Ginger.io Gets $6.5M, Led by Khosla, to “Open Up” Data-Driven Healthcare

11/28/12Follow @gthuang

Vinod Khosla has strong opinions on everything from education to energy storage. And he’ll speak his mind. On the topic of healthcare innovation, the bigwig entrepreneur and investor recently said that 80 percent of doctors could be replaced by machines.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that Khosla Ventures has just backed MIT health-tech startup Ginger.io, which has offices in both Cambridge, MA, and San Francisco, to the tune of a $6.5 million Series A round. Also participating in the financing are a couple of Ginger.io’s seed investors, True Ventures and Romulus Capital. That brings the company’s total raised to $8.2 million.

If there’s a startup that embodies “big data meets healthcare meets mobile,” Ginger.io would probably be it. The company’s analytics technology helps hospitals and caregivers manage patient populations and detect changes in behavior based on information from patients’ smartphones (via a downloadable app). The basic idea: when you’re sick, your communication and movement habits change.

“Ginger.io is at the forefront of data-driven technology and healthcare, with the potential to transform the way we manage chronic disease populations,” Khosla said in a statement.

Indeed, the company is riding a big wave of interest in improving the quality and efficiency of healthcare outside the walls of the clinic, through technologies like smartphone sensors, home monitoring, and remote presence and intervention.

“We think there’s an opportunity to open up the whole field,” says Anmol Madan, Ginger.io’s CEO and co-founder.

Over the past year, Ginger.io has been working with hospitals and clinics to get its product in the hands of real users, figure out what kinds of behavioral patterns are useful to nurses and caregivers, and get other feedback. In March, the company acquired Pipette, a San Francisco startup out of the Rock Health accelerator. In recent months, the team has been focusing on mental health (depression, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s), diabetes, congestive heart failure, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.

The company has come to the “understanding that our customers are the chronic patient populations, not the ‘quantified self’ populations,” Madan says.

In addition, says Ginger.io co-founder Karan Singh, “there are patterns we didn’t expect that have emerged,” particularly in areas like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. “What we do with the data is some of the biggest learning we’ve had,” he says.

Ginger.io is currently working with more than 10 healthcare provider groups, including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Novant Health, a hospital network in the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia. Next month, Ginger.io is running a pilot with Novant to test how its product performs for patients with diabetes and depression. In one phase, the technology will alert a caregiver when a diabetic patient may be in a down state; in another, it will try to identify which patient a team of nurses should reach out to in a given day.

“We have to prove we can reduce cost,” Singh says.

In recent years, Khosla Ventures has been known for its investments in cleantech and sustainability startups, plus high-profile tech companies like Square and Bitly. But it also has made bets on health-tech and mobile startups such as ZocDoc, Jawbone, AliveCor, and CellScope. So its latest investment is in good company.

Ginger.io is still relatively small, with 11 employees, but it is looking to add staff on both coasts in business development, sales, and engineering. Meanwhile, the company continues to sing the praises of New England in terms of its health IT community. “There’s no doubt Boston is the hub of healthcare innovation. We ended up bicoastal mostly for personal reasons,” Madan says.

Singh adds that the Boston community “taught us two things in particular. We started as more of a direct-to-consumer model, but we learned very quickly, from our enterprise partners, that [business to business] can be a very successful approach in healthcare and health IT.”

And the second thing? Well, it has to do with building a real business around some very real science—which is still a work in progress for the startup. As Singh puts it, “Sometimes it is worthwhile to take the slightly longer route to get the validation you need.”

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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