Saagara Planning New Health Apps, Getting Advice from Ted Dacko, Former HealthMedia Chief

Ann Arbor-based Saagara, the maker of breathing exercise apps for mobile devices, plans to release new products aimed at specific health conditions in the coming months after spending a year of marketing a yoga-inspired app for the iPhone, says co-founder and CEO Nagabhushanam “Bobby” Peddi.

(I actually demoed the firm’s yoga breathing app online for a few minutes one morning last week, during a time when I’m typically in a breathless race to meet a deadline or preparing for an interview. It’s great, but maybe sad too, that we now have apps to help us breathe properly.)

The startup aims to begin selling its first “non-yoga” breathing app at the Apple iStore this week, following feedback from some users who didn’t like the yoga themes in its existing products, Peddi says. Since its initial December 2009 release, the firm’s breathing app called “Pranayama” has been downloaded 128,000 times and is now available for Apple mobile devices, Android smartphones, and on personal computers via the Web.

Users have told the firm that the app helps them manage their stress, migraines, and other conditions. And though some users weren’t crazy about the yoga connotations in the existing apps, the company’s reviews online have been mostly positive, Peddi says.

Yet the startup is growing up from its yoga roots. It’s now getting advice from Ted Dacko, the former CEO of HealthMedia. Dacko is working with Peddi and company co-founder Alessandra Noelting on a new service to offer its apps to employers and health plans to support wellness initiatives, Peddi says. Dacko is well known in the Michigan business community for leading Ann Arbor’s HealthMedia, a provider of Web-based technology designed to improve people’s health behaviors, to a successful sale to New Brunswick, NJ-based healthcare products giant Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) in 2008.

Dacko resigned form HealthMedia in March of this year and now operates his own consulting company in Ann Arbor called Arbor Dakota, according to his LinkedIn account.

Peddi, 37, graduated from medical school at the Edinburgh University in Scotland, and received training as a surgeon in the U.K. before he moved to the United States and decided that medicine wasn’t his calling. He spent about five years searching for that calling, doing all the things like reading books, writing, and traveling that he couldn’t during his surgical training. “It took me a while to find my direction, and when I found my direction it was entrepreneurial,” he says.

Peddi read one business book that suggested that entrepreneurs find a partner to help them start their new ventures. In 2008, he and Noelting, who received her bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, went into business together. They initially thought that their company would be a firm that fusing Eastern and Western designs into fashion. Peddi was born in India and has been practicing yoga daily since he was 11 years old. Noelting is from Germany and has design skills. But they later found their niche in digital health, he says, which has benefited from background in medicine.

Peddi and Noelting, who is the president of Saagara, now have ambitious plans to expand the reach of their apps into new areas of healthcare and wellness. The firm is now developing apps that help people exercise, emphasize nutrition, and control their high blood pressure and migraines. The firm also wants to develop an app that can people can download onto their Nintendo Wii gaming systems.

“We are trying to make our applications available on any platform people possess,” Peddi says.

Yet there are numerous competitors that offer mobile apps for wellness and healthcare. For example, Boston, MA-based Healthrageous has launched a mobile app for employer-sponsored wellness programs designed to help people become more active, control their diabetes, or keep their blood pressure in check. Its apps can also provide the user feedback and incorporate data from mobile devices such as wireless blood pressure cuffs and accelerometers. And this is the type of functionality Saagara will have to compete with to gain business from employers and health plans.

While there are also a number of other breathing and yoga apps available, Peddi says that Saagara’s has been a best-seller in those categories because it takes users through multiple steps and is designed as a course of training. (Having tried it, it was also pretty intuitive how a dial rotated and musical tones changed to guide my breathing.) The firm has also found that the iPad, for which it offers a high-definition version of its app, has become a popular mobile platform for its breathing exercises.

Still, Saagara has accomplished a lot so far as a bootstrapped operation funded by Peddi himself and a small team of five full-time workers. The CEO says that the firm is on track to reach profitability early next year. We’ll see whether Dacko’s assistance and the Saagara team’s entrepreneurial drive will be enough to make the digital health firm a long-term success.

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One response to “Saagara Planning New Health Apps, Getting Advice from Ted Dacko, Former HealthMedia Chief”

  1. Nina Pagalos says:

    I agree that it’s a tad pathetic how dependent we’ve become on technology (even to breathe!), but the fact of the matter is our phones and other handheld technologies are glued to our palms, the majority of the time, so if we can derive something as great as the health benefits from pranayama and yoga, then our technology addiction can be semi-justified :)