Virtual weight management startup Enara Health collected $6 million in seed funding, founder and CEO Rami Bailony tell Axios exclusively.
Why it matters: Obesity rates are on the rise, and the condition worsens outcomes from COVID-19.
- “COVID has highlighted that health inequity and obesity are linchpins for further pandemics; they fuel the fire,” Bailony says.
Context: VC-backed startups offering virtual tools for weight loss support — eg, Calibrate, Found and Kickoff — have drawn big interest from investors, especially as the pandemic continues to curb visits to clinics and gyms alike.
- Meanwhile, Apple’s new privacy rules are forcing many DTC digital health companies to pivot to B2B, since they can no longer rely on Facebook for customer acquisition.
By the numbers: Over the past twenty years, the prevalence of obesity in the US has risen roughly 11% to 41.9%, per the CDC.
- Over the same period, the number of people in the US with severe obesity — often classified as having a BMI over 40 — has increased to 9.2% from 4.7%, the CDC notes.
- In 2019 dollars, US medical spending on obesity was nearly $173 billion, and medical costs for adults with obesity were $1,861 higher than those for people without the condition, according to a 2021 study.
Deal details: Offline.VC led the round, and was joined by Charge, Crossover, Continuum.VC and VSC Ventures. Plus individual backers like Raj Kapoor, Kevin Mahaffey and Matt Bezinga.
How it works: San Mateo, Calif.-based Enara is designed to help physicians give patients personalized weight loss support using an emotional assessment, hormone and genetic testing and an individual diet and exercise plan.
- The company’s network of clinics accepts several major insurance plans including those from AnthemBlueCross, Cigna, Humana and Medicare.
- The program costs $99 per month with insurance, or $475 per month without.
What they’re saying: Investors say Enara’s physician-focused model adds a layer of accountability and consistency that DTC businesses often lack, while Bailony says looping in providers helps address inequity.
- “When it’s a consumer’s job alone, things like habit formation become really challenging,” says Offline.VC founder and managing partner Nate Bosshard.
- “We could easily focus on clinics that only serve upper middle class neighborhoods,” says Bailony. “But we haven’t … because if you start catering to specific populations, you end up with one diet, one medication, one exercise program — rather than a multitude of solutions, which is what you need to care for a broader population .”
Of note: Several recent studies appear to support the use of digital tools for weight management, including a 2019 paper published by Enara in the journal Obesity Science and Practice.
- In a paper published last February in the journal Obesity, researchers concluded that in 74% of cases, people who frequently used digital tools for weight loss lost more weight than those used them rarely.
- Lead author and Stanford researcher Michele Patel tells Erin that while “self-monitoring can be a useful strategy even when someone does it on their own … looping in a trained health care provider will likely have a meaningful impact in the long-term. ”
- Another study published last June in Obesity Reviews found a positive link between the use of digital weight management tools and weight loss as well as overall activity levels.
What’s next: Bailony says Enara will use the funds to expand its network of providers beyond its current 30.
- “I think this is the path forward for digital health — where you’re equipping physicians with virtual tools or helping them amplify their practice in other ways,” Bosshard says.
- “We’re now at a stage where we’re putting these incredible digital health tools scaled during COVID back into the hands of practitioners,” says Climactic VC co-founder and managing director Raj Kapoor.