Past Issues

The business of fitness and wellness.

Forever Young


Since the beginning of time, humankind has longed for a fountain of youth. Now, our obsession with wellness is spilling over into the pursuit of permanence.

Backed by billions in funding, anti-aging startups are seeking to stave off mortality. 

  • According to CB Insights, investors sunk more than $850M into aging and longevity startups in 2018. 
  • The global anti-aging market is expected to exceed more than $271B by 2024

When it comes to preventing aging, our saviors break out into two groups: healthspanners (longevity scientists) and immortalists (Silicon Valley royalty).

Healthspanners hope to slow the aging process, allowing for a longer, higher-quality existence. They don’t think we’ll live forever, and they don’t want us to. Instead, healthspanners are seeking to identify and block the causes of terminal diseases. In their perfect world, we’ll live a healthy, full life followed by a quick and painless death.

Immortalists, on the other hand, think it’s possible—even likely—that we can use technology to prevent death. Like algorithms and advanced AI, they believe they can program the human body, creating a future where evolution is controlled by man and not by nature.

The disease of age: From a biological perspective, by living longer, we’re overstaying our welcome on Earth. Technically, we have one job — to pass on our genes. After that, we’re just taking up space. So, when we hit 30, the aging process ramps up and each day moves us one step closer to our last. 

However, understanding the specifics of the aging process is much more complicated. For starters, despite an abundance of research, doctors and scientists aren’t sure whether longevity is determined primarily by our genes or our lifestyle and environment. 

What we do know, though, is that senescence—the process of deterioration with age—gets us all in the end. 

Over time, our cells become senescent and stop repairing themselves. The body’s inability to heal causes inflammation, which leads to chronic maladies like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and arthritis. The consensus view tells us that each of these diseases are separate and should be treated individually. However, many scientists believe that aging is the primary cause of many chronic diseases. If that’s the case, and we can switch off senescent cells, we may be able to “cure” aging. 

The “God” pill: According to billionaire investor Jim Mellon, longevity is the greatest investment opportunity of all time, asserting: “I’m hoping that this stuff works on me as well as on my portfolio.” According to Mellon, there are three areas set to produce breakthroughs in the coming years. Metformin, a diabetes drug, appears to help people live longer. Rapamycin, a drug that’s extended the lifespan of yeast, worms, and mice, is gaining traction. Meanwhile, stem cell treatments and gene therapies are proving to be effective yet more costly. 

Hoping to cash in on the next big thing and personally partake in the products, prominent entrepreneurs and investors are backing anti-aging companies. 

  • Calico, an Alphabet-backed anti-aging company with $2.5B in funding, has remained fairly quiet since its inception in 2013.
  • Juvenescence is armed with $165M in funding to create “senolytic” drugs that rid the body of cells that have stopped dividing and can cause damage to other cells. 
  • Unity Biotechnology is developing a drug that targets senescent cells. The company, backed by Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel, and the Longevity Fund, went public last year and is valued at $350M. 
  • Life Biosciences, an “age-reversal” startup, has raised more than $75M to combat age-related decline.
  • Samumed, a company that uses stem cells to regenerate hair, skin, bones, and joints, has raised $650M and is valued a $12B. 
  • BIOAGE has raised $33.9M from the likes of Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures, and Felicis Ventures to treat aging. 
  • Elysium Health ($31.2M funding) creates direct-to-consumer health products based on aging research. 

A dose of reality: “For decades”, the New Yorker writes, “the solution to aging has seemed merely decades away.” But we’ve yet to see the kind of game-changing innovation the industry has hoped for. 

While some studies have produced results in lab animals, there has been little in the way of clinical trials. In fact, the FDA doesn’t categorize aging as a disease, which further complicates the path to putting an anti-aging pill on the market. In the meantime, a lack of regulation allows dietary supplements to make unproven claims about their impact on longevity, leading to both hype and confusion. 

Worse, a 2008 deal that saw GlaxoSmithKline acquire Sirtris, an anti-aging startup, for $720M soured when GSK halted the research two years later, citing underwhelming results with possible side effects. 

As one paper concluded, healthspan extension companies are “risky and most likely to fail.” Still, the lure of living forever is too strong to subdue the ambitions of entrepreneurs, scientists, and billionaires committed to finding the proverbial fountain of youth.

Headlines & Happenings

🤔 Health or Wellness

Apple CEO Tim Cook hopes health will be the company’s “greatest contribution to mankind.” But within the organization, there’s growing dissent among top brass who disagree about what that contribution should be. 

Disillusioned with the direction of the group, Apple’s health team has experienced a number of high-profile departures in recent years. According to CNBC, the disagreement centers on Apple’s decision to pursue wellness features instead of more ambitious health projects. 

  • Several employees interviewed for the piece say they hoped to tackle bigger, healthcare-related challenges, such as medical devices, telemedicine, and health payments.
  • Apple, however, has emphasized wellness and prevention by focusing on exercise, meditation, and sleep. 
  • Employees contend that by prioritizing wellness over health, Apple is helping users who are already healthy while failing to address more impactful medical applications aimed at addressing chronic diseases. 

Zooming out: The shortcomings of the US healthcare system have made it ripe for disruption. From the Big Four to DTC healthcare companies, the opportunity has become obvious to contenders intent on offering a better way to receive care. But, as many digital health startups have discovered, reinventing healthcare has proved futile. Even Apple, one of the most valuable companies the world has ever known, is coming up against the wall. 

Wellness, on the other hand, is low-hanging fruit. The lack of risk and regulation helps explain Apple’s decision making and speaks to the explosion of the $4.2T wellness industry. While startups like hims are using wellness and personal care as a stepping stone to healthcare, the blurred lines between healthcare and wellness makes it difficult for consumers to differentiate between trends and treatment.

🚉 Sex & The Subway

New York City’s subway system is becoming overrun with sleek, minimalist ads promising best-in-class personal care delivered straight to your door. At the same time, the city’s underground has become a battleground for wellness and sexual health startups. 

  • hims, a DTC healthcare brand, has bought up what seems like every available inch of ad space, plastering a large, phallic cactus for all to see. 
  • Roman, a him’s competitor, has taken the same unabashed approach to advertise its erectile dysfunction medication. 
  • Meanwhile, female-oriented and sex-forward advertising has been rejected by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), who’s policy prohibits the promotion of a “sexually oriented business.” 

I know it when I see it: The MTA policy coincides with stringent Facebook regulations that prohibit ads for adult products or services, with the exception of contraception. The result has essentially banned (if indirectly) the female-focused, sex-positive content, leaving women’s sex brands with few opportunities to advertise. 

In response, the MTA has pointed out that companies like hims and Roman are men’s health brands addressing sexuality-specific medical conditions and are not linked to pleasure, per se.

From the female sex tech perspective, by selling performance, men’s health brands are implicitly selling pleasure. 

Polly Rodriguez, CEO of Unbound, a women’s sex tech startup, told TechCrunch that not being able to advertise on social channels or the subway is detrimental: “ addition to the policies being biased and gendered, it prevents those founders from being able to reach potential customers.” According to Rodriguez, the company is missing out on “tens of millions of dollars” in profit. 

In response: Women’s sex tech brand Dame—a female-founded sex toy startup—filed a lawsuit against the MTA alleging free speech and equal protection violations. Dame and Unbound have also teamed up to launch Approved, Not Approved, a campaign designed to highlight bias and discrepancies in an arbitrary approval process by Facebook and the MTA.

📰 What We're REading

💰 Money Moves


Simply Good Foods, the maker of nutritional shakes, bars, and other food products under the Atkins brand, is acquiring Quest Nutrition for $1B.

NBA star Joakim Noah has joined Mayweather Boxing + Fitness as an investor and partner. Noah previously invested in Laird Hamilton's health food company, Laird Superfood. For his part, Floyd Mayweather plans to open 500 boxing gyms within five years. 

Nestlé Health Science acquired Persona, makers of personalized vitamins. Terms were not disclosed.

More from Fitt Insider >> DTC Vitamins And The End of GNC 

Flexible workspace provider and WeWork competitor Industrious secured $80M in Series D funding. Of note, Equinox invested in the round.

More From Fitt Insider >> The Rise of Wellness Real Estate 

OLEO, a producer of CBD drink mix, raised $1.5M in a convertible note round backed by UniWill Ventures and others.

PeerWell, a prehab program provider helping patients with physical and mental preparation for orthopedic surgery and recovery, secured $6.5M in Series A funding led by OMERS Ventures.

SMASHMALLOW, a clean label marshmallow producer, secured a minority round of funding from Alliance Consumer Growth (ACG).

Shanghai-based Rockies Fitness, a family-oriented, multiple-themed fitness chain, secured nearly ¥50M (about $7M) in Series A+ funding from Houde Qianhai Fund and a number of individual investors.

Stack Sports, a portfolio company of Genstar Capital, closed a deal with DICK’S Sporting Goods to acquire sports industry software companies Affinity Sports and Blue Sombrero for a reported $45M.

Zenoti, a Bellevue, Wash.-based company providing cloud software for the spa and salon market, raised $20M from Steadview Capital.

Icelandic Glacial, a premium imported bottled water brand, raised $66M funding. The round included a $35M investment by BlackRock’s US Private Credit team.

abillionveg, a Singapore-based review and recommendation platform for vegan-friendly food, restaurants, and products, raised $2M in seed funding led by 500 Startups.

ResortPass, a startup providing locals with access to hotel pools and spas, raised $8.7M in Series A funding.

BallBox, maker of solar-powered, standalone vending machines that rent out leisure and sports equipment, raised $50K as part of Lair East Labs’ summer cohort.

St. Cloud Capital has committed a $250M growth capital investment in AR HIIT, LLC, a Little Rock, AR-based Orangetheory Fitness franchisee. AR HIIT currently operates seven OTF studios, with developmental rights for seven more in the state of Arkansas.


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