Sweetch, a digital therapeutics innovator and creator of the hyper-personalized engagement platform for chronic conditions, recently announced the completion of a $20 million Series A round of funding.
The funds will go towards the company’s global expansion and further development of its behavioral science technology that helps people achieve their health goals by sending them the right message in the right tone, time and real-world context. It’s the only behavioral science platform that provides messages to patients based on both AI and EI (emotional intelligence).
DocWire News spoke with Yoni Nevo, CEO of Sweetch, to discuss this innovative company. See what he had to say.
DocWire News: Can you provide us some background on yourself?
Yoni Nevo: Sure. So, I’ve been in the high-tech industry for the last 25 years or so, and still counting. I’m a software engineer by trade, started my career in the telecom area, the revolution of the internet. So I’ve done quite a few senior roles in engineering and then on the business side, product manager in marketing, et cetera, including vice president of business development. I actually relocated to Pittsburgh, been there for three years. So I know the United States and love it. Came back to Israel, did a lot of strategic alliances for my company with startups and then decided to go and build my own startup and which is an established, founded Cimagen.
Cimagen, we are pioneers in augmented reality, which is all about user experience and we help consumers visualize how product they want to buy would look like before they buy them, like furniture. Just click on a button on the product page and there you see the sofa in your living room, et cetera. And I was very fortunate. We were able to work with tier one customers. They were like Staples, tools for Coca Cola, and the likes.
So it’s been an amazing ride, but I ended up selling the company to Snapchat and stayed with them just before the IPO. Stayed with Snapchat for almost three years and to see that something like 100 million users engage with our technology every day in the likes of Coca-Cola and BMW and whatever. The world’s largest brands actually pay for such engagement, whatever large sum, but then something was missing in my heart and I felt that I’m not impacting people’s lives enough. So about two years ago decided to leave, basically live the fun life. The gamification side. It was an experience and see what I can do with this and technology and business that I’ve been doing all my life and impact people’s lives and digital houses where I chose to be. And started my own company and merged it into Sweetch about six months ago. And this kind of brings us into Sweetch, I guess.
What is Sweetch? What is its mission, and its value proposition?
Even before talking about Sweetch, I think we need to speak about people with chronic conditions, because this is one of the largest problem for healthcare systems. You think through the journey, that I decided then with my partner, Karen, to go into healthcare is that we understood that this is actually where you impact people’s life. And we met hundreds of people in the industry and we realized two things. One, that if healthcare system wants to survive, you need to bring health and healthcare into the hands and homes of the patients. So this is one and that’s technology. Second, is that you need to address the problems of people with chronic conditions because those are the people that you can help more than anyone else through technology and two is that there’s a largest expenditure of the healthcare systems.
So this is where we decided to focus. And if you look at those patients, it’s a long, long journey. It’s very hard to have diabetes and hypertension and those conditions tend to evolve into more severe conditions, such as heart failure and whatever. So it’s a long journey and every one has its own unique journey and most of the time you’re on your own and you have to cope with it. This is one thing and we really believe and part of our vision is that every patient with chronic condition needs to have trusted voice that will kind of accompany them every tiny step of their unique journey towards better health. So this is on one side, on the motivational part of our vision and a hint towards our mission.
And then the second part is that there’s an amazing ecosystem of what we call healthcare players. There’s the pharma companies that are investing billions, providing amazing drugs. It’s like magic, right? They’re helping those chronic patients. Medical devices are being introduced, wearables, et cetera, to help those patients, manage their health better. And providers, healthcare professionals, et cetera, they prescribe health regimens to those patients that if those patients would do what they’re supposed to do, then there’ll be healthier.
But this is where the intersection of this very hard and cumbersome journey that you have as a patient versus all the billions or the team of medications, medical devices, and health care professionals that try to help you, most of the time, you’re on your own. If you don’t comply as a patient to what has been administered to you, things would just not work. This is where a Sweetch comes to play because we want to be the trusted voice for both, one hand the patient to guide them through their journey. On the other hand, the trusted voice of the healthcare ecosystem players that want to create sustainable relations with those patients, ongoing relations and increasing the likelihood of those patients doing what they’re supposed to do to get better health outcomes. So this is in general, our mission in life, to help build those continuous relations, very, very personalized with each and every individual at scale. Which kind of leads I guess, to where, what does Sweetch do? This is just the mission.
What does Sweetch do?
At the end of the day, we’re a behavior change company. We apply artificial intelligence and we combine it with emotional intelligence to provide a hyper-personalized engagement platform. So the name of the game is engagement with the patients. So they would, at the end of the day, do what they’re supposed to do.
So we use this very sophisticated technology to learn basically the behavioral patterns of each and every individual, fully automated by the way, to understand what makes every patient tick, what works and what doesn’t. And what we do then is to provide the right recommendation or message or reminder, the right message at the right time, the right tone of voice. I’ll give an example in a minute. The right time, the right tone of voice and the right reward context, like the location, the availability, being basically available to hear the recommendation. So the point is to really provide the right message at the right time, so the likelihood that the patient would actually do what they’re supposed to do will be increased. And at the end of the day, when you combine that across many, many tiny steps, you have a great journey that impacts health outcomes.
You recently raised $20 million in Series A funding. What will that funding be used for?
So I guess two things. First of all, I’m very fortunate, leading VCs in Israel and worldwide and Netherlands, the United States, Brazil, believe in us. So I think they believe in us before anything else because they want to see, just as my heart wants, to see how technology can actually impact people’s life and solve one of the major problems in healthcare today if the chronic patients and their adherence to their health regimens.
This has basically two things we’re going to do with those funds. One is to keep on improving the technology. The second one is to grow the business and the scale of the operations and expanding to more countries, et cetera. So when we’re talking about the technology, what we call our technology, JITAI, it’s Just In Time Adaptive Intervention. This is exactly this AI plus emotional intelligence engine that learns the patient and provide the right recommendation at the right time, et cetera.
And there are more and more conditions. There are too many chronic conditions. So one of the development areas is to address not only metabolic and cardiovascular, but also additional specific conditions, autoimmune disease [inaudible 00:08:28], et cetera. So there are quite a few conditions that we want to expand to from our core, which is around metabolic syndromes, et cetera. And then within those conditions, there’s also comorbidities, which is again, it’s not only that we support multiple chronic conditions today, and more in the future. It’s also the dependencies between, because if you’re obese and have diabetes, it’s different than if you just have diabetes. So you need to address each one of them differently. That’s part of the personalization. Obviously, the more we do with our AI, reinforcement learning supervisor, there are many, many things that we do on the AI side that we want to keep on doing, to provide even better personalization to fit our recommendation, et cetera.
So this is on the technology side, on the business side, we’re building a machine. At the end of the day, if we only impact several thousands of people or 20,000 or 100,000 lives, that’s amazing. I’ll be happy even if I have one person, but we want to address millions of people, millions and tens of millions of people. So for that, you need to continue building the organization, the sales, the operation, customer success. And you need to build that globally. In our key markets today, we’re an Israeli company, but our key markets are North America first and foremost, also active in Latin America, especially in Brazil. So we need to build people on the ground to support our customers, to support our partners and continue our growth.
Why is a hyper-personalized platform for chronic conditions so important?
At the end of the day, you speak about all those billions of dollars going into medication, medical devices, and pharma, and physicians and dieticians, et cetera. It was a bigger organization trying to solve big problems. And we’re going into a remote health era. I think COVID… Nobody likes COVID, but it has done a few things for certain industries, which is the tele-medicine, tele-health et cetera. I think healthcare has now just started, thanks to COVID in a way, the remote health era. And this goes along with the fact that patients and people, generally speaking, are out by themselves, 99.9% of the time. So it’s all about relations and think, in a way I will even crystallize our mission and I think this is exactly the important… Every single player in the ecosystem that wants to help chronic patients need to build relations so that those patients will do what they need to do while they’re at home. Do their measurements, blood test, a glucose test, et cetera, take medication, do physical activity, report on issues, on outcomes, et cetera, to their physician, so they know how to manage their weight, et cetera.
And we provide a holistic approach, basically tailoring a program for each one and communicating and engaging with them several times a day. So at the end of the day, what we’re doing is enabling the healthcare ecosystem player to build continuous relationships, 24/7 with each and every individual at scale. And this is why it’s so big because it can impact hundreds of millions of people around the world provide much better economies once those patients actually adhere to their health regimens.
What is the biggest issue in healthcare that Sweetch is looking to solve?
So think it again, evolves around… Again, I don’t like to say adherence because when you say adherence, people tend to think, hey, medication, adherence, that’s the major thing. 40 to 50% of the patients don’t take the drugs as they’re supposed to. It causes I think 101,000 deaths every year, just the United States. So it’s big, but I think it’s way more than that because I use the term health regimen or treatment programs. I think you need to look at the patient in a holistic way. And our technology is aiming to build those programs in many, many domains of chronic disease management aspects. So you need to address everything. You need to address the physical activity, the medication, et cetera, and it’s really, really tough. That’s the major challenge, how to do this and how to do this at scale.
And to do this at scale means that you need to do everything fully automated. Because you can do everything if you just buy or pay more health coaches. Just like the [default 00:13:10] Livongos of the world do. So again, person to person communication is always viewed and you can personalize each and every sentence. The challenge that we take upon ourselves is to do everything fully automated, so it can work in economies like Brazil, where we are going to announce a customer very shortly and where it’s really hard. And basically overcome not just the costs that kind of prohibit deployment at scale of engagement to intervention programs like that. But it’s also the operational issue, because once there’s a human coach involved and you need to hire people, you need to train them, you need to set appointments, et cetera, and then you need to pay them. So the point is how to do things fully automated at scale and personalize the delivery of the intervention as we do today.
Any closing thoughts?
Again, I’m here. As I explain, I had fun at Snapchat, this was great. People, like the BMW, they were paying one and a half million dollars one day of engagement with the users of Snapchat. And this was really, really fun. Look up the dancing hot dog one day and see the world’s first virtual celebrity. But at the end of the day, you want to help those hundreds of millions of people with the chronic conditions and it’s teamwork. So I think what Sweetch is all about is how to facilitate through technology, how to basically outsmart chronic conditions together. And by saying outsmarting chronic conditions together, it means we’re the technology, we’re there to help, or if it’s the patients before anyone else and the ecosystem around them, of the pharma company with a drug, the medical device that help them measure the state and the healthcare professionals and even the families. It’s teamwork. So let’s outsmart chronic conditions together.