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The magic that got 1,400 people to bet $5 million that this startup can prevent diabetes

Levels, founded by a former SpaceX engineer, is trying to unlock the data and insights that can save the one in three Americans who are prediabetic.

The magic that got 1,400 people to bet $5 million that this startup can prevent diabetes
[Photos: courtesy of Levels]

Josh Clemente was only 28 years old, but he was extraordinarily tired. He was, by all metrics, healthy. Yet he was convinced he had a terminal illness. Unfortunately, his doctor told him that his blood work revealed only a niggling vitamin D deficiency.

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He decided that he wanted to better understand his relationship to sugar. After making his fingers black and blue with finger prick blood tests, a book titled, Wired to Eat, led him to something called a continuous glucose monitor that could give him a real-time feed of his blood-sugar levels. This seemed like a much better option.

But Clemente couldn’t get his doctor to prescribe him one because he wasn’t diabetic, the only population that used these devices. Instead, he had a friend get him one in Australia, where they’re available over the counter.

His first meal while using the device was a fat bowl of brown rice with avocado, green peppers, and lettuce. He was eating vegan at the time and trying to maintain his muscle mass. “I was like, this is gonna be the perfect meal,” he says. And then, something unexpected happened. “My blood sugar hit 200 in like 20 minutes. That was the moment where I was like, holy smokes.”

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For the uninitiated, 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/DL) is very high. Ideal blood sugar levels are between 75 and 120. Two hours later, he started to feel pangs of irritability, and he could feel his body dragging. This was the fatigue that had been making him miserable. He checked his blood sugar.

“I was plummeting,” Clemente says. “I’m seeing all the dots connect on a curve, and it was magic for me.”

That magic eventually turned into Levels, a buzzy startup whose mission is nothing less than to educate otherwise healthy people and help them get a handle on their diet and lifestyle before they become diabetic. This week, the company announced a $38 million Series A, including $5 million from 1,400 of its users, at a $300 million valuation, bringing its total funding to $50 million.

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To see exactly what those 1,400 people believe is so good that they invested in it—and why 200,000 people are on Levels’ waiting list to use its product, read the Fast Company Premium Exclusive story: “This former SpaceX engineer wants to prevent you from getting diabetes.”

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About the author

Ruth Reader is a writer for Fast Company. She covers the intersection of health and technology.

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