12 Healthcare Startups To Watch

San Francisco’s Rock Health is helping healthcare startups find their way in an industry that is notoriously difficult to enter; its first class of startups show an impressive range.


Yesterday was healthcare startup incubator Rock Health‘s first Demo Day. 


I was fortunate enough to mentor many of the young companies. Almost to a person, the founders don’t come from healthcare backgrounds, and thus look at healthcare-industry problems with fresh eyes. That also means, however, that they have differing degrees of knowledge about the healthcare market.

That is why San Francisco’s Rock Health, to these companies, is more valuable than a plain-vanilla tech incubator. Healthcare is a very difficult industry to penetrate, but these founders have had access not only to capital, but also strategic partnerships and mentoring from some of the major players in the industry, like United Health Group, Aetna, Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School, Genentech (and me).

As they begin to penetrate the market with their brave new ideas, these companies may not hit the same walls as their less well-connected predecessors. In their favor, they also have healthcare reform efforts, a generation that is accustomed to getting services online, and a new generation of docs who are as anxious as their patients to change the model. Hospitals and insurance companies will have to come to the table, or they will be…disrupted.

Since I had seen six of the companies before, I was delighted to see how far they had come since the summer, and how many of them had revenue, partnerships, or pilots in progress. I believe their moment is now, and that we are truly about to see health care shift. At long last.

Just a peek at the first graduating class:


Cake Health. The average family spends $10,000-$20,000 a year on health care. Cake Health says it has the best free way to manage those healthcare expenses. You enter your provider, and it pulls in all your costs and tells you where they went. It also tracks the claims that were denied. Cake Health is already funded.   

OmadaHealth attacks the costly problem of chronic diseases, beginning with diabetes. It is a social support, shared experience and trust network to “treat” a diagnosis of pre-diabetes. Since the net present value of avoiding a single case of diabetes is known to be $55,000, insurance companies are interested in this.   

Big Evidence has found a better way to get medical evidence to clinicians and the point of care, so they can make better decisions on how to treat. For the physician, finding specific answers is challenging and inefficient, and they are often too busy for evidence-based medicine. They already have a grant from the National Stroke Association. 

Skimble, a wellness application already available on Android and iTunes, provides expert coaching and follow-along multimedia workout instructions. It already has had over a million downloads and is profitable. 

Genomera is a consumer health collaboration platform that grows the number of people who organize and participate in health studies, which amounts to crowdsourcing clinical trials. Users can organize their own trials, advised by experts. There are already 17 trials under way.      


WeSprout provides an ultra-simple user interface to connect parents to each other to crowdsource children’s health information. 

BitGym wants to turn cardio into video games so exercise-haters can actually have fun on the stationary bike. Their research shows that there are more than 1.15 exercise machines per household, but most are never used. Their first app is already in the Apple queue for approval, and they expect to end up as a producer of MMOGs for the cardiophobics. 

Pipette is a tracker to reduce complications and improve recovery times for people who are discharged from hospitals. It fills the education gap between the hospital’s cryptic discharge instructions and what is necessary to prevent costly hospital readmissions. Pipette is developing content with Harvard Medical School and piloting with Mayo Clinic.

Heartbeat is an enterprise solution for the one-person business that combines all business functions a yoga studio would need into a single social platform.  

CellScope uses smartphone imaging for diagnosis of ear and skin infections via an Otoscope or a dermatoscope, providing mobile magnification, illumination, calibration, and computer vision for decision support. Its pilot program has already been funded by the FDA to roll out at Emory University.


BrainBot uses technology tools to provide feedback for beginning meditators. Stress weakens the immune system, and costs the economy $300 billion a year. Thus, stress management programs are being taught in 250 hospitals, and 10% of Americans use meditation as a stress management tool.  

Crohnology is the next generation of a concept started by PatientsLikeMe. It is a social app for people who have poorly understood autoimmune diseases with terrible treatment options, such as Crohn’s disease, colitis, and fibromyalgia. Its simple interface encourages relationships and information sharing, connects patients to each other, and gathers information for future research and clinical trials. 

Taken together, this group of startups, and the partners and funders who have bet on them, will start the process of health care transformation. Will they all succeed? Perhaps not, but they will have a much better chance than the generations of entrepreneurs who have broken their picks on this recalcitrant industry.

[Image: Flickr user eatmorechips]

About the author

Francine Hardaway, Ph.D is a serial entrepreneur and seasoned communications strategist. She co-founded Stealthmode Partners, an accelerator and advocate for entrepreneurs in technology and health care, in 1998