Isabelle Kenyon is an alumnae of investment banking, the Ivy League, and the Forbes 30 Under 30. She’s evaluated ventures for Burch Creative Capital, and after running the operations and growth divisions for pharmacy delivery startup Capsule for three and a half years, has learned a lot about what’s broken about the U.S. healthcare system. But when Kenyon’s mother began trying and struggling to lose weight, Kenyon was met with a problem she couldn’t immediately solve.
Cutting carbs or going on jogs wan’t helping. The most useful resource, Kenyon found, was a doctor in New York who focuses on obesity medicine—a specialization that is in short supply in the U.S. “And it was one of those classic entrepreneurial moments where you’re like, how many of my mom are there? 175 million,” she says. “And how many of these doctors are there? 4,000.”
The result of this light-bulb moment is Calibrate, a metabolic telehealth company Kenyon officially unveiled Wednesday. Calibrate is a one-year digital program that, through a research-based model, connects patients with obesity specialists who can prescribe necessary medications and coaches who can help these patients make lifestyle tweaks to improve sleep, stress and exercise. Patients can access Calibrate and its doctors on a web portal, through the phone, and on an app that will also track progress towards health goals.
For the past six months, Calibrate has been in something closer to stealth mode; Kenyon has been developing it since she left Capsule last year and closed a $5.1 million seed round of funding, led by Kirsten Green’s Forerunner Ventures and joined by Redesign Health, at the end of December. It launched to friends and family last month. But Wednesday’s public launch officially opens the platform to patients in New York, California and Texas (30% of the country’s population) and kicks off what Kenyon hopes will be a conversation around metabolic health, not willpower or weight loss.
“We talk a lot about success beyond the scale: It’s about lowering your blood pressure, lowering your blood sugar,” Kenyon says of Calibrate’s program. These improvements, she says, can help restore a person’s metabolic baseline, which can then lead to weight loss—as much as 10% of a person’s body weight. But the reduction in pounds is meant to be a byproduct of Calibrate’s coaching, not the focus, say Kenyon and her advisors.
Those advisors include clinicians like Dr. Donna Ryan, the president of the World Obesity Federation, and Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, a fellowship-trained obesity medicine physician-scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “What Calibrate is doing, which is different from what we see throughout the medical community, is really looking at obesity as a disease and not a lifestyle choice,” Stanford explains.
Stanford is one of only a few thousand obesity specialists in the U.S., so she understands how tall a barrier there is for most people who want and need treatment. “Only about 2% of persons who actually qualify for use of medications is actually getting that medication. So that means we have 98% that aren’t getting access. This is where a group like Calibrate comes in,” she says.
Individual plans cost $129 a month for 12 months and then $100 a year after that. With obesity prevalence rates lower among high-income groups than in lower-income populations, neither Kenyon nor Stanford deny that some of the patients who could most benefit from Calibrate might not be able to immediately sign up for the service. A group plan option, which is $70 a month and can be split among three to five people, is a step towards helping those populations.
The market opportunity for Calibrate is a potentially lucrative one: American health plans spend more than $300 billion a year on weight issues, while consumers annually spend $290 billion on diet foods, meal plans, and weight loss programs. For Forerunner’s Kirsten Green, it’s an area that’s ripe for both innovation and investment.
“We really were spending time looking for something in this space in particular,” Green told Forbes. “But what really stood out to us with Calibrate was just the sincere balance between having a science-backed medical solution, and then also having a coach and a lifestyle element to really support that and back that up.”
The investment was also appealing, Green says, because of Kenyon’s experience at Capsule and qualities as a leader. “She’s a real learner,” Green says, and is “helpful and kind and respecting of what other people bring to the table.”
And Kenyon is optimistic about just how far she can spread the expertise of her advisors and doctors working for Calibrate.
“Four out of the seven people on our board practice obesity medicine and see patients, and they still wanted to join the board because they wanted to increase access. They know that they can’t see every patient,” she says, “and we could see millions of patients at scale.”