The cystic fibrosis patient community is very small. With the rare disease affecting just about 70,000 people worldwide, it’s difficult for the community to attract the attention of companies looking to build new medical solutions. The user base just isn’t there. What is there, however, is valuable patient data.
“It’s worth something like $20,000 per patient record, because it helps research, and it helps the pharmaceutical companies,” says Robert Chu, CEO of Embleema, a company he founded in 2017 with the mission of using blockchain technology to give people ownership over their medical data. The cystic fibrosis community, which he’s actively working with, helped inspire his efforts.
“Today, the healthcare market is very inefficient in the sense that you have a lot of data silos, different data formats … and the patient doesn’t really know what’s going on with his data,” Chu tells BREAKERMAG. “The best proof is that the patient does not receive any compensation for his data that’s being used by pharma companies when they submit to the FDA.”
Currently, Chu and his team are in talks with the FDA about contracting out Embleema’s patient data-tracking product. About 200 people use Embleema, and some even hold Embleema (EBL) tokens that they’ve earned from uploading their medical data to the platform. (One EBL, says Chu, is now worth about $0.20.) Chu hopes to dramatically grow his company’s user base, and he plans to do this with the help of global entrepreneur network Techstars’ first-ever blockchain accelerator program, which announced its 10-company cohort this morning.
With a live product released this past July, an actual (albeit small) user base, and an ongoing Series A funding round, Embleema is one of the most advanced companies in Techstars’ blockchain accelerator, which launched yesterday in New York City’s Flatiron neighborhood. Other startups in the group include Alkemi, AnyLedger, Autom(8), Blockade Games, Gilded, Paperchain, Paperstreet, Trixta, and Veracity Protocol. The companies chosen represent quite a range of missions. Alkemi focuses on “liquidity solutions” for cryptocurrency holdings, Blockade Games wants to help people own the assets they build in video games, Paperchain wants to create a new revenue model for media companies (good luck), and Gilded wants to help crypto businesses with their accounting.
Seeing as we’re well into the most enduring bear market in crypto history, the blockchain hype has died down significantly. It seems like an odd time for Techstars to launch its first blockchain-focused accelerator, but its managing director, Yossi Hasson, doesn’t think so.
“This is a time when [blockchain] founders need the most support that they can get—support in terms of access to capital, support in terms of access to real mentors and experience and expertise,” Hasson tells BREAKERMAG. “Some of the best companies in the world are built in times when the market is the toughest, which requires you to hustle harder, figure out your business model quicker, and be able to innovate and go to market in new ways.”
Techstars partnered with blockchain advisory firm Alchemist on this 13-week accelerator program. They picked companies from across 48 countries, traveling around the world to repeatedly interview founders before narrowing them down to the current 10 company participants. Month one of the program will focus on mentorship. Between 80 and 100 mentors will work with the blockchain companies, says Hasson, including Messari business development lead Katherine Wu and ConsenSys chief strategy officer Sam Cassatt. Then the program’s focus will shift to how to gain traction as a new business; finally, they will teach the companies how to tell compelling stories to investors, customers, and future hires.
For Embleema, the appeal of the Techstars accelerator is twofold. “The first benefit is to have a better understanding of token economics,” says Chu, whose team specializes in healthcare, technology, and blockchain, but isn’t familiar with the best way to create a token-based economy to support patients, research labs, and other potential users.
“And I think the second benefit is, you know, access to investors.”