The COVID-19 pandemic has already triggered a number of layoffs across industries, from travel companies to scooter startups. But, as a gray footnote to all tragedies, we’re starting to see innovation pop through the cracks — and hopefully help some people, as well.
Back in November, Alexander Taub and Michael Schonfeld launched Upstream, a social media platform for professionals, to a small group of roughly 800 beta testers. The goal was to give folks a place to network and ask for introductions in a more digitally friendly, mobile-first platform than LinkedIn groups. The company counts Hunter Walk of Homebrew, Olivia Benjamin of Bain Capital Ventures and D’Arcy Coolican of Andreessen Horowitz as beta users. The plan was to launch publicly this summer.
However, as companies have cut staff, the co-founders are launching Upstream to the public earlier than expected, with a specific goal to discuss layoffs from COVID-19.
“When the coronavirus hit, we were like, oh my god we’re gonna have crazy unemployment,” Taub tells me. “It’s one thing to have a recession depression, but there’s also going to be a zero demand curve because like, we can’t go outside. So this is going to be bad.”
As a result, Taub decided to double down on something he was already seeing happen organically on the platform: job hiring and role recommendations.
Once a user signs up to the platform, they can join the COVID-19 group. They can then choose what they want to post: looking to hire; looking for a job; or looking to help. Being able to only originate these three types of posts, noted Taub, is part of the reason Upstream is different from a Slack group or LinkedIn.
Once a note is posted, users can directly message other users in the group to follow up on a job posting or warm intro. When I asked Taub how he’s preparing for a potential uptick in usage, he said that “if this blows up…we will put up a gate” to limit the amount of posts that go live each minute.
Other groups on the platform that are not yet open to the public include Jews in Tech, Business Development and Earlybirds.
Taub said he and Schonfeld launched Upstream with a view to focus on individuals in tech. But in recent months, Taub says he’s noticed group members outside of tech have used it, including small business owners and teachers.
There has been little innovation in support for layoffs. Most layoff solutions exist in the form of job searching groups on Facebook, communities on Slack and even a plain-old spreadsheet that includes a list of people to hire. Taub is betting that “people want a dedicated place to be more vulnerable…because it’s a little uncomfortable asking for help on Facebook.”
Excitement for The Europas Awards for European Tech Startups is heating up. Here is the first wave of speakers and judges — with more coming!
The Awards — which have been running for over 10 years — will be held on 25 June 2020 in London, U.K. on the front lawn of the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton, London — creating a fantastic and fun garden-party atmosphere in the heart of London’s tech startup scene.
The application form to enter is here.
We’re scouting for the top late-stage seed and Series A startups in 22 categories.
You can nominate a startup, accelerator or venture investor that you think deserves to be recognized for their achievements in the last 12 months.
CLOSING DATE FOR APPLICATIONS: 25 March 2020
For the 2020 awards, we’ve overhauled the categories to a set that we believe better reflects the range of innovation, diversity and ambition we see in the European startups being built and launched today. This year we are particularly looking at startups that are able to address the SDGs/Globals Boals.
The Europas Awards
The Europas Awards results are based on voting by experts, experienced founders, hand-picked investors and the industry itself.
But the key to it is that there are no “off-limits areas” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs.
Timeline of The Europas Awards deadlines:
Submissions now open!
25 March 2020 – Submissions close
14 April – Public voting begins
25 April – Public voting ends
8 June – Shortlist Announced
25 June – Awards evening, winners announced
We’re also shaking up the awards dinner itself. There are more opportunities to network. Our awards ceremony this year will be in the setting of a garden/lawn party, where you’ll be able to meet and mingle more easily, with free-flowing drinks and a wide selection of street food (including vegetarian/vegan). The ceremony itself will last less than 45 minutes, with the rest of the time dedicated to networking. If you’d like to talk about sponsoring or exhibiting, please contact Claire Dobson on firstname.lastname@example.org
Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.
The Europas Awards have been going for the last 10 years, and we’re the only independent and editorially driven event to recognise the European tech startup scene. The winners have been featured in Reuters, Bloomberg, VentureBeat, Forbes, Tech.eu, The Memo, Smart Company, CNET, many others — and of course, TechCrunch.
• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the speakers
• Key founders and investors attending
• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters
The Pathfounder Afternoon Workshops
In the afternoon prior to the awards we will be holding a special, premium content event, The Pathfounder, designed be a “fast download” into the London tech scene for European founders looking to raise money or re-locate to London. Sessions include “How to Craft Your Story”; “Term Sheets”; “Building a Shareholding Structure”; Investor Panel; Meet the Press; and a session from former Europas winners. Followed by the awards and after-party!
The Europas “Diversity Pass”
We’d like to encourage more diversity in tech! That’s why we’ve set aside a block of free tickets to ensure that pre-seed female and BAME founders are represented at The Europas. This limited tranche of free tickets ensures that we include more women and people of colour who are specifically “pre-seed” or “seed-stage” tech startup founders. If you are a women/BAME founder, apply here for a chance to be considered for one of the limited free diversity passes to the event.
Anne Boden is founder and CEO of Starling Bank, a fast-growing U.K. digital bank targeting millions of users who live their lives on their phones. After a distinguished career in senior leadership at some of the world’s best-known financial heavyweights, she set out to build her own mobile bank from scratch in 2014. Today, Starling has opened more than one million current accounts for individuals and small businesses and raised hundreds of millions of pounds in backing. Anne was awarded an MBE for services to financial technology in 2018.
Nate Lanxon (Speaker)
Editor and Tech Correspondent
Nate is an editor and tech correspondent for Bloomberg, based in London. For over a decade, he has particularly focused on the consumer technology sector, and the trends shaping the global industry. Previous to this, he was senior editor at Bloomberg Media and was head of digital editorial for Bloomberg.com in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Nate has held numerous roles across the most respected titles in tech, including stints as editor of WIRED.co.uk, editor-in-chief of Ars Technica UK and senior editor at CBS-owned CNET. Nate launched his professional career as a journalist by founding a small tech and gaming website called Tech’s Message, which is now the name of his weekly technology podcast hosted at natelanxon.com.
CEO and founder
/> Tania is an internationally recognized women’s health expert and has held leadership positions for various global NGOs and the United Nations. Passionate about challenging taboo women’s issues, Tania founded Elvie in 2013, partnering with Alexander Asseily to create a global hub of connected health and lifestyle products for women.
CEO and co-founder
Thread makes it easy for guys to dress well. They combine expert stylists with powerful AI to recommend the perfect clothes for each person. Thread is used by more than 1 million men in the U.K., and has raised $35 million from top investors, including Balderton Capital, the founders of DeepMind and the billionaire former owner of Warner Music. Prior to Thread, Kieran founded one of the first video sharing websites at age 15 and sold it for $1.25 million at age 19. He was then CEO and co-founder of Playfire, the largest social network for gamers, which he grew to 1.5 million customers before being acquired in 2012. He’s a member of the Forbes, Drapers and Financial Times 30 Under 30 lists.
Chief Commercial Officer
Clare is the chief commercial officer of what3words; prior to this, her background was in the development and growth of social enterprises and in impact investment. Clare was featured in the 2019 Forbes 30 under 30 list for technology and is involved with London companies tackling social/environmental challenges. Clare also volunteers with the Streetlink project, doing health outreach work with vulnerable women in South London.
Luca Bocchio joined Accel in 2018 and focuses on consumer internet, fintech and software businesses. Luca led Accel’s investment in Luko, Bryter and Brumbrum. Luca also helped lead Accel’s investment and ongoing work in Sennder. Prior to Accel, Luca was with H14, where he invested in global early and growth-stage opportunities, such as Deliveroo, GetYourGuide, Flixbus, SumUp and SecretEscapes. Luca previously advised technology, industrial and consumer companies on strategy with Bain & Co. in Europe and Asia. Luca is from Italy and graduated from LIUC University.
CEO and c-founder
/> Bernhard co-founded busuu in 2008 following an MBA project and has since led the company to become the world’s largest community for language learning, with more than 90 million users across the globe. Before starting busuu, Bernhard worked as a consultant at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. He graduated summa cum laude in International Business from the Vienna University of Economics and Business and holds an MBA with honours from IE Business School. Bernhard is an active mentor and business angel in the startup community and an advisor to the Austrian Government on education affairs. Bernhard recently received the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 UK Awards in the Disruptor category.
CEO and founder
Chris is the founder and CEO of Lyst, the world’s biggest fashion search platform used by 104 million shoppers each year. Including over 6 million products from brands including Burberry, Fendi, Gucci, Prada and Saint Laurent, Lyst offers shoppers convenience and unparalleled choice in one place. Launched in London in 2010, Lyst’s investors include LVMH, 14W, Balderton and Accel Partners. Prior to founding Lyst, Chris was an investor at Benchmark Capital and Balderton Capital in London, focusing on the early-stage consumer internet space. He holds an MA in physics and philosophy from Cambridge University.
CEO and co-founder
/> Husayn Kassai is the Onfido CEO and co-founder. Onfido helps businesses digitally onboard users by verifying any government ID and comparing it with the person’s facial biometrics. Founded in 2012, Onfido has grown to a team of 300 across SF, NYC and London; received over $100 million in funding from Salesforce, Microsoft and others; and works with over 1,500 fintech, banking and marketplace clients globally. Husayn is a WEF Tech Pioneer; a Forbes Contributor; and Forbes’ “30 Under 30”. He has a BA in economics and management from Keble College, Oxford.
Robotics and automation tools are now foundational parts of warehouses and manufacturing facilities around the world. Unlike many other robotics and AI use cases, the technology has moved well beyond the theoretical into practice and is used by small suppliers and large companies like Amazon and Walmart.
There’s no doubt that automation will transform every step of the supply chain, from manufacturing to fulfillment to shipping and logistics. The only question is how long such a revolution will take.
There’s still plenty of market left to transform and lots of room for new players to redefine different verticals, even with many of the existing leaders having already staked their claim. Naturally, VCs are plenty eager to invest millions in the technology. In 2019 alone, manufacturing, machinery and automation saw roughly 800-900 venture-backed fundraising rounds, according to data from Pitchbook and Crunchbase, close to two-thirds of which were still early-stage (pre-seed to Series B) investments.
With our 2020 Robotics+AI sessions event less than two weeks away, we’ve decided to perform temperature checks across some of the hottest robotics sub-verticals to see which trends are coming down the pipe and where checks are actually being written. Just as we did with construction robotics last week, this time, we asked six leading VCs who actively invest in manufacturing automation robotics to share what’s exciting them most and where they see opportunities in the sector:
Which trends are you most excited about in manufacturing/warehouse automation robotics from an investing perspective?
In part two of a survey that asks top VCs about exciting opportunities in open source and dev tools, we dig into responses from 10 leading open-source-focused investors at firms that span early to growth stage across software-specific firms, corporate venture arms and prominent generalist firms.
In the conclusion to our survey, we’ll hear from:
These responses have been edited for clarity and length.
If the two-year old healthcare startup Verana Health has its way it could become the Google for physician generated healthcare data.
The company has raised $100 million from GV (one of the corporate investment arms of Alphabet, the parent company of Google), Bain Capital Ventures, Casdin Capital and Define Ventures and counts the famous life sciences investor, Brook Byers, as the chairman of the company’s board.
The company offers products like Verana Practice Insights, which provides aggregated views on practice trends across the U.S, and it also has a service called “Trial Connect” which gives physicians the ability to find patients among their practices who may be suitable for clinical trials.
Verana has also built up the Axon Registry, which tracks the impact of treatments over time for conditions like multiple sclerosis, migraines, and epilepsy. The company points to the registry as an example of how the data collected can provide value for the entire healthcare ecosystem.
Verana has already inked data collection deals with the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Neurology to create large pools of de-identified patient data that can be used for drug discovery, population health analysis and medical research. But the company’s story actually begins nearly twenty years ago, when specialty medical associations started building clinical data sets to share information among medical practitioners and standardize reporting required by the federal government.
More recently, as Verana explains, medical associations realized that there was a lot of quality data locked away in those records. And since the medical communities lacked the wherewithal and technical expertise to digitize and analyze those records themselves, two years ago they decided to outsource those services to Verana, according to a blogpost from the company.
“Our society partners have entrusted us with their data to partner with them to advance the quality of patient care and to accelerate the adoption of evidence into practice,” the company states. “Through these partnerships, Verana supports the full operating costs for these registries, which enable physicians to track performance against federal quality measures and submit information for quality reporting at no expense to the physician practices and medical specialty organizations.”
It seems that Verana has made the same pitch to physicians that Google has made to consumers: give us all of your information, and we’ll organize it and manage it for you (as well as collect it to monetize in other ways that physicians have no control over).
Image via Getty Images / Ja_inter
Alongside its new financing, the San Francisco-based company also announced the acquisition of Knoxville, Ten.-based PYA Analytics, a company which has designed data analytics software and services for Medicare and Medicaid.
“Verana Health is building the team and technology to unlock deep clinical insights that support the development of new treatments while increasing our understanding of how these treatments can benefit patients more broadly,” said Dr. Krishna Yeshwant, General Partner at GV. “Under the leadership of its strong management team, Verana continues to redefine how we approach medical research.”
While Verana is currently focused on ophthalmic and neurologic diseases, the company intends to expand into additional therapeutic categories over the next year while integrating imaging, genomic, and claims data sources into its data pools.
“Verana is assembling the most comprehensive datasets in medicine across multiple disease types with the goal of accelerating medical research for patients with ophthalmic and neurologic conditions,” said Miki Kapoor, the chief executive officer of Verana Health, in a statement. “The financing and the addition of PYAA enable us to enrich these large clinical databases, creating a longitudinal view of the complete patient journey to inform research and patient care.”
However, the company’s approach seems to disregard the role of the patient in the healthcare process. The emphasis on de-identification is one that new technology companies consistently rely on; however, evidence tells us that these practices aren’t as secure as consumers would want when it comes to sensitive information around health.
In June 2019, the University of Chicago Medical Center and Google were sued for allegedly violating HIPAA regulations by sharing patient records that weren’t de-identified properly. Google used the research for predictive data analysis based on massive population data. Google and the medical center have both filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit.
But even the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warned that there’s a risk that de-identified data could be linked back to the corresponding patient. Indeed, new machine learning capabilities developed by companies like Google have already been used to re-identify anonymized patient data, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Legacy, a male fertility startup, has just raised a fresh, $3.5 million in funding from Bill Maris’s San Diego-based venture firm, Section 32, along with Y Combinator and Bain Capital Ventures, which led a $1.5 million seed round for the Boston startup last year.
We talked earlier today with Legacy’s founder and CEO Khaled Kteily about his now two-year-old, five-person startup and its big ambitions to become the world’s preeminent male fertility center. Our biggest question was how Legacy and similar startups convince men — who are generally less concerned with their fertility than women — that they need the company’s at-home testing kits and services in the first place.
“They should be worried about [their fertility],” said Kteily, a former healthcare and life sciences consultant with a master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. “Sperm counts have gone down 50 to 60% over the last 40 years.” More from our chat with Legacy, a former TechCrunch Battlefield winner, follows; it has been edited lightly for length.
TC: Why start this company?
KK: I didn’t grow up wanting to be the king of sperm [laughs]. But I had a pretty bad accident — a second-degree burn on my legs after having four hot Starbucks teas spill on my lap in a car — and between that and a colleague at the Kennedy School who’d been diagnosed with cancer and whose doctor suggested he freeze his sperm ahead of his radiation treatments, it just clicked for me that maybe I should also save my sperm. When I went into Cambridge to do this, the place was right next to the restaurant Dumpling House and it was just very awkward and expensive and I thought, there must be a better way of doing this.
TC: How do you get started on something like this?
KK: This was before Ro and Hims began taking off, but people were increasingly comfortable doing things from their own homes, so I started doing research around the idea. I joined the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. I started taking continuing education classes about sperm…
TC: Women are under so much pressure from the time they turn 30 to monitor their fertility. Aside from extreme circumstances, as with your friend, do men really think about testing their sperm?
KK: Men should be worried about it, and they should be taking responsibility for it. What a lot of folks don’t know is for every one in seven couples that are actively trying to get pregnant, the man is equally responsible [for their fertility struggles]. Women are taught about their fertility but men aren’t, yet the quality of their sperm is degrading over the years. Sperm counts have gone down by 50 to 60% over the last 40 years, too.
TC: Wait, what? Why?
KK: [Likely culprits are] chemicals in plastics, chemicals in what we eat eat and drink, changes in lifestyle; we move less and eat more, and sperm health relates to overall health. I also think mobile phones are causing it. I will caveat this by saying there’s been mixed research, but I’m convinced that cell phones are the new smoking in that it wasn’t clear that smoking was as dangerous as it is when the research was being conducted by companies that benefited by [perpetuating cigarette use]. There’s also a generational decline in sperm quality [to consider]; it poses increased risk to the mother but also the child, as the risk of gestational diabetes goes up, as well as the rate of autism and other congenital conditions.
TC: You’re selling directly to consumers. Are you also working with companies to incorporate your tests in their overall wellness offerings?
KK: We’re investing heavily in business-to-business and expect that to be a huge acquisition channel for us. We can’t share any names yet, but we just signed a big company last week and have a few more in the works. These are mostly Bay Area companies right now; it’s an area where our experience as a YC alum was valuable because of the founders who’ve gone through and now run large companies of their own.
TC: When you’re talking with investors, how do you describe the market size?
KK: There are four million couples that are facing fertility challenges and in all cases, we believe the man should be tested. So do [their significant others]. Almost half of purchases [of our kits] are by a female partner. We also see men in the military freezing their sperm before being deployed, same-sex couples who plan to use a surrogate at some point and transgender patients who are looking at a life-changing [moment] and want to preserve their fertility before they start the process. But we see this as something that every man might do as they go off to college, and investors see that bigger picture.
TC: How much do the kits and storage cost?
KK: The kit costs $195 up front, and if they choose to store their sperm, $145 a year. We offer different packages. You can also spend $1,995 for two deposits and 10 years of storage.
TC: Is one or two samples effective? According to the Mayo Clinic, sperm counts fluctuate meaningfully from one sample to the next, so they suggest semen analysis tests over a period of time to ensure accurate results.
KK: We encourage our clients to make multiple deposits. The scores will be variable, but they’ll gather around an average.
TC: But they are charged for these deposits separately?
TC: And what are you looking for?
KK: Volume, count, concentration, motility and morphology [meaning the shape of the sperm].
TC: Who, exactly, is doing the analysis and handling the storage?
KK: We partner with Andrology Labs in Chicago on analysis; it’s one of the top fertility labs in the country. For storage, we partner with a couple of cryo-storage providers in different geographies. We divide the samples into four, then store them in two different tanks within each of two locations. We want to make sure we’re never in a position where [the samples are accidentally destroyed, as has happened at clinics elsewhere].
TC: I can imagine fears about these samples being mishandled. How can you assure customers this won’t happen?
KK: Trust and legitimacy are core factors and a huge area of focus for us. We’re CPPA and HIPAA compliant. All [related data] is encrypted and anonymized and every customer receives a unique ID [which is a series of digits so that even the storage facilities don’t know whose sperm they are handling]. We have extreme redundancies and processes in place to ensure that we’re handling [samples] in the most scientifically rigorous way possible, as well as ensuring the safety and privacy of each [specimen].
TC: How long can sperm be frozen?
TC: How will you use all the data you’ll be collecting?
KK: I could see us entering into partnerships with research institutions. What we won’t do is sell it like 23andMe.
Lately, the venture community’s relationship with advertising tech has been a rocky one.
Advertising is no longer the venture oasis it was in the past, with the flow of VC dollars in the space dropping dramatically in recent years. According to data from Crunchbase, adtech deal flow has fallen at a roughly 10% compounded annual growth rate over the last five years.
While subsectors like privacy or automation still manage to pull in funding, with an estimated 90%-plus of digital ad spend growth going to incumbent behemoths like Facebook and Google, the amount of high-growth opportunities in the adtech space seems to grow narrower by the week.
Despite these pains, funding for marketing technology has remained much more stable and healthy; over the last five years, deal flow in marketing tech has only dropped at a 3.5% compounded annual growth rate according to Crunchbase, with annual invested capital in the space hovering just under $2 billion.
Given the movement in the adtech and martech sectors, we wanted to try to gauge where opportunity still exists in the verticals and which startups may have the best chance at attracting venture funding today. We asked four leading VCs who work at firms spanning early to growth stages to share what’s exciting them most and where they see opportunity in marketing and advertising:
Several of the firms we spoke to (both included and not included in this survey) stated that they are not actively investing in advertising tech at present.