A fledgling biowearables startup has raised a hefty seed round of funding from a slew of big-name backers for a system that tracks the impact that diet has on human health and provides feedback in real time.
Founded out of New York in 2019, New York-based Levels has developed software capable of interpreting glucose data captured from a sensor that attaches to the back of their arm via a tiny probe that the user inserts just under the surface of their skin. The device takes a glucose reading automatically every 15 minutes, transmitting the relevant data to the Levels smartphone app for processing.
With Levels currently running as part of a closed beta program ahead of its full consumer launch early next year, the startup today announced that it has secured a $12 million seed investment from Andressen Horowitz, with participation from a number of notable angel investors including Netflix cofounder Marc Randolph and former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo.
In the U.S. alone, some 122 million people have diabetes or pre-diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), representing a staggering 38% of the population. Moreover, just 12.2% of American adults are considered “metabolically healthy,” meaning that only 27 million adults are deemed to be low-risk for chronic disease. And when you consider that 84% of people who have prediabetes are unaware that they have it, this helps to highlight the potential for Levels in the broader health tracking realm.
Although Levels is pitched as a consumer service and platform, it’s very much part of a growing telemedicine trend that has exploded in 2020 due to the global pandemic, leading many services that specialize in remote medical care to secure substantial sums from investors. But one obstacle facing many of these services is that examinations that require physical interaction can’t be carried out remotely, which is why New York-based startup Tyto Care was able to close a $50 million funding round for an at-home medical testing kit that allows health care providers to examine patients’ lungs, heart, throat, ears, skin, abdomen, and body temperature from afar.
It’s easy to see how Levels could fit into a broader health care initiative, perhaps as part of an employer’s incentive program to encourage its workforce to get fit. Certainly, at $399 for the first month, Levels is priced as a premium service, and it will be unlikely to attain mass-market adoption in the same way as health-tracking services from the likes of Fitbit, Garmin, or Strava attain.
Under the hood
Levels doesn’t develop its own hardware sensors, electing instead to work with a third-party provider. “Because this (sensor) hardware can be difficult to access due to being prescription only, we have set up a fulfillment process for the hardware that includes a telemedicine consultation with a physician, and shipment of prescription sensors from our partner pharmacy,” Dr. Casey Means, cofounder and chief medical officer at Levels, told VentureBeat.
The user wears the sensor for 2 weeks, which is then switched out for a new one, with a view toward completing a full month-long program. For many, a month may be long enough to derive all the insights they need, while those who wish to join for the long-haul can continue using the platform for a reduced price of $199 per month once the first month has elapsed.
In terms of how Levels knows what a person is eating, well, this relies on good old-fashioned manual data entry. The user can proactively input whatever food item it is they are consuming, but the Levels app also features a smart “event detection” tool that prompts them to log their food as it detects the user’s glucose data changing.
Levels claims that it has a waiting list of 45,000 people, and in truth its appeal should extend far beyond those looking to monitor diabetes. Real-time glucose data can be used by athletes — professional or otherwise — to improve their diet, performance, and recovery by analyzing the impact their food intake has on their body.
“We have the largest data set in the world of continuously measured glucose paired with food,” Levels cofounder Andrew Conner told VentureBeat. “We use this to build personalized feedback for each person, so they can see overall, how their metabolic health is, what foods are they most or least sensitive to, and what levers they can pull to build metabolic fitness.”
Under the hood, Levels pairs continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) technology with its own proprietary algorithms to make the data easy to interpret for consumers — it merges various metrics into a single unified metric, like a score.
“Glucose monitoring alone is insufficient because it’s incredibly difficult to understand and loop back to things in your control,” connor added. “Our goal is behavioral change: learn about your metabolism, and build metabolic fitness by forming a tight feedback loop.”
This basically serves to highlight Levels’ top-line goal: to generate easy-to-understand insights from everyday eating habits, without requiring a degree in medicine to understand what it all means.
“Simple questions such as ‘what is normal?’ and ‘what changes should I consider to be more metabolically healthy?’ are hard to answer, because no one has focused on directly measuring and improving metabolic health for non-diabetic people,” Connor added.
The current wearable technology market, encompassing fitness trackers, sleep trackers, heart-rate monitors, and more, was pegged as a $33 billion industry in 2019,