parents — and their children — more precious sleep. Though she wouldn’t say what the company was working on next, she did mention we’d hear something about it in the coming months. So stay tuned!

Neurobehavioral health company Blackthorn pulls in $76 million from GV to treat mental disorders

There are numerous challenges to finding effective treatments for mental disorders. However, Blackthorn Therapeutics, a neurobehavioral health company using machine learning to create personalized medicine for mental health, is betting its technological approach to finding drugs that work will put it ahead of the competition. Lucky for them, GV and other biotech investors have shown they agree by adding another $76 million in Series B financing to the coffers.

Today, Blackthorn announced the close of its $76 million series B round from GV, Scripps Research, Johnson & Johnson Innovation and a bevy of other biotech investment firms, including Polaris Partners, Premier Partners, Vertex Ventures HC, Alexandria Venture Investments, Altitude Life Science Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners, and Biomatics Capita.

Blackthorn has been heads down the last couple of years on a clinical trial for a drug that could potentially treat mood disorders. In April, the company announced positive results from its phase I trial for the drug.

The company plans to use the funding to advance its clinical-stage programs for mood disorders as well as for potential treatment of autism spectrum disorder, advancing towards clinical investigation in 2020.

Brian Chee, a managing partner at Polaris Partners, Lori Hu, a managing director at Vertex Ventures HC, and Julie Sunderland, a managing director at Biomatics Capital have joined Blackthorn’s board as directors in conjunction with the funding.

Blackthorn also recently added two people to its executive team. Jane Tiller has joined as chief medical officer and Laura Hansen as vice president, corporate affairs.

“BlackThorn was founded to bring new therapies to patients by applying advances in computational sciences to address patient heterogeneity, one of the biggest historical challenges in the field of neuropsychiatric drug development,” said Blackthorn’s president and COO Bill Martin, Ph.D. “Three years later, insights from our data-driven approaches are yielding patient enrichment strategies that could increase probability of clinical trial success and improve patient outcomes. We are grateful for our investors’ support to continue advancing our platform and therapeutic pipeline as we build out a world-class team at the intersection of technology and clinical neuroscience.”

What top VCs look for in women’s fertility startups

A number of promising women’s health tech companies have popped up in the last few years, from fertility apps to ovulation bracelets — even Apple has jumped into the subject with the addition of period tracking built into the latest edition of the watch. But there hasn’t been much in the way of innovation in women’s sexual health for decades.

In-vitro fertilization (IVF) is now a 40-year-old invention and even the top pharmaceutical companies have spent a pittance on research and development. Subjects like polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis and menopause have taken a backseat to other, more fatal concerns. Fertility is itself oftentimes a mysterious black box as well, though a full 10% of the female population in the United States has difficulty getting or staying pregnant.

That’s all starting to change as startups are now bringing in millions in venture capital to gather and treat women’s health. While it’s early days (no unicorns just yet) interest in the subject has been jumping steadily higher each year.

To shine a better light on the importance of tech’s role in spurring more innovation for women’s fertility, we asked five VCs passionate about the space for their investment strategies, including Sarah Cone (Social Impact Capital), Vanessa Larco (NEA), Anu Duggal (Female Founders Fund), Jess Lee (Sequoia) and Nancy Brown (Oak HC/FT).

Sarah Cone, Social Impact Capital

Sarah Cone, Social Impact Capital

We’re interested in companies that create large data sets in women’s health and fertility, enabling personalized medicine, clinical trial virtualization, better patient outcomes, and the application of modern AI/ML techniques to generate hypotheses that discover new targets and molecules.

Sequoia-backed Whole Biome wants to heal your gut with medical-grade probiotics

Whole Biome has pulled in $35 million in Series B financing from a list of investing titans, including Sequoia, Khosla, True Ventures, the Mayo Foundation and AME Ventues — just to name a few. The goal? To heal what ails you using microscopic bugs.

Medical science has caught on in the last few years about the importance of gut health using these bugs (also known as probiotics). Now startups are pitching in using venture money to come up with new and novel ideas.

“We’re at a unique point in time as the field of microbiome biology converges with enabling cutting-edge technologies and bioinformatics that will open up a whole new world of innovative health products,” said Colleen Cutcliffe, Whole Biome’s co-founder and chief executive officer.

Cutliffe, who hails from DNA sequencing company Pacific Biosciences, along with her partners Jim Bullard and John Eid, built a platform able to compute information from varying populations and compare microbiome sequencing to get a clear picture of what’s missing in a patient’s flora for overall health.

The next step is to use the raised funds to launch a product for the management of Type 2 Diabetes.

Many of the prescription diabetes medications out on the market today can come with a load of side effects like upset stomach, dizziness, rashes or inability to consume alcohol. However, Whole Biome says their product will not have any side effects.

Slated for release in early 2020, the startup has conducted double-blinded, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trials for a product that releases special probiotics into your gut with the goal of reducing glucose spikes.

“Whole Biome is creating novel, disease-targeting microbiome interventions that have the potential to improve the course of many of the significant health issues facing people today,” said Sequoia partner Roelof Botha. “They have built an integrated approach and a multi-disciplinary team across research, development and commercialization to unlock complex microbiome biology and create products with both clinical efficacy and unparalleled safety.”

To date, Whole Biome has now raised $57 million in funding.

Meet Bobbie, a baby formula delivery startup promising healthier ingredients

Don’t like the idea of your baby guzzling down liquid candy all day? It may surprise you to find corn syrup is the main ingredient in most infant formulas in the U.S. That’s where Bobbie, a Bay Area-based baby formula delivery startup promising only wholesome ingredients hopes to fill in.

Just go down the baby food aisle of any supermarket in America and start reading the ingredients and you’ll likely find corn syrup, soy bean oil, glucose syrup, maltodextrin and palm oil at the top. Even “organic” options often add these ingredients.

While it’s high fructose corn syrup we should be most concerned with when it comes to diabetes (and some doctors might even recommend adding some sort of syrup to your baby’s diet to combat constipation), corn syrup is not something some parents may want their baby guzzling down all day.

Bobbie - baby food delivery startupTouting itself as “European” style, Bobbie’s first product features fresh, grass-fed cows milk as the main ingredient. What it does not include, however, is key for the concerned parent. There’s zero corn syrup, maltodextrin or other artificial sugars or unhealthy oils.

Of course, some babies might not be able to stomach the lactose from bovine sources but grass-fed and corn syrup-free is music to the ears of many parents (me included) who’ve resorted to ordering bulk from Germany just to avoid feeding our kids Snickers in a bottle.

Yes, it seems crazy to order all the way from Europe when there are so many choices here in the U.S. – and there are some formula manufacturers here making an effort to offer better options – but finding something that meets the simple standard of no sugar, corn syrup or processed oils in the baby food is weirdly difficult.

The other nugget Bobbie provides is delivery. Heaven knows every second is precious when you are a new parent. Delivery can be an especially big help in maintaining some semblance of order in those early days. Sure, Amazon delivers many baby things — it even ships the popular, German-based Hipp brand of formula — but it comes at a premium price and will only ship in bulk.

You can also get the European brands delivered straight from sites like Organic Start, Huggable and a number of others easily Googled. But for those wanting something local, slightly less expensive and with presumably less of a carbon footprint than shipping from another continent, Bobbie is here for you (and we’re told will be delivered with a soft knock on the door, in case baby is sleeping).

The company was founded by two San Francisco moms and former Airbnb operation leaders Laura Modi and Sarah Hardy. Both found out how hard it was, after returning from maternity leave, to pump each day while keeping up with the demands of the job. However, neither of them liked the formula options they found at the grocery store for their own little broods.

Modi and Hardy thought it was time to give parents a more local choice in healthy formula. The two founded the company in 2018 and pulled in $2.5 million in funding last year from Bolt Capital, Nextview Ventures, Lakehouse, and Precursor while Modi was pregnant, closing the round a week before giving birth to her baby boy.

Bobbie will (appropriately) begin taking orders this Mother’s Day. Unfortunately, Bobbie only delivers to the Bay Area for now. However, those interested can order one 400 g trial box for $27, which should make about 22 bottles at 6 ounces per bottle, according to a company spokesperson. You can also sign up for the subscription package for $23 per box.

Bobbie Baby – Evolving the conversation of parenthood from Laura Modi on Vimeo.

uBiome is jumping into therapeutics with a healthy $83 million in Series C financing

23andMe, IBM and now uBiome is the next tech company to jump into the lucrative multi-billion dollar drug discovery market.

The company started out with a consumer gut health test to check whether your intestines carry the right kind of bacteria for healthy digestion but has since expanded to include over 250,000 samples for everything from the microbes on your skin to vaginal health — the largest data set in the world for these types of samples, according to the company.

Founder Jessica Richman now says there’s a wider opportunity to use this data to create value in therapeutics.

To support its new drug discovery efforts, the San Francisco-based startup will be moving its therapeutics unit into new Cambridge, Massachusetts headquarters and appointing former Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez to the board of directors as well.

The company has a healthy pile of cash to help build out that new HQ, too, with a fresh $83 million Series C, lead by OS Fund and in participation with 8VC, Y Combinator, Dentsu Ventures and others.

The drug discovery market is slated to be worth nearly $86 billion by 2022, according to BCC Research numbers. New technologies — those that solve logistics issues and shorten the time between research and getting a drug to market in particular — are driving the growth and that’s where uBiome thinks it can get into the game.

“This financing allows us to expand our product portfolio, increase our focus on patent assets and further raise our clinical profile, especially as we begin to focus on commercialization of drug discovery and development of our patent assets,” Richman said.

Though its unclear at this time which drug maker the company might partner up with, Richman did say there would be plenty to announce later on that front.

So far, the company has published over 30 peer-reviewed papers on microbiome research, has entered into research partnerships with the likes of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and leading research institutions such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford and has previously raised $22 million in funding. The additional VC cash puts the total amount raised to $105 million to date.

Kegel trainer startup Elvie is launching a smaller, smarter, hands-free breast pump

Elvie, a Berlin-based startup known best for its connected Kegel trainer is jumping into the breast pump business with a new $480 hands-free system you can slip into your bra.

Even with all the innovation in baby gear, breast pumps have mostly sucked (pun intended) for new moms for the past half a century. My first experience with a pump required me to stay near a wall socket and hunch over for a good twenty to thirty minutes for fear the milk collected might spill all over the place (which it did anyway, frequently). It was awful!

Next I tried the Willow Pump, an egg-shaped, connected pump meant to liberate women everywhere with its small and mobile design. It received glowing reviews, though my experience with it was less than stellar.

The proprietary bags were hard to fit in the device, filled up with air, cost 50 cents each (on top of the $500 pump that insurance did not cover), wasted many a golden drop of precious milk in the transfer and I had to reconfigure placement several times before it would start working. So I’ve been tentatively excited about the announcement of Elvie’s new cordless (and silent??) double breast pump.

Displayed: a single Elive pump with accompanying app.

Elvie tells TechCrunch its aim all along has been to make health tech for women and that it has been working on this pump for the past three years.

The Elvie Pump is a cordless, hands-free, closed system, rechargeable electric pump designed by former Dyson engineers. It can hold up to 5 oz from each breast in a single use.

It’s most obvious and direct competition is the Willow pump, another “wearable” pump moms can put right in their bra and walk around in, hands free. However, unlike the Willow, Elvie’s pump does not need proprietary bags. You just pump right into the device and the pump’s smartphone app will tell you when each side is full.

It’s also half the size and weight of a Willow and saves every precious drop it can by pumping right into the attached bottle so you just pump and feed (no more donut-shaped bags you have to cut open and awkwardly pour into a bottle).

On top of that, Elvie claims this pump is silent. No more loud suction noise off and on while trying to pump in a quiet room in the office or elsewhere. It’s small, easy to carry around and you can wear it under your clothes without it making a peep! While the Willow pump claims to be quiet — and it is, compared to other systems –you can still very much hear it while you are pumping.

Elvie’s connected breast pump app

All of these features sound fantastic to this new (and currently pumping) mom. I remember in the early days of my baby’s life wanting to go places but feeling stuck. I was chained to not just all the baby gear, hormonal shifts and worries about my newborn but to the pump and feed schedule itself, which made it next to impossible to leave the house for the first few months.

My baby was one of those “gourmet eaters” who just nursed and nursed all day. There were days I couldn’t leave the bed! Having a silent, no mess, hands-free device that fit right in my bra would have made a world of difference.

However, I mentioned the word “tentatively” above as I have not had a chance to do a hands-on review of Elvie’s pump. The Willow pump also seemed to hold a lot of promise early on, yet left me disappointed.

To be fair, the company’s customer service team was top-notch and did try to address my concerns. I even went through two “coaching” sessions but in the end it seemed the blame was put on me for not getting their device to work correctly. That’s a bad user experience if you are blaming others for your design flaws, especially new and struggling moms.

Both companies are founded by women and make products for women — and it’s about time. But it seems as if Elvie has taken note of the good and bad in their competitors and had time to improve upon it — and that’s what has me excited.

As my fellow TechCrunch writer Natasha put it in her initial review of Elvie as a company, “It’s not hyperbole to say Elvie is a new breed of connected device. It’s indicative of the lack of smart technology specifically — and intelligently — addressing women.”

So why the pump? “We recognized the opportunity [in the market] was smarter tech for women,” Boler told TechCrunch on her company’s move into the breast pump space. “Our aim is to transform the way women think and feel about themselves by providing the tools to address the issues that matter most to them, and Elvie Pump does just that.”

The Elvie Pump comes in three sizes and shapes to fit the majority of breasts and, in case you want to check your latch or pump volume, also has transparent nipple shields with markings to help guide the nipple to the right spot.

The app connects to each device via Bluetooth and tracks your production, detects let down, will pause when full and is equipped to pump in seven different modes.

The pump retails for $480 and is currently available in the U.K. However, those in the U.S. will have to wait till closer to the end of the year to get their hands on one. According to the company, It will be available on Elvie.com and Amazon.com, as well in select physical retail stores nationally later this year, pending FDA approval.

Apple’s Watch isn’t the first with an EKG reader but it will matter to more consumers

Apple’s COO Jeff Williams exuberantly proclaimed Apple’s Watch was the first to get FDA clearance as an over-the-counter electrocardiogram (EKG) reader during the special event at Apple headquarters on Wednesday. While Apple loves to be first to things, that statement is false.

AliveCor has held the title of first since late last year for its KardiaMobile device, a $100 stick-like metal unit you attach to the back of a smartphone. Ironically, it also received FDA clearance for the Kardiaband, an ECG reader designed to integrate with the Apple Watch and sold at Apple stores and just this week, the FDA gave the go ahead for AliveCor’s technology to screen for blood diseases, sans blood test.

However, the Apple Watch could be the first to matter to a wider range of consumers. For one, Apple holds a firm 17 percent of the world’s wearables market, with an estimated shipment volume of 28 million units in just 2018. While we don’t know how many AliveCor Kardiaband and KardiaMobile units were sold, it’s very unlikely to be anywhere near those numbers.

For another thing, a lot of people, even those who suspect they have a heart condition, might have some hesitations around getting a separate device just to check. Automatic integration makes it easy for those curious to start monitoring without needing to purchase any extra equipment. Also, while heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S. and affects a good majority of the global population, most of us probably aren’t thinking about our heart rhythm on a daily basis. Integrating an EKG reader straight into the Watch makes monitoring seamless and could take away the fear some may have about finding out how their heart is doing.

Then there’s the Apple brand, itself. Many hospitals are now partnering with Apple to use iPads and it’s reasonable to think there could be some collaboration with the Watch.

“Doctors, hospital systems, health insurers, and self-insured employers don’t want to manage separate partnerships with each of Apple, Xiaomi, Fitbit, Huawei, Garmin, Polar, Samsung, Fossil, and every other wearable manufacturers. They need a cross-platform product that works for all of their patients,” Cardiogram founder and EKG researcher Brandon Ballinger told TechCrunch. “So if Apple becomes the Apple of healthcare, then a company like Cardiogram or AliveCor can become the Microsofts of this space.”

How does this announcement from Apple affect AliveCor? CEO Vic Gundotra shrugs it off. He tells TechCrunch the vast majority of AliveCor’s business is from KardiaMobile, not it’s Apple-integrated ECG reader. “Apple has long alluded they were building something like this into the device,” Gundotra said, “so we’ve been anticipating it.”