Zipongo raises $18M to move its digital nutrition platform from wellness into medicine

By Jonah Comstock
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Digital nutrition platform Zipongo has raised $18 million in new funding and will use the funding to continue to move more deeply into the healthcare space. The round was led by Mayfield (whose other health investments include Basis Science, HealthTap, Lantern, Brighter, and Finrise), with participation from existing investors including Excel Venture Management. 

Zipongo's platform consists of a number of different apps designed to change people's behavior around nutrition by changing their environment, CEO Jason Langheier explained to MobiHealthNews in an interview. Depending on the person's preferences, this can mean providing them with recipes, shopping lists, or restaurant recommendations. The recommendations are generated algorithmically based on data the app has collected about the person.

"Wave 1 for us was to become the leader and help open up the nutrition world with the best nutrition platform that’s truly comprehensive," Langheier said. "We serve these very different populations of people — some people who cook, some people who eat out all the time, some who are lower income and really shop by discounts. You can’t just have one app. You have to have a lot of applications to meet people where they are. So we spent a lot of time building that and wave 1 was getting it to employers and health plans through efficient distribution."

While the startup has been focused on wellness so far, wave 2 for the company is to move into obesity and diabetes prevention -- and they have plans to address other conditions, including IBD and cancer, using what Langheier calls "food as medicine".

"The way we think of the vertical we’ve opened up is food benefits management," he said. "It’s like pharmacy benefit management. We are trying to basically take that to the next level because the most powerful generic drug is personalized food. It’s more cost effective, less side effects, and multiple RCTs have shown it works better for multiple conditions. So we’re really codifying that space."

In order to make recommendations that have a more direct effect on health, the company is learning more about its users, including partnering with 23andMe to make genetic-based recommendations, and also investigating other "omics" like the microbiome. Langheier said the essential research to support the "food as medicine" idea exists, including the landmark Mediterranean Food study, but the company will still need to prove out efficacy to get buy-in from more providers and payers.

"Nutiriton, if done right, works better than or equal to drugs," he said. "To legitimize food as medicine we’ll have to start to show head-to-head studies. It’s not this pill versus this carrot, it’s this personalized diet you’re adhering to versus this pill."

This is the second funding round for the company, following an unannounced $10 million round in December 2014. The company also raised $2 million in seed funding in 2013, according to Rock Health (Zipongo was a member of Rock's fourth class). That brings their total funding to $30 million.