This Y Combinator-backed healthcare startup aims to help prevent and reverse Type 2 diabetes
More than 77 million adults in India are living with diabetes, and researchers predict that this will increase to 134 million by 2045. Diabetes is a growing concern, with more than half of the country’s population at risk of developing the condition at some point in their lives.
Delhi-based digital healthcare startupaims to change that – by helping prevent, manage, or reverse the condition.
Founded by Rohan Verma and Aditya Kaicker in 2020, digital therapeutics startup Breathe Well-being aims to help people with Type 2 diabetes through a coach-led community approach encompassing diet, exercise, and meditation.
The idea to start this venture - where the goal seemed “quite impossible” - came from the founders’ previous startup, which was into lifestyle-focused, digital well-being programmes that targeted corporates.
Rohan says, “We realised that super users in this programme were suffering from some form of chronic health condition and were more engaged in our gamification-led community approach; they found that very useful.”
The founders decided to take a different approach to treat chronic lifestyle health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, PCOD, thyroid, and hypertension. They decided to begin with Type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that prevents the human body from using insulin the way it should and leads to insulin resistance.
In the beginning
Rohan and Aditya started a diabetes management programme, which included looking into the profile of people suffering from Type 2 diabetes and asking them to undertake a series of steps that included managing their diet, proper exercise, and measures to reduce their stress level.
The initial results were very encouraging as people were getting off their medications 12 weeks into the programme.
“This was something magical; it was a turning point for us as many people believe that Type 2 diabetes cannot be reversed,” Rohan says.
Breathe Well-being was also helped by the fact that both the founders had built expertise in the healthcare domain through their previous corporate experience. Rohan is a cross two-level trainer and a mindfulness coach, and Aditya is a certified behavioural coach.
The startup employs 120 people, including coaches, doctors, meditation experts, and others.
Rohan says, “We have a clinically proven digital programme that is structured in the form of a game where the aim is to eventually get rid of all medications. It is a coach-led community approach.”
The startup follows the motto of “no outcome, no pay”.
The USP of Breathe Well-being is that it has a 360-degree approach to treat anybody with Type 2 diabetes. It starts off by getting a keen understanding of the person - the motivation levels, factors which are leading to insulin resistance etc.
“Our entire plan – from the first level - is customised whether it is diet, exercise or mental health. We map the individual to the coach,” says Rohan, adding that all interactions are through the digital platform.
The programme has been acknowledged by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), and the healthtech startup has become the first healthtech company from India to be recognised by ADA in reversing Type 2 diabetes.
Key findings from a study showed that the method had “helped patients show significant body weight loss, A1c reduction, and improved stress levels”. The clinical study was conducted to verify the efficacy of the digital therapeutics programme, and tracked long-term health outcomes.
How does it work?
The coach-led community approach helps Breathe Well-being to map all individuals to a particular coach who is a dietician. Rohan believes the coach plays a very crucial role as patients feel connected to the programme.
There is an element of gamification to the entire programme – the person is treated like an athlete who secures points for crossing a certain level.
Level one involves lowering the blood glucose level (BGL), after which the next level involves normalising the BGL. At level three, there is a reduction of medication, which is completely stopped when one reaches level four.
Rohan says, “We have built proprietary knowledge in the form of diet, exercise, and meditation; this is offered in audio and video format.”
Creating a community
The biggest motivating factor for any person suffering from Type 2 diabetes is the creation of a community – the focus is on creating a sense of belonging and sharing of concerns or fears.
Breathe Well-being has created an ecosystem where people who have successfully reversed Type 2 diabetes share their experience and motivate others to follow in their footsteps.
These help deal with some of the mind blocks people suffering with Type 2 diabetes have: the disease cannot be reversed, they have not heard of any such programme, etc.
“We have an outcome-driven programme where knowledge, information, and feedback are amplified,” Rohan says.
The founder says the engagement rates in their community programme are very high; those who have successfully reversed the disease become mentors and even coach others.
The community approach builds common purpose and the coach is the critical point of contact for this programme despite the presence of doctors, fitness coaches, and meditation experts.
“The entire programme is structured in a such a way that is it addresses the factors that lead to of insulin resistance where four are diet-related, three are exercise-related and one is stress-related. We have built 400-plus protocols to address this,” Rohan says.
According to Breathe Well-being it has successfully reversed Type 2 diabetes for 10,000 people and another 10,000 are undergoing this programme at present. The year-long programme costs Rs 36,000.
Backed by Y Combinator, the healthcare startup in August announced a Series A fundraise of $5.5 million from Accel Partners, General Catalyst, and Scott Shleifer, Global MD, Tiger Global.
It had previously raised funding from 3One4 Capital, Ashish Gupta (ex-Helion MD), Suhail Sameer (CEO, BharatPe), Rajesh Sawhney (GSF Ventures), Stanford Angels, and Y Combinator.
Breathe Well-being is now looking to rapidly scale its business. It aims to strengthen its coaching academy, enhance its community protocols, and come up even more tailor-made solutions.
“Our goal is to reverse Type 2 diabetes for one million people by 2025 and as of now we have a waitlist of 2,000 people. Most importantly, more than 50 percent of the people who have enrolled into our programme have come through word of mouth,” Rohan says.
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