Bloomlife is a Lanza techVentures portfolio company with a business proposition unlike any of the more traditional companies in the portfolio. Instead of products so far down the semiconductor supply chain that they are hard to explain to consumers, Bloomlife is building a medical device targeting expectant mothers and their partners.
The product, a home-monitoring device used by women in the last trimester of their pregnancy, has the potential to support OBGYN in detecting pre-term labor, heartbeat and other indications of fetal health. When asked why what attracted him to Bloomlife, Lucio Lanza, Lanza techVentures’ Managing Partner, quickly answered, “It gives women peace of mind. It connects the mother to the baby, one of the key motivators for the investment.” A product like this enables moms to have a connection to the baby and to give them a way to take charge of their pregnancies, he added.
It all started at Imec (International research & development and innovation hub) in Belgium where founders Eric Dy and Julien Penders worked in the emerging technology area. Imec’s biggest project at the time was healthcare and, as technologists in that group, Eric and Julien focused their attention on digital solutions for neonatal wellness.
The timing was fortuitous, as it turned out. Both were attempting to start a family and Eric and his partner faced numerous challenges, including six or seven miscarriages, a high-risk pregnancy that included preeclampsia and other serious complications. “It stuck me then that this is an unmatched time of people’s lives and lots of things can go so wrong,” Eric remarked.
As the two friends talked and compared stories, they realized they shared a vision that more could be done to advance and evolve prenatal therapeutic healthcare. Their inspiration came from breakthroughs they were enabling in the cardiac and neuro markets, and by companies such as 23&Me that were crowdsourcing massive genomic datasets using a consumer offering with the ultimate goal of developing breakthrough medical products. Just like 23&Me, they knew more and better data was needed for improving screening and risk prediction during a women’s pregnancy.
By 2014, Eric and Julien were working part-time for Imec, Eric in the U.S., Julien in Belgium, refining their business plan with the goal to meet the needs of expectant moms and doctors and create value for both. As the Bloomlife story came together, it was important that Eric and Julien be together on the same continent and clear that the initial market should be the U.S. Julien made the move to San Francisco, where Bloomlife is based, and his family followed a year later.
With both of them in the U.S., they got started building a prototype after initial research on moms and their needs. The objective to design a prenatal healthcare aide that enabled monitoring from home, offering improved access, convenience, touch points and cost, was being realized with its smartphone-connected wearable sensor. The original product came with a sensor in the form of a patch affixed to a woman’s abdomen for 30 minutes several times a day and tied to an app that allowed her to visualize and track contractions, such as frequency, duration and intensity.
It was about this time when Lucio and a former Lanza techVentures Investment Partner Mark Templeton (who died in 2016) met Eric and Julien. Max Mirgoli, Executive Vice President at Imec, Eric’s mentor and Lucio’s friend, introduced them. Lucio and Mark were developing a strong interest in connected healthcare and Bloomlife’s themes and narrative appealed to them. They became seed investors.
Julia Reigel, Corporate and Securities Partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, P.C., is the Lanza techVentures Bloomlife Board Member.
Bloomlife’s first approach to market in 2016 was successful. Bloom Technologies, as it was called then, was picked by Richard Branson as Extreme Tech Challenge startup winner that year. The challenge’s tagline, “the world’s largest startup competition for purpose-driven companies,” should just about say it all for Bloomlife’s mission to empower women by delivering insight into their health. It also helped Bloomlife break through the noise to position itself as a company that can change the world of neonatal healthcare.
We have done the near-impossible by gathering high-quality, longitudinal and physiological data on pregnant women and their babies.
To date, Bloomlife has tracked more than 14,000 women with the goal of developing digital prenatal healthcare solutions. “This dataset is monumental,” Eric noted. “We have done the near-impossible by gathering high-quality, longitudinal and physiological data on pregnant women and their babies.”
The informative dataset tracked 14,000 pregnancies across the United States, including nearly 1,000,000 hours of longitudinal data recording donated by a diverse population of women without geographic or healthcare provider restrictions. This large physiological dataset on pregnancy can help unlock the mysteries of the pregnant body and impact the problematic chasms in women’s health research and maternal healthcare.
Eric believes the Bloomlife wearable device ultimately will help improve how labor is staged, since current method reliant on tracking cervical dilation are not an accurate way of tracking labor progress. “Today, we have already used the dataset to identify our first set of biomarkers — uterine muscle activity combined with maternal heart rate for labor detection.”
In 2020, Bloomlife shifted its focus from the consumer market to the enterprise to increase its potential impact and addressable market. As part of this shift, Bloomlife is seeking regulatory clearance for its prenatal wearable with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a medical device. Bloomlife is currently completing several clinical studies of the device and intends to submit it for FDA clearance in 2022.
The long-term mission to improve the health of moms and babies tackles one of the most significant yet underserved global challenges. By crowdsourcing the largest and most comprehensive dataset on maternal and fetal health parameters, Bloomlife hopes to accelerate long overdue advancements in women’s healthcare by remotely monitoring of maternal and fetal health parameters conveniently from home. Bloomlife aims to ensure every family gets comfortable and proud that they are giving their baby a healthy start by supporting OBGYN to address modifiable risk factors, detecting abnormalities and predicting adverse events.
Covid, as Lucio is quick to point out, accelerated remote healthcare and helped create a new vision of healthcare. Bloomlife is a remote healthcare company that starts at the beginning of life and a powerful healthcare aid managed with computation power at the periphery where healthcare belongs.