After four years in senior marketing positions at Medtronic in China, entrepreneur Gil Kerbs decided to return to Israel and found a nutrition company, Newt. The company has developed an artificial intelligence-based personalized nutrition application that encourages users to stick to a recommended menu.
For Kerbs, moving from a major medical device corporation to the world of "wellness and health" doesn’t feel like a sudden shift, but rather, a natural continuation of his career path.
"At Medtronic, I worked on products for diabetes, stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer - all illnesses affected in one way or another by nutrition," he says. "And I told myself, great, I helped someone live for two more years, but that’s only two years. And I knew that a proper diet could give them another decade or more, with a good quality of life.
"So why are we so good at doing complicated procedures like implants, and so bad at lifestyle? I might also be influenced by years of living in China, because in Chinese culture, prevention is as important as a cure."
Kerbs says that the more he learned about nutrition, the more he saw how it affected every part of life: "Do you have the energy to wake up each morning and deal with life? Are you focused? With athletes, nutrition affects running speed and post-workout recovery, as well as their chances of injury. For any athlete, even a non-professional, that's the most important thing in life.
There are two main obstacles to incorporating preventative nutrition into a daily diet: First, keeping motivated stay with a menu that demands preparation, self-control and perseverance. That’s hard to do, especially when a person feels healthy. The second challenge is to select the most appropriate recommendations from a plethora of complicated and conflicting nutrition studies.
Ultimately, everyone knows you should eat more vegetables and less processed foods.
"But go one degree of complexity higher and it becomes more challenging. Fruits - yes or no? Milk - good for you or bad? Meat - eat more or less? Is breakfast the most important meal of the day, or is it better to eat later on? You can't Google ‘Which nutrition is best?’ and get a reliable answer. Every person’s body has different purposes, different limitations, and every menu has different combinations. It's like you taking medicine without consulting your doctor."
Targeting amateur athletes
The Newt system provides each user with a customized menu that varies according to their needs. "We recruited Joy Bauer, one of the most popular nutritionists in the US and an NBC TV presenter, to guide us in this area. She understands clinical nutrition, but also understands what people actually eat. For example, if someone takes the bus in the morning, there’s no point in telling them ‘Bring some yoghurt along for the ride.’
"I’ll tell someone who works outside the office to bring enough bottled water to last the whole day, while I might tell an office IT worker to drink a glass of water whenever they go to the washroom."
To address the issue of keeping users motivated, Newt brought in organizational psychologist Professor Adam Grant from the Wharton School of Business, who specializes in motivation and behavior. "He helps us to explain the nutritional recommendations in a way that gets people to act on them. For example, if I say 'It's important to drink more water,' you say 'Yeah, sure.' But if I explain exactly how it will advance your specific goals - that changes the conversation."
After users understand exactly what they need to do and why, the motivational system communicates with them daily. "The app isn’t there to tell you exactly what to eat, but to remind you of your key guidelines, hear what you’re planning to prepare, and then encourage you to make time for shopping and preparation.
"We know that no one follows the recommendations 100%, but even sticking with them 50% will change your health. You don’t have to be fanatical, but you won't reach 50% if you don't aim for 100%."
Newt's initial target audience is amateur athletes, like Kerbs himself. "They get into wellness and health because they enjoy it, they’re not coming from a painful place. That's why it's a good starting point. When we move into other segments, they will be our social influencers. It's also easy to reach them, in groups or in gyms. Plus, right now, there aren’t any strong competitors in the category of nutrition apps specifically for athletes."
"Nutrition is a science too"
About two years ago, Medtronic, the company in which Kerbs worked, acquired Nutrino, a company that gathered massive amounts of information about nutrition habits around the world to build an artificial intelligence-based database that connects data about food with data about individual morbidity. "Nutrino is an IT company. It doesn't know how to make you eat things that are good for you," Kerbs says. "We aim to take that sort of database one step further, and tailor it to real-life users."
Kerbs admits that when he presented the company before med-tech venture capital funds, some said their preference was to invest in more sophisticated solutions and patents. "VCs feel better if they know they’re investing in a new molecule. But nutrition is science too. The Israeli investment community also shies away from anything that needs direct marketing to the consumer," Kerbs adds. To date, Newt has raised about $400,000 from US private investors.
After years working in the Chinese market, Kerbs is now targeting it as a second market: "You don’t enter this market if you don’t have the funds. China is a winner takes all market. DiDi, the Chinese version of Uber, totally conquered the market after beating out 20 to 30 local competitors, in addition to Uber. So, in the next phase, that’s where we’ll go."
The company, which has developed an application for athletes to personalize and manage nutrition, was founded in 2019 by Gil Kerbs, who also serves as CEO. Kerbs previously held senior marketing positions at Medtronic in China. The company has five employees and has so far raised about $400,000 from private investors and from Israeli fund Welltech1. Newt is currently in the pilot stage.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 28, 2020
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