Biohacking Startup Landscape
In this blog post, my aim is to outline the companies that have emerged in the ‘biohacking’ space and what each of them does to help you walk away with a better understanding of the space.
A quick note before I dive in though; you might notice a few names you’d expect to be on this list are not. This is for a couple reasons. This list doesn’t include companies that simply bring things offline, online (like PillPack or Zocdoc which I see as essentially logistics or distribution changes to the market), and doesn’t include B2B companies like hospital device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies. Those are some of the most critical types of companies, so it’s not to knock them, but I don’t consider them part of the trend I see towards letting consumers take their health into their own hands in fundamentally new ways.
To make it on this list companies need to fit two criteria:
- They must have a truly ‘consumerized’ experience. They market and sell to consumers, not doctors or surgeons who then add the solution to their arsenal of things to recommend to or use on patients.
- They can’t merely be bringing something online — they’re bringing a fundamental change in what is being provided. To be clear, this is not knocking these companies. I think PillPack, for example, is a remarkable company providing a service that is likely far more valuable to society right now than many of the companies on this list.
To be clear; list isn’t meant to outline the most impactful health companies (I’m going to bet very few of those are consumer brands). It’s intended to outline a trend in consumer behavior and interests and a specific market that’s forming as a result.
And before the already inflamed detractors of the idea of biohacking get to commenting, yes, there is a blurred line behind regular-old fitness and health companies and ‘biohacking’ companies. You can call it what you want, or disagree with where I drew the line, but I think the descriptions above appropriately encapsulate a major change in consumer interest that’s happening that is worth discussing. Feel free to disagree, though.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in:
We all know 23andMe, but to recap, 23andMe is a genetic testing company that for $200 will send you a genetic testing kit (you send in a saliva sample) that will then allow them to tell you an assortment of different things about yourself your genes determine or influence. For example, you might be a fast caffeine metabolizer or your muscles might have a special protein that makes you a better sprinter than most people.
Color is like 23andMe, but rather than giving you relatively mundane information about yourself (like whether or not you’re a fast metabolizer of caffeine), Color is designed only to inform you of genetic predispositions to specific cancers. You may have heard of the BRCA genes that indicate a higher likelihood of developing breast cancer — well those sort of genetic indicators exist for many other types of cancers as well.
Day Two is like 23andMe, only instead of an (almost) random collection of facts about your genetics, they tell you just what foods will spike your blood sugar more than other people’s.
Like Color, but for gut health. In short, it gives you an idea of how much probiotics you need to take, and can also inform you of pathogens and metabolic diseases you might have.
Viome is like uBiome, but that offers the promise of helping you figure out what foods you should and shouldn’t be eating for optimal health.
Thriva is definitely one of my favorite companies on this list that hasn’t already ‘blown up’ (most recent round was £1.5M). They sell three different levels of at-home blood tests (think of 23andMe or uBiome — they send you a kit, you take a blood sample at home, and you send it back to them to get your results). Most exciting to me; they can measure cholesterol, Vitamin D, and Iron levels for $30–90.
Promethease (which is only a one time, $5 fee) is an online tool you can upload your 23andMe or Ancestry genetic test results to that will give you more information about your genes. They’re trying to pay closer attention to the latest genetic research and beat 23andMe to the punch on different findings.
The FoundMyFitness Genetics tool is just like Promethease, but with a focus on trying to give you only information about your genes that you can act on.
Chronometer is calorie counter like MyFitnessPal, but it made this list because unlike MyFitnessPal it gives the exact amounts of each amino acid your proteins had in them. Especially important for pescatarians & vegetarians.
One Drop is a diabetes management system consisting of their glucose monitor — One Drop Chrome — and a mobile app that allows you to track you progress in managing your diabetes, get notifications when you need to take your medicine, and connect with other community members on the app, which provides both motivation (from seeing success stories) and can create a powerful sense of social pressure to keep you accountable.
Rise is essentially a marketplace for nutrition coaches who, through the app, guide you through a diet. The app has features to allow you to shares actual pictures of your meals, meal plans, and current weight with your coach.
Kurbo is like Rise, but targeted towards overweight kids & teens. Another thing that makes Kurbo unique is it’s simple “Traffic Light” food system. Depending on your goals, you’re allowed a certain number of “yellow foods” (pasta, for example) and a certain amount of “red foods” (such as a piece of cake) per week.
Zero is a guiding fasting app for people interested in intermittent and long-term fasts. The app is essentially just a timer with a log of your fasts from what I can tell after spending some time in the app, so this seems to be in the vein of the ‘you’ll manage what you measure’ mentality. I don’t feel like <18-hour fasts are cumbersome enough to warrant any sort of motivation or guidance, however, I could see this helping motivate me to start more 48+ hour fasts (I’ve only done one) and could definitely see it acting as a digital ‘accountability buddy’ if I ever am tempted to cheat/end a fast early, so I’ll be giving it a try soon. That all said, for some people, 18 hours might be a lot, which might be why this app is so big (almost 50K ratings on the iOS App Store)!
Cardiogram is an app for your phone and smartwatch (although they aim to be compatible with many more types of wearables) that ingests data from your smartwatch such as information about your sleep patterns and heart rate to attempt to detect heart health problems. And apparently, it’s working, with the company boasting that they can detect atrial fibrillation (the most common heart rhythm abnormality) with 97% accuracy. The company also claims to be able to detect Sleep Apnea and Hypertension with 82% accuracy.
Esteem Therapeutics is an online platform to help parents of children with ADHD and Autism learn how best to interact with their children, teachers, and pediatricians to help their child. Children must first take a quiz/survey so Esteem can get a snapshot of where a child is at, which the child will also be asked to take again at a later date to allow parents to track progress.
Examine is like Wikipedia for supplement compounds, but better. Examine compiles all the research they can that support various claims that have been made about any given compound, and then rates the strength of those claims are a 4-point scale.
Labdoor lab tests the top ~20 brand’s products for any given supplement type they decide to test — such as Vitamin D, for example — and then publishes rankings based on their findings that take into account the amount of heavy metals they detected, the accuracy of the label, and many other factors which they use to give the product a score from 1–100.
Lumen is a compact, beautiful beath ketone analyzer, which essentially means it allows you to instantly tell where you currently lie on the ‘ketosis spectrum’, or in other words how much your body currently is burning fat versus carbs. I won’t go into the weeds on the subject of ketosis here but will point out there have been some incredibly positive studies (Study 1, Study 2) on ketosis, specifically showing its potential to increase lifespan, health span, and memory. Fun fact, these near identical studies were being performed by two separate research groups who, mid-study, were made aware of each other by mutual contacts, who then connected the two groups. The two groups ended up seeing similar positive results and published their findings together on the same day in the Cell Metabolism medical journal.
Amina is a hardware device that promises to allow you to check certain micronutrient levels in your body from the comfort of your own home. There isn’t much information available about Amina yet, as they haven’t launched, but I do know when they called themselves VitaMeter their site claimed they had a working Vitamin D test, and their site currently teases the ability to test your iron levels as well.
Spire entered the market with a ‘mindfulness’ tracker that you place on the inside of your pants waistband, tracking your heart rate as an indicator of your stress level, and quickly became distributed in Apple stores. More recently, they’ve released the Health Tag, a washable tag you can apply (permanently) to your clothing that allows for more seamless tracking, which is especially useful for sleep tracking as the original mindfulness tracker was probably a bit too uncomfortable for that.
Arguably most successful company on this list, I think we’re all familiar with this one. Fitbits are bracelets and watches that come in a variety of different form factors that track your activity, sleep patterns, and heart rate.
The Oura Ring is essentially a Fitbit but in ring form factor. It looks like it might be a pain to wear, but given Dr. Peter Attia has given it a glowing review on his podcast, I’m hopeful it’s comfortable enough for 24-hour use.
Sano is a pre-launch company that is claiming it’s about to launch a non-invasive continuous glucose monitor, meaning you don’t need to prick yourself for blood to measure blood glucose levels (it looks and applies like a nicotine patch). There’s a bit of unfair controversy around Sano onset by this Gizmodo article, which claims it’s essentially meaningless unless you’re already diabetic as if there isn’t any good reason to think high blood glucose is a problem. While it isn’t definitely known to be the cause of diabetes, for example, we all know many cancers feed on glucose, and Dr. Thomas Seyfried has some done some really interesting work showing that lowering glucose levels might be an effective way of preventing cancer.
Naked Labs’ is the creator of a newly launched at-home $1,400 3D-body scanner. It will provide you with a high-resolution 3D rendering of your body, right on your phone, along with your weight and a breakdown of lean body mass versus fat mass.
This is the company on this list I’m most bullish on. Sun is like uBiome — they’ll send you a kit to so you can collect a microbiome sample to send them for analyzation — but then they sell you supplements personalized specifically for you based on the results of your test. Super excited to see where this one goes.
Care/of is a personalized supplement company. This has gotten a lot of traction recently, but personally, I think this service is seriously lacking and borderline dangerous. The fact you can get through this survey without them asking about the amount of greens you eat (an indicator of how much Magnesium you’re getting) or how much sunlight you get (how much Vitamin D you’re getting) when research has shown nearly every American is deficient in these extremely important micronutrients is very concerning, especially when you consider Care/of gives customers a sense of security that they have figured out what you need for you. I know some readers will feel this is overly harsh, but this is health advice, not just business. I take it more seriously than a seriously lacking in a product is say, the email marketing space.
Ritual is a ‘clean’ women’s multivitamin makes a few interesting claims:
- Women don’t need to be taking superfluous additions to other multivitamins on the argument (like Zinc and Vitamin A)
- The overlapping nutrients like Magnesium and Vitamin D are often subpar in competitive products.
- Other products contain a bunch of, I’ll say ‘dirty’, ingredients ranging from gluten to beetle feces to cow hooves.
And all this is, mostly true. Magnesium Oxide and Vitamin D2 are hardly bioavailable and yet are still widely used, for example. And almost no one has a Vitamin A deficiency anymore, and in fact, too much Vitamin A is probably more often a problem is the US. However, I think they are definitely missing some supplements (potassium and circumin, for example) I would want to see in future versions.
HVMN started out as Nootrobox, a company that offered 3 different nootropics that each had a different purpose. But recently, it’s become known for its new exogenous ketone product. This small drink will help speed up the onset of your ketosis, making arguably the most difficult part of ketosis (the part where you’re still craving carbs for energy) a little bit more pleasant.
Elysium’s Nicotinamide Riboside-based ‘Basis’ supplement launched with a bang about two years ago, with the company boasting 4 Nobel prize winners as advisors or co-founders. The product promises that it will slow the degradation of your body’s telomeres, which protect your DNA. From what I’ve heard, although the underlying telomere science is groundbreaking, this supplement is a drop in the bucket. That said, the science behind Nicotinamide Riboside’s ability to slow the shortening of telomeres is still something I’m learning about, so I can’t make a final judgment on this product at the moment.
Biocol calls themselves the post-chemical pharmacy, an audacious claim to say the least. While I would feel remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that it is still just essentially a supplement company at its core, that doesn’t mean I’m not hugely bullish on this brand or its products. Arguably the largest problem with supplements is that we don’t have a guide — a person or brand we can trust to tell us exactly what we need and don’t. To an extent, Biocol does this by offering formulations for things like getting over a common cold, a soar through, digestion, dealing with a hangover, and even a supplement they claim helps prevent weight gain when you eat a high-fat meal (don’t worry, I’m not asserting high-fat meals are bad, this is just a function of the fact that the active ingredient that does this supposedly binds with fat to prevent you from digesting it), that may actually work.
Seed is a probiotic company that recently launched Daily Synbiotic, a daily probiotic supplement with the promise of containing strains of bacteria your body already has and needs. They’ve also got one hell of a domain a name. This is another one of my favorite companies on this list given how many studies I’ve heard of that show probiotic products to be mostly ineffective at actually increasing gut levels of the contained bacteria — hoping to see a study on this product soon.
Various Product Brands
Bulletproof, the brainchild of Biohacking blogger and podcaster Dave Asprey, sells everything from collagen-based low-sugar protein bars to glutathione supplements to toxin-free coffee. In addition to their e-commerce presence, they also have cafe’s that serve mostly paleo food and have a gym in Santa Monica we’ll cover further down the list.
Onnit is very similar to Bulletproof, but with less emphasis on new and interesting supplements, instead sticking more to tried-and-true healthy foods and supplements like craft nut-butters and krill oil.
Lakanto is an artificial sweetener brand with a range of monk fruit extract-based products such as sugar alternatives, a Nutella alternative, and a maple-syrup alternative. Lakanto and other monk fruit-based products are on the rise because other sugar alternatives like Stevia and sugar alcohols (xylitol, erythritol, etc) have been shown to cause various gut problems such as killing valuable micro bacteria strains, irritable bowel syndrome, and abnormal flatulence.
Ample Foods is a Soylent-like company that sells meal replacement shakes (well, they sell the dehydrated ingredients you add water to make a shake — a great way to cut down on shipping costs) but it’s one particular product that caused them to make this list — a drinkable ketosis-friendly shake!
Habit is essentially a meal planning guide based on personal biometrics and genetic data. To get your recommendations, Habit has you go to a lab and get blood drawn before drinking their proprietary meal replacement shake, and then again afterward. These tests, paired with genetic data and self-reported data, then allow Habit to determine how well you respond to certain foods and food groups. Interesting to think all your foods in the future may need to be both Habit and Viome/DayTwo approved before being eaten for optimal health. Also a bit nerve-racking.
Next Generation Gyms / Clinics
Yep, the Peter Thiel-backed young blood company. For those unfamiliar, Ambrosia got a whole lot of PR two years ago when they announced that they would be starting a company that would give blood transfusions of young people’s blood to (often) perfectly healthy older people. The Thiel-backed company has a clinic in Monterey, California where they completed a 600-patient trial that they claim showed reduced markers of cardiovascular problems, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers in patients. Ambrosia has yet to launch publicly, though.
Bulletproof Labs, an offshoot of Bulletproof, is a clinic in Santa Monica that according to their site uses “the most cutting-edge, science-backed technologies available to help you achieve the highest state of physical AND cognitive performance.” This includes cryotherapy, red light therapy, a several ton machine to help improve bone density, and many other treatments.
The Onnit Gym, an offshoot of the e-commerce brand mentioned earlier, is a single-location gym based out of Austin (next to Onnit headquarters) that differentiates itself from your local 24 hour fitness in a few ways, aside from the atmosphere, community, and seeming cleanliness of it (although these should not be discounted, are also benefits of Equinox, arguably). First and foremost, Onnit advertises a range of high-end personal training sessions/programs, although admittedly it’s hard for me to judge these based on ~100-word descriptions. Second, the cafe offers a menu more robust than any gym I’ve ever been to, with an emphasis on trendy options like Bulletproof coffee, bone broth, and an ‘immunity elixir’. Finally, the gym offers an IV vitamin service, which although not very substantial relative to the focus on other aspects of their gym, points to a potential future facility that may look a bit more like the Bulletproof Gym.
Next Generation Doctors
You may have seen Forward pop up on Techcrunch alongside the phrase ‘Apple store of doctor offices’. The founder talks a big game — that Forward not only can be the Apple store of doctor’s offices (it does boast some cool technology like advanced stethoscopes, vein-finding devices, on sight blood analyzing equipment, and possibly a whole lot more you’ll only find out about as a patient) but that it can be the Facebook of doctor’s offices as well. By that, the Adrian means that he thinks by creating ways to share data about patients and experiences between doctors, he can create a doctors office that gets more valuable with each additional patient and each additional visit of yours (for those unfamiliar, this is a concept known as a network effect, and they are extremely valuable to the companies that benefit from them).
One Medical is a company that runs a network of primary care physician doctors offices in major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles and seems to be gaining traction on the basis on one primary differentiator: access. One Medical promises same-day appoints, that almost all (95%) of appointments start on time and that you can get in contact with a doctor 24/7 via email, in-app chat, or over the phone. They work with most insurance providers but charge an additional $149–199 annual fee for access to their service.
Parsley Health is also like a Forward or One Medical, but with a focus on what’s called functional medicine. You’ll often see functional medicine described as an approach to treating patients that tries to remedy the root cause of illness or injury, rather than the just ‘putting a band-aid’ on it like traditional medicine tries to do. But, quite frankly, this isn’t a topic I’m nearly knowledgeable fairly to expand on, so I’ll leave it at that.
SenseLabs (previously Neurotopia) is a first-of-its-kind brain training company that’s worked closely with professional athletes through the NFL, NBA, and NCAA for close to a decade. The company has created a headset (the Versus) that uses EEG technology to first create a snapshot of how powerful different parts of your brain are today and then allows you to strengthen each of these parts of your brain via different games proven to target each of these different areas. In short, it aims to help improve cognitive ability.
Muse is another personal EEG device, but with a focus on helping with meditation and anxiety rather than improving cognitive ability. To help with your meditation, Muse will actually make “weather-like” noises that match how calm you are. For example, thunder if you’re tense, rain for an in-between state, birds if you’re calm.
Virta is an incredibly fast-growing new company that helps patients literally reverse their type-2 diabetes using the ketogenic diet and they’ve published their own peer-reviewed research detailing the efficacy of their treatments. They offer the service completely digitally, which includes meal plans, access to their private community of patients (like One Drop) and access to a personal coach to answer questions.
WellnessFX is one of the most interesting companies on this list. The company aims to give its users access to current diagnostics, nutritional research, genetic data, and integrated therapies, as well as charts and graphs that make it easy to track complex lab results, genetic info, and your own health status. It sounds like an advanced doctor, but it’s an entirely online service (not including getting your labs done at one of their partners, such as Quest Diagnostics, which your doctor would have you do as well). Simply choose one of their packages, go get your blood drawn, and wait for your dashboard to be updated with a snapshot of how you’re doing across dozens of biomarkers.
Alrighty! That’s the list. Thanks for reading through and I really hope it was helpful!
And please, if you have any critiques or suggestions for companies to add, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org! Would be much appreciated.