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Three local startups target health care industry

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Imagine a world without the need for eyeglasses, or where you can flip through your genome on your iTunes account. Imagine having an inexpensive personal pH strip tester for weight loss, medical or even food safety. This might sound like a Google Glass-filled futuristic society, but it’s a reality for three startups that pitched their products at Startup Circle’s August meet-up for health care companies.

Startup Circle founder Robert Reyes prefaced the requests for support with an analysis of the health care startup industry funding environment. Citing information from the Rock Health Digital Funding Mid-Year Update 2013, he said that while digital health funding in the first half of the year is up 12 percent, overall growth is slowing.

The types of companies receiving funds in this space are also changing, as traditional biotech and medical device companies saw their funding drop, while software and digital health groups received a spike in investment. Overall, health care funding in all sectors declined 6 percent in the first quarter of 2013 compared to the year prior.

Still, the companies that pitched to Startup Circle’s audience are well on their way, with some already with prototypes on the market and investors. Yolia Health is one such example.

Yolia offers a proprietary solution to presbyopia and other minor vision issues. By using the company’s contact lenses and solution for five hours a day for five days, the cornea is made malleable and vision issues typically seen in those over 40 are corrected for a full year, without glasses, contacts or surgery except for the five days.

Founder Alberto Osio, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology grad from Mexico, said the product has been approved by the Mexican FDA and already holds 10 patents. Yolia plans to roll out the product in Mexico in 2014.

“We’ll use Mexico’s approval to leverage other Latin American countries,” Osio said. “We will obviously have in mind the U.S. as a priority, but that takes time and resources. Our intention is to use Mexican revenues to subsidize the expansion into other countries.”

Osio said he plans to price the product at a midpoint between the $1,500 cost of Lasik surgery in Mexico and $500 for a year’s supply of contacts. The $1,000 kits of contacts and solution will be marketed directly to eye care professionals.

Next up on the pitch-list was Portable Genomics, a biotech company that was one of eight companies to win a spot at accelerator Plug and Play’s funding expo on Sept. 12 through the Startup Circle Plug and Play partnership pitch contest. The company had to decline the offer because of other funding and ownership conflicts.

Portable Genomics works to make individual’s genome codes more accessible and meaningful, allowing users to browse their data on an iTunes account. CEO and founder Patrick Merel said this will have major impacts on the health care industry, as patients can now know their high-risk traits and go to their doctor with the information literally at hand. He said the company also sees itself integrating genomics with gamification in the future.

“There is a fast drop in the cost of genome sequencing,” Merel said. “You can now get your genome sequence for a few thousand dollars, and it is envisioned that close to 2015, this cost will drop to about $100. Because of this cost-related concern, there is an increase in the number of patients getting access to their genome sequence.

“This is really a massive amount of data, and today you still need a Ph.D. to visualize the data, understand the data and use the data in real life. Our concern at Portable Genomics is really how to make this information accessible, not only to professionals but also to consumers, with user-friendly, usable kinds of tools.”

The current business model has the startup, whose product is IP-protected, selling its application on a subscription-based plan for $99 a year, although Merel said he foresees this developing into a new kind of e-commerce plan.

Portable Genomics is closing in on $1 million in seed funding, and is set to close a deal with its first pharmaceutical customer in September.

Last up to pitch was Anywhere Science, which has created a relatively inexpensive and portable pH strip tester, focusing on its use for medically approved weight loss, though its possible and intended uses far exceed this category.

“What it is we’re trying to do as a company, is we want to develop mobile testing, analysis and software services platforms that we can use in order to improve human health and well-being in three key areas: medical diagnostics, water-safety testing and food and beverage integrity testing,” said Brian Noland, CEO of Anywhere Science.

The first step toward this goal came in the form of a pH strip tester that can be hooked up to smartphones and assigned values to the strip color through image processing. This process produces an accurate reading of the strip, as opposed to the current process of comparing the tested strip to the colors on the side of the bottle, which Noland said is unscientific and often produces “crap” results.

Anywhere Science also integrates cloud storage of data and the ability to launch other applications with its product. The whole package is being tested by its first major trial client, which Noland said he is confident the company will fully land.

The focus for this client and the company at this stage is to use the strips to test for ketosis, a state achieved through a low carbohydrate diet as part of medically or clinically supervised weight loss. Noland said the company not only sells the tester and strips, but also the cloud storage of the data and the ability to integrate it with fitness apps such as RunKeeper.

He said the company plans to expand the product’s use, naming urine drug testing, pool and spa testing, and food and beverage testing.

“This is one little branch on a bigger tree when we’re thinking about the medical applications for this,” he said. “And so, if we’re looking at all the potential areas that we can explore in those three different areas, there’s quite a bit of space. What I would say is as a little tiny company, you really do have to try and focus on at least getting one thing out there before you try and tackle the universe.”

While all three companies are in the early stages of acquiring customers, Noland hit on a common theme about securing funding.

“You have to do all you can with what you’ve got right now, because if you’re going to wait on funding, you’re going to be waiting a long time.”

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