Get in the KNOW
on LA Startups & TechX
Meet the Startup That Wants To Deliver Ketamine to Your Door
Ketamine is on the come up in the pharmaceutical world. Once confined to nightclubs and operating rooms, the drug is quickly gaining recognition as a valuable tool for treating mental health disorders including depression and anxiety.
Amid these rising tides, Wondermed has emerged, offering telehealth consultations and, potentially, the ability to deliver the drug right to your doorstep—all while building out a virtual platform and collecting data on how to use the molecule more effectively.
At the moment, the company provides a mail order service for courses of ketamine lozenges to those who’ve been prescribed the drug along with a telehealth software bridge between doctor and patient. Wondermed currently operates in five states — California, Texas, Florida, New York and Connecticut, though it plans to expand to another eight to 10 states in the next two weeks.
In the long run however, its plans are much bigger than being a link between doctors and patients.
“We generate more than 3,000 data points on every patient that comes into the funnel, and actually receives the medication,” says co-founder & Managing Director Jose Aycart.
His company is building out its online platform to collect and analyze patient data and provide mental health support services that may be useful, regardless of whether or not a patient is taking ketamine.
These data show in granular detail how ketamine therapies work. Does the route of administration matter? Does time of day matter? What types of patients are most likely to experience positive outcomes? It’s this data that represents the biggest business opportunity for Wondermed. The specifics of the monetization are still being worked out, but Aycart says it will never sell anonymized patient data to other companies.
Wondermed is in the midst of a seed funding round, targeting $7 million by the end of the month; It’s raised $5.6 million so far.
The company makes a bit of revenue by charging patients for consultations, but in the event that a patient doesn’t wind up using Wondermed’s platform, the consultation fee is refunded. For patients who are prescribed ketamine, the company charges only as much as the drugs cost them ($249 per month, which includes four doses), so neither Wondermed nor the physicians in its employ are incentivized to over-prescribe.
The drugs themselves are supplied by Tailor Made Compounding, a pharmacy in Nicholasville, Kentucky, and Wondermed is working on additional contracts in the pipeline with several other suppliers.
. Wondermed’s transformation comes as ketamine, which has typically been restricted to use as a general anesthetic, is quickly gaining recognition as a valuable tool for treating mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
“What I’ve found interesting is how rapidly this field has emerged,” says Steven Grant, a drug and addiction researcher who spent 25 years at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and is now retired.
Ketamine is a simple organic molecule that first gained clinical popularity in the 1960s as an anesthetic. It produces a dissociative state in patients and dulls pain. Once in the bloodstream, the molecule travels to the brain where it binds to a protein called NMDA on the surface of neurons. NMDA has a variety of jobs, but it’s best-known for its role in learning, memory, and neuroplasticity—or the brain’s ability to form new pathways between neurons.
While the research into why ketamine is such an effective treatment for depression and anxiety is ongoing, the consensus so far is that the molecule’s power comes from this ability to rewrite or rewire the brain’s circuitry. If you’ve ever had an anxiety attack or a depressive episode, it can often feel like you’re stuck in a mental loop. Ketamine, it seems, offers a way to break that loop.
“It was this idea that you're increasing your neurological connections in the brain,” says Aycart. “You have the opportunity now to spark new forms of thought, new forms of emotion, or even new ideas.”
Unlike selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other traditional drugs used to treat depression, ketamine’s effects are fast-acting—often appearing within minutes or hours of administration—and don’t require taking the drug daily.
“It really is revolutionary, and that’s why now more than ever, people are starting to get access to it, and companies like ourselves are really trying to bring it to people as an alternative form of medicine,” says Aycart.
Grant says the rise of ketamine clinics and telehealth services like Wondermed are likely a net positive because they increase patient access to drugs patients need, but he also has reservations about how the therapies are being applied.
Many of these psychoactive drugs—especially ketamine—are intended to be used in tandem with therapy, or at least under the supervision of a trained professional. Increasing the brain’s plasticity is a valuable tool for breaking out of depressive loops, but unless a professional is there to help the patient settle into a healthier mental pattern, the full benefits may be left on the table.
Wondermed offers a variety of supplementary support and strategies along with the drugs themselves, but taking advantage of these tools is left to the patient’s discretion. Grant would like to see a larger focus on extending and expanding that auxiliary support.
The company says it’s focused on building out the platform’s nonmedicinal mental health strategies—things like breathwork, meditation, music therapy—and adding them to an app. If they can get enough people on board, the eventual plan could be to sell health insights back to patients through a subscription model or something similar. They may even patent their own psychedelic molecules in the future. But all of this is likely quite a ways out.
“What we're trying to do is very new, and the landscape yet hasn't been built out,” says Aycart.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify Wondermed's monthly rate for ketamine lozenges.
- Psychedelic Therapies Are Gaining Steam as Attitudes Change - dot ... ›
- Ketamine for Depression Is Now Available by Injection - dot.LA ›
- Ketamine Clinics Are Opening Across Los Angeles - dot.LA ›
Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.
In Los Angeles—like the startup environment at large—venture funding and valuations skyrocketed in 2021, even as the coronavirus pandemic continued to surge and supply chain issues rattled the economy. The result was a startup ecosystem that continued to build on its momentum, with no shortage of companies raising private capital at billion-dollar-plus unicorn valuations.
In order to gauge the local startup scene and who’s leading the proverbial pack, we asked more than 30 leading L.A.-based investors for their take on the hottest firms in the region. They responded with more than two dozen venture-backed companies; three startups, in particular, rose above the rest as repeat nominees, while we've organized the rest by their amount of capital raised as of January, according to data from PitchBook. (We also asked VCs not to pick any of their own portfolio companies, and vetted the list to ensure they stuck to that rule.)
Without further ado, here are the 26 L.A. startups that VCs have their eyes on in 2022.
Whatnot was the name most often on the minds of L.A. venture investors—understandably, given its prolific fundraising year. Whatnot raised some $220 million across three separate funding rounds in 2021, on the way to a $1.5 billion valuation.
The Marina del Rey-based livestream shopping platform was founded by former GOAT product manager Logan Head and ex-Googler Grant LaFontaine. The startup made its name by providing a live auction platform for buying and selling collectables like rare Pokémon cards, and has since expanded into sports memorabilia, sneakers and apparel.
Boulevard’s backers include Santa Monica-based early-stage VC firm Bonfire Ventures, which focuses on B2B software startups. The Downtown-based company fits nicely within that thesis; Boulevard builds booking and payment software for salons and spas. The firm has worked with prominent brands such as Toni & Guy and HeyDay.
GOAT launched in 2015 as a marketplace to help sneakerheads authenticate used Air Jordans and other collectible shoes. It has since grown at a prolific rate, expanding into apparel and accessories and exceeding $2 billion in merchandise sales in 2020. The startup sealed a $195 million funding round last summer that more than doubled its valuation, to $3.7 billion.
The Best of the Rest
Nielsen competitor VideoAmp gathers data on who's watching what across streaming services, traditional TV and social apps like YouTube. The company positions itself as an alternative to so-called "legacy" systems like Nielsen, which it says are "fragmented, riddled with complexity and inaccurate." In addition to venture funding, its total funding figure includes more than $165 million in debt financing.
Seizing on the NFT craze, Mythical Games is building a platform that powers the growing realm of “play-to-earn games.” Backed by NBA legend Michael Jordan and Andreessen Horowitz, the Sherman Oaks-based startup’s partners include game publishers Abstraction, Creative Mobile and CCG Lab.
FloQast founder Michael Whitmire says he got a “no” from more than 100 investors in the process of raising a seed round. Today, the accounting software company is considered a unicorn.
Nacelle produces docuseries, books, comedy albums and podcasts. The media company’s efforts include the Netflix travel series “Down To Earth with Zac Efron.”
A platform for virtual concerts, Wave has hosted performances by artists including Justin Bieber, Tinashe and The Weeknd. The company says it has raised $66 million to date from the likes of Warner Music and Tencent.
Sherman Oaks-based Papaya looks to make it easier to pay “any” bill—from hospital bills to parking tickets—via its mobile app.
Based in Marina del Rey, LeaseLock says it’s on a mission to eliminate security deposits for apartment renters.
Emotive sells text message-focused marketing tools to ecommerce firms like underwear brand Parade and men's grooming company Beardbrand.
Based in Long Beach, Dray says its mission is to “modernize the logistics and trucking industry.” Its partners include Danish shipping company Maersk and toy maker Mattel.
Coco makes small pink robots on wheels (you may have seen them around town) that deliver food via a remote pilot. Its investors include Y Combinator and Silicon Valley Bank.
HiveWatch develops physical security software. Its investors include former Twitter executive Dick Costollo and NBA star Steph Curry’s Penny Jar Capital.
Whatnot competitor Popshop is betting that live-shopping is the future of ecommerce. The West Hollywood-based firm focuses on collectables such as trading cards and anime merchandise.
Founded by former SpaceX engineer Karan Talati, First Resonance runs a software platform for makers of electric cars and aerospace technology. Its clients include Santa Cruz-based air taxi company Joby Aviation and Alameda-based rocket company Astra.
Founded by Crowdstrike and Microsoft alums, Open Raven aims to protect user data. The cybersecurity firm’s investors include Kleiner Perkins and Upfront Ventures.
When an actor faces the camera and speaks directly to the audience, it’s known as “breaking the fourth wall.” Named after the trope, Venice-based Fourthwall offers a website builder that’s designed for content creators.
The Non Fungible Token Company creates NFTs for musicians under the name Unblocked. Its investors include Jay Z’s Marcy Venture Partners and Shawn Mendez.
Backed by Mayo Clinic Ventures, Safe Health develops telehealth software and offers tools for enterprises to launch their own health care apps.
Intro’s app lets you book video calls with experts—from celebrity stylists, to astrologists, to investors.
With the tagline “Land the package, not the plane,” DASH Systems is a Hawthorne-based shipping company that builds hardware and software for automated airdrops.
With a focus on sustainability, Ettitude is a direct-to-consumer brand that sells bedding, bathroom textiles and sleepwear.
Along similar lines as Unblocked, Afterparty creates NFTs for artists and content creators such as Clay Perry and Tropix.
Heart to Heart is an audio-focused dating app that “lets you listen to the story behind the pictures in a profile.” Precursor Ventures led the pre-seed funding round.
Frigg makes hair and beauty products that contain cannabinoids such as CBD. The Valley Village-based company raised an undisclosed seed round in August.
- The Early-Stage Startups in LA Set to Take Off in 2021 - dot.LA ›
- Los Angeles Startups Closed a Record Number of Deals in Q3 - dot.LA ›
- dot.LA's Map of Startups in Los Angeles - dot.LA ›
- The Hottest LA Startups of 2020 - dot.LA ›
- Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator Launches Green Loan Fund - dot.LA ›
- dot.LA's Guide on L.A. Flight Startups Overair, Archer Aviation - dot.LA ›
Google “Tesla battery fire” and you’ll find no shortage of results. Just last month, USA Today reported that California firefighters had to use 4,500 gallons of water to douse one of the brand’s EVs. And Tesla certainly isn’t alone: recalls and fire safety problems have plagued brands like Lucid, Rivian, and Chevy. But what causes these incidents? And how do you weigh the risk against a traditional internal combustion engine?
Lithium-ion batteries, like the ones used in almost every EV on the roads today, are designed to store as much energy as possible in the smallest space possible. This creates a lot of heat when energy demand is high. This principle is obvious to anyone who has ever noticed their phone or laptop battery getting hot with extended use. And because lithium-ion batteries can only safely operate with a narrow range of temperatures, most modern electronics—and EVs certainly—have numerous safeguards in place to prevent batteries from getting too hot. Almost all modern smartphones, for instance, will simply shut down if they get too hot. Every EV on the road has complex cooling systems to manage the thermal strain on their batteries and multiple failsafes. When everything is working as intended, the battery should never get dangerously hot.
But crashes and malfunctions do happen. If a piece of road debris or a crash damages a battery, fire is certainly possible. A design flaw or manufacturing defect can also create a dangerous situation. The thing that makes lithium-ion battery fires so serious is that they create a feedback loop known as thermal runaway: Once the battery overheats the electrolytes in the cell catch on fire, which creates more heat, which ignites more electrolytes, etc., etc.
Traditional means of stopping the fire, like dousing it in water, are often insufficient to put out the flames because the battery packs are hard to reach and retain enough heat to reignite over and over again as soon as the water stops flowing. In 2019,Firefighters in the Netherlands were forced to submerge a BMW i8 in a tank of water for 24 hours due to a particularly persistent battery fire.
While lithium-ion battery fires are nasty and dangerous, calculating the risk they pose to drivers presents a somewhat different picture. A 2017 report [PDF] from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, concluded that
“…the propensity and severity of fires and explosions from the accidental ignition of flammable electrolytic solvents used in Li-ion battery systems are anticipated to be somewhat comparable to or perhaps slightly less than those for gasoline or diesel vehicular fuels. The overall consequences for Li-ion batteries are expected to be less because of the much smaller amounts of flammable solvent released and burning in a catastrophic failure situation.”
TL;DR gasoline is also flammable and internal combustion engines still have batteries.
So, while it may be tempting to think that EVs pose an increased safety risk due to their lithium-ion batteries, the best data we have right now suggests that they’re no more dangerous than gas cars. Furthermore, numerous new battery technologies could reduce the risk of fire substantially.
Solid state batteries, for example, are often touted as being ore stable and less likely to ignite, though some research suggests the question may be a bit more complex than that. Other companies, like Battery Streak, in Camarillo, CA, are adding exotic materials to more traditional lithium-ion battery formulations in an effort to improve the thermal characteristics and performance.
If any of these companies can find a way to reliably mass produce these batteries and get them into EVs, the cars of tomorrow may prove considerably safer than anything on the road today, at least in terms of fire risk.
- Electric Vehicle Industry Heading Toward Battery Shortage - dot.LA ›
- Battery Streak Aims to Change How Electric Vehicles Run - dot.LA ›