In the past year or so, several new startups have targeted women with apps and other digital tools that promise a better chance at conceiving. But a Livermore, Calif. startup wants to tackle the other side of the equation: men.
That’s because while women are primarily responsible for carrying and delivering children, when it comes to conceiving, male-related issues are the root of infertility problems 40 percent of the time.
“It’s a nascent market, but we think there’s a lot of pent-up demand to help give some feedback on the male side,” said Greg Sommer, CEO and co-founder of Sandstone Diagnostics.
Bringing biodefense-related diagnostic technology to consumers
Before launching about a year ago, Sommer and his co-founder worked at Sandia National Laboratories, where they developed instruments that would enable first responders to rapidly detect toxins, radiation or other biological agents for defense needs. Along the way, they realized that their tools could be helpful to consumers, too.
“We saw [fertility] as a very large market opportunity that currently didn’t have any real solutions,” said Sommer. “But it’s also one of the simplest implementations of our technology.”
Their first big focus is building TrakFertility, a diagnostic kit that aims to give men an easy and affordable way to conduct clinical-grade semen analysis at home. Now, over-the-counter semen-analysis kits can only give men a limited window into the quality of their sperm. Sandstone’s technology doesn’t just tell men whether they are above or below a “normal” level, it provides an actual sperm count, along with information on concentration and motility. With that information, Sommers said, men could learn how to improve their sperm count and monitor their progress or take the necessary medical steps. He declined to provide a price but said it would cost less than over-the-counter options (which are around $40) and far less than going to a clinic or doctor for tests.
Complementing data-driven fertility apps
The startup has also done some preliminary work on a mobile app that could help men track and analyze the results of their tests, as well as communicate information with their doctors. In the interest of releasing a product quickly (their target is next year, after receiving regulatory approval), Sommers said they intend to release the kit on its own. But he added that they plan to expand with an app, either created in-house or in partnership with someone else.
So far, the startup has received some funding from the National Institutes of Health and other investors and, earlier this month, it was selected to be a part of Morganthaler Ventures and Health 2.0’s DCtoVC digital health startup competition next week. Ultimately, Sommers said, the company could expand into fertility tools for women, as well as diagnostic kits for other purposes.
Given the recent launch of startups like PayPal founder Max Levchin’s Glow app and Ovuline, which use big data to help couples identify their most fertile days, Sommer said he also hopes that their tool could work with services like those to make even more accurate fertility predictions.
Some fertility apps help men track their partners’ cycles and Glow, for example, enables both partners to input and view information in its app. But it’s a nice change to see a company focus on male-factor fertility issues in such a direct way. Getting men to be a part of the conversation in what is typically seen as a “woman’s issue” could be a challenge. But, in addition to its diagnostic tools and plans for an app, the startup is also trying to appeal to men with a light-hearted educational site playfully-named “Don’t Cook Your Balls”.
“We’re building a market,” said Sommers. “Part of it is an awareness thing — a lot of men don’t know that there is a problem and that there are things they can do about it.”
Image by Guskova Natalia via Shutterstock.