From Autism to Diabetes to HIPAA, Rock Health Seeds 8 More Startups

8/18/14Follow @alexlash

In a year of booming digital health investment, incubator and investor Rock Health has padded its portfolio with eight more startups, two of which are still in stealth.

The San Francisco firm, which since its launch in 2011 has become a major catalyst in the digital health space, has provided seed funding or grants to 61 companies. By its own count—and of course Rock Health is not a neutral party—digital health attracted $2.3 billion in venture investment in the first half of 2014, already surpassing the nearly $2 billion raised in 2013.
For perspective, the Money Tree venture survey tallied biopharmaceutical funding in 2013 at $4.5 billion, medical device funding at $2.1 billion, and healthcare services at $286 million. However, as a new category, digital health overlaps with all of those. Many products incorporate medical devices, services, and drugs (or drug compliance), so it’s not quite apples to apples. Still, there’s no question the sector has been booming.

Rock Health participants and alumni have raised $192 million in follow-on funding, according to spokeswoman Mollie McDowell. Rock Health’s contribution is considerably smaller: at the most, $6.4 million. It invests “exactly” $100,000 in each portfolio startup, according to McDowell. If the startup declines the investment, the incubator will offer smaller grants. She gave several reasons why a startup would decline investment—their rounds are already closed, they don’t like Rock Health’s terms, or their corporate structure doesn’t allow investment—but did not say how many of the 64 have declined so far.
There are eight new Rock Health participants, six of which were disclosed Monday:

Accountable: The software firm in Fort Worth, TX, helps health-care-related companies check their compliance with the federal health-information privacy law known as HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996).

Acumen: The San Francisco firm is building a system that uses videos of kids to help parents and doctors detect and treat autism. It has already attracted venture funding from TPG and Versant Ventures, according to its website.

Aptible: Another HIPAA-compliance company, also backed by Y Combinator. HIPAA is a big issue these days because a 2013 update of the law expanded the scope to smaller companies, and the burgeoning number of digital health startups can likely use all the guidance they can get.

Benchling: A San Francisco software company provides cloud-based tools for life science researchers.

TelePharm: Based in Iowa City, IA, it recently attracted a $2.5 million Series A round to help roll out an app that connects remote pharmacies and patients to centralized pharmacists.

Welkin Health: Based in San Francisco, Welkin’s mobile app connects Type 2 diabetes patients with “coaches” that provide support between doctor visits.

Rock Health moved into new headquarters (pictured above) in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood in January
after spending its first three years in the city’s Chinatown district.

In its third year, the group’s investments have been spread in large part among companies making products for consumers to manage their own health; employers looking to navigate insurance and health regulation; and health care providers out to make better R&D or patient care decisions.

Welkin’s participation in Rock Health comes a few months after another Type-2 diabetes company, Omada Health of San Francisco, raised a $23 million Series B round led by Andreessen Horowitz.

Omada was in Rock Health’s inaugural class and has built a program that connects people at risk for diabetes with a coach who helps them live healthier lives. (That’s a common theme in consumer-facing digital health apps.) Bolstered by what it says are clinically significant outcomes for its program, Omada wants to move its disease prevention platform into other conditions whose course can be altered by lifestyle changes.

Beyond Omada, however, the world is waiting to see how much of what is being offered under the umbrella term of digital health is actually improving health. This seems particularly true of the idea of putting applications and other tools into the hands of consumers or patients (or, as we used to call them, people) to help them take more charge of their health. It’s also early days for Rock Health as an investor. Of its dozens of investments, four have so far turned into exits:

—Pipette, software for health care providers to monitor patient recovery, was bought by Ginger.io in 2012 for an undisclosed sum.

—Sessions, a personal exercise planner, was bought this year by MyFitnessPal for an undisclosed sum.

—Wello, a provider of two-way video for fitness coaching, was bought by Weight Watchers this April for $9.1 million in cash and stock, according to Weight Watchers regulatory filings.

—A women’s personal health site, ChickRx (“expert advice to get happy, healthy and hot”), was acquired by an undisclosed buyer this year.

Rock Health also said Monday that health care firm Abbott, insurer Blue Shield of California, and consultancy firm Deloitte are new corporate partners. They join a long list of other firms the company is working with at various levels.

Alex Lash is Xconomy's National Biotech Editor. He is based in San Francisco. Follow @alexlash

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