Heat Wave: Embr Labs’ Pioneering Founders Got a Chill at MIT and Hatched ‘Thermal Wellness’; Menopause Symptoms Squelched

By Mark Ogilbee posted 10-03-2023 08:40 AM


Thermal wellness technology company Embr Labs — an AgeTech Collaborative™ startup participant — produces a pioneering wearable device called Embr Wave (and Wave 2) that helps people live better lives through personal temperature control. Its solution allows users to stimulate thermal receptors in the skin with heating and cooling sensations, all at the touch of a button and, importantly, it has been clinically validated for health and wellness.

Co-founder and COO Sam Shames spent time walking us through the company’s innovative solution and the science behind it.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


Can you describe Embr Labs for us?

We’re passionate about helping people use temperature to improve their lives. We’ve developed a wearable that heats and cools, using temperature to help users with hot flashes, sleep, stress and more.


The device looks a lot like a wristwatch.

Exactly. It changes the temperature at one spot on your wrist in a way that creates a much larger, overall effect.


How does cooling the wrist have such an impact?

When you apply a sensation of temperature to the skin, it activates thermal receptor nerve endings, which send a signal to the brain. The brain then uses that signal to modulate the balance between the fight-or-flight response, which is your sympathetic nervous system, and the rest-and-digest response, which is your parasympathetic nervous system. So our device uses temperature to stimulate and balance the nervous system.

Our device achieves this in a unique way. For the past decade, we’ve been studying the properties of those thermal receptors and how they respond to different applications of temperature. Turns out, when you apply temperature in a static, constant manner, those thermal receptors desensitize and you don’t get as strong a response. So we engineered our device to apply temperature in patented waveforms in a dynamic, rhythmic manner, which gives the strongest signal to your brain. That’s how a device this small can have a systemic effect.

How does the technology inside the device itself work?

From a science and engineering standpoint, cooling things down is very difficult; refrigerators and air conditioners are quite large. We worked really hard to engineer a device that’s very small, uses very little power yet still gets very cold. We use a technology called a thermoelectric module, which is basically a solid state mini air conditioner. It’s made of a class of semiconductor materials that have a unique property: When you run electricity through it, one side gets hot and one side gets cold. This lets us engineer the waves to precisely control the temperature.


How does the device know whether to use the heating or cooling function?

The user controls the device and activates the heating or cooling with the push of a button. We heard early on from customers that having control is really important, so we made it as easy as possible. There are two buttons; by default, one of them warms and one of them cools. A lot of our customers use the product to help with hot flashes, so if they’re in a meeting, for example, and start experiencing a hot flash, they can push a button to start cooling and get immediate relief.


Is the temperature change dramatic, or more gentle?

People can adjust the settings to their preferences. For example, you can make it as cold as putting an ice cube on your wrist, if that’s what feels good, or you can make it gently warm for relaxation. You can fine-tune the amplitude, which is how hot or cold it gets, and you can adjust the duration from just a few minutes to up to eight hours to help you sleep all night.

What was your inspiration for founding the company?

My co-founders and I met as engineering students at MIT. We decided to work together on a summer prototyping project, just for fun, and spent time in the lab brainstorming ideas. The lab was cold from air conditioning and we were always wearing sweatshirts, so we started to wonder, “What if we could heat and cool ourselves directly?” That was the “Aha!” moment, and we developed the idea for the wearable.

We built our first prototype that summer, and the people who tried it, loved it. After we won a prototyping contest, the idea went viral, and we started getting emails from people all over the world. That inspired us to commercialize the technology and build the company.


What’s the primary use case you see people using the device for?

The first question we always get asked is, “Does it work for hot flashes?” Menopausal hot flashes are an incredibly severe pain point for tens of millions of women in the US and around the world, but there aren’t a lot of good solutions that aren’t pharmaceutical. That’s the most common use case for our product.

More broadly speaking, our product is for what I call the “thermally underserved.” People who have temperature-related sleep problems use it, and because it helps balance the nervous system, people also use it to help with stress and anxiety.


What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced growing the company?

The biggest obstacle is awareness. The majority of our customers use it for menopausal hot flashes, but menopause has been a taboo topic for a long time, and so no one talked about solutions. Thankfully, that’s starting to change. We’ve built this product that we know helps many people, so we’ve found our product market fit. But it’s been a challenge to figure out how to make sure it’s accessible to as many people as possible.


Do you work with health plans or other providers, or are you direct-to-consumer?

We’re a consumer wellness product, so we sell on our website as well as through other major channel partners, and we are FSA- and HSA-eligible. We’ve also recently launched a new subscription offering: Rather than buy the device outright, you can rent one on a monthly basis. That gives people who aren’t sure whether they want to make a big commitment a chance to try it out. So we’re finding ways to innovate on the business model to make it more accessible to more people.


What’s on the horizon for Embr Labs?

We’re most focused on trying to spread the word and get more people to try the product, so we'd love to hear from anyone who could benefit from what we offer. And we’re especially interested in hearing from people who can help us find ways to amplify our message or who might be interested in a co-marketing arrangement.


Vist Embr Labs’ website to learn more.