Issue No. 166: Next-Gen Health Wearables

Illustration: Courtney Powell

Targeting the trillion-dollar healthcare market, the wrist wars are heating up.

But step trackers and smartwatches were just the beginning. From smart clothing to contact lenses and skin patches, the next generation of health wearables is taking shape.

How We Got Here

Over the years, the wearables industry has seen many stops and starts. Now, with significant advances in technology and consumer interfaces, health-tracking wearables are becoming ubiquitous.

As more consumers seek to monitor their health, demand for wearables has reached all-time highs. Keeping pace, the market is projected to expand at a CAGR of 18% a year, from $116B to $265B by 2026.

The demand is there—enough to attract a reboot from Google’s smartwatch team—but many consumers are no longer charmed by the novelty of a smartwatch. Struggling with a clunky strap or squinting at a tiny screen, users are in search of a better wearable.

Put a Ring On It

A growing category, smart rings are catching on. Lighter and less bulky than a smartwatch, Oura’s popularity has skyrocketed, with primary competitors taking the form of smartwatches like WHOOP or Fitbit.

Now, the ring market is steadily maturing and new entrants are looking for their piece of the pie:

  • Catering to women, Movano Ring is targeting an H2 2022 launch and aims to create a medical-grade device that can monitor chronic disease while being “stylish enough for everyday wear.”
  • At a lightweight four grams, French fitness tech company Circular is taking preorders for its own ring, marketed towards a female audience and capable of tracking heart rate, sleep, and energy levels.

Suit Up 

With the smart clothing category set to reach $5.3B, device makers are rethinking their strategy.

  • March 2021: Cipher Skin raised $5M in March to bolster the firm’s smart sensor technology, which can be wirelessly integrated into clothes.
  • June 2021: UK-based Prevayl secured £7.5M ($10.3M) to expand its smart sportswear offerings.
  • August 2021: WHOOP announced WHOOP Body, its smart clothing line featuring Any-Wear sensor technology.

To date, connected apparel has struggled to break through, but that hasn’t stopped companies like Anthos and Wearable X from pressing on. Likewise, Big Tech is placing bets in the space, with Google debuting Jacquard and Samsung introducing Human Fit smart clothing.

A work in progress, sensor-packed apparel is likely the first step toward tech-integrated fabric, a development that could revolutionize continuous health and fitness tracking.

Contact Sports

A different approach, Mojo Vision just raised $45M to bring its smart contact lens to market. Marrying augmented reality with wearable tech, the company also announced key partnerships for the product’s development and application, including adidas.

Originally designed for the visually impaired, Mojo Vision also targets athletes and fitness seekers. Its prototype features motion sensors and a processor built directly in for a hands-free experience, allowing wearers to see real-time data overlaid on their vision.

“Wearable innovation in existing form factors is starting to reach its limits,” the company asserted in a press release, citing its survey of over 1,300 athletes.

As Mojo Vision works on securing FDA approval, they’ll be fending off InWith Corporation, who’s also in the race to design a viable smart contact.

Skin In the Game

Looking further into the future, scientists are developing sensors that can attach directly to the skin. Building on the current wave of wearables hype, analysts project the electronic skin patch market to top $18B by 2027. And the first-gen patches are well underway.

  • UCSD engineers created a skin patch that can continuously track blood pressure and heart rate while monitoring glucose, caffeine, and alcohol levels.
  • Researchers at Samsung’s Advanced Institute of Technology developed a stretchable device that feels “like part of your skin” and displays biometric data natively, without the need for an external device.

While skin patches still have a ways to go before hitting the mainstream, the growing sophistication of needle-free diabetes tech is driving interest. Biolinq ($100M), BlueSemi ($69M), and GraphWear ($20.5M) have raised millions to develop noninvasive glucose monitors.

The future is sweaty.

Scientists have found that sweat can reveal an abundance of health and fitness insights, including stress and overwhelm.

Entering year three of the pandemic, burnout is skyrocketing — a stress-detecting wearable could open up a world of possibilities, not just for fitness fanatics, but for the connected mindfulness community as well.

On cue, Xsensio, which recently closed a 4.2M CHF ($4.6M) round, worked with engineers to develop a skin patch wearable that can detect elevated cortisol levels in human sweat.

Looking Ahead

Smartwatches aren’t going anywhere, but a new generation of wearables is developing rapidly. A challenge to overcome, there’s often a gap between product viability and commercial viability — many devices find themselves locked in FDA purgatory for years.

To succeed, companies will need to find a middle ground between complex medical monitors, indecipherable to the average user, and gadgets that are no more than a souped-up accessory.

🤩 Rise of the Fitness Creator

Empowering fitness professionals to build a remote, digital business represents an untapped segment of the booming exercise economy.

On the Fitt Insider Podcast: Playbook co-founder and CEO Jeff Krahel joined us to discuss how his company helps trainers, athletes, and influencers build a digital fitness business.

We also cover: Playbook’s creator-first approach and the factors that have unlocked multi-million-dollar operations for digitally native trainers.

Listen to today’s episode here

👟 Walk It Out

As the pandemic closed gyms and locked us indoors, a daily walk offered a reprieve — and the habit is sticking.

  • Walkers logged over 668M miles on Strava last year, a growth of about 2x YoY.
  • A trend on TikTok, the #hotgirlwalk hashtag has notched over 51M views on the platform.
  • Walking app Go Jauntly saw its membership rise by 80% since the beginning of the pandemic.

Take a stroll. Walking stimulates circulation, increases serotonin, and boosts creativity, improving a host of physical and mental health factors. Walking just 30 minutes every day is connected to a 19% drop in coronary heart disease risk, while a daily one-hour walk lowers the risk of major depression by 26%.

And every minute counts — if adults added a mere 15 minutes of walking a day, analysts estimate that the global economy could grow by a whopping $100B a year.

Free domain. That’s all the more reason to push for healthier cities, promoting infrastructure that prioritizes pedestrians instead of cars. A counter to expensive home equipment or boutique gyms, a lap around the neighborhood is more realistic and achievable for most people, especially those just adopting a new exercise routine.

And a number of apps are here to provide digital companionship or guidance:

  • Hiking platforms like Footpath and AllTrails double as discovery platforms for new walking routes.
  • Calm and Headspace offer walking meditations to support mindful walking.
  • MapMyWalk, Strava, and Nike Run Club can track data for those who want to log stats.
  • Expanding its Fitness+ offering, Apple debuted Time to Walk, a celebrity- and athlete-guided walking experience.

A different approach, as remote work takes hold, Spot has raised $6.9M to develop a virtual meeting platform made for walking.

Takeaway: With or without an app, walking is free and accessible for almost anyone to participate in. With outsized returns on health, city governments, brands, and even employers would do well to help turn this trend into common practice.

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🚩 Red Flags

From record highs to problematic lows, Peloton’s pandemic whirlwind appears to be worsening.

The latest development: The connected fitness company has hired consulting firm McKinsey to review its cost structure. The smart bike maker is also considering eliminating some jobs.

In particular, Peloton’s apparel division and retail showrooms could be targeted.

Speaking to CNBC, an unnamed Peloton employee said: “Morale is at an all-time low… The company is spinning out so fast.”

Backslide. After rising more than 440% in 2020, Peloton’s shares declined 76% last year, cutting its market cap from $44B to $10B.

  • November 2021: Peloton missed earnings estimates, scaled back FY2022 revenue forecast by up to $1B, and implemented a hiring freeze.
  • December 2021: Google searches for Peloton declined, signaling softening demand for its connected equipment.
  • January 2022: Pointing to weak holiday sales, analysts cut Peloton’s revenue and subscriber estimates for fiscal Q2.

Hard reset. Before charting a path forward, Peloton has to find its footing. Meanwhile, brick-and-mortar operators like Planet Fitness and Xponential Fitness are flexing on their at-home competitors, citing strong growth.

📰 News & Notes

💰 Money Moves

  • FitLab, a holding company for performance fitness brands, raised $15M in a Series A round and acquired digital fitness app Fitplan, running event series Ragnar, and action sports brand Electric.
  • Fitness app Masters, a digital platform enabling users to train with professional athletes, closed $2.7M in a seed round led by Sweet Capital.
    More from Fitt Insider: Star Power
  • Mustard, an athletic training app for youth athletes, secured $3.75M in a funding round led by Lake Nona Sports & Health Tech Fund.
  • Sports & Health Tech Acquisition Corp., a blank check company with investment from Tiger Woods and Caroline Wozniacki, filed for IPO, seeking to raise $150M.
  • Wellness company Headspace Health acquired Sayana, an AI-powered mental and emotional health platform, for an undisclosed sum.
    More from Fitt Insider: Mental Healthcare Goes Digital
  • Diana Health, a maternal care startup, secured $11M in a Series A round co-led by .406 Ventures and LRVHealth.
  • Healthcare concierge platform HeyRenee added $4.4M to an oversubscribed seed II round led by Quiet Capital, with participation from Global Founders CapitalFika Ventures, and others.
  • Grand Fitness Partners, franchisee of 44 Planet Fitness gyms, acquired 13 additional Planet Fitness locations across Virginia.
  • Clinical nutrition startup Faeth Therapeutics, providers of a food-focused approach to cancer treatment, landed $20M in a seed round co-led by Khosla Ventures and Future Ventures.
  • Crunch Fitness franchisee group Fitness Holdings Northeast acquired its 28th location.
  • Taiwan-based H2U Corporation, a platform leveraging first-party health data to develop workplace wellness programs, raised $8M in new funding.
  • French wearable maker Withings acquired Impeto Medical, maker of neuropathy-detecting technology, in an undisclosed deal.
    More from Fitt Insider: Withings Lands FDA Approval for New Smartwatch

Today’s newsletter was brought to you by Anthony and Joe Vennare, Melody Song, Wesley Yen, and Ryan Deer. 

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