“Take care of body and mind” : Withings is 2050’s first aligned investment

By Anne-Lise Bance for 2050

Last Spring, in the midst of the pandemic and (first) lockdown, 2050 took part in the €53 million fundraising of Withings, pioneer company in connected healthcare objects, alongside a group of European investors led by Gilde Healthcare, Idinvest and Bpifrance. This is the first key investment to support 2050’s “Take care of body and mind” strategy, the second most important investment initiative after the agri-food transition, by the first evergreen VC fund dedicated to key players in the “fertile transformation”.

Take care of body and mind

By keeping our focus on a highly contagious infectious disease, the epidemic we are experiencing tends to distract our attention from chronic conditions, which nevertheless shape the way more and more people relate to their health and well-being. Conditions like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, allergies and respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, cancer etc. fill doctors’ practices, affect — sometimes insidiously — many patients’ lives and increase individual and collective healthcare expenses.

Helping each individual to take care of his/her health and well-being: this is our mantra and a key focus of our second investment strategy.

Street art
Photo credits — Marie Ekeland — CC-BY-SA 4.0

Infectious diseases vs. chronic diseases? The two respond to one another: chronic diseases, due to a lack of early treatment and lack of knowledge of the body’s mechanics, become the breeding ground for infectious diseases. The current covid pandemic is one living proof: nearly 80% [1] of patients admitted to hospitals in France during the “first wave” showed a co-morbidity factor linked to the pre-existence of a chronic disease. Much more than age, it is the strength of each individual’s immune system that is at stake with the coronavirus.

Factors limiting the risk of chronic diseases have long been identified: a healthy diet, regular physical activity, quality sleep, a satisfying work environment, mental well-being and strong social ties. The above-mentioned factors account for 85% of a person’s health, far ahead of the 15% linked to curative care [2]. It is on these 85% of so-called “preventive” behaviors that 2050 wishes to act, in order to ensure the daily requirements for good health.

A holistic approach of care

Within this context, 2050 structures its health strategy around the following major challenges: helping each and every person to understand their health drivers each and every day, particularly their “environmental health”; promoting mental health and mental well-being while social interactions are increasingly digitized; and supporting society in achieving longevity, which is only possible by revaluing the formal and informal careers in the care sector.

Sources : The environmental health explained by Barton et Grant [3]

To help address these challenges and participate in the fertile transformation of the health sector, we wish to act holistically on different investment segments, particularly by investing in innovations in preventive and individual health care, accessible care, care infrastructure and bridges between conventional medicine and traditional medicine (including so-called “alternative” or “soft” medicines) to move towards an inclusive care circuit and a quality health care in everyday life.

Withings thus appeared as an opportunity to lay the first brick in the Care ecosystem. Over the past 10 years, its positioning as a high-quality data provider and a scientific research and medical monitoring platform, thanks to excellent, everyday, non-invasive products, has indeed been a major asset.

The company’s strategy is particularly resonant with the challenges and opportunities we identified. As a pioneer in daily customized health care, Withings puts its technological infrastructure for collecting health data at the service of patients who are active in their own health, as well as a diversified network of healthcare professionals, from doctors to health insurance companies, researchers and institutions conducting clinical trials.

Withings : An ability to shape a fertile ecosystem in an ultra-competitive environment

The products’ durability, sleek design and non-invasiveness have enabled Withings to build one of the most comprehensive and accurate medical databases in the world. By supporting each user, whether BtoB or BtoC, in the analysis of their data, the company covers the entire care chain, from the pathologies detection to the personalized follow-up. Thanks to the accuracy of the biomarkers it has developed, all healthcare actors can act collectively on prevention factors and successfully interact with each other. For example, the precision of the data collected by the Withings scales has enabled the company, in partnership with researchers and cardiologists, to establish an unprecedented measurement of pulse wave velocity from one weigh-in, and thus be able to send warning signals to prevent cardiovascular events.

With a positioning that is increasingly focused on prevention programs operated by large-scale medical institutions, Withings is helping to design a more fluid care pathway, tailored to each patient, connected to the world of research and placing the patient at the heart of the system.

Moreover, as a data collection and aggregation platform, Withings products and services fit perfectly into a holistic vision of care. They even contribute to complementarity between medical fields: for example, the Sleep Analyzer, designed to detect sleep apnea, is now recommended by psychiatrists, since sleeping problems are often warning signs of psychological disorders, including burn-out phases.

We, at 2050, want to strengthen these bridges between worlds. Indeed, given the challenges mentioned above, we hope that in the coming years Withings can develop tools that are consistent with the needs of patient communities, caregiver networks, alternative medicine practitioners and researchers, as well as mental health professionals, since the body and mind must be grasped for a more inclusive health.

The key to success: a close-knit, demanding and committed team for the benefit of health care.

Anyone asking founder Eric Carreel why he took over Withings from Nokia, two years after its takeover, will always get the same answer: “first for the team, then for the business”. The internal culture, based on meaning and mutual support, is fundamental to the company’s success. It also facilitates talent acquisition and helps to maintain their engagement, particularly through the regular contribution of physicians (“Med Talks”) or users to share the results of their research or their feedback on how Withings products have impacted their daily lives.

For Human Resources Director Carole Lavault, Withings’ secret lies in its ability to recruit talents with different backgrounds, with a strong desire and ability to learn, take responsibility, and model and thoroughly solve issues. Carole is quick to use the example of the R&D director who became an expert in medical certification processes in Europe and FDA approval in the US within a few months after the company took a stronger turn towards health.

Withings’ culture translates into concrete actions what startups have been discussing about talents’ potential and individual career support. Besides Carole, who became HR Director after managing business operations for a few years, the best example would be Mathieu Letombe, who knows the company and its products inside out and who is steering development as CEO after a nine-year in-house career, moving from technical support to customer relations and operations management during the short Nokia period.

Individual empowerment at the heart of the value chain

The BtoB positioning that the company wishes to reinforce with patient-oriented products but whose business model is based on partnerships with medical prescribers enables Withings to be an influential player in preventive and personalized medicine. As an example, the success of the Withings scale is based on weight management not in absolute values but according to the chosen itinerary, thus allowing users’ engagement in a non-stigmatizing weight control routine. This attention to the patient’s benefit from the use of the products is part of a holistic approach to the user experience, specifically driven by the addition of psychologists and philosophers dedicated to health prevention mechanisms and therapeutic training among the company’s executive bodies. Thus, for Eric Carreel, the challenge is that “the patient knows himself well enough to be able to do without Withings products”.

Today, this “beyond pure tech” approach and the immeasurable resource of aggregated data enables Withings to stand up to the industry giants, Apple and Google in particular, who are pursuing an unprecedented offensive strategy on healthcare data access, which has become even more acute since the COVID-19 crisis. In this respect, 2050 sees in Withings the promise of a European alternative to the “Big Tech”, in a sector whose strategic significance is only just beginning to be perceived. A sector that could reach $240 billion dollars by Year 2025 [4].

Towards a fertile mutation of healthcare systems

Withings thus became the first brick in 2050’s “Take care of body and mind” strategy. Other organizations will soon join the effort, primarily through the identification field work that we are carrying out alongside Abdelaali El Badaoui (Banlieues Santé — Fonds de dotation France du coeur), who is joining us as an expert associate, to create fertile partnerships to “make human life possible, and in particular the reality of being vulnerable” [5]; For our connection to health is in line with our own experience of vulnerability, a feeling that is common to all of us. Yet health is not limited to the absence of disease, it is also a capacity to apprehend one’s uniqueness, with its strengths and weaknesses, both of which can be part of the same creative energy for well-being.

Far from attempting to make each person an invulnerable enhanced human being through technology, 2050 wishes to create a virtuous network of actors acting in favor of a better self-knowledge — of one’s body and one’s being — and a better interaction between all the actors, not only from the health but also from the care point of view, in the most holistic approach possible.

Withings team’s — Source : Withings.com

Anne-Lise Bance for 2050

[1] Santé Publique France — Update on the Covid-19 pandemic — 02 April 2020

[2] Patrick Negaret — Note « De l’assurance maladie à l’assurance santé » pour la Fondation pour l’innovation politique — February 2017, p.25

[3] Barton H, Grant M. 2006. A health map for the local human habitat. The Journal for the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health 126(6): 252–261 — Visual is available online on the Environmental Health Indicators — University of New Zealand website.

[4] ihealthcareanalyst, Global Preventive Healthcare Market $240 Billion by 2025, 2020 : https://www.ihealthcareanalyst.com/government-initiatives-public-awareness-propel-preventive-health-care-technologies-services-market/

[5] Penser l’humain vulnérable, de la philosophie au soin, collective book

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