Five Health and Wellness Companies to Watch (November 2018)

The health and wellness industry is experiencing staggering growth, both in New York and globally. The New York metro area has the largest bioscience workforce in the country—plus a new life sciences hub and other city investments in health innovation—so it’s no surprise that the next great health tech companies are setting up shop here.

This month we’re showcasing five of the most promising startups in health and wellness. They’re tackling everything from mental health, diabetes, sexual health, and the future of healthcare.

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Spring Health

What does your company do?
Spring Health co-founder and CEO April Koh: Spring Health is a comprehensive mental health benefit for employers. We help your employees understand their mental health issues and connect with best-in-class providers to get the right treatment at the right time.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
AK: Because New York City is the best city in the world, duh! And it has the highest density of Fortune 500's — it's easier on us for sales.

What were the workforce trends that led Spring Health to encourage employers to include mental health care into benefit packages?
AK: 50% of employers consider behavioral health to be an 'extremely important' priority in the next three years. That’s nuts — that means that half of all workplaces acknowledge that mental health care is broken, and that employees need better support. Employers and HR departments are responding mainly to two things: first, millennial employees are a lot more outspoken and open about their mental health issues, and second, healthcare costs are rising quickly. Financially savvy employers also understand that an employee with a chronic health condition who is also depressed costs exponentially more than a employee with a chronic health condition who is mentally healthy.

In what ways does society’s perception of mental health still need to evolve?
AK: Stigma still remains — which is why I'm so proud of the fact that our clients sometimes have their CEOs announce the Spring Health benefit to their teams. Executive-level support for better mental health goes a long way. It's crazy to think that Spring Health is contributing to a culture shift for our customers — we're helping employers start the conversation about mental health, and we're helping them show their employees that they care about these important issues.

What led to the passion for addressing problems within the mental healthcare system?
AK: Personal experience, both first-hand and second-hand. I've struggled with pretty severe insomnia in the past and stumbled unsuccessfully through an incredibly cumbersome mental health experience. I also watched my best friend go through seven antidepressants in trying to get better from her severe depression. Her experience was especially difficult for me to watch. As someone who had worked in tech previously, I was awestruck by how awful conventional mental health care is compared to other experiences. We have one-click impulse shopping on Amazon, but we have to dial fifteen dead phone numbers to find one good therapist? It didn't make sense to me. So I partnered with two of the smartest people I know: Abhishek Chandra, who carries our vision for our technology, and Dr. Adam Chekroud, global expert in computational psychiatry, who leads our science.

What’s the most urgent problem the healthcare industry will have to address in the next five years?
AK: I'm obviously biased, but I think the most urgent problem is the growing mental health crisis. Suicide rates are increasing — in middle America and among teenagers. The World Health Organization has stated that depression is going to be the leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020. Depression has increased by 18% in the past 10 years. The world is changing at a crazy rate, and our mental health resources are not keeping up. That's the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.

What brought you to New York? (If you didn’t grow up here)
AK: I grew up in the area. I went to high school in the Bronx!

How do you get to your office?
AK: I take the subway — it is a pleasant commute (though the G is getting more and more crowded).

What’s your favorite pizza slice?
AK: Paulie Gee's in Greenpoint! Gotta stay local!

What’s your favorite bagel?
AK: Hands down, Brooklyn Bagel and Coffee Company on 8th at 25th. So good!

What is the best New York waterfront?
AK: The Brooklyn Barge!

What’s your favorite New York building?
AK: Lincoln Center. That place is magical. Close second: The Whitney Museum.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
AK: Paper Coffee on 29th!

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One Drop

What does your company do?
One Drop founder and CEO Jeff Dachis: We strive to transform the lives of people with diabetes by creating and managing the world’s leading digital diabetes management solution.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
JD: There is no better place to find and attract the world’s best talent; have access to the financial markets, creativity, food, culture; and be at the center of everything that matters to create a world leading company. NYC is it.

What are some specific challenges individuals with diabetes face? How does One Drop help address those challenges?
JD: The hard truth is, diabetes kills one person every 6 seconds. Why? Our healthcare system blames and stigmatizes people with diabetes. Diabetes disproportionately affects low-income and minority populations. There is little to no education on proper disease management and medical supplies are so exorbitantly expensive that, for most people, they are completely out of reach. One Drop is transforming the way people think and feel about diabetes, and how we all think about living our lives. One Drop is a simple, modern, fully integrated solution that provides health data tracking, one-on-one support from certified diabetes experts, and all the blood glucose monitoring supplies you need to stay on top of it all. And it comes at a price anyone could afford — no prescriptions, no insurance, and no hassles.

What's unique about working in public health? What's is the best piece of advice for startups addressing health issues?
JD: At One Drop, we are all about data: we do extensive user research to learn as much about people with diabetes as possible. The best piece of advice we can offer is: do your research. Public health issues can affect broad swaths of the population, so you need to understand what you can do to help the most people. And every user, myself included, has different needs. Diabetes, and our health in general, isn't a one-size-fits-all.

How does One Drop use data to keep individual up to date on their numbers?
JD: People with diabetes have to track lots of data to manage their health, including blood glucose, medication, food, activity, weight, and blood pressure (just to name a few). Before One Drop: (1) there was no simple way to pull all that data together in one place; and (2) it took a medical degree to interpret it all even if you did manage to pull it together.Now, with One Drop you can connect all your devices — blood glucose monitors, activity trackers, smart scales, blood pressure cuffs— and view your data in the complete context of your life.

How is One Drop changing the way individuals interact with their health providers? Is it changing how patients interact with doctors, clinics, insurance providers?
JD: It goes beyond the healthcare system, really. This is about empowering people. Many people feel totally helpless when it comes to managing diabetes themselves. Just yesterday, I was talking to someone (a person living with type 1 diabetes for 12 years) who had no idea he could edit his own insulin basal dosing. With something like One Drop | Experts, our personal coaching program, he can talk to his coach about making tweaks to his regimen, without ever having to step foot in a doctor's office! And when you do go to the doctor, you're much better informed.

What part of the platform do One Drop users say they like using most?
JD: Our news updates and coaching features get lots of love. And it makes sense! There's a lot to learn in diabetes management. We offer constant, diabetes-specific news updates in-app. Users go into the app daily to find low carb recipe options, to brush up on their blood glucose knowledge, or to see the latest in diabetes advancements. Our newsfeed provides users with curated, guided content to help them in their quest to better manage their diabetes. We also offer personal coaching in our app: So rather than having someone wait 3 months for their next doctor appointment to make changes to their diet, they can check out one of the latest recipes in our newsfeed, then ask their coach for more recommendations. It's another way we're helping users to seamlessly take their diabetes management into their own hands.

What brought you to New York?
JD: I moved to NYC right after high school.

How do you get to your office?
JD: I drive usually. There is a municipal parking garage 1/2 a block from my office that charges $15 a day to park, which is literally unheard of in terms of NYC parking situations.

What’s your favorite pizza slice?
JD: Well, that is a complex and highly subjective question, but Champion Pizza on Ludlow and Delancey has the perfect “grab a slice” blend of sauce, cheese, and very tasty crust, and they have an after school special for a buck a slice. Saraghina in Brooklyn ranks as a favorite among other pizza connoisseurs I know with a more classic artisanal bend.

What’s your favorite bagel?
JD: Russ and Daughters.

What is the best New York waterfront?
JD: I think Dumbo is pretty great, the view is spectacular.

What’s your favorite New York building?
JD: NYC is obviously the home to some spectacular architecture, and tall buildings with amazing panoramic views, but the Highline (not a building) holds a special place for me as a piece of architecture that enables people to interact, engage, and enjoy NYC.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
JD: I’m partial to dirty water deli coffee in a greek paper cup, but Balthazar has always been a go-to, and lately I’ve been doing a lot of meetings at Dirty French (try the Harit Coverts Asiatique).

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Maude

What does your company do?
Maude co-founders Éva Goicochea and Dina Epstein: We make modern sex essentials: A vibe, two lubricants, condoms, and a massage candle (launching this week!).

Why did you found your company in NYC?
EG: We wanted to be in the epicenter of design, business and CPG. We both came from the West Coast and we're happy to be in New York.

You’ve reimagined traditional pleasure accessories to provide all-natural, chemical free, and organic products. How are you building a company that balances the values of pleasure and wellness?
EG: Since we started building this company three years ago, we've heard from people that they compartmentalize their sex life because there was so much shame and guilt around the subject — from the buying experience to the way sex is spoken about. We wanted to humanize the topic through a friendly (and matter-of-fact) voice, accessible pricing, and easy-to-use design. By doing that, we're helping people think about their sex lives in an everyday (i.e. pleasure + wellness) way.

Maude is an “inclusive company” — pleasure accessories designed for both men and women. Is the industry moving towards a more unisex approach to pleasure? How does Maude define diversity and inclusion?
EG: The industry is still very bifurcated—incumbents speak to men, newer brands speak to women. Since sex is human, we think that an inclusive approach is common sense and we don't conflate sex with gender. Whatever you do behind closed doors is up to you.

What were some of the struggles in getting investors to understand Maude’s position in such a taboo industry?
EG: See the above. Also, as female founders, they assume we're for-women only. It's silly.

How do you get to your office?
EG: Dina walks, I drive sometimes (hey, I'm a reformed Angeleno).

What’s your favorite pizza slice?
EG: Roberta's Cheesus Christ, add mushrooms.

What’s your favorite bagel?
DE: Frankel's No. 1.

What is the best New York waterfront?
EG: We both like Transmitter Park in Greenpoint.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
EG: The Elk.
DE: La Colombe.

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Wellthy

What does your company do?
Wellthy co-founder and CEO Lindsay Jurist-Rosner: We have set out to improve the healthcare experience for the 66 million Americans who are taking care of an aging, chronically ill, or disabled loved one. Wellthy is a care concierge. Families are assigned a dedicated Care Coordinator (think personal healthcare assistant) who creates a plan and gets tasks done, all through a modern online experience. We also partner with employers that provide Wellthy as an employee benefit.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
LJR: We love NYC! So, so many reasons. My co-founder Kevin and I both had some roots here, as well as our personal networks. We're also convinced that New York has the best and most diverse talent. Plus, the energy and buzz of NYC is unbeatable!

How are you helping individuals navigate the complexity of the healthcare system and empowering everyday individuals to be resourceful in accessing healthcare?
LJR: We believe that there is a silent, massive caregiving crisis impacting families, companies, and our country. This is caused by a confluence of factors — we have a large aging population, these people will live longer with more chronic conditions than ever before, families live apart from one another, and our healthcare and eldercare systems are the most complex, opaque, and expensive in history. The result for families is that managing complex care ends up being enormously stressful and overwhelming. We want to make it easier!

How can we better support women in their caregiving journey, many of whom are disproportionately positioned to serve as the unpaid family caregiver?
LRJ: We need to de-stigmatize caregiving so that all caregivers, women and men, can more freely talk about it. Employers can provide more support to caregiving employees by offering them solutions like Wellthy, back-up care, flexible work schedules, etc. And men can help their wives/sisters/daughters by showing their appreciation, offering specific ways they can help, and staying closely involved in family care.

What’s the most urgent problem the healthcare industry will have to address in the next five years?
LJR: The most urgent problem is how we'll take care of our aging population. We do not have enough geriatric primary care doctors, we don't have enough living facility options, and we don't have enough in-home aides/companions. We have a massive shortage now and the need is only growing.

What brought you to New York? (If you didn’t grow up here)
LJR: I went to undergrad in New York and moved here with the intention of building our business here.

How do you get to your office?
LJR: The B/D train — "the orange line" as I call it.

What’s your favorite pizza slice?
LJR: I'm such a lame New Yorker! I don't eat much pizza and hardly any bagels, but I am a total sucker for anything sweet! Our office building has the most incredible cafe with the weirdest and most delicious desserts, like homemade twix bars and brownies on a stick.

What is the best New York waterfront?
LJR: Love the view from Governors Island!

What’s your favorite New York building?
LJR: We're headquartered in the Hearst Tower, which is stunning and the first LEED platinum building in NYC.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
LJR: CAFE57, the cafeteria in the Hearst Tower. Some celebrity sightings and delicious, inexpensive food.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you in NYC?
LJR: Once when I was getting out of a cab, I nailed a biker with my door, he went flying over his handlebars, and then got up and rode away.

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Lilu

What does your company do?
Lilu co-founder and CEO Adriana Vazquez Ortiz: Lilu creates products that empower moms during their transition to new parenthood. Our technology is designed for real users and backed by science, so that postnatal care is comfortable and compatible with all of life’s successes.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
AVO: I believe that there’s a great opportunity for NYC to be a leading city in the hardware and smart products space, because building amazing hardware products requires multidisciplinary teams. I think New York attracts great talent so that’s what we’re betting on — and of course — that there’s so much diversity in this city means that it’s a really great place to do user and customer research, where there’s a lot of early adopters, as well!

Lilu helps moms going through difficult lactation experiences. What technology are you using? And how is your technology making that experience easier?
AVO: We developed custom-engineered massage cushions that help moms by complementing the suction of a breast pump, with a gentle massage. We then embedded them into a proprietary bra, so that moms can put it on and off easily when they are ready to pump. In this way, the Lilu Massage Bra is the first and only bra that can help moms who are struggling with lactation and pumping, pump more milk, more comfortably and efficiently.

Following any maternal leave, most women are still breastfeeding their child when they return to work. How are you developing a product that adapts to the lifestyles of twenty-first century women?
AVO: Close to 85% of new moms start to breastfeed, according to the CDC, but there’s a big drop off in breastfeeding in the first 6 months, precisely because how incompatible it can be with returning to work. Many moms aspire to breastfeed their children for a year, as recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics, but a mom returning to work needs to pump milk as often as she would breastfeed her child to maintain her milk supply. Incorporating pumping into a work schedule is really challenging: it can take over 1/4 of their work day to produce the necessary milk for her baby. Stanford studies have shown that breast compression can yield up to 48% more milk per session — so by automating that massage, and building it into a product that is portable and compatible with existing breast pumps, we hope to be moving one step closer to making pumping more compatible with the lifestyle of the modern mom.

As a society, what are most important advances we should be making in postnatal care?
AVO: As a society, being more empathetic to women that decide to have children and that choose —or have to bear the responsibility —of going back to work. We often hear how women’s careers and ambitions are set back when they decide to have kids. But it shouldn’t stop at empathy —should be about thinking how that empathy should drive change: in work and leave policies, in education, in healthcare, in legislation. This is why we decided to start Lilu! We can build better technology and better products. We are starting with breast pumping, but there’s so many other things that moms are dealing with, very often on their own and in private, that many other women also go through. Being a modern mom is about more than achieving work-life balance. It’s about thriving.

What brought you to New York?
AVO: I love how culturally diverse the city is, and the energy of the people that come here pursuing a dream.I grew up in Mexico City where there’s always some exciting new thing happening, so in that way it felt like a quite familiar city.

How do you get to your office?
AVO: I bike (unless it’s snowing or there’s a downpour out there)! I typically bike over the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridges, which makes for a really nice way to start and end the day.

What’s your favorite pizza slice?
AVO: I used to love Co. by the creators of Sullivan’s Street Bakery but they closed earlier this year - still haven’t found the next favorite one! Will take suggestions :)

What is the best New York waterfront?
AVO: So many! The West Side Highway promenade, or Battery Park area, or the Little Red Lighthouse underneath the George Washington Bridge.

What’s your favorite New York building?
AVO: Chelsea Market, because of all the delicious food there :)

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
AVO: In midtown, I like Red Fleece, an unsuspecting cafe under Brooks Brothers, because it’s typically not too loud.

Doctor physician consulting by BlurryMe/Shutterstock.com