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Founder Interview: Andrew Zenoff, CEO and Founder of BEAM – The Ultimate Conversation Starter

In times of tenuous political, environmental, and interpersonal debates, the desire to speak up or declare uniqueness also crescendos, acting as a natural counterbalance. Once you break the ice, these conversations flow freely, building upon each other and ultimately driving change and understanding. But breaking the ice can be hard, and starting meaningful conversations even more difficult. One company is trying to change that. Coupled with technology, BEAM has created a digital, wearable button with a fully customizable screen. Whether it is standing up for a cause, provoking thought, or creating laughter, BEAM is an immediate, modern, way to share ideas and start face-to-face conversations.

BEAM also comes with a built-in panic button setting – holding down the button for several seconds will trigger a panic text message and map link / GPS location from the user’s phone to a pre-set list of contacts. This makes BEAM the perfect accessory for self-expression and safety.

We caught up with Andrew Zenoff, CEO and Founder of BEAM, to hear more about the origin of BEAM, how his wife influenced the design, and all the ways, some surprising, BEAM is being used today.

What drove you to create BEAM?

Zenoff had been noticing the amount of time Millennials were spending on social media, being online, and on their screens. “In some ways, they are losing the art of conversation with each other face-to-face.” Zenoff continues, “My hypothesis is that as long as people can talk to each other and look each other in the eye to discuss challenges, issues, values, and opportunities, we can overcome obstacles to build a better tomorrow.”

It wasn’t until after seeing Fruitvale Station, a Sundance-winning movie about the true story of a young black man who lost his life to institutionalized racism and police brutality, that Zenoff moved into action. He had all these thoughts and feelings after seeing the film and no way to show them. “Walking out of that theater I knew that I wanted to create a platform that allows people to very quickly share the things they care about, wear them in the real world, and start conversations.”

BEAM partners with GIPHY to make GIF sharing easy on the device.

Tell us about your customers.

BEAM is selling directly on their website – and individuals, organizations, and companies are seeing its value.  Especially for those who care about buying and consuming brands that are doing something meaningful and good, BEAM is the perfect platform to showcase self-expression and values.

Organizations, foundations, and recent empowerment movements have also contributed to the early adoption of BEAM. Perhaps more surprisingly, many businesses are using BEAM as the ultimate icebreaker. On the B2B side, there has been tremendous interest from companies to outfit their sales teams and tradeshow teams with BEAM, as well as their consumer-facing staff in retail. The BEAM team just launched an Enterprise platform for corporations to have their own, closed site for content creation and distribution.

What is one revelation or interesting way users are interacting with/using BEAM that surprised you?

“One of the biggest surprises is that older generations, 45-65 year-olds, are using BEAMs for fun. They are worn at dinner parties and birthdays to spark humor and laughter,” says Zenoff. And really, what a wonderful thing – sparking joy.

What were the top priorities in designing BEAM?

“When I started envisioning the initial concept, it was a baseball cap with a digital display, and that morphed into a dynamic wristband. But most people don’t wear caps to work and wrist real estate was getting crowded.” For the form factor, Zenoff wanted it to be universal, easy to understand, and versatile (so you can put it on a hat, wear on a jacket, add to your lapel). “My wife is a huge button fan, and because she always wears buttons, it occurred to me – yeah, we should make the modern equivalent of a button.” The idea was further solidified by the history of the button as an iconic instrument for self-expression in the 1960s. “We also wanted it to be big enough so you can see it from 20 feet away but small enough so you could put it on your lapel and not feel weighed down. We didn’t want people to feel like they are wearing a screen.” The size and feel of a river stone, which it was modeled after, the device is both unobtrusive and comforting at the same time.

What’s next for the product?

“We are working on a way for users to upload their own GIFs and create their own GIFs.” The ability to let users showcase their creativity is important to Zenoff – and it’s been something users have been asking for.

Zenoff launched BEAM to empower connections. Whether it is on college campuses, the Washington D.C. Mall, or at business conferences, the way it sparks in-person conversations is magical. And at a time when most social platforms do the opposite, BEAM is a breath of fresh air.

GO2SLEEP: Monitor Sleep Patterns, Screen For Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is having its mainstream moment – on Top Chef Colorado, two of the three contestants in the Bear Den use sleep apnea machines. They joke lightly about it and their CPAP machines, even saying that their third, younger, roommate isn’t far behind them. The condition is easily manageable once it’s determined – but the diagnosis is the tedious part, and millions of American adults who have sleep apnea remain unaware.

When we are awake, our throat muscles are engaged giving the air we breathe an unblocked path to the lungs. At night, those throat muscles relax, narrowing the opening. For some people, the throat muscles close so much during sleep that not enough air can reach the lungs, which then triggers the brain to wake up and reactivate the throat muscles to flex open again. The back and forth of the brain waking up, and then going back to sleep can happen hundreds of times at night, which prevents restful, deep sleep. Untreated, sleep apnea can be very detrimental to long-term health, weakening the immune system and leading to high blood pressure and a variety of heart problems.

While symptoms include snoring loudly, morning headaches, and overall excessive sleepiness, to truly test if you have sleep apnea, doctors recommend an at home unattended sleep study, or a polysomnography (sleep study) at an overnight sleep lab, depending on the severity of symptoms. In both cases, the devices used are cumbersome and uncomfortable.

Claus He, an expert in wearable technology and healthcare devices, and Dr. Lin Deng, a Research Fellow at the BHF Edinburgh Cardiovascular Center, are working on products to improve sleep. Their first device, GO2SLEEP, is an at-home sleep management device in the form of a ring. By tracking sleep patterns, blood oxygen saturation, and heart rate, the ring can determine if there is a sleep issue and it’s severity. GO2SLEEP can help suggest minor adjustments to mild-moderate sleep issues, and will alert users to see a doctor for more severe cases.

GO2SLEEP works continuously at night, sending a consistent stream of data to the companion app. It’s one of the smallest sleep monitoring devices (weighs only six grams), capable of monitoring heart rate, blood oxygen saturation levels, the strength of your pulse, and movements during sleep. Easy to use, GO2SLEEP requires just one charge every three nights of monitoring and comes with a magnetic charger. The device also comes in three band sizes to fit any finger, and for sweaty sleepers, the ring is waterproof.

With a week left, the GO2SLEEP is available on Indiegogo and has more than doubled its fundraising goal as of today. Getting uninterrupted sleep is critical, and this little investment is the perfect partner to help you reach those sleep goals this year.

Misfit Ray: It Shines, But My Wearable Quest Continues

Oh how much I wanted to like the Misfit Ray – it’s beautiful and small, and if you have basic self-tracking needs, it might be enough – but for me, it wasn’t.

Drawn to its hardware customizability, I ordered a gold Ray with matching hardware (a gold-tone bangle), as well as two extra bands (a sport band and a paracord band) for different occasions. And having owned, tested, and written about Misfit devices before, I knew I would receive a sturdy, beautiful, almost jewelry-like device.

The key features of the Misfit Ray include automatic step, distance, and sleep tracking, as well as the ability to set vibration alerts for call and text notifications, movement reminders, and alarms. The device can also control connected household devices, although as you’ll read below, I couldn’t get mine to work. It is swim-proof, and best of all, battery operated (up to 4 months), which is a considerable effort saver. However, if you carry your phone with you at all times, the Ray wouldn’t add all that much to your data collection.

The Misfit App

Here are my pros and cons –

Pros:

  • Small and discrete, I also had friends comment on how “pretty” it looked
  • Vibrating alarm was nice – woke me up without disturbing the whole house
  • Set to vibrate (phone call notification) worked perfectly, and was great for me – when I’m on my laptop I often ignore my phone, and it’s always on silent
  • Interchangeable bands (theoretically) – I never got to try this out (see cons list)

Cons:

  • Lack of API integrations with calorie tracking apps (including popular ones like Lifesum and MyPlate)
  • Lack of customer support – it took over a week for a customer service rep to respond back to my request for the band changing tool, and another week for me to receive it
  • Initially didn’t send me the tool to change bands even though my order had two separate, additional bands
  • Metal hardware band is pretty but at one size fits all, it was too loose on my wrist by a lot
  • The close/open clasp on the metal hardware band gave me a slight rash on the inside of my arm where it touched my skin
  • Device was not very sensitive to taps so I couldn’t get the selfie remote (or other options) to work

My recommendation is that it’s a great device for someone who wants a pretty, lightweight tracker. For someone like me, who doesn’t wear bracelets or a watch regularly, it’s going to need some more functionality and better app integrations to be on my wrist every day.

Lifesum: Don’t Just Count Calories, Understand Them

Lifesum is a meal and exercise tracking app that provides data on all the types of calories you are eating to help define and reach your fitness goals. I especially love how exact it is in laying out all the nutritional specifics of your daily meals and the app gives tips and suggestions for improvement. The barcode scanner makes it easy to enter what you ate into the app, and the interface is intuitive and clean.

Your Life Score tells you what you are missing out on or eating too much of. It’s so clear with these details laid out what I should be doing to improve my diet — cutting out added sugars and increasing unsaturated fat. But even with all this information, it’s actually quite hard for me to have a healthy week – happy hours and holiday snacks are getting in my way, but by using Lifesum I’m more aware of what I’m putting in my body, and definitely more aware of the portions.

A paid subscription to Lifesum Premium also gives you access to recipes and diets. I love that most of the recipes are simple – 8 or so ingredients needed.

The app also sends reminders – for when to have a snack, drink more water, or add a forgotten meal. It syncs with a number of other fitness trackers and can pull your step count data off your phone, making it easy to guestimate the number of calories burned.

But like all apps, it is only as helpful as what you put into it – so every data entry is necessary. Lifesum is definitely more focused on healthy eating (plenty of recipes) than working out (no workout tips or videos), so if your resolution is to be a little more mindful of your eating habits next year, Lifesum is a great tool to start you on your journey.

Thriva: I Took My Own Blood Sample – What it’s like to use the Thriva kit

Founded in 2016, Thriva’s mission is to prevent health issues before they occur by sending customers an at-home blood sampling kit each quarter. Available in the United Kingdom, customers self-draw blood into small collection tubes and mail them back to be analyzed. Even for folks who get yearly physicals, regular blood tests aren’t very popular, and this service provides an easy way to monitor changes in biomarkers (e.g. cholesterol buildup) before they manifest into more serious issues (e.g. blocked arteries).

Thriva has partnered with large, accredited private pathology labs in the U.K. — including TDL Pathology, Synlab, and County Pathology — to analyze these finger-prick blood samples sent from customers’ homes. Blood tests are the most common method to check for levels of biomarkers (or chemical indicators) such as cholesterol, glycated hemoglobin, and levels of vitamin B12. Abnormally high or low concentrations of biomarkers in the blood over long periods of time can be leading indicators of disease onset and progression.

Kits can be ordered online and Thriva offers three different plans that differ based on the number of analyzed biomarkers. Thriva’s packaging is superb – the instructions are easy to follow, and the Company provides tips for drawing blood more efficiently — for example, blood should be taken after a hot shower or bath, since warm water dilates blood vessels for faster blood flow.

The Thriva kit is nicely packaged and the instructions are very clear.

Although I reside in the U.S., Thriva provided me a kit to test the blood sampling process. After disinfecting my finger, I used the lancet on my left ring finger. While the Company states that the spring-loaded lancet makes it easy to prick your finger, I will admit that it wasn’t easy for me to push the lancet down on my finger, and it did hurt. Thriva provides three lancets, and it took me two tries to get all the blood needed to reach the tube fill line. Because of the awkward angle of massaging my finger while positioning it to drip blood into the tiny tube opening, I lost a couple of drops to the outside of the tube and had to re-lancet myself once the first pierce coagulated. The whole sampling process took about 3-5 minutes.

More than one drop, the Thriva blood sample took a few minutes to collect and two attempts.

Once done, I inverted the tube a few times and placed it inside a protective casing, ready to mail back. In total, the process took about 15 minutes to set up and complete. If you are in the U.K., you’ll get your personalized results within 48 hours. Another point which I’ll mention is that I did get a little queasy and light-headed after doing my own blood sampling. I actually think that if someone else had helped me and I didn’t have to look at my own blood while massaging my own finger, I would have felt fine.

After the sample is processed, a general practitioner reviews the results and if there is an opportunity to, will suggest health and lifestyle improvements. The levels of each biomarker are compared to recommended optimal levels, and Thriva subscribers have access to all their data in a secure online dashboard where results are tracked over time.

 

Proactively getting regular checkups is a great way to diagnose and combat diseases in their early stages. And as Thriva states, “monitoring your results over time gives you a better picture of your overall health.” This mail-order blood testing system is promising, as it is convenient. However, since samples are sent by mail, environmental and human factors may affect sample integrity and therefore the validity of test results. For instance, high summer temperatures or unforeseen delays may induce sample degradation.

Thriva co-founder and CEO Hamish Grierson has also acknowledged on the Company blog the differences between Thriva and Theranos. The biggest being that Theranos spent years developing its own blood testing abilities, “At Thriva, we have made the decision to partner with the leading pathology lab here in the UK whose tests, equipment and reliability standards have already been heavily scrutinised by the industry regulator and have passed with flying colours.” Also, Thriva collects more than a single drop of blood because its partner labs need more to run the tests with today’s machine accuracy.

As diagnostic techniques improve and become cheaper, biomarkers for other diseases (perhaps cancer and Alzheimer’s) can be added — subscribers may even have the chance to customize test kits. While meeting the optimal levels for each biomarker does not guarantee perfect health, it is a good start to diagnosing many common illnesses that affect people in the developed world like heart disease and diabetes. Thriva isn’t trying to reinvent lab testing, but it is reinventing the way people think about disease prevention through ease, data, and education.

Ritual: A Smart Daily Vitamin for Smart Women

In the perfect world, you wouldn’t need to take a multivitamin. You would have all the time and resources to get in your daily fruits, vegetables, and protein, which would provide all the B12, iron, and slew of other essential nutrients found in a well balanced system. But say you aren’t Beyonce, what’s the right vitamin to take?

It’s a tough question, but Ritual has worked mercilessly for two years to find an answer. Founder and CEO, Katerina Schneider, started the company during her first pregnancy, becoming aware of everything she was putting on her skin and eating — including her vitamins.

To set the stage, you should know that by law, the FDA does not approve dietary supplements. So it shouldn’t be a shock to know that many supplements have filler ingredients and every year, Americans are spending billions on unregulated supplements and vitamins. However, the FDA does regulate both dietary supplements and dietary ingredients, and Ritual follows FDA guidelines in their material sourcing, evaluation, and testing. The Company narrowed down the number of essential ingredients to 9 (that’s a quarter of the ingredients found in most women’s multivitamins), all found in their Essential for Women pill.

The 9 ingredients: Ritual’s Essential for Women daily vitamin, contains iron, magnesium, omega-3, folate, boron, and vitamins K2, D3, B12, and E. Schneider and her team of doctors found that most of the vitamins in an average 40-50 ingredient multi were unnecessary – many vitamins like C are found in abundance in most diets. It was these 9 that were typically harder to find and ingest consistently.

The look: The pill itself is transparent, much like the company’s mission to be transparent in its methods and sources – every scientist and source is listed on their website.

In an effort to cut waste, the packaging recently changed from the instagrammable box to an eco-friendly mailer, made with 30% recycled material.

The taste: After the initial release, Ritual has since included a clear tab inside the clear plastic bottle, a food-grade insert infused with pure peppermint, which keeps the vitamins smelling minty fresh – a scent you wouldn’t know is necessary until you’ve tried vitamins that smell like fish (often resulting from algal oil).

The habit: Ritual made a bottle that you would want to keep it on your counter, not tucked away in some drawer – it’s attractive. And things that are on display are used more. So the habit forming-ness starts from the look. And of course, like all silicon valley startup brands, there’s a Facebook Messenger bot to help, aptly named Habit Helper.

Having raised $15.3 million total in VC funding in less than two years, Ritual is well on it’s way to finding healthy habits everywhere to make more transparent and actionable.

A word from Ritual: Consistently good nutrient levels = great foundational health. Ritual helps fill the gaps in your diet and keep your levels steady. Common (and awesome) side effects of Ritual include better mood and glowier skin. But it’s what’s going on beneath the surface that really gets us jazzed. Each month you take Ritual, your bones stay strong, your heart remains healthy, and much more. – Ritual

Jan 3, 2018 Update: It’s been 12 days since I was notified that my next order of vitamins has shipped, (7 days since I finished my first bottle), and I still haven’t received them yet. For a company focused on creating daily habits, this has been a little disappointing.

Candid Clear Aligners: Ready for All Smiles?

Smiling can have noticeable health effects and boost confidence. Not only does the simple act of showing your pearly whites lighten mood, but it also relieves stress, releases endorphins, and stimulates the human immune system. Studies have even shown that by forcing yourself to smile, you can trick the brain into thinking you are happier than you really are. And adults with straight teeth are more likely to get a raise, go on a second date, and exude more confidence.

So why don’t we smile more? A study done by the American Association of Orthodontist showed that one-third of American adults are unhappy with their smiles. Due to the high cost ($5,000 on average for orthodontics work), or unattractiveness of some options, it’s easy to forget aligners.

Candid is now making it simpler, more cost-effective, and less time consuming to get a perfect smile. Instead of months of dentist visits, all it takes is $95 and 15 minutes in the comfort of your own home to make a mold for your treatment plan. The treatment plan includes top and bottom aligners, and each set makes slight adjustments to the position of your teeth, according to a Candid-affiliated orthodontist in your state. Most importantly, not everybody is a good match for aligners, and Candid will refund your modeling kit purchase if the company decides you aren’t a suitable candidate. It’s always a good idea to consult your dentist in person on the right plan for you and to understand the risks of orthodontics before getting the home molding kit, like potential root shortening and bone or tooth loss.

The system:

For $1,900 upfront or as low as $88/month for 24 months, you can have a top-tiered doctor send aligners right to your door. Candid also provides personal and friendly customer support twenty-four hours a day. No more picking at and choosing braces-friendly foods to eat for the next two years, no more hiding your smile, and no more time spent waiting in the dentist office. Candid is taking the lead in healthy radiant smiles. Making a product that is affordable, easy to use, and technologically advanced, Candid is taking teeth straightening out of the dentists’ office, and into the home.

WHOOP: Pushing Performance, Preventing Injury

WHOOP has found a niche in the wearables world. It’s not worn by the average FitBit user (a self-directed classification) – instead, it’s used by elite athletes, coaches, and trainers to bring their performance to the next level. To these athletes, even the slightest physical improvements can reduce injuries. To them, seconds can break records, and accurate recovery time can win games. In April of this year, WHOOP became the officially licensed recovery wearable of the NFL Players Association – the first time a players association in professional sports has partnered with a wearable tech company.

The team at WHOOP is a mix of athletes, physiologists, and engineers. They realized that while more than 60% of Americans track their health daily, elite athletes need more than steps counted to improve, and the technology at the higher performance level was lacking.

WHOOP collects and processes an impressive amount of data. Five sensors collect information 100 times per second, making it the most technical of it’s kind. All of the data builds into three easy to understand metrics: strain, recovery, and sleep. Measuring strain is vital for workouts and daily activities to positively build upon each other, and sleep and recovery time are essential to preventing stress and overtraining. WHOOP also measures resting heart rate and heart rate variability.

The Company claims that only a few months of using WHOOP can lead to visible results, including a decrease of injuries by 60%. The Company’s testimonials cover athletes, albeit male heavy, from all major sports. WHOOP is winning the favor of professional athletes, and if they get this right, could dominate in the broader consumer market in the years to come.

Elysium: Is Basis the Supplement of Youth?

Though it may sound elusive, it seems that Elysium Health is determined to find the fountain of youth. A star-studded venture, the Company has seven Nobel Laureates on its scientific advisory team, and research partnerships with the University of Cambridge, Harvard University, and the University of Oxford.

Elysium’s first product is Basis, a supplement targeted towards cellular health. Most of our cells have mitochondria, little factories that provide energy to power them and also regulate cellular metabolism. As we grow old so do our mitochondria, which could be devastating – for example, our heart muscles have 5,000 mitochondria per cell, more than any other organ. Basis contains components to help mitochondria stay healthy and help cells overcome the oxidative stress that may alter the expression of some genes known to affect lifespan.

The two critical components in Basis are nicotinamide riboside and pterostilbene. Nicotinamide riboside is a precursor of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), a newly discovered form of vitamins B3. NAD+ is thought to be much more efficient than vitamin B3, with no known side effects. It is a compound that increases cellular energy level, protects against stress, and also protects DNA from mutations and breakages. NAD+ also has been linked to an improvement in insulin sensitivity and stabilization of circadian rhythm. Pterostilbene is chemically quite similar to resveratrol (antioxidants that protect the body against damage correlated to cancer and heart disease) but with a better pharmacokinetic profile, meaning that it is better absorbed and more efficient when taken orally. Since pterostilbene is said to work best in individuals with high level of NAD+, combining it with nicotinamide riboside creates enticing synergies, making a potentially potent formula for prolonged energy levels, youthfulness, improved resistance to stress, and the additional protection of one’s DNA and neurons.

Although the components of Basis are approved by the FDA to be safe, like all supplements, it is not regulated by the FDA. The Company uses a third party vendor to source its materials, which is causing on-going issues. Still, Elysium has a robust and exciting pipeline of products reaching clinical trial, and a buzzing community that can’t wait to get their hands on these life-extending compounds.

Zipline: Drones Save the World

During a routine C-section, a patient loses consciousness. The medical staff discovers that compatible blood for a transfusion is unavailable in the hospital. They put in an urgent call to a blood distribution center, which then sends a flying drone carrying the correct blood type within minutes. The life-saving blood is given to the patient, who regains consciousness. This may sound like an episode from a TV hospital drama, but it is a reality in Rwanda.

Many diseases can be prevented by improving access to treatments and medication. Postpartum hemorrhaging and malaria can lead to anemia (a shortage of healthy red blood cells), which requires a blood transfusion. With traditional methods of delivering blood from transfusion clinics to hospitals often difficult due to treacherous terrain and underdeveloped infrastructure in countries like Rwanda, using drones to bypass obstacles can save lives.

Since October 2016, an American start-up called Zipline has been using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to transport blood, plasma, and coagulants to 21 medical facilities across western Rwanda. Lead by CEO Keller Rinaudo, the California-based company’s vision is “to build an instant delivery system for the planet,” which it has begun implementing with the help of the Rwandan government and their Ministry of Health. So far, more than 2,600 units of blood have been delivered in over 1,400 flights, with drones traveling a total of 100,000 km.

Now Zipline is aiming to establish a delivery network in Tanzania — a country 35 times larger than Rwanda — by 2018. Land-based deliveries are often impractical for rural hospitals, especially in large countries such as Tanzania where only 8% of its roads are paved. By using drones, delivery times are cut from 4 hours to 30 minutes or less. According to Dr. Diane Gashumba, the Rwandan Minister of Health, “every second you gain is critical. The fact that Zipline was a solution… we didn’t hesitate.” The Tanzanian government evidently agrees as it plans to make 2,000 blood deliveries per day to over 1,000 medical facilities. HIV and anti-malarial drugs, antivenoms, and medical supplies are also being considered for delivery.

Health workers can request Zipline deliveries via text or Whatsapp. Items are then packed with a parachute at a distribution center and loaded onto a fixed-wing UAV. The 12-kilogram drone is catapulted into the air and navigates to a pre-programmed location using GPS. Upon reaching its destination, the UAV drops the 1.5-kilogram package in a designated zone, and the aircraft then returns to base for its next delivery. With an operational range of 150 km, each drone can fly up to 110 kph, only landing to charge its nose-mounted battery for the next flight. The drones can also fly in light rain and 30-kph winds.

Fast and convenient drone-based deliveries are highly practical during medical emergencies. However, non-ideal weather such as heavy rain and winds can prevent flights; additionally, the small size of the drone limits its package size. Therefore, improving infrastructure for land-based deliveries is still crucial, as a developed road network also has long-term benefits for the economic development of these developing nations. Also, a country’s economic growth will affect Zipline’s ability to deliver medicines. Rwanda and Tanzania both have adequate resources to set up and maintain drone and blood storage centers. Conversely, poverty-stricken countries like Somalia and Ethiopia are less advanced.

While there are still major hurdles, this drone-based delivery system of medical necessities saves lives by automating and streamlining the health care system by first addressing the “low hanging fruit” medical needs of these nations. In an age where UAVs are associated with military operations and unwanted surveillance, dropping much-needed medication and supplies is a great use of this technology.

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