For Welltok and IBM, a partnership couldn’t have been timed much better.
Denver-based Welltok has been developing a health optimization platform for years, dubbed CafeWell, which analyzes your health profile from a variety of sources and offers up insight on how to stay fit. IBM, meanwhile, has long touted the diagnostic capabilities of its Watson supercomputer. Watson is based on a whole new computing paradigm called cognitive computing, allowing it to “learn” from unstructured data and understand natural language queries.
Together, the two companies could redefine the way we all manage our health care.
Welltok announced last summer that it was taking advantage of Watson for a souped-up version of its product, CafeWell Concierge, which is currently in beta testing with an unnamed partner. And earlier this year, Welltok was also the first startup to receive funding from IBM’s Watson Group (and it just recently raised another $25 million).
Welltok executives will be discussing consumer engagement and other digital health topics at VentureBeat’s HealthBeat conference October 27-28.
Rather than waiting until you get sick to head to the doctor, CafeWell Concierge always keeps track of your “personal health itinerary” (Welltok’s cutesy name for your health profile) to offer up health help. If you’re traveling while on a specific diet, for example, it could automatically recommend restaurants near your hotel that suit your needs. Or it could remind you that it’s been too long since your last doctor’s appointment.
Michelle Snyder, Welltok’s chief marketing officer, describes the timing of the IBM partnership as “fortuitous.”
“On the one hand you had IBM who in their early forays into health care focused much more on the clinical side … then they started thinking about how they could leverage Watson into other health care areas,” she said in an interview with VentureBeat.
“On our side, we’ve built the CafeWell health care optimization platform, and one of the tenets we’ve always had is that in order to get people to change, and change their behavior, you need to create a personalized experience. Many of the solutions on the market were really ‘one size fits all’ and were not tailored to the fact that people have different motivations and interests.”
The company also snapped up Seattle-based Mindbloom earlier this year, in a bid to strengthen its presence in mobile. While Welltok hasn’t yet integrated any of Mindbloom’s technology into CafeWell, Snyder tells me the Mindbloom team is “at the core” of developing CafeWell Concierge, especially when it comes to creating an attractive user experience.
Welltok is just one of many companies dipping their toes into Watson’s cognitive computing engine, but it could end up being one of the most useful implementations of Watson when it comes to our health. Watson excels at making sense of unstructured data — that is, you don’t need to feed it spreadsheets or databases. Just point Watson at any big data set, in Welltok’s case it’ll be your medical history and droves of diagnostic information, and watch the insights come in.
Here’s a quick timeline of Welltok’s IBM partnership:
- August 2013: Welltok was first approached by IBM’s Watson team.
- November 2013: Welltok built a prototype of CafeWell Concierge in just 8 weeks, Snyder tells me.
- January 2014: IBM announces the Watson Group, which is backed by $1 billion in cash. $100 million of that money is carved out for Watson ecosystem investment.
- February 2014: IBM participates in Welltok’s $22 million third funding round, making it the first investment from the Watson Group.
- August 2014: Welltok launches an alpha test for CafeWell Concierge with an unnamed client.
- October 2014: Welltok announces it’s raised an additional $25 million out of a planned $37 million round.
- November 2014: Welltok plans to reveal its first client for CafeWell Concierge, at which point the service will also officially go live for that client.