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."
After closing its first fund in December with $25 million in dry powder, VamosVentures, which bills itself as the first Latinx-owned venture fund to focus on Latinx and other diverse founders, decided it could stretch its ambitions.
Companies like Apple and Bank of America were knocking on the door, and VamosVentures decided it might as well capitalize on the increasing desire of corporate America to show they cared about diversity as well as a loosening of regulations that made it easier for banks to invest in venture funds.
"We had a good group of folks that didn't make the deadline," said Marcos Gonzalez, founder and managing partner of VamosVentures, who has previously been an angel investor and worked in private equity. "A couple new LPs showed up that were really motivated to do something in the DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] space and certainly the social justice space."
The fund plans to focus on health and wellness, future of work, consumer packaged goods and financial technology startups.
With the additional checks – which also come from Twitter, the Ford Foundation and the global alternative asset firm TPG, VamosVenture announced this week it has doubled its fund to $50 million. The new investors join PayPal, which signed on last year.
Rather than back more startups, the additional capital will mostly be used to write bigger checks of between $250,000 and $1 million.
"We will be able to take larger ownership positions," Gonzalez said, adding that he will also be able to hire more staff.
Just 2% of VC investment partners in L.A. identify as African American or Latino, according to PledgeLA. Nationally, a 2018 Deloitte study found 80% of investment partners at U.S. venture firms were white and only 3% were Black and 3% Latino.
Gonzalez said he is pleased to see companies like Apple recognizing the value of diversity and promoting more non-white managers.
"When I started this five years ago, there weren't that many. Now you run into one every week," he said. "There's been a lot more momentum around diversity."
- Two LA Funds Focusing on Diversity Get PayPal Infusion - dot.LA ›
- Vamos Ventures' Marcos Gonzalez on Investing in LA's Future - dot.LA ›
On this week's episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, meet Omar Hamoui, a partner at Mucker Capital. Hamoui is the founder of AdMob, a cornerstone of modern mobile advertising. He discusses being one of the first apps in the app store, and early negotiations with Steve Jobs. Hamoui also talks about how entering the venture world was difficult both then and now, despite his early success selling AdMob to Google for $750 million.
After his time with Google, Hamoui became a partner at Sequoia Capital, the venture firm that funded giants like YouTube, Zoom, Instacart and Zappos. He left in 2019 to join Santa Monica's Mucker Capital — a pre-seed and seed stage venture firm that helps early companies scale their brand. In this episode he also discusses why he thinks it's difficult to raise a Series A round outside of the Bay Area.
Hear Hamoui give first-hand accounts on how he learned to create startups, negotiate, when to sell and how to find the right team.
"Sometimes people build businesses that aren't working at their scale. They have to raise money to keep going, but they're really just covering the problem with more money. It's actually not a functional business in the first place." — Omar Hamoui
Omar Hamoui is a partner at Mucker Capital. He currently resides in Santa Monica.
dot.LA Engagement Intern Colleen Tufts contributed to this post.