From time to time, big companies make investments in smaller companies that they think could help them out or further their interests in the future. Fitbit had never made an investment in a company before.
Then came along Sano, which hopes to make a "completely painless" coin-sized glucose monitoring patch. Fitbit invested $6 million into the company. That's a good chunk of change, but what does Fitbit see in this tiny little company? Who exactly are they, what do they do and what do they mean for the future of wearables?
Read this: How wearable tech is helping diabetics
These are good questions, and we'll be looking to answer them here.
What's Sano's story?
Sano was founded way back in 2011 by CEO Ashwin Pushpala, who was previously on the founding team of medical device SinuSys and was also an investor for Bain Capital.
The company has been working on its first device ever since then, though it has kept progress under wraps. Back in 2015, Pushpala told TechCrunch that Sano's first product would be ready to launch in early 2016. At that point, the team was looking to expand past its 20 employees.
That date came and went, and then in 2016 Pushpala told Venturebeat the company's first product would hit the market in 2017. Once again, that date came and went, though it's clear that what Sano is showing off behind closed doors is impressive enough to keep investors interested.
The company once again went dark – save for a quick detour in 2017 when Pushpala was named one of Forbes' 30 under 30, in which he exclaimed that traditional preventative health is "fundamentally wrong".
Before Fitbit ever invested in Sano, the two companies seemed destined to be linked up. Since it's been around, Sano has been billed as the Fitbit of metabolic activity. In fact, Fitbit investors True Ventures and Felicis Ventures both invested early in Sano, years before they were the first investment for Fitbit.
What does Sano make?
Sano is working on a coin-sized glucose monitoring patch that's minimally invasive, though Sano insists that the patch is "completely painless." See, the Sano patch is lined with tiny little needles.
Those needles only pierce through the outer layer of your skin, and the built-in biometric sensor then measures the interstitial fluid in your skin. That's where it picks up on your glucose, and it beams all the relevant information to your phone via a companion app.
Sano's patch doesn't exactly have a name, or a price point, but Pushpala told TechCrunch that the device is a "consumer product" and that it would be available to everyone when it launches. On its website, Sano calls the device "totally affordable."
Glucose monitoring is obviously very important to diabetics, and Pushpala argues to Venturebeat that the diabetes epidemic is a problem of getting information too late. Thus, Sano is focused on getting people real-time information about their health.
"Our technology can generate an individual's health data points in real time and in a comfortable, accessible way. It helps people make faster, more informed decisions to optimise eating options and behaviours," Pushpala said.
However, Sano is also aiming the patch at people who don't have diabetes as well. Sano's take is that calories might not be the right metric for measuring food consumption, as some high-calorie foods can be good for you in certain scenarios. Instead, Sano thinks glucose is more informative for most people as you'd be able to see just how food affects you in real time.
"Glucose is your body's fuel, and blood glucose level, or the concentration of the glucose molecule, is an indicator of a lot of things – when is the right time to eat, which foods affect you positively, and how much to eat," Pushpala told TechCrunch.
What's the future of Sano?
The immediate future involves Sano using some of that new cash to continue to work to get its first product in the hands of consumers. That product will hit in about a year on the current timeline.
After that, it's likely Fitbit and Sano will work out some sort of partnership that allows Sano's metabolic information to display on Fitbit's devices. Fitbit CEO James Park said as much when the investment was announced.
In the future, Sano hopes to use data from its users to be able to make meal recommendations. Since the way our bodies digest and metabolise food depends on a number of factors, like age, demographics, gender and weight, Sano is hoping to be able to pool together data to find out trends.
If it can do that, the company hopes it can figure out the way certain foods will affect people in certain groups. For instance, Sano would be able to tell you how your food choice could affect your body.
"You walk into Chipotle and see what's on the menu, and you can look at how other people of your body type responded to those types of foods before you even make a decision," Pushpala said.
The big question for Sano, however, is how it'll handle potential FDA regulation. The company could have a tough and long road ahead if it really wants to be a consumer product for everyone, and not just diabetics. A quick glance at its website shows you that the company really does want to appeal to everyone.
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