Smartphone-enabled allergen testing company 6SensorLabs has raised $9.2 million in a round led by led by Foundry Group with participation from Upfront Ventures, SoftTech VC, SK Ventures, Lemnos Labs, and Matt Rogers, the founder of Nest. This bring the company’s funding to around $14 million to date.
The company also announced it has rebranded — it will now operate under the name Nima.
“This round of funding will allow Nima to deliver on its mission of creating a range of devices that test food for various proteins and substances beyond gluten, helping as many people as possible live their healthiest lives,” Nima CEO Shireen Yates said in a statement. “The Nima brand is widely accepted and synonymous with our company and products, and this focus will strengthen our marketing approach as we prepare to launch new products on the Nima platform.”
Nima’s first product, which have been available for preorder since October 2015, is a gluten sensor. Users take a small sample of their food, put it in a small capsule that Nima provides, and put the capsule into the device. From there, the device will show a sad face if the food sample has 20 parts per million or more of gluten and a smiley face if it doesn’t. In addition to testing food and returning a result, the sensor will send the data to the user's smartphone via Bluetooth and allow the user to record and store the results of each meal.
The starter kit, which costs $199, includes the Nima device, three one-time-use capsules, a micro-USB cable, and a carrying pouch.
Nima will use the funds to release food sensors for peanut and milk products. These offerings are expected to launch in 2017. Currently Nima’s gluten sensor is still in beta testing but the company plans to ship it to consumers later this year.
One previous attempt to build a similar device was developed by Aydogan Ozcan's lab at University of California Los Angeles. Called the iTube, it was able to identify peanuts, almonds, eggs, gluten and hazelnuts using a spectrometer attached to the iPhone camera and display the concentration in parts per million. So far the device has not emerged as a consumer product.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne unveiled a similar research project in May 2013. The system, consisting of an iPhone cradle and an app, could detect viruses, bacteria, toxins, proteins and even allergens in food using the smartphone’s camera as a spectrometer and the powerful processor to make calculations.
A couple of other devices have played in this space but steered clear of making medical claims like preventing allergic reactions. SCiO, a tiny smartphone-connected spectrometer, raised $2 million on Indiegogo and another $4 million to $5 million from Khosla Ventures in June 2014. "SCiO is NOT a medical device and should NOT be relied on to protect you from allergens, from gluten, or from lactose,” the company's crowdfunding campaign page stated. Another similar device, called TellSpec, raised $380,000 on Kickstarter for a similar device, but the veracity of that company's claims has been called into question.