A new cross-industry initiative is seeking to establish a standard for digital vaccination records that can be used universally to identify COVID-19 vaccination status for individuals, in a way that can be both secure via encryption and traceable and verifiable for trustworthiness regarding their contents. The so-called ‘Vaccination Credential Initiative’ includes a range of big-name companies from both the healthcare and the tech industry, including Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce and Epic, as well as the Mayo Clinic, Safe Health, Change Healthcare and the CARIN Alliance to name a few.
The effort is beginning with existing, recognized standards already in use in digital healthcare programs, like the SMART Health Cards specification, which adheres to HL7 FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) which is a standard created for use in digital health records to make them interoperable between providers. The final product that the initiative aims to establish is an “encrypted digital copy of their immunization credentials to store in a digital wallet of their choice,” with a backup available as a printed QR code that includes W3C-standards verifiable credentials for individuals who don’t own or prefer not to use smartphones.
Vaccination credentials aren’t a new thing – they’ve existed in some form or another since the 1700s. But their use and history is also mired in controversy and accusations of inequity, since this is human beings we’re dealing with. And already with COVID-19, there efforts underway to make access to certain geographies dependent upon negative COVID-19 test results (though such results don’t actually guarantee that an individual doesn’t actually have COVID-19 or won’t transfer it to others).
A recent initiative by LA County specifically also is already providing digital immunization records to individuals via a partnership with Healthvana, facilitated by Apple’s Wallet technology. But Healthvana’s CEO and founder was explicit in telling me that that isn’t about providing a proof of immunity for use in deterring an individual’s social or geographic access. Instead, it’s about informing and supporting patients for optimal care outcomes.
It sounds like this initiative is much more about using a COVID-19 immunization record as a literal passport of sorts. It’s right in the name of the initiative, for once (‘Credential’ is pretty explicit). The companies involved also at least seem cognizant of the potential pitfalls of such a program, as MITRE’s chief digital health physician Dr. Brian Anderson said that “we are working to ensure that underserved populations have access to this verification,” and added that “just as COVID-19 does not discriminate based on socio-economic status, we must ensure that convenient access to records crosses the digital divide.”
Other quotes from Oracle and Salesforce, and additional member leaders confirm that the effort is focused on fostering a reopening of social and economic activity, including “resuming travel,” get[ting] back to public life,” and “get[ting] concerts and sporting events going again.” Safe Health also says that they’ll help facility a “privacy-preserving health status verification” solution that is at least in part “blockchain-enabled.”
Given the urgency of solutions that can lead to a safe re-opening, and a way to keep tabs on the massive, global vaccination program that’s already underway, it makes sense that a modern approach would include a digital version of historic vaccination record systems. But such an approach, while it leverages new conveniences and modes made possible by smartphones and the internet, also opens itself up to new potential pitfalls and risks that will no doubt be highly scrutinized, particularly by public interest groups focused on privacy and equitable treatment.
DecisionLink, an Atlanta-based company that provides software for cost-benefit analyses of business services from a customer’s perspective, has managed to woo one of Silicon Valley’s top venture firms to invest in its latest $18.5 million round of funding.
Accel Partners has a longstanding reputation as one of the Bay Area’s premier investment firms, and it’s leading DecisionLink’s latest round. Their investment comes on the heels of billion-dollar valuations for Atlanta companies like Calendly, Greenlight Financial Technologies, OneTrust and the $800 million acquisition of Kabbage.
Atlanta startups are on fire
Calendly – raising at $3B valuation
OneTrust – $2.5B valuation
Greenlight – $1B+ valuation
Kabbage – just sold for $800M.
We have hit an inflection point in Atlanta – the next 10 years are going to be really runs
— Romeen Sheth (@RomeenSheth) November 19, 2020
Other investors in the round included George Kurtz, the president and chief executive of CrowdStrike, and George Roberts, a partner at OpenView Venture Partners and the former executive vice president of North American sales at Oracle.
“Value Management [sic] as a practice is now a C-suite priority and increasingly considered an enterprise-critical function alongside software systems like CRM, marketing automation, and project management,” said Sameer Gandhi, partner, Accel, in a statement. “In 2019, we invested in a SAFE round in DecisionLink because we believed in the market opportunity for scalable [value management]. Now, we have been so impressed by DecisionLink’s execution and its ability to drive this transformation on behalf of customers, that we are excited to lead its Series A round.”
Businesses are constantly looking for ways to benchmark themselves against their competitors or find new ways to better service them. Most of these strategies don’t take off, or are variations on a theme, but value management seems to have legs — especially given the accessibility of all kinds of benchmarking data points that are publicly available.
Accel-backed portfolio companies like CrowdStrike, PagerDuty and DocuSign are using the service and so are companies like ServiceNow, Marketo, NCR and VMware.
These are big names in enterprise software, and the signal that their adoption of DecisionLink’s software provided must have played a role in Accel’s decision to invest.
Fresh off the announcement of more than $500 million in new capital across two new funds, Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group has announced that they’re adding Anu Sharma and Daniel Li to the team’s list of Partners.
The firm, which in recent years has paid particularly close attention to enterprise software bets, invests heavily in the early-stage Pacific Northwest startup scene.
Both Li and Sharma are stepping into the Partner role after some time at the firm. Li has been with Madrona for five years while Sharma joined the team in 2020. Prior to joining Madrona, Sharma led product management teams at Amazon Web Services, worked as a software developer at Oracle and had a stint in VC as an associate at SoftBank China & India. Li previously worked at the Boston Consulting Group.
I got the chance to catch up with Li who notes that the promotion won’t necessarily mean a big shift in his day-to-day responsibilities — “At Madrona, you’re not promoted until you’re working in the next role anyway,” he says — but that he appreciates “how much trust the firm places in junior investors.”
Asked about leveling up his venture career during a time when public and private markets seem particularly flush with cash, Li acknowledges some looming challenges.
“On one hand, it’s just been an amazing five years to join venture capital because things have just been up and to the right with lots of things that work; it’s just a super exciting time,” Li says. “On the other hand, from a macro perspective, you know that there’s more capital flowing into VC as an asset class than ever before. And just from that pure macro perspective, you know that that means returns are going to be lower in the next 10 years as valuations are higher.”
Nevertheless, Li is plenty bullish on internet companies claiming larger swaths of the global GDP and hopes to invest specifically in “low code platforms, next-gen productivity, and online communities,” Madrona notes in their announcement, while Sharma plans to continue looking at to “distributed systems, data infrastructure, machine learning, and security.”
TechCrunch recently talked to Li and his Madrona colleague Hope Cochran about some of the top trends in social gaming and how investors were approaching new opportunities across the gaming industry.
In the same week that Amazon is holding its big AWS confab, Google is also announcing a move to raise its own enterprise game with Google Cloud. Today the company announced that it is acquiring Actifio, a data management company that helps companies with data continuity to be better prepared in the event of a security breach or other need for disaster recovery. The deal squares Google up as a competitor against the likes of Rubrik, another big player in data continuity.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed in the announcement; we’re looking and will update as we learn more. Notably, when the company was valued at over $1 billion in a funding round back in 2014, it had said it was preparing for an IPO (which never happened). PitchBook data estimated its value at $1.3 billion in 2018, but earlier this year it appeared to be raising money at about a 60% discount to its recent valuation, according to data provided to us by Prime Unicorn Index.
It had raised around $461 million, with investors including Andreessen Horowitz, TCV, Tiger, 83 North, and more.
With Actifio, Google is moving into what is one of the key investment areas for enterprises in recent years. The growth of increasingly sophisticated security breaches, coupled with stronger data protection regulation, has given a new priority to the task of holding and using business data more responsibly, and business continuity is a cornerstone of that.
Google describes the startup as as a “leader in backup and disaster recovery” providing virtual copies of data that can be managed and updated for storage, testing, and more. The fact that it covers data in a number of environments — including SAP HANA, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, and MySQL, virtual machines (VMs) in VMware, Hyper-V, physical servers, and of course Google Compute Engine — means that it also gives Google a strong play to work with companies in hybrid and multi-vendor environments rather than just all-Google shops.
“We know that customers have many options when it comes to cloud solutions, including backup and DR, and the acquisition of Actifio will help us to better serve enterprises as they deploy and manage business-critical workloads, including in hybrid scenarios,” writes Brad Calder, VP, engineering, in the blog post. :In addition, we are committed to supporting our backup and DR technology and channel partner ecosystem, providing customers with a variety of options so they can choose the solution that best fits their needs.”
The company will join Google Cloud.
“We’re excited to join Google Cloud and build on the success we’ve had as partners over the past four years,” said Ash Ashutosh, CEO at Actifio, in a statement. “Backup and recovery is essential to enterprise cloud adoption and, together with Google Cloud, we are well-positioned to serve the needs of data-driven customers across industries.”
AWS today announced a new database product that is clearly meant to go after Microsoft’s SQL Server and make it easier — and cheaper — for SQL Server users to migrate to the AWS cloud. The new service is Babelfish for Aurora PostgreSQL. The tagline AWS CEO Andy Jassy used for this service in his re:Invent keynote today is probably telling: “Stop paying for SQL Server licenses you don’t need.” And to show how serious it is about this, the company is even open-sourcing the tool.
What Babelfish does is provide a translation layer for SQL Server’s proprietary SQL dialect (T-SQL) and communications protocol so that businesses can switch to AWS’ Aurora relational database at will (though they’ll still have to migrate their existing data). It provides translations for the dialect, but also SQL commands, cursors, catalog views, data types, triggers, stored procedures and functions.
The promise here is that companies won’t have to replace their database drivers or rewrite and verify their database requests to make this transition.
“We believe Babelfish stands out because it’s not another migration service, as useful as those can be. Babelfish enables PostgreSQL to understand database requests—both the command and the protocol—from applications written for Microsoft SQL Server without changing libraries, database schema, or SQL statements,” AWS’s Matt Asay writes in today’s announcement. “This means much faster ‘migrations’ with minimal developer effort. It’s also centered on ‘correctness,’ meaning applications designed to use SQL Server functionality will behave the same on PostgreSQL as they would on SQL Server.”
PostgreSQL, AWS rightly points out, is one of the most popular open-source databases in the market today. A lot of companies want to migrate their relational databases to it — or at least use it in conjunction with their existing databases. This new service is going to make that significantly easier.
The open-source Babelfish project will launch in 2021 and will be available on GitHub under the Apache 2.0 license.
“It’s still true that the overwhelming majority of relational databases are on-premise,” AWS CEO Andy Jassy said. “Customers are fed up with and sick of incumbents.” As is tradition at re:Invent, Jassy also got a few swipes at Oracle into his keynote, but the real target of the products the company is launching in the database area today is clearly Microsoft.
For years, founders and investors in China had little interest in open-source software because it did not seem like the most viable business model. Zilliz‘s latest financing round shows that attitude is changing. The three-year-old Chinese startup, which builds open-source software for processing unstructured data, recently closed a Series B round of $43 million.
The investment, which catapults Zilliz’s to-date raise to more than $53 million, is a sizable amount for any open-source business around the world. Storied private equity firm Hillhouse Capital led the round joined by Trustbridge Partners, Pavilion Capital and existing investors 5Y Capital (formerly Morningside) and Yunqi Partners.
Investors are going after Zilliz as they increasingly recognize open source as an effective software development strategy, Charles Xie, founder and CEO of Zilliz, told TechCrunch at an open-source meetup in Shenzhen where he spoke as the first Chinese board chairperson for Linux Foundation’s AI umbrella, LF AI.
“Investors are seeing very good exits for open-source companies around the world in recent years, from Elastic to MongoDB,” he added.
“When Starlord [Xie’s nickname] first told us his vision for data processing in the future digital age, we thought it was a crazy idea, but we chose to believe,” said 5Y Capital’s partner Liu Kai.
There’s one caveat for investing in the area: Don’t expect to make money in the first three to five years. “But if you’re looking at an eight to 10-year cycle, these [open source] companies can gain valuation at tens of billions of dollars,” Xie reckoned.
After six years as a software engineer at Oracle, Xie left the U.S. and headed home to start Zilliz in China. Like many Chinese entrepreneurs these days, Xie named his startup in English to mark the firm’s vision to be “global from day one.” While Zilliz set out in Shanghai, the goal is to relocate its headquarters to Silicon Valley when the firm delivers “robust technology and products” in the next 12 months, Xie said. China is an ideal starting point both for the cheaper engineering talents and the explosive growth of unstructured data — anything from molecular structure, people’s shopping behavior, audio information to video content.
“The amount of unstructured data in a region is in proportion to the size of its population and the level of its economic activity, so it’s easy to see why China is the biggest data source,” Xie observed.
On the other hand, China has seen rapid development in mobile internet and AI, especially in terms of real-life applications, which Xie argued makes China a suitable testing ground for data processing software.
So far Zilliz’s open-source product Milvus has been “starred” more than 4,440 times on GitHub and attracted some 120 contributors and 400 enterprise users around the world, half of whom are outside China. It’s done so without spending a penny on advertising; rather, user acquisition has come from its active participation on GitHub, Reddit and other online developer communities.
Going forward, Zilliz plans to deploy its fresh capital in overseas recruitment, expanding its open-source ecosystem, as well as research and development in its cloud-based products and services, which will eventually become a revenue driver as it starts monetizing in the second half of 2021.
Startups need to live in the future. They create roadmaps, build products and continually upgrade them with an eye on next year — or even a few years out.
Big companies, often the target customers for startups, live in a much more near-term world. They buy technologies that can solve problems they know about today, rather than those they may face a couple bends down the road. In other words, they’re driving a Dodge, and most tech entrepreneurs are driving a DeLorean equipped with a flux-capacitor.
That situation can lead to a huge waste of time for startups that want to sell to enterprise customers: a business development black hole. Startups are talking about technology shifts and customer demands that the executives inside the large company — even if they have “innovation,” “IT,” or “emerging technology” in their titles — just don’t see as an urgent priority yet, or can’t sell to their colleagues.
Rather than asking large companies about which technologies they were experimenting with, we created four buckets, based on what you might call “commitment level.” (Our survey had 211 respondents, 62% of them in North America and 59% at companies with greater than $1 billion in annual revenue.) We asked survey respondents to assess a list of 16 technologies, from advanced analytics to quantum computing, and put each one into one of these four buckets. We conducted the survey at the tail end of Q3 2020.
Respondents in the first group were “not exploring or investing” — in other words, “we don’t care about this right now.” The top technology there was quantum computing.
Bucket #2 was the second-lowest commitment level: “learning and exploring.” At this stage, a startup gets to educate its prospective corporate customer about an emerging technology — but nabbing a purchase commitment is still quite a few exits down the highway. It can be constructive to begin building relationships when a company is at this stage, but your sales staff shouldn’t start calculating their commissions just yet.
Here are the top five things that fell into the “learning and exploring” cohort, in ranked order:
Technologies in the third group, “investing or piloting,” may represent the sweet spot for startups. At this stage, the corporate customer has already discovered some internal problem or use case that the technology might address. They may have shaken loose some early funding. They may have departments internally, or test sites externally, where they know they can conduct pilots. Often, they’re assessing what established tech vendors like Microsoft, Oracle and Cisco can provide — and they may find their solutions wanting.
Here’s what our survey respondents put into the “investing or piloting” bucket, in ranked order:
By the time a technology is placed into the fourth category, which we dubbed “in-market or accelerating investment,” it may be too late for a startup to find a foothold. There’s already a clear understanding of at least some of the use cases or problems that need solving, and return-on-investment metrics have been established. But some providers have already been chosen, based on successful pilots and you may need to dislodge someone that the enterprise is already working with. It can happen, but the headwinds are strong.
Here’s what the survey respondents placed into the “in-market or accelerating investment” bucket, in ranked order:
In a new filing, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance asked the federal appeals court to vacate the United States government order forcing it to sell the app’s American operations.
President Donald Trump issued an order in August requiring ByteDance to sell TikTok’s U.S. business by November 12, unless it was granted a 30-day extension by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). In today’s filing (embedded below) with the federal appeals court in Washington D.C., ByteDance said it asked the CFIUS for an extension on November 6, but the order hasn’t been granted yet.
It added it remains committed to “reaching a negotiated mitigation solution with CFIUS satisfying its national security concerns” and will only file a motion to stay enforcement of the divestment order “if discussions reach an impasse.”
Security concerns about TikTok’s ownership by a Chinese company were at the center of the executive order Trump signed in August, banning transactions with Beijing-headquartered ByteDance.
The executive order claimed that TikTok posed a threat to national security, though ByteDance maintains that it does not. But in order to prevent the app, which has about 100 million users in the U.S., from being banned, ByteDance reached a deal in September to sell 20% of its stake in TikTok to Oracle and Walmart. With the Biden administration set to take office in January and ByteDance’s ongoing legal challenge against the divestment order, however, the future of the deal is now uncertain.
The new filing is part of a lawsuit TikTok filed against the Trump administration on September 18, seeking to stop the ban from going into effect.
In a statement to Bloomberg, TikTok said it has been working with the CFIUS to address its national security concerns.
“In the nearly two months since the President gave his preliminary approval to our proposal to satisfy those concerns, we have offered detailed solutions to finalize that agreement—but have received no substantive feedback on our extensive data privacy and security framework,” it said.
With the divestment order set to go into effect on Thursday unless the CFIUS grants an extension, TikTok said it made the filing “to defend our rights and those of our more than 1,500 employees in the U.S.”
TechCrunch has contacted ByteDance for comment.