Top VCs nurture consumer pregnancy startups, Glow and BellaBeat

BellaBeat's smartphone-connected baby heartbeat monitor--Courtesy of BellaBeat

Women's fertility appmaker Glow raised $17 million to expand upon its launch a year ago, just as at-home pregnancy monitoring player BellaBeat rolled out three new products. Both 1-year-old startups are backed by high-flying tech VCs and are making sophisticated, consumer-friendly products aimed at helping women better manage and monitor their health that circumvent traditional healthcare providers.

Glow's financing was led by Formation 8, a $450 million tech-focused fund that launched last year. Peter Thiel's Founders Fund and Andreessen Horowitz. Thiel is well known as a co-founder of PayPal, while Horowitz was a Netscape co-founder. BellaBeat emerged from well-regarded tech accelerator Y-Combinator; it got a $4.5 million seed round in May from backers, including SVAngel, CrunchFund, Universal Music Group, Cherubic Ventures and Promus Ventures.

Both startups aim to provide health information to consumers, but it's unclear as yet how they will navigate regulators. Reportedly, Glow has said its app may not need FDA clearance, while BellaBeat received FDA clearance for its smartphone-connected Doppler monitor to listen to the fetal heartbeat.

Glow has an app to track several fertility indicators including menstrual cycle, basal temperature and cervical mucus quality; it also has a day-by-day pregnancy app with tracking and information about mother and fetus. The startup also has a non-profit program that allows couples pursuing pregnancy to pool their pregnancy risk. Each couple in a group contributes $50 monthly for up to 10 months toward a pool that goes to help pay for fertility treatments for the couples unable to conceive.

Ultimately, the startup expects this detailed access to a massive amount of data on conception and pregnancy will allow it to provide better insights into fertility. After its first year, Glow said its users had a total of 25,000 pregnancies since last summer; but about half of its users are actually trying to avoid pregnancy.

"Glow is in a unique position to be a contributor to women's health worldwide. With its data science approach, they're putting together one of the largest fertility studies in human history, which has potential to impact countless women and couples," Joe Lonsdale of Formation 8 said in a statement.

Glow also has ambitions to serve corporations, as well as individuals. It is offering its service as a benefit employers can offer employees. The startup also hopes its data and analysis might be useful for insurers. The company's co-founder and CEO Mike Huang told VentureBeat that providing detailed individual data to an insurer could result in better health insurance.

But that expectation runs counter to the ongoing concern that insurers and employers can use access to detailed individual health data to discriminate against them. Huang described the current insurer attitude as, "Don't tell me what you have because if you tell me what you have, I'm not going to help you."

Glow has raised a total of $23 million. It will use the latest financing to advance its big-picture ambitions; "To name a few, we'd like to double down on the product, on our data and research, and on insurance," Huang said in a statement.

Another consumer-focused pregnancy device startup, BellaBeat, rolled out three new products. All are designed to be attractive and appeal to consumers, and are made of wood, as opposed to the metal typically used in medical devices. They include an updated version of its fetal heartbeat monitor, a wirelessly connected scale and a wearable activity, sleep and stress tracker. That last product comes as either a necklace, bracelet or pendant. And the scale is purported to provide separate weights for mother and fetus.

Founded last year, BellaBeat has sold 35,000 units with 200,000 downloads for its accompanying smartphone app.

- here are the releases from Glow and BellaBeat
- and here is the VentureBeat coverage of Glow and BellaBeat

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