Natalist founder Halle Tecco wants to get you pregnant

Halle Tecco is no stranger to conception struggles. The Rock Health founder and former CEO has been public about her journey on social media, including two rounds of IVF, eventually leading to a healthy baby girl. Now, she wants to help others make babies, too.

To get there, Tecco has joined a class of new fertility tech companies that have popped up in the last few years. Taking from her years of experience building Rock Health, she’s now launched a new company called Natalist, which offers conception products “inspired by beauty and backed by science” to help those hoping to get pregnant in the near future.

Screen Shot 2019 10 02 at 2.49.21 PMYou can pick and choose various products in Natalist’s pretty packaging or opt for the basic “Get Pregnant” bundle, which includes 7 ovulation and 3 pregnancy tests, a one-month supply of prenatal vitamins and Omega DHA, plus the company’s Conception 101 book.

Of course, that package merely provides the basics for any healthy woman with a regular period and no other fertility issues — and, besides the book, its all something you could find in your local pharmacy. But, as Tecco was quick to point out, not every woman is keen on going into their local CVS, grabbing a pregnancy test and taking it up to the register. In fact, many women Tecco polled before starting her company mentioned the need in the market for discretion. Buying online from a trusted brand would provide them with both privacy and security in the product.

While Natalist’s first offerings are the minimum for anyone trying to make a baby, Tecco has already raised a cool $5 million to build out products addressing more serious fertility concerns like PCOS and endometriosis, which combined affect one out of every five women in their child bearing years and can make it a lot harder to get pregnant or make a pregnancy stick.

“We plan to use the funding to bring new products to market but we wanted to start with products that are sort of tried and true,” Tecco told Techcrunch, further explaining she’d like to see Natalist be more than just physical products and become more of a platform to help women through their pregnancy journey.

“We really want to have a support platform for women who have questions or concerns, really creating a great customer experience and helping them troubleshoot if things aren’t going the way that they want them to and also arm them with information and knowledge around getting pregnant,” Tecco said.

While she doesn’t see herself creating something like the app Glow, which both offers information and data through various stages of pregnancy and a community of women working on becoming pregnant, she does see the value of collaboration with these types of communities on various fertility apps and would like to reach out to those founders to see if there might be something there they can work on in the future as well.

For those interested in checking out Natalist’s products, the “Get Pregnant” bundle starts at $90 for a one time purchase or $75 per month for the subscription plan. You can also add products from the site a la carte, should you want more tests or vitamins than what’s in the one-month package.

And for those of you TechCrunch readers interested in the funding details, Natalist took in seed money from Collaborative Fund, Cowboy Ventures, Fuel Capital, Rock Health and xFund, as well as several well-known angel investors, including Katrina Lake, Julia Cheek, Christine Lemke, John Doerr, Malay Gandhi, David Vivero, and R. Martin Chavez.

With a new $20 million in funding, electronic stethoscope startup Eko wants to research your beating heart

It’s hard to compete against the Apple Watch or even an app on your phone when it comes to personal heart rate monitors these days. However, Eko, a startup best known for creating an electronic stethoscope to monitor your heart rhythm, hopes further research and development will help give its more clinically promoted device a leg up as a leader in the fight against heart disease.

To get there, the company recently closed on a $20 million round of Series B financing, led by Artis Ventures. New and returning investors in the round also include DigiTx PartnersNTT Venture Capital (NTTVC)3M VenturesMayo ClinicSeraph Group, and XTX Ventures.

On top of that, the company has teamed up with some well-known health partners such as the Mayo Clinic, Northwestern Medicine and Sutter Health, to further connect data points and screen patients using the Eko device.

EkoIt’s no leap to say technology has made great strides in cardiac care in the last decade. Today, we can use a number of devices to find out if there’s some sort of arrhythmia in a matter of seconds. However, choosing the way we do that is critical — getting the right information from trained professionals before jumping to conclusions is even more necessary.

It also does more than just test your heart rate, Eko co-founder and COO Jason Berler told Techcrunch. “While Eko helps screen for AFib, we’re also focused on screening for structural heart diseases and heart failure, which Apple is not,” he said. “Eko captures both heart sounds and EKG simultaneously, giving physicians the most holistic assessment of a patient’s health, and the information needed to make better-informed decisions.”

While Eko faces stiff competition from many heart rate monitoring devices out on the market today, it seems to grasp the need to go beyond a simple heart rate app for further knowledge on determining heart health through doctors and specialists who can identify and further inform patients in need.

“Eko is transforming cardiac care as we know it,” Artis Venture partner Vasudev Bailey said in a statement. “They are the perfect example of how machine learning using quality data sets can positively influence patient outcomes and improve quality of care. This demonstrates the potential for an immense pipeline of life-saving applications where sound can aid in the screening of many other diseases.”

At-home blood testing startup Baze rakes in $6 million from Nature’s Way

By now, the venture world is wary of blood testing startups offering health data from just a few drops of blood. However, Baze, a Swiss-based personal nutrition startup providing blood tests you can do in the convenience of your own home, collects just a smidgen of your sanguine fluid through an MIT manufactured device, which, according to the company, is in accordance with FDA regulations.

The idea is to find out (via your blood sample) which vitamins you’re missing out on and are keeping you from living your best life. That seems to resonate with folks who don’t want to go into the doctor’s office and separately head to their nearest lab for testing.

And it’s important to know if you are getting the right amount of nutrition — Vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide epidemic affecting calcium absorption, hormone regulation, energy levels and muscle weakness. An estimated 74% of the U.S. population does not get the required daily levels of Vitamin D.

“There are definitely widespread deficiencies across the population,” Baze CEO and founder Philipp Schulte tells TechCrunch. “[With the blood test] we see that we can actually close those gaps for the first time ever in the supplement industry.”

While we don’t know exactly how many people have tried out Baze just yet, Schulte says the company has seen 40% month-over-month new subscriber growth.

That has garnered the attention of supplement company Nature’s Way, which has partnered with the company and just added $6 million to the coffers to help Baze ramp up marketing efforts in the U.S.

Screen Shot 2019 08 30 at 2.27.12 PMI had the opportunity to try out the test myself. It’s pretty simple to do. You just open up a little pear-shaped device, pop it on your arm and then press it to engage and get it to start collecting your blood. After it’s done, plop it in the provided medical packaging and ship it off to a Baze-contracted lab.

I will say it is certainly more convenient to just pop on a little device myself — although it might be tricky if you’re at all squeamish, as you’ll see a little bubble where the blood is being sucked from your arm. For anyone who hesitates, it might be easier to just head to a lab and have another human do this for you.

The price is also nice, compared to going to a Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp, which can vary depending on which vitamins you need to test for individually. With Baze it’s just $100 a pop, plus any additional supplements you might want to buy via monthly subscription after you get your results.

Baze’s website will show your results within about 12 days (though Schulte tells TechCrunch the company is working on getting your results faster). It does so with a score and then displays a range of various vitamins tested.

I was told that, overall, I was getting the nutrients I require with a score of 74 out of 100. But I’m already pretty good at taking high-quality vitamins. The only thing that really stuck out was my zinc levels, which I was told was way off the charts high after running the test through twice. Though I suspect, as I am not displaying any symptoms of zinc poisoning, this was likely the result of not wiping off my zinc-based sunscreen well enough before the test began.

For those interested in conducting their own at-home test and not afraid to prick themselves in the arm with something that looks like you might have it on hand in the kitchen, you can do so by heading over to Baze and signing up.

What tech gets right about healthcare

Why is tech still aiming for the healthcare industry? It seems full of endless regulatory hurdles or stories of misguided founders with no knowledge of the space, running headlong into it, only to fall on their faces.

Theranos is a prime example of a founder with zero health background or understanding of the industry — and just look what happened there! The company folded not long after founder Elizabeth Holmes came under criminal investigation and was barred from operating in her own labs for carelessly handling sensitive health data and test results.

But sometimes tech figures it out. It took years for 23andMe to breakthrough FDA regulations — it’s since more than tripled its business and moved into drug discovery.

And then there’s Oscar Health, which first made a mint on Obamacare and has since ventured into Medicare. Combined with Bright, the two health insurance startups have pulled in a whopping $3 billion so far.

It’s easy to shake our fists at fool-hardy founders hoping to cash in on an industry that cannot rely on the old motto “move fast and break things.” But it doesn’t have to be the code tech lives or dies by.

So which startups have the mojo to keep at it and rise to the top? Venture capitalists often get to see a lot before deciding to invest. So we asked a few of our favorite health VC’s to share their insights.

Phin Barnes – First Round Capital

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.