When Emi Gonzalez walked into the classroom as a student, she didn’t know she was about to experience the moment that prompted her to become CEO of her first startup.
The class on Gonzalez’ schedule was “Glucose: From Molecule to Society,” an advanced course that she took as part of her major in cellular and molecular biology at Harvard University. That day in October 2016, the class would listen to a guest speaker: an individual who had lost a leg as a consequence of suffering from diabetes.
“I felt, like, it was too late to help him,” Gonzalez said. “That was the initial moment that I felt it was time for something else.”
Gonzalez realized that when it comes to diabetes, an area that needs improvement is motivating patients to take good care of themselves. CheckMate Diabetes, the company she founded with four fellow Harvard students in January 2017, is an app that connects patients’ to a network of friends who serve as “motivators, competitors and cheerleaders,” as Gonzalez put it, ultimately inducing users to assume healthy habits.
“The problem is that a lot of people with diabetes don’t check the sugar levels often enough.”
“The problem is that a lot of people with diabetes don’t check the sugar levels often enough,” Gonzalez said. “That leads to terrible consequences, such as ketoacidosis, coma, and about two-thirds of amputations are due to poor diabetes-related management.”
As a common and well-researched disease of the Western world, diabetes earned the arguable privilege of being among the top “Diseases & Conditions” researches on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also releases a national diabetes statistics report every two years.
The latest CDC numbers tell us that as of 2015, 30.3 million Americans – 9.4 percent of the U.S. population – have diabetes, while another 84.1 million have pre-diabetes, a condition that if not treated often leads to type 2 diabetes within five years.
Since correctly managing the condition is so important for the patients’ health, the idea of programming an app to help patients do it is not new. What sets CheckMate Diabetes apart is the fact that it not only keeps track of variables, but it also motivates users to change and improve their habits, according to Gonzalez.
Once logged into the app, users can input their sugar levels (both in the “low” and “high” ranges) and the number of times they want to check their levels everyday. Every time users log in, they boost a score that can be used to compete against other users.
Currently, Checkmate is working with MGH and Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston to keep testing the app, which is available for both iOS and Android. Since it launched the last week of January, the app has been downloaded 115 times, according to Gonzalez.