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Healthvana’s digital COVID-19 vaccination records are about communication, not passports for the immune

By Darrell Etherington

As the vaccination campaign to counter COVID-19 gets underway (albeit with a rocky start), a number of companies are attempting to support its rollout in a variety of ways. Healthvana, a health tech startup that began with a specific focus on providing patient information digitally for individuals living with HIV, is helping Los Angeles County roll-out mobile vaccination records for COVID-19 using Apple’s Wallet technology. A cursory appraisal of the implementation of this tech might lead one to believe it’s about providing individuals with easy proof of vaccination – but the tech, and Healthvana, are focused on informing individuals to ensure they participate in their own healthcare programs, not providing an immunity pass.

“I generally consider most of healthcare to look and feel like Windows 95,” Healthvana CEO and founder Ramin Bastani. “We look and feel like Instagram . Why is that important? Because patients can engage in things they understand, it’s easier for them to communicate in the way they’re used to communicating, and that ends up leading them better health outcomes.”

Bastani points out that they began the company by focusing this approach to patient education and communication on HIV, and demonstrated that using their software led to patients being 7.4 times more likely to show up for their next follow-up appointment vs. patients who received follow-up information and appointment notices via traditional methods. The company has built their tooling and their approach around not only producing better health for individuals, but also on reducing costs for healthcare providers by eliminating the need for a lot of the work that goes into clearing up misunderstandings, and essentially hounding patients to follow-up, which can significantly dig into clinician and care staff hours.

“We’re actually also reducing the cost to healthcare providers, because you don’t have 1,000 people calling you asking what are their results, and saying ‘I don’t understand, I can’t log in, I don’t know what it means to be SARS nonreactive,’ or all those things we address through simplicity,” Bastain said. “That’s made a huge difference. Overall, I think the key to all healthcare is going to be to be able to get patients to pay attention, and take action to things around their health.”

That’s the goal of Healthvana’s partnership with LA County on COVID-19 immunization records, too – taking vitally important action to ensure the successful rollout of its vaccination program. All approved COVID-19 vaccines to date require a two-course treatment, including one initial inoculation followed by a booster to be administered sometime later. Keeping LA county residents informed about their COVID-19 inoculation, and when they’re due for a second dose, is the primary purpose of the partnership, and benefits from Healthvana’s experience in improving patient follow-up activities. But the app is also providing users with information about COVID-19 care, and, most usefully, prevention and ways to slow the spread.

While Bastani stresses that Healthvana is, in the end, just “the last mile” for message delivery, and that there are many other layers involved in determining the right steps for proper care and prevention, the way in which they provide actionable info has already proven a big boon to one key measure: contact tracing. In select municipalities, Healthvana will also prompt users who’ve tested positive to anonymously notify close contacts directly from their device, which will provide those individuals with both free testing options and information resources.

“Just us doing this in the greater Los Angeles area for less than two months, 12,000+ people have been notified that they’ve been exposed,” Bastani said. “Each of them likely lives with other people and families – this is how you can help slow the spread.”

Contrast that with the relatively slow uptake of the exposure notification tools built into iOS and Android devices via recent software updates provided by Google and Apple working in a rare collaboration. While the technology that underlies it is sound, and focused on user privacy, its usage numbers thus far are far from earthshaking; only 388 people have sent alerts through Virginia’s app based on the exposure notification framework in three months since its launch, for instance.

Healthvana’s focus on timely and relevant delivery of information, offered to users in ways they’re mostly likely to understand and engage with, is already showing its ability to have an impact on COVID-19 and its community transmission. The startup is already in talks to launch similar programs elsewhere in the country, and that could help improve national vaccination outcomes, and how people handle COVID-19 once they have it, too.

Cyber insurance startup At-Bay raises $34M Series C, adds M12 as a new investor

By Zack Whittaker

Cybersecurity insurance startup At-Bay has raised $34 million in its Series C round, the company announced Tuesday.

The round was led by Qumra Capital, a new investor. Microsoft’s venture fund M12, also a new investor, participated in the round alongside Acrew Capital, Khosla Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Munich Re Ventures, and Israeli entrepreneur Shlomo Kramer, who co-founded security firms Check Point and Imperva.

It’s a huge move for the company, which only closed its Series B in February.

The cybersecurity insurance market is expected to become a $23 billion industry by 2025, driven in part by an explosion in connected devices and new regulatory regimes under Europe’s GDPR and more recently California’s state-wide privacy law. But where traditional insurance companies have struggled to acquire the acumen needed to accommodate the growing demand for cybersecurity insurance, startups like At-Bay have filled the space.

At-Bay was founded in 2016 by Rotem Iram and Roman Itskovich, and is headquartered in Mountain View. In the past year, the company has tripled its headcount and now has offices in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Portland, Los Angeles, and Dallas.

The company differentiates itself from the pack by monitoring the perimeter of its customers’ networks and alerting them to security risks or vulnerabilities. By proactively looking for potential security issues, At-Bay helps its customers to prevent network intrusions and data breaches before they happen, avoiding losses for the company while reducing insurance payouts — a win-win for both the insurance provider and its customers.

“This modern approach to risk management is not only driving strong demand for our insurance, but also enabling us to improve our products and minimize loss to our insureds,” said Iram.

It’s a bet that’s paying off: the company says its frequency of claims are less than half of the industry average. Lior Litwak, a partner at M12, said he sees “immense potential” in the company for melding cyber risk and analysis with cyber insurance.

Now with its Series C in the bank, the company plans to grow its team and launch new products, while improving its automated underwriting platform that allows companies to get instant cyber insurance quotes.

AWS updates its edge computing solutions with new hardware and Local Zones

By Frederic Lardinois

AWS today closed out its first re:Invent keynote with a focus on edge computing. The company launched two smaller appliances for its Outpost service, which originally brought AWS as a managed service and appliance right into its customers’ existing data centers in the form of a large rack. Now, the company is launching these smaller versions so that its users can also deploy them in their stores or office locations. These appliances are fully managed by AWS and offer 64 cores of compute, 128GB of memory and 4TB of local NVMe storage.

In addition, the company expanded its set of Local Zones, which are basically small extensions of existing AWS regions that are more expensive to use but offer low-latency access in metro areas. This service launched in Los Angeles in 2019 and starting today, it’s also available in preview in Boston, Houston and Miami. Soon, it’ll expand to Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland and Seattle. Google, it’s worth noting, is doing something similar with its Mobile Edge Cloud.

The general idea here — and that’s not dissimilar from what Google, Microsoft and others are now doing — is to bring AWS to the edge and to do so in a variety of form factors.

As AWS CEO Andy Jassy rightly noted, AWS always believed that the vast majority of companies, “in the fullness of time” (Jassy’s favorite phrase from this keynote), would move to the cloud. Because of this, AWS focused on cloud services over hybrid capabilities early on. He argues that AWS watched others try and fail in building their hybrid offerings, in large parts because what customers really wanted was to use the same control plane on all edge nodes and in the cloud. None of the existing solutions from other vendors, Jassy argues, got any traction (though AWSs competitors would surely deny this) because of this.

The first result of that was VMware Cloud on AWS, which allowed customers to use the same VMware software and tools on AWS they were already familiar with. But at the end of the day, that was really about moving on-premises services to the cloud.

With Outpost, AWS launched a fully managed edge solution that can run AWS infrastructure in its customers’ data centers. It’s been an interesting journey for AWS, but the fact that the company closed out its keynote with this focus on hybrid — no matter how it wants to define it — shows that it now understands that there is clearly a need for this kind of service. The AWS way is to extend AWS into the edge — and I think most of its competitors will agree with that. Microsoft tried this early on with Azure Stack and really didn’t get a lot of traction, as far as I’m aware, but it has since retooled its efforts around Azure Arc. Google, meanwhile, is betting big on Anthos.

HMBradley raises $18.25 million planting a flag as LA’s entrant into the challenger bank business

By Jonathan Shieber

With $90 million in deposits and $18.25 million in new financing, HMBradley is making moves as the Los Angeles-based entrant into the challenger bank competition.

LA is home to a growing community of financial services startups and HMBradley is quickly taking its place among the leaders with a novel twist on the banking business.

Unlike most banking startups that woo customers with easy credit and savvy online user interfaces, HMBradley is pitching a better savings account.

The company offers up to 3% interest on its savings accounts, much higher than most banks these days, and it’s that pitch that has won over consumers and investors alike, according to the company’s co-founder and chief executive, Zach Bruhnke.

With climbing numbers on the back of limited marketing, Bruhnke said raising the company’s latest round of financing was a breeze. 

“They knew after the first call that they wanted to do it,” Brunke said of the negotiations with the venture capital firm Acrew, a venture firm whose previous exposure to fintech companies included backing the challenger bank phenomenon which is Chime . “It was a very different kind of fundraise for us. Our seed round was a terrible, treacherous 16-month fundraise,” Brunke said.

For Acrew’s part, the company actually had to call Chime’s founder to ensure that the company was okay with the venture firm backing another entrant into the banking business. Once the approval was granted, Brunke said the deal was smooth sailing.

Acrew, Chime, and HMBradley’s founders see enough daylight between the two business models that investing in one wouldn’t be a conflict of interest with the other. And there’s plenty of space for new entrants in the banking business, Bruhnke said. “It’s a very, very large industry as a whole,” he said.

As the company grows its deposits, Bruhnke said there will be several ways it can leverage its capital. That includes commercial lending on the back end of HMBradley’s deposits and other financial services offerings to grow its base.

For now, it’s been wooing consumers with one click credit applications and the high interest rates it offers to its various tiers of savers.

“When customers hit that 3% tier they get really excited,” Bruhnke said. “If you’re saving money and you’re not saving to HMBradley then you’re losing money.”

The money that HMBradley raised will be used to continue rolling out its new credit product and hiring staff. It already poached the former director of engineering at Capital One, Ben Coffman, and fintech thought leader Saira Rahman, the company said. 

In October, the company said, deposits doubled month-over-month and transaction volume has grown to over $110 million since it launched in April. 

Since launching the company’s cash back credit card in July, HMBradley has been able to pitch customers on 3% cash back for its highest tier of savers — giving them the option to earn 3.5% on their deposits.

The deposit and lending capabilities the company offers are possible because of its partnership with the California-based Hatch Bank, the company said.

LA-based Boulevard raises $27 million for its spa management software

By Jonathan Shieber

Boulevard, a spa management and payment platform, has raised $27 million in a new round of funding despite a business slowdown caused by the COVID0-19 pandemic.

Founded four years ago by Matt Danna and Sean Stavropoulos, Boulevard was inspired by Stavropoulos’ inability to book a haircut and Danna’s hunch that the inability of salons and spas to cater to customers like the busy programmer could be indicative of a bigger problem.

The two spent months pounding the pavement in Los Angeles pretending to be college students doing research on the industry. They spoke with salon owners in Beverly Hills, Hollywood and other trendy neighborhoods trying to get a sense of where software and services were falling short.

Through those months of interviews the two developed the booking management and payment platform that would become Boulevard. The inspiration was one part Shopify and one part ServiceTitan, Danna said.

The idea was that Boulevard could build a pretty large business catering to the needs of a niche industry that hadn’t traditionally been exposed to a purpose-built toolkit for its vertical.

Investors including Index Ventures, Toba Capital, VMG Partners, Bonfire Ventures, Ludlow Ventures and BoxGroup agreed.

That could be because of the size of the industry. There is more than $250 billion spent per year across roughly 3 million businesses in the salon and spa category, according to data provided by the company. By comparison, fitness attracts roughly $34 billion in annual spending from 150,000 businesses.

“With limited access to the professionals that help us look and feel our best, I think the world has realized something that our team has always recognized: Salons and spas are more than a luxury, they are essential to our well-being,” said Danna, in a statement. “We are humbled that so many businesses are placing their trust in us during such a turbulent time. This new capital will help accelerate our mission and deliver value to salons and spas that they never imagined was possible from technology.”

According to data provided by the company, Boulevard is definitely giving businesses a boost. On average, businesses increase bookings by 16%, retail revenue jumps by 18% and gratuity paid out to stylists jumps by 24% for businesses that use Boulevard, the company said. It also reduces no-shows and cancellations, and halves time spent on the phone.  

“Boulevard is revitalizing the salon and spa industry, as evidenced by the company’s sustained 300-400% revenue growth over the last three years,” said Damir Becirovic of Index Ventures, whose firm led the company’s Series A round and has doubled down with the new capital infusion. 

Customers using the company’s software include: Chris McMillan the Salon, Heyday, MèCHE Salon, Paintbox, Sassoon Salon, SEV Laser, Spoke & Weal and TONI&GUY.

Boulevard now has 90 employees and will look to increase that number as it continues to expand across the country.

Investors have taken a run at the spa market in the past, with company’s like MindBody valued at over $1 billion for its software services. Indeed, that company was taken private two years ago in a $1.9 billion transaction by Vista Equity Partners.

As Boulevard expands, the company may look to get deeper into financial services for the salons and spas that it’s already working with. Given the company’s window into these businesses’ financing, it’s not impossible to imagine a new line of business providing small business loans to these companies.

It’s something that the founders would likely not rule out. And it’s a way to provide more tools to entrepreneurs that often fall outside of the traditional sweet spot for banks and other lenders, Danna said.

 

LA-based A-Frame, a developer of celebrity-led personal care brands, raises cash for its brand incubator

By Jonathan Shieber

A-Frame, a Los Angeles-based developer of personal care brands supported by celebrities, has raised $2 million in a new round of funding led by Initialized Capital.

Joining Initialized in the round is the serial entrepreneur Moise Emquies, whose previous clothing lines, Ella Moss and Splendid, were acquired by the fashion holding company VFC in 2017.

A-Frame previously raised a seed round backed by cannabis dispensary Columbia Care. The company’s first product is a hand soap, Keeper. Other brands in suncare and skincare, children and babycare, and bath and body will follow, the company said.

“We partner with the investment groups at the agencies,” said company founder and chief executive, Ari Bloom. “We start interviewing different talent, speaking with their agents and their managers. We create an entity that we spin out. I wouldn’t say that we compete with the agencies.”

So far, the company has worked with CAA, UTA and WME on all of the brands in development, Bloom said. Two new brands should launch in the next couple of weeks.

As part of the round, actor, activist, and author Hill Harper has joined the company as a co-founder and as the company’s chief strategy officer. Emquies is also joining the company as its chief brand officer.

“Hill is my co-founder. He and I have worked together for a number of years. He’s with me at the holding company level. Identifying the opportunities,” said Bloom. “He’s bridging the gap between business and talent. He’s a part of the conversations when we talk to the agencies, managers and the talent. He’s a great guy that I think has a lot of respect in the agency and talent world.”

Initialized General Partner Alda Leu Dennis took point on the investment for Initialized and will take a seat on the company’s board of directors alongside Emquies. Other directors include Columbia Care chief executive, Nicholas Vita, and John D. Howard, the chief executive of Irving Place Capital.

“For us the calculus was to look at personal care and see what categories need to be reinvented because of sustainability,” said Bloom. “It was important to us once we get to a category what is the demographic opportunity. Even if categories were somewhat evolved they’re not all the way there… everything is in non-ingestible personal care. When you have a celebrity focused brand you want to focus on franchise items.”

The Keeper product is a subscription-based model for soap concentrates and cleansing hand sprays.

A serial entrepreneur, Bloom’s last business was the AR imaging company, Avametric, which was backed by Khosla Ventures and Y Combinator and wound up getting acquired by Gerber Technology in 2018. Bloom is also a founder of the Wise Sons Delicatessen in San Francisco.

“We first invested in Avametric at Initialized in 2013 and he had experience prior to that as well. From a venture perspective I think of these all around real defensibility of brand building,” said Dennis.

The investors believe that between Bloom’s software for determining market preferences, A-Frame’s roster of celebrities and the company’s structure as a brand incubator, all of the ingredients are in place for a successful direct to consumer business.

However, venture capitalists have been down this road before. The Honest Co. was an early attempt to build a sustainable brand around sustainable personal care products. Bloom said Honest provided several lessons for his young startup, one of them being a knowledge of when a company has reached the peak of its growth trajectory and created an opportunity for other, larger companies to take a business to the next level.

“Our goal is a three-to-seven year horizon that is big enough at a national scale that a global player can come in and internationally scale it,” said Bloom.

Beyond Meat unveils two new versions of its Beyond Burgers

By Jonathan Shieber

Beyond Meat has launched two new versions of its Beyond Burgers, the company announced today.

The two new options will be available on store shelves in 2021, but will be on offer at a two-day pop-up event in Los Angeles for folks to try.

The new Beyond Burger patties are designed to mirror the options of beef in the market with the presentation of a lower-fat patty option and a new version of its higher fat content option that the brand promises will be its “juiciest” patty for the “meatiest” Beyond Meat patty on the market.

The low-fat option contains 50% less saturated fat and 35% less total fat than 80/20 beef, according to a statement, and both burgers have fewer calories, and added vitamins and minerals that are comparable to beef’s micronutrient profile, the company said in a statement.

Venture firm M13 names former Techstars LA managing director, Anna Barber, as its newest partner

By Jonathan Shieber

The Los Angeles and New York-based venture firm M13 has managed to nab former Techstars LA managing director, Anna Barber, as its newest partner and the head of its internal venture studio, Launchpad.

Designed to be a collaborative startup company incubator alongside corporate partners, Launchpad focuses on developing new consumer tech businesses focused on M13’s main investment areas: health, food, transportation, and housing.

For Barber, the new position is the latest step in a professional career spent working both inside and outside of the tech industry.

Barber got her first taste of the startup world when she was poached from McKinsey to join one of the several online pet supply stores that cropped up in 1999. From her position as the vice president of product at Petstore.com, Barber got her taste of the startup world… and left it to become a talent manager and the co-founder of the National Air Guitar championships (no word if she managed air guitar talent).

Prior to launching the Techstars LA incubator program, Barber founded ScribblePress, a retail and digital publishing app, which was sold to Fingerprint Digital.

Anna Barber, partner, M13. Image Credit: Raif Strathmann

At M13, Barber will be working to recruit entrepreneurs to work collaboratively on developing startup consumer businesses that align with the strategic interests of M13’s corporate partners, like Procter & Gamble.

We will be bringing in founders in residence who will come in without an idea,” Barber said of the program. “We’re starting with a blank sheet of paper and building teams in partnership with entrepreneurs and in partnership with corporate partners who will bring their perspective and their IP. “

The EIRs will receive a small stipend and equity in the business, Barber said.

The starting gun for M13’s Launchpad  program was in 2019 and the program currently has managed to spin up three startups. There’s Rae, an developer of affordable women’s wellness products; and the beauty tech company OPTE; Kindra menopause products; and Bodewell for sensitive skin care, which were all developed alongside Procter & Gamble Ventures.

M13, for its part, is developing a strong team of women partners who are investing at the firm. Barber will join Lizzie Francis and Christine Choi on the investment team, something that Barber said was especially exciting.

“There is no better place for M13’s Launchpad than Los Angeles and no better person to lead it than Anna. M13 is home to a creative, diverse community of entrepreneurs and operators who want to make the world better by applying innovation in everything from media to biotech, prop tech to food,” said M13 co-founder Carter Reum. “We are excited for Anna to continue to lead LA’s center of entrepreneurs, mentors and investors with a rigorous Launchpad program and more exceptional partners and cohorts.”

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