Ginger.io Raises $1.7M for Mobile Health IT, Rides Wave of MIT Media Lab Startups Trying to Understand People

10/18/11Follow @gthuang

First of all, the name is Ginger.io, not Gingerd. The latter is how the company was incorporated; but the former is its real name.

And real is what Ginger.io is becoming. Since graduating with the most recent class of TechStars Boston startups, the MIT Media Lab spinoff (from professor Sandy Pentland’s research group) has been heads-down working on its product—software that helps healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies monitor the behavior of patients via their mobile phones.

The startup has been busy fundraising too—and it is naming its investors today. Ginger has closed $1.7 million in first-round financing led by Silicon Valley-based True Ventures. Also participating were Kapor Capital (Mitch Kapor’s VC fund), Romulus Capital, and a number of angel investors, including Bill Warner, Walt Winshall, James Joaquin, and Ty Curry. All together, Ginger’s investors and advisors represent a pretty interesting mix of people with experience in big data, healthcare, and mobile software.

Here’s the idea. A mobile phone can provide crucial information about its owner’s activity level, location, and communication patterns—all in real time, more or less (assuming the person opts in). That information could be valuable to drug makers and hospitals looking to track the results of clinical trials, market medications to certain types of patients, or design new therapies for things like diabetes, obesity, or brain disorders. The data alternatives—behavioral self-reports, surveys, and the like—are famously unreliable by themselves. With this in mind, Ginger is not one of the dozens of startups developing consumer apps for tracking one’s own health and wellness (though that’s sort of where the company started). No, this is a business-to-business play.

But here’s the bigger idea. What’s really valuable is not so much the data as the insights and patterns that can be gleaned from that data. If Ginger’s software knows how you behave on a “normal” day, for example, it can figure out when your behavior changes—maybe you’re stuck in bed, or not calling your usual friends—and correlate that with indicators of problems such as doctor visits. If the software tracks a population of patients taking a drug, and some respond in an expected way but others don’t, the pattern might suggest a way to target the drug more effectively.

“If you’re a pharmaceutical company, to know a segment is behaving differently and doing better on that drug, that can help you market that medication,” says Anmol Madan, co-founder of Ginger.io and a Media Lab PhD.

What’s more, the company is harnessing its tools in computer science, machine learning, and data analytics for a much deeper purpose. “It’s about understanding people,” says Frank Moss, the former Media Lab director and software technologist who serves as an advisor to Ginger (he’s also an Xconomist). “I think it’s going to be revolutionary.”

Moss is talking about Ginger’s potential to “discover the principles behind … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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