Zoi, a preventive care startup co-founded by a former Macron advisor, raises $23 million seed round

Meet Zoi, a new French startup that wants to combine routine medical checkups with preventive care through a mobile app. The startup has been co-founded by Ismaël Emelien, former special advisor to Emmanuel Macron during the early days of its presidency, and Paul Dupuy, who previously worked on Workwell.

Before I tell you more about the product and vision, it’s also worth noting that the company has raised an impressive seed round of $23 million (€20 million) from business angels exclusively.

Zoi is a healthcare startup that focuses on preventive care. The company isn’t working on new treatments, medicines or vaccines. Instead, Zoi wants to give you personalized insights so that you can improve your overall health over the long run.

How does Zoi gather data exactly? “It’s a hybrid model that is physical and digital — we’re going to open centers and we’re going to collect data ourselves,” co-founder and CEO Ismaël Emelien told me.

It’s a hybrid model that is physical and digital — we’re going to open centers and we’re going to collect data ourselves Ismaël Emelien

Once you start your subscription and become a member, the startup will send you an invite to tell you that it’s time to visit a Zoi health center. The company will get blood samples, check your vision, your hearing, your heart and more.

Based on that first checkup, Zoi will use data science to process that data. “We’re going to create the tools that will lead us to predictive algorithms. We’ll be able to improve our data analysis continuously,” co-founder Paul Dupuy told me.

But instead of sending you a 30-page document with a bunch of information, Zoi thinks it’s more efficient to rely on nudge, a popular concept in behavioral sciences. Zoi users will receive messages and content that gently push them to do the right thing for their health.

“At the end of the day, we don’t tell you that you should exercise more and eat healthier — but what kind of sports you should practice for instance,” Emelien said. Zoi users could interact with the app a little bit every day to learn more about their health.

The startup expects to launch its first clinic by the end of the year. There will be a testing phase before Zoi starts accepting a large number of patients. But the business model scales quite well as you can imagine a capacity of tens of thousands of potential patients per clinic.

At first, Zoi is going to be quite expensive as this type of preventive process isn’t covered by France’s national healthcare system. The company compares its offering with checkup centers in Paris, such as the checkup center of the American Hospital in Paris. These processes can cost thousands of euros.

Zoi wants to be a bit cheaper than these existing centers. Over time, the startup also hopes that it can lower its subscription price thanks to economies of scale.

In addition the two co-founders I mentioned already, there are three other members of the founding team. Cédric Carbone and Fabrice Bonan already know each other well as they used to be the CTO and CPO of Talend respectively. On the healthcare side, Dr Claude Dalle is going to act as Zoi’s Chief Scientific Advisor.

Individual investors only

On the investment front, Zoi chose to rule out VC money on purpose. “We were only looking for private investors who could be extremely involved. We asked for a minimum investment that was quite high with €1 million per investor so that they can support us completely,” Dupuy said.

Two persons in particular put more money on the table than the rest — Jean-Claud Marian, the founder of Orpea, a leading healthcare real estate company, as well as Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna. “He considers that preventive medicine is the solution to 90% of health issues,” Emelien said when talking about Stéphane Bancel.

But the list of investors doesn’t stop there. Other men in the round include Xavier Niel, Rodolphe Saadé, Jean-Marie Messier, Jean Moueix, Hassanein Hiridjee, Emmanuel Goldstein and Patrick Levy-Waitz.

There are two concerns with Zoi as it stands. First, with an expensive introductory subscription price, it could create a divide between people who can afford a product like that and everyone else.

Some would say that entrepreneurs should focus more on reducing inequalities in health status and life expectancy. In France, according to a 2018 study, the richest 5% of men live 13 years longer than the poorest 5% of men. When you compare the richest 5% of women and poorest 5% of women, the gap is smaller but there’s still an 8-year difference in life expectancy.

Second, while the startup relies heavily on nudge, Zoi isn’t going be an easy sell for people who don’t live in Paris near Zoi’s inaugural center. To be fair, the startup already plans to expand beyond Paris and the annual checkup only takes a few hours. So you could technically live in the middle of the Alps and get checked once a year.

But I still believe Zoi is tackling preventive care from the right angle. “Conceptually, we put users at the center,” Emelien said. “We don’t start with tech, nor with healthcare. We combine tech with healthcare around users.”

Zoi’s founders are also well aware that preventive care doesn’t stop diseases altogether. It’s all about increasing your odds of living a longer, healthier life. And this sort of methodical, data-driven approach to preventive care combined with the right level of skepticism with technological solutions could definitely have a positive impact on many people’s lives.

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