Longevity.Technology caught up with Vik Kashyap, co-founder and CEO of Toi Labs, maker of the TrueLoo “smart toilet.”
We are pleased to announce the start of our Meet the Start-up articles. Going forward, we will be profiling emerging companies in the Longevity sector, with a focus on their funding plans, commercialisation strategies, partnerships and routes-to-market. If you know of a startup that we should be talking to, let us know!
Why are we addressing this type of technology? Well, Agetech is going to be a huge market but there will be challenges for start-ups and their investors as the sector shapes-up. It’ll be Internet of Things (IoT) technology like TrueLoos that will need to interoperate with larger-scale monitoring systems such as Apple Homekit, Google’s Nest/Home and Amazon’s home operating system with its 70% market share.
Amazon have been running TV ads showing how its Alexa technology helps people live independently.
Whether it’s proprietary platforms rolled out by forward thinking care providers or open standards like those from the Open Connectivity Foundation, like any new sector there’s a lot to do and it’s companies like Toi Labs that will contribute the provision of care for people who wish to live independently for a long as possible. That’ll be you too, remember.
75 TrueLoos are being tested in the US. These are smart toilet seats that optically scan and analyse the contents of a toilet bowl and, leveraging computer vision and machine learning, can detect dehydration, Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs), gastritis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
Longevity.Technology: Old age is sometimes called technology’s final frontier — what are your thoughts on the aging market?
Vik Kashyap: Technology companies often overlook this space because it’s not seen as exciting or up-to-the-minute. I think that does it a real disservice because there’s such an aging population and the numbers of older people are starting to outstrip younger people so we really need to be focused on their needs as well. It’s very clear that this is an important and growing demographic that has increasingly been ignored by the broader technology industry.
There are some unique challenges to serving this population but I also think there’s such an incredible opportunity to provide valuable products and services technology in a thoughtful way.
Longevity.Technology: Where do you see TrueLoo being deployed?
Vik Kashyap: We have began clinical studies on the TrueLoo in collaboration with multiple senior living companies and communities in California. Eventually we would like it to go to private homes because that’s where most people who are aging live and most of the trends point towards growth there. That said, many senior living companies are doing a great job creating a sense of community and care combined with technology and other really positive things.
Longevity.Technology: How do you see that the TrueLoo integrating with home operating systems?
Vik Kashyap: There are a lot of challenges in senior living environments as it relates to different point solutions and one of the things we hear often is the need to integrate technology. So for us the answer is that we’re very interested right now in working with technology companies that are already in this market. With the exception of the use of voice, which is beginning to take off in this market, in general, the senior living industry has not adopted much technology.
Most of the larger technology players have stayed away from this market, although there have been some successful venture-back software companies that help run operations. Those are the types of companies we are integrating with. The future is very bright and there may be more mainstream technology companies entering into the space.
Longevity.Technology: Would you agree that people’s appetite for health tracking devices is growing?
Vik Kashyap: I think so, certainly in the consumer market and the younger demographic market. We’ve seen the adoption of wearable technology, particularly watches and we’ve seen companies like Apple get into this market space with medical and health-related features.
However, I would characterise the senior market as not as mature as the consumer market. The customers we talk to in the United States have had negative experiences with some of the early vendors who have came in with wearables and apps. Customers tell us that these companies over-promised and under-delivered.
I would say that we’re at a very early stage in the senior market for legitimate health and wellness-related tracking or monitoring products.
Longevity.Technology: Is this sector about to rocket, or is it more of a slow burn, do you think?
Vik Kashyap: There are some people who believe that we’re at some kind of an inflection point. I think that this is a market with unique challenges and constraints. It’s a time for companies to design and build the right kind of products to serve the market and I don’t think that there are that many very big, successful examples of technology that are, today, serving a large percentage of this population. It’s indicative of the challenges associated with the sector.
“There are some people who believe that we’re at some kind of an inflection point but I think that this is a market, which has its challenges and constraints.”
Longevity.Technology: Could you tell us a little more about how TrueLoo actually works?
Vik Kashyap: The TrueLoo is a patented system combining an internet-connected toilet seat and continuous monitoring to generate valuable insights from stool and urine. It is designed with a very different purpose in mind compared with a traditional toilet seat. The purpose is to understand more about the stool and urine of a person who’s using the toilet regularly in their own home and generate information about their health. Although this is a very new kind of concept, it’s rooted in knowledge that has been around for millennia.
People have understood that the stool and urine, although it may not be a desirable topic for discussion at dinner, contains a lot of very valuable information about health.
TrueLoo is a unique product in the sense that it can be placed onto virtually any existing toilet, without a large upfront investment. It is something that’s built into the day-to-day life of individual in a way that doesn’t require change, but generates a set of information on a continuous basis. That is unique — there aren’t too many healthcare devices or products that can capture information healthcare information like this.
We’re really pioneering in a very new area of science in which we’re combining optics, artificial intelligence and sensors to really create a very personalised understanding of an individual’s health from the comfort of their home. This is a very different type of paradigm in healthcare. Most people are used to going to a doctor or hospital when they have a problem, and then getting tests or procedures or medications; this is a fundamentally different kind of approach in the sense that it is more proactive as it relates to health care, rather than reactive. The idea is really to understand more about the early signs and signals of chronic issues that are very common in the senior population and be able to avert them before they become more problematic.
Delays can kill — if you wait long enough and you don’t identify a disease process early enough, it can have a very significant consequence downstream. For example, colorectal cancer: if it is detected at later stages, it is more likely to be fatal, compared with detection at an early stage.
As a company we understand we have the ability to generate information that people have no visibility into, as a way to understand more about something which may be worth knowing about.
Longevity.Technology: Where does the data from the TrueLoo go?
Vik Kashyap: The data is captured in a secure cloud-based environment and it is analysed in that environment. We follow practices around security and privacy — we take those things very seriously.
Longevity.Technology: How would the user know there was a problem? Would they be alerted, or would the care team (or relatives) intervene?
Vik Kashyap: Right now we are not at a stage where we are providing those notifications. We are proving out the technology through our clinical studies, and although there is a lot of interest in the product, we’re not announcing anything on that front. The FDA is very careful about any claims that are made or any sort of information that is provided, particularly to clinicians. So, we are making sure that all of our studies are complete, all of the information is validated and that we have necessary approvals from the FDA before making any announcements about that.
Longevity.Technology: What is your timeframe for the clinical trials?
Vik Kashyap: We’re committed to doing quite a few clinical studies and trials; one we are in right now will last another six to eight months. Much like other medical companies, we’re constantly validating our technology. By next year we will have a product on the market.
Longevity.Technology: How are you funded?
Vik Kashyap: Our venture capital financing was led by Freestyle Capital, based in San Francisco. It’s an interesting story because the partner at Freestyle, who led the investment in our company, is also the founder of America’s largest electronic toilet seat bidet company, Brondell. It’s a perfect partnership for us and we share offices with them in San Francisco.
We also have some other experienced digital health investors, including Tom Williams, who has invested in quite a few digital health companies and Dr James Smartt, who invested in a company with similar technology to ours that was recently acquired by Johnson & Johnson, and he’s very passionate about what we’re doing. We’ve raised one round of financing for TrueLoo — we’ll see if we need to raise more!
Longevity.Technology: What’s next for you?
Vik Kashyap: I never got into this business with the dream that I would be doing toilet technology, frankly! I actually got into the business because I suffer from ulcerative colitis, so I’ve been very motivated to try to help more people who suffer from chronic conditions like the one I suffer from. One of the things that keeps me motivated is that everybody goes to the bathroom and what we’re building has tremendous potential to do many different kinds of things, and help make a difference in the lives of people with unique needs and problems.
We’ve got one patent granted, multiple patents pending and we’re developing some really, really exciting new technology that I can’t talk about right now! But what I can say is that I hope to see a world where our technology has a major impact on people globally. Unlike Bill Gates, who has, in a very noble way, focused on toilets and sanitation, particularly in the developing world, our products are more focused on improving people’s health and wellness more. I think the potential of what we can accomplish through this is very broad and exciting — and there are billions of people who use toilets every day!