CEO switch, job cuts at Cambridge startup working on wristband to track hypertension

Former Quanttus CEO Shahid Azim, who remains on the company's board. (Photo by Scott Kirsner / BetaBoston.)
Former Quanttus CEO Shahid Azim, who remains on the company's board. (Photo by Scott Kirsner / BetaBoston.)

What the heck is going on at Quanttus, the best-funded wearable device startup in town? The company has raised $22 million in venture capital, but after saying that it would unveil its product — a wristband that can monitor your blood pressure — in April, nothing happened.

Now, former employees say there has been a new round of layoffs and resignations. The chief executive, Shahid Azim, is also out, but a new CEO hasn’t yet been named.

Azim’s LinkedIn profile says he ended his tenure as chief executive in April. Reached by phone on Monday, he said, “I’m not able to basically comment on anything at this point. We will certainly share more news in the coming days.” Stan Reiss of the venture capital firm Matrix Partners, who serves on Quanttus’s board, also declined to comment; a company spokesperson didn’t return calls or e-mails.

The premise of Quanttus is that round-the-clock monitoring in people with hypertension can help them get their blood pressure under control — but that no one wants to wear an inflatable blood pressure cuff all day. Key to getting doctors to back the device for patient use will be accurate blood pressure measurements, and Quanttus has been working with docs at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham & Woman’s Hospital to prove that its device can match the standard inflatable cuff. The company’s vision involves using data about blood pressure to provide behavioral “nudges” to get people to exercise, reduce their stress levels, and eat properly.

While the company hasn’t publicly shown its device yet, you can get a glimpse of a Quanttus prototype in this recent post about cardiologist Eric Topol.

When we spoke in April, Azim said that he was trying to raise another round of funding for the company, and that he hoped to begin shipping product “toward the end of this year.”

Among those who have left the company in recent months are chief software architect Bo Vargas; head of people strategy (a.k.a. recruiting) Emily Gransky; director of digital marketing Justin Bones; senior interaction designer Nicholas Wallen; senior software engineer Michael Katz; and supply chain exec Maria Kostakis, who is now at Apple.

J.P. Gownder, an analyst at Forrester Research who has been following the wearables market, says via e-mail that at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, “there were 569 companies showing wearables; more than half of these were in the fitness or health area.” Gownder says that for that group of companies, it is costly to comply with the privacy rules that surround the collection of health care data, and to satisfy the regulatory requirements of the Food & Drug Administration. “A lot of money goes in up-front before there is a product, because of the medical product lifecycle,” he says.

Two former employees mentioned that Yoky Matsuoka has been in discussions with the Quanttus board to take over the CEO position; Matsuoka was previously an executive at Nest Labs (acquired by Google) and a professor at University of Washington and Carnegie-Mellon. She has also worked as a consultant to several Boston startups, including Barrett Technology, which makes a robotic hand. Matsuoka didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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