President Trump announced Friday on Twitter that tariffs on Chinese imports will increase 5 percentage points in a tit-for-tat response to China’s own plans to place new duties on U.S. goods.
About $250 billion of goods produced by China and imported into the U.S. already have a 25% tariff. This newest increase will push tariffs to 30% beginning October 1, 2019. Trump also increased “List 4” tariffs from 10% to 15%. The List 4 tariff, which affects the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports, will go into effect September 1 and December 15.
…unfair Trading Relationship. China should not have put new Tariffs on 75 BILLION DOLLARS of United States product (politically motivated!). Starting on October 1st, the 250 BILLION DOLLARS of goods and products from China, currently being taxed at 25%, will be taxed at 30%…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2019
The increase in tariffs on Chinese imports follows news earlier Friday that China will impose $75 billion worth of duties on U.S. goods, beginning Sept. 1 and December 15. China’s foreign ministry said that it would resume tariffs on U.S. imports of automobiles and auto parts and place an additional 5% or 10% tariff on agricultural and food products like soybeans, coffee, whiskey and seafood.
U.S. automakers Ford, GM, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Tesla all saw shares fall in response to China’s new tariffs. Automakers that build vehicles in the U.S. for export to China — a group that includes Tesla and Ford — will take the brunt of China’s newest tariffs. The move could force these companies to raise prices, which could further dampen sales.
The president’s initial response on Twitter to China’s decision sent the market into a tailspin. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fall by as much as 700 points before closing the day slightly down only 623 points at 25,628.60. The S&P 500 Index fell 75.84 points to end the day at 2,847.11 and the Nasdaq dropped 239.62 points to close at 7,751.77.
Trump’s tariffs announcement came after markets closed Friday.
…Additionally, the remaining 300 BILLION DOLLARS of goods and products from China, that was being taxed from September 1st at 10%, will now be taxed at 15%. Thank you for your attention to this matter!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2019
When Dell acquired EMC in 2016 for $67 billion, it created a complicated consortium of interconnected organizations. Some, like VMware and Pivotal, operate as completely separate companies. They have their own boards of directors, can acquire companies and are publicly traded on the stock market. Yet they work closely within the Dell, partnering where it makes sense. When Pivotal’s stock price plunged recently, VMware saved the day when it bought the faltering company for $2.7 billion yesterday.
Pivotal went public last year, and sometimes struggled, but in June the wheels started to come off after a poor quarterly earnings report. The company had what MarketWatch aptly called “a train wreck of a quarter.”
How bad was it? So bad that its stock price was down 42% the day after it reported its earnings. While the quarter itself wasn’t so bad, with revenue up year over year, the guidance was another story. The company cut its 2020 revenue guidance by $40-$50 million and the guidance it gave for the upcoming 2Q19 was also considerably lower than consensus Wall Street estimates.
The stock price plunged from a high of $21.44 on May 30th to a low of $8.30 on Aug 14th. The company’s market cap plunged in that same time period falling from $5.828 billion on May 30th to $2.257 billion on Aug 14th. That’s when VMware admitted it was thinking about buying the struggling company.
Healthtech is apparently in a golden age. Just a few weeks ago, Livongo and Health Catalyst raised a combined $500 million through IPOs with a joint valuation reaching $3.5 billion. Deals such as these are catalyzing a record-breaking 2019, with digital health deal activity expected to surpass the $8.1 billion invested in 2018.
Amidst such abundance, the digital health ecosystem is thriving: as of 2017, greater than 300,000 mobile applications and 340 consumer wearable devices existed—with 200 new mobile applications added daily. No theme has been more important to this fundraising than artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), a space which captured more than one-quarter of healthtech funding in 2018.
Yet, how many of these technologies will prove valuable in medical, ethical, or financial terms?
Our research group at Stanford addressed this question by taking a deeper dive into the saying that, in AI/ML, “garbage in equals garbage out.” We did this by distinguishing digital health algorithms leveraging AI/ML from their underlying training data, documenting the numerous consequences to the outputs of these technologies should the inputs resemble, well, “garbage.”
For example, the utility of genetic risk scores provided by companies such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA (which have estimated valuations of $1.75 and $2.6 billion, respectively) may be limited due to diagnostic biases stemming from the underrepresentation of diverse populations.
Responding to such observations, we provide a variety of recommendations to the developers, inventors, and founders spearheading the advancement of digital health—as well as the funders supporting this charge forward—to ensure that their innovations are valuable to the stakeholders they target.
As people strive ever harder to minutely quantify every action they do, the sensors that monitor those actions are growing lighter and less invasive. Two prototype sensors from crosstown rivals Stanford and Berkeley stick right to the skin and provide a wealth of phsyiological data.
Stanford’s stretchy wireless “BodyNet” isn’t just flexible in order to survive being worn on the shifting surface of the body; that flexing is where its data comes from.
The sensor is made of metallic ink laid on top of a flexible material like that in an adhesive bandage. But unlike phones and smart watches, which use tiny accelerometers or optical tricks to track the body, this system relies on how it is itself stretched and compressed. These movements cause tiny changes in how electricity passes through the ink, changes that are relayed to a processor nearby.
Naturally if one is placed on a joint, as some of these electronic stickers were, it can report back whether and how much that joint has been flexed. But the system is sensitive enough that it can also detect the slight changes the skin experiences during each heartbeat, or the broader changes that accompany breathing.
The problem comes when you have to get that signal off the skin. Using a wire is annoying and definitely very ’90s. But antennas don’t work well when they’re flexed in weird directions — efficiency drops off a cliff, and there’s very little power to begin with — the skin sensor is powered by harvesting RFID signals, a technique that renders very little in the way of voltage.
The second part of their work, then, and the part that is clearly most in need of further improvement and miniaturization, is the receiver, which collects and re-transmits the sensor’s signal to a phone or other device. Although they managed to create a unit that’s light enough to be clipped to clothes, it’s still not the kind of thing you’d want to wear to the gym.
The good news is that’s an engineering and design limitation, not a theoretical one — so a couple years of work and progress on the electronics front and they could have a much more attractive system.
“We think one day it will be possible to create a full-body skin-sensor array to collect physiological data without interfering with a person’s normal behavior,” Stanford professor Zhenan Bao in a news release.
Over at Cal is a project in a similar domain that’s working to get from prototype to production. Researchers there have been working on a sweat monitor for a few years that could detect a number of physiological factors.
Normally you’d just collect sweat every 15 minutes or so and analyze each batch separately. But that doesn’t really give you very good temporal resolution — what if you want to know how the sweat changes minute by minute or less? By putting the sweat collection and analysis systems together right on the skin, you can do just that.
While the sensor has been in the works for a while, it’s only recently that the team has started moving towards user testing at scale to see what exactly sweat measurements have to offer.
“The goal of the project is not just to make the sensors but start to do many subject studies and see what sweat tells us — I always say ‘decoding’ sweat composition. For that we need sensors that are reliable, reproducible, and that we can fabricate to scale so that we can put multiple sensors in different spots of the body and put them on many subjects,” explained Ali Javey, Berkeley professor and head of the project.
As anyone who’s working in hardware will tell you, going from a hand-built prototype to a mass-produced model is a huge challenge. So the Berkeley team tapped their Finnish friends at VTT Technical Research Center, who make a specialty of roll-to-roll printing.
For flat, relatively simple electronics, roll-to-roll is a great technique, essentially printing the sensors right onto a flexible plastic substrate that can then simply be cut to size. This way they can make hundreds or thousands of the sensors quickly and cheaply, making them much simpler to deploy at arbitrary scales.
These are far from the only flexible or skin-mounted electronics projects out there, but it’s clear that we’re approaching the point when they begin to leave the lab and head out to hospitals, gyms, and homes.
Any first responder knows that situational awareness is key. In domestic violence disputes, hostage rescue, or human trafficking situations, first responders often need help determining where humans are behind closed doors.
That’s why Megan Lacy, Corbin Hennen and Rob Kleffner developed Lumineye, a 3D printed radar device that uses signal analysis software to differentiate moving and breathing humans from other objects, through walls.
Lumineye uses pulse radar technology that works like echolocation (how bats and dolphins communicate). It sends signals and listens for how long it takes for a pulse to bounce back. The software analyzes these pulses to determine the approximate size, range and movement characteristics of a signal.
On the software side, Lumineye’s app that will tell a user how far away a person is when they’re moving and breathing. It’s one dimensional, so it doesn’t tell the user whether the subject is to the right or left. But the device can detect humans out to 50 feet in open air, and that range decreases depending upon the materials placed in between like drywall, brick or concrete.
One scenario the team gave to describe the advantages of using Lumineye was the instance of hostage rescue. In this type of situation, it’s crucial for first responders to know how many people are in a room and how far away they are from one another. That’s where the use of multiple devices and triangulation from something like Lumineye could change a responding team’s tactical rescue approach.
Machines that currently exist to make these kind of detections are heavy and cumbersome. The team behind Lumineye was inspired to manufacture a more portable option that won’t weigh teams down during longer emergency response situations that can sometimes last for up to 12 hours or overnight. The prototype combines the detection hardware with an ordinary smartphone. It’s about 10 x 5 inches and weighs 1.5 pounds.
Lumineye wants to grow out its functionality to become more of a ubiquitous device. The team of four is planning to continue manufacturing the device and selling it directly to customers.
Lumineye’s device can detect humans through walls using radio frequencies
Lumineye has just started its pilot programs, and recently spent a Saturday at a FEMA event testing out the the device’s ability to detect people covered in rubble piles. The company was born out of the Boise Idaho cohort of Stanford’s Hacking4Defense program, a course meant to connect Silicon Valley innovations with the U.S. Department of Defense and Intelligence Community. The Idaho-based startup is graduating from Y Combinator’s Summer 2019 class.
Megan Lacy, Corbin Hennen and Rob Kleffner
WebKit, the open source engine that underpins Internet browsers including Apple’s Safari browser, has announced a new tracking prevention policy that takes the strictest line yet on the background and cross-site tracking practices and technologies which are used to creep on Internet users as they go about their business online.
Trackers are technologies that are invisible to the average web user, yet which are designed to keep tabs on where they go and what they look at online — typically for ad targeting but web user profiling can have much broader implications than just creepy ads, potentially impacting the services people can access or the prices they see, and so on. Trackers can also be a conduit for hackers to inject actual malware, not just adtech.
This translates to stuff like tracking pixels; browser and device fingerprinting; and navigational tracking to name just a few of the myriad methods that have sprouted like weeds from an unregulated digital adtech industry that’s poured vast resource into ‘innovations’ intended to strip web users of their privacy.
WebKit’s new policy is essentially saying enough: Stop the creeping.
But — and here’s the shift — it’s also saying it’s going to treat attempts to circumvent its policy as akin to malicious hack attacks to be responded to in kind; i.e. with privacy patches and fresh technical measures to prevent tracking.
“WebKit will do its best to prevent all covert tracking, and all cross-site tracking (even when it’s not covert),” the organization writes (emphasis its), adding that these goals will apply to all types of tracking listed in the policy — as well as “tracking techniques currently unknown to us”.
“If we discover additional tracking techniques, we may expand this policy to include the new techniques and we may implement technical measures to prevent those techniques,” it adds.
“We will review WebKit patches in accordance with this policy. We will review new and existing web standards in light of this policy. And we will create new web technologies to re-enable specific non-harmful practices without reintroducing tracking capabilities.”
Spelling out its approach to circumvention, it states in no uncertain terms: “We treat circumvention of shipping anti-tracking measures with the same seriousness as exploitation of security vulnerabilities,” adding: “If a party attempts to circumvent our tracking prevention methods, we may add additional restrictions without prior notice. These restrictions may apply universally; to algorithmically classified targets; or to specific parties engaging in circumvention.”
It also says that if a certain tracking technique cannot be completely prevented without causing knock-on effects with webpage functions the user does intend to interact with, it will “limit the capability” of using the technique” — giving examples such as “limiting the time window for tracking” and “reducing the available bits of entropy” (i.e. limiting how many unique data points are available to be used to identify a user or their behavior).
If even that’s not possible “without undue user harm” it says it will “ask for the user’s informed consent to potential tracking”.
“We consider certain user actions, such as logging in to multiple first party websites or apps using the same account, to be implied consent to identifying the user as having the same identity in these multiple places. However, such logins should require a user action and be noticeable by the user, not be invisible or hidden,” it further warns.
WebKit credits Mozilla’s anti-tracking policy as inspiring and underpinning its new approach.
Commenting on the new policy, Dr Lukasz Olejnik, an independent cybersecurity advisor and research associate at the Center for Technology and Global Affairs Oxford University, says it marks a milestone in the evolution of how user privacy is treated in the browser — setting it on the same footing as security.
Equating circumvention of anti-tracking with security exploitation is unprecedented. This is exactly what we need to treat privacy as first class citizen. Enough with hand-waving. It's making technology catch up with regulations (not the other way, for once!) #ePrivacy #GDPR https://t.co/G1Dx7F2MXu
— Lukasz Olejnik (@lukOlejnik) August 15, 2019
“Treating privacy protection circumventions on par with security exploitation is a first of its kind and unprecedented move,” he tells TechCrunch. “This sends a clear warning to the potential abusers but also to the users… This is much more valuable than the still typical approach of ‘we treat the privacy of our users very seriously’ that some still think is enough when it comes to user expectation.”
Asked how he sees the policy impacting pervasive tracking, Olejnik does not predict an instant, overnight purge of unethical tracking of users of WebKit-based browsers but argues there will be less room for consent-less data-grabbers to manoeuvre.
“Some level of tracking, including with unethical technologies, will probably remain in use for the time being. But covert tracking is less and less tolerated,” he says. “It’s also interesting if any decisions will follow, such as for example the expansion of bug bounties to reported privacy vulnerabilities.”
“How this policy will be enforced in practice will be carefully observed,” he adds.
As you’d expect, he credits not just regulation but the role played by active privacy researchers in helping to draw attention and change attitudes towards privacy protection — and thus to drive change in the industry.
There’s certainly no doubt that privacy research is a vital ingredient for regulation to function in such a complex area — feeding complaints that trigger scrutiny that can in turn unlock enforcement and force a change of practice.
Although that’s also a process that takes time.
“The quality of cybersecurity and privacy technology policy, including its communication still leave much to desire, at least at most organisations. This will not change fast,” says says Olejnik. “Even if privacy is treated at the ‘C-level’, this then still tends to be about the purely risk of compliance. Fortunately, some important industry players with good understanding of both technology policy and the actual technology, even the emerging ones still under active research, treat it increasingly seriously.
“We owe it to the natural flow of the privacy research output, the talent inflows, and the slowly moving strategic shifts as well to a minor degree to the regulatory pressure and public heat. This process is naturally slow and we are far from the end.”
For its part, WebKit has been taking aim at trackers for several years now, adding features intended to reduce pervasive tracking — such as, back in 2017, Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), which uses machine learning to squeeze cross-site tracking by putting more limits on cookies and other website data.
Apple immediately applied ITP to its desktop Safari browser — drawing predictable fast-fire from the Internet Advertising Bureau whose membership is comprised of every type of tracker deploying entity on the Internet.
But it’s the creepy trackers that are looking increasingly out of step with public opinion. And, indeed, with the direction of travel of the industry.
In Europe, regulation can be credited with actively steering developments too — following last year’s application of a major update to the region’s comprehensive privacy framework (which finally brought the threat of enforcement that actually bites). The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has also increased transparency around security breaches and data practices. And, as always, sunlight disinfects.
Although there remains the issue of abuse of consent for EU regulators to tackle — with research suggesting many regional cookie consent pop-ups currently offer users no meaningful privacy choices despite GDPR requiring consent to be specific, informed and freely given.
It also remains to be seen how the adtech industry will respond to background tracking being squeezed at the browser level. Continued aggressive lobbying to try to water down privacy protections seems inevitable — if ultimately futile. And perhaps, in Europe in the short term, there will be attempts by the adtech industry to funnel more tracking via cookie ‘consent’ notices that nudge or force users to accept.
As the security space underlines, humans are always the weakest link. So privacy-hostile social engineering might be the easiest way for adtech interests to keep overriding user agency and grabbing their data anyway. Stopping that will likely need regulators to step in and intervene.
Another question thrown up by WebKit’s new policy is which way Chromium will jump, aka the browser engine that underpins Google’s hugely popular Chrome browser.
Of course Google is an ad giant, and parent company Alphabet still makes the vast majority of its revenue from digital advertising — so it maintains a massive interest in tracking Internet users to serve targeted ads.
Yet Chromium developers did pay early attention to the problem of unethical tracking. Here, for example, are two discussing potential future work to combat tracking techniques designed to override privacy settings in a blog post from nearly five years ago.
There have also been much more recent signs Google paying attention to Chrome users’ privacy, such as changes to how it handles cookies which it announced earlier this year.
But with WebKit now raising the stakes — by treating privacy as seriously as security — that puts pressure on Google to respond in kind. Or risk being seen as using its grip on browser marketshare to foot-drag on baked in privacy standards, rather than proactively working to prevent Internet users from being creeped on.
Kurbo Health, a mobile weight loss solution designed to tackle childhood obesity which was acquired for $3 million by WW (the rebranded Weight Watchers), has now relaunched as Kurbo by WW — and not without some controversy. Pre-acquisition, the startup was focused on democratizing access to research, behavior modification techniques and other tools that were previously only available through expensive programs run by hospitals or other centers.
As a WW product, however, there are concerns that parents putting kids on “diets” will lead to increased anxiety, stress and disordered eating — in other words, Kurbo will make the problem worse, rather than solving it.
*If* you are worried about your child’s health/lifestyle, give them plenty of nutritious food and make sure they get plenty of fun exercise that helps their mental health. And don’t weigh them. Don’t burden them with numbers, charts or “success/failure.” It’s a slippery slope.
— Jameela Jamil (@jameelajamil) August 14, 2019
The Kurbo app first launched at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2014. Founder Joanna Strober, a venture investor and board member at BlueNile and eToys, explained she was driven to develop Kurbo after struggling to help her own child. Mainly, she came across programs that cost money, were held at inconvenient times for working parents or were dubbed “obesity centers” — with which no child wanted to be associated.
Her child found eventual success with the Stanford Pediatric Weight Loss Program, but this involved in-person visits and pen-and-paper documentation.
Together with Kurbo Health’s co-founder Thea Runyan, who has a Master’s in Public Health and had worked at the Stanford center for 12 years, the team realized the opportunity to bring the research to more people by creating a mobile, data-driven program for kids and families.
They licensed Stanford’s program, which then became Kurbo Health.
The company raised funds from investors, including Signia Ventures, Data Collective, Bessemer Venture Partners and Promus Ventures, as well as angels like Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube; Greg Badros, former VP Engineering and Product at Facebook; and Esther Dyson (EdVenture), among others.
At launch, the app was designed to encourage healthier eating patterns without parents actually being able to see the child’s food diary. Instead, parents set a reward that was doled out simply for the child’s participation. That is, the parents couldn’t see what the child ate, specifically, which allowed them to stop playing “food police.”
Unlike adult-oriented apps like MyFitnessPal or Noom, kids wouldn’t see metrics like calories, sugars, carbs and fat, but instead had their food choices categorized as “red,” “yellow” and “green.” However, no foods were designated as “off limits,” as it instead encouraged fewer reds and more greens.
The program also included an option for virtual coaching.
As a WW product, the program has remained somewhat the same. There are still the color-coded food categorizations and optional live coaching, via a subscription. Parents are still involved, now with updates after coaching calls or the option to join coaching sessions. The app also now includes tools that teach meditation, recipe videos and games that focus on healthy lifestyles. Subscribers gain access to one-on-one 15-minute virtual sessions with coaches whose professional backgrounds include counseling, fitness and other nutrition-related fields.
However, there are also things like a place to track measurements, goals like “lose weight” and Snapchat-style “tracking streaks.”
While the original program was designed to be a solution for parents with children who would have otherwise had to seek expensive medical help for obesity issues, the association with parent company and acquirer WW has led to some backlash.
Today, body positivity and fat acceptance movements have gone mainstream, encouraging people to be confident in their own bodies and not hate themselves for being overweight. The general thinking is that when people respect themselves, they become more likely to care for themselves — and this will extend to making healthier food and lifestyle choices.
Meanwhile, food tracking and dieting programs often lead to failure and shame — especially when people start to think of some food as “bad” or a “cheat,” instead of just something to be eaten in moderation. And excessive tracking can even lead to disordered eating patterns for some people, studies have found.
In addition, WW has already been under fire for extending its weight loss program to teens 13-17 for free, and the launch of what’s seen as a “dieting app for kids” as part of WW’s broader family-focused agenda certainly isn’t helping the backlash.
That said, when positive reinforcement is used correctly, it can work for weight loss. As TIME reported, the red-yellow-green traffic light approach was effective in adults in one independent study by Massachusetts General Hospital and another presented at the Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference worked in children, with 84% reducing their BMI after 21 weeks.
“According to recent reports from the World Health Organization, childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. This is a global public health crisis that needs to be addressed at scale,” said Joanna Strober, co-founder of Kurbo, in a statement about the launch. “As a mom whose son struggled with his weight at a young age, I can personally attest to the importance and significance of having a solution like Kurbo by WW, which is inherently designed to be simple, fun and effective,” she said.
I thought that I hated Weight Watchers. I have not hated them as much as I do right now.
Making weight loss trendy for children is making the development of eating disorders easier and trendier. I am not here for this.
— Anna Sweeney MS, CEDRD-S (@DietitianAnna) August 13, 2019
That said, it’s one thing for a parent to work in conjunction with a doctor to help a child with a health issue, but parents who foist a food tracking app on their kids may not get the same results. In fact, they may even cause the child to develop eating disorders that weren’t present before. (And no, just because a child is overweight, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re suffering from an “eating disorder.”)
— Dr. Yasmin (@DoctorYasmin) August 14, 2019
There can be many other factors that could be causing a child’s unexpected weight gain, beyond just their interest in eating high-calorie foods. This includes health ailments, hormone or chemical imbalances, medication side effects, puberty and other growth spurts (which can’t always be determined through BMI changes, which are tracked in-app), genetics, and more.
Parents may also be part of the problem, by simply bringing unhealthy food into the house because it’s more affordable or because they aren’t aware of things like hidden sugars or how to avoid them. Or perhaps they’re putting money into a child’s school lunch account, without realizing the child is able to spend it on vending machine snacks, sodas or off-menu items like pizza and chips.
The child may also suffer from health problems like asthma or allergies that have become an underlying issue, making it more difficult for them to be active.
In other words, a program like this is something that parents should approach with caution. And it’s certainly one where the child’s doctor should be involved at every stage — including in determining whether or not an app is actually needed at all.
In two years, Voyage has gone from a tiny self-driving car upstart spun out of Udacity to a company able to operate on 200 miles of roads in retirement communities.
Now, Voyage is on the verge of introducing a new vehicle that is critical to its mission of launching a truly driverless ride-hailing service. (Human safety drivers not included.)
This internal milestone, which Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron hinted at in a recent Medium post, went largely unnoticed. Voyage, after all, is just a 55-person speck of a startup in an industry, where the leading companies have amassed hundreds of engineers backed by war chests of $1 billion or more. Voyage has raised just $23.6 million from investors that include Khosla Ventures, CRV, Initialized Capital and the venture arm of Jaguar Land Rover.
Still, the die has yet to be cast in this burgeoning industry of autonomous vehicle technology. These are the middle-school years for autonomous vehicles — a time when size can be misinterpreted for maturity and change occurs in unpredictable bursts.
The upshot? It’s still unclear which companies will solve the technical and business puzzles of autonomous vehicles. There will be companies that successfully launch robotaxis and still fail to turn their service into a profitable commercial enterprise. And there will be operationally savvy companies that fail to develop and validate the technology to a point where human drivers can be removed.
Voyage wants to unlock both.
Much of Silicon Valley mythology is centered on the founder-as-hero narrative. But historically, scientific founders leading the charge for bio companies have been far less common.
Developing new drugs is slow, risky, and expensive. Big clinical failures are all too common. As such, bio requires incredibly specialized knowledge and experience. But at the same time, the potential for value creation is enormous today more than ever with breakthrough new medicines like engineered cell, gene, and digital therapies.
What these breakthroughs are bringing along with them are entirely new models—of founders, of company creation, of the businesses themselves—that will require scientists, entrepreneurs and investors to reimagine and reinvent how they create bio companies.
In the past, biotech VC firms handled this combination of specialized knowledge + binary risk + outsized opportunity with a unique “company creation” model. In this model, there are scientific founders, yes; but the VC firm essentially founded and built the company itself—all the way from matching a scientific advance with an unmet medical need, to licensing IP, to having partners take on key roles such as CEO in the early stages, to then recruiting a seasoned management team to execute on the vision.
Image: PASIEKA/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images
You could call this the startup equivalent of being born and bred in captivity—where great care and feeding early in life helps ensure that the company is able to thrive. Here the scientific founders tend to play more of an advisory role (usually keeping day jobs in academia to create new knowledge and frontiers), while experienced “drug hunters” operate the machinery of bringing new discoveries to the patient’s bedside. This model’s core purpose is to bring the right expertise to the table to de-risk these incredibly challenging enterprises—nobody is born knowing how to make a medicine.
But the ecosystem this model evolved from is evolving itself. Emerging fields like computational biology and biological engineering have created a new breed of founder, native to biology, engineering and computer science, that are already, by definition, the leading experts in their fledgling fields. Their advances are helping change the industry, shifting drug discovery away from a highly bespoke process—where little knowledge carries over from the success or failure of one drug to the next—to a more iterative, building-block approach like engineering.
Take gene therapy: once we learn how to deliver a gene to a specific cell in a given disease, it is significantly more likely we will be able to deliver a different gene to a different cell for another disease. Which means there’s an opportunity not only for novel therapies but also the potential for new business models. Imagine a company that provides gene delivery capability to an entire industry — GaaS: gene-delivery as a service!
Once a founder has an idea, the costs of testing it out have changed too. The days of having to set up an entire lab before you could run your first experiments are gone. In the same way that AWS made starting a tech company vastly faster and easier, innovations like shared lab spaces and wetlab accelerators have dramatically reduced the cost and speed required to get a bio startup off the ground. Today it costs thousands, not millions, for a “killer experiment” that will give a founding team (and investors) early conviction.
What all this amounts to is scientific founders now have the option of launching bio companies without relying on VCs to create them on their behalf. And many are. The new generation of bio companies being launched by these founders are more akin to being born in the wild. It isn’t easy; in fact, it’s a jungle out there, so you need to make mistakes, learn quickly, hone your instincts, and be well-equipped for survival. On the other hand, given the transformative potential of engineering-based bio platforms, the cubs that do survive can grow into lions.
Image via Getty Images / KTSDESIGN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
So, which is better for a bio startup today: to be born in the wild—with all the risk and reward that entails—or to be raised in captivity
The “bred in captivity” model promises sureness, safety, security. A VC-created bio company has cache and credibility right off the bat. Launch capital is essentially guaranteed. It attracts all-star scientists, executives and advisors — drawn by the balance of an innovative, agile environment and a well-funded, well-connected support network. I was fortunate enough to be an early executive in one of these companies, giving me the opportunity to work alongside industry luminaries and benefit from their well-versed knowledge of how to build a world-class bio company with all its complex component parts: basic, translational, clinical research, from scratch. But this all comes at a price.
Because it’s a heavy lift for the VCs, scientific founders are usually left with a relatively small slug of equity—even founding CEOs can end up with ~5% ownership. While these companies often launch with headline-grabbing funding rounds of $50m or above, the capital is traunched — meaning money is doled out as planned milestones are achieved. But the problem is, things rarely go according to plan. Traunched capital can be a safety net, but you can get tangled in that net if you miss a milestone.
Being born in the wild, on the other hand, trades safety for freedom. No one is building the company on your behalf; you’re in charge, and you bear the risk. As a recent graduate, I co-founded a company with Harvard geneticist George Church. The company was bootstrapped — a funding strategy that was more famine than feast -— but we were at liberty to try new things and run (un)controlled experiments like sequencing heavy metal wildman Ozzy Osbourne.
It was the early, Wild West days of the genomics revolution and many of the earliest biotech companies mirrored that experience — they weren’t incepted by VCs; they were created by scrappy entrepreneurs and scientists-turned-CEO. Take Joshua Boger, organic chemist and founder of Vertex Pharmaceuticals: starting in 1989 his efforts to will into existence a new way to develop drugs, thrillingly captured in Barry Werth’s The Billion-Dollar Molecule and its sequel The Antidote in all its warts and nail-biting glory, ultimately transformed how we treat HIV, hepatitis C and cystic fibrosis.
Today we’re in a back-to-the-future moment and the industry is being increasingly pushed forward by this new breed of scientist-entrepreneur. Students-turned-founder like Diego Rey of in vitro diagnostics company GeneWEAVE and Ramji Srinivasan of clinical laboratory Counsyl helped transform how we diagnose disease and each led their companies to successful acquisitions by larger rivals.
Popular accelerators like Y Combinator and IndieBio are filled with bio companies driven by this founder phenotype. Ginkgo Bioworks, the first bio company in Y Combinator and today a unicorn, was founded by Jason Kelly and three of his MIT biological engineering classmates, along with former MIT professor and synthetic biology legend Tom Knight. The company is not only innovating new ways to program biology in order to disrupt a broad range of industries, but it’s also pioneering an innovative conglomerate business model it has dubbed the “Berkshire for biotech.”
Like the Ginkgo founders, Alec Nielsen and Raja Srinivas launched their startup Asimov, an ambitious effort to program cells using genetic circuits, shortly after receiving their PhDs in biological engineering from MIT. And, like Boger, renowned machine learning Stanford professor Daphne Koller is working to once again transform drug discovery as the founder and CEO of Instiro.
Just like making a medicine, no one is born knowing how to build a company. But in this new world, these technical founders with deep domain expertise may even be more capable of traversing the idea maze than seasoned operators. Engineering-based platforms have the potential to create entirely new applications with unprecedented productivity, creating opportunities for new breakthroughs, novel business models, and new ways to build bio companies. The well-worn playbooks may be out of date.
Founders that choose to create their own companies still need investors to scrub in and contribute to the arduous labor of company-building — but via support, guidance, and with access to networks instead. And like this new generation of founders, bio investors today need to rethink (and re-value) the promise of the new, and still appreciate the hard-earned wisdom of the old. In other words, bio investors also need to be multidisciplinary. And they need to be comfortable with a different kind of risk: backing an unproven founder in a new, emerging space. As a founder, if you’re willing to take your chances in the wild, you should have an investor that understands you, believes in you, can support you and, importantly, is willing to dream big with you.
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
This week we were helmed by Kate Clark and Alex Wilhelm, but those of you who love the show having guests on, don’t despair. As we explain at the top, there’s a lot of folks coming on the show soon, many of whom you know by name.
But that’s to come, and we had a lot to chat through this week. Including, right from the jump, the latest gyrations in the stock market. Earlier this week tech stocks, and especially cloud and SaaS stocks, took a nosedive. Sentiment swung around later in the week when markets caught their breath and Lyft’s earnings went well. But the movement in highly valued SaaS companies caught our eye. Perhaps if the market finally does correct, we’ll see growth stakes take the worst of it.
But it wasn’t all bad news on the show; a new app that raised $5 million caught Kate’s attention. It’s called Squad and it’s now backed by First Round Capital, the seed fund behind the likes of Uber . You can read Kate’s interview with the founder, Esther Crawford, here.
Next, we turned to two startups that are focused on male reproductive health. While we’ve covered startups focused on fertility, this is the first time we’ve delved into male-focused services that are designed to help men take part in conception. The news here is Dadi has raised another $5 million in venture capital funding. Legacy, the other male fertility company we discussed, is taking part in Y Combinator’s summer batch right now.
On the IPO-ish beat, we talked about Postmates, which has a new stadium partnership, and, more importantly, permission to use cute robots to deliver things in San Francisco. After hearing for years about how small, rolling robots will handle last-mile deliveries, we’re excited for them to actually make it to market. In our view, technology of this sort won’t eliminate the need for human workers at on-demand shops, though they may replace some routine runs. Bring on the burrito robots.
We closed on Airbnb’s purchase of Urbandoor, yet another acquisition from the popular home-sharing company that will eventually go public. It has to, right? Perhaps Urbandoor will help unlock new revenues in the corporate travel space before we see an S-1. After all, Airbnb wants to debut with plenty of growth under its belt to help it meet valuation expectations. Adding revenue to its core business could be a good way to ensure that there’s new top-line to report.
More to come, including something special next week!
Electric-vehicle chargers today are designed for human drivers. Electrify America and San Francisco-based startup Stable are preparing for the day when humans are no longer behind the wheel.
Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over the diesel emissions cheating scandal, is partnering with Stable to test a system that can charge electric vehicles without human intervention.
The autonomous electric-vehicle charging system will combine Electrify America’s 150 kilowatt DC fast charger with Stable’s software and robotics. A robotic arm, which is equipped with computer vision to see the electric vehicle’s charging port, is attached to the EV charger. The two companies plan to open the autonomous charging site in San Francisco by early 2020.
There’s more to this system than a nifty robotic arm. Stable’s software and modeling algorithms are critical components that have applications today, not just the yet-to-be-determined era of ubiquitous robotaxis.
While streets today aren’t flooded with autonomous vehicles, they are filled with thousands of vehicles used by corporate and government fleets, as well as ride-hailing platforms like Uber and Lyft . Those commercial-focused vehicles are increasingly electric, a shift driven by economics and regulations.
“For the first time these fleets are having to think about, ‘how are we going to charge these massive fleets of electric vehicles, whether they are autonomous or not?’ ” Stable co-founder and CEO Rohan Puri told TechCrunch in a recent interview.
Stable, a 10-person company with employees from Tesla, EVgo, Faraday Future, Google, Stanford and MIT universities, has developed data science algorithms to determine the best location for chargers and scheduling software for once the EV stations are deployed.
Its data science algorithms take into account installation costs, available power, real estate costs as well as travel time for the given vehicle to go to the site and then get back on the road to service customers. Stable has figured out that when it comes to commercial fleets, chargers in a distributed network within cities are used more and have a lower cost of operation than one giant centralized charging hub.
Once a site is deployed, Stable’s software directs when, how long and at what speed the electric vehicle should charge.
Stable, which launched in 2017, is backed by Trucks VC, Upside Partnership, MIT’s E14 Fund and a number of angel investors, including NerdWallet co-founder Jake Gibson and Sidecar co-founder and CEO Sunil Paul .
The pilot project in San Francisco is the start of what Puri hopes will lead to more fleet-focused sites with Electrify America, which has largely focused on consumer charging stations. Electrify America has said it will invest $2 billion over 10 years in clean energy infrastructure and education. The VW unit has more than 486 electric vehicle charging stations installed or under development. Of those, 262 charging stations have been commissioned and are now open to the public.
Meanwhile, Stable is keen to demonstrate its autonomous electric-vehicle chargers and lock in additional fleet customers.
“What we set out to do was to reinvent the gas station for this new era of transportation, which will be fleet-dominant and electric,” Puri said. “What’s clear is there just isn’t nearly enough of the right infrastructure installed in the right place.”
Ford has agreed to acquire Journey Holding Corporation, a company that has developed vehicle tracking software and app-based technology designed for public transportation, as the automaker seeks to scale up its new mobility business.
Journey Holding will be housed under Ford Smart Mobility, a Ford subsidiary that invests in and builds the automaker’s transportation services. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. In a separate announcement, Ford said Tuesday it acquired Quantum Signal, a small robotics company and defense contractor known for mobile robotics and real-time simulation.
The acquisition of Journey is part of broader vision laid out by CEO Jim Hackett more than a year ago to create an ecosystem of transportation-related services that people and cities need now and in the future. The Journey acquisition follows Ford’s purchase of Autonomic and Transloc in 2018.
Today, those services might include using an app to find a Ford-owned Spin scooter or schedule a bus or on-demand shuttle. In the future, it might include finding and hailing an autonomous vehicle.
Eventually, Journey will integrate into Transloc, a transit technology business that Ford bought in 2018. Transloc develops software that helps cities manage transit services including on-demand shuttles.
The name of the combined organization will be announced at a later date, Ford said.
Journey Holding Corporation was founded in 2018 through the merger of two companies, Indianapolis-based DoubleMap and Salt Lake City-based Ride Systems. Journey offers software to municipalities, universities and corporations to help manage their fleets. It also has developed apps that lets users schedule or track rides on shuttles, buses and other public transit.
Transloc CEO Doug Kaufman will leave the new company on Aug. 16. Journey Holding CEO Justin Rees, who founded Ride Systems in 2007 with Kelly Rees and Ben Haynie, will lead the new company.
Together, this newly formed company of about 200 people will serve nearly 1,200 cities, universities, corporate campuses and other enterprises with software solutions for fixed route transportation, microtransit on-demand transportation and other related areas.
“The combination of these transit technology companies will accelerate our efforts to help cities deliver more seamless, productive, and accessible transportation solutions to their citizens and visitors,” Brett Wheatley, vice president of Ford Mobility’s marketing and growth division, said in a statement. “It also will be key to connecting customers with the other mobility solutions in our portfolio, such as Spin e-scooters and our GoRide Health service.”
These services should eventually be part the Transportation Mobility Cloud, an open cloud-based platform that Ford developed for cities to use to orchestrate and manage all the disparate transportation modes happening at any given time.
Ford has acquired a small robotics company based in Michigan called Quantum Signal, which has produced mobile robots for a number of clients, including the U.S. military. The company’s specialty has been building remote control software for robotic vehicles, specifically, and it’s also responsible for a very highly regarded simulated testing and development environment for autonomous and remotely controlled robotic systems.
All of the above is useful not only when developing military robots, but also when setting out to build and deploy self-driving cars — hence Ford’s interest in acquiring Quantum Signal. Ford said in a blog post that while others might’ve been sleeping on Quantum Signal and the work it has done, it has been following the company closely, and will employ its experience in developing real-time simulation and algorithms related to autonomous vehicle control systems to help build out Ford’s self-driving vehicles, transportation-as-a-service platform and hardware and software related to both.
Reading between the lines here, it sounds like Ford’s main interest was in picking up some experienced talent working on autonomy, and very specific challenges that are needed to develop road-worthy self-driving vehicles, including perception systems and virtual testing environments. Ford does, however, explicitly lay out a desire to “preserve” Quantum’s own “unique culture” as it brings the company on-board, pointing out that that’s the course it took with similar acquisition SAIPS (an Israeli computer vision and machine learning company) when it brought that team on-board in 2016.
SAIPS has now more than doubled its team to 30 people, and relocated to a new headquarters in Tel Aviv, with a specific focus among its latest hires on bringing in specialists in reinforcement learning. Ford has also invested in Argo AI, taking a majority stake in the startup initially in 2017 and then re-upping with a joint investment with Volkswagen in July of this year in a deal that makes both major equal shareholders. Ford is happy to both acquire and partner in its pursuit of self-driving tech development, and this probably won’t be the last similar deal we see made en route to actually deploying autonomous vehicles on roads for any major automaker.
Uber is laying off about 25% of its 1,200-person strong marketing department in an effort to slash costs and make operations more efficient following its public debut and first quarter losses of $1 billion.
The layoffs were first reported by The New York Times.
About 400 people in Uber’s marketing department were laid off across its 75 offices globally, according to the company. Uber’s latest public global headcount was 24,494 global employees as of March 31, 2019.
Jill Hazelbaker, who leads marketing and public affairs at Uber, and CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told employees Monday that the marketing team would have a more centralized structure, according to an internal email viewed by TechCrunch.
The reorganized marketing team will be under the leadership of Mike Strickman, vice president of performance marketing, joined from TripAdvisor a month ago and another soon-to-be-hired head of global marketing. Strickman will oversee performance marketing, CRM, and analytics, while the global marketing executive will manage the heads of product marketing, brand, Eats, B2B, research, planning and creative.
The layoffs are the latest cost-driven changes to occur at the company since it went public in May.
Many of Uber’s teams are “too big, which creates overlapping work, makes for unclear decision owners, and can lead to mediocre results,” Khosrowshahi said in an email sent to employees and shared with TechCrunch. “As a company, we can do more to keep the bar high, and expect more of ourselves and each other.”
Khosrowshahi said the restructuring aims to put the marketing team, and the company, back on track.
“Today, there’s a general sense that while we’ve grown fast, we’ve slowed down. You can see it in Pulse Survey feedback and All Hands questions, and you can feel it in much of our day-to-day work. This happens naturally as companies get bigger, but it is something we need to address, and quickly,” he wrote.
Uber’s first quarterly earnings report as a publicly traded company gave a snapshot of a growing business with stunning operational losses. Uber’s revenue grew 20% to 3.1 billion compared to $2.5 billion in the same period last year. And its gross bookings rose 34% to $14.6 billion in the first quarter, with Uber Eats driving much of that growth.
But it’s loss from operations exploded 116% to $1 billion in the first quarter compared to the same year-ago period.
In June, chief operating officer Barney Harford and chief marketing officer Rebecca Messina stepped down as part of an organizational shakeup put into motion just a month after the ride-hailing company went public.
At the time, Khosrowshahi explained in an email to employees, that the changes were prompted by his decision to more directly control core parts of the business. Khosrowshahi told employees that he wants to be even more involved in the day-to-day operations of its biggest businesses, the core platform of Rides and Eats, and has decided they should report directly to him.
After a hearing this week, members of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform said that Juul, the ultra-popular e-cigarette brand, may have intentionally targeted teens in schools and online.
Based on 55,000 non-public documents out of Juul Labs, the subcommittee said that Juul’s Youth Prevention Plan recruited schools into a program that put Juul representatives and students in the same room. Schools received payment for participating in the program.
According to the release, one testimony put before the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy described a Juul representative telling students that vaping was “totally safe,” and recommended that one already nicotine-addicted student use Juul.
The subcommittee also reported that Juul spent $134,000 to set up a five-week summer camp for 80 children through a charter school, according to documents obtained for the hearing. The camp was meant to be a “holistic health education program.”
Dr. Robert Jackler, Stanford University School of Medicine, testified about his conversations with Juul co-founder James Monsees, who said the use of Stanford’s tobacco advertising database was “very helpful as they designed JUUL’s advertising,” according to information provided by the subcommittee.
“The Subcommittee found that: JUUL deployed a sophisticated program to enter schools and convey its messaging directly to teenage children; JUUL also targeted teenagers and children, as young as eight years old, in summer camps and public out-of-school programs; and JUUL recruited thousands of online ‘influencers’ to market to teens,” the memo states.
The company also turned to more modern methods. Using an influencer marketing program to “curate and identify 280 influencers in LA/NY to seed JUUL product” and find social media “buzzmakers” with “a minimum of 30,000 followers” to attend launch events for the company’s products.
Juul shut down its social media marketing program in November of last year. While it closed its Facebook and Instagram accounts, the company’s products still circulate on social media through hashtags from users themselves.
Documents delivered to the subcommittee show that Juul was aware that its prevention programs were “eerily similar” to those used by the big tobacco companies (which were ultimately forced to pay states and the U.S. government $27.5 billion in a master settlement agreement over their marketing and sales practices).
Juul also took steps to stop selling flavored products in response to FDA criticism.
As we reported:
Juul currently sells eight different flavors of pods. Pods that don’t come in existing tobacco flavors — Virginia Tobacco, Classic Tobacco, Mint and Menthol — will only be available online effective immediately. In other words, the only place to buy Creme, Fruit, Cucumber and Mango (Juul’s most popular flavor) is on the Juul website.
There, the company verifies that customers are 21+ by either cross-referencing information, such as DOB and the last four digits of a Social Security number, with publicly available data, or asking users to upload a scan of their driver’s license.
Responding to pressure from the Food and Drug Administration, JUUL has taken other steps to limit access and curb underage use of its products.
Juul also targeted Native American populations, where smoking rates are higher than the general population. Rae O’Leary, of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, testified that Juul targeted Native American tribes to use as “guinea pigs.” According to O’Leary’s testimony, in exchange for a $600,000 investment, Juul solicited tribal medical professionals to provide their devices to tribal members for free and collect information on the tribal members.
Juul declined to comment at the time of publication.
Earlier this month, TechCrunch held its annual Mobility Sessions event, where leading mobility-focused auto companies, startups, executives and thought leaders joined us to discuss all things autonomous vehicle technology, micromobility and electric vehicles.
Extra Crunch is offering members access to full transcripts key panels and conversations from the event, including our panel on micromobility where TechCrunch VC reporter Kate Clark was joined by investors Sarah Smith of Bain Capital Ventures, Michael Granoff of Maniv Mobility, and Ted Serbinski of TechStars Detroit.
The panelists walk through their mobility investment theses and how they’ve changed over the last few years. The group also compares the business models of scooters, e-bikes, e-motorcycles, rideshare and more, while discussing Uber and Lyft’s role in tomorrow’s mobility ecosystem.
Sarah Smith: It was very clear last summer, that there was essentially a near-vertical demand curve developing with consumer adoption of scooters. E-bikes had been around, but scooters, for Lime just to give you perspective, had only hit the road in February. So by the time we were really looking at things, they only had really six months of data. But we could look at the traction and the adoption, and really just what this was doing for consumers.
At the time, consumers had learned through Uber and Lyft and others that you can just grab your cell phone and press a button, and that equates to transportation. And then we see through the sharing economy like Airbnb, people don’t necessarily expect to own every single asset that they use throughout the day. So there’s this confluence of a lot of different consumer trends that suggested that this wasn’t just a fad. This wasn’t something that was going to go away.
For access to the full transcription below and for the opportunity to read through additional event transcripts and recaps, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free.
Kate Clark: One of the first panels of the day, I think we should take a moment to define mobility. As VCs in this space, how do you define this always-evolving sector?
Michael Granoff: Well, the way I like to put it is that there have been four eras in mobility. The first was walking and we did that for thousands of years. Then we harnessed animal power for thousands of years.
And then there was a date — and I saw Ken Washington from Ford here — September 1st, 1908, which was when the Model T came out. And through the next 100 years, mobility is really defined as the personally owned and operated individual operated internal combustion engine car.
And what’s interesting is to go exactly 100 years later, September 2008, the financial crisis that affects the auto industry tremendously, but also a time where we had the first third-party apps, and you had Waze and you had Uber, and then you had Lime and Bird, and so forth. And really, I think what we’re in now is the age of digital mobility and I think that’s what defines what this day is about.
Ted Serbinski: Yeah, I think just to add to that, I think mobility is the movement of people and goods. But that last part of digital mobility, I really look at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds. And it’s really that intersection, which is enabling all these new ways to move around.
Clark: So Ted you run TechStars Detroit, but it was once known as TechStars Mobility. So why did you decide to drop the mobility?
Serbinski: So I’m at a mobility conference, and we no longer call ourselves mobility. So five years ago, when we launched the mobility program at TechStars, we were working very closely with Ford’s group and at the time, five years ago, 2014, where it started with the connected car, auto and [people saying] “you should use the word mobility.”
And I was like “What does that mean?” And so when we launched TechStars Mobility, we got all this stuff but we were like “this isn’t what we’re looking for. What does this word mean?” And then Cruise gets acquired for a billion dollars. And everyone’s like “Mobility! This is the next big gold rush! Mobility, mobility, mobility!”
And because I invest early-stage companies anywhere in the world, what started to happen last year is we’d be going after a company and they’d say, “well, we’re not interested in your program. We’re not mobility.” And I’d be scratching my head like, “No, you are mobility. This is where the future is going. You’re this digital way of moving around. And no, we’re artificial intelligence, we’re robotics.”
And as we started talking to more and more entrepreneurs, and hundreds of startups around the world, it became pretty clear that the word mobility is actually becoming too limiting, depending on your vantage where you are in the world.
And so this year, we actually dropped the word mobility and we just call it TechStars Detroit, and it’s really just intersection of those physical and digital worlds. And so now we don’t have a word, but I think we found more mobility companies by dropping the word mobility.
Get ready to experience world-class networking TechCrunch-style at TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019. On September 5, more than 1,000 of the top enterprise software minds and makers, movers and shakers will descend on San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. It’s a day-long conference featuring distinguished speakers, panel discussions, demos and workshops.
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All that time-saving efficiency will free you up to enjoy more of the presentations and hear from speakers like the renowned founder, investor, AI expert and Stanford professor, Andrew Ng. You won’t want to miss his take on how AI will transform the enterprise world — like nothing else since the cloud and SaaS. And that’s just a taste of what you can expect.
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Spin, the electric scooter company acquired by a Ford subsidiary for around $100 million, is launching a new electric scooter with a sturdier frame, improved braking system, bigger tires and longer-range battery.
In short, this third-generation product is built to handle the kind of abuse that a shared dockless scooter is subjected to on a daily basis. It’s also designed to be more secure. The company has added custom security screws that were developed to thwart vandalism and tampering.
The design improvements should improve the riding experience and, in theory, attract more customers. However, more customers is only one important piece of the scooter game. Gross profit margin is the other.
Spin launched a pilot program in June to test the new scooters in Baltimore. The pilot showed “promising results for increasing gross profit margin, while decreasing costs associated with theft and vandalism,” according to the company.
“In our testing of the next edition Spin scooter, we have seen a significant increase in utilization and our customers are taking more rides and traveling longer distances,” co-founder and COO Zaizhuang Cheng said in a statement.
The third-edition Spin scooter has 10-inch tires, a feature meant to better absorb shock from potholes and other rough road conditions. Other features include a wider and longer platform, a battery with 37.5 miles of range and and an upgraded authentication system. The company also revealed a new logo as part of a brand refresh across its scooters, app and website.
Spin, which is housed under the automaker’s subsidiary Ford Smart Mobility LLC, will deploy the new scooter next month in Berkeley, Calif., Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Memphis, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. Other U.S. cities will be added in the future.
Spin has been ramping up across the U.S. The company is the exclusive operator in 11 markets and has more than quadrupled the number of dockless scooter markets in which it operates to 47 cities and college campuses.
Its aim is to be in 100 cities and college campuses by the end of the year.
Car shoppers now have several new options to avoid long-term debt and commitments. Automakers and startups alike are increasingly offering services that give buyers new opportunities and greater flexibility around owning and using vehicles.
In the first part of this feature, we explored the different startups attempting to change car buying. But not everyone wants to buy a car. After all, a vehicle traditionally loses its value at a dramatic rate.
Some startups are attempting to reinvent car ownership rather than car buying.
My favorite car blog Jalopnik said it best: “Cars Sales Could Be Heading Straight Into the Toilet.” Citing a Bloomberg report, the site explains automakers may have had the worst first half for new-vehicle retail sales since 2013. Car sales are tanking, but people still need cars.
Companies like Fair are offering new types of leases combining a traditional auto financing option with modern conveniences. Even car makers are looking at different ways to move vehicles from dealer lots.
Fair was founded in 2016 by an all-star team made up of automotive, retail and banking executives including Scott Painter, former founder and CEO of TrueCar.
Doctours, a Los Angeles-based online platform for booking trips and treatments for medical and dental care around the world, is expanding its services to 35 countries.
Founded by serial travel entrepreneur Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, whose last company TripScope was acquired by Travefy, Doctours aims to connect patients with doctors to receive access to quality, affordable healthcare around the world.
The cost of care in the U.S. continues to climb, leading patients with few options but to travel to the best facilities offering the lowest cost care. Some companies that provide insurance benefits to their employees, like Walmart, are opting to pay for better care upfront by transporting their workers to facilities to receive appropriate care, rather than pay later for shoddy treatment.
Doctours sort of expands that thesis in an international context.
“When it comes to medical and dental treatment, there is no longer any reason to limit ourselves based on where we live,” said O’Shaughnessy, in a statement. “There is an increasingly advantageous global marketplace available with highly trained practitioners offering quality healthcare solutions at affordable prices and, although medical and dental tourism is a safe and cost-efficient solution, the current market is extremely fragmented and challenging to navigate. Doctours eliminates this fragmentation and allows anyone to easily and affordably access international medical and dental treatments and procedures.”
Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, founder, Doctours
The company, which is backed by investors including investors in Doctours include the former CEO of Expedia, Erik Blachford, Texas billionaire and CEO of multi-strategy holding company, Cathexis, William Harrison, and Charles Cogliando of Mosaic Advisors, offers more than 330 different medical and dental procedures and has a global service area that includes Mexico, Colombia, the Caribbean, Thailand, Dubai, Brazil, Germany and Costa Rica.
Currently working out of Quake Capital’s Austin incubator, the company helps patients search for and compare the cost of procedures, connect with doctors and book everything from in vitro fertilization to stem cell therapy, cosmetic and reparative plastic . surgery, weight loss surgery, dental work and Lasik.
Once the procedure is booked, Doctours puts together itineraries that provide different options for flights and hotels based on the needs of the patient, the company said.
The company also offers specialized medical tourism insurance to all of its customers, according to O’Shaughnessy. And the company vets its doctors by ensuring that they are Joint Commission International accredited physicians. Roughly 70% of the company’s doctors were trained at universities and medical schools in Europe or the U.S., O’Shaughnessy wrote in an email.
Doctours is certainly entering a lucrative market. Medical and dental tourism is a $439 billion global market growing at a rate of 25% per year, according to data provided by Doctours. In 2018 alone, 14 million patients traveled abroad to seek healthcare, according to the company.