It’s June 2013. Barack Obama is president. “The Purge” rules the box office. Wuhan is known only as the transportation hub of central China. And a young MIT engineering student named Sam Shames is bored.
“We were doing a prototyping contest and got tired of having to put on sweatshirts to stay comfortable in an over-airconditioned lab in June,” he said. “We asked why were couldn’t just heat and cool ourselves directly, and from there the idea for a wristband that could heat and cool was born. After winning the contest, the idea went viral and we started getting thousands of emails from people all over the world saying two things. One: temperature is the biggest pain point in my life. Two: When can I buy this? We were inspired by their stories and decided to start a company.”
That company is now called Embr Labs (an anagram for environment-mind-body-resonance). It is based on a concept called thermal wellness, which is the science of body temperature and the forces that affect it. Suffice to say that April 2020 is quite possibly the most portentous time in modern history to be a company that measures body temperature.
Embr Labs’ core product, sold via its website, is called the Wave bracelet, which was launched in September 2017. Since then Embr has sold tens of thousands of devices crafted from a basic insight: body temperature impacts mood and personal comfort. And if it can be personalized it can have therapeutic power. The company’s patented technology harnesses the power of thermal sensations to deliver natural therapies that “leverage the body and mind’s natural response to temperature to promote relief from hot flashes, manage stress, and enhance sleep,” according to Embr Labs.
With the COVID-19 crisis ravaging the U.S., a new spotlight has been put on the company. It was not designed to be a medical thermometer. But as Shames says, the firm has heard from a lot of customers about its utility now, amid the coronavirus pandemic. Its technology is delivered via an Apple Watch-looking device that conducts what it calls thermal waveforms — dynamic temperature sensations that cool or warm temperature-sensitive wrist nerves with algorithmically-designed waves.
Practically speaking the Wave doesn’t radically change body temperature. It does change your perception of it. So if Shames and his friends were wearing one in the freezing cold lab, their Wave bands would introduce warming waves at the sensitive point for its perception. As Wired magazine said in a recent review: “The idea is that, in situations where you can’t control the thermostat or you left your sweater at home, the Wave will trick your brain into feeling warmer or cooler.”
The Wave band has an on/off switch and temperature control. A correlating app has four preset modes: Quick, Essential, Extended, and Fall Asleep. Quick sends quick waves of cooling or heating over five minutes with each progressing setting extending that session.
Those settings omit one killer app for Embr: menopause. Embr Labs is probably the only tech company that has presented at the North American Menopause Society.
“There are over 330 million women affected by hot flashes, 2.5 billion people dealing with stress-related issues and 1.5 billion people experience sleep discomfort,” Shames said. “Our customers are using Embr Wave for comfort, sleep, and stress, and our biggest market to date is a group we call Prime-Time Women, that is women 45 to 65 who’ve run cold all their lives until they start experiencing hot flashes as part of their menopausal symptom cluster.”
In September 2019 the company announced $6 million in Series B funding led by DigiTx Partners, with participation from Bose Ventures among other investors. Embr Labs is using the investment to grow the company’s footprint in “wellness and digital therapeutics, accelerate development for the next generation of its core technology platform, and validate new use cases in thermal wellness.”
Along with the funding, Embr Labs is rebranding the company’s design with its thermal wellness ethos. “Embr Labs is not only a commercial company defining Thermal Wellness, but also a digital health company with great potential to substantially impact several therapeutic areas,” said David Kim, M.D., managing director of DigiTx Partners. “Moreover, significant real-world evidence can be captured through the Wave devices, which would lead to more personalized and optimal therapy for the users.”