By Frank Witsil Detroit Free Press
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Great Q&A with "5 Hour Energy" Founder Manoj Bhargava. Bhargava says he has created a new medical therapy called "Renew" that could potentially boost everything from memory to athletic performance.
Detroit Free Press
Manoj Bhargava, the Farmington Hills billionaire, is at it again.
The Princeton University dropout who made his money selling concoctions in tiny bottles to help people stay awake, now seeks to commercialize a controversial medical therapy that he is calling the "greatest health treatment anywhere in the world."
In a new therapy called Renew, a patient lies down and is strapped into inflatable cuffs that are wrapped around the calves, thighs and hips. The cuffs inflate and deflate in succession -- pulsing the body in sync with heartbeats -- for about 30 minutes, as EKG leads monitor the patient's heart.
Bhargava says the therapy could potentially boost everything from memory to athletic performance.
"It enhances blood flow, which is the basis of almost all health," Bhargava said at his Farmington Hills center, where he plans to study the therapy. "So, it affects, for example, your brain, for dementia and Alzheimer's, skin, heart, every organ, muscles, joints, diabetes, all that is affected by blood flow."
While views vary on the therapy's medical benefit, Bhargava's pitch for the treatment is an opportunity to glean more insight into how one of Michigan's wealthier entrepreneurs thinks and his approach to business.
In his own words, his business formula is to "identify things that work, turn them into something simple, then go out and commercialize them."
Bhargava -- who is recognized by schoolchildren globally as the result of a 40-something minute documentary, "Billions in Change" released last year that was shown in classrooms around the world -- said that, like the 5-hour energy drink he is so well-known for, he did not invent the therapy or the device to deliver it, but he wants to make it available to everyone.
In fact, he said, his long-term vision is to set up centers around the world where patients could go to get the treatment.
In an edited conversation, he discussed Renew, 5-hour Energy and his plans to spend his fortune addressing global woes.
QUESTION: My son, he's 11, studied you last year in his class.
ANSWER: That's the most shocking thing that happened from that documentary. It's all over the world. I went to Singapore and I got recognized. All schools in Singapore showed it. It's across the entire world, not just here. It's kind of an aspiration for kids to say: "OK, is someone actually doing something instead of just making money and buying toys?"
Q: My son gave me some questions to ask.
A: Kids have the best questions.
Q: So, let's start with a popular one. What is your net worth?
A: To tell you the truth, I don't even know. It's certainly a few (pause) billion. But, beyond that, it's hard to gauge.
Q: I've read an estimate of $4 billion?
A: Yeah, that's probably conservative.
Q: What does your new therapy device do?
A: Basically, it enhances blood circulation, so it acts like a secondary heart. But, it's not invasive. It's cuffs that go around your ankle, your calves, thighs, it sort of massages, squeezes, with your heartbeat. It acts like a secondary heart pumping blood.
Q: How often do you get this treatment?
A: I do it two to three times a week, and the effects are stunning. If you did it, after one or two sessions, you'd go, 'What the hell?' You feel lighter. As you get older, you are heavier, you go up the stairs, it's the same way, but it feels twice as much.
Q: Is it a form of massage?
A: Actually, it squeezes, so it pushes the blood up.
Q: Is it like cupping (the therapy swimmer Michael Phelps made famous at this summer's Olympic Games)?
A: No, no, no. This is the greatest device ever made. I'm saying that because I didn't make it. It was invented at Harvard about 40 years ago.
Q: What's the plan here?
A: This is the initial center, and people are coming here from all over the world to copy this in other parts of the world. This is like a showroom, and also the first center. The study we are doing is dementia. Dementia, Alzheimer's is something that affects at least two people: The person who has it, and even more so, the person who is the caregiver. So this is one place -- one area -- we think will be really large for this, dementia and Alzheimer's.
Q: How much does it cost?
A: Well, at this point we'd expect centers like this because the machinery itself is about $45,000. So it would be pretty expensive.
Q: Is the treatment covered by insurance?
A: Some indications are covered by insurance, most are not.
Q: What is the financial potential here?
A: I don't think I'll make money in 15 years. The reason I did this, and the reason I do most everything else, I find something which is great, and I go do it. Whether it makes money or not. If it makes money, awesome, if it doesn't, OK. This is one of those that is going to be late in making money, but it is the greatest thing there is. So, I'm going to be behind it. I think it will take off faster in the rest of the world. The reception has been much faster in the rest of the world because its a substitute for heart surgery.
Q: Is it scientific?
A: Oh yeah. The American Heart Association has tried to push Medicare to use this as a primary -- or as an adjunct to -- heart surgery. Unfortunately, the surgeons are in charge.
Q: Let's talk about 5-hour Energy. That's where you made most of your money. Where did the idea come from?
A: I started a company to look for technology worldwide because if you have some technology, you can make more money than if you don't have technology. So I searched around and got lucky and found something that I tried and was amazing. But, it was in a big bottle. So I thought, 'what if I'm tired? I don't want to drink 16 ounces.' So I found this technology and made it better and launched it.
Q: What is it made of?
A: It really is brain function. It's sort of nutrients for the brain. It's like vitamins for the brain. With this, you focus. Your focus becomes better. When you focus, you think you have energy. You really don't have energy, you just have focus.
Q: Isn't it mostly caffeine?
A: No. The caffeine part is just there. One of the greatest qualities of caffeine, it makes other nutrient absorb. That's why in Excedrin, there's caffeine. Why would they give you caffeine for your headache? That doesn't make any sense. The purpose of that is to get the other stuff absorbed by the body.
Q: Is it a secret formula?
A: It's not that secret. It's just in the right combinations. It just works. There was one cameraman in here today who said, the biggest thing for me was it's such a surprise to find something that works. Anything.
Q: So you made most of your money from 5-hour Energy and pledged to give most of it away. You said you will give 99% of your money away. Why did you decide to do that?
A: Correct. It will be 99% of what I have. If you have more money than you need, there's only two things you can do. You can do completely useless things, or useful things. The only useful thing I can think of, is so something for those with less. It's not that I'm a good guy -- or anything like that. It's just there was really no choice.