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Exclusive: Enara raises $6 million for virtual weight support

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Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Virtual weight management startup Enara Health collected $6 million in seed funding, founder and CEO Rami Bailony tells Axios exclusively.

Why it matters: Obesity rates are on the rise, and the condition worsens outcomes from COVID-19.

  • "COVID has highlighted that health inequity and obesity are linchpins for further pandemics; they fuel the fire," Bailony says.

Context: VC-backed startups offering virtual tools for weight loss support — e.g., Calibrate, Found and Kickoff — have drawn big interest from investors, especially as the pandemic continues to curb visits to clinics and gyms alike.

  • Meanwhile, Apple's new privacy rules are forcing many DTC digital health companies to pivot to B2B, since they can no longer rely on Facebook for customer acquisition.

By the numbers: Over the past twenty years, the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. has risen roughly 11% to 41.9%, per the CDC.

  • Over the same period, the number of people in the U.S. with severe obesity — often classified as having a BMI over 40 — has increased to 9.2% from 4.7%, the CDC notes.
  • In 2019 dollars, U.S. medical spending on obesity was nearly $173 billion, and medical costs for adults with obesity were $1,861 higher than those for people without the condition, according to a 2021 study.

Deal details: Offline Ventures led the round, and was joined by Charge, Crossover, Continuum Health Ventures and VSC Ventures, plus individual backers including Raj Kapoor, Kevin Mahaffey and Matt Brezina.

How it works: San Mateo, Calif.-based Enara is designed to help physicians give patients personalized weight loss support using an emotional assessment, hormone and genetic testing and an individual diet and exercise plan.

  • The company's network of clinics accepts several major insurance plans including those from AnthemBlueCross, Cigna, Humana and Medicare.
  • The program costs $99 per month with insurance, or $475 per month without.

What they're saying: Investors say Enara's physician-focused model adds a layer of accountability and consistency that DTC businesses often lack, while Bailony says looping in providers helps address inequity.

  • "When it’s a consumer's job alone, things like habit formation become really challenging," says Offline Ventures co-founder and managing partner Nate Bosshard.
  • "We could easily focus on clinics that only serve upper middle class neighborhoods," says Bailony. "But we haven’t ... because if you start catering to specific populations, you end up with one diet, one medication, one exercise program — rather than a multitude of solutions, which is what you need to care for a broader population."

Of note: Several recent studies appear to support the use of digital tools for weight management, including a 2019 paper published by Enara in the journal Obesity Science and Practice.

  • In a paper published last February in the journal Obesity, researchers concluded that in 74% of cases, people who frequently used digital tools for weight loss lost more weight than those who used them rarely.
    • Lead author and Stanford researcher Michele Patel tells Erin that while "self-monitoring can be a useful strategy even when someone does it on their own ... looping in a trained health care provider will likely have a meaningful impact in the long-term." 
  • Another study published last June in Obesity Reviews found a positive link between the use of digital weight management tools and weight loss as well as overall activity levels.

What's next: Bailony says Enara will use the funds to expand its network of providers beyond its current 30.

  • "I think this is the path forward for digital health — where you’re equipping physicians with virtual tools or helping them amplify their practice in other ways," Bosshard says.
  • "We’re now at a stage where we’re putting these incredible digital health tools scaled during COVID back into the hands of practitioners," says Climactic VC co-founder and managing director Raj Kapoor.
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