Brolly, the U.K. insurance app that lets you keep track of your various policies so you are correctly and competitively covered, is launching a new product to plug what it sees as a gap in home contents insurance.
Dubbed “Brolly Contents,” the new offering promises “flexible” monthly cover for all or a subset of the items you own, transparently priced and delivered in a more convenient way via Brolly’s mobile app. Features of Brolly Contents include the ability to insure up to £40,000 worth of belongings, suitable for renters or property owners, and no fees for updates to your cover.
In addition, there’s a promised loyalty discount of up to 25% that increases each month you stay with Brolly and haven’t made a claim. That’s the antithesis to incumbent providers who offer large discounts for new customers, which are then clawed back the following years on the premise that you are too lazy or time poor to bother switching.
Brolly founder and CEO Phoebe Hugh tells me her aim is to rid customers of what she calls the “loyalty tax,” while simultaneously upgrading contents insurance for the digital age.
“For the majority of consumers, contents insurance is the first voluntary insurance product they will come across,” says Hugh. “A digital native generation are approaching this for the first time and are confused and unhappy with what is currently available. Nine out of 10 households headed by someone between 65-75 have contents insurance, versus just 4 out of 10 of under 30s. This newer customer has become accustomed to digital delivery of everything, from banking to food delivery, and cannot find an insurance product that suits them. Brolly Contents is the first Brolly product to address these problems head on.”
Developed in partnership with specialist insurer Hiscox, Brolly Contents promises to be more flexible than similar products after Hugh and her team concluded that the current market wasn’t meeting existing Brolly customers’ needs, let alone expanding the market for contents insurance as a whole.
Contents insurance is typically sold as blanket cover but with lots of caveats, and/or requires tedious form filling and is still opaque at best. This leaves many not bothering to take out cover at all or discovering that the cover they have falls short when it’s time to make a claim.
In contrast, Brolly Contents claims to be more transparent, with a much simpler to understand product and an on-boarding experience delivered via in-app chat that walks you through how much cover you require and the amount of excess you wish to pay should you make a claim.
“With Brolly Contents, you can choose how much you want to insure and it doesn’t need to be everything in your home,” says Hugh. “You can get insured from as little as £4.50 a month, if you only want to protect a few things. There are no add-ons, and you can add valuables for no additional cost. Many businesses in this space, particularly some of the newer ones, are offering a branded product to customers which, in the background, consists of multiple underwriters with policies stitched together. As soon as you add some valuables and accidental damage, the price skyrockets. It’s pretty tricky to keep pricing competitive if this is how you operate.”
Meanwhile, Hugh — who before starting Brolly was an underwriter at Aviva — says that despite the insurtech hype, the insurance industry remains a “pre-disrupted market.” Incumbents are focused on where the profit currently is, and therefore the uninsured or beginner insurance customers aren’t well served. In the meantime, insurtech startups typically have to work with those same incumbents.
“A new business gaining traction in insurance is challenging; it’s unlikely you can underwrite yourself at the outset so you have to take a patient approach,” she says. “We found a world-class underwriting partner in Hiscox who shared our vision to simplify insurance, and who wanted to challenge the status quo, but are also trusted to pay out on claims. We’ve been working on Brolly Contents for over a year to deliver something genuinely new.”
Adds Matt Churchill, head of Hiscox Futures: “Consumer expectations of insurance are changing. We identified early on that Brolly were leading the charge in exploring new ways of engaging customers. Together, we’ve designed a simple insurance product and brought it to life on Brolly’s proven technology driven platform. We hope it brings positive benefits to consumers looking for simplicity and flexibility from a home contents policy.”
Why is tech still aiming for the healthcare industry? It seems full of endless regulatory hurdles or stories of misguided founders with no knowledge of the space, running headlong into it, only to fall on their faces.
Theranos is a prime example of a founder with zero health background or understanding of the industry — and just look what happened there! The company folded not long after founder Elizabeth Holmes came under criminal investigation and was barred from operating in her own labs for carelessly handling sensitive health data and test results.
And then there’s Oscar Health, which first made a mint on Obamacare and has since ventured into Medicare. Combined with Bright, the two health insurance startups have pulled in a whopping $3 billion so far.
It’s easy to shake our fists at fool-hardy founders hoping to cash in on an industry that cannot rely on the old motto “move fast and break things.” But it doesn’t have to be the code tech lives or dies by.
So which startups have the mojo to keep at it and rise to the top? Venture capitalists often get to see a lot before deciding to invest. So we asked a few of our favorite health VC’s to share their insights.
A newly released data model and draft implementation guide for providing directly to patients digital access to historical health insurance claims data could mean you have better access to this info from the devices you use everyday. Called the CARIN Blue Button API, it’s a new model developed by private sector partners, including consumer organizations, insurance providers, digital health app developers and more. This new draft implementation will be in testing with participating companies beginning this year, including a number of different state-specific BlueCross/BlueShield providers, the State of Washington — and Apple, Google and Microsoft.
The news was announced today at the White House Blue Button Developers Conference in Washington D.C., and builds on the work done last year by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to launch Blue Button 2.0, a new standard aimed at providing Medicare beneficiaries in the U.S. access to all of their historical claims information in one place from whichever application they choose to use.
All of the organizations participating in the draft testing process will perform “real-world testing” of the CARIN model developed by the multi-disciplinary working group, with the aim of preparing for a broad product launch of the data standard in 2020.
Seeing Apple, Google and Microsoft on that list along with a significant number of healthcare providers is a good sign; it should mean more data portability and choice when it comes to how you access your own patient information, rather than it being decided on a platform-by-platform basis.
Apple already built a Health Records section into its own native Health app in iOS at the beginning of last year, and while it works with standards sometimes adopted by healthcare providers, it’s far from a universal, truly interoperable healthcare history feature on its own. Apple has been building partnerships with agencies and providers, including Veterans’ Affairs and Aetna, to flesh out its personal health data offering for users, and Microsoft has its own health records offering called HealthVault.
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.
More money is being injected into the telehealth space in Europe. Zava, a long-time player that bills its online service as offering a “discreet and convenient” alternative to an in-person doctor visit, has just announced a $32 million Series A round, led by growth equity firm HPE Growth.
Zava relies on patients filling in an online medical questionnaire which is reviewed by its team of in-house doctors as part of the remote consultation process. Test kits and/or medicine can follow in the post or be sent to a pharmacy for the patient to collect.
“Zava provides reliable and convenient access to a qualified clinical team, via written communication, which drives an effective patient:doctor relationship,” says co-founder and CEO David Meinertz. “The questions we ask in our written questionnaire are exactly the same questions a GP would ask — but the patient can do this in their own time, meaning their answers are often more thorough.”
“Our patients feel more comfortable not having to discuss medical conditions that they might find embarrassing face to face, so we often find our patient answers are very direct,” he adds. “We’re not replacing doctors with AI and we are not just putting doctors on video. Zava is providing healthcare that enables doctors to treat patients more efficiently and more safely.”
Commenting on the Series A in a statement, Harry Dolman, partner at HPE Growth, added: “Zava offers a unique and highly scalable model to deliver a more convenient healthcare experience to patients while radically improving the efficiency of healthcare professionals, enabling healthcare systems to reduce the overall costs associated with primary care.”
The startup was founded nearly a decade ago, in 2010, and had only previously raised an angel round of $1.4M back in 2012 from an entrepreneur in Hamburg — but was profitable until the end of 2018. “We are now in investment mode,” Meinertz tells TechCrunch.
The growth opportunity its investors are spotting is both to expand to more markets, initially across Europe, but also to supplement over-stretched state healthcare services — with Zava gearing up to make a sales pitch to state healthcare services in the UK, France and Germany.
Its early profits have come from offering paid services either direct to patients, or via working with insurance companies or partnering with pharmacies. The next stage will be to open up a dual track in key markets such as the UK — supplementing direct paid consultations with winning business from the state funded National Health Service so the service is offered to their patients free-at-the-point-of-use.
Although at this stage Zava has not provided any details of state healthcare contracts it has won.
“We’re delighted that our latest investment will help fund the research required to enter this space in the UK, Germany and France,” says Meinertz of the Series A. “We feel passionately about the transformation of primary care and the Zava healthcare platform is primed to support it.”
“As Zava grows and scales in the UK, we are looking to work closely with the NHS to help it become more efficient. This will mean that we will be working with two distinct models in the UK, one where patients pay Zava for the services they receive from us, or, two, access Zava through the NHS and receive healthcare free of charge at the point of care,” he adds.
“Due to the different requirements of the healthcare systems in France and Germany, we are already exploring different routes to enter the statutory healthcare markets in these countries.
“In Germany, we will work with statutory and private insurance companies to provide healthcare to patients free at the point of care.”
Meinertz says the new funding will also go on expanding Zava’s medical and technology capabilities — to offer “many new services for patients across Europe”, with women’s health a near term focus.
“We will be launching dozens of new services in the UK and other markets during Q3 and Q4 of 2019. In particular, we are focussing on women’s health in the coming months, as well as new test-kits and mental health services,” he says, adding: “With our latest investment we are investigating routes to replicate Zava’s success in the current markets to new markets to accelerate growth. Our intention is to launch in two additional European markets by 2021.”
Since 2011, Zava has provided three million paid consultations across the six markets it operates in in Europe — with 1M those taking place in 2018 alone.
Every month it says almost 100,000 patients access its service from the UK, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland and Ireland to seek advice, tests or treatment for a growing range of conditions.
On the surface, Zava’s approach looks considerably ‘lower tech’ than some of other digital health startups also targeting a younger, tech-savvy generation of patients — such as London-based Babylon Health, which uses an AI chatbot as part of its telehealth mix.
But what it may lose in triaging scale and immediacy, by requiring patients spend time filling in a detailed questionnaire in order to access remote healthcare — vs offering a more dynamic chatbot-style Q&A with a patient — could represent a longer term, sustainable advantage if Zava can show this method reduces the risks of errors and misdiagnosis, especially as usage scales, and does indeed help to foster a stronger link between patient and app, as it claims.
“Patients fill in an online questionnaire giving details on their symptoms, past medical history and personal circumstances. This medical information is reviewed by one of our doctors who then decide the best course of action, whether this is prescribing medication, offering a diagnostic test, giving advice or requesting further information from the patient,” says Meinertz explaining Zava’s approach.
“The medical questionnaires have been developed by the clinical team and passed rigorous testing to ensure safe treatment to our patients.”
Patient dissatisfaction rates do appear to be an early challenge for ‘digital first’ healthcare services.
For example, an Ipsos Mori evaluation of Babylon Health’s rival GP at Hand service, published earlier this year, found high levels of patient churn — with one in four patients found to have left the practice since July 2017 vs an average across London during the same period of one in six.
How well Zava’s questionnaire review process scales will be key. (Trustpilot reviews of its current UK service skew overwhelmingly positive — but a full 3% of reviewers have left the lowest possible rating, with complaints including canceled orders, lost/delayed packages, privacy-related complaints and even the wrong strength medicine being sent.)
Currently the startup has an in-house clinical team comprised of more than 20 doctors, pharmacists and healthcare professionals. Though the plan with the new funding is to grow headcount.
“The majority of this team sits in our London head office but we offer flexibility for our staff, meaning that consultations can be offered by remote doctors. With this in mind, we have doctors based in France, Switzerland and Germany too who treat Zava patients,” adds Meinertz.
The typical Zava patient is a man or a woman aged between 20 and 40 who is resident in a major city.
“They are patients who are dissatisfied with their current healthcare options and they’re willing to try something new,” he says. “They want to avoid a face to face interaction or an inconvenient appointment, accessibility and reliability are the most important factors to them.”
While this tech-savvy target demographic may be willing to try an app over a traditional trip to the GP, they’re unlikely to stick around long if the underlying service doesn’t live up to their expectations. So there are major challenges for telehealth players like Zava — to make sure patients remain satisfied with the quality and reliability of the service as usage scales, and to find ways to foster a genuine sense of connection with remote doctors sitting in the equivalent of a call center. A shiny app wrapper on its own won’t go far.
As studies show that early diagnosis and preventative therapies can help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s, startups that are working to diagnose the disease earlier are gaining more attention and funding.
That’s a boon to companies like Neurotrack, which closed on $21 million in new financing led by the company’s previous investor, Khosla Ventures, with participation from new investors Dai-ichi Life and SOMPO Holdings.
Last year, the Japanese life insurance company Dai-ichi Life partnered with Neurotrack to roll out a cognitive assessment tool to the company’s customers in Japan.
And earlier this year, the Japanese health insurer SOMPO conducted a 16-week pilot with Neurotrack, where more than 550 of SOMPO’s employees took Neurotrack’s test and followed the Memory Health Program for four months. Neurotrack and SOMPO are now working to deepen and extend their partnership.
“As the global crisis around Alzheimer’s continues to grow, the private sector is joining government and nonprofits to address the problem in their markets. In Japan, for example, traditional insurance companies are developing novel solutions that incorporate Neurotrack’s products to advance better memory health among its population,” said Elli Kaplan, Neurotrack co-founder and CEO. “These partnerships are innovative models that we hope to replicate in other markets, enabling traditional insurance companies to create new markets while helping to address the Alzheimer’s crisis. And now they’re also investing in our company, so these companies have two ways of doing well by doing good.”
Neurodegenerative disorders are becoming a more serious issue for the island nation — and the rest of the world. In fact, over the weekend the G20 first raised the possibility that aging populations could be a global risk.
“Most of the G20 nations already experience or will experience ageing,” Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda, told reporters from Agence France Presse. “We need to discuss problems that arise with societal ageing and how to deal with them.”
In the U.S., the estimated cost of caring for Americans with Alzheimer’s and other dementias was an estimated $277 billion in 2018, according to a study cited by WebMD. Roughly $186 billion of those costs are borne by Medicare and Medicaid, with another $60 billion in payments coming out-of-pocket. That number could top $1.1 trillion by 2050, according to the same report.
Neurotrack uses cognitive assessments that follow eye movements using the camera on a computer or mobile phone to create a baseline for cognitive functions. The company then uses a combination of brain training and diet, exercise and sleep adjustments to try to improve cognitive function and health.
Its technology is one of several different approaches startups are taking to try to provide early diagnoses and potential preventative measures against the disease.
MyndYou, another company tackling neurodegenerative diagnostics, uses an app to monitor movement among its users. The company assesses that data to determine whether there may be any issues related to cognitive function. It recently partnered with the Japanese company Mizuho to test its efficacy among Japan’s aging population.
Then there’s Altoida, another startup that launched recently to tackle the cognitive assessment market. It uses augmented reality and a series of memory tests to assess brain function and attempt to detect neurodegeneration.
Neurotrack’s technology, based on research from Emory University, has managed to attract more than just Japanese corporations. Previous investors like Sozo Ventures, Rethink Impact, AME Cloud Partners and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff have also thrown cash behind the company.
To date, the company has raised more than $50 million, including $6.8 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Aging.
The company said its new investment will be used to develop new partnerships in additional global markets and continue research and development.
“One can now feel empowered to test for potential memory decline, given that Neurotrack’s Memory Health Program can help stave off cognitive decline. This fully integrated platform enables users to assess the state of their memory, reduce future risk for decline, and monitor progress in order to take better control of one’s memory health. We combine these tools with deep analytics to further target and personalize, creating a very powerful precision medicine solution,” said Kaplan. “Just as when you go on a diet, you use a scale to provide evidence that you’re losing weight. Neurotrack now has the equivalent of both a scale to measure and the Memory Health Program for cognitive health. This is a game-changer for dementia risk.”
Japan has national efforts targeting a reduction in the onset of dementia in 6% of people in their 70s by 2025 (the country has the world’s largest population of the elderly, with more than 20% of the country over the age of 65). Roughly 13 million people are expected to develop Alzheimer’s in Japan by 2025.
Part of the company’s success in fundraising comes from the results of a preliminary study that showed improved cognitive functions for people diagnosed with some decline in cognitive function after a year of using Neurotrack’s Memory Health Program. The company claims it has the the first fully integrated, clinically validated platform that can assess a person’s cognition through its cognitive assessment — which can predict conversion from healthy to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or MCI to Alzheimer’s disease within three years at 89% accuracy, and within six years at 100% accuracy.
While that kind of assessment is good, Alzheimer’s symptoms can begin to appear as early as 25 years before the onset of the disease. So there’s still work to be done.
“Neurotrack has built an incredible integrative platform that is transforming our battle with Alzheimer’s,” said Jenny Abramson, founder and managing partner of Rethink Impact. “Elli’s two decades of experience in the private sector and in government are helping her scale this solution to the millions of people suffering from cognitive decline around the world. We couldn’t be more excited to continue to support Neurotrack, given both the financial opportunity and the impact they are already having on this critical disease.”
Northwestern Mutual is setting aside $150 million for a second venture fund.
“We’re committed to transforming the client experience to drive change within the financial services industry,” said Souheil Badran, executive vice president and chief innovation officer, in a statement. “This additional capital will allow us to build on the success of Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures and invest in new technologies that have the ability to accelerate growth and advance innovation so we can create what’s next for our clients, financial representatives and employees.”
Criteria for the fund won’t change. It will still invest between $500,000 and $5 million ins Series A or B stage deals focused on technologies that can address changing customer preferences; new user experiences for the insurance industry and consumers; digital health; data and analytics technologies that can power new products and services; and other strategic objectives.
Since its launch in 2017, Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures has backed 14 startups and invested $43 million. The much larger commitment the firm is making through this second investment vehicle proves that insurers are waking up to the importance of new technology companies in the old insurance business.
When Ezra first launched about six months ago, the company was using magnetic resonance imaging machines to test for prostate cancer in men.
But the company’s founder, Emi Gal, always had a larger goal.
“One of the biggest problems in cancer is that there’s no accurate, fast, painless, way to scan for cancer anywhere in the body” Gal said at the time of his company’s debut.
Now he’s several steps closer to a solution. Rather than having to do painful biopsies which often come with significant side effects, Gal’s software can now be used to slash the cost for a full-body MRI scan designed to screen for 11 different types of cancer in men and another 13 types of cancer in women (who have more organs that are likely to develop cancer).
The scans take about an hour and costs just $1,950, compared with the $5,000 to $10,000 that a full-body MRI scan can cost.
That’s still a steep price for customers to pay out of pocket. Insurance companies won’t pay for Ezra’s screens… yet. The company is in talks with some insurance companies and expects to have some pilot projects up in the last quarter of 2018 and first quarter of 2020. The goal, says Gal, is to have Ezra covered by insurers and self-employed insurers.
It’s hard to overstate how vitally important early cancer screening is for patients.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 1.7 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in the U.S. in 2019. For 600,000 people that diagnosis will be a death sentence. Roughly half of cancer patients are detected in the late stage of the disease and only two out of ten late-stage cancer patients survive longer than five years.
Gal knows the toll that can take on patients and families all too well. The serial entrepreneur, who started his first company at 20 and sold it at 30, volunteered at a hospice in his hometown of Bucharest, and became determined to come up with a screen to detect cancer earlier.
Gal started working on Ezra’s cancer-screening toolkit last year, with patient data taken from the National Institute of Health and supplemented with 150 cancer screens from additional patients.
Ezra initially came to market with a single test to screen for prostate cancer using machine learning to diagnose the screens coming off of an abbreviated MRI scan that takes 20 minutes.
All of the MRI sequences that Gal’s company uses are FDA approved, but the machine learning algorithms the company has developed has not been cleared, yet.
While Ezra can screen for different cancers, the firm’s technology doesn’t offer a diagnosis. That’s still up to a physician and requires additional testing. “We’re turning MRIs from what is a diagnostic test into a screening test,” says Gal.
“What we’ve done is removed the sequences not necessary for screening and brought the liver scan down to 15 minutes [and] the total scanning time down to an hour,” Gal says.
Rather than building out its own network of MRI machines to conduct the tests, Ezra has partnered with the MRI facility network RadNet on testing. The company also offers post-diagnosis consultations to help direct patients who are diagnosed with cancer to seek proper treatment.
The company is currently working in nine centers across New York and intends to expand to San Francisco and Los Angeles later this year.
Gal’s vision for early cancer screening was appealing enough to rake in $4 million in financing from investors including Founders Future, Credo Ventures, Seedcamp, Esther Dyson and other angel investors including SoundCloud co-founder Alex Ljung.
Ultimately, Ezra’s success will hinge on whether it can continue to drive down costs with its direct-to-consumer pitch, or become a diagnostic tool that insurers embrace.
“Over time, our goal is to build different AIs for different organs to decrease the cost even further,” says Gal.