Speaking with Viome CEO, Naveen Jain, it’s not hard to understand how investors, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff and Khosla Ventures among them, handed Viome a fresh round of $25 million in funding last week.
During our chat by phone, Jain was animated, proclaiming that it was a big week for him not because his company has now raised $45.5 million (and wants to raise $100 million in this Series B round) but because life is, in his words, “amazing!” and his company was working to make becoming sick a choice.
The company does this by collecting a stool sample from you (which you mail in) and running it through its software platform to analyze what microbes in your gut are doing to the food you eat. How your microbiome is treating your food can indicate what diseases you might be susceptible to, according to Jain. From there Viome applies AI to its findings to develop individualized dietary guidelines. Viome says there is no universal diet. Spinach, for example, might not be healthy for everyone because of the way your body processes it. By doing all this, Jain and company claim, Viome can help people avoid getting diseases like diabetes, or irritable bowel syndrome or even insomnia and depression.
The company’s claims and services aren’t without skeptics, even Jain himself has a controversial past. But that evidently didn’t keep investors at bay, and Jain says that Viome has a dozen clinical trials with various universities, labs and hospital networks to show the efficacy of his company’s service.
Viome has been on a bit of a roll this year. Back in February, the company acquired personalized nutrition service, Habit, from Campbell’s (terms were not disclosed). Habit’s original business was creating personalized recipes based on a person’s biomarkers. These types of personalized recipes, according to Jain, were a natural fit for Viome. In addition to recommending specific foods based on the biome, the company could recommend whole meals. Though Jain didn’t bring it up, it’s not hard to see Viome taking it one step further in selling personalized meal kits to people at some point.
But first, Jain said the biggest challenge for his company is generating awareness. He said the new money will go towards acquiring new customers, which will in turn provide more data that will make its service more useful. Additionally, Jain said Viome is working on a new type of test that only requires a finger prick of blood. This, by an unfortunate bit of timing, sounds a lot like Theranos.
Applying technology to your microbiome is definitely a trend. Other players in the space include uBiome, Day Two and Second Genome. Whether or not all of these solutions actually work and are something to get as excited as Jain about, remains to be seen.