Lisa doesn’t interrupt. She doesn’t mind long pauses between responses. And she has a sense of humor.
Oh – and, she’s virtual.
San Diego startup Cuida Health, a recent graduate of the Connect Springboard accelerator program, this week launched its first product: a voice-activated “social wellness” app for seniors.
For the past four months, about 40 people in their mid-60s to mid-80s have been testing the virtual assistant, named LiSA for “Learning Interface for Senior Adults.” The mobile app lets seniors stay in touch with others and to search for information on the Web regardless of their technical ability, dexterity or vision issues. To use the app, users need a digital assistant, such as an Amazon Echo or Google Home, that connects with the app, but no other special equipment.
CEO Tom Watlington, who founded the company a year ago, said the app sets itself apart from others on the market because it was developed specifically for older adults. Messages can be dictated (one sentence at a time) and edited, and the calendar, which links to Google, is designed to make it easy to leave a variety of single and repeating reminders, he said. He also said testers of the app appreciated the assistant’s friendly, conversational tone that incorporates humor. The testers were part of Tierrasanta Village San Diego (TVSD), a social network for people age 50 and older living in a certain region of the city.
LiSA is intended to make it easier for seniors to stay engaged with family and friends and in their communities—connections that have been linked to overall wellness. The app also offers health tips and encouragement as well as reminders and suggestions about activities outside of the home.
The company, which plans to primarily target age-restricted communities and service providers, said it will offer annual licenses for about $2,000 per community plus $10 per user. Users will get access to its social networking and health features. A “freemium” option will offer only messaging for people using the free version.
Watlington was previously CEO of San Diego-based medical device company Sotera Wireless, which developed a wireless wearable patient monitor to track vital signs. In addition to himself, Watlington said Cuida is backed by one other investor—the chairman of a health system—but that he didn’t want to identify the person or reveal the amount the person has invested.
Chris Gutierrez, Cuida’s co-founder, was previously director of commercial innovation at GreatCall, a company perhaps most well-known for its made-for-seniors “Jitterbug” mobile phones. GreatCall was bought by private equity firm GTCR in 2017 in a bet on increasing interest in healthtech for baby boomers. (Gutierrez left after the sale.)
GTCR sold GreatCall to Best Buy in August for $800 million.
Cuida is among a growing number of healthtech companies in San Diego.
Reflexion Health has developed a virtual physical therapy system, which a recent study of roughly 300 people showed was as effective as traditional physical therapy. The study also revealed that the product saved the healthcare system an average of $2,745 per patient in the three months after surgery by lowering post-acute care needs as a result of increased compliance. The study was conducted in conjunction with the Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI), part of the Duke University School of Medicine.
And BrainLeap Technologies is using video games to help children with autism and ADHD improve their attention and focus. The startup said the games resulted in measurable improvements in participants in a pilot clinical trial at UC San Diego.
What’s happening in San Diego mirrors a national trend. Investors are taking an increasing interest in companies that are using new technology to enhance—or disrupt—traditional modes of healthcare. As of midyear, U.S. digital health deals—193 closed with a total of $3.4 billion invested—were on track to surpass 2017, which itself was a record year for both dollars raised and number of investments, according to San Francisco-based VC firm Rock Health.