Taking Health Monitoring Wearables up the Next Step

Kenzen Founder and BRITE '17 speaker Sonia Sousa is determined to find out what makes the human body tick.
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Sonia Sousa's unrelenting interest in the human body is paying off -- for all of us.

As a kid, Sousa wanted to map the body - a technique that helps understand the human anatomy to improve how we move. She later learned how symptoms help predict illnesses.

Fast forward, and Sousa, a speaker at BRITE '17, founded Kenzen, Inc., a San Francisco-based company that makes personal health monitors that send real-time information to users.

And while Kenzen joins hundreds upon hundreds of products that have flooded the growing wearable tech market, which offers devices ranging fitness trackers through fashion tech and pet monitors -- this is no ordinary health tracking system.

Kenzen's wireless ECHO H2 patches -- about the size of a Band Aid -- use sweat to monitor performance while also keeping tabs on vital signs, fluids and nutrients. The device hopes that scientific data can preempt dehydration, cramping and injuries.

"You might want to monitor vital signs and biomarkers that you don't want to advertise," Sousa recently told CBNC. "By putting on a patch, people can get real-time data on dehydration level, heart rate, respiration and core body temperature to make decisions about their health."

Currently focused on working with elite athletes and professionals, this 'personal health lab' is already a competitor, having secured partnerships with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers and Major League Soccer's FC Dallas. The company plans to expand to reach the amateur athlete market over time.

No stranger to product expansion, Sousa earned an industrial chemistry degree from the University of Sao Paulo, an MBA from Pepperdine, and a Ph.D. in photonics and neural networks from Utah State. She has over 15 issued and pending patents in photonics, predictive models, lasers, spectroscopy, CCD sensors, and renewable performance polymers, in the United States and worldwide. Before Kenzen, she contributed to Solazyme's successful IPO, orchestrating the expansion of the bio-­‐products business from one to multiple product lines and increasing revenue from $20M to $160M. She also introduced the Algenist skincare line that generated $8.5M in revenue in its first year, and at DuPont, she grew the business from $30 to $100MM. The list goes on.

The fitness, activity and sports trackers market alone is expected to exceed $4 billion in 2017 and according to CCS Insights, more than 411 million smart wearables, worth $34 billion, will be sold in 2020. For example, Fitbit, the ubiquitous market leader reported first-quarter net income of $11 million on $505.4 million in revenue, crediting product innovations for its growth.

Whether or not tracking devices actually improve our health is yet to be proven (a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people who wore trackers for 18 months of attempted weight loss actually lost less weight than people who went untracked).

So while trackers may be able to encourage us to take more steps, climb a few more stairs, or eat fewer fries, time will tell whether a tracker like Kenzen's can prevent injury or even a heart attack.

“Blood panels are, and will likely continue to be, the gold standard for full clinical assessment,” notes Sousa to Healthline. “We believe, however, that people need continuous measurements, in context, in order to get ahead of injuries and adverse health conditions. Drawing blood just isn’t easy, affordable, or convenient. And although not a direct correlation to blood, sweat provides a wealth of information about an individual’s health, is readily available, and can be collected and measured painlessly.”

With Sousa's track record, we're sure to learn more, soon.

REGISTER NOW for BRITE '17 and hear from Sonia Souza and her fellow panelists Dr. Bon Ku (Thomas Jefferson University) and Montana Cherry (VP, Veryday) talk about "Innovation in Healthcare: Lessons for All" on March 6-7, 2017

Guest post by DARA LEHON (CU SPS '10).

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