Doing good
These Startups are Solving Some of The World’s Biggest Health Problems
Takara Small | July 19, 2016

From genetic sequencing to smart contact lenses, American startups are disrupting the healthcare industry both in the United States and around the world.

What’s driving the recent boom in health-tech innovation? America’s aging population, healthcare reforms and more advanced, more affordable technology that makes it easier for digital health businesses to succeed are all part of the equation.

As the Baby Boomers retire, healthcare spending in the U.S. is expected to increase 5.8 percent a year through 2025, at which time spending is projected to hit $5.6 trillion, close to double an estimated $3.2 trillion total in 2016, according to a report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. At the same time, the Affordable Care Act rewards more efficient medical care. Startups that manage to gain traction in the healthcare space will find themselves in a fast-growing industry that is hungry for new services that provide more efficient services at a lower cost.

Here’s a look at the American startups that are bridging the gap between technology and medicine to cure the healthcare industry’s headaches.

Zocdoc, New York City: New technology is making it easier for hospitals, doctors and healthcare providers to interact with patients in an affordable and timely manner. For its part, New York-based startup Zocdoc replaces time-consuming phone calls and costly hospital systems with a shared patient-doctor platform, which allows users to book appointments online, find verified experts and browse reviews all in one place.

Recently, the company announced a new partnership with WorkWell NYC, a joint initiative between New York City and its municipal workers to promote better health. The deal will allow the city’s approximately 1.2 million employees, retirees and dependents to find licensed primary and preventative healthcare providers across the city.

Zenefits, San Francisco: This startup provides cloud-based software that helps companies better manage employee healthcare benefits and insurance—along with several other human resource-related tasks such as payroll and paid time off—from a central online dashboard.

Since its launch in 2013, the company has grown quickly. Last year, it raised $500 million, pushing its valuation to a staggering $4.5 billion. Although still a noteworthy disrupter in the online health space, the company has run into several problems in recent months, which included insurance license issues, stalled sales and job layoffs. Other web-based competitors in the space include Castlight Health, Benefitfocus and Maxwell Health.

Verily Life Sciences, San Francisco: Verily Life Sciences—previously known as Google Life Sciences—is a research organization committed to revolutionizing the medical industry using breakthrough technology. Unlike the other companies on this list, Verily is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, which also owns a superfast internet provider called Fiber and smart home product manufacturer Nest, among many others.

The organization’s biotechnology business is wide-ranging, and includes patents for high-profile projects such as smart contact lenses designed to help diabetics monitor their blood sugar and advanced robots to assist doctors in surgery.

Helix, San Francisco: This genetic-sequencing startup analyzes a consumer’s DNA and then acts as a hub to connect them with other health companies that can help them understand and interpret information gleaned from their genomes.

Here’s how it works: Helix analyzes an individual’s DNA using a small saliva sample, and clients use an online platform to manage their account details and choose a variety of applications that offer specific health or genealogy insights.

The business model is not exactly new—Invitae Corp. and Google-backed company 23andMe Inc are two other big names that provide personalized DNA services—but Helix does stand out for an open approach that allows users to share their data with other startups that decode fitness and genealogy information based on chromosomes.

Genalyte, San Diego: Blood-testing companies have faced increased scrutiny in recent months after a 2015 Wall Street Journal feature raised questions about the accuracy of tests provided by Theranos, a once-lauded healthcare startup. The problems that ensued for Theranos—including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services banning founder Elizabeth Holmes from operating laboratories for two years and a cancelled contract with pharmacy giant Walgreens—haven’t stopped other blood startups from pushing forward, however.

Genalyte raised $44 million last year to commercialize a silicon microchip that it claims can provide rapid testing results for researchers and doctors in as little as 15 minutes.

The company’s product is also designed to be used by academic researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and help detect infectious diseases such as Ebola.