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Main article: Health

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Airbnb wants to give its hosts equity in its business

16:19 | 23 September

Airbnb wants to give the homeowners who power its service the opportunity to own a piece of its business. That’s why, as Axios reports, the $31-billion-valued company has written to the SEC to ask if its rules around security ownership can be revised.

Specifically, Airbnb is seeking a change to the SEC’s Rule 701 — which governs ownership of equity in companies — to allow a new kind of shareholder class for workers who participate in gig economy companies and their services. Uber, for one, has met with the SEC to propose a similar allowance but Airbnb’s argument is laid out in a letter that you can read here (thanks to Axios.)

“As a sharing economy marketplace, Airbnb succeeds when these hosts succeed,” the company wrote in one passage. “We believe that enabling private companies to grant hosts and other sharing economy participants equity in the company from an earlier stage would further align incentives between such companies and their sharing economy participants to the benefit of both.”

Airbnb is said to be planning to go public potentially as soon as next year.

While it isn’t clear how earning equity might work for an Airbnb host — or an Uber or Lyft driver, for that matter — further amendment of rules would be required. Currently, SEC regulations require that any private company with over 2,000 shareholders or 500 or more who are not U.S. accredited investors, must be registered.

That’s clearly a problem for Airbnb which has grown to more than five million listings since its foundation in 2008. It remains to be seen how many of those homeowners could own equity even were the rules amended to allow it. More generally, though, gig economy startups won’t pursue the equity options for contractors if doing so then triggers mandatory SEC reporting whilst they are private entities.

Then there are additional complications for businesses that have expanded outside of the U.S. market. Most of Airbnb’s are located overseas — the service claims to offer lodgings across some 81,000 cities in over 190 countries — which makes handing out U.S-based equity tricky.

Still, Airbnb’s public acknowledgment of its hosts and the crucial role they play is a positive part of that relationship. That’s something rare, for sure.

Most of the discussion around the role between marketplace provider and gig economy worker has been negative, with Uber in particular keen to distinguish between contractor and company staff.

While this modern take on working gives those who choose it a degree of flexibility like never before, they are left without the standard perks of being a conventional employee, such as paid vacation, benefits, overtime, health insurance and more. A slew of startups have sprouted to help cover some of those gaps, but their solutions all come at a cost to the worker, many of whom are already financially stretched.

 


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uBiome is jumping into therapeutics with a healthy $83 million in Series C financing

14:00 | 21 September

23andMe, IBM and now uBiome is the next tech company to jump into the lucrative multi-billion dollar drug discovery market.

The company started out with a consumer gut health test to check whether your intestines carry the right kind of bacteria for healthy digestion but has since expanded to include over 250,000 samples for everything from the microbes on your skin to vaginal health — the largest data set in the world for these types of samples, according to the company.

Founder Jessica Richman now says there’s a wider opportunity to use this data to create value in therapeutics.

To support its new drug discovery efforts, the San Francisco-based startup will be moving its therapeutics unit into new Cambridge, Massachusetts headquarters and appointing former Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez to the board of directors as well.

The company has a healthy pile of cash to help build out that new HQ, too, with a fresh $83 million Series C, lead by OS Fund and in participation with 8VC, Y Combinator, Dentsu Ventures and others.

The drug discovery market is slated to be worth nearly $86 billion by 2022, according to BCC Research numbers. New technologies — those that solve logistics issues and shorten the time between research and getting a drug to market in particular — are driving the growth and that’s where uBiome thinks it can get into the game.

“This financing allows us to expand our product portfolio, increase our focus on patent assets and further raise our clinical profile, especially as we begin to focus on commercialization of drug discovery and development of our patent assets,” Richman said.

Though its unclear at this time which drug maker the company might partner up with, Richman did say there would be plenty to announce later on that front.

So far, the company has published over 30 peer-reviewed papers on microbiome research, has entered into research partnerships with the likes of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and leading research institutions such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford and has previously raised $22 million in funding. The additional VC cash puts the total amount raised to $105 million to date.

 


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Fitbit targets employers and health plans with Care

21:43 | 19 September

When it launched the Versa back in March, Fitbit also announced plans to pivot. While the company will continue to operate in consumer hardware, it’s also shifting much of its focus toward healthcare. A month earlier, the company had acquired Twine, a platform that serves as part of the foundation of its new health coaching service, Care.

Announced today, the system uses the new Fitbit Plus, combined with the company’s off-the-shelf hardware to provide additional health insight, one-on-one health coaching and what the company calls “personalized digital interventions.”

The program is essentially looking to add a bit more a personalized, human touch to fitness tracking. It promises to step beyond algorithmic data by using custom social groups and human health coaches who communicate directly with users through the app or over the phone. The councilors are trained to help with everything from weight loss and smoking to serious conditions like diabetes and hypertension.

The new Fitbit Plus app is a big piece of that puzzle, offering those connections and integrating serious health tracking from third-party devices. That means users can add metrics like blood pressure and glucose levels.

This is one of the first key public facing steps for Fitbit’s shift into enterprise and healthcare. If it can get corporations and providers to take it more seriously as a medical device provider, the company can tap into a lucrative market beyond straight to consumer. Of course, Fitbit’s not alone in that push. Apple notably took another step in that direction with the addition of features like the ECG meter on the new Apple Watch.

 


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‘Brotopia’ inspired OODA Health to raise its $40.5M round only from firm’s with female partners

10:01 | 19 September

It’s never particularly easy to raise a round of venture capital — but I think most experienced founders will tell you its not quite as bad the second or third time around, when you’ve got some experience under your belt and a track record to present to VCs.

It helps if you’re male too, at least according to all the data out there on the gender funding gap in VC.

The leadership team at OODA Health, a startup developing technology to make the U.S. healthcare payment system more efficient, is both male and experienced. But unlike most companies of that nature, OODA decided to raise money for the business only from VC firms that have at least one female leader, a solution to one of tech’s greatest problems that is oft suggested and rarely executed.

“‘Brotopia’ really hit me hard,” OODA Health co-founder and CEO Giovanni Colella told TechCrunch.

Colella is the founder and former CEO of Castlight Health, which raised nearly $200 million in VC funding before going public on the NYSE in 2014. Co-founder and COO Seth Cohen is Castlight’s former VP of sales and alliances and co-founder and CTO Usama Fayyad is the former global chief data officer at Barclays and Yahoo .

The trio ultimately landed on lead investors Annie Lamont of Oak HC/FT and Emily Melton of DFJ, both of which have joined the company’s board of directors.

We have a responsibility of setting an example,” Colella said. “There is no machismo in what we’ve done. We are not better than you because we did it. We were blessed. We had more investors that wanted to invest than we could accommodate.”

Though the company’s c-suite is occupied by men, Cohen and Colella were quick to clarify that the rest of their founding team, head of operations Julie Skaff, head of product Sophie Pinkard and director of product strategy Midori Uehara, are women.

The team began working on OODA Health last year after Colella and Cohen agreed to build something that would upend the healthcare industry. Healthcare, they realized, is at least 20 years behind the advances in financial tech.

The pair said their real aha moment was when they learned even insurance companies — the real laggards — are ready to be rid of the slow, futile billing and payment methods that accompany any and every doctor and hospital visit.

“The idea of submitting a claim and not knowing when you are going to get reimbursed or get a bill, that has been the same for decades,” Cohen told TechCrunch. “Imagine, today, if you took a Visa card and you went to a restaurant … and then a month later received a bill, that’s how healthcare works.”

If OODA has their way, paying for a doctor’s visit will be more like paying for a hotel. You’re told upfront what you owe and you work exclusively with the insurance company to make that payment. And in this idyllic future, you won’t receive an “explanation of benefits” notice in the mail as well as a bill and subsequently fall into a downward spiral of confusion, stress and frustration.

Headquartered in San Francisco, OODA has teamed with several big-name insurance providers, including Anthem, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, Blue Shield of California, Zaffre Investments, Dignity Health and Hill Physicians to make this happen.

As far as lifting up women in VC, that’s purely been a side benefit of the overall operation.

“At the end of the day, we found two of the best investors to back us,” Cohen said.

 


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Spire Health Tags are now on Apple’s shelves

19:00 | 18 September

Spire’s Health Tags, the dark and tiny devices you stick on your clothes to gather all sorts of health data from your steps, heartbeat and stress levels is now available at your local Apple Store.

The company started out with a breath tracking device to detect when you are feeling tense and help calm you down. But four years in and its now all about the wearable “tags” you stick on items of clothing like your pants or sports bra.

Yes, yes, there are lots of gadgets out there to gather similar information — the Apple Watch will now even detect if you have a fall or something is wrong with your heart — but the Spire health tag is nothing like a Fitbit or Apple Watch, according to the company. For one, there’s zero need to charge the device. One tag’s battery will last a year and a half before dying out. They’re also machine washable. You just pick a few outfits and stick a tag on each of them.

Of course a few other startups out there are working on making smart, washable, data-gathering clothes. Enflux makes the clothing and then sews in the motion sensor to tell you if you are lifting correctly. Vitali is a “smart” bra with a built-in sensor to detect stress. Then there’s OmSignal, which makes body-hugging workout clothes that gather “medical-grade biometric data to achieve optimal health.” But these tiny health tags are different in that they allow you to choose the clothes you want to adhere the monitor to.

Like Spire’s first product, the Stone, which earned more than $8 million in sales, according to the company, the tags will also pick up on times of stress and help calm you down through a series of breaths and focus on the app.

“Continuous health data will revolutionize health and wellness globally, but early incarnations have been hampered by poor user experiences and a focus on the hardware over the outcomes that the hardware can create,” Spire’s founder Jonathan Palley said. “By making the device ‘disappear’, we believe Health Tag is the first product to unlock the potential.”

Spire’s Health Tags will be sold in Apple Stores as a three-pack for $130, six-pack for $230 and an eight-pack for $300, with additional pack sizes available on the company’s website.

 


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Not to be overshadowed by the Apple Watch, AliveCor announces a new 6-lead ECG reader

00:21 | 18 September

Apple’s announcement last week of a Watch with an FDA-approved ECG reader to track heart health looked to be the undoing of original ECG reader company AliveCor. But, to prove it still has a hearty pulse, AliveCor tells TechCrunch it is coming out with a “never-before-seen” 6-lead electrocardiogram (ECG), pending FDA approval.

In a care clinic, a patient typically has 12 leads, or stickers placed across their chest to pick up data from their heart. However, other ECG readers typically have one or two leads. The Apple Watch places a single lead system on the wrist. The 6-lead ECG reader is, in theory, more accurate because there are more sensors picking up more information, which could be critical in saving lives.

AliveCor’s and the Apple Watch’s current function is to pick up AFib — or the detection of an irregular heart beat. AliveCor announced earlier this month it had received FDA-approval to use its ECG readers to detect a rare but dangerous blood condition called hyperkalemia.

With 6-lead ECG readers, the AliveCor device could also pick up about 100 different diseases, according to CEO Vic Gundotra, who rattled off a bunch of long-worded maladies I can’t even begin to pronounce but he’s hoping his reader will soon be able to detect.

However, one important detection would be ST elevation — one of the key factors associated with the onset of a heart attack and which could get a person on their way to the hospital before they start displaying other physical symptoms.

Of course, Apple — which already holds 17 percent of the wearables market — could easily decide it, too, needs to add a 6-lead ECG reader to the Watch and beat AliveCor’s market yet again. But Gundotra shrugs at that suggestion.

“They could but we have some pretty good patents in the space,” he told TechCrunch, adding “Apple has done me a great service, actually. We’re a small co”mpany but you are talking to me, calling about this [because of their announcement].”

No formal name has been announced yet for the 6-lead product but AliveCor will be working with the FDA on the regulatory pathway for it and hopes to bring it to over-the-counter consumers by 2019.

 


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Daily Burn plans a new line of fitness apps, starting with HIIT Workouts

23:55 | 17 September

Daily Burn, the online fitness brand owned by IAC, launched a new iPhone app today devoted to the popular workout style known as HIIT (high-intensity interval training).

Daily Burn already offers a general training app, but the company says it’s planning a whole series of vertical workout apps, starting HIIT Workouts. The is “bringing personalized workout training to every member tailored to their interests.”

If you’re wondering exactly what HIIT is, the individual exercises may be familiar, but as a DailyBurn article puts it, it’s all combined into “quick, intense bursts of exercise, followed by short, sometimes active, recovery periods.”

There’s no shortage of HIIT workout apps, or HIIT workouts in broader fitness apps (for example, I’ve tried out several through my Fitbit Coach subscription). But Daily Burn points to the combination of guided video workouts (so you’re less likely to mess things up) with a specific focus on HIIT. Plus, the workouts are tailored to your goals and endurance levels.

“We spent months researching how people interact with their phones, and combined it with Daily Burn’s world-class fitness and streaming expertise to create a best in class HIIT app that is effective and fun,” said Daily Burn CEO Tricia Han in the announcement. “With personalized workouts led by expert trainers and optimized for mobile, members have access to top instructors, progress reports and a supportive community in the palm of their hand.”

HIIT Workouts by Daily Burn offers a free, seven-day trial, then costs $9.99 per month.

 


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Natural Cycles contraception app told to clarify pregnancy risks

16:56 | 17 September

A multi-month investigation by Sweden’s Medical Products Agency into a number of unwanted pregnancies among users of ‘digital contraception’ app Natural Cycles has been closed after the startup agreed to clarify the risk of the product failing.

But, on the self-reported data front, the agency said it was satisfied the number of unwanted pregnancies is in line with Natural Cycles’ own clinical evaluations which are included in the certification documentation for the product.

In its marketing and on its website Natural Cycles describes the app-based system as “93% effective under typical use” — a finding that’s based on a clinical study it conducted of more than 22,000 of its users.

The investigation by Sweden’s MPA began around eight months ago, after a number of users in Natural Cycle’s home market had reported unwanted pregnancies to a local hospital — which then reported the app to the regulator.

The Natural Cycles app uses an algorithm to track fertility by monitoring the user’s menstrual cycle. The process requires women take their body temperature at least several times a week, and do so first thing in the morning, inputting the data into the app which is designed to adapts its ‘fertile’ or ‘not fertile’ predictions to each user’s cycle.

Several users have reported falling pregnant while using the app. But the proportion of women who have done so (at least in Sweden) is in line with efficacy rates reported by Natural Cycles, according to the regulator’s assessment.

Earlier this year the MPA said it had received “approximately 50 complaints” related to unwanted pregnancies in users of the app. But late last week it announced it had concluded its assessment of the app — which it said focused on “product safety, instructions for use and post market surveillance documentation in order to confirm if the product is in compliance with regulations”.

As well as looking at parts of the certification documentation for Natural Cycles, the agency says it assessed monthly reports of unwanted pregnancies among active app users in Sweden, covering a six-month period — with pregnancy data supplied by the company itself on a month by month basis during the first half of 2018.

The agency found the number of reported unwanted pregnancies reported by users to be in line with Natural Cycles’ certification documents for the product, finding a failure rate in typical use of 6.9%.

But it also asked the company to clarify the risk of unwanted pregnancies in instructions for the app.

“Our conclusion is that the number of unwanted pregnancies during the assessed time period is consistent with data shown in the clinical evaluation included in the certification documentation. Since it is important that a contraception app is correctly used, we requested the manufacturer to clarify the risk of unwanted pregnancies in the instructions for use and in the app. These issues have been addressed by Natural Cycles and thereby our review is completed,” said Mats Artursson, investigator at the agency in a statement.

As we reported earlier this year, the startup has lent heavily on aggressive social media marketing of its novel ‘digital contraception’ method — which has sometimes appeared to downplay the risk of failure for what is undoubtedly a relatively complex contraception option, given it requires users to consistently self-monitor (and accurately measure their body temperature) as well as use alternative contraception on days when the app informs them they are fertile.

Natural Cycles admits that factors such as illness, disrupted sleep, drinking alcohol and having an irregular menstrual cycle can have a negative impact on the accuracy of its algorithmic fertility predictions. And says itself that the method is not a suitable contraception choice for every individual.

Nor does the app offer any protection against STDs — unless users combine it with additional barrier methods of contraception.

But despite that, until very recently on its website (and in some of its marketing) Natural Cycles has been making the misleading claim that its contraception app is “99% effective” if used “perfectly”. (Perfect use implying, well, superhuman use.)

And just last month the company was wrapped on the knuckles by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority — which banned one of its social media ads for being misleading, also warning the company against exaggerating the efficacy of the app in preventing pregnancies.

The assessment by the Swedish MPA looks to have reached similar conclusions about certain aspects of the claims Natural Cycles’ has been making for the app.

When we covered the ASA’s ruling last month Natural Cycle’s website still included the misleading 99% ‘perfect use’ claim — within this confusingly worded paragraph: “With using the app perfectly, i.e. if you never have unprotected intercourse on red days, Natural Cycles is 99% effective, which means 1 woman out of 100 get pregnant during one year of use.”

It’s since scrubbed the paragraph from its website, focusing solely on the 93% effective stat — on which it now writes: “Natural Cycles is 93% effective under typical use, which means that 7 women out of 100 get pregnant during 1 year of use. Typical use effectiveness takes into account all possible reasons for becoming pregnant while using the app: from having unprotected sex on a red day, to the app wrongly attributing a green day or the chosen method of contraception on a red day having failed.”

It’s not clear whether Natural Cycles removed the 99% ‘perfect use’ claim as a result of the ASA ruling — or following the Swedish MPA’s assessment. (We’ve asked the company to clarify the exact changes it made related to the MPA’s findings, which the regulator also says relate to software versioning, and will update this story with any response.)

Its app gained certification as a contraception in the EU in February 2017, and went on to gain FDA clearance (via a De Novo classification request) this summer — giving the product a major credibility boost, even as regulatory clearances still come with plenty of caveats. (In the FDA‘s case it warns that: “Users must be aware that even with consistent use of the device, there is still a possibility of unintended pregnancy.”)

It’s also worth noting that it’s still the case that Natural Cycles has not carried out a randomized control trial to more robustly prove out the efficacy of the product, i.e. by using standard scientific methods.

Instead, users must rely on the findings of its self-selecting clinical study of its own users — which may have its own weaknesses, given that, for example, any user who fails to report an unwanted pregnancy to Natural Cycles would not be reflected in the data it’s providing to regulators.

Commenting on the conclusion of the Swedish MPA’s investigation in a statement, Natural Cycles CEO Raoul Scherwitzl said: “We are pleased that the MPA has concluded its investigation, following a review of our real-world effectiveness data. There has been a lot of discussion about this investigation, and we hope that it will provide some reassurance to women to see eminent bodies like the Swedish MPA and the US FDA in alignment based on the strength of our clinical evidence. We never doubted the effectiveness of our product since the number of reported pregnancies is monitored closely on a monthly basis — this is an ongoing responsibility that we commit to as part of operating in a regulated environment.”

 


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Indian patient-doctor platform DocPrime gets $50M for city expansion

16:31 | 17 September

Less than three months after it raised $200 million led by SoftBank’s mighty Vision Fund, Indian digital insurance startup PolicyBazaar beefed up its new healthcare business through a $50 million capital injection.

DocPrime, which lets visitors book consultations with doctors or schedule a range of medical tests, launched in August. Already, it claims to host 14,000 doctors and 5,000 diagnostic labs on its platform serving Delhi-NCR — the ‘capital region’ that surrounds the city.

With this investment — which is provided by PolicyBazaar — DocPrime will begin an expansion next month that is expected to take it into major cities such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai. That’s part of a wider goal to reach 100 cities across India and grow the network to 150,000 doctors and 20,000 labs.

DocPrime is up against established competitors, however.

Practo has raised $230 million from investors including China’s Tencent and it claims to work with 200,000 healthcare providers. Beyond India, Practo has already expanded overseas to four countries to tap the doctor-patient gap in other emerging markets. Lybrate, another doctor-patient matching service, has raised over $14 million although it has quietened down somewhat lately. 1mg and Netmeds are others that are active in the space in India.

To get an edge, DocPrime has pushed to work closely with China-based Ping An Good Doctor, a fellow Vision Fund company that claims over 30 million monthly active users.

 


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Kegel trainer startup Elvie is launching a smaller, smarter, hands-free breast pump

18:00 | 14 September

Elvie, a Berlin-based startup known best for its connected Kegel trainer is jumping into the breast pump business with a new $480 hands-free system you can slip into your bra.

Even with all the innovation in baby gear, breast pumps have mostly sucked (pun intended) for new moms for the past half a century. My first experience with a pump required me to stay near a wall socket and hunch over for a good twenty to thirty minutes for fear the milk collected might spill all over the place (which it did anyway, frequently). It was awful!

Next I tried the Willow Pump, an egg-shaped, connected pump meant to liberate women everywhere with its small and mobile design. It received glowing reviews, though my experience with it was less than stellar.

The proprietary bags were hard to fit in the device, filled up with air, cost 50 cents each (on top of the $500 pump that insurance did not cover), wasted many a golden drop of precious milk in the transfer and I had to reconfigure placement several times before it would start working. So I’ve been tentatively excited about the announcement of Elvie’s new cordless (and silent??) double breast pump.

Displayed: a single Elive pump with accompanying app.

Elvie tells TechCrunch its aim all along has been to make health tech for women and that it has been working on this pump for the past three years.

The Elvie Pump is a cordless, hands-free, closed system, rechargeable electric pump designed by former Dyson engineers. It can hold up to 5 oz from each breast in a single use.

It’s most obvious and direct competition is the Willow pump, another “wearable” pump moms can put right in their bra and walk around in, hands free. However, unlike the Willow, Elvie’s pump does not need proprietary bags. You just pump right into the device and the pump’s smartphone app will tell you when each side is full.

It’s also half the size and weight of a Willow and saves every precious drop it can by pumping right into the attached bottle so you just pump and feed (no more donut-shaped bags you have to cut open and awkwardly pour into a bottle).

On top of that, Elvie claims this pump is silent. No more loud suction noise off and on while trying to pump in a quiet room in the office or elsewhere. It’s small, easy to carry around and you can wear it under your clothes without it making a peep! While the Willow pump claims to be quiet — and it is, compared to other systems –you can still very much hear it while you are pumping.

Elvie’s connected breast pump app

All of these features sound fantastic to this new (and currently pumping) mom. I remember in the early days of my baby’s life wanting to go places but feeling stuck. I was chained to not just all the baby gear, hormonal shifts and worries about my newborn but to the pump and feed schedule itself, which made it next to impossible to leave the house for the first few months.

My baby was one of those “gourmet eaters” who just nursed and nursed all day. There were days I couldn’t leave the bed! Having a silent, no mess, hands-free device that fit right in my bra would have made a world of difference.

However, I mentioned the word “tentatively” above as I have not had a chance to do a hands-on review of Elvie’s pump. The Willow pump also seemed to hold a lot of promise early on, yet left me disappointed.

To be fair, the company’s customer service team was top-notch and did try to address my concerns. I even went through two “coaching” sessions but in the end it seemed the blame was put on me for not getting their device to work correctly. That’s a bad user experience if you are blaming others for your design flaws, especially new and struggling moms.

Both companies are founded by women and make products for women — and it’s about time. But it seems as if Elvie has taken note of the good and bad in their competitors and had time to improve upon it — and that’s what has me excited.

As my fellow TechCrunch writer Natasha put it in her initial review of Elvie as a company, “It’s not hyperbole to say Elvie is a new breed of connected device. It’s indicative of the lack of smart technology specifically — and intelligently — addressing women.”

So why the pump? “We recognized the opportunity [in the market] was smarter tech for women,” Boler told TechCrunch on her company’s move into the breast pump space. “Our aim is to transform the way women think and feel about themselves by providing the tools to address the issues that matter most to them, and Elvie Pump does just that.”

The Elvie Pump comes in three sizes and shapes to fit the majority of breasts and, in case you want to check your latch or pump volume, also has transparent nipple shields with markings to help guide the nipple to the right spot.

The app connects to each device via Bluetooth and tracks your production, detects let down, will pause when full and is equipped to pump in seven different modes.

The pump retails for $480 and is currently available in the U.K. However, those in the U.S. will have to wait till closer to the end of the year to get their hands on one. According to the company, It will be available on Elvie.com and Amazon.com, as well in select physical retail stores nationally later this year, pending FDA
approval.

 


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