Editor's Spotlight: Startup Focus
Data-driven entrepreneur takes personalised nutrition up an interactivity notch
Piet Hein van Dam, a serial tech entrepreneur from the Netherlands, has co-founded his first health focused startup The Clear Health Program with a continuous health tracker and app giving consumers the personalised data they need to enable long term lifestyle change.
The Doctor of Physical Chemistry, whose career began as a functional ingredients scientist for Unilever, says his passion has always centred on getting data into the hands of mainstream consumers.
“We are working with data that 10 years ago was the exclusive domain of hospitals and labs. Now we see those biomarkers becoming available for mainstream consumers.
“If you think back to ten years ago, there was a time that we would get a monthly bank statement in the post which detailed all our transactions but nowadays we are checking on our mobile banking apps daily. Explain to me why that is not the case with health? That’s as critical as our finances, if not more!
“In the coming decades, we are going to develop towards the situation where consumers expect to be able to check into our health accounts every day.”
The Clear venture began when Van Dam joined Antler startup accelerator with a bioscientist friend in Spring last year knowing that they were both fascinated with longevity but not knowing how to create a business out of this passion.
“We realised that longevity is a difficult proposition to build a business on. We had four to five intervention concepts but we didn’t know how we would sell them and we didn’t even know if we’d be helping or creating another problem by enabling people to live longer!
“Something we did know for sure was that everybody has problems in maintaining a healthy lifestyle - It’s the most important thing in life but it’s the most difficult. People are forever questioning what diet to try, how to establish new habits, how to maintain the results, how different diets affect their health.”
The duo started testing a range of biomarker experiments on themselves to see what they could do with the information they could attain.
“We tested the patch tests that diabetes patients are using to test their blood glucose levels. People saw this and were asking ‘what is this exactly?’ and when we explained they would ask if they could buy the patch themselves, then they’d come back asking ‘how should we interpret these results?’. That’s when I said ‘this is our product’.
“We had our idea - Simply taking the technology and build a huge service layer on top of it.”
The Clear programme runs over three weeks, with the full programme retailing at €199. Consumers simply wear the discreet glucose monitoring patch continuously (on the back of the arm) and in the first week they log their food, mood, exercise and sleep in order for the programme to discover their baseline. Week two sees the wearer diversify their diet and exercise with prompts, in order to understand the body’s range and diversity. Week three is when the numbers are crunched and the service finds foods for the wearer that produce the best glucose responses.
The service offers consumers with data analysis, a personalised diet, coaching, recipes, reminders, suggestions, and a community of other service users with whom they can interact in order to discover just how individual their own diet and exercise responses are.
“We help the consumers to use the data to interpret the biology of their own bodies and explain how the foods they eat affect their own health.
“At the beginning they don’t know exactly what diet is good for them and by the end they not only know that but they know how to increase vitality, get more focused, sleep better, and ensure better weight management.
“All this knowledge keeps you away from long term chronic diseases.”
To exemplify the point, Van Dam says he was shocked to discover that his supposed ‘healthy’ daily breakfast of soya yogurt and apple was actually causing a huge spike in his glucose levels. He realised he can maintain a more stable level by simply changing to Greek yoghurt and blueberries.
“We’ve had people discover they respond worse to alcohol-free beer than they do to ordinary beer, or we’ve had people discover their glucose levels shoot right up after they drink a sugar free soda.
“Suppose we do that for 10 years, assuming we’re making a healthier choice. This is how you end up gaining weight without understanding it.”
The business has just received €780k in a seed round led by Healthy.Capital and early-stage VC and startup generator, Antler.
With this, Van Dam plans to build one central app for the service as he currently relies on existing third party apps.
He explains: “In this one app, users will be able to access recipes, meal plans, exercise plans and connect with food suppliers.”
This ability to connect with food suppliers is ultimately where the entrepreneur aims to take the service.
“If users participate in the programme say four times a year – once each season – then we can get a complete food print and we will be able to integrate with the food industry. We will be able to say to them ‘we have this many participants here that want personalised foods’ and the services can provide tailor made foods delivered to their homes.
“Before we get to that point we have to make the service mainstream. Then we will be an interesting partner for the food industry.”
The business launched to the public in September last year and 300 people in the Netherlands have used the service so far.
The service is currently being rolled out to Norway and Van Dam hopes to take it beyond very soon but he says it’s important not to expand so fast that it becomes detrimental to the USP of the service – it’s continuous interactivity.
“We are a really high-touch service and one of the biggest challenges for us is to make that scalable.
“We have competitors that you can send your DNA or your stools to and you will get a reading in return but what makes us different is our continuous interaction. We stay on the journey with the consumer.”
The other exciting opportunity is that as more consumers use the service, the company will be able to create correlations in users’ data and categorise users into ‘clusters’. This will create the ability to provide recommendations based on knowledge about these clusters, as opposed to having to rely on external science.
Similarly, the service will be able to discover anomalies in responses to foods and decipher what makes these users respond differently to everyone else potentially providing exciting new discoveries for the health industry.