Digital health apps and services for health issues related to pregnancy, fertility, and conception have been available for years now. Even way back in early 2009 when we conducted our very first health and medical apps report we found that already 250 apps related to women's health issues were available for iPhone users. Our most recent count puts the figure closer to 1,000. Beyond apps there is, of course, Text4Baby, perhaps the most high-profile mobile-enabled women's health service to launch to date.
While the opportunity for digital health to help address health issues related to women's health appears to be well known, success so far has been limited. Last year I received a call from one app developer who had created a very popular free menstrual tracker app -- they claimed it was the most popular one at that time. Despite the large user base the team could not figure out a way to monetize and was considering a move to pull the plug. Also, a small but well-publicized study in mid-2010 on the efficacy of text message reminders for birth control found that they really didn't improve adherence. No, technology is not a panacea.
The latest group of digital health startups developing services related to women's health, however, is beginning to show signs of early market traction. They've also convinced investors of their chances. Their focus: Conception.
In May 2012 Boulder, Colorado-based Kindara launched an application on Apple's AppStore called Kindara Fertility, which aims to help women better understand their body, get pregnant faster, and includes an ovulation calendar and menstrual cycle tracker. While the app is a free download, users can upgrade for $19.99 and get expert support from fertility counselors who can then review your data and offer personalized feedback. The company was co-founded by husband and wife team Will Sacks and Kati Bicknell. Bicknell came up with the idea for Kindara while working at TED.com.
In October Kindara closed $360,000 in seed funding from SOSVentures and various angels like Gabe Zichermann (Founder Institute NY and world authority on gamification), Misha Chellam (Founder Institute Silicon Valley and formerly of Scanadu), and Josh Guttman. At that time the app had 15,000 downloads, according to one report, and the app's description (which was updated a few weeks ago) now states that the app has had 30,000 downloads.
Sacks told MobiHealthNews that about 25 percent of Kindara's users are actually not using the app to get pregnant -- they are using it to avoid pregnancy. He also shared that the app has now tracked some 1.5 million fertility-related data points, which could grow into the largest databases of its kind before long.
Another, similar company making headlines in recent weeks is Ovuline, which offers a fertility-focused app, too. The free Ovuline app touts glanceable data about the user's current fertility and a forecast for the next two weeks. The free app also offers daily fertility reminders, too. Ovuline offers two premium versions of its services, too. Silver Access costs $47.99 and includes calendaring, while $49.99 Gold Access includes calendaring, the premium iPhone app, charts, health tracking, expert advice, partner sharing, and more. The company also sells "fertility kits" for about $50 that includes a basal body thermometer, ovulation strips, pregnancy tests, supplements, and more.
According to Ovuline's app description its users conceive two times faster than national average. According to the company, some 20,000 people have downloaded the Ovuline app, more than 321,000 data points have been collected, and 1,600 women have conceived using Ovuline.
This month Ovuline raised $1.4 million in seed financing led by Lightbank with participation from Launch Capital, LionBird and Techstars founder and CEO David Cohen. Ovuline co-founder and CEO Paris Wallace also founded Boston-based Good Start Genetics, a company that tests parents for genetic disorders that they may pass on to a child.
It seems likely that both companies will expand their product portfolios to include connected health devices or wearables that could automatically feed data into their apps. Ovuline told the Boston Globe it was looking at integrating activity and blood pressure data from third party devices, but either company could make use of a peel-and-stick continuously sensing thermometer like the one from Beijing-based Raiing, which just received FDA clearance.
These upstarts are also taking on DuoFertility, which already offers a peel-n-stick sensor that adheres under the woman’s arm to monitor temperature and other indicators to provide 24-hour monitoring for more than six months. The device takes temperature readings up to 20,000 times per day. The UK company already has FDA clearance and a CE Mark.
For many, digital health fertility looks likely to disrupt the much more expensive and invasive IVF.