Quanttus and the Rise of Boston’s Personal Healthtech Cluster
File this one under “the start of something big… maybe.”
A stealthy, year-old startup out of MIT is working on new kinds of sensors and software that it hopes will transform personal health and wellness. Its name is Quanttus, it’s very early stage, and it isn’t talking to the press yet. But if it succeeds, it just might become the flagship for a new breed of healthtech companies in the Boston area.
Based on a trademark filing, it seems Quanttus is developing an electronic device that measures, displays, and transmits a person’s vital signs and other physiological data. The company’s software presumably turns that information into insights for health and wellness, nutrition, and other applications. The startup’s LinkedIn profile says, “We plan to change the way we view our personal health forever by combining next generation sensors and services.”
The Cambridge, MA-based company is led by CEO and founder Shahid Azim. Azim is the former CEO and co-founder of Lantos Technologies, the maker of a 3D imaging device for people’s ear canals, designed to help hearing aids and audio headsets fit better.
Quanttus has been recruiting in the Boston area and seems to have about a dozen people. Other key employees include chief technology officer Richard Bijjani, a biometrics and security expert (formerly CTO of Reveal Imaging); chief scientific officer David He, a recent MIT PhD specializing in wearable heart monitors (more on that below); product management VP Steve Jungmann, formerly of Litl, Bose, Avid, and Apple; product development VP Jordan Rice, formerly of Nike and Lucent; and director of analytics Jason Sroka, an MIT PhD with expertise in speech and health-related technologies.
If I had to guess, Quanttus is developing a wearable sensor that tracks heart rate, blood pressure, and other signals, and connects to algorithms that make sense of the resulting data—possibly for diagnosing and monitoring cardiovascular disease. That’s based on co-founder He’s thesis work at MIT, though, so don’t hold me to it. (His thesis was about a sensor worn behind the ear, but I’m guessing they’ll start with a wrist sensor, since it’s simpler.)
One issue for Quanttus and other startups: Apple is rumored to be moving directly into heart monitoring, most likely through its upcoming smartwatch product. And where Apple goes, Google, Samsung, and other giants will not be far behind.
What does this all mean?
For starters, Boston has a reputation for not being as friendly to consumer-tech startups as the West Coast. Could personal healthtech be an antidote to that?
Medical devices have long been a strength of the region. And established local startups like MC10 (wearable, flexible electronics), Affectiva (biometric and emotion sensors), and FitnessKeeper (consumer health apps/platform) have blazed a trail in digital health. The founders of Ginger.io (smartphone as a sensor), Misfit Wearables (activity-tracking sensor), and Lark (sleep and activity monitoring) are also from Boston and MIT. And there are lessons to be learned from Zeo, the sleep-monitoring tech company that shut down early this year—timing is one of them.
The “quantified self” movement and “personal analytics” approach have been championed in recent years by tech luminaries such as Larry Smarr and Stephen Wolfram (another Boston-area resident) to advance personalized medicine or just understand our own habits better. How any of these strategies will eventually affect healthcare—or our understanding of human behavior—remains to be seen.
But a mini-cluster around personal health has already emerged locally, with a strong sensor/hardware component. Here are five other wearable-sensor health IT companies on my Boston radar (surely there are others):
—Bobo Analytics. This startup out of the Harvard Innovation Lab is developing a heart-rate-and-movement monitor, worn on the wrist and aimed initially at elite athletes and their coaches for training. Bobo’s CEO is Will Ahmed and its advisors include Nicholas Negroponte and Stephen Wolfram. The company raised $3.4 million in equity funding this summer, according to an SEC filing.
—Neumitra. Led by CEO and neuroscientist Robert Goldberg, this MIT startup has developed a wearable wrist sensor that monitors people’s stress and anxiety levels. The idea is to be able to detect when stress is happening and intervene with suggestions to listen to a song, say, or text a friend. The technology could also be useful for understanding post-traumatic stress disorder, and for developing new kinds of analytics around stress (e.g., heat maps of key times and locations). Neumitra was part of Rock Health’s Boston class of 2012.
—QMedic. This home-health company, headed by CEO Sombit Mishra, sells a wristband (or pendant) sensor for elderly people that monitors activity level, sleep, and falls. It sends an alert to a caregiver or family member when it detects unusual behavior. In a recent blog post, Mishra wrote that companies are “still a long way from creating an engaged user base in the fitness/wellness world.”
—Rest Devices. CEO Dulcie Madden leads this startup, which develops a wearable infant monitor (and smartphone app) and a sleep and respiration monitor-shirt (to detect sleep apnea). Its main focus seems to be on the infant front—helping reassure parents that their babies are sleeping and breathing properly. The company was founded by MIT grads in 2011.
—Sensing Strip. This startup, founded by Tandhoni Rao, makes a Bluetooth-enabled strip of athletic tape that measures body motion, heart rate, breathing rate, and skin moisture, using microelectronics. The information is relayed to a smartphone app and could be used for health, wellness, and athletic/training applications. Sensing Strip went through the Healthbox accelerator program in Boston this year.