Trump may reject FDA’s stricter regulations for COVID-19 vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration headquarters in White Oak, Maryland.

Enlarge / The Food and Drug Administration headquarters in White Oak, Maryland. (credit: Getty | Congressional Quarterly)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he may reject the Food and Drug Administration’s plan to issue stricter safety and efficacy standards for COVID-19 vaccines, calling the plan a “political move.”

The new standards are aimed at bolstering public confidence in the FDA and its vaccine review process, which has been severely damaged by many reports of political meddling and interference by the Trump administration. Those reports include claims that the FDA was pressured by the White House into allowing COVID-19 patients to be treated with unproven blood plasma and the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which was personally touted by Trump. (The authorization of hydroxychloroquine was later revoked by the FDA.) Just last week, Trump’s secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, revoked the FDA’s authority to sign new regulations.

Trump himself has continually undercut federal public health guidance and government scientists, particularly Robert Redfield, his director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trump has also repeatedly pushed for a pre-election release of a vaccine, though experts have, in turn, repeatedly pointed out that such a speedy release is nearly impossible based on the timeline of the clinical trials underway and the amount of data needed to make even preliminary evaluations of safety and efficacy.

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#cdc, #clinical-trials, #covid-19, #fda, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #trump, #vaccine

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United Airlines is making COVID-19 tests available to passengers, powered in part by Color

There’s still no clear path back to any sense of ‘business-as-usual’ as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, but United Airlines is embarking on a new pilot project to see if easy access to COVID-19 testing immediately prior to a flight can help ease freedom of mobility. The airline will offer COVID-19 tests (either rapid tests at the airport, or mail-in at home tests prior to travel) to passengers flying from SFO in San Francisco to Hawaiian airpots, beginning on October 15.

United worked directly with the Hawaiian government and health regulators to meet the state’s requirements when it comes to quarantine measures, so that travellers who return a negative result with this pre-trip tests won’t have to observe the mandatory quarantine period in place upon their arrival. That’s obviously a major barrier to travel to a popular tourist destination like Hawaii, since a two-week quarantine eats up all or more of the typical period of stay for anyone coming from the mainland.

The airline has partnered with two companies to provide the tests: Color for the at-home kit, which is ordered by a physician and provides results within 1-2 days of receiving the sample, and GoHealth Urgent Care, which will be provided the on-site tests at the airport using the Abbot ID NOW rapid COVID-19 test that returns results in just 15 minutes.

If passengers choose the Color option, they’re advised to request the test kit at least 10 days before they fly, and then to provide their sample for testing within 72 hours before they fly, in order to ensure first that they receive the sample kit in time, and second that the results are recent enough that it’s extremely unlikely they’ve contracted COVID-19 in the ensuing time prior to their flight. Passengers choosing this method can even return the sample via a drop box at SFO, with the results arriving after their landing, but still curtailing their mandatory quarantine period once received.

The on-site option will require scheduling a visit to the testing facility in SFO’s international terminal in advance, with tests available between 9 AM to 6 PM PT every day at the airport.

This is just a pilot program, and that’s a very good thing, because it will be crucially important to see what happens as a result of this kind of deployment, and its ability to skip the quarantine period. The two-week quarantine after travelling, which is fairly widely adopted globally at this stage in the pandemic, is intentionally meant to apply in most locations regardless of test results, no matter the source or recency.

That’s because at this stage in testing, the results aren’t anywhere near foolproof – testing has potentially less efficacy at detecting COVID-19 in asymptomatic individuals, for instance, and when viral loads aren’t yet high enough to provide reliable measurement. Those situations can result in false negatives, which isn’t an issue when the 14-day quarantine periods are mandatory and universal.

Tourism, especially domestic U.S. tourism, is vital to the economic wellbeing of states like Hawaii – and widespread testing could be a lever to open up more of this kind of economic activity both elsewhere in the U.S. and internationally. But it’ll require close and careful study, scrutinized by health professionals, as well as improvements in the accuracy and consistency of diagnostics before these measure should expand beyond the pilot stage.

#aerospace, #airline, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #gohealth, #hawaii, #health, #medicine, #physician, #prevention, #quarantine, #san-francisco, #tc, #united-airlines, #united-states

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Gavin Newsom’s Trial by Wildfire

Twenty months into his term, California’s governor faces a pandemic and an environmental crisis. He speaks to Kara Swisher about his plan to save the “state of resistance.”

#california, #covid-19, #economic-conditions-and-trends, #environment, #fracking, #newsom-gavin, #pandemic, #wildfires

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Russia offers its untested COVID-19 vaccine for free to UN officials

A smirking man in a suit sits in front of a UN flag.

Enlarge / Russian President Vladimir Putin address the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, via teleconference call, in Moscow on September 22, 2020. (credit: Getty | MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV)

Some United Nations staff are likely brushing up on their Russian—specifically how to say “Thanks, but no thanks” in the nicest way possible.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered UN staff free doses of the country’s COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, which has not completed clinical trials for efficacy and has not been thoroughly vetted for safety.

Still, Putin suggested that his offer was prompted by the desire to give the people what they want: “Some colleagues from the UN have asked about this, and we will not remain indifferent to them,” he said during a speech Tuesday at this year’s (virtual) General Assembly.

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#clinical-trials, #covid-19, #efficacy, #putin, #russia, #safety, #sars-cov-2, #science, #sputnik-v, #un, #vaccine

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Scaling to $100 million ARR: 3 founders share their insights

Last week at TechCrunch Disrupt, Alex Wilhelm hosted a panel titled “Getting to $100 million ARR” on the Extra Crunch Stage. He was joined by three executives, including Vineet Jain, CEO and co-founder at Egnyte, Michal Tsur, president and co-founder at Kaltura and Sid Sijbrandij, CEO at GitLab.

The panelists discussed their path to building successful companies — all of which could go public in the next year or two.

Here are our five favorite takeaways from the panel. These notions should offer founders some inspiration, and perhaps a little guidance as they scale their own startup. After all, $100 million in ARR is merely the pre-IPO milestone. After that things get even harder.

Everyone faces hard times, but you can work through them

Jain told the story of how his company was just two years old in 2013 when he was trying to raise its Series B and facing rejection at every turn. What’s worse, he was at risk of running out of money in 30 days, the startup death knell.

“In 2011, when I was trying to raise a Series B, I had dealt with 13 rejections from Monday morning partner meetings at all the venture firms that I can think of [there] on Sand Hill Road — and I was thinking, ‘Okay, how will I run my payroll?’ I was 30 days out from running out of cash,” Jain said.

A chance breakfast with a VC he knew from a previous venture led to a meeting with his firm, Kleiner Perkins. Jain said he had figured Kleiner wouldn’t be interested in his startup because it was too early-stage, but the friend told him to give it a shot. He got his Series B term sheet later that week.

What worked there? It was key that the VC knew him, believed in him, and, as Jain said, personal reputation matters. In this case it saved Egnyte, now worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

On the theme of working through hard times, Kaltura’s Tsur said every startup will face a bad quarter or two, but that the best way to cope was to analyze and fix underlying problems.

“If somebody tells you that they did not have such a quarter, they’re probably lying,” she said.

“I’ve been running products and platforms for most of my time with Kaltura, so I’ve always been looking at it from a product perspective. And you know, ultimately whenever we have plateaued, we look very seriously at whether it’s the market, whether it’s the product, whether it’s the people. And, you know, ultimately, adjust as much as we could,” said Tsur.

It’s not the size of your A round that matters, it’s getting it done

#100m-arr, #covid-19, #disrupt-2020, #egnyte, #gitlab, #kaltura, #tc

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MWC plans to go forward in person in 2021, but pushes show back to late-June

Over the past several months, it’s become painfully clear that COVID-19 isn’t a problem that we’re going to leave behind in 2021. After hemming and hawing a bit, the CTA ultimately pulled the trigger for an online-only version of the show in January. Other tech shows are similarly — at best — still up in the air. There’s also the example of IFA, which was recently held in Berlin — albeit at a greatly reduced capacity.

Mobile World Congress, which traditionally falls in a the late-February/early-March timeframe was among the first major tech show to be canceled on account of the pandemic. There was understandably a lot of last minute handwringing on that one — but in hindsight, it’s pretty clear the GSMA made the correct decision.

This week, MWC’s governing body announced that organization’s flagship evening will go on in Barcelona, but has pushed things back a few months. The show is now planned to run June 28 through July 1. A lot can happen between now and then, of course. Numbers could go down, a vaccine could be issued. But even this far out, a show of that magnitude still feels overly optimistic.

The calendar shuffling also finds the GSMA pushing its MWC Shanghai event into the February slot. That is, for what it’s worth a considerably smaller show. In both cases, the organization would be well-served to have a robust online plan in place. Even if things go exactly according to plan, many potential attendees are still understandably wary of travel and big crowds. It seems likely that an event like this will have some permanent impact on the way trade shows are handled moving forward.

It’s certainly a difficult decision when dealing with a hardware show, where so much of its appeal lies in the ability to interact with devices in-person. That’s been a consistent shortcoming in all of 2020’s online-only hardware events. Such a show loses a lot of luster when it occurs entirely through a computer screen.

#corona-virus, #covid-19, #events, #hardware, #mobile-world-congress, #mwc-2021

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Venture capitalists have found a new home to brag and debate: PrimeTime VC

Last week, we talked a bit about how investors are seeking new techniques to bring humanity back to their deal flow and sourcing mechanisms, beyond the boring Zoom call. The newest strategy I’ve seen is PrimeTime VC, a game show that pits venture capitalists against each other to debate on topics like TikTok to Y Combinator Demo Day to Snowflake’s IPO.

With ESPN-like graphics, investors are led through a series of questions by host Charlie Stephens, who runs his own live show interviewing tech executives. Its tag line? “The show of accredited banter.”

Yes, you read that right. Here’s the latest episode:

PrimeTime VC launched its pilot episode on August 17 and is releasing episodes every two weeks. It is eyeing weekly releases in 2021. In terms of production, it uses Zoom, After Effects and Final Cut Pro.

The show has racked in 30,000 views and sponsorships from First Republic Bank, TechDay, and Entre to help with production costs. It still has a lot of room to grow. (At time of publication, the Youtube channel has 63 subscribers, and the Twitter account has 15 followers).

The show came together after Tyler Kelly, founder of Pitch Madness, teamed up with Leaders Live hosts Charlie Stephens and Nidal Harvey. The trio put together a founder debate competition online to raise money for frontline workers. Then, they saw an opportunity to grow the show.

Investors who want to sign up can submit a form. Participants on the show include Nihal Mehta of Eniac VC, Jenny Friedman of Supernode Ventures, Paul Martino of Bullpen Capital, Lo Toney of Plexo Capital, Sydney Thomas of Precursor Ventures and John Frankel of FF VC.

“The show is also an outlet for VC’s to casually promote their portfolio companies in a relevant way, but if they go overboard with it, that’s when the point deduction comes into play,” Kelly said. The real deal sweetener, though, might be what the winner gets: 30 to 45 seconds of a monologue at the end of the show.

“You can’t stop VCs talking about their companies,” Mehta said. That’s part of our job.”

The last winner, Bullpen Capital’s Paul Martino used his time to urge startups to build.

“I can’t wait for this to be a big successful thing like some of our startups,” Martino said.

Down the road, Kelly hopes PrimeTime programming could become premium content and partner with a “large streaming network.”

Until then, let the “accredited banter” roll.

#covid-19, #startups, #tc

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US COVID-19 deaths just topped 200,000

A medical technician in protective gear handles a wrapped corpse on a gurney.

Enlarge / Transporter Morgan Dean-McMillan prepares the body of a COVID-19 victim at a morgue in Montgomery county, Maryland, on April 17, 2020. (credit: Getty | ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS)

The US death toll from COVID-19 topped 200,000 Tuesday as daily reports of new cases still hover around 40,000 and daily deaths are in the 700s.

The grim milestone of 200,000 deaths is equivalent to the death toll from the 9/11 attacks occurring every day for 67 days. It’s also equivalent to losing about the entire population Salt Lake City, Utah, or nearly the population of Rochester, New York. COVID-19 has killed more in the United States than the number of Americans who died in the five most recent wars combined (the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf War).

By mid-afternoon Tuesday, the COVID-19 death toll had already reached 200,541 deaths, stemming from more than 6.88 million cases. While these figures are based on data from state health authorities, the actual death toll is expected to be much higher.

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#covid-19, #deaths, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #trump, #us

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Blogger who trashed Fauci online “retires” after being ID’d as NIH staffer

A man in a suit and a face mask stands in a wood-paneled room.

Enlarge / Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, wears a Washington Nationals protective mask after a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

A public affairs officer at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is out of a day job after a report found he was moonlighting pseudonymously as an editor for a conservative website, where he regularly trashed his agency and its director, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The RedState managing editor known as “streiff” is actually William Crews, The Daily Beast reported yesterday. Crews was, until this week, a public affairs specialist at NIAID, which is one of the 27 institutes and centers that comprise the National Institute of Health.

As streiff, Crews “derided his own colleagues as part of a left-wing anti-Trump conspiracy and vehemently criticized the man who leads his agency,” according to The Daily Beast. Additionally, he described his boss as “attention-grubbing and media-whoring Anthony Fauci” and “a mask nazi.”

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#anthony-fauci, #covid-19, #dr-anthony-fauci, #national-institute-of-allergy-and-infectious-diseases, #niaid, #nih, #policy, #redstate, #sabotage, #science

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Tech must radically rethink how it treats independent contractors

Despite a surging stock market and many major tech players having record quarters, we’re still seeing layoffs throughout tech and the rest of corporate America. Salesforce recorded a huge quarter, passing $5 billion in revenue, only to lay off around 1000 people. LinkedIn is laying off 960 people one day after reporting a 10% increase in revenue.

These layoffs may seem like a contraction in size for these huge enterprises, but it’s actually the beginning of something I call The Great Unbundling of Corporate America. They still need to grow, they still need to innovate, they still need to get work done and they’re not simply canceling projects and giving up on contracts.

Just as COVID-19 has accelerated the move to remote work, our current crisis has accelerated the trend toward hiring independent contractors. Back in 2019 a New York Times report found that Google had a shadow workforce of 121,000 temporary workers and contractors, overshadowing their 102,000 full-timers. ZipRecruiter reported in 2018 that tech, along with its record employment growth, was showing an increasing share of listings for independent contractors.

A study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that between 6.9% and 9.6% of all workers are now independent contractors, and according to Upwork, that may be as high as 35%. Mark my words — companies are using this time as an opportunity to swing the pendulum toward independent contractors and trimming the fat, justifying it with a vague gesture toward “an unprecedented time.”

That’s why, in my opinion, you’re seeing the NASDAQ hitting record highs despite everyone’s turmoil — depressingly, investors can see that large companies are tightening up and cleaning up waste, while finding an affordable workforce at will. As they have unbundled themselves from our physical offices, large enterprises are going to unbundle themselves from having to have a set number of employees.

When Square allowed its entire workforce to work remotely permanently. It wasn’t just because they wanted them to feel more creative and productive, but was likely a move away from having quite as much expensive, needless office space.

Similarly, if there is work that a full-time employee does that could be done by a flexible, independent contractor, why not make that change too? And it’ll be a lot easier to make without as many people at the office.

The argument I’m making is not anti-contractor, though.

I can’t think of any point in history where it’s been better to create a freelance business — the startup costs are significantly lower, and as companies move toward remote work, you can theoretically take business nationally (or internationally) like never before. Companies’ moves toward replacing W-2 workers with contractors is an opportunity for people to create their own miniature freelance empires, unbundling themselves from corporate America’s required hours, and potentially creating a way to weather future storms by taking away any single company’s leverage on their income.

The rush to remote work is also likely to push more workers into the freelance economy too. By having to create a remote office, with a remote presence in meetings and having to manage and organize our days, the average worker has all but adjusted to the life of a freelancer.

Where some might have gone to an office and had things simply happen to them, the remote world requires an attention to your calendar and active outreach to colleagues that, well, models how one might run a freelance business. Those with core skillsets that can be marketed and sold to multiple clients should be thinking about whether being a wage slave is necessary anymore, and with good reason.

That said — corporate America, and especially tech, has to treat this essential workforce with a great deal more empathy and respect than they have thus far.

Uber and Lyft were ordered to treat drivers as employees in part due to the fact that they never treated their contractors like parts of the company. Other than the obvious lack of benefits (paid time off, health insurance, etc.), Uber, like many large enterprises, treats contractors as disposable rather than flexible, despite them being the literal driving force of the company. When Uber went public, they gave a nominal bonus for drivers that had completed 2500 to 40,000 trips, with a chance to buy up to $10,000 of stock — at the IPO price. These drivers, that had been the very reason that many people became millionaires and billionaires when Uber went public, were given the chance to maybe make money, if they sold the stock quickly enough.

It’s an abject lesson on how to not build loyalty with independent contractors. It’s also a lesson on what the next big company that wants to build themselves off the back of the 1099’er should do.

What I’m suggesting is a radical rethinking of freelance contracting. I want you to see independent contractors as a different kind of worker, not as a way of skirting getting a full-time employee. A freelancer, by definition, is someone that you don’t monopolize, and someone that you should actively give agency and, indeed, part of the network you’re building. One of the issues of corporate America’s approach to freelance work is an us-versus-them approach to employment — you’re either part of us or you’re simply a thing we pick up and put down. What I’m suggesting is treating your freelancers as an essential part of your strategy, and compensating them as such. Freelancers should own equity and should have skin in the game — they may be working with you on a number of projects and take literal ownership of vast successes throughout your history.

Contracted work has only become mercenary through the treatment of the freelance worker. Where tech has succeeded in creating hundreds of thousands of independent contractor positions, it also has to lead the way in reimagining how we may treat them and reward them for their work. And corporate America needs to take a step beyond simply seeing them as a cheaper, easier way to do business. They’re so much more.

#column, #covid-19, #employment, #freelancer, #gig-economy, #government, #labor, #opinion, #policy, #remote-work, #startups, #tc

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156 countries commit to fair COVID-19 vaccine access, but US won’t join

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organized by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Enlarge / World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organized by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. (credit: Getty | Fabrice Cof)

A total of 156 countries—representing about 64 percent of the world’s population—have committed to pooling resources to help develop, buy, and equitably distribute two billion doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2021.

“This isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, which is co-leading the effort along with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

So far, 64 high-income countries have signed on to the effort, as well as 92 low- and middle-income countries, which would be eligible for support in procuring vaccine doses. Gavi CEO Seth Berkley said in a WHO press conference on Monday that he expects 38 more countries to sign up in the coming days.

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#china, #covax, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #policy, #public-health, #russia, #sars-cov-2, #science, #us, #vaccine, #who

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Uber for Business introduces a couple of commuting options to get to the office during the pandemic

Uber for Business, the business side of the consumer ride sharing service, has typically focused on helping companies track their Uber expenses, but during a pandemic needs have changed. It’s no longer about getting employees to and from the airport or shuttling an important client from the hotel to the office, it’s about getting essential personnel to the office safely, and to that end, Uber introduced a couple of new business commuting options today.

“Uber for Business is really about how we allow organizations of all shapes and sizes around the world to leverage the great consumer technology that Uber makes available, for business purposes,” Ronnie Gurion, global head at Uber for Business told TechCrunch.

While the business side of the house helps employees charge business-related Uber rides to their employers, it can now help them choose a couple of commuting options beyond the standard ride sharing everyone has access to, regardless of who is paying the bill.

For starters, the company is introducing Employee Group Rides. Group might be an overstatement, since it involves two employees in the same area sharing an Uber for the purpose of getting to or from work. It works in a similar fashion to the way Uber Pool worked, except it only involves matching employees at the same company.

In terms of safety, Gurion says that Ubers sees this as a ‘transit bubble’ with employees who are working together anyway willing to share a car together. “We’re seeing that companies are finding this option to be more attractive because they are comfortable putting more than one person in the same office in the same car, when they’re going to be in the same office together anyway, once they get to the office. So, it makes things a little more socially distant or creates a social transit bubble, so to speak, to get people to and from the office,” he explained.

Uber Business Charter in Uber app

Image Credits: Uber

The second option is called Business Charter and this involves Uber connecting the customer to a third-party fleet partner, who can pick up multiple employees and bring them to the office.

“A company can come and create a commute program with Uber across sedans, SUVs, vans and buses, and based on the employee base and commuting data, it might order 20 sedans and X number of our [larger] vehicles, and decide how to deploy them — and we can do that, and those vehicles will only accept rides from that employer,” Gurion said.

As for commuting during the pandemic, Gurion points out that these programs are being introduced in the EMEA, APAC and North American regions for starters, and that each of these geographies is in different places in terms of COVID. “Not every market looks like the US. There are a wide range of situations, but core safety issues are relevant everywhere,” he said.

While Uber has instituted a safety program to help ensure both drivers and passengers are wearing masks, and have devoted $50 million to providing cleaning supplies to drivers, they don’t have a formal testing program for drivers in place, Gurion said. How comfortable employees are with these arrangements will likely depend on individual preferences.

In addition to these commuting options, Uber for Business also offers Uber Eats for Business, a food delivery service geared for business users and Uber Direct, a package delivery platform.

#automotive, #commuting, #covid-19, #enterprise, #ride-sharing, #uber

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CDC removes updated guidelines around COVID-19 aerosol transmission, but this expert explains why it should reverse the reversal

Last week at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020, I got the chance to speak to Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economists who is a Senior Fellow of the Federation of American Scientists. Dr. Feigl-Ding has been a frequent and vocal critic of some of the most profound missteps of regulators, public health organizations and the current White House administration, and we discussed specifically the topic of aerosol transmission and its notable absence from existing guidance in the U.S.

At the time, neither of us knew that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) would publish updated guidance on its website over this past weekend that provided descriptions of aerosol transmission, and a concession that it’s likely a primary vector for passing on the virus that leads to COVID-19 – or that the CDC would subsequently revert said guidance, removing this updated information about aerosol transmission that’s more in line with the current state of widely accepted COVID research. The CDC cited essentially an issue where someone at the organization pushed a draft version of guidelines to production – but the facts it had shared in the update lined up very closely with what Dr. Feigl-Ding had been calling for.

“The fact that we haven’t highlighted aerosol transmission as much, up until recently, is woefully, woefully frustrating,” he said during our interview last Wednesday. “Other countries who’ve been much more technologically savvy about the engineering aspects of aerosols have been ahead of the curve – like Japan, they assume that this virus is aerosol and airborne. And aerosol means that the droplets are these micro droplets that can float in the air, they don’t get pulled down by gravity […] now we know that the aerosols may actually be the main drivers. And that means that if someone coughs, sings, even breathes, it can in the air, the micro droplets can stay in the air from anywhere from, for stagnant air for up to16 hours, but normally with ventilation, between 20 minutes to four hours. And that air, if you enter it into a room after someone was there, you can still get infected, and that is what makes indoor dining and bars and restaurants so frustrating.”

Dr. Feigl-Ding points to a number of recent contact tracing studies as providing strong evidence that these indoor activities, and the opportunity they provide for aerosol transmission, are leading to a large number of infections. Such studies were featured in a report the CDC prepared on reopening advice, which was buried by the Trump administration according to an AP report from May.

“The latest report shows that indoor dining bars restaurants are the leading leading factors for transmission, once you do contact tracing,” he said, noting that this leads naturally to the big issues around schools reopening, including that many have “very poor ventilation,” while simultaneously they’re not able to open their windows or doors due to gun safety protocols in place. Even before this recent CDC guideline take-back, Dr. Feigl-Ding was clearly frustrated with the way the organization appears to be succumbing to politicization of what is clearly an issue of a large and growing body of scientific evidence and fact.

“The CDC has long been the most respected agency in the world for public health, but now it’s been politically muzzled,” he said. “Previously, for example, the guidelines around church attendance – the CDC advised against church gatherings, but then it was overruled. And it was clearly overruled, because we actually saw it changed in live time. […] In terms of schools, gatherings, it’s clear [that] keeping kids in a pod is not enough, given what we know about ventilation.”

#chemistry, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #health, #japan, #occupational-safety-and-health, #tc, #transmission, #trump-administration, #united-states, #white-house

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The Peloton effect

During the most recent quarter, only a few earnings reports stood out from the rest. Zoom’s set of results were one of them, with the video-communications company showing enormous acceleration as the world replaced in-person contact with remote chat.

Another was Peloton’s earnings from the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2020, which it reported September 10th. The company’s revenue and profitability spiked as folks stuck at home turned to the connected fitness company’s wares.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Shares of Peloton have rallied around 4x since March, roughly the start of when the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact life in the United States, driving demand for the company’s at-home workout equipment. And in late June, athleisure company Lululemon bought Mirror, another connected fitness company aimed at the home market for around $500 million.

With Peloton’s 2019 IPO and its growth along with Mirror’s exit in 2020, connected fitness is demonstrably hot, and private-market investors are taking notice. A recent Tweet from fitness tech watcher Joe Vennare detailing a host of recent funding rounds raised by “digital fitness” companies made the point last week, piquing our curiosity at the same time.

Is there really some sort of Peloton effect driving private investment into lots of connected fitness startups? How hot is the more nascent side of connected fitness?

This morning let’s take a look through some recent funding rounds in the space to get a feel for what’s going on. (If you’re a VC who cares about the sector, feel free to email in your own notes, subject line “connected fitness” please.) We’ll then execute the same search for Q3 2019 and see how the data compares.

Hot Wheels

To start with the current market I pulled a Crunchbase query for all Q3 funding rounds for companies tagged as “fitness” and then filtered out the cruft to get a look at the most pertinent funding events.

Here’s what I came up for for Q3 2020, to date:

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CDC dramatically restores COVID-19 testing advice marred by political meddling

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, US, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. As the novel coronavirus has spread in the US, the CDC is under increasing heat to defend a shaky rollout of crucial testing kits. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Enlarge / The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, US, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. As the novel coronavirus has spread in the US, the CDC is under increasing heat to defend a shaky rollout of crucial testing kits. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

In a dramatic move, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday restored its recommendation to test people who have been exposed to COVID-19 but don’t have symptoms—erasing politically motivated changes made by members of the Trump administration without the support or input from CDC scientists.

The CDC had—until August 24—always recommended testing for all people who have had close contact (within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) with someone infected with the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, regardless of symptoms. The CDC stated clearly that this is “important” and should be done quickly “because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission,” which is largely thought to drive the pandemic.

But the guidance was abruptly and quietly changed August 24 to say that exposed people who do not have symptoms “do not necessarily need a test.”

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#cdc, #covid-19, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #testing

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Outschool, newly profitable, raises a $45M Series B for virtual small group classes

Outschool, which started in 2015 as a platform for homeschooled students to bolster their extracurricular activities, has dramatically widened its customer base since the coronavirus pandemic began.The platform saw its total addressable market increase dramatically as students went home or campus to abide by COVID regulations instituted by the CDC.

Suddenly, live, small-group online learning classes became a necessity for students. Outschool’s services, which range from engineering lessons through Lego challenges to Spanish teaching by Taylor Swift songs, are now high in demand.

“When the CDC warned that school closures may be required, they talked about ‘internet-based tele-schooling,’” co-founder Amir Nathoo said. “We realized they meant classes over video chat, which is exactly what we offer.”

From August 2019 to August 2020, the online educational class service saw a more than 2,000% increase in bookings. But the surge isn’t just a crop of free users piling atop the platform. Outschool’s sales this year are around $54 million, compared to $6.5 million the year prior. It turned its first profit as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and is making more than $100 million in annual run rate.

While the profitability and growth could be a signal of the COVID-19 era, today Outschool got a vote of confidence that it isn’t just a pandemic-era boom. Today, Jennifer Carolan of Reach Capital announced at TechCrunch Disrupt that Outschool has raised a $45 million Series B round, bringing its total known capital to $55 million.

The round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, with participation from Reach Capital, Union Square Ventures, SV Angel, FundersClub, Y Combinator and others.

The cash gives Outschool the chance to grow its 60-person staff, which started at 25 people this year.

Founder Amir Nathoo was programming computer games from the age of five. So when it came to starting his own company, creating a platform that helped other kids do the same felt right.

In 2015, Nathoo grabbed Mikhail Seregine, who helped build Amazon Mechanical Turk and Google Consumer Surveys, and Nick Grandy, a product manager at Clever, another edtech company and YC alum. The trio drummed up a way to help students access experiences they don’t get in school.

To gauge interest, the company tried in-person classes in the SF Bay area, online content and tested across hundreds of families. Finally, they started working with homeschoolers as an early adopter audience, all to see if people would pay for non-traditional educational experiences.

“Homeschooling was interesting to us because we believed that if some new approach is going to change our education system radically for the better, it was likely that it would start outside the existing system,” Nathoo said.

He added that he observed that the homeschooling community had more flexibility around self-directed extracurricular activities. Plus, those families had a bigger stake in finding live, small-group instruction, to embed in days. The idea landed them a spot in Y Combinator in 2016, and, upon graduation, a $1.4 million seed round led by Collab+Sesame.

“We’d all been on group video calls with work, but we hadn’t seen this format of learning in K12 before,” he said. Outschool began rolling out live, interactive classes in small groups. It took off quickly. Sales grew from $500,000 in 2017 to over $6 million in 2019.

The strategy gave Outschool an opportunity to raise a Series A from Reach Capital, an edtech-focused venture capital fund, in May 2019. They began thinking outwards, past homeschooling families: what if a family with a kid in school wants extra activities, snuck in afterschool, on weekends or on holidays?

Today feels remarkably different for the startup, and edtech more broadly. Nathoo says that 87% of parents who purchase classes on Outschool have kids in school. The growth of Outschool’s total addressable market comes with a new set of challenges and goals.

When the pandemic started, Outschool had 1,000 teachers on its platform. Now, its marketplace hosts 10,000 teachers, all of whom have to get screened.

“That has been a big challenge,” he said. “We aren’t an open marketplace, so we had to rapidly scale our supply and quality team within our organization.” While that back-end work is time-consuming and challenging, the NPS score from students has remained high, Nathoo noted.

Outschool has a number of competitors in the live learning space. Juni Learning, for example, sells live small-group classes on coding and science. The company raised $7.5 million, led by Forerunner Ventures, and has around $10 million in ARR. Note earlier that Outschool is at $100 million in ARR.

“We provide a much broader range of learning options than Juni, which is focused just on coding classes,” Nathoo said. Outschool currently lists more than 50,000 classes on its website.

Varsity Tutors is another Outschool competitor, which is more similar to Outschool. Varsity Tutors sells online tutoring and large-group classes in core subjects such as Math and English. Nathoo says that Outschool’s differentiation remains in its focus of small-group teaching and a variety of topics.

As for what’s ahead for Outschool, Nathoo flirts with the idea of contradiction: what if the platform goes in schools?

“When I think about our strategy going forward, I think of new types of classes, international embedding and embedding ourselves back into school,” he said.

Outschool might use its growing consumer business as an engine to get into school districts, which are notoriously difficult to land deals with due to small budgets. But, to Nathoo, it’s important to get into schools to increase access to learning.

“Our vision is to build a global education community that supplements local school,” he said.

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #disrupt-2020, #education, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #outschool, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

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3 VCs discuss the state of SaaS investing in 2020

Yesterday during Disrupt 2020 I sat down with three investors who know the SaaS startup market very well, hoping to get my head around how hot things are today. Coming on the heels of the epic Snowflake IPO (more to come on that in this weekend’s newsletter), it was a great time for a chat.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


I’ve boiled our 40-minute discussion down to my favorite parts, getting you the goods in quick fashion.

What follows are notes on:

  • how fast the SaaS investing market is today
  • why Snowflake priced where it did and what that tells us about today’s market
  • how SaaS companies are seeing different growth results based on their sales motion
  • why some private-market SaaS multiples can get so high
  • which software sectors are accelerating
  • and what I learned about international SaaS.

There are more things to pull out later, like the investors’ thoughts regarding diversity in their part of the venture world and SaaS startups, but I want to give that topic its own space.

So, into today’s SaaS market with an eye on the future, guided by commentary from Canaan’s Maha Ibrahim, Andreessen Horowitz’s David Ulevitch and Bessemer’s Mary D’Onofrio.

Inside SaaS

To help us get through a good bit of the written word without slowing down, I’ll introduce an idea, share a quote and provide a little commentary. This should be good fun.

#andressen-horowitz, #bessemer, #canaan, #cloud, #covid-19, #events, #fundings-exits, #saas, #startups, #techcrunch-disrupt-2020, #the-exchange

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White House-CDC tensions explode as Trump contradicts its leadership

Image of President Trump speaking from behind a lectern.

Enlarge / US President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in which he frequently contradicted his own health experts. (credit: Bloomberg/Getty Images)

There was good news and then bad news for public health expertise yesterday. In the wake of increasingly unhinged behavior from a President Trump-appointed communications director at the US Department of Health and Human Services, he and one of his key appointees have left their posts—one for two months, one permanently. But any hopes that science might resume being the main driver of US health policy were short-lived. Earlier in the day, CDC head Robert Redfield and other Health and Human Services officials testified before a Senate panel. By the evening, the president himself was calling his own CDC director mistaken about everything from mask use to the schedule of vaccine availability.

By the end of the day, Redfield was tweeting statements that balanced ambiguity against seeming to support Trump’s view.

A backdrop of turmoil

A constant background of tension has existed between the Trump administration (which wants the country to return to normal operations despite the medical consequences) and public health officials (who actually want to protect the public’s health). But several things have driven those tensions into the open recently, starting with last week’s revelation that political appointees were attempting to interfere with reports from career scientists at the CDC. That issue was seemingly resolved in the CDC’s favor, as a key administration figure in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Michael Caputo, took a two-month medical leave after making a video in which he spoke of armed uprisings and conspiratorial cabals of CDC scientists.

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#cdc, #covid-19, #hhs, #masks, #policy, #redfield, #science, #testing, #trump, #vaccine

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Jennifer Doudna sees CRISPR gene-editing tech as a Swiss Army knife for COVID-19 and beyond

Jennifer Doudna, one of the pioneers of the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR, thinks the biotech tool could be an essential one for combating COVID-19 and future pandemics. Due to its capacity to be “reprogrammed” like software, CRISPR could eventually be integral to countless tests and treatments.

In an interview at Disrupt 2020, Doudna was all optimism for the technique, which has already proven to be extremely useful in less immediately applicable situations.

“One thing that’s so intriguing about the whole CRISPR technology, it’s a toolbox and there’s many ways to repurpose it for manipulating genomes, but also for detection, even getting virus materials and the kinds of reagents that you need for an effective vaccine,” she explained.

This is all because of CRISPR’s main asset: its ability to home in on incredibly specific sequences or structures and manipulate them. Certainly one way to use that is to snip out a potentially harmful bit of DNA, but that bit could also be amplified for easy detection.

“This is an opportunity to take a technology that naturally is all about detecting viruses — that’s what CRISPR does in [its native environment] bacteria — and re-purposing it to use it as a rapid diagnostic for coronavirus,” Doudna said.

The advantages CRISPR offers are threefold, Doudna explained: first, it’s a “direct” method of detection. Current tests rely on enzymes and proteins that are indirect evidence of infection, which limits their reliability and timing — you can’t, for instance, detect the virus before it starts producing that secondary evidence. CRISPR detects RNA from the viral genome itself.

“We’re finding in the laboratory that that means that you can get a signal faster, and you can also get a signal that is more directly correlated to the level of the virus,” she said.

Second, the sequence that the CRISPR complex searches for can easily be changed. “That means that scientists can reprogram the CRISPR system trivially, to target different sections of the Coronavirus to make sure that we’re not missing viruses that have mutated,” Doudna said. “We’re already working on a strategy to co-detect influenza and coronavirus; As you know it’s really important to be able to do that, but also to pivot very quickly to detect new viruses that are emerging.”

Very long GIF of a CRISPR Cas-9 protein seeking, finding, and snipping out a piece of DNA. Image credits: UC Berkeley

“I don’t think any of us thinks that viral pandemics are going away,” she continued. “The current pandemic is a call to arms, we have to make sure that scientifically we’re ready for the next attack by a new virus.”

And third, a CRISPR-based test wouldn’t be manufactured the same materials as other tests, making it easier to manufacture alongside them. Managing supply chains effectively will be crucial for getting vaccines, tests, and treatments to people as quickly as possible.

The barrier to CRISPR however is not theoretical but practical: It’s still more or less lab-bound because therapies using the technology are still very much under review. It is in clinical trials in some forms and COVID-19-related applications could be fast tracked but its novelty means it will be slower to reach those who need it. Not to mention the cost.

“This underscores what I think is one of the key challenges that we face in this in this age of advancing biotechnologies,” said Doudna. “That is, how do we make a technology like like CRISPR affordable and accessible to a lot of people? I’d like to see a day when CRISPR is the standard of care for treating a rare genetic disease, and it’s going to take some real R&D to get there.”

Perhaps one of the avenues for advancement will be the newly discovered sibling technique, CRISPR Cas-Φ (that’s a “phi”), which works similarly but is much more compact, owing to its origin as, apparently, a countermeasure by viruses that invade CRISPR-bearing bacteria. “Who knew they carried around their own form of CRISPR?” mused Doudna. “But they do, and it’s a very interesting protein, because it’s very small compared to the original formats for CRISPR that allow that allows a much, much smaller protein to be able to do [this] kind of editing.”

Doudna had much more to say about the possibilities for the technique of which she was one of the chief creators. You can see watch the rest of the interview below.

#biotech, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #crispr, #disrupt, #disrupt-2020, #jennifer-doudna, #tc

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Why hasn’t digital learning lived up to its promise?

The fall semester is off to a rocky start. When schools were forced to close in the spring, students (and parents) struggled. As the new school year begins, affluent families are building pandemic pods and inequities abound, while surveys suggest that college students want tuition discounts for online classes.

To avoid a catastrophic loss in revenue, colleges are bringing students back to campus. At UNC-Chapel Hill, those plans were quickly reversed when 130 students tested positive for the virus just a week into the new semester. As cases skyrocket, UNC will not be the only educational institution or school district to move online again.

What is it about digital learning that has schools so keen on reopening despite the health and reputational risks? Why hasn’t digital learning lived up to its promise?

If I were asked 20 years ago, as the founding CEO of Rosetta Stone, what digital learning would look like today, I would have imagined a very different future. Online learning was exploding. Teachers and faculty were experimenting with now commonplace consumer technologies like speech recognition and virtual reality to create immersive learning experiences.

Sadly, most of these innovations never took hold in our schools and colleges, and remote learners today are left with edtech that feels like it is still trapped in the 90s.

Ironically, the business of edtech and digital learning has been booming. Billions of dollars have been invested in tools and platforms that promise to improve the learning outcomes and lives of students. But for all the investments, headlines and flashy IPOs, edtech has little to show in terms of transformative outcomes.

The United States continues to lag behind many other advanced industrialized nations in math, science and reading literacy. Schools at all levels grapple with pervasive equity gaps. And research shows that heavily investing in education technology has, so far, yielded virtually no appreciable improvement in student achievement in these core subjects.

The challenge stems from the fact that rather than making learning better, the education technology field has, for the most part, focused on reaching more students. In our rush to scale, we have largely ignored tremendous pedagogical innovation that has occurred over the last twenty years.

No matter how high-tech a digital learning solution might be, it means nothing if it doesn’t also reflect recent and emerging changes in pedagogy. In 2010, a study at the University of North Texas compared how students retain information literacy skills in a face-to-face class, an online class and a blended class. The researchers found that there was no difference in outcomes between the three kinds of classes. This is because all three used the same materials and pedagogical approach.

But in a digital environment, far more is possible. We can now create video-game quality simulations to evaluate complex skills like creativity or problem-solving. Shy students can take the form of learning avatars in online laboratories — or explore career paths first-hand, through virtual reality. We know more than ever about attention span and engagement, or the connection between socio-emotional development and academic outcomes.

Researchers have, likewise, gained a deeper understanding of the ways students’ minds work. We know more than ever about how students reason, process information and solve problems. We know what kinds of scaffolding is required to develop and master these skills. Learning is best when it is built around doing, and when the context is practical, allowing students to try their hand at solving problems even as they’re still learning. It’s best when it is individualized, with progress based on a student’s personal aptitude and proficiency as they move toward mastering the material. And it’s best when it is enriched with peer-based discussion, practice and collaboration.

Astonishingly, few mass-market digital learning tools are built or adopted with these pedagogical advancements in mind. While Zoom is a fine tool for live conversations in small groups, it has few tools to facilitate the kind of engagement necessary for real learning. Coursera has raised millions for simply replicating the old-fashioned experience of a teacher lecturing at the front of a classroom. Quizlet is but a virtual collection of flashcards; it can assess the learning of certain facts, but it is hardly useful for the acquisition of skills. These types of common digital learning tools are increasingly great at making educators’ jobs easier. They are great at expanding access, allowing teachers and schools to reach more students than ever before. But scale, ease and access are not sufficient to help students learn and build skills.

The frustrations of educators and learners alike reflect the fact that education technology functions as a digital proxy for our oldest methods of teaching. Simply listening to a lecture is not effective in the real world, and yet that largely remains the default mode of education online. The impact of COVID-19 has only exacerbated these long-standing shortcomings. To create the digital learning experience students deserve — to finally fulfill the untapped promise and potential of educational technology — we must create tools that reflect not only advancements in technology, but in what we now understand about how the mind works and how students learn.

#column, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #edtech, #education, #opinion, #remote-learning, #startups, #tc, #zoom

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AG Barr: COVID lockdowns are worst threat to civil liberties since slavery

Attorney General William Barr walking down a hallway while wearing a mask.

Enlarge / William Barr, US attorney general, center, arrives for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., US, on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

US Attorney General William Barr yesterday compared lockdown orders to slavery, saying that measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic are one of the biggest violations of civil liberties in US history.

“Putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” Barr said in a Q&A session after delivering a speech at Hillsdale College in Michigan.

Based on that comment, Barr apparently thinks stay-at-home orders designed to reduce the spread of a deadly virus are a greater violation of civil liberties than Jim Crow laws, oppression of Native Americans, and Japanese internment camps run by the US during World War II. Besides that, there was never actually a national lockdown, largely due to the actions of Trump himself. States imposed varying levels of movement restrictions and stay-at-home orders while the Trump administration refused to implement a coherent national strategy and while Trump repeatedly undermined governors by claiming he has “total” authority to override their stay-at-home orders. As Trump downplayed the virus’s severity and made calls to “liberate” residents of states with aggressive pandemic responses, Barr threatened to have the US government sue states that don’t lift stay-at-home and business-shutdown orders.

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#covid-19, #lockdowns, #pandemic, #policy, #stay-at-home-orders, #william-barr

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Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra asks 6 VCs how to raise funding when the sky is falling

When I wrote about how to run your startup in a downturn, the world was on the brink of recession. The economy contracted sharply — and the effects of the 2020 recession will persist.

If you are a founder, you can help. You can build companies that connect people, create employment and spark lasting change.

“Building is how we reboot the American dream,” declared Marc Andreessen, venture capitalist and co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz. In his rallying cry “It’s Time to Build” he writes: “We need to break the rapidly escalating price curves for housing, education and healthcare, to make sure that every American can realize the dream, and the only way to do that is to build.”

Yet building requires capital. How do you raise funding when the economy is on its knees? I spoke with six top venture capitalists to find out:

  • Bill Trenchard, general partner, First Round Capital
  • Dan Rose, chairman, Coatue Ventures
  • Brianne Kimmel, founder, Work Life
  • Sarah Guo, general partner, Greylock
  • Merci Grace, partner, Lightspeed
  • Charles Hudson, managing partner, Precursor Ventures

How has investment behavior changed during the pandemic?

  • Deal velocity has gone up.
  • The bar for investments is rising.
  • VCs are nurturing existing investments and “proto-founders.”

The recession did not cause activity to stall. In fact, deal velocity has gone up.

“It’s almost like a superheated environment right now,” says Bill Trenchard, general partner at First Round. “The speed with which partnerships can quickly meet with a company that’s of interest is so much higher in the Zoom world. It’s changing our thinking around velocity in the market, which was already very high.”

“We’ve been as active as we were before,” agrees Dan Rose, chairman at Coatue Ventures. “Maybe even slightly more active because I think more good companies are raising as kind of an insurance policy. When it became clear that we weren’t going to be able to meet with founders in person anymore, we snapped to Zoom.”

Velocity may be rising, but investors now require more data to reach conviction.

“The pricing is still the same but we see risk going up,” says Bill Trenchard. “You need to be very rigorous on your investment theses and how you’re looking at companies. We’ve been looking for more grapple hooks and more data for things that we do invest in, so that we have more conviction when we do.”

“There’s been almost an immediate shift in terms of expectations from VCs,” says Brianne Kimmel, founder of early stage venture firm Work Life. “Companies have been forced to come in with more richness and customer development, a clear path to revenue, a lot more of a strategic approach around the core mechanics of the business and more specifically the business model.”

Sarah Guo, general partner at Greylock, also has high expectations for founders.

#column, #coronavirus, #corporate-finance, #covid-19, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #founder, #rahul-vohra, #startups, #superhuman, #tc, #venture-capital

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Making sense of 3 edtech extension rounds

While venture capitalists are pouring funding into edtech startups, the surge of interest isn’t coming without pressure.

Edtech companies are searching for new ways to tap into a booming market. As Course Hero co-founder Andrew Graeur put it, the goal for his Q&A platform went from reaching a million subscribers to “many millions” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One way edtech companies are approaching these unprecedented times is by raising extension rounds that are earmarked specifically to bring on strategic partners from around the world. The approach of trading equity for a chance at globalization is neither rare nor cheap, but comes with new weight given the sector’s boom.

Today, ApplyBoard closed a $55 million extension round for its Series C, which now totals $130 million. ApplyBoard helps international students search and apply to universities and colleges across the world. It wants users to think of it as a Common App for international students, serving as a college undergrad application.

A spokesperson for the startup — which became a unicorn valued at over $1.4 billion in May — says the round did not change its valuation. Instead, the financing was “less about funding, and more about the partners that we were able to bring on board as a result.”

#andrew-grauer, #applyboard, #asia, #course-hero, #covid-19, #duolingo, #edtech, #education, #ggv, #jenny-lee, #labster, #tc, #venture-capital

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Europe will go it alone on digital tax reform in 2021 if it must, says EU president, as bloc directs €150BN in COVID-19 relief toward cloud, AI and broadband

Europe will propose its own digital tax early next year if there’s no agreement at a global level on how to update taxation rules for the Internet age, EU president Ursula von der Leyen said today, reiterating the bloc’s determination not to let tax reform slide in a ‘state of the union’ speech to the European Parliament.

“We will spare no effort to reach agreement in the framework of OECD and G20. But let there be no doubt: should an agreement fall short of a fair tax system that provides long-term sustainable revenues, Europe will come forward with a proposal early next year,” she told MEPs.

In the wide-ranging speech — which also called for the 2020s to be Europe’s “digital decade” — von der Leyen committed the bloc to spending a fifth (€150BN) of the €750BN coronavirus support fund announced earlier this year on digital investments.

“There has never been a better time to invest in European tech companies with new digital hubs growing everywhere from Sofia to Lisbon to Katowice,” she said. “We have the people, the ideas and the strength as a Union to succeed. And this is why we will invest 20% of NextGenerationEU on digital.”

“We are reaching the limits of the things we can do in an analogue way. And this great acceleration is just beginning. We must make this Europe’s Digital Decade,” von der Leyen added.

“We need a common plan for digital Europe with clearly defined goals for 2030, such as for connectivity, skills and digital public services. And we need to follow clear principles: the right to privacy and connectivity, freedom of speech, free flow of data and cybersecurity.

“But Europe must now lead the way on digital – or it will have to follow the way of others, who are setting these standards for us. This is why we must move fast.”

Beneath the rousing ‘digital sovereignty’ rhetoric, the speech didn’t offer much new on the tech policy front — but the EU president confirmed that updates to Europe’s competition rules and regulation on the use of AI are coming next year.

The Commission is currently consulting on whether a new competition tool is needed to respond to digital network effects that can lead to tipping markets, as well as more widely around a forthcoming Digital Services Act (which didn’t get any direct mentions in the speech).

“On personalized data — business to consumer — Europe has been too slow and is now dependent on others,” she said. “This cannot happen with industrial data. And here the good news is that Europe is in the lead — we have the technology, and crucially we have the industry.”

“We presented our new industry strategy in March to ensure industry could lead the twin green and digital transition. The last six months have only accelerated that transformation — at a time when the global competitive landscape is fundamentally changing. This is why we will update our industry strategy in the first half of next year and adapt our competition framework which should also keep pace,” she said.

Tech investment priorities

Priorities for digital investment she highlighted are the plan to build a European cloud — which will be based on the GaiaX federated data infrastructure that’s developing common requirements for pan-EU data sharing. (This is part of a major Commission push around industrial data reuse, announced earlier this year.)

The second area of investment focus named was artificial intelligence — with the EU president citing the tech’s potential to deliver innovations such as “precision farming in agriculture, more accurate medical diagnosis and safe autonomous driving”. However she also emphasized the importance of having rules in place to wrap around the tech, reiterating EU lawmakers’ conviction that a framework is needed to ensure what they dub ‘human-centric’ AI.

Earlier this year the EU put out a white paper — setting out proposals for regulating ‘high risk’ applications of artificial intelligence. Though the final shape of the proposal will have to wait for 2021.

von der Leyen also suggested lawmakers are looking for ways to give consumers more control over how their data is used in the big data-powered AI era.

“We want a set of rules that puts people at the centre. Algorithms must not be a black box and there must be clear rules if something goes wrong. The Commission will propose a law to this effect next year,” she said today.

“This includes control over our personal data which [we] still have far too rarely today. Every time an App or website asks us to create a new digital identity or to easily log on via a big platform, we have no idea what happens to our data in reality.”

To this end, she said the Commission wants to develop “a secure European e-identity” that EU citizens could use anywhere in the bloc — “to do anything from paying your taxes to renting a bicycle”. It would be “a technology where we can control ourselves what data and how data is used”, she added, riffing on her digital sovereignty theme.

The Commission is reviewing existing regulations around eID, including running a consultation that’s due to end next month — where it says it’s looking at barriers to uptake of eID and trusted services, and considering how to evolve the framework towards an “EU digital identity”.

It now sounds like lawmakers have concrete plans to overhaul eID — with the aim of promoting a proprietary digital authentication mechanism that can help drive the wider strategy around digitization and data reuse.

The third focus for ‘COVID-19 relief’ digital spending is infrastructure, with a push planned around broadband access.

“The investment boost through NextGenerationEU is a unique chance to drive [broadband] expansion to every village. This is why we want to focus our investments on secure connectivity, on the expansion of 5G, 6G and fiber,” said von der Leyen, adding: “NextGenerationEU is also a unique opportunity to develop a more coherent European approach to connectivity and digital infrastructure deployment.”

Her speech also highlighted a planned €8BN investment in developing next-gen supercomputers. And reiterated calls for European industry to develop its own next-generation chips — “that will allow us to use the increasing data volumes energy-efficient and securely”.

“None of this is an end in itself — it is about Europe’s digital sovereignty, on a small and large scale,” she added.

Green Deal

von der Leyen also spend a fair amount of time on the environment and the risks attached to climate change.

The European Green Deal is set to account for a larger chunk of COVID-19 relief spending than digital projects — although there could, presumably, be some overlap, with von der Leyen talking about “a world where we use digital technologies to build a healthier, greener society”.

She said 37% (€277BN) of the NextGenerationEU fund to be spent directly on Green Deal objectives.

This spending looks set to give a major boost to electric cars via investment in charging infrastructure. Other areas of focus she mentioned are hydrogen replacing coal for industrial production; and adapting the construction industry to make it more sustainable and less polluting, including by the use of AI and smart technologies.

“NextGenerationEU should invest in lighthouse European projects with the biggest impact: hydrogen, renovation and 1 million electric charging points,” she said. “I want NextGenerationEU to create new European Hydrogen Valleys to modernise our industries, power our vehicles and bring new life to rural areas.”

“Our buildings generate 40% of our emissions. They need to become less wasteful, less expensive and more sustainable,” she added. “And we know that the construction sector can even be turned from a carbon source into a carbon sink, if organic building materials like wood and smart technologies like AI are applied.”

The systemic change needed to support a wholesale shift to a circular economy was dubbed”a new cultural project for Europe”.

“Every movement has its own look and feel. And we need to give our systemic change its own distinct aesthetic – to match style with sustainability,” she said, announcing a plan to set up “a new European Bauhaus” — aka “a co-creation space where architects, artists, students, engineers, designers work together to make that happen”.

#artificial-intelligence, #broadband, #cloud, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #digital-investment, #eu, #eu-tech-policy, #europe, #green-deal, #policy, #ursula-von-der-leyen

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Dropbox CEO Drew Houston says the pandemic forced the company to reevaluate what work means

Dropbox CEO and co-founder Drew Houston, appearing at TechCrunch Disrupt today, said that COVID has accelerated a shift to distributed work that we have been talking about for some time, and these new ways of working will not simply go away when the pandemic is over.

“When you think more broadly about the effects of the shift to distributed work, it will be felt well beyond when we go back to the office. So we’ve gone through a one-way door. This is maybe one of the biggest changes to knowledge work since that term was invented in 1959,” Houston told TechCrunch Editor-In-Chief Matthew Panzarino.

That change has prompted Dropbox to completely rethink the product set over the last six months, as the company has watched the way people work change in such a dramatic way. He said even though Dropbox is a cloud service, no SaaS tool in his view was purpose-built for this new way of working and we have to reevaluate what work means in this new context.

“Back in March we started thinking about this, and how [the rapid shift to distributed work] just kind of happened. It wasn’t really designed. What if you did design it? How would you design this experience to be really great? And so starting in March we reoriented our whole product road map around distributed work,” he said.

He also broadly hinted that the fruits of that redesign are coming down the pike. “We’ll have a lot more to share about our upcoming launches in the future,” he said.

Houston said that his company has adjusted well to working from home, but when they had to shut down the office, he was in the same boat as every other CEO when it came to running his company during a pandemic. Nobody had a blueprint on what to do.

“When it first happened, I mean there’s no playbook for running a company during a global pandemic so you have to start with making sure you’re taking care of your customers, taking care of your employees, I mean there’s so many people whose lives have been turned upside down in so many ways,” he said.

But as he checked in on the customers, he saw them asking for new workflows and ways of working, and he recognized there could be an opportunity to design tools to meet these needs.

“I mean this transition was about as abrupt and dramatic and unplanned as you can possibly imagine, and being able to kind of shape it and be intentional is a huge opportunity,” Houston said.

Houston debuted Dropbox in 2008 at the precursor to TechCrunch Disrupt, then called the TechCrunch 50. He mentioned that the Wi-Fi went out during his demo, proving the hazards of live demos, but offered words of encouragement to this week’s TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield participants.

Although his is a public company on a $1.8 billion run rate, he went through all the stages of a startup, getting funding and eventually going public, and even today as a mature public company, Dropbox is still evolving and changing as it adapts to changing requirements in the marketplace.

#cloud, #collaboration, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #drew-houston, #dropbox, #enterprise, #saas, #storage, #tc, #techcrunch-disrupt

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Replace legacy healthcare staffing with a vertical marketplace for workers

Over the last several months, we’ve seen dramatic swings in the demand for healthcare across the country. While hospitals in some cities were overwhelmed by an influx of COVID-19 patients, others sat empty — and in many cases experienced financial distress — as patients postponed elective surgeries and care for non-life-threatening matters. Cities went from relative safe zones to dangerous hotspots and back again within a matter of a few months.

This “COVID-19 whipsaw” has brought into focus a problem that has long been simmering in healthcare: The movement of labor is highly inefficient. We need a new paradigm in healthcare labor markets.

The pandemic has exposed systemic vulnerabilities

Early in the pandemic, many clinicians moved across state lines to answer Governor Andrew Cuomo’s calls for help in New York, only to be told upon arrival that their contracts had been canceled because the hospitals had overestimated their need. The imbalance of nurse and physician labor across states, which existed well before the pandemic, reached a terrifying apex during the height of the pandemic. In some parts of the country, clinicians were being furloughed or laid off, while in others they were stretched to their full capacity working around the clock to save lives. With each month came new hotspots — New York, Detroit, Miami, Phoenix, Los Angeles — and with each new hotspot a near disaster caused by a shortage of healthcare workers.

The marathon of addressing COVID-19 has imposed severe stress, depression and anxiety on our nation as a whole, with our healthcare providers at the epicenter. Clinician burnout was a serious issue even before COVID-19, but it has only gotten worse in recent months, especially for those working in geographic hotspots.

Healthcare workers across the country have found themselves delivering care for a high volume of acutely ill patients, often with severely limited supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), magnifying their own risk. Many have watched colleagues fall sick and even die, while others have been asked to ration patient care. Multiple studies have highlighted increased instances of depression, anxiety, insomnia and psychological distress amongst frontline workers, and some clinicians have even taken their own lives.

Challenges with the legacy staffing model

Prior to the pandemic, our healthcare system had long dealt with seasonal and geographic differences in healthcare demand. Flu season, for example, causes more demand for healthcare in December than July. Florida experiences more demand for care in February than June because snowbirds migrate from the northeast in the winter and bring their healthcare needs with them.

In the past, temporary or contingent workers — travel nurses, per diem nurses and locum tenens doctors — helped to balance supply of labor with the seasonal and geographic peaks and troughs in demand. Staffing agencies worked with these temporary clinicians to match them with opportunities at hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, long-term care facilities and other providers. Many people don’t realize that temporary clinicians are an important part of the healthcare workforce. Estimates are that supplemental staffing accounts for more than 30% of total nursing hours in the U.S.

Staffing agencies, however, cannot scale for pandemic scale events because they are using outdated tools and processes. Recruiters at staffing agencies make phone calls and send emails to communicate with the clinicians who are frequently annoyed by inconvenient and unwanted solicitations. More importantly, these tools are not fast enough when we experience sudden unpredicted spikes in different geographic areas like those in the past six months.

Outdated regulations are partly to blame. Licensure for nurses is handled state-by-state, which creates obstacles that prohibit nurses from working in states where they are not licensed. There are approximately 35 states that are part of a licensing compact that offers mutual recognition, but many of the largest states and those hit hardest by the early days of the pandemic — like California, New York and Washington — are not part of the compact. In California, it takes six weeks on average to get a license for an out-of-state nurse, a number that has not budged even as the state’s COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed.

Some states that are not part of the compact have used executive actions or emergency declarations to allow nurses to cross state lines, but many of those are now expiring and were never meant to be a long-term solution. The pandemic has highlighted the need for new regulations as part of the solution described below that allow for a more fluid movement of clinicians across state lines. Are patients and diseases in California really that different from the patients and diseases in Texas such that we need different regulatory standards and license requirements in each state?

The solution: A vertical marketplace for healthcare workers

We need to move beyond the antiquated staffing agency model to facilitate a more rapid response, a better clinician experience and more efficient matching. The good news is that we are starting to see companies addressing this problem with a software-centric model: the vertical labor marketplace. Some examples of these marketplaces include Trusted Health and Nomad Health.

Like StubHub, the company I started 20 years ago, these marketplaces use the power of the internet to connect supply with demand. In the case of these healthcare labor marketplaces, the clinicians make up the supply while the hospitals and other care facilities make up the demand. Rather than scouring the job boards for individual hospitals or fielding calls from recruiters, clinicians can see all available positions that meet their skills and experience, along with compensation and other job details. They can check the marketplace when it is convenient without getting inundated by phone calls or emails.

Clinicians can use the marketplaces to come in and out of the labor pool as they wish. This helps to reduce stress and increase work-life balance before burnout sets in. Some nurses might choose to leverage the marketplace to move to Florida in the winter to serve the snowbirds while others may choose to take the summer off and work during flu season. The marketplace also creates financial opportunities for underutilized clinicians by better allocating their labor to geographies and hospitals that need them. Hospitals and other providers benefit from these simple-to-use cloud-based marketplaces that allow them to quickly ramp up capacity when they need it most.

The system needs more contingent workers

In the staffing agency paradigm, when an independent hospital experiences a spike in demand it must work with a staffing agency to bring in temporary clinicians quickly. A multihospital health system has the advantage of being able to move clinicians from lower demand hospitals to a sister-hospital that is experiencing an unexpected peak. A widely adopted national marketplace would theoretically have an even greater advantage because its broader visibility across more hospitals would allow it to move resources from hospitals with excess capacity to those with the highest demand, even if the two hospitals are unaffiliated.

There have been heroic doctors and nurses who have volunteered to move to areas with the highest demand. However, hospitals and health systems are not incentivized to lend out their doctors and nurses to nonaffiliated hospitals. Therefore, the solution requires more clinicians to be in the contingent workforce (like travel and per diem nurses). If the mix between contingent nurses and permanent nurses were 70/30 instead of 30/70, peaks and troughs would be more easily handled since a larger percentage of the resources would be shared across a larger network of hospitals. The marketplaces would have an even greater impact on our society because they would be able to allocate even more resources to the hospitals with the most acute needs.

There are two possible sources of additional contingent workers. First, permanent healthcare workers may decide to terminate their affiliation with a single hospital or health system in favor of contingent work because they are attracted to the flexibility. Second, workers in other industries may choose to enter the healthcare industry because it provides more options for contingent work. Regardless of the path, an expansion of the supply of contingent healthcare workers is a necessary part of the solution.

A side benefit: Stronger financial health for our hospitals

During the pandemic, patients across the country chose to postpone many elective surgeries and non-life-threatening procedures because they were scared of contracting the virus at the hospital. As a result, hospitals lost revenue from profitable elective procedures. Because hospitals have huge fixed costs (salaries are a big component), the government has provided tens of billions of stimulus money for hospitals in financial distress.

In addition to all the other benefits described above, a more widely adopted vertical labor marketplace for healthcare workers would provide relief to hospitals by shifting a larger portion of clinician labor from a fixed cost to a variable cost. Hospitals would have a smaller number of permanent employees and a larger number of temporary contingent workers. When demand drops, hospitals would use fewer contingent clinicians. When demand rises, they could tap into the marketplace to bring on more capacity.

A marketplace approach to America’s healthcare and its clinicians is long overdue. While the pandemic magnified our current system’s vulnerabilities, they have been there all along. By leveraging the technology and marketplace paradigm that has made so many other industries efficient, we can improve not only our healthcare system and clinician quality of life, but also our hospitals’ bottom line. Let’s galvanize the collective distress COVID-19 has created and use it to pioneer a more efficient model for all.

* Craft is an investor in Trusted.

#column, #covid-19, #flu, #health, #health-care, #health-systems, #healthcare, #national-health-service, #novel-coronavirus, #nursing, #opinion, #policy, #tc

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If you care about remote employees, start tracking their performance

Remote work has been thrust upon us, but are business leaders ready for it?

More than half of U.S. companies now plan on making working from home a permanent option. However, most of us still don’t know what an optimal business machine with remote operations looks like simply because reaching that point requires years of trying, testing and adapting.

One major thing we haven’t all realized yet is that, without the visibility of face-to-face contact, data is essential in tracking employee progress and well-being, as well as the company’s overall health.

And not just any data — granular (ideally automatic) data is needed to give us accurate insights and stop us from making burdensome mistakes, especially in tech companies where even more of the work effort is purely digital. Take productivity. If we were to focus on people’s work hours alone, we’d likely get the wrong picture. Half of software developers have been working more during quarantine. But what does this tell us about the toll this workload is taking on their mental health? Or the quality of their work, and how much extra time is going toward bringing their tasks up to scratch? Nothing at all.

Putting data at the core of project management is not about Big Brother; far from it. Data isn’t inherently good or bad; it just gives you the tools to implement intelligent strategies and reduce errors. If anything, it will minimize the number of times you have to interfere with employees to ask for updates and micromanage.

Embracing data to create your new remote-ready project management strategy will enhance you and your team’s work lives in the following ways.

Reduce wrong decisions

Managers don’t have accurate visibility into remote employees’ productivity. Radio “silence” from team members can be misinterpreted to mean they’re not working enough, especially independent workers like software engineers. You might think you wouldn’t notice if they spent half their work hours on a coffee break, and your mind can run away with you. (The opposite — for those who talk too much — is also true).

However, a digital lifestyle produces digital indicators. Data-driven project management tools such as Wrike can tell you about employee output, but also about iterations and quality indicators on the same task. Such as how many times a pull request went back to a developer, why (due to error or for minor improvements?), or how many other employees stepped in to help before the final product was achieved.

#column, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #developer, #entrepreneurship, #management, #remote-work, #startups, #tc

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Carbon Health and Color founders see power in bringing healthcare to the edge

When COVID-19 spread to the United States, the pandemic exposed two conflicting realities: a healthcare system that excels at high-cost, complex treatments, while failing to provide sufficient access at the local level.

That lack of access to public health infrastructure might be the country’s biggest challenge. It’s also created opportunities for healthcare startups, founders of Carbon Health and Color said Monday during TechCrunch Disrupt 2020, which kicked off today.

“When we think about making healthcare accessible, we tend to focus on the cost of care, which is definitely a big problem,” Othman Laraki, founder and CEO of Color, said during the Disrupt panel “Tech, test and treat: Healthcare startups in the COVID-19 era.”The other big side of making healthcare accessible is actually taking it to people where it’s part of their lives. I think oftentimes for underprivileged communities, etc. that sometimes the cost of care is a lesser problem compared to the access of it.”

Primary care startup Carbon Health and Color are already tackling that issue. And in Carbon Health’s case, the company’s business model to bring high-quality primary care to the local level gave it early insight into the spread of COVID.

Carbon Health has 25 primary care locations today. Co-founder and CEO Eren Bali noted that as early as February, the company started seeing patients coming to its clinics directly from Wuhan, China with COVID-like symptoms.

Carbon Health’s technology platform asks patients questions prior to their visit, which collects important data and assessing patients’ symptoms and problems ahead of time. Those early insights left Carbon Health with two options: shut down and wait for the COVID storm to pass or jump all in. Carbon Health chose the latter, Bali said.

Laraki and Bali’s comments Monday during TechCrunch Disrupt match up with their respective business models and growth trajectory. COVID has merely accelerated that development.

Earlier this week, Carbon Health launched a new pop-up clinic model. These clinics are now open in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. The company is adding more in the coming weeks, including a clinic in Detroit. Ultimately, 100 new COVID-19 testing sites will be added with a collective capacity to handle 100,000 patients per month across the country. Color is collaborating with Carbon Health at its clinics in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, as the pandemic swept into the U.S., Color built a platform to help ease the logistical and supply chain constraints around COVID testing. The company, which runs a large, automated testing lab out in the Bay Area, now processing 75% of the testing in the city.

Today, there are still limits to that hyperlocal level of healthcare. For instance, someone who needs surgery must go to a hospital, which might be hours away.

“It’s not that easy to push that to the edge,” Lariki said, using the surgery example. “But I think what’s happening now — and I think what’s going to happen in the next 10 years — is that we’re going to have really, truly edge-distributed healthcare.”

The idea is that technology will allow healthcare to be taken into communities in a more cost effective model, which will make it more accessible. “That’s something that really hasn’t existed in the U.S. so far and I think it is really starting to happen and it is fundamentally a technology problem,” Lariki added.

#carbon-health, #color, #covid-19, #disrupt-2020, #health, #healthtech, #startups

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N95 masks could soon be rechargeable instead of disposable

The pandemic has led to N95 masks quickly becoming one of the world’s most sought-after resources as essential workers burned through billions of them. New research could lead to an N95 that you can recharge rather than throw away — or even one that continuously tops itself up for maximum effectiveness.

The proposed system, from researchers at Technion-IIT in Israel and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in India, is not one of decontamination, as you might expect. Instead, it focuses on another aspect of N95 masks that renders them less effective over time.

N95s use both mechanical filtering, in which particles are caught in a matrix of microscopic fibers, and electrostatic filtering, in which particles are attracted to surfaces that carry a static charge. It’s like the old trick where you rub a balloon on your head and it sticks — but at the scale of microns.

The combination of these two methods makes N95 masks very effective, but the electrostatic charge, like any charge, dissipates after a time as air and moisture pass over it. While decontamination via UV or high temperature may help keep the mechanical filter from becoming a tiny petri dish, they do nothing to restore the electrostatic charge that acted as a second barrier to entry.

In a paper published in the journal Phsyics of Fluids, Dov Levine and Shankar Ghosh (from Technion and Tata respectively) show that it’s possible to recharge an N95’s filter to the point where it was close to off-the-shelf levels of efficacy. All that’s needed is to place the filter between two plate electrodes and apply a strong electric field.

“We find that the total charge deposited on the masks depends strongly on the charging time… with the pristine value almost reattained after a 60 min charge at 1000 V,” write the researchers in their paper.

A self-charging N95 mask prototype

It’s unlikely that health care workers are going to be disassembling their masks after every shift, though. While a service and special mask type could (and if it’s effective, should) be established to do this, the team also explored the possibility of a mask with a built-in battery that recharges itself constantly:

A solution that can help replenish the lost charge on the masks in real time would be desirable. In this section, we provide a proof-of-concept method of keeping the masks charged, which comes as a logical extension of our recharging method.

We tested a technique by which the filter material maintains its charge and thus its filtration efficiency… Since the currents required are extremely small, a large battery is not required, and it is possible that a small compact and practical solution may be feasible.

The image above shows a prototype, which the team found to work quite well.

Of course it’s not quite ready for deployment; IEEE Spectrum asked Peter Tsai, the creator of the N95 mask, for his opinion on it. He suggested that the team’s method for testing filtration efficacy is “likely questionable” but didn’t take issue with the rest of the study.

Though it won’t be in hospitals tomorrow or next week, the team notes that “crucially, our method can be performed using readily available equipment and materials and so can be employed both in urban and rural settings.” So once it’s thoroughly tested it’s possible these rechargeable masks could start showing up everywhere. Let’s hope so.

#covid-19, #gadgets, #health, #masks, #n95, #pandemic, #science

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As low-code startups continue to attract VC interest, what’s driving customer demand?

Investor interest in no-code, low-code apps and services advanced another step this morning with Airtable raising an outsized round. The $185 million investment into the popular database-and-spreadsheet service comes as it adds “new low-code and automation features,” per our own reporting.

The round comes after we’ve seen several VCs describe no- and low-code startups as part of their core investing theses, and observed how the same investors appear to be accelerating their investing pace into upstart companies that follow the ethos.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Undergirding much of the hype around apps that allow users to connect services, mix data sources and commit visual programming is the expectation that businesses will require more customized software than today’s developers will be able to supply. Low-code solutions could limit required developer inputs, while no-code services could obviate some need for developer time altogether. Both no- and low-code solutions could help alleviate the global developer shortage.

But underneath the view that there is a market mismatch between developer supply and demand is the anticipation that businesses will need more apps today than before, and even more in the future. This rising need for more business applications is key to today’s growing divergence between the availability and demand for software engineers.

The issue is something we explored talking with Appian, a public company that provides a low-code service that helps companies build apps.

Today we’re digging a little deeper into the topic, chatting with Mendix CEO Derek Roos. Mendix has reached nine-figure revenues with its low-code platform that helps other companies build apps, meaning that it has good perspective into what the market is actually demanding of itself and its low-code competition.

We want to learn a bit more about why business need so many apps, how COVID-19 has changed the low-code market and if Mendix is accelerating in 2020. If we can get all of that in hand, we’ll be better equipped to understand the growing no- and low-code startup realm.

A growing market

Mendix, based in Boston, raised around $38 million in known venture capital across a few rounds, including a $25 million Series B back in 2014. In 2018, Mendix partnered up with IBM to bring its service to their cloud, and later sold to Siemens for around $700 million the same year.

#appian, #apps, #covid-19, #fundings-exits, #mendix, #mobile, #no-code, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange

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Europe starts testing app interoperability service to power cross-border COVID-19 exposure alerts

The European Commission has begun testing backend infrastructure that’s needed to make national coronavirus contacts tracing apps interoperate across the bloc’s internal borders.

It’s kicked off test runs between the backend servers of the official apps from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Latvia, and the newly established gateway server — which is being developed and set up by T-Systems and SAP, and will be operated from the Commission’s data centre in Luxembourg, it said today.

The service is due to become operational in October, meaning EU Member States with compatible apps will be able extend digital contacts tracing for app users travelling within the group of listed countries.

Interoperability guidelines were agreed for national coronavirus contacts tracing apps back in May.

The Commission says the gateway service will only exchange a minimum of data — namely the arbitrary identifiers generated by the tracing apps.

“The information exchanged is pseudonymised, encrypted, kept to the minimum, and only stored as long as necessary to trace back infections. It does not allow the identification of individual persons,” it adds.

Only decentralized national coronavirus contacts tracing apps are compatible with the gateway service at this stage. And while the Commission says it is continuing to support work being undertaken within some Member States to find ways to extend interoperability to tracing apps with different architectures, it’s not clear how viable that will be without risks to privacy.

The main advantage of the interoperability plan for national coronavirus contacts tracing apps is to avoid the need for EU citizens to install multiple tracing apps — provided they’re traveling to another country in the region that has a national app with compatible architecture.

However, in addition to varying choices of app architecture, some EU Member States don’t even have a national app yet. So it’s clear there will continue to be gaps in cross-border coverage for the foreseeable future which increases the challenge of breaking (non-domestic-)travel-related coronavirus transmission trains.

#contacts-tracing-apps, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #decentralized, #european-commission, #tc

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Political appointees demand ability to rewrite CDC case reports

Image of a man holding his hand to his ear in order to hear better.

Enlarge / Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), listens during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus. Redfield may be finding himself trapped between scientists and political appointees. (credit: Getty Images)

Political appointees in the Department of Health and Human services are objecting to reports on the COVID-19 pandemic from the Centers for Disease Control, and are trying to exercise editorial control of future reports. That’s the bottom line of an extensive report from Politico that was based on both internal emails and interviews with people in the organization. The problems apparently stem from the fact-based reports from the CDC running counter to the Trump administration’s preferred narrative about the spread of the pandemic and the appropriate public health responses.

The CDC documents at issue are termed Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which provide rapid summaries of the state of our knowledge about public health issues. Typically, they’re the product of a CDC-backed investigation into a known issue; in the past, they’ve focused on things like outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. While they don’t have the weight of peer-reviewed literature, they’re widely considered to be scientifically reliable, and their rapid publication makes them a valuable resource for public health officials.

It’s easy to see how the reports’ accurate information could be viewed as counter to the preferred message of the Trump administration. Trump has made reopening schools a centerpiece of his pandemic policy, but CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly reports have described how SARS-CoV-2 can spread rapidly in a school-aged population, how young children can bring the disease home and pass it on to adults, and how children can suffer severe complications from the disease.

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#cdc, #covid-19, #hhs, #policy, #sars-cov-2, #science

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How does a Sturgis-sized crowd affect COVID-19? It’s complicated

STURGIS, SD—People walk along Main Street during the 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota on August 8, 2020.

Enlarge / STURGIS, SD—People walk along Main Street during the 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota on August 8, 2020. (credit: Michael Ciaglo | Getty Images)

The coronavirus loves a crowd. Put enough warm, susceptible bodies together and it’s sure to spread. Scientists have known that since nearly the start of the pandemic, from studying Covid-19 outbreaks aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, inside a megachurchin South Korea, at a Champions League soccer match in Italy. Countless other clusters have since been recorded, often seeded by a single contagious individual.

It’s the danger of crowds that led the governments of other countries to enact national lockdowns. In the United States, it was more of a patchwork of state and local stay-at-home orders, school closures, and bans on mass gatherings. As scientists have learned more about the specific conditions that can lead to such superspreading events—unmasked people talking, singing, or exercising inside poorly ventilated indoor spaces—that’s made it possible, in theory, to fine-tune these disease containment strategies, and to ease up on the most dramatic restrictions and focus on the policies that do the most to stem the spread of the virus.

But people also love a crowd. And over the late spring and summer, a number of mass gatherings—often anxiously watched by the media, health care professionals, and worried neighbors—became real-life experiments in what happens when you put people together in the Covid-19 era. The events ranged from the apolitical (spring break, summer camp, back-to-school) to the politically supercharged (President Trump’s Tulsa rally, “reopen” protests, anti-police brutality protests, and ongoing demonstrations in Portland against the use of federal agents). Each one tested different variables—masks versus no masks, indoors versus outdoors—but all elicited an opportunity to study the same questions: How many people would get sick as a result, how many would die, and who would bear the cost of the health care bill?

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#covid-19, #covid19, #epidemiology, #science, #sturgis

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Unicorn layoffs prompt more startups to consider acqui-hiring

Alex Zajaczkowski was just months into her role at Toast, a restaurant point-of-sale software company, when she was let go during COVID-19 layoffs. Toast, last valued at $5 billion, cut 50% of its staff through layoffs and furloughs.

Zajaczkowski said she started applying for jobs within a week.

“I think I got on the boat a little bit quicker than others because I wanted that security a little bit faster,” she said. She and former Toast colleagues formed a Slack to communicate about layoffs, their job searches and what lay ahead. Toast created an opt-in spreadsheet for recruiters that listed laid-off employees.

The sheet brought Zajaczkowski to Stavvy, an online mortgage startup also based in Boston, for an interview. Today, a majority of Stavvy’s team are ex-Toasters, including Zajaczkowski.

“I think one of the benefits of recruiting from an organization that is sort of an iconic Boston company, is that you know what the hiring practices are,” Ligris said. “There’s been a level of vetting that has occurred.”

Stavvy’s onboarding of former Toast employees suggests that the layoffs which rocked startups in March could be an opportunity for smaller startups to scoop up star talent that already has chemistry. While acqui-hiring is not a new concept, it has new weight in an environment reeling from mass layoffs and a shift to remote-first work.

Stavvy co-founders Kosta Ligris and Josh Feinblum, though, say hiring a pod of employees can backfire without proper diligence.

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #future-of-work, #hiring, #remote-work, #startups, #tc, #toast

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As COVID-19 era drags on, VCs look beyond Zoom calls for due diligence and sourcing

While the coronavirus has accelerated the dealmaking pace for many early-stage startups, activity has not come without adaptation.

Remote investment struggles for investors were clear from the get go: it’s challenging to invest millions in someone you have never met, and there’s not a lot to learn from “off-the-cuff” conversations that are calendared days in advance. Some investors said the pandemic was forcing them to stick with people they know in categories where they have experience, limiting the network that one can push money into.

Over six months into a global pandemic, though, new techniques are emerging to address some of these woes. The very art of a deal, from due diligence to sourcing, is changing from a cultural and technological standpoint.

One of the new places that recreates informal bonding and camaraderie is Matchbox.VC, formerly Fortnite.VC.

The service connects founders and investors over video games to network and source deals in a low-stress environment. Matchbox.VC was inspired from a tweet by Founders Fund principal Delian Asparouhov and has garnered interest from investors like Arjun Sethi from Tribe Capital, Ryan Shea, the ex-founder of Blockstack, Jake Chapman from AlphafundVC and Peter Rojas from Betaworks. Its last game night was backed by Yac, Tribe Capital and Shrug Capital.

The pitch is simple: founders and investors sign up on the website, answer basic questions about their focus, company and stage before picking three game choices from eight options that include Fortnite, COD: Warzone and Valorant.

#clubhouse, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #lunchclub, #social, #startups, #tc, #video

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England’s long delayed COVID-19 contacts tracing app to launch on September 24

The UK’s long delayed coronavirus contact tracing app finally has a release date: The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced today that the app will launch in England and Wales on September 24.

The other regions of the country, Scotland and Northern Ireland, already have their own COVID-19 contacts tracing apps — the latter launching an app this summer. While the Protect Scotland app was released yesterday, where it went on to clock up more than 600,000 downloads in a matter of hours.

England and Wales have had a far lengthy-than-expected wait for an app after a false start back in May, when government ministers had suggested in daily coronavirus briefings that an app would be landing shortly.

Instead the launch was delayed, and DHSC took over development of the NHS COVID-19 app from the National Health Service’s digital division, NHSX, after it ran into problems related to the choice of a centralized app architecture — which triggered privacy concerns and saw the test app plagued by technical issues around iPhones device detection.

The government pivoted the app to a decentralized architecture which means it’s able to make use of exposure notification APIs offered by Apple and Google for official COVID-19 contacts tracing apps, avoiding the technical issues associated with iOS background Bluetooth detection.

Another element that’s been added to the NHS COVID-19 app is a check-in feature for venues via scannable QR codes. The government is encouraging businesses and locations where people may congregate, such as pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, libraries and so on, to print out and display a QR code that app users can scan to check into the venue.

This check-in data will be held locally on the device, taking the same privacy-preserving approach as for contacts data generated when devices come into proximity and swap ephemeral IDs.

Venue check-in data will be retained on device for 21 days, per the DHSC. If an outbreak is identified at a location its venue ID will be broadcast to all devices running the app — and those that contain recent check-ins will generate an on-device match.

The DHSC says such a match may generate an alert and advice to the app user on what to do (e.g. whether to quarantine) — “based on the level of risk”.

The government says trials of the reformulated app on the Isle of Wight and with NHS Volunteer Responders have shown it to be “highly effective” when used in conjunction with traditional contact tracing to identify contacts of those who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

It had previously suggested there were issues related to limitations in Apple’s and Google’s APIs which made it difficult to effectively estimate the distance between devices which it said was needed to generate exposure notifications.

Talking up the impending launch of the app, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock suggested that the scannable venue codes will provide “an easy and simple way to collect contact details to support the NHS Test and Trace system”. Although businesses will need a fall-back system to collect data from patrons who do not have the app.

“We need to use every tool at our disposal to control the spread of the virus including cutting-edge technology. The launch of the app later this month across England and Wales is a defining moment and will aid our ability to contain the virus at a critical time,” Hancock added.

UK businesses are being invited to download a QR code to display at their premise via gov.uk/create-coronavirus-qr-poster.

Reports last month in UK national press that suggested the app would abandon automatic contact tracing altogether appear to have been wide of the mark.

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