FreshRSS

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new available articles, click to refresh the page.
Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

BoxGroup closes on $255M across two funds to back startups at their earliest stages

By Mary Ann Azevedo

BoxGroup has quietly, yet diligently, been funding companies at the early stage for over a decade. The 11-year-old firm in fact was the first investor in Plaid, a fintech company that nearly got sold to Visa last year for billions of dollars.

It has seen a number of impressive exits over the years, proving an eye that can detect winners before the winners themselves may even realize it. In fact, it’s that early faith in companies that partner David Tisch believes has been key to BoxGroup’s success.

“If you’re starting a company and you’re going to raise money, that first yes is the hardest. And it’s that’s the one that gives you the confidence, the excitement – to know that there’s somebody out there that’s going to believe in this and give you money for it,” Partner David Tisch told TechCrunch. “We really do try to pride ourselves on being that first yes on a regular basis. So the earlier we meet companies, the better.”

Today, BoxGroup is announcing it has beefed up its war chest so that it can be that “first yes” to more companies with the closure of two new funds totaling $255 million of capital. BoxGroup Five is the firm’s fifth early stage fund, and is aimed at investing in emerging tech companies at the pre-seed and seed stages. BoxGroup Strive is its second opportunity fund that will back companies in their subsequent follow-on rounds. Each fund amounts to $127.5 million. 

Over the years, BoxGroup has made over 300 investments including having invested in the earliest rounds of Ro, Plaid, Airtable, Workrise, Scopely, Bowery Farms, Ramp, Titan, Warby Parker, Classpass, Guideline and Glossier. It has had a number of impressive exits in Flatiron Health, PillPack, Matterport, Oscar, Mirror, Bark, Bread and Trello. 

Besides being the first firm to write Plaid a check, BoxGroup was also the first investor in PillPack, which ended up selling to Amazon for just under $1 billion in 2018.

BoxGroup Five – the firm’s early-stage fund – will invest in about 40 to 50 new companies a year with investments ranging from $250,000 to $1 million.

“We want to be the second or third biggest check in a round,” Tisch said.

Image Credits: BoxGroup; Adam Rothenberg (left), Nimi Katragadda (bottom), Greg Rosen (top), David Tisch (right)

The opportunity fund occasionally makes later-stage investments in new companies, but mostly just continues to support companies it invested in at an earlier stage. For example, BoxGroup first invested in id.me in 2010.

“The company is sort of an 11-year overnight success that we’ve been backing for over a decade now,” Tisch said. “It’s an example of us just continuing to support companies through their life cycle.”

BoxGroup also pre-seeded digital healthcare startup Ro, but also funded every round it’s raised since, including its most recent $500 million funding at a $5 billion valuation

Tisch describes the BoxGroup six-person team as “generalists” in terms of the spaces it invests in, with a portfolio consisting of startups in the consumer, enterprise, fintech, healthcare, marketplace, synthetic biology and climate sectors.

Interestingly, BoxGroup’s last fund closures – which totaled $165 million – marked the first time the firm had accepted outside capital in nine years. Prior to that point, it had been funded with only personal capital. Its LPs are a mixed group of endowments, foundations and family offices.

For BoxGroup, building authentic relationships with founders is at the root of what the firm does, says Partner Nimi Katragadda. That includes taking bets on founders, sometimes more than once, even if one of their companies didn’t work out. It means backing just ideas in some cases, and people.

“This cannot be transactional, it has to be personal,” she said. “We want to go on a journey with someone for a decade as they build their business…. We’re comfortable with what early means, including a lot of assumptions, more vision than traction, and raw product.”

Partner Adam Rothenberg agrees, saying: “Our goal is to be the friend in the room. We believe in honesty, tough love, and transparency in building relationships with founders. We focus on the “how” more than the “what” — how a founder thinks, how they will build product, and how they think about attracting talent.”

With offices in San Francisco and New York, the firm will likely be growing in the near future as BoxGroup is looking to add on some “first-line investors,” Tisch said.

Recently, Greg Rosen was named a partner at the firm. Rosen originally joined BoxGroup in 2015, where he spent three years before leaving to join Benchmark. He re-joined BoxGroup in early 2020 and joins the firm’s three other partners: Tisch, Rothenberg and Katragadda. 

While the world of venture is crazy hot right now, Tisch said the firm keeps itself grounded with a wisdom that can only be gained with experience and in time.

“There is seemingly infinite capital waiting to be deployed,” he said. “Without calling the cycle, we know that over time markets go up and down…No matter where we are in a given cycle, smart and determined minds will come together to build important technology companies. Our job is to make sure we are meeting those founders and choosing wisely about which ones to partner with for 10+ year journeys.”

The best way to grow your tech career? Treat it like an app

By Ram Iyer
Raj Yavatkar Contributor
As CTO, Raj Yavatkar is responsible for charting Juniper Networks' technology strategy through the execution of the company’s innovations and products for intelligent self-driving networks, security, mobile edge cloud, network virtualization, packet-optical integration and hybrid cloud.

Software developers and engineers have rarely been in higher demand. Organizations’ need for technical talent is skyrocketing, but the supply is quite limited. As a result, software professionals have the luxury of being very choosy about where they work and usually command big salaries.

In 2020, the U.S. had nearly 1.5 million full-time developers, who earned a median salary of around $110,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the next 10 years, the federal agency estimates, developer jobs will grow by 22% to 316,000.

But what happens after a developer or engineer lands that sweet gig? Are they able to harness their skills and grow in interesting and challenging new directions? Do they understand what it takes to move up the ladder? Are they merely doing a job or cultivating a rewarding professional life?

To put it bluntly, many developers and engineers stink at managing their own careers.

These are the kinds of questions that have gnawed at me throughout my 25 years in the tech industry. I’ve long noticed that, to put it bluntly, many developers and engineers stink at managing their own careers.

It’s simply not a priority for some. By nature, developers delight in solving complex technical challenges and working hard toward their company’s digital objectives. Care for their own careers may feel unattractively self-promotional or political — even though it’s in fact neither. Charting a career path may feel awkward or they just don’t know how to go about it.

Companies owe it to developers and engineers, and to themselves, to give these key people the tools to understand what it takes to be the best they can be. How else can developers and engineers be assured of continually great experiences while constantly expanding their contributions to their organizations?

Developers delight in solving complex challenges and working hard toward their company’s objectives. Care for their own careers may feel unattractively self-promotional or political — even though it’s in fact neither.

Coaching and mentoring can help, but I think a more formal management system is necessary to get the wind behind the sails of a companywide commitment to making developers and engineers believe that, as the late Andy Grove said, “Your career is your business and you are its CEO.”

That’s why I created a career development model for developers and engineers when I was an Intel Fellow at Intel between 2003 and 2013. This framework has since been put into practice at the three subsequent companies I worked at — Google, VMWare, and, now, Juniper Networks — through training sessions and HR processes.

The model is based on a principle that every developer can relate to: Treat career advancement as you would a software project.

That’s right, by thinking of career development in stages like those used in app production, developers and engineers can gain a holistic view of where they are in their professional lives, where they want to go and the gaps they need to fill.

Step 1: Functional specification

In software development, a team can’t get started until it has a functional specification that describes the app’s requirements and how it is supposed to perform and behave.

Why should a career be any different? In my model, folks begin by assessing the “functionality” expected of someone at their next career level and how they’re demonstrating them (or not). Typically, a person gets promoted to a higher level only when they already demonstrate that they are operating at that level.

Talkiatry lands $20M Series A to go all in on in-network psychiatric care

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Talkiatry announced today that it has raised a $20 million Series A to scale a strategy simple in theory yet potentially challenging in execution: bring psychiatry services in-network with insurance providers. The round, led by Left Lane Capital with participation from the founder and former CEO of CityMD, Dr. Richard Park, is an extension of Talkiatry’s previously secured $5 million financing. That check was led by Sikwoo Capital Partners with participation from Relevance Ventures and Park.

Co-founded by Robert Krayn and Dr. Georgia Gaveras, Talkiatry is a digital health startup that helps consumers access in-network appointments with psychiatrists for therapy and medicine management. The company employs an ongoing care model in which it takes a consumer in through a virtual survey, matches them with a psychiatrist based on their needs, and then follows the consumer through the care process from diagnosing symptoms to the actual prescription of medicine.

The startup’s true innovation lies in its plan to make psychiatric services covered by insurance providers for consumers. Many plans today don’t cover mental health services beyond a certain point — and at the same time, many high-quality psychiatrists don’t participate in private insurance plans because of minimal reimbursement and paperwork nightmares. As a result, the psychiatrists that are in-network may be consumed with patients, and the ones at private practices could have a price of up to $300 per session.

“There’s many people who have identified the problem that [psychiatrists are not accessible],” said Krayn. “What the issue comes to next is are they really, really solving the problem, or are they working around it?”

Krayn explained how startups have turned to hiring therapists and nurse practitioners as replacements for psychiatrists, which he thinks decreases the clinical quality of care (the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist is that the latter can prescribe medication). He said his competitors have also focused more on lessening the out-of-pocket costs instead of avoiding them altogether.

“While that does increase access to mental health, we think that that necessarily doesn’t give the most amount of access to solve a real problem, which is that psychiatrists are not accessible,” he said.

Talkiatry has partnered with a number of insurance providers including United Healthcare, Aetna, BlueCross BlueShield and more. While companies like Cerebral, Headway and Uplit have similarly gone in-network, the co-founder argues that it has the least restrictive relationship with providers, meaning that consumers won’t have to pay out of pocket for anything outside of the typical copay.

“Sure, some platforms are offered as an added benefit in addition to a health insurance plan, but may have additional restrictions, i.e., a patient may get access to the platform but still pay a monthly fee to get service. Others may only be allowed a certain number of visits and some may only be available if your employer decides to offer it in addition,” he said. “Talkiatry has none of these restrictions and can be used like any other in-network doctor you typically go to.”

Stability among its supply of psychiatrists is key here. Talkiatry has hired psychiatrists as W-2 employees instead of contractors. By not using a contractor model, Talkiatry will have more stability in its services but could struggle with scale. The startup will rapidly and consistently hire psychiatrists with varying backgrounds to serve consumers. Plus, in order to expand into new markets, Talkiatry has to go through the arduous legal process of local licensing requirements, instead of just going to a white-label solution that helps staff similar companies while offloading individual practitioner certification.

While Ginger, a well-capitalized growth stage company, and Lyra Health, a digital health unicorn last valued at $4.6 billion, have recently made waves in the behavioral health space, Talkiatry is confident that it can break into the sector, which continues to attract record amounts of venture capital from investors.

Its competition is paying attention. For example, Ginger has made more efforts to bring in-network mental health solutions to users, recently partnering with AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia and Cigna.

“Providing psychiatry in-network is one avenue to ensure people receive care, but it still does not solve the supply-demand imbalance in the mental healthcare space,” said Russell Glass, Ginger CEO and co-founder. He explained how Ginger’s product being on-demand and virtual helps it address the growing shortage of mental health providers, which will be a hurdle that Talkiatry will need to address, too.

Currently, Talkiatry has 44 clinicians on its platform, with 33 as psychiatrists and the remaining as nurse practitioners. It has done 30,000 visits since its launch.

Exo secures $200M toward commercializing ultrasound device

By Christine Hall

Exo, pronounced “echo,” raised a fresh cash infusion of $220 million in Series C financing aimed at commercializing its handheld ultrasound device and point-of-care workflow platform, Exo Works.

The round was led by RA Capital Management, while BlackRock, Sands Capital, Avidity Partners, Pura Vida Investments and prior investors joined in.

The new funding gives the Redwood City, California-based company over $320 million in total investments since the company was founded in 2015, Exo CEO Sandeep Akkaraju told TechCrunch. This includes a $40 million investment raised in 2020.

Ultrasound machines can cost anywhere from $40,000 to $250,000 for low-end technology and into the millions for high-end machines. Meanwhile, Exo’s device will be around the cost of a laptop.

“It is clear to us that ultrasound is the future — it is nonradiating and has no harmful side effects,” Akkaraju said. “We want to take the technology and put it in the palms of physicians. We also want to bring it down to the patient level. The beauty of having this window into the body is you can immediately see things.”

Using a combination of artificial intelligence, medical imaging and silicon technology, the device enables users to use it in a number of real-world medical environments like evaluating cardiology patients or scanning lungs of a COVID-19 patient. It can also be used by patients at home to provide real-time insight following a surgical procedure or to monitor a certain condition.

Exo then adds in its Exo Works, the workflow platform, that streamlines exam review, documentation and billing in under one minute.

Akkaraju said the immediate focus of the company is commercializing the device, which is where most of the new funding will go. He intends to also build out its informatics platform that is being piloted across the country and to ramp up both production and its sales force.

The global point-of-care ultrasound market is expected to reach $3.1 billion by 2025 and will grow 5% annually over that period. In addition to physicians, Akkaraju is hearing from other hospital workers that they, too, want to use the ultrasound device for some of their daily tasks like finding the right vein for an IV.

Once the company’s device is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Exo will move forward with its plan to bring the handheld ultrasound device to market.

Zach Scheiner, principal with RA Capital Management, said he met the Exo team in 2020 and RA made its first investment in the Series B extension later that year.

He was “immediately compelled” by the technology and the opportunity to scale. Scheiner also got to know Akkaraju over the months as well as saw how Exo’s technology was improving.

“We are seeing an expanding opportunity in healthcare technology as it improves and costs go down,” he added. “The vision Sandeep has of democratizing the ultrasound is not a vision that was possible 15 or 20 years ago. We are seeing the market in its early stage, but we also recognize the potential. Every doctor should want one to see what they were not able to see before. As technology and biology improves, we are going to see this sector grow.”

 

UK’s Mindtech raises $3.25M from In-Q-Tel, among others, to train CCTV cameras on synthetic humans

By Mike Butcher

Imagine a world where no one’s privacy is breached, no faces are scanned into a gargantuan database, and no privacy laws are broken. This is a world that is fast approaching. Could companies simply dump the need for real-world CCTV footage, and switch to synthetic humans, acting out potential scenarios a million times over? That’s the tantalizing prospect of a new UK startup that has attracted funding from an influential set of investors.

UK-based Mindtech Global has developed what it describes as an end-to-end synthetic data creation platform. In plain English, its system can imagine visual scenarios such as someone’s behavior inside a store, or crossing the street. This data is then used to train AI-based computer vision systems for customers such as big retailers, warehouse operators, healthcare, transportation systems and robotics. It literally trains a ‘synthetic’ CCTV camera inside a synthetic world.

It’s now closed a $3.25 million early-stage funding round led by UK regional backer NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance, with Deeptech Labs and In-Q-Tel.

That last investor is significant. In-Q-Tel invests in startups that support US intelligence capabilities and is based in Arlington, Virginia…

Mindtech’s Chameleon platform is designed to help computers understand and predict human interactions. As we all know, current approaches to training AI vision systems require companies to source data such as CCTV footage. The process is fraught with privacy issues, costly, and time-consuming. Mindtech says Chameleon solves that problem, as its customers quickly “build unlimited scenes and scenarios using photo-realistic smart 3D models”.

An added bonus is that these synthetic humans can be used to train AI vision systems to weed out human failings around diversity and bias.

Mindtech CEO Steve Harris

Mindtech CEO Steve Harris

Steve Harris, CEO, Mindtech said: “Machine learning teams can spend up to 80% of their time sourcing, cleaning, and organizing training data. Our Chameleon platform solves the AI training challenge, freeing the industry to focus on higher-value tasks like AI network innovation. This round will enable us to accelerate our growth, enabling a new generation of AI solutions that better understand the way humans interact with each other and the world around them.”

So what can you do with it? Consider the following: A kid slips from its parent’s hand at the mall. The synthetic CCTV running inside Mindtech’s scenario is trained thousands of times over how to spot it in real-time and alert staff. Another: a delivery robot meets kids playing in a street and works out how to how to avoid them. Finally: a passenger on the platform is behaving erratically too close to the rails – the CCTV is trained to automatically spot them and send help.

Nat Puffer, Managing Director (London), In-Q-Tel commented: “Mindtech impressed us with the maturity of their Chameleon platform and their commercial traction with global customers. We’re excited by the many applications this platform has across diverse markets and its ability to remove a significant roadblock in the development of smarter, more intuitive AI systems.”

Miles Kirby, CEO, Deeptech Labs said: “As a catalyst for deeptech success, our investment, and accelerator program supports ambitious teams with novel solutions and the appetite to build world-changing companies. Mindtech’s highly-experienced team are on a mission to disrupt the way AI systems are trained, and we’re delighted to support their journey.”

There is of course potential for darker applications, such a spotting petty theft inside supermarkets, or perhaps ‘optimising’ hard-pressed warehouse workers in some dystopian fashion. However, in theory, Mindtech’s customers can use this platform to rid themselves of the biases of middle-managers, and better serve customers.

Sweetch raises $20M for a personalized engagement system designed to boost health outcomes

By Emma Betuel

You’ve just sat down to dinner, and your wearable device reminds you to get up and get in your steps for the day. Maybe the app has a point, but odds are, you’ll push the notification to the side. The founders of Sweetch, an Israeli company creating its own AI-driven behavior change app, are betting that if you got that notification in a different way, you’ll be more likely to take its advice. 

Yossi Bahagon, the founder of Sweetch, describes the company’s approach to digital reminders as a mixture of artificial intelligence and emotional intelligence. The app will use AI to analyse “lifeprint” data picked up through a smartphone. Then it delivers messages to when you might be more likely to respond to them and in a “tone of voice” that encourages compliance. 

For instance if you have meetings on Mondays between 12 and 3, but still want to get in some exercise, Sweetch won’t suggest getting a workout in during those times, or shame you for sitting through a meeting rather than getting a run in. 

“It’s about ongoing hyper-personalized engagement that increases the likelihood of the patient doing what he or she needs to do,” says Bahagon. 

On Monday, Sweetch announced a $20 million Series A round led by Entreé Capital. Other investors include Noaber, Kortex Ventures, Insurtech VC, Fin TLV Ventures, and existing investors Philips, OurCrowd, and Qure Ventures. 

Bahagon is a family physician by training, but he’s spent the majority of his career in the digital health arena. In 2008 Bagahon founded the digital health division of Clalit Health Services, a non-profit insurance and medical services provider that currently insures 60 percent of the Israeli population. His previous company, Luminox Health, was acquired by Israeli investor platform OurCrowd in 2016, and Bahagon stayed on to manage the fund’s digital health arm. 

Sweetch, which was founded in 2013, is yet another digital health venture for Bahagon –  this time aimed at increased patient compliance. The app has already generated some interest, and was one of five apps selected from over 400 to participate in the Bayer G4A program, something like an accelerator developed by the pharmaceutical giant. 

So far, Sweetch CEO Yoni Nevo says the app has “tens of thousands of users,” (the company would not provide a specific number).

It’s currently being used in patients with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and, in a bit of a departure from the rest: breast cancer treatment. 

Sweetch isn’t designed for users to download at will on the app store (you can download it, but won’t get far without an access code); their go-to market strategy is instead to partner with healthcare organizations, pharma companies, payers or providers. Then providers might prescribe Sweetch alongside the actual treatment to encourage them to stick with it.

There is evidence that people don’t always follow doctors’ orders – particularly when it comes to chronic conditions. One 2017 report from the CDC notes that one in five prescriptions written in the United States are never filled, and up to 50 percent of medicines were taken incorrectly (at the wrong time, wrong dose, etc). 

Improving patient compliance, though, is a more complicated problem. The CDC report outlined a few solutions – some of which have more to do with the healthcare system than they do with health tech. Those include lowering economic barriers to medication, increasing team-based healthcare (your pharmacist and doctor coordinating prescription refills, for instance), and increasing access to healthcare in the first place. 

The report does highlight an avenue for health information technology to help address the non-compliance problem (it specifically mentions e-prescribing software). 

Tech, like Sweetch, can only address the non-compliance problem in medicine if it doesn’t have a non-compliance problem of its own. To that end, Bahagon says the app has a record of user retention. “Even after 24 months, we still see around 45% of the patients that started using the system continue to use it,” he says.  

User retention is a good sign for any app developer. But in the health space, it’s more complicated. Some studies suggest that consumer ratings are poor markers of how well these apps work to improve outcomes (you might like an app and use it, but it doesn’t make you any healthier). 

In that regard, Sweetch does have a trial under its belt, conducted at two sites in the Johns Hopkins Clinical Research Network. 

The app was tested on 55 adults with prediabetes over the course of three months. Forty-seven of the participants finished the trial, and on average, they increased their physical activity by an average of 2.8 MET-hours (they may have actually exercised for shorter periods, but their intensity was the equivalent of 2.8 hours of work), and lost about 1.6 kilograms. 

The users also lowered their A1c levels, a key measure of average blood sugar. Prediabetic adults usually have an A1c between 5.7 and 6.5 percent, and those in this trial reduced their A1c levels by about .1 percent (the study refers to that reduction as “clinically meaningful.”) 

This study didn’t specifically compare Sweetch to any other prediabetes interventions. However, a study on that is upcoming. In a December 2020 interview, Bahagon noted that Sweetch had received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue testing Sweetch against other “gold standard” interventions for diabetes. 

Nevo and Bahagon didn’t provide concrete updates on the project, but noted that “in a month or so” the company may announce updates on the NIH funding and upcoming randomized controlled trials. 

In the meantime, the company plans to use the Series A funding to expand into markets in the US and Brazil, grow the user base, and enhance the platform to provide specific and tailored recommendations for even more conditions. 

US blames China for Exchange server hacks and ransomware attacks

By Zack Whittaker

The Biden administration has formally accused China of the mass-hacking of Microsoft Exchange servers earlier this year, which prompted the FBI to intervene as concerns rose that the hacks could lead to widespread destruction.

The mass-hacking campaign targeted Microsoft Exchange email servers with four previously undiscovered vulnerabilities that allowed the hackers — which Microsoft already attributed to a China-backed group of hackers called Hafnium — to steal email mailboxes and address books from tens of thousands of organizations around the United States.

Microsoft released patches to fix the vulnerabilities, but the patches did not remove any backdoor code left behind by the hackers that might be used again for easy access to a hacked server. That prompted the FBI to secure a first-of-its-kind court order to effectively hack into the remaining hundreds of U.S.-based Exchange servers to remove the backdoor code. Computer incident response teams in countries around the world responded similarly by trying to notify organizations in their countries that were also affected by the attack.

In a statement out Monday, the Biden administration said the attack, launched by hackers backed by China’s Ministry of State Security, resulted in “significant remediation costs for its mostly private sector victims.”

“We have raised our concerns about both this incident and the [People’s Republic of China’s] broader malicious cyber activity with senior PRC Government officials, making clear that the PRC’s actions threaten security, confidence, and stability in cyberspace,” the statement read.

The National Security Agency also released details of the attacks to help network defenders identify potential routes of compromise. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied claims of state-backed or sponsored hacking.

The Biden administration also blamed China’s Ministry of State Security for contracting with criminal hackers to conduct unsanctioned operations, like ransomware attacks, “for their own personal profit.” The government said it was aware that China-backed hackers have demanded millions of dollars in ransom demands against hacked companies. Last year, the Justice Department charged two Chinese spies for their role in a global hacking campaign that saw prosecutors accuse the hackers of operating for personal gain.

Although the U.S. has publicly engaged the Kremlin to try to stop giving ransomware gangs safe harbor from operating from within Russia’s borders, the U.S. has not previously accused Beijing of launching or being involved with ransomware attacks.

“The PRC’s unwillingness to address criminal activity by contract hackers harms governments, businesses, and critical infrastructure operators through billions of dollars in lost intellectual property, proprietary information, ransom payments, and mitigation efforts,” said Monday’s statement.

The statement also said that the China-backed hackers engaged in extortion and cryptojacking, a way of forcing a computer to run code that uses its computing resources to mine cryptocurrency, for financial gain.

The Justice Department also announced fresh charges against four China-backed hackers working for the Ministry of State Security, which U.S. prosecutors said were engaged in efforts to steal intellectual property and infectious disease research into Ebola, HIV and AIDS, and MERS against victims based in the U.S., Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom by using a front company to hide their operations.

“The breadth and duration of China’s hacking campaigns, including these efforts targeting a dozen countries across sectors ranging from healthcare and biomedical research to aviation and defense, remind us that no country or industry is safe. Today’s international condemnation shows that the world wants fair rules, where countries invest in innovation, not theft,” said deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco.

Papa co-founder lands seed funding for a second swing in eldercare: UpsideHōM

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Jake Rothstein spent nearly six years scaling Papa, a Miami-based company that offers care and companionship to seniors. The business, which pairs elderly Americans with uncertified-yet-vetted pals, helps offer casual services, such as technology support, grocery delivery or even a fun conversation. It has raised upwards of $91 million in venture capital to date.

The company gave Rothstein a deeper look into the priorities of older adults and families as they go through the aging journey. And while Papa was about meeting the elderly where they are, it seems that a few years in, the co-founder began to think of a more complex question: What if “where they are” isn’t as supportive as it should be 24/7?

Rothstein left Papa in January 2020 to launch a more modern take on senior living communities. UpsideHōM is a fully managed, tech-enabled living space for older adults in the United States. After Rothstein and his co-founder Peter Badgley completed a year of beta testing, the duo announced today that they have raised a $2.25 million seed round for UpsideHōM, led by Triple Impact Capital and Freestyle Capital, with participation from Techstars.

Alongside the funding, UpsideHōM announced its next big bet, dubbed a relaunch, that will sit atop its fully furnished apartments that sit throughout Raleigh, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Tampa and South Florida: a software platform to take out all the clutter from move-in and maintenance. The platform will give residents one spot to chat with their house manager, pay bills and access perks such as on-demand tech support, house-keeping and companion visits thanks to a partnership with Papa. The company also offers add-on services and amenities, including freshly prepared meals, grocery delivery, fitness programming and accompanied transportation.

upsidehom-platform

Image Credits: UpsideHōM

Part of UpsideHōM’s focus is in creating personalized solutions. Elders are diverse in age, needs and financial circumstances — which means the turnkey solution needs to be easily adaptable to service needs when they pop up. The company needs to be careful though: It can’t offer traditional caregiver services due to state by state compliance; instead Rothstein describes the offerings as supportive services, not in replacement of health assistant caregivers.

upsidehomhouse

Image Credits: UpsideHoM

When the company first launched, it was betting on a more unconventional idea.

“I thought, let’s solve loneliness even more completely than what Papa is doing by building in companionship,” Rothstein said, instead of letting people order it on demand. The company decided to offer roommate matching services for elders as one of its core services, alongside the aforementioned assisted living characteristics. It didn’t fully stick. Over half of inbound participants responded to the marketing efforts by saying that they liked the idea, but didn’t want to share the space. Today, 50% of UpsideHōM’s business covers individuals or people with spouses or significant others; the other half covers those looking to share units.

The synergies between UpsideHōM and Papa, Rothstein’s previous company, are clear beyond an overlapping customer base. Papa offered up to and almost including actual care, stopping at traditional care-giving services, which require their own vetting and compliance measures. UpsideHōM offers up to and almost including traditional senior living services, but gives supportive services instead of assisted living services, which similarly have their own logistic hurdles to figure out.

As for why Rothstein didn’t just launch supportive living services as a new product vertical within his earlier company, he chalked it up to the “tremendous” opportunity in the former, which warranted it’s own company. He also said that customer acquisition looks different between the two companies.

“At Papa, what we found was that acquiring customers in this space was incredibly challenging [so we went through] the Medicare Advantage route,” he said. “But senior living is a completely different segment.”

The millions in new venture capital money are coming as UpsideHōM prepares for aggressive growth. While the company did not disclose revenue or total residents, it did say it has hit 1,000% in new resident headcount in the first half of 2021 as a vague proxy. As the startup prepares for its next phase of growth, the co-founders will need to focus heavily on sustainable customer acquisition.

Rothstein thinks that downsizing elders into homes that work for them is a simple argument to make.

“You can age in place for as long as it’s practical, but there’s going to be a day and time when it’s not gonna be practical,” Rothstein said. “Why would you want to make this decision after you’ve broken your hip, after you run out of money or after your spouse died?”

Biden’s sweeping executive order takes on Big Tech’s ‘bad mergers,’ ISPs and more

By Taylor Hatmaker

The Biden administration just introduced a sweeping, ambitious plan to forcibly inject competition into some consolidated sectors of the American economy — the tech sector prominent among them — through executive action.

“Today President Biden is taking decisive action to reduce the trend of corporate consolidation, increase competition, and deliver concrete benefits to America’s consumers, workers, farmers, and small businesses,” a new White House fact sheet on the forthcoming order states.

The order, which Biden will sign Friday, initiates a comprehensive “whole-of-government” approach that loops in more then twelve different agencies at the federal level to regulate monopolies, protect consumers and curtail bad behavior from some of the world’s biggest corporations.

In the fact sheet, the White House lays out its plans to take matters to regulate big business into its own hands at the federal level. As far as tech is concerned, that comes largely through emboldening the FTC and the Justice Department — two federal agencies with antitrust enforcement powers.

Most notably for Big Tech, which is already bracing for regulatory existential threats, the White House explicitly asserts here that those agencies have legal cover to “challenge prior bad mergers that past Administrations did not previously challenge” — i.e., unwinding acquisitions that built a handful of tech companies into the behemoths they are today. The order calls on antitrust agencies to enforce antitrust laws “vigorously.”

Federal scrutiny will prioritize “dominant internet platforms, with particular attention to the acquisition of nascent competitors, serial mergers, the accumulation of data, competition by ‘free’ products, and the effect on user privacy.” Facebook, Google and Amazon are particularly on notice here, though Apple isn’t likely to escape federal attention either.

“Over the past 10 years, the largest tech platforms have acquired hundreds of companies — including alleged ‘killer acquisitions’ meant to shut down a potential competitive threat,” the White House wrote in the fact sheet. “Too often, federal agencies have not blocked, conditioned, or, in some cases, meaningfully examined these acquisitions.”

The biggest tech companies have regularly defended their longstanding strategy of buying up the competition by arguing that because those acquisitions went through without friction at the time, they shouldn’t be viewed as illegal in hindsight. In no uncertain terms, the new executive order makes it clear that the Biden administration isn’t having any of it.

The White House also specifically singles out internet service providers for scrutiny, ordering the FCC to prioritize consumer choice and institute broadband “nutrition labels” that clearly state speed caps and hidden fees. The FCC began working on the labels in the Obama administration but the work was scrapped after Trump took office.

The order also directly calls on the FCC to restore net neutrality rules, which were stripped in 2017 to the widespread horror of open internet advocates and most of the tech industry outside of the service providers that stood to benefit.

The White House will also tell the FTC to create new privacy rules meant to guard consumers against surveillance and the “accumulation of extraordinarily amounts of sensitive personal information,” which free services like Facebook, YouTube and others have leveraged to build their vast empires. The White House also taps the FTC to create rules that protect smaller businesses from being preempted by large platforms, which in many cases abuse their market dominance with a different sort of data-based surveillance to out-compete up-and-coming competitors.

Finally, the executive order encourages the FTC to put right-to-repair rules in place that would free consumers from constraints that discourage DIY and third-party repairs. A new White House Competition Council under the director of the National Economic Council will coordinate the federal execution of the proposals laid out in the new order.

The antitrust effort from the executive branch mirrors parallel actions in the FTC and Congress. In the FTC, Biden has installed a fearsome antitrust crusader in Lina Khan, a young legal scholar and fierce Amazon critic who proposes a philosophical overhaul to the way the federal government defines monopolies. Khan now leads the FTC as its chair.

In Congress, a bipartisan flurry of bills intended to rein in the tech industry are slowly wending their way toward becoming law, though plenty of hurdles remain. Last month, the House Judiciary Committee debated the six bills, which were crafted separately to help them survive opposing lobbying pushes from the tech industry. These legislative efforts could modernize antitrust laws, which have failed to keep pace with the modern realities of giant, internet-based businesses.

“Competition policy needs new energy and approaches so that we can address America’s monopoly problem,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a prominent tech antitrust hawk in Congress, said of the executive order. “That means legislation to update our antitrust laws, but it also means reimagining what the federal government can do to promote competition under our current laws.”

Citing the acceleration of corporate consolidation in recent decades, the White House argues that a handful of large corporations dominates across industries, including healthcare, agriculture and tech and consumers, workers and smaller competitors pay the price for their outsized success. The administration will focus antitrust enforcement on those corners of the market as well as evaluating the labor market and worker protections on the whole.

“Inadequate competition holds back economic growth and innovation … Economists find that as competition declines, productivity growth slows, business investment and innovation decline, and income, wealth, and racial inequality widen,” the White House wrote.

 

The Accellion data breach continues to get messier

By Carly Page

Morgan Stanley has joined the growing list of Accellion hack victims — more than six months after attackers first breached the vendor’s 20-year-old file-sharing product. 

The investment banking firm — which is no stranger to data breaches — confirmed in a letter this week that attackers stole personal information belonging to its customers by hacking into the Accellion FTA server of its third-party vendor, Guidehouse. In a letter sent to those affected, first reported by Bleeping Computer, Morgan Stanley admitted that threat actors stole an unknown number of documents containing customers’ addresses and Social Security numbers.

The documents were encrypted, but the letter said that the hackers also obtained the decryption key, though Morgan Stanley said the files did not contain passwords that could be used to access customers’ financial accounts.

“The protection of client data is of the utmost importance and is something we take very seriously,” a Morgan Stanley spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are in close contact with Guidehouse and are taking steps to mitigate potential risks to clients.”

Just days before news of the Morgan Stanley data breach came to light, an Arkansas-based healthcare provider confirmed it had also suffered a data breach as a result of the Accellion attack. Just weeks before that, so did UC Berkely. While data breaches tend to grow past initially reported figures, the fact that organizations are still coming out as Accellion victims more than six months later shows that the business software provider still hasn’t managed to get a handle on it. 

The cyberattack was first uncovered on December 23, and Accellion initially claimed the FTA vulnerability was patched within 72 hours before it was later forced to explain that new vulnerabilities were discovered. Accellion’s next (and final) update came in March, when the company claimed that all known FTA vulnerabilities — which authorities say were exploited by the FIN11 and the Clop ransomware gang — have been remediated.

But incident responders said Accellion’s response to the incident wasn’t as smooth as the company let on, claiming the company was slow to raise the alarm in regards to the potential danger to FTA customers.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand, for example, raised concerns about the timeliness of alerts it received from Accellion. In a statement, the bank said it was reliant on Accellion to alert it to any vulnerabilities in the system — but never received any warnings in December or January.

“In this instance, their notifications to us did not leave their system and hence did not reach the Reserve Bank in advance of the breach. We received no advance warning,” said RBNZ governor Adrian Orr.

This, according to a discovery made by KPMG International, was due to the fact that the email tool used by Accellion failed to work: “Software updates to address the issue were released by the vendor in December 2020 soon after it discovered the vulnerability. The email tool used by the vendor, however, failed to send the email notifications and consequently the Bank was not notified until 6 January 2021,” the KPMG’s assessment said. 

“We have not sighted evidence that the vendor informed the Bank that the System vulnerability was being actively exploited at other customers. This information, if provided in a timely manner is highly likely to have significantly influenced key decisions that were being made by the Bank at the time.”

In March, back when it was releasing updates about the ongoing breach, Accellion was keen to emphasize that it was planning to retire the 20-year-old FTA product in April and that it had been working for three years to transition clients onto its new platform, Kiteworks. A press release from the company in May says 75% of Accellion customers have already migrated to Kiteworks, a figure that also highlights the fact that 25% are still clinging to its now-retired FTA product. 

This, along with Accellion now taking a more hands-off approach to the incident, means that the list of victims could keep growing. It’s currently unclear how many the attack has claimed so far, though recent tallies put the list at around 300. This list includes Qualys, Bombardier, Shell, Singtel, the University of Colorado, the University of California, Transport for New South Wales, Office of the Washington State Auditor, grocery giant Kroger and law firm Jones Day.

“When a patch is issued for software that has been actively exploited, simply patching the software and moving on isn’t the best path,” Tim Mackey, principal security strategist at the Synopsys Cybersecurity Research Center, told TechCrunch. “Since the goal of patch management is protecting systems from compromise, patch management strategies should include reviews for indications of previous compromise.”

Accellion declined to comment.

Musculoskeletal medical startups race to enter personalized health tech market

By Natasha Mascarenhas

As the pandemic unevenly roars on, Emily Melton, founder and managing partner of Threshold VC, is reflecting on a previous public health crisis: the Spanish Flu.

She says the response just over a century ago prompted the rise of interventional medicine — treating illness through surgery or medicine only after symptoms manifest. Today, interventional medicine is the dominant mindset in Western healthcare. And, Melton, a lead investor in health tech startups including Livongo, Tia, and Calibrate, says the care pathway ages well.

“What’s happening in our society? Chronic diseases, chronic pain, diabetes, and obesity,” she said. “That doesn’t require a magic pill and there’s not just a surgery. Oftentimes, there’s therapeutic components, behavior changes, and movable touchpoints.”

Enter personalized medicine. The buzzy yet powerful framing is growing in popularity among Silicon Valley startups. It’s a delivery system in which patients receive more holistic care that takes into account multiple symptoms or co-morbidities. In hormonal health, for example, personalized medicine could add more data and specificity to which birth control someone takes, instead of the usual process of trial and error. Essentially, it’s the opposite of interventional medicine.

“We’re not just an arm or a leg, we’re not just obese or a diabetic or a pain sufferer,” Melton said. “How do we treat you as a whole person?”

A number of companies are using this approach to reinvent care for patients with musculoskeletal (MSK) medical conditions and chronic pain. These conditions are commonly treated with addictive opioids, a major public health concern. As an estimated 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, entrepreneurs are working on solutions that don’t resemble the cookie-cutter status quo. And the money market is certainly there: in 2017, the global MSK medical market was valued at $57.4 billion; the market for chronic pain, which overlaps with MSK medicine, is expected to hit $151.7 billion in value by 2030.

“Oftentimes it’s not new ideas, it’s conflating a number of factors that come together at one moment in time that allow exponential change,” that makes a startup work,” Melton said, of the boom and recent activity in MSK medicine. Today, we’ll focus on three startups taking different approaches to help people suffering from chronic pain and MSK-related conditions: Clearing, Peerwell, and Hinge Health.

Clearing

Avi Dorfman says going direct to consumers is the most effective way to treat chronic pain, so he founded Clearing. The digital health startup worked with a medical advisory board of physicians and researchers from Harvard, John Hopkins, and NYC’s Hospital for Special Surgery to create an opioid-free solution for people struggling with pain.

Last month, Clearing raised a $20 million seed round led by Bessemer and Founders Fund. Melton also invested in the round on behalf of Threshold.

Clearing offers four products: prescription compound cream that includes FDA-approved ingredients, CBD cream for topical discomfort, nutraceuticals to supplement joint health, and a directory of pre-recorded, at-home exercises. It currently is available to patients in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

Mediflash is a freelancer marketplace for health professionals

By Romain Dillet

Meet Mediflash, a new French startup that wants to improve temp staffing in healthcare facilities, such as nursing homes, clinics and mental health facilities. The company positions itself as an alternative to traditional temp staffing agencies. They claim to offer better terms for both caregivers and institutions.

“It costs a small fortune to health facilities while caregivers are paid poorly,” co-founder Léopold Treppoz told me.

Traditional temp staffing agencies hire caregivers and nurses on their payroll. When a facility doesn’t have enough staff, they ask their usual temp staffing agency. The agency finds someone and charges the facility.

“When we started, we thought we would do a temp staffing agency, but more digital, more tech,” Treppoz said. But the startup realized they would face the same issues as regular temp staffing agencies.

Instead, they looked at other startups working on freelancer marketplaces for developers, project managers, marketing experts and more. In France, a few of them have been quite successful, such as Comet, Malt, StaffMe and Brigad — some of them even run a vertical focused on health professionals. But Mediflash wants to focus specifically on caregivers.

Professionals signing up to Mediflash are freelancers. Mediflash only acts as a marketplace that connects health facilities with caregivers. The company says caregivers can expect more revenue — up to 20% — while facilities end up paying less.

Of course, it’s not a fair comparison as temp staffing agencies hire caregivers. As a freelancer, you don’t have the same benefits as a full-time employee. And in particular, you can’t get unemployment benefits.

“But a lot of caregivers say that this isn’t an issue because there is a lot of demand [from health facilities],” Treppoz said. On the platform, you’ll find students in nursing school who want to earn a bit of money, professionals who already have a part-time job looking for additional work as well as full-time substitute caregivers.

Usually, facilities just want someone for three days because they’re running short on staff. Mediflash is well aware that health facilities usually work with one temp staffing agency and that’s it. That’s why the startup has a sales team that has to talk with each facility one by one. Right now, the startup is mostly focused on Metz, Nancy and Strasbourg.

Mediflash recently raised a $2 million funding round (€1.7 million) led by Firstminute Capital. Several business angels are also participating, such as Alexandre Fretti (Malt), Alexandre Lebrun (Nabla), Simon Dawlat (Batch.com) and Marie

Outtier (Aiden.ai, acquired by Twitter).

So far, the company has managed 1,400 substitute days. Mediflash takes a cut on each transaction. The company now plans to expand to other cities all around the country.

Mobile dialysis startup eyes human trials in 2022 following encouraging animal study

By Emma Betuel

This past year, three sheep in Canada have been wearing their kidneys on their sleeves. Or more aptly, in jackets on their fluffy backs. 

These three sheep are part of an ongoing animal study run by the Buffalo, New York-based startup Qidni Labs, a company pursuing waterless and mobile blood purification systems. Qidni Labs was founded in 2014, has raised $1.5 million and is currently in the due diligence process leading up to another round of funding. Qidni Labs was also an award winner at the 2019 KidneyX Summit for developing an air removal system for a wearable renal therapy device. 

The jackets are a prototype of Qidni’s mobile hemodialysis machine called Qidni/D. The idea behind Qidni/D is that it will be significantly smaller than a traditional hemodialysis setup and use fewer fluids, allowing patients to be more mobile. 

“We see this device, and this technology, to be a bridge to a blood purification technology that allows the patients to be mobile, although we do not anticipate that to be the first product,” says Morteza Ahmadi, the founder and CEO of Qidni Labs. 

Per the CDC, about one in seven people in the US have some type of chronic kidney disease. Over time, that could progress kidney failure, at which point it’s recommended that patients start dialysis or receive a transplant. That threshold is typically symptom based; people might experience weight loss, shortness of breath or an irregular pulse to name a few symptoms.

There are two major types of dialysis: hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis. Hemodialysis passes blood through a filter and a liquid called dialysate, whereas peritoneal dialysis inserts fluid into the body, which absorbs toxins, then drains it out. Qidni/D is a hemodialysis machine that can fit into a sheep sized jacket, and uses its own cartridges and gel-based system to cut down on the amount of liquid needed to perform dialysis. (TechCrunch reviewed images of the device). 

In an early animal trial – the results of which have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal – the device was able to reduce levels of urea in sheep’s blood at the threshold of an adequate dose of traditional dialysis. TechCrunch reviewed data from the study over Zoom. 

These sheep had no functioning kidneys, and were hooked up to the machine for between four and eight and a half hours. Morteza adds that the data so far suggests that four hours of treatment should be sufficient to cleanse the sheep’s blood. 

This is just one small animal study, so it’s hard to draw massive conclusions from it. It didn’t include an active control arm, for instance, and instead compared the amount of urea and electrolytes removed from the sheep’s blood to published standards from other studies on dialysis. 

The study alone is far from enough to suggest that the technology is ready for market, but those within the company are taking it as a good sign that the design of Qidni’s mobile dialysis machine bears further testing. 

“We can say that in this study, we could replace daily dialysis based on the data,” he says. 

The team will continue to tweak the technology in more sheep-based studies this year, and is aiming to begin human trials in 2022. The overall goal is to file for FDA approval, provided that clinical studies can demonstrate safety and efficacy, by the second half of 2023. 

The kidney treatment landscape is dominated by dialysis, which is an onerous treatment – despite the fact that a kidney transplant, in many cases, could relieve that burden.  

At the moment, far more people with end stage renal disease are on dialysis than receive kidney transplants. The CDC estimates that 786,000 people in the US live with end stage renal failure, of which 71 percent are on dialysis and 29 percent have received transplants. 

The dialysis industry, and in particular Fresenius and DaVita, the two giants that control about 70 percent of the industry, also has a controversial and complicated history of poor performance.

The kidney treatment landscape is also notable because it’s covered by Medicare, however, it remains expensive. Dialysis and transplants make up about seven percent of Medicare’s budget. Because of this complex landscape, startups have been pursuing alternatives like implantable kidneys

Qidni’s current product is not an artificial kidney in that it could live forever in the body of a participant and replace a non-functional organ. Rather, it’s a more mobile take on dialysis. Qidni/D, the blood purification device, is the company’s main focus for the time being. 

That said, Qidni/D  does have some unique elements that may make it as “disruptive” as Morteza hopes it will be. Namely, its small size, and low water requirements. 

During an average week of dialysis treatment, the average person is exposed to about 300 to 600 liters of water, per the CDC. Some of that water is used in the dialysate solution that helps to leach toxins out of the blood. Per Morteza, Qidni/D uses just one cup of water per treatment session, most of which is contained with the dialysate solution. 

“In our understanding, this is probably one of the first times in the world that waterless technology is useful for blood purification over a long period of time in a large animal model,” he says.

Removing the liquid components of dialysis may streamline an already onerous process. Morteza, for one, hopes that this would make at-home dialysis more attainable (fewer stringent water safety requirements) and limit risks of infection (water-related infections sometimes occur during dialysis).

It’s also a small step towards creating an implantable kidney, which would, ideally, not require massive amounts of external fluid – though mobile dialysis remains Qidni’s current focus. The company’s upcoming round will be focused on testing their cartridge technology in small human trials. 

“In this round of funding we would be raising $2.5 million, and that should take us to a point that we can test this technology in a small group of patients, connected to an existing dialysis machine using our own cartridges instead of existing dialysate,” he says. 

It’s ultimately a step towards a machine that functions more like the organ it’s supposed to mimic, though the holy grail for patients is a solution that ends the need for dialysis in the first place. 

Edtech investors are flocking to SaaS guidance counselors

By Natasha Mascarenhas

ApplyBoard, a startup that helps international students find opportunities to study abroad, announced today that it has nearly doubled its valuation in a little over a year. The Ontario-based company is now worth around $3.2 billion after raising a $300 million Series D round led by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board.

Startups that help students navigate institutional bureaucracy so they can get more value out of their educational experience may become a growing focus for investors as consumer demand for virtual personalized learning increases.

ApplyBoard makes money from revenue-sharing agreements with colleges and universities. If a student attends a college after using their services, ApplyBoard receives a cut of the tuition. Meanwhile, the service, which helps students search and apply to schools, is free to use.

Co-founder and CEO Martin Basiri did not share specifics on revenue, but he confirmed that his company is growing its sales at a 400% year-over-year rate in 2021. For context, sales in 2019 hit $300 million, meaning that ApplyBoard is making at least $1.2 billion in sales this year.

These figures violate the prevailing edtech narrative from last year: Higher ed is dead! Students don’t want to attend college anymore. Bring back the gap year, but make it permanent!

Instead, this company is proving that the university tech stack is more lucrative than many assumed, especially if you look beyond content offerings and into back-end marketing support.

My take: Startups that help students navigate institutional bureaucracy so they can get more value out of their educational experience may become a growing focus for investors as consumer demand for virtual personalized learning increases.

“Students want a seamless and pain-free application process”

ApplyBoard’s recent fundraising efforts shed a light on its strategy to become, effectively, a tech-savvy guidance counselor for the approximately 200,000 students that it has served to date.

The company raised a $55 million extension round in September to bring on a partner, Education Testing Services (ETS) Strategy Capital, the venture arm of the world’s largest nonprofit education testing and assessment organization. ETS helps administer the TOEFL English-language proficiency test and the GRE graduate admissions test.

The synergies there led ApplyBoard to launch ApplyProof, a service that helps admissions and immigrant officers verify documents that international students need to apply to colleges around the world. Today’s financing event similarly brings in a strategic investor, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

“The demand remains high post-pandemic and we continue to see a strong, pent-up demand from students wishing to study abroad,” Basiri said. “Students want a seamless and pain-free application process and be able to have all the information they need to make an informed decision.”

Lifted raises $6.2M Series A round led by Fuel Ventures for its long-term social care platform

By Mike Butcher

As people live longer and longer and have long-term health issues like cancer and dementia, caring for elderly relatives is becoming a huge societal and political issue. Right now this care is antiquated and run by incumbents, many of which still run off paper and Excel. We are now seeing a new wave of startups turn up to tackle this space by applying Apple’s age-old model of owning the experience end-to-end and running everything on a platform.

The latest to join this race is U.K. startup Lifted, which has now raised $6.2 million in a Series A funding round led by Fuel Ventures. Also participating were existing investor 1818 Venture Capital as well as new investors Novit Ventures, Perivoli Innovations, the J.B. Ugland family office and a number of angels. This latest funding round takes the total raised by Lifted to $11.2 million.

Lifted says its U.K. market is increasing and claims the number of people caring for adult loved ones has risen exponentially during the pandemic, with almost one in two people supporting people outside their household.

The startup is entering a perfect storm of increasing need, unpopular care homes and the U.K. government still without a long-term plan for social care.

Lifted app

Lifted app

In contrast to a raft of agencies and freelancers, Lifted directly employs its care workforce and uses its platform to “gamify and improve the experience of carers to make them perform better in people’s lives and also to restore respect to the caring profession” with its Care Management Platform, says the company.

Lifted has also acquired the “Live Better With Dementia” website and launched the Lifted Dementia Hub, an online community with a marketplace of products.

Rachael Crook co-founded Lifted with Sam Cohen. She says she was inspired to get into the sector when, at the age of 24, she had to care for her mother, who was diagnosed with dementia at age 56. “I was in that position much younger than most people. And it seemed abundantly clear to me that it was an experience that was hugely emotionally important to me, and financially expensive, was really convoluted and frustrating. It made an already really difficult time, more difficult. My mum brought me up to really fight for the underdog and I felt like the carers themselves were getting a really poor deal. And yet, it’s a huge colossal market. The care market is set to double in the next 20 years, and for the next 10 years, we will look to compete against traditional care companies. We want to transform the care experience. This is a product that is worth four and a half times your mortgage. And yet, it’s predominantly bought in a really antiquated way with paper and pen systems. It’s really hard to keep up to date with your loved ones’ care. We’re also competing against new entrants.”

She added: “In 12 months, we have tripled revenue, launched the first App in the world to offer free care advice, and cut Carer churn to half the industry average, all while maintaining exclusively 5-star reviews on Trustpilot.”

Mark Pearson, managing partner of Fuel Ventures said: “Rachael, Sam and their team have delivered exceptional growth in the past year. They have a unique vision of the future for care and their model is delivering clear results for both sides of the marketplace.”

6 career options for ex-founders seeking their next adventure

By Ram Iyer
David Teten Contributor
David Teten is founder of Versatile VC and writes periodically at teten.com and @dteten.

Hey, founders between gigs: What now?

If you exited your last company for airplane money and are now independently wealthy, congratulations! If you want to build another company, just self-fund. If you want outside capital, VCs will chase after you to invest.

Unfortunately, most founders are not in that position: nine out of 10 startups fail. Even if you achieve a high valuation, you might end up like FanDuel’s founders: Their investors got the benefit of a $465 million exit; the founders got zero.

As someone with “founder” on your resume, you face a greater challenge when trying to get a traditional salaried job. You’ve already shown that you really want to lead a company and not just rise up the ladder, which means some employers are less likely to hire you. One research paper found:

[F]ormer founders receive fewer callbacks than non-founders; however, all founders are not disadvantaged similarly. Former founders of successful ventures receive even fewer [emphasis added] callbacks than former founders of failed ventures. Through 20 interviews with technical recruiters, we highlight the mechanisms driving this founder-experience discount: concerns related to the applicant’s capability and ability to fit into and remain committed to the wage employment and the hiring firm.

At my prior firm, ff Venture Capital, we invested in a company co-founded by Nate Jenkins, who had a successful exit, but not quite enough to buy a private plane. He’s now researching his next opportunity and interviewing for some jobs. At the end of a recent interview, the interviewer summarized, “I’ll hire you, but is this what you really want to do?”

That said, Samuel Sabin, CEO of HireBlue, observed, “Some founders who work better with more resources at their disposal may be tapped for intrapreneurship roles. Also, some companies value a self-starter mentality.”

So what should you do? Especially if your life partner and/or bank account are burnt out on the income volatility of startups?

I’ve been in this situation myself when I shut down one startup and exited two others. I think you have six main options:

Full-time initiatives

  1. Launch a new company.
  2. Get a job.

Part-time activities

  1. Angel investing, venture capital and mentoring.
  2. Consulting.
  3. Sell information products.
  4. Education and self-improvement.

At Versatile VC, our new VC fund, we’re creating an online community just for founders who are in transition, Founders’ Next Move. We hope you will join us!

Full-time initiatives

Launch a new company

If you want to work on your startup idea, the bar for starting a company should always be very high. VCs have a diversified portfolio and most of their investments die. You don’t have a diverse portfolio and so you’re taking far more risk than the VCs. For free resources to help research your ideas, see What startup will you build? Identifying market white space.

YC-backed Ziina raises $7.5M seed led by Avenir Growth Capital and Class 5 Global

By Tage Kene-Okafor

Cash is the predominant method of sending and receiving payments in the Middle East. If you owe someone a cup of coffee or a trip over a long period, repaying via cash is your best bet. This is one problem out of many financial issues that haven’t been addressed in the region.

The good news is that startups are springing up to provide solutions. Last month Telda, a now two-month-old startup in Egypt, raised an impressive sum as pre-seed to offer digital banking services. Today, Ziina, another startup based in Dubai, has closed $7.5 million in seed funding to scale its peer-to-peer (P2P) payment service across the Middle East and North Africa.

Ziina has managed to enlist top global investors and fintech founders in the round. Avenir Growth and Class 5 Global led this latest tranche of financing. Wamda Capital, FJ Labs, Graph Ventures, Goodwater Capital, Jabbar Internet Group, Oman Technology Fund’s Jasoor Ventures, and ANIM also participated.

The founders who took part include Checkout CEO Guillaume Pousaz via his investment fund Zinal Growth; Krishnan Menon, BukuKas CEO, as well as executives from Paypal and Venmo. This adds to a roster of executives and early employees from Revolut, Stripe, Brex, Notion, and Deel that joined Ziina’s round.

According to the company, it has raised over $8.6 million since launching last year. This includes the $850,000 pre-seed raised in May 2020 and $125,000 secured after going through Y Combinator’s Winter batch early this year.

Ziina was founded by Faisal Toukan, Sarah Toukan, and Andrew Gold. It’s the latest addition to the Middle East’s bubbling fintech ecosystem and is capitalising on the region’s rapid adoption of fintech friendly regulation.

The company allows users to send and receive payments with just a phone number —no IBAN or swift code required as is the de facto method in the UAE and some parts of the Middle East. It also claims to be the country’s first licensed social peer-to-peer application “on a mission to simplify finance for everyone.”

After meeting during a hackathon in the U.S., Faisal and Gold began exchanging ideas on how to build wallets, wanting to mirror the successes platforms like WePay, Paytm have had. At the time, VCs seemed to be interested in how the wallets ecosystem intersected with banking.

“The lines between wallets and banking have become really blurred. Every wallet has a banking partner, and people who use wallets use them for their day-to-day needs,” CEO Faisal Toukan said to TechCrunch.

On the other hand, Sarah, who is Faisal’s sister, was on her personal fintech journey in London. There, she attended several meetups headlined by the founders of Monzo and Revolut. With her knowledge and the experience of the other two, the founders decided that solving P2P payments issues was their own way of driving massive impact in the Middle East.

So how far have they gone? “We launched a beta for the market but it’s restricted for regulatory reasons and basically to keep ourselves in check with the ecosystem,” Toukan remarked. “Since then, we’ve gotten regulated. We’ve got a banking partner, one of the three largest banks in the UAE, and we’ve set a new wallet a month from now. That’s also what we were working throughout our period in YC. So it’s been quite an eventful year.”

The fintech sector in MENA is growing fast; in terms of numbers, at a CAGR of 30%. Also, in the UAE, it is estimated that over 450 fintech companies will raise about $2 billion in 2022 compared to the $80 million raised in 2017. Fintechs in the region are focused on solving payments, transfers, and remittances. Alongside its P2P offering, these are the areas Ziina wants to play in, including investment and cryptocurrency services.

According to Toukan, there’s no ease of making online investments, and remittances are done in exchange houses, a manual process where people need to visit an office physically. “So what we’re looking to do is to bring all these products to life in the UAE and expand beyond that. But the first pain point we’re solving for is for people to send and receive money with two clicks,” the CEO affirmed.

Starting with P2P has its own advantages. First, peer-to-peer services is a repeat behavioural mechanism that allows companies to establish trust with customers. Also, it’s a cheaper customer acquisition model. Toukan says that as Zinna expands geographically — Saudi Arabia and Jordan in 2022; and Egypt and Tunisia some years from now — as he wants the company’s wallet to become seamless cross border. “We want a situation where if you move into Saudi or Dubai, you’re able to use the same wallet versus using different banking applications,” he added

To be on the right side of regulation is key to any fintech expansion, and Toukan says Ziina has been in continuous dialogue with regulators to operate efficiently. But some challenges have stemmed from finding the right banking partners. “You need to make a case to the banks that this is basically a mutually beneficial partnership. And the way we’ve done that is by basically highlighting different cases globally like CashApp that worked with Southern Bank,” he said.

Now that the company has moved past that challenge, it’s in full swing to launch. Presently, Ziina has thousands of users who transacted more than $120,000 on the platform this past month. According to the company, there are over 20,000 users on its waiting list, and they will be onboarded post-launch.

Ziina has already built a team with experience across tech companies like Apple, Uber, Stanford, Coinbase, Careem, Oracle, and Yandex. It plans to double down on hiring with this new investment and customer acquisition and establishing commercial partnerships.

Indonesian healthcare startup Prixa raises $3M led by MDI and TPTF

By Catherine Shu

Indonesian healthcare startup Prixa has raised $3 million led by MDI Ventures and the Trans-Pacific Technology Fund (TPTF), with participation from returning investors including Siloam Hospitals Group.

This brings Prixa’s total raised to $4.5 million since it launched in 2019. Co-founder and chief executive officer James Roring M.D., told TechCrunch in an email that the new funding will enable Prixa to scale its platform and customer base. Prixa uses a B2B model, partnering with healthcare payers like insurance providers and corporations. Through its B2B customers, it currently serves about 10 million patients.

Prixa currently works with four major insurers and has six additional insurers in its short-term pipeline. It also works with Indonesia’s largest third-party administrators, Roring said, allowing it to reach more policyholders.

Prixa’s platform includes a digital health assistant to answer patients’ questions, telemedicine consultations, pharmacy deliveries and on-demand lab diagnostics. Usage increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as more patients sought online consultations for primary care.

Other telehealth startups in Indonesia include Halodoc and Alodokter (which is also backed by MDI). Both connect patients directly with healthcare and insurance providers. Roring said Prixa differentiates by focusing on greater cost control for healthcare payers and positioning itself as a digital primary care platform.

“By symptomatically managing patients outside of tertiary care facilities and caring for chronic non-communicable diseases online, Prixa is able to effectively reduce the amount of outpatient claims and downstream inpatient cost incurred by healthcare payers,” Roring said. “Additionally, the combination of a growing and robust medical database, as well as proven clinical guidelines, contribute to cost efficiency and service optimization through the standardization of treatment by our healthcare providers.”

In press statement about the funding, Aditia Henri Narendra, MDI Ventures’ general manager of legal and corporate communication, said, “MDI co-led this financing because Prixa has demonstrated its ability to support insurance companies and hospitals in making medical services more accessible and affordable through its AI telemedicine platform.”

Our Favorite Hair Dryers and Diffusers

By Medea Giordano
We tried blow dryers, brushes, diffusers, and one reverse air-dryer that sucks your hair up like a vacuum. These are our favorite hair drying tools.
❌