Genoplan, a startup specializing in DNA testing, analyzes user’s saliva to conduct genetic analysis and give dieting advice tailored for each user, including what to eat and how to work out.
China is fast becoming one of the fattest countries in the world, with more than a quarter of its adults recorded overweight or obese in 2014. The number of overweight Chinese children has skyrocketed from 10% to 20% in the past 30 years. One recent study showed that the generosity of Chinese grandparents was even a factor in the country’s rising obesity epidemic, combined with increased consumption of fast food and a sedentary lifestyle.
One South Korean startup is tackling the growing regional issue from a very basic angle: genetics.
“It’s been observed that 40 to 70 percent of the variations in obesity-related phenotypes [characteristics] in humans are hereditary, and Genoplan starts from there,” Genoplan founder and CEO Brian Kang told TechNode. “These research facts have been there for a long time, but it’s no use if we don’t pull any of these researched facts into our real life. I wanted to use them to meet the consumer’s needs.”
Genoplan offers personal genetic testing kits that help users build optimal healthy lifestyle solutions related to diet and exercise. After a user sends saliva in using the kit, the gene analysis report is sent to user in two weeks, providing 31 kinds of information on individual’s obesity potential, metabolism, nutrition, muscle power and even statistical appetite data. It then suggests a matching diet on their website and application, both in Android andiOS versions. The users must be adults over 19-year-old to conduct the test. Genoplan Fit is available for 99,000 KRW ($85 USD).
Mr. Kang formerly worked as a researcher in a genome research center in the Samsung. He first founded a social enterprise in hopes of improving society.
“I saw US-based DNA screening company, Counsyl,founded by social entrepreneurs. I realized that genetics could help society a lot,” Mr. Kang told TechNode. Then he thought of his wife and sister, who has been always keen on staying in fit. “For women, their longtime homework is losing weight. They want to know why they gain weight, and how to lose weight easily. I thought genetics could help solve this problem,”
Mr. Kang founded Genoplan in April 2014, and went through the incubating program in Global K. After successfully funding the project with over $45,000 USD raised on Korean crowdfunding platform Wadiz in March 2015, the company officially launched in March this year. The company plans to seize the South Korean market first, then expand to Asian countries.
“There is a clear genetic difference between race. Caucasian and Asians, and even East Asians and Southeast Asians have different genes. There has already been a lot of players in Personal Genetic Testing sector in US, but not so much in Asia,” Mr. Kang says.” According to a study, given the same lifestyle and dietary factors, Asians show a greater tendency to gain weight than westerners do.”
There are a handful of players in the market providing genetic solutions, including Counsyl, 23andme, and KOSDAQ-listed companies like Macrogen, Thera-gen, and DNA Link.
“We focused on the health and beauty sector so that we don’t compete with other players. Both the genetic market and health and beauty sector are growing fast and we are on the right stream,” says Mr. Kang.
Currently, the company is partnering with obesity clinics in South Korea and beauty clinics in Japan, targeting women between 20-30 years of age. They will be launching cosmetic lines based on genetic solutions, as well as working further with health food and lunch box companies.
The company raised a $4.5 million USD series A round funding this January led by SoftBank Ventures Korea, investing in the genetic company for the first time, Samsung Ventures and Wonik, specializing in the distribution of healthcare items. The US-headquartered startup has offices in Seoul in Korea, and Fukuoka in Japan.