To hear Amanda McVey tell it, big investors are lined up around the corner chomping at the bit to open their own Upgrade Labs.
Upgrade Labs is one of the few—and McVey would say first—biohacking facilities in the country. Biohacking is usually defined as incrementally revising diet, lifestyle or exercise to improve health, lose weight or improve brain function, according to Healthline.com. (Read more about the three types of biohacking in this Healthline.com article.)
For that reason, Upgrade Labs isn’t a typical gym. Inside its two facilities are a medical component used for blood draws and assessments plus around 15 technologies used to improve physical and mental health as well as recovery with machines such as an oxygen trainer, a cryotherapy chamber, a bone density trainer, a cooling and compression bike, a dry float tank and light therapy.
McVey, vice president of experience and programming at Upgrade Labs, spoke to Club Industry in August. The interview is this month’s Club Industry Podcast, which can be heard by going here. (The podcast is sponsored by TMI Sustainable Aquatics and includes an interview with Tim Petch, co-founder of TMI.) In the podcast, McVey shares the genesis of Upgrade Labs as well as plans for growth and concerns about the validity of biohacking and this technology.
It all started with Dave Asprey, who is today a well-known biohacker with a podcast, a coffee line, coffee shops and an Upgrade Labs Conference as well as the two Upgrade Lab locations. But Asprey began his foray into the biohacking world several years ago when he was a Silicon Valley executive and entrepreneur who found himself in poor health so he searched the world for a way to improve his condition. After drinking yak-butter tea in Tibet, he developed a concoction of coffee, butter and medium chain triglyceride oil that he calls Bulletproof Coffee, claiming the coffee helps people lose weight and improve their mental clarity. (Some people are fans of the coffee, while others are not.) He eventually opened Bulletproof Coffee Shop in Santa Monica, California. It now has three locations.
But Asprey also began buying and using biohacking technology. As other people heard about his efforts, they wanted to try the machines themselves, which led Asprey to open Upgrade Labs in November 2017, next door to his original coffee shop, McVey said. Today, in addition to the original Upgrade Labs, Asprey has a facility in the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California.
Memberships to the two facilities run $500 per month with a session with a personal biohacking technician (personal trainer) running about $170 per hour, McVey said. The two facilities have 200 members, but non-members can use the facility for a fee. The facility in the Beverly Hilton often is frequented by hotel guests.
Due to the technology included in the facilities (most of the equipment costs $50,000 to $100,000 each), the cost to open a location from ground up runs $1.5 million to $2 million, McVey said. The return on that investment is being validated at its two locations, she said.
But the Upgrade Labs team is aware that in order to expand its brand, the model needs to be made more affordable for potential franchisees, many of which are already lined up to buy into the franchise despite the brand just having two corporate locations open for just under two years, McVey said. To make the expansion more scalable, the planned franchised locations will include only a few pieces of equipment and instead will focus on a group experience, which could cut the start-up cost to $750,000, McVey said.
The likelihood is that the company’s first franchised location will open in 2020. These locations will run about 2,500 square feet and will include a Bulletproof Fuel Bar. The group fitness space will accommodate about 25-35 people in an immersive space and charged by technology that is baked into the floors, walls, lights and sound, she said. The room will pulse light at different frequencies that are imperceptible to the eyes to induce different responses in the system, such as to energize the body or power the body down, depending on the time of day and the response the class is seeking.
“The focus of this model is cellular recovery at a rapid level and then also the brain—strengthening the brain, improving HRV (heart rate variability) and really focused on brain and recovery,” McVey said. “It’s not our goal with this to go after sweat. That is well owned and being done really well. We don’t feel the need to enter the sweat space, but we do plan to enter recovery and brain.”
The franchised locations likely won’t employ a medical professional because of the expense. To allow for collection of the most important biomarkers, however, the team is working with labs to find take-home kits that allow people to prick themselves or send in bodily fluids.
The first franchised locations will be in the Los Angeles area, McVey said, to allow for easier oversight from corporate. Sites will likely be in more residential areas than the two existing locations, making them more indicative of where Upgrade Labs plans to open facilities in other parts of the country in the future.
To find out more about Upgrade Labs and its plans for growth, listen to the podcast with McVey by going here.
For more technology insights, check out the Technology and Trends track at the Club Industry Show Oct. 9-11 at the Hilton Chicago and then register to attend.