Fledgling biowearables startup Levels has raised a hefty seed round for a system that tracks the impact of diet on human health and promises to help users improve conditions like prediabetes.
Founded out of New York in 2019, Levels has developed software capable of interpreting glucose data captured from a sensor. The sensor attaches to the back of a person’s arm via a tiny probe they insert under the surface of their skin. The device takes a glucose reading automatically every 15 minutes, transmitting relevant data to the Levels smartphone app for processing.
Levels is currently running as part of a closed beta program ahead of its full consumer launch early next year. Today, the startup announced that it has secured a $12 million seed investment from Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from a number of notable angel investors, including Netflix cofounder Marc Randolph and former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo.
The wearable technology market, encompassing fitness trackers, sleep trackers, heart-rate monitors, and more, was pegged at $33 billion in 2019. Now Levels hopes to add a new metabolic health-tracking category to the mix.
In the U.S. alone, some 122 million people have diabetes or prediabetes — a staggering 38% of the population — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The fact that 84% of people who have prediabetes are unaware of their condition highlights potential in the broader health tracking realm — particularly as prediabetes is an entirely reversible condition. Moreover, just 12.2% of American adults are considered “metabolically healthy,” meaning that only 27 million adults are deemed to be at low risk for chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
Although Levels is pitched as a consumer service and platform, it aligns nicely with the telemedicine trend that has exploded due to the pandemic. Many remote medical care services are struggling to carry out examinations that can’t be done remotely, which is likely 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 without coming into direct contact with them.
Levels could fit into any number of remote wellness initiatives, perhaps as part of an employer’s health care program, with coaches or health care professionals checking on the data from afar. At $399 for the first month, Levels is certainly priced at the premium end of the spectrum, and it may not attain the kind of mass-market adoption enjoyed by health-tracking services from the likes of Fitbit, Garmin, and Strava.
“We see a large opportunity in the corporate wellness space and we’ll be focusing on this more in 2021,” Levels cofounder and chief medical officer Dr. Casey Means told VentureBeat. “Companies are looking for more ways to improve the health, happiness, and productivity of their employees, and employees are demanding more wellness benefits from their employers.”
Under the hood
Levels doesn’t develop its own hardware sensors, instead electing 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,” Means added.
The user wears the initial sensor for two weeks and then switches it out for a second one, with the goal of completing a month-long program. For many, a month will be long enough to derive the insights needed to make changes, but those who wish to continue can use the platform for a reduced price of $199 per month.
To know what a person is eating, Levels relies on manual data entry. The user can proactively input whatever food item they are consuming, but the Levels app also features a smart “event detection” tool that prompts users to log their food as it detects their glucose data changing.
Levels, which claims a waiting list of 45,000 people during its closed beta period, isn’t specifically designed to monitor for diabetes risk factors. Real-time glucose data can be used by anyone — including professional or amateur athletes — to improve diet, performance, and recovery by analyzing the impact of food intake on the body.
“We have the largest dataset 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. To do this, it merges various numbers into a single unified metric, like a score.
“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 said.
But Levels’ aim goes further than offering accessible data.
“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.”