MiLife attracts $4M in VC and changes strategy

By Brian Dolan

MiLife, a start-up that Unilever Corporate Research (UCR) spun out in 2008, announced $4 million in new funding followed by a name change and new strategy. MiLife has changed its name to Imperative Health and shifted its focus to chronic disease management, especially: diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol. Unilever Ventures and New Venture Partners participated in the round of funding.

MobiHealthNews caught up with Imperative Health (formerly MiLife) Chairman and CEO Chris Jessop to discuss the startup's new funding and recent strategy change.

MiLife's MiBandMobiHealthNews: Why did MiLife rename and change its strategy?

Jessop: Our product was originally called MiLife (pronounced "my life") and we positioned it as a lifestyle management tool mainly for people with weight-related problems. From my point of view, that strategy was not doing justice to the product because people who want to lose weight are not generally interested in changing their behavior too much. The MiLife product, however, showed in clinical trials that it really worked to change people's behavior so they lost weight and kept it off in a sustainable way.

The new strategy, however, is to target the chronic disease management market, especially those related to cardiovascular problems, including obesity, high cholesterol or diabetes. These are very large and sizeable problems where the number of people affected is rising rapidly. We are talking about some 29 million people in the U.S. and U.K. alone. Increasingly the government and other payers are looking for cost-effective ways to manage these conditions. Today's diabetic could be a person with blindness or stroke tomorrow -- we need to help people manage these risks. It's a very big and growing opportunity and one that needs solutions.

While our product worked for those with weight problems, we realized that those with chronic conditions are more motivated typically to make a change. This group has less choice -- they need to make a change. Our company's new name follows that logic: Imperative Healthcare. You have to change and take the steps to take control of your health -- it is imperative that you do it.

MobiHealthNews: How will Imperative use the new funding?

Jessop: We will use our new funding for a number of things: About one third of it will be used to upgrade the product itself, including the website, function, nutritional comprehensiveness and look and feel of the service. We will also put some of the funding toward upgrading our branding and investing in resources to help us get to market quicker: We will build out our sales team. The rest of it will go toward supporting our growth and future growth.

MobiHealthNews: Will the new strategy affect your regulatory status and plans?

Jessop: The new product strategy does not affect our regulatory plans -- it certainly doesn't change anything for our U.K. rollout, but when we enter the U.S. we will need to be aware of the current FDA requirements, but those are mostly around what claims we make about the product. The degree to which we want to make prescriptive medical claims based on the data we gather will be what the FDA is most interested in. We may seek to "medicalize" our products more in the future and seek more regulatory approval from the FDA in the future. That would probably come from future investment, however.

MobiHealthNews: Will these funds be used to expand internationally? When will you launch in the U.S.?

Jessop: We will probably need to raise more funds for our international rollout, but we would like to be in the U.S. by later this year. We are currently exploring our opportunities in the U.S. and I would be disappointed if we didn't make headway before year-end.

MobiHealthNews: What's your business model and pricing plans?

Jessop: To be clear, our devices are only just the beginning of our total service offering. The devices will be integrated into our online coaching service. Depending on how our future partners wish to sell the device and service we can flavor that strategy to suit their particular needs. Potential partners include all the usual suspects: health and productivity management providers, health plans, corporations. We will also have partnerships with online partners for direct-to-consumer, of course. Our pricing model is straightforward: 125 pounds to sign up and 25 pounds per month thereafter. We require a minimum commitment of four months in the beginning.

For more on MiLife, now Imperative Health's strategy change -- read the press release here.