The Making Of a D-Tech Startup: Tidepool's Universal Diabetes Data Platform

By Amy Tenderich, DiabetesMine Founder and Editor

Originally published at DiabetesMine on May 28, 2013

Holy Diabetes Innovations!

I am happy to announce that a small group of entrepreneurs and researchers including several parents of kids with type 1 here in San Francisco are tackling the diabetes data dilemma head-on, having just launched a new startup called Tidepool.

A few months ago, a gentleman named Howard Look reached out to me after hearing about the DiabetesMine Innovation Summit and a call for D-data standardization and open model of diabetes care. Turns out Howard is a self-described "Silicon Valley tech guy" with experience leading software, product and user experience teams. His daughter Katie, 13, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two years ago.

"I've recently decided to do something about it full-time, and have been connecting with several like-minded folks. I applaud the work of of folks like Benjamin West and others that are 'hacking diabetes,' but I am also thinking that there may be something more coordinated and strategic to do here, like forming 'The Mozilla of Diabetes Technology' or something similar to the Android Open Source Project," he wrote to me.

What he's done is helped form Tidepool, a startup focused on building a device-agnostic platform for all diabetes data -- not just one app. By creating an open platform, this group hopes to build a solid, universal infrastructure that will serve as hub for creativity and "provide serious incentives for developers, because they will be building for a much larger audience."

They've also created something called blip, the first application that sits on top of Tidepool's platform, which "provides intuitive, interactive visualizations of data from multiple sources, including insulin pumps, CGMs and activity monitors." It's meant to facilitate ongoing conversations between health care providers and their diabetes patients using Facebook and other messaging systems. The pitch: "blip lets people with diabetes see their data in a way that illuminates what's going on and raises the level of their game."

"We're aiming to make the most of the patient's time and the physician's time -- how much time do people spend downloading versus actually getting value out of the data?" Howard says. "We'd like to get the data into a format where it can help increase time in (glucose) range, and achieve fewer lows and better A1C."

In essence, the company aims to "make diabetes data more accessible, intuitive, and actionable."

They were talking my language! So I asked if I could sit in on one of their early planning meetings to experience first-hand how a diabetes startup is made.

The Tidepool team consists of President and CEO Howard; Lead Medical Advisor Dr. Saleh Adi of UC San Francisco's Pediatric Diabetes Program; and Chief Technology Officer Steve McCanne, a successful tech entrepreneur who also has a 13-year-old daughter living with type 1.  Their Medical Advisory Board is made up of three other UCSF pediatric endocrinologists. And their soon-to-be treasurer is T1D dad Geoff Tobin. They are now also working with patient-data-expert Benjamin West, and also with one of our 2012 DiabetesMine Patient Voices winners, Sara Krugman, who recently launched her own health-tech UI design firm called Line.

The day I visited UCSF to sit in on their meeting, it was a small group gathered around a lunch table in a tiny board room at UCSF's modern new Mission Bay campus. There were lots of Post-It notes on hand!

The company is setting themselves up as a non-profit, in part to encourage different developers to build on their platform with no inherent conflicts. A lot of the discussion that day was about facilitating their 501c3 application to gain nonprofit status, and negotiations with possible supporters.

Howard kept saying, "I've never done this before," because he comes from the for-profit world. But in recent months, he has made friends at the Helmsley Charitable Trust, JDRF, ADA, Close Concerns, TCOYD, the Diabetes Hands Foundation and just about every organization that's anyone in the diabetes world. This guy is driven!

Despite the non-profit plans, they've been talking with some venture capitalists, especially one in Silicon Valley who has a son with type 1. Because it's all about finding funders with a passion for the cause, of course. So far, they've received $500k from Lightspeed Venture Partners, but it is not typical VC funding, they tell me, as there is no equity ownership or expectation of return on investment.

This whole startup thing looks like chaos from the inside, I might add. What you see is just a bunch of really smart people kicking around ideas and going through to-do lists. Some items discussed in the meeting I attended:

  • Beefing up their connections in the IT open platforms world.
  • Talking to folks working with the AGP effort, which stands for Ambulatory Glucose Profile, a recommendation for standardizing the analysis and presentation of glucose monitoring data. Howard says this approach is seeking "something like an EKG for glucose profiles."
  • Connecting with Brandon Arbiter, VP of analytics at Fresh Direct, who has type 1 himself, and wrote an app called that keeps track of what and where you ate it, and the carb count effect (!)
  • Updates from Danny Altman at A Hundred Monkeys, who they've hired to handle renaming, branding, and marketing. (The company was originally called GreenDot.) In case you're wondering why Tidepool: "'Tide' is kind of like T1D and 'Pool' is kind of like bringing together, like the open source community, or the data we need to manage T1D well." Also, Altman tells them that "goofy" company names like "Caterpiller", "Apple" and "Oracle" often become strong brands.
  • Where to get the best insurance for corporate liability, and also the requisite D and O (director and officer) insurance.
  • Should they seek pro bono developers from or another company? Or pay their own developers?
  • Updates on the Artificial Pancreas, noting that the FDA "is looking at a system, not individual pieces... so it all has to be designed and tested together. But the pieces really don't have to be made by the same company!"
  • What about FDA?!  Howard had plans to meet with the Director of FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health Jeff Schuren, but wasn't expecting to submit anything anytime soon. "Our goal is to iterate, build the best thing we can, then get some data in trials here, and THEN worry about FDA."

Bravo, Tidepool, that's the entrepreneurial spirit we need in diabetes, IMHO! I'm sure we'll be seeing these guys around more soon.

UPDATE: Tidepool received FDA clearance on Jan. 23, 2023


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