Wearable technology has come a long way.
The Apple Watch — often touted as a way to help people monitor their steps and sleep — may soon be able to check your blood sugar levels, making it more akin to a medical device.
Rockley Photonics, a photonic sensor company based in Pasadena, has been quietly working on small blood sensors that can be affixed to wearables and parse alcohol intake, blood sugar and glucose levels. Its biggest customer according to a story from the Telegraph is none other than Apple.
The technology reportedly uses sensors on the back of a smartwatch to shine light through the skin in order to assess blood. Apple and another unnamed company account for as much as 100% of Rockley Photonics' revenue, according to SEC filings.
Neither company replied to requests for comment.
Glucose monitors, once used primarily by diabetics, are reaching the masses. Increasingly companies are offering glucose monitoring services as the obsession with micromanaging one's health grows.
January.ai is a California-based metabolism tracker startup that provides continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) to subscribers, and uses AI to predict what kind of exercise users need to maintain their health. The sticker price for a package is $488. Another —Levels — pairs with an existing CGM to track one's glucose levels at $395. With the added cost of sensors that need to be ordered frequently, these services are out of reach for many, especially for those with type 2 diabetes which has a high correlation with poverty.
What makes glucose monitors more attractive than traditional blood tests is that they continuously track, allowing users to see which foods spike their blood sugar, since different foods have varying results on individuals.
It is unclear if Apple will use this blood sugar monitor the same way January.ai has, but the company (and Rockley) are toeing the line between a consumer health wearable and an actual medical device, which would need to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration. It's a process that could take years to complete, which is incompatible with Apple's typical innovation cycles.
The advent of 24/7 blood sugar monitors that have smartphone capabilities for people to store, track and send data, have been a game changer for diabetics and physicians — doctors can more accurately treat patient health.
"There's also patients who are eating right and are taking all their medicines as prescribed and sometimes putting a CGM on them shows us that, 'oh wow, we've been just treating this patient incorrectly'," said Khan.
But dedicated glucose monitors aren't always reliable — Dexcom came under fire in 2019 when its system stopped notifying patients when their blood sugar was too high or too low, and a parent monitoring their children's diabetes said he was afraid to drop her off at school in case the system failed again.
"These wearable technologies are only as useful to the patients as they are accurate and precise," Khan said. "But because they're so fine-tuned to our diabetes patients, they're a lot less prone to error."
"I certainly wouldn't tell my patients to dose their insulin based on what their Apple Watch is telling them," Khan said. "I would tell them to trust their sensor or trust their fingerstick."
PayPal Inc. has gobbled up another Southern California startup.
After acquiring Honey, a modern twist on coupons, in 2019, PayPal announced Thursday it has purchased Santa Monica-based Happy Returns. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The company allows online shoppers to return items at one of 2,600 physical stores like Paper Source and Cost Plus Market in 1,200 metro areas instead of the more cumbersome process of having to pack up and mail items back to a retailer. That allows independent retailers to have a shot at competing against the likes of Amazon and Walmart.
"Today, the box-free, in-person return process we pioneered is now table stakes in ecommerce," co-founders David Sobie and Mark Geller wrote in a blog post announcing the deal. "Hundreds of brand partners use our returns software and reverse logistics services, and our momentum is accelerating, enabling us to bring delightful returns experiences to a growing population of online shoppers."
PayPal first made a strategic investment in Happy Returns in 2019 and the company plans to further integrate Happy Returns as part of its transition from a payments platform to what it calls a "digital commerce enablement engine."
While Honey helps users before they make a purchase, Happy Returns comes in after they buy something. Ecommerce sales shot up during the pandemic, as did item returns. Online sales often frustrate retailers because the return rate is much higher than in-store purchases.
The 2019 B Round valued Happy Returns at $55 million, according to Pitchbook data.
The exit is a coup for Upfront Ventures, which led Happy Returns' 2015 seed round at a $6 million post-money valuation."In the nearly seven years since they started the business, venture and tech deal dynamics have gone through an incredible evolution, and return logistics software was not a slam-dunk sale in the early years," Upfront partner Greg Bettinelli wrote in a blog post. "It's a true testament to David and Mark's skill and resilience that they continued to build Happy Returns feature by feature, logo by logo, always keeping an eye toward operational and cash efficiency without sacrificing customer experience. They made returns a thing."
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The company announced Wednesday an undisclosed Series C funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, whose portfolio spans the buzziest consumer platforms from ByteDance to Cameo.
Using up to 30 "multivariate tests," Jellysmack said it can determine what titles and editing tricks will help videos rack up views and engagement across Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and Youtube.
About 200 content creators use the service, like YouTubers like PewDiePie, MrBeast and Bailey Sarian. The startup trims down the length of their videos and edits thumbnails and subtitles. Once videos go live on YouTube, Jellysmack runs paid advertisements and targets "an audience that is highly likely to be interested," said spokesperson MK Glenning.
Take Brad Mondo, a hairstylist and social media personality with nearly seven million YouTube subscribers. A year after joining Jellysmack, the company said his Snapchat followers grew by ten times and his Facebook followers by four.
"Media consumption has pivoted massively in recent years with mobile video content rapidly outpacing TV," Yanni Pipilis, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, said in a statement. "There are now 50 million creators but only 0.1% are able to make a full-time living from their content.
The startup, founded in 2016, boasts 10 billion global video views and 125 million viewers across social platforms each month. It also publishes videos on Jellysmack's own social channels, spanning beauty, soccer, gaming and entertainment.
Jellysmack went profitable in 2020, and doesn't charge creators. Instead, it makes money instead through a revenue share model using income generated from the social platforms under their management.
And it wants to go global. The investment from Softbank's CEO and Chairman Masayoshi Son will help the company expand internationally. Glenning would not disclose the amount of this funding round, but prior to it, said the unicorn had raised $40 million.