People experienced outages of services like Gmail, YouTube and Google Meet.
The system erased her as if she never existed.
At an online event today, Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify, said he would invest 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) of his personal fortune in deeptech “moonshot projects”, spread across the next 10 years.
Ek indicated that he was referring to machine learning, biotechnology, materials sciences and energy as the sectors he’d like to invest in.
“I want to do my part; we all know that one of the greatest challenges is access to capital,” Ek said, adding he wanted to achieve a “new European dream”.
“I get really frustrated when I see European entrepreneurs giving up on their amazing visions selling early on to non-European companies, or when some of the most promising tech talent in Europe leaves because they don’t feel valued here,” Ek said. “We need more super companies that raise the bar and can act as an inspiration.”
According to Forbes, Ek is worth $3.6 billion, which would suggest he’s putting aside roughly a third of his own wealth for the investments.
And it would appear his personal cash will be deployed with the help of a close confidant of Ek’s. He retweeted a post by Shakhil Khan, one of the first investors in Spotify, who said “it’s time to come out of retirement then.”
During a fireside chat held by the Slush conference, he said: “We all know that one of the greatest challenges is access to capital. And that is why I’m sharing today that I will devote €1bn of my personal resources to enable the ecosystem of builders.” He said he would do this by “funding so-called moonshots focusing on the deep technology necessary to make a significant positive dent, and work with scientists, entrepreneurs, investors and governments to do so.”
He expressed his desire to level-up Europe against the US I terms of tech unicorns: “Europe needs more super companies, both for the ecosystem to develop and thrive. But I think more importantly if we’re going to have any chance to tackle the infinitely complex problems that our societies are dealing with at the moment, we need different stakeholders, including companies, governments, academic institutions, non-profits and investors of all kinds to work together.”
He also expressed his frustration at seeing “European entrepreneurs, giving up on their amazing visions by selling very early in the process… We need more super companies to raise the bar and can act as an inspiration… There’s lots and lots of really exciting areas where there are tons of scientists and entrepreneurs right now around Europe.”
Ek said he will work with scientists, investors, and governments to deploy his funds. A $1.2 billion fund would see him competing with other large European VCs such as Atomico, Balderton Capital, Accel, Index Ventures and Northzone.
Ek has been previously known for his interest in deeptech. He has invested in €16m in Swedish telemedicine startup Kry. He’s also put €3m into HJN Sverige, an artificial intelligence company in the health tech arena.
Greenlight Financial Technology, the fintech company that pitches parents on kid-friendly bank accounts, has raised $215 million in a new round of funding.
It’s a huge win for the Canadian-based venture investor Relay Ventures .
Since it launched its debit cards for kids in 2017, the company has managed to set up accounts for more than 2 million parents and children, who have saved more than $50 million through the app.
“Greenlight’s rapid growth is a testament to the value they bring to millions of parents and kids every day. My wife and I trust Greenlight to give us the modern tools to teach our children how to manage money,” said Gardiner Garrard, Founding Partner at TTV Capital, in a statement. “TTV Capital is thrilled to provide continued investment to help the company empower more parents.”
The company pitches itself as more than just a debit card, with apps that give parents the ability to deposit money in accounts and pay for allowance, manage chores and set flexible controls on how much kids can spend.
It’s a potentially massive business that can lock in a whole generation to a financial services platform, which is likely one reason why a whole slew of companies have launched with a similar thesis. There’s Kard, Step, and Current which are pitching similar businesses in the U.S. and Mozper recently launched from Y Combinator to bring the model to Latin America.
“Greenlight’s smart debit card is transforming the way parents teach their kids about responsible money management and financial literacy,” said Noah Knauf, general partner at BOND. “Having achieved phenomenal growth year-over-year, this is a company on the fast-track to becoming a household name. We look forward to working alongside the Greenlight team to support their continued growth.”
She was able to see a world where men and women would be treated equally.
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.
A wide gulf remains between the public perception of police violence and how it is treated in court.
Town Sports International, the parent company of New York Sports Clubs and Christi’s Fitness gyms, is mopping up after a security lapse exposed customer data.
Security researcher Bob Diachenko received a tip from a contact, Sami Toivonen, about an unprotected server containing almost a terabyte of spreadsheets representing years of internal company data, including financial records and personal customer records. But because there was no password on the server, anyone could access the files inside.
The server was exposed for almost a year, Diachenko told TechCrunch.
Town Sports pulled the server offline a short time after Diachenko contacted the company. He shared his findings exclusively with TechCrunch, which independently verified the authenticity of the data by confirming details found in the spreadsheets with customers.
Spreadsheets found on the server contained customer names, postal addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers. The data also contained when a customer checks-in and at which gym location. Some also had notes on customer accounts, such as complaints and when customers were past due on a missed membership payment.
Chief executive Patrick Walsh did not respond to several requests for comment, which also asked if the company planned to inform customers of the security lapse.
Town Sports was forced to shutter its 185 gyms on the U.S. east coast after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in mid-March. By the end of March, the company told financial regulators it had about 588,000 members.
One of the spreadsheets found on the exposed server showed that Town Sports had just 7,100 paying customers by mid-May, while 566,000 customers had their gym memberships frozen.
Town Sports began freezing accounts and refunding membership fees after the company continued to charge customers even after the lockdown began, a move that drew a threat of legal action from New York attorney general Letitia James, who accused the gym chain of “ripping off” its members.
The same spreadsheet still had customer data on some 665,000 cancelled accounts.
Earlier this month the gym chain filed for bankruptcy, just as states began allowing gyms to reopen, albeit with reduced capacity and safety measures in place.
The president claims you have to make a choice, but you don’t.
Banned apps, nefarious theories, trade wars, voiceless users. The case of TikTok isn’t news to most of the world.
New findings suggest a previously unknown virus may play a role in the sudden death of many freshwater mussels in recent years.
We may not find out whether the vaccines prevent moderate or severe cases of Covid-19.
Cortana may have failed as a virtual assistant for consumers, but Microsoft is still betting on it (or at least its brand) for business use cases, now that it has rebranded it as a ‘personal productivity assistant’ as part of Microsoft 365. Today, at its Ignite conference, Microsoft launched and announced a number of new Cortana services for business users.
These include the general availability of Cortana for the new Microsoft Teams displays the company is launching in partnership with a number of hardware vendors. You can think of these as dedicated smart displays for Teams that are somewhat akin to Google Assistant-enabled smart displays, for example — but with the sole focus on meetings. These days, it’s hard to enable a device like this without support for a voice assistant, so there you go. It’ll be available in September in English in the U.S. and will then roll out to Australia, Canada, the UK and India in the coming months.
In addition to these Teams devices, which Microsoft is not necessarily positioning for meeting rooms but as sidekicks to a regular laptop or desktop, Cortana will also soon come to Teams Rooms devices. Once we go back to offices and meeting rooms, after all, few people will want to touch a shared piece of hardware, so a touchless experience is a must.
For a while now, Microsoft has also been teasing more email-centric Cortana services. Play My Emails, a service that reads you your email out aloud and that’s already available in the U.S. on iOS and Android is coming to n Australia, Canada, the UK and India in the coming months. But more importantly, later this month, Outlook for iOS users will be able to interact with their inbox by voice, initiate calls to email senders and play emails from specific senders.
Cortana can now also send you daily briefing emails if you are a Microsoft 365 Enterprise users. This feature is now generally available and will get better meeting preparation, an integration with Microsoft To Do and other new features in the coming months.
And if you’re using Cortana on Windows 10, this chat-based app now let you compose emails, for example (at least if you speak English and are in the U.S.). And if you so desire, you can now use a wake word to launch it.
At its Ignite conference, Microsoft today announced that Premonition, a robotics and sensor platform for monitoring and sampling disease carriers like mosquitos and a cloud-based software stack for analyzing samples, will soon be in private preview.
The idea here, as Microsoft describes it, is to set up a system that can essentially function as a weather monitoring system, but for disease outbreaks. The company first demonstrated the project in 2015, but it has come quite a long way since.
Premonition sounds like a pretty wild project, but Microsoft says it’s based on five years of R&D in this area. The company says it is partnering with the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator Program and academic partners like Johns Hopkins University, Vanderbilt University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to test the tools it’s developing here. In addition, it is also working with pharmaceutical giant Bayer to “develop a deeper understanding of vector-borne diseases and the role of autonomous sensor networks for biothreat detection.”
Currently, it seems, focus is on diseases transmitted by mosquitos and Microsoft actually set up a ‘Premonition Proving Ground’ on its Redmon campus to help researchers test their robots, train their machine learning models and analyze the data they collect. In this Arthropod Containment Level 2 facility, the company can raise and analyze mosquitos. But the idea is to go well beyond this and monitor the entire biome.
So far, Microsoft says, the Premonition system has scanned more than 80 trillion base-pairs of genomic material for biological threats.
“About five years ago, we saw that robotics, AI and cloud computing were reaching a tipping point where we could monitor the biome in entirely new ways, at entirely new scales,” Ethan Jackson, the senior director of Premonition, said in a video the company released today. “It was really the 2014 Ebola outbreak that led to this realization. How did one of the rarest viruses on the planet jump from animal to people to cause this outbreak? What signals are we missing that might have allowed us to predict it?”
Two years later, in 2016, when Zika emerged, the team had already built a small fleet of smart robotic traps that could autonomously identify and capture mosquito. The system identifies the mosquito and can then make a split-second decision whether to capture it or let it fly. In a single night, Jackson said, the trap has already been able to identify up to 10,000 mosquitos.
In the U.S., the first place where Microsoft deployed these systems was Harris County, Texas.
“Everything we do now in terms of mosquito treatment is reactive – we see a lot of mosquitoes, we go spray a lot of mosquitoes,” said Douglas E. Norris, an entomologist and Johns Hopkins University professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, who was part of this project. “Imagine if you had a forecasting system that shows, in a few days you’re going to have a lot of mosquitoes based on all this data and these models – then you could go out and treat them earlier before they’re biting, spray, hit them early so you don’t get those big mosquito blooms which then might result in disease transmission.”
This is, by all means, a very ambitious project. Why is Microsoft announcing it now, at its Ignite conference? Unsurprisingly, the whole system relies on the Microsoft Azure cloud to provide the storage and compute power to run — and it’s a nice way for Microsoft to show off its AI systems, too.
Over the past decade, the dynamic between Chinese and United States tech companies has undergone dramatic shifts. Once seen as a promising market for American companies, that narrative flipped as China’s tech innovation and investment power became increasingly evident, and the expanding reach of the Chinese Communist Party’s cybersecurity regulations fueled concerns about data privacy. For years, however, there still seemed to be room for a flow of ideas between the two countries. But that promise has eroded, against the backdrop of the tariff wars and, most recently, the Trump administration’s executive orders against TikTok and WeChat.
The U.S. Commerce Department was set to enforce the shutdown of TikTok and WeChat in the United States last weekend, but both apps got reprieves. In WeChat’s case, a U.S. district court judge issued a temporary stay against the ban, while TikTok owner ByteDance is in the process of finalizing a complicated deal with Oracle.
The TikTok and WeChat imbroglios underline how much America’s perception of Chinese tech has evolved. Not only is TikTok the first consumer app by a Chinese company to gain a major foothold in the United States, but it’s also had a significant impact on popular culture there. This would have been almost unimaginable just ten, or even five, years ago.
China as a target for expansion
For a long time, China, with its population of 1.4 billion people, was seen as a lucrative market by many foreign tech companies, even as government censorship began to expand. In 2003, China’s Ministry of Public Security launched the Golden Shield Project, commonly referred to as the Great Firewall of China, the apparatus that controls what overseas sites and apps Chinese internet users have access to. At first the Great Firewall mainly targeted access to Chinese-language sites with anti-Chinese Communist Party content. Then it began blocking more services.
Even as the Communist Party’s online censorship became more stringent, many American internet companies were still keen to expand into China. Perhaps the most prominent example from that era is Google, which added Chinese support to Google.com in 2000.
Though access to the search engine was spotty (according to a 2010 timeline from the Financial Times, this may have been because of “extensive filtering” by China’s licensed internet service providers) and it was briefly blocked in 2002, Google continued launching new services targeted to users in China, including a simplified Chinese language version of Google News.
Then in 2005, the company announced plans to set up a research and development center in China. The next year, it officially launched Google.cn. In order to do so, Google agreed to exclude search results on sensitive political topics, causing controversy.
Despite its concessions to the Chinese government, Google’s relationship with China began deteriorating, foreshadowing what other foreign tech companies, particularly those offering online services, would deal with when they tried to enter China. After being blocked on and off, access to YouTube was completely cut off in 2009 after footage was uploaded that appeared to show the brutal beatings of Tibetan protestors in Lhasa. That year, China also blocked access to Facebook and Twitter.
In January 2010, Google announced it was no longer willing to censor searches in China and would withdraw from the country if necessary. It also began redirecting all search queries on Google.cn to Google.com.hk.
But the company continued its R&D operations there and maintained a sales team. (In 2018, an investigation by The Intercept found that Google had started to work on a censored search engine for China again, code-named “Project Dragonfly”). Other big U.S. tech companies also continued courting China, even though their services were blocked there.
For example, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg made several trips to China in the mid-2010s, including a 2015 visit to Tsinghua University, a leading research university. Zuckerberg had joined the university’s board the previous year, and delivered several public talks in Mandarin. Speculation mostly focused on Facebook’s efforts to get a version of its service into China, but China-based companies were, and continue to be, one of Facebook’s most important sources of advertising revenue.
Chinese government policies designed to help domestic companies become more competitive also began to have an impact and by 2015, many American tech firms needed to find a local partner to enter China. The narrative that China needed American tech innovation began to turn on its head.
A shifting dynamic
Since Google Play was also blocked in China, that led the way for the rise of third-party Android app stores, including Chinese internet giant Tencent’s My App.
But Tencent’s most influential product is WeChat, the messenger that launched in 2011. Two years later, Tencent added mobile payments by integrating it with TenPay. In less than five years, WeChat became a vital part of daily life for hundreds of millions of users in China. WeChat Pay and Alibaba’s Alipay, its main competitor, have revolutionized payments in China, where about one-third of consumer payments are now cashless, according to research by think tank CGAP.
In 2017, Wechat launched “mini-programs,” that allows developers to create “apps within an app” that run on WeChat. The program took off quickly, and within less than two years, Tencent said it had reached one million mini-programs and 200 million daily users. Even Google quietly launched its own mini-program in 2018.
Despite its ubiquity in China, WeChat’s international presence is relatively small, especially when compared to other messengers like WhatsApp. WeChat claims more than one billion monthly active users in total, but only an estimated 100 million to 200 million are international users. Many are members of the Chinese diaspora who use it to keep in touch with family and associates in mainland China since many other popular messengers, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Line, are blocked there.
In the meantime, another company was gaining ascendancy, and would eventually succeed where Tencent hadn’t.
Founded in 2012 by Microsoft veteran Zhang Yiming, ByteDance had its own early run-ins with the Chinese government. The first app it launched, a social media platform called Neihan Duanzi that reached 200 million users by 2017, was shut down the next year after the National Radio and Television Administration accused it of hosting inappropriate content. Despite that early setback, ByteDance continued to grow, releasing apps like Toutiao, one of China’s top news aggregators.
But the product it is best known for launched in 2016. Called Douyin in China, ByteDance always planned to expand the short video-sharing app overseas. In an interview with Chinese tech news site 36Kr, Zhang said, “China is home to only one-fifth of the world’s internet users. If we don’t expand globally, we are bound to lose to our peers eyeing the rest of the world” — both echoing and contravening the viewpoint of U.S. internet companies that had seen China as a crucial market.
TikTok, the international version of Douyin, was launched in 2017. That year, ByteDance also bought Musical.ly, a lip-syncing app popular with teens, in a deal worth between $800 million to $1 billion. ByteDance merged Musical.ly with TikTok, consolidating their audiences.
By early 2019, TikTok had become popular among teens and people in their early 20s, though many older people still struggled to understand its appeal. But as TikTok was turning into a mainstay of Gen Z culture, it also began to face scrutiny by the U.S. government. In February 2019, the Federal Trade Commission fined TikTok $5.7 million for violating children’s privacy laws.
Then a few months later, the U.S. government reportedly began a national security review of TikTok, marking the first in a chain of events that led to Trump’s August executive order against the company, and ByteDance’s new, but confusing, agreement with “trusted technology partner” Oracle.
The impact of China’s 2017 cybersecurity law
The United States is not the only country where TikTok has been deemed a national security threat. In June, it was among 59 apps developed by Chinese companies banned in India for threatening the country’s “national security and defence.” It’s also under investigation by French data security watchdog CNIL over how it handles user data.
While some cybersecurity experts believe that TikTok’s data collection practices are similar to other social media apps that depend on targeted ads for revenue, the heart of the issue is a Chinese law, implemented in June 2017, that requires companies to comply with government requests for data stored in China. ByteDance has insisted repeatedly it would resist attempts by the Chinese government to access U.S. users’ data, which it says is stored in the United States and Singapore.
“Our data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law,” TikTok wrote in a October 2019 statement. “Further, we have a dedicated technical team focused on adhering to robust cybersecurity policies, and data privacy and security practices.”
In the same post, TikTok also addressed concerns that it censors content, including videos about the Hong Kong protests and China’s treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim groups. “We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period,” the company said.
WeChat and TikTok’s uncertain future in the U.S.
But as a Chinese company, ByteDance is ultimately still beholden to Chinese laws. Earlier this week, ByteDance said it will retain an 80% stake in TikTok, after selling a total of 20% to Oracle and Walmart. Then Oracle executive vice president Ken Glueck said that Oracle and Walmart would make their investment upon the creation of a new entity called TikTok Global. He added that ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.
This creates more questions, but doesn’t answer the most pressing one: how close will the U.S. version of TikTok remain to ByteDance, and will it still be subject to the Chinese cybersecurity regulations that cause so much concern?
Around the same time that ByteDance’s proposed deal with Oracle and Walmart was announced, a U.S. district court judge temporarily stayed the nationwide ban on WeChat, as part of a case brought against the U.S. government by the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, a nonprofit organization initiated by attorneys who want to preserve access to WeChat for users in America. In her opinion, Judge Laurel Beeler wrote, “while the government has established that China’s activities raise significant national-security concerns—it has put in scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all U.S. users addresses those concerns.”
On its site, the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance said it believes Trump’s August 6 executive order against WeChat “violates many provisions of the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act.” Furthermore, the group argued that a WeChat ban would “severely affect the lives and the work of millions of people in the U.S.” who use WeChat to talk to family, friends and business associates in China.
While WeChat is heavily censored, users have often found ingenious ways to bypass bans on topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese government. For example, people used emojis, PDFs and fictional languages like Klingon to share an interview with Ai Fen, the director of Wuhan Central Hospital’s emergency department and one of the first whistleblowers to sound the alarm about COVID-19 even as the government attempted to stifle information about the disease.
The growing divide
The U.S. government’s actions against TikTok and WeChat are taking place against an increasingly fraught political landscape. Huawei and ZTE were first identified as potential threats to U.S. national security in a 2012 bipartisan House committee report, but legal actions against Huawei, one of the world’s biggest telecom equipment suppliers, escalated under the Trump administration. These include criminal charges brought against Huawei by the Department of Justice, and the arrest and indictment of chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.
The U.S. government’s actions in the name of national security doesn’t just affect the Chinese government or China’s biggest companies. It also impacts individuals, as in the case of increasingly stringent visa restrictions for Chinese students.
At the same time, the Great Firewall has become more restrictive under President Xi Jinping’s regime and China’s cybersecurity laws are becoming increasingly invasive, granting the government even more access to citizens’ data. Increasingly sophisticated surveillance technology has been used to monitor Uighurs and other ethnic minorities, and a crackdown on VPN services that began escalating in 2017 is making it harder for people in China to circumvent the Great Firewall.
When compared to these social issues, the future of a video-sharing app might seem relatively minor. But it underscores one of the most unsettling developments in the relationship between U.S. and China over the past ten years.
In a prescient 2016 Washington Post article titled “America wants to believe China can’t innovate. Tech tells a different story,” Emily Rauhala wrote “China’s tech scene is flourishing in a parallel universe.” TikTok’s deep cultural impact gave a glimpse of what is possible when two parallel universes connect. Along with geopolitical tensions, the furore over TikTok and WeChat uncovers something else: that the exchange of ideas and information between people in two of the world’s most powerful countries is becoming increasingly restricted due to circumstances beyond their control.
The new guidance, published only on Friday, had acknowledged that fine particles floating in air may spread the virus.
After rolling out in some of Canada’s most high-falutin burger bistros, Impossible Foods is hitting Canada’s fast casual market with new menu items at national chains like White Spot and Triple O’s, Cactus Club Cafe, and Burger Priest.
While none of those names mean anything to yours truly, they may mean something to our friendly readers to the North. However, I have heard of Qdoba, Wahlburgers and Red Robin. And Canadian customers can also pick up Impossible Foods -based menu items at those chains too.
Since its debut at Momofuku Nishi in New York in 2016, the Impossible Burger is now served in 30,000 restaurants across the U.S. and is available in 11,000 grocery stores across America.
The Silicon Valley manufacturer of meat substitutes expects that Canada, the company’s first market outside of Asia, may become its largest market — second only to the U.S.
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.”
Here’s why Lindsey Graham is wrong.
Babbel, the popular Berlin-based online language learning service, today announced that it has now sold a total of 10 million subscriptions to its service. For a language learning service, that’s quite a substantial number, especially given that Babbel doesn’t really offer a free tier. In part, the company’s march to 10 million subscriptions was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Babbel had already seen accelerating growth before, in no small part thanks to its aggressive expansion in the U.S. where Babbel’s subscriber volume and revenue have tripled year over year.
The fact that growth accelerated during the pandemic actually came as a bit of a surprise to the team. Typically, at least in the U.S., demand for language learning is somewhat seasonal and users are often motivated to learn a new language because they are preparing a big trip to Europe, for example.
“We know that in the U.S., we typically find the number one motivation that our users give for why they would want to learn a language is travel, which of course, makes sense, because that is your chance to use the language,” Babbel US CEO Julie Hansen told me. “And in fact, last year, there was record travel from the U.S. to Europe. […] I was very, very concerned for the prospects of our business, not to mention the prospects of our national health.”
But with a bit of lag, after the lockdowns in the U.S. (and around the globe) started, Babbel saw an increase in interest in its service because people wanted to use this time for self-improvement. At the same time, Babbel — like so many other education-related services — launched free tiers for high school and college students, too. Hansen said the company saw at least a “couple of hundred thousand” downloads from those initiatives alone. With that, the company’s user base now also skews a little bit younger (though Hansen also credited the company’s advertising on social and especially TikTok for this).
“You can literally draw a graph per country with the date of school closures, the date of lockdown — and then maybe a day or two for the first couple of Netflix series to go by — and then language learning picked up quite quickly,” Babbel CEO Arne Schepker said.
One area that has been challenging is B2B sales, where Babbel (and its competitors) saw an immediate slowdown, but as Hansen noted, some companies also started leaning more into digital training for their employees, maybe in part because they replaced in-person classes with tools like Babbel. Yet, despite the overall slowdown, Babbel still doubled its B2B revenue year-over-year and recently signed on its fellow Berlin -based company Delivery Hero as one of its customers.
Ahead of the pandemic, Babbel also started investing in its language travel business after it acquired LingoVentura in 2018. And while the team believes that this business will pick up again over time, Schebker acknowledged that nobody is traveling right now, so this business is currently in a holding pattern.
Looking ahead, the company will soon launch what Hensen called “other learning methods,” but the team isn’t quite ready to talk about these yet beyond the fact that Babbel plans to embrace “a multitude of learning experiences” to meet learners where they are.
They want to maintain control for generations to come.
A Senate bill that would compel tech companies to build backdoors to allow law enforcement access to encrypted devices and data would be “very dangerous” for Americans, said a leading House Democrat.
Law enforcement frequently spars with tech companies over their use of strong encryption, which protects user data from hackers and theft, but the government says makes it harder to catch criminals accused of serious crime. Tech companies like Apple and Google have in recent years doubled down on their security efforts by securing data with encryption that even they cannot unlock.
Senate Republicans in June introduced their latest “lawful access” bill, renewing previous efforts to force tech companies to allow law enforcement access to a user’s data when presented with a court order.
“It’s dangerous for Americans, because it will be hacked, it will be utilized, and there’s no way to make it secure,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, whose congressional seat covers much of Silicon Valley, told TechCrunch at Disrupt 2020. “If we eliminate encryption, we’re just opening ourselves up to massive hacking and disruption,” she said.
Lofgren’s comments echo those of critics and security experts, who have long criticized efforts to undermine encryption, arguing that there is no way to build a backdoor for law enforcement that could not also be exploited by hackers.
Several previous efforts by lawmakers to weaken and undermine encryption have failed. Currently, law enforcement has to use existing tools and techniques to find weaknesses in phones and computers. The FBI claimed for years that it had thousands of devices that it couldn’t get into, but admitted in 2018 that it repeatedly overstated the number of encrypted devices it had and the number of investigations that were negatively impacted as a result.
Lofgren has served in Congress since 1995 during the first so-called “Crypto Wars,” during which the security community fought the federal government to limit access to strong encryption. In 2016, Lofgren was part of an encryption working group on the House Judiciary Committee. The group’s final report, bipartisan but not binding, found that any measures to undermine encryption “works against the national interest.”
Still, it’s a talking point that the government continues to push, even as recently as this year when U.S. Attorney General William Barr said that Americans should accept the security risks that encryption backdoors pose.
“You cannot eliminate encryption safely,” Lofgren told TechCrunch. “And if you do, you will create chaos in the country and for Americans, not to mention others around the world,” she said. “It’s just an unsafe thing to do, and we can’t permit it.”
Those left behind must grieve in a country still firmly gripped by the coronavirus pandemic. Everywhere they turn, there is a reminder of their pain.
President Donald Trump said has has given his stamp of approval “in concept” on the Oracle bid for the U.S. operations of the wildly popular social media app, TikTok, according to a report from Bloomberg.
According to the Bloomberg report Trump said, “I have given the deal my blessing,” as he left the White House for a campaign rally in North Carolina on Saturday.
“I approved the deal in concept,” Trump reportedly said.
The spinout of TikTok’s U.S. operations from its parent company Bytedance was something that Trump administration had demanded on the grounds that the company’s data handling policies and popularity in the U.S. posed a national security threat.
The President’s push to sever the applications ties to China also followed TikTok users’ alleged prank that turned what was supposed to be a triumphal rally for the President in Oklahoma City into a Presidential campaign embarrassment that cost the job of Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale.
That said, the U.S. has been looking to curtail the operations of several Chinese technology companies on the grounds that they pose security threats to the U.S. Indeed, the Presidential order that demanded TikTok’s spinout also called for the discontinuation of the U.S. operations of the messaging service WeChat, which is owned by Tencent — one of China’s largest technology companies. And the U.S. government has also put a target on the telecommunications and networking technology developer, Huawei.
With the TikTok deal set to be approved, a new company called TikTok Global will be created as part of the deal, according to statements from Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, earlier this week.
Bloomberg reported that Trump said the new company would be headquartered in Texas, would hire as many as 25,000 people and would contribute $5 billion toward U.S. education.
The bulk of TikTok’s U.S. operations are now in Los Angeles.
As the Trump Administration continues its push to disrupt the operations of Chinese tech companies in the U.S., strange bedfellows are uniting to voice opposition to the deal.
On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the head of Facebook’s Instagram subsidiary both came out with statements opposing the proposed transaction.
“This order violates the First Amendment rights of people in the United States by restricting their ability to communicate and conduct important transactions on the two social media platforms,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, in a statement on Friday.
And the dragnet against Chinese influence through ownership of U.S. technology companies has reportedly widened to include many of the top U.S. gaming companies, which have been backed (or are wholly owned) by Tencent.
All of this could be exceptionally bad for U.S. technology businesses, as Instgram’s chief, Adam Mosseri pointed out in a series of Friday tweets.
“A US ban of TikTok would be meaningful step in the direction of a more fragmented nationalized internet, which would be bad for US tech companies which have benefited greatly from the ability to operate across borders,” Mosseri wrote.
A docuseries on slavery through the lens of sunken slave ships that never reached their destination — ships that became mass graves of kidnapped Africans.
The deployment of armored vehicles, advance radar and more fighter jets comes in response to a Russian convoy ramming an U.S. ground patrol, injuring seven soldiers.
The Commerce Department announced that it was prohibiting downloads of WeChat and TikTok in U.S. app stores. Here’s what you need to know.
Nearly 30 years after arriving from Morocco, after building a life and family here, I still hear: “Go back home!”
Beijing sent 18 aircraft into the Taiwan Strait as a senior American diplomat held meetings on the island.
The Jewish High Holy Days look different during a pandemic. They feel different, too.
A so-called monoclonal antibody lowered levels of the coronavirus and prevented hospitalizations. The research has not yet been vetted by independent experts.
“American Struggle” at the Met shows an artist searching out bits of the nation’s history that have been edged out, and making visible the fight for racial equality.
Pachama, the forest carbon sequestration monitoring service that tracks how much carbon dioxide is actually captured in forestry offset projects, has raised $5 million in fresh funding from a clutch of high profile investors including Amazon, Breakthrough Energy Ventures.
The investment is one of several deals that Amazon has announced today through its Climate Pledge Fund. Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the firm backed by Bill Gates and other billionaires, led the round, which brings Pachama’s total haul to $9 million so it can scale its forest restoration and conservation emissions reduction monitoring service, the company said.
With the Western United States continuing to burn from several fires that cover acres of drought-impacted forests and deforestation continuing to be a problem around the world, Pachama’s solution couldn’t be more timely. The company’s remote verification and monitoring service using satellite imagery and artificial intelligence measures carbon captured by forests.
It also couldn’t be more personal. Pachama’s founder, Diego Saez-Gil, lost his own home in the wildfires that tore through California earlier this year.
“We will need to restore hundreds of thousands of acres of forests and carbon credits can be the funding mechanism,” Saez-Gil wrote in a direct message.
Pachama joins two other companies that are jointly financed by Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund.
Other big corporate investors also backed Pachama. Groupe Arnault’s investment arm, Aglaé Ventures, and Airbnb’s alumni fund, AirAngels invested as did a number of prominent family offices and early stage funds. Sweet Capital, the fund investing the personal wealth of gaming company King.com’s management team; Serena Ventures (the investment vehicle for tennis superstar Serena Williams) and Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital fund also invested in the round along with Third Kind Ventures and Xplorer Ventures.
“There is growing demand from businesses with ESG commitments looking for ways to become carbon neutral, and afforestation is one of the most attractive carbon removal options ready today at scale,” said Carmichael Roberts, of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, in a statement. “By leveraging technology to create new levels of measurement, monitoring, and verification of carbon removal—while also onboarding new carbon removal projects seamlessly—Pachama makes it easier for any company to become carbon neutral. With its advanced enterprise tools and resources, the company has enormous potential to accelerate carbon neutrality initiatives for businesses through afforestation.”
As part of Disrupt 2020 we wanted to look at the contrasting positions of both early and later-stage investing in Europe. Who better to unpack this subject than two highly experienced operators in these fields?
After a career at Spotify and then as a VC at Atomico, Sophia Bendz has rapidly gained a reputation in Europe as a keen early-stage investor. She recently left Atomico to pursue her early and seed-stage passion with Cherry Ventures. Bendz is a prolific angel investor, with a total of over 44 deals in the last 9 years. Her angel investments include as AidenAI, Tictail, Joints Academy, Omnius, LifeX, Eastnine, Manual, Headvig, Simple Feast, and Sana Labs. She is known for being a champion of the femtech space, and her angel investments in that space include Clue, Grace Health, Daye, O School, and Boost Thyroid.
Carolina Brochado, the former Atomico partner and most recently a partner at SoftBank Vision Fund’s London office, recently joined EQT Ventures to help launch EQT’s Growth fund, which is positioned between Ventures and Private Equity. Brochado led investments in a number of promising companies at Atomico, including logistics company OnTruck, health tech company Hinge Health and restaurant supply chain app Rekki.
After establishing that these two knew each other while at Atomico, I asked Bendz why she headed back into the seed stage arena.
“I’m a trained marketeer and storyteller by heart… What makes me excited is new markets opportunities, people, culture, teams. So with that, in combination with my angel investing, I think I’m better suited to be in the earlier stages of investing. When I was investing before joining Atomico, I said to myself, I want to learn from the best, I want to see how it’s done how you structure the process and how you think about the bigger investments.”
Brochado says the European ‘cat is out of the bag’ as it were:
When I first moved to Europe in 2012 and first joined Atomico, after having been at a very small startup, there was still a massive gap in funding and Europe versus the US. I think you know the European secret is no longer a secret, and you have incredible funds being started at that early stage seed and series A, and because I was here in 2012, I’ve seen the amazing pipeline of growth companies that are coming up the curve, how the momentum of those companies is accelerating and how the market cap of those businesses are growing. And so I just became super excited about helping those businesses scale… I just you now felt like bridging that gap in between ass really exciting and.
One of the perennial topics that come up time and time again is whether or not founders should go with VC partners who have previously been operators, versus those with a finance background.
“Looking back, my years at Spotify, we had great investors, but there were not many of them that had the experience of scaling a big company,” Bendz said. “So, I’m happy to give [a startup] more than just the check in a way that I would have wished I had a sounding board when I was 25 and tackling that challenge at Spotify.”
Brochado concurred: “Having operators in the room is just is an incredible gift I think to a fund and at certain levels, having people that understand you know different forms of financing and different structures can also be incredibly helpful to founders who may not necessarily have that background. So I think that the funds that do it best have that diversity.”
Bendz is passionate about investing in female founders and femtech: “It’s such a massive business opportunity that is completely untapped. We’ve seen it many times when you have a female investment partner [that] the pipeline opens up and you get more deal flow from female founders…. So I think we have a lot of work to do. I think it’s definitely improved a lot in the last couple of years but not enough… That is one of the drivers for why I put my money where my mouth is and invest in lifting the founders, but also because there are incredibly interesting business opportunities… There are so many opportunities and products or services that we will see being developed. When we have a more equal society, and more women, both building their own companies, coding and also investing… I can’t wait to see what that world will look like.”
Brochado’s view is that “even beyond founders… the best managers today are putting a lot of focus on this and I think what’s exciting is, I think we’re past the point where you have to explain to people why diversity matters.”
Is there a post-Series A chasm?
Bendz thinks: “We have more big funds in Europe [now]. We have a really solid ground here in Europe of a, b and c investors.”
Brochado said: “it’s definitely getting better. You don’t hear as many founders say that to do my Series B or my Series C I have to move to the Valley as you used to. But there’s a lot of room still for growth investors in Europe. I think Series B is the hardest round actually because, at seed or series A, you can raise on very early traction or the quality of the management team. At Series B the price goes up but the risk doesn’t necessarily go down as much. And so I think that’s where you really need investors who are sector or thematic focused, who can come with conviction and also some knowledge around the company to really propel that company forward.”
Did they both see European entrepreneurs still making silly mistakes, or has the ecosystem mastered?
Brochado thinks ten years ago was it was hard for European founders as a lot of the talent to scale companies was still in the US. “What you’ve seen is a lot of big companies grow up in Europe, a lot of people come back from the US, and so I think that pool of talent now is larger, which is very helpful. I don’t think it’s yet at the scale of where the US is. But it gives us, you know as investors, a great window of opportunity to help get some of that talent for our portfolio companies.”
The impact of COVID-19
Bendz thinks we will “see a much slower Spring, but… I think it has been overall a good exercise for some companies, and I have not seen a slower deal flow. I’ve actually done more Angel deals this Spring than I normally do… Some businesses have definitely accelerated their whole business concept because of COVID. Investments are being made even though we haven’t met the founders. We’re able to do everything remotely so I think the system is kind of adjusting.”
Brocado’s view is that at the growth stage “there’s been a flight to quality. So actually, the really great companies or the companies that are seeing great tailwinds or companies that will still be category-leading once [have] seen a lot of interest. It’s been a very busy summer, which usually it isn’t usually, particularly at the growth stage… I think a lot of money is still in the system, and has flown into technology. And so if you look at how tech in the public markets has performed it’s performed extremely well. And that includes European public companies and within tech.”
Watch the full panel below.
Companies like Perfect Day, Impossible Foods, and a host of other startups that are developing replacements for animal farmed goods used in food, clothes, cosmetics, and chemicals have raised a whopping $1.5 billion through the first half of the year.
That’s according to a new report from The Good Food Institute which is tracking the growth of investments into sustainable foods. The report identified fermentation technologies as a rising third pillar of foundational technologies on which new and established food brands are making products that swap out animal products for other protein sources.
Fermentation technologies, which use microbes like microalgae and mycoprotein, can produce biomass, improve plant proteins and create new functional ingredients, and companies developing and deploying these technologies have raised $435 million in funding through the end of July 2020. It’s an indication of how competitive the market is for food technologies, representing an increase of nearly 60 percent over the $274 million invested in all of 2019, according to GFI.
“Fermentation is powering a new wave of alternative protein products with huge potential for improving flavor, sustainability, and production efficiency. Investors and innovators are recognizing this market potential, leading to a surge of activity in fermentation as an enabling platform for the alternative protein industry as a whole,” said GFI Associate Director of Science and Technology Liz Specht, in a statement. “And this is just the beginning: The opportunity landscape for technology development is completely untapped in this area. Many alternative protein products of the future will harness the plethora of protein production methods now available, with the option of leveraging combinations of proteins derived from plants, animal cell culture, and microbial fermentation.”
As the $1.5. billion figure indicates, big-time investors are taking notice. Funds like the Bill Gates -backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Temasek, Horizons Ventures, CPP Investment Board, Louis Dreyfus Co., Bunge Ventures, Kellogg, ADM Capital, Danone, Kraft Heinz, Mars, and Tyson Foods’ investment arm have all backed companies in the industry.
In all, fermentation-focused startup companies raised 3.5 times more capital than cultivated meat companies worldwide and almost 60 percent as much as U.S. plant-based meat, egg, and dairy companies, according to the GFI.
As the industry has grown up, since Quorn became the first company to use fermentation-derived proteins back in 1985, big industrial companies have started to take notice.
While there are at least 44 startups focused on alternative proteins worldwide, according to the GFI report, large publicly traded companies like Novozymes, DuPont, and DSM are also developing product lines for the alternative protein business.
“Given the breadth of applications, we believe that fermentation could solve many current challenges faced by alternative proteins. On the one hand, biomass fermentation can create nutritious, clean protein in a highly efficient and low-cost way. On the other hand, the potential for precision fermentation to produce value-added, highly functional, and nutritious ingredients is very exciting and could revolutionize the plant-based category,” said Rosie Wardle, an investor with the CPT Capital, which specializes in backing startups developing novel protein production technologies. “From an investment perspective, we are very excited about the white space opportunities in this category, and we are actively looking to increase our investments in the space. This new report from GFI is the first comprehensive overview of fermentation for alternative protein applications and should be required reading for everyone who wants to create a more efficient and less harmful global food system.”
The West still doesn’t understand the scale of Beijing’s soft-power ambitions.
When civil servants resign, skeptics often ask what difference one person really can make by leaving. The answer is: a lot.
Congress should establish a bipartisan commission to monitor voting and ensure that laws and regulations are followed.
The WikiLeaks founder’s high-profile case was delayed for months by the coronavirus. Now it is being hobbled by faulty livestreams and other technical issues.
The Justice Department has announced charges against five alleged Chinese citizens, accused of hacking over 100 companies in the United States, including tech companies, game makers, universities, and think tanks.
Zhang Haoran and Tan Dailin were charged in August 2019 with over two-dozen counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, identity theft and charges related to computer hacking. Prosecutors also added nine additional charges against Jiang Lizhi, Qian Chuan, and Fu Qiang last month.
Prosecutors also charged two businessmen, who were arrested in Malaysia, for their role in trying to profit from the group’s intrusions into game companies to steal and sell digital goods and virtual currency.
“Today’s charges, the related arrests, seizures of malware and other infrastructure used to conduct intrusions, and coordinated private sector protective actions reveal yet again the Department’s determination to use all of the tools at its disposal and to collaborate with the private sector and nations who support the rule of law in cyberspace,” said assistant attorney general John C. Demers.
“This is the only way to neutralize malicious nation state cyber activity,” he said.
The hackers are accused of being members of the China-backed APT41 hacking group, also known as “Barium,” to steal source code, customer data, and other valuable business information from businesses in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Hong Kong, South Korea and other countries.
The indictments said that the hackers worked for a front company, Chengdu 404, which purports to be a network security company but prosecutors say was a cover for the hackers. The alleged hackers used a number of known security vulnerabilities to break into companies and launch attacks against a company’s supply chains, allowing the hackers to break into other companies. The indictments confirm earlier research from security firm FireEye that said APT41 hackers used vulnerabilities against networking gear to break into their victims’ networks.
The hackers also allegedly stole code-signing certificates, which can be used to trick computers into thinking malware is from a legitimate source and safe to run. Last year, APT41 was blamed for a supply chain attack at computer maker Asus, which saw the attackers push a backdoor to at least hundreds of thousands of computers using the company’s own servers.
Prosecutors said the hackers tried to make money by launching ransomware attacks and cryptojacking schemes, which hijack computers with malware to mine cryptocurrency.
After the indictments were filed, prosecutors said they obtained warrants to seize websites, domains, and servers associated with the group’s operations, effectively shutting them down and hindering their operations.
The alleged hackers are still believed to be in China, but the allegations serve as a “name and shame” effort employed by the Justice Department in recent years against state-backed cyber attackers.
E.U. leaders are still learning to navigate a world ever more dangerous for them, while relations with the United States grow more and more awkward.
The fight for equality isn’t over, and can most definitely still be lost.
Dominic Raab is arriving just as his government is taking steps in Brexit talks that could jeopardize a free-trade deal with the United States.
Kushner went from playing divorce lawyer to marriage broker.
The healthcare industry, even prior to the current pandemic, has never looked much like other industries when it comes to hiring and career management. That was the impetus behind Incredible Health, a startup founded by medical doctor Iman Abuzeid and Amazon alum Rome Portlock. The platform Incredible Health built is all about connecting nurses with jobs – but it goes above and beyond your typical online job board in order to provide better service both to job seekers and hospitals, and to help nurses throughout the course of their careers.
I spoke to Abuzeid, who serves as Incredible Health’s CEO, about some new features that Incredible Health has just introduced, in part to address the particular needs of nurses and hospitals considering the constraints of COVID-19 and the ongoing challenges it presents. She first explained why Incredible is a unique platform to begin with, among a sea of relatively undifferentiated job search products.
“There are three unique things about the platform,” she said. “The first is that the employers apply to the nurses instead of the other way around – which we can do because of this huge supply-demand imbalance. The second is that we’ve automated the screening and pre-vetting of the nurses, so we’re able to automatically verify things like licenses and certifications, and experiences and so on, because we’ve integrated with so many databases. And the third thing we do is custom matching algorithms.”
That means Incredible Health provides hospitals with only matches that meet their exact needs for a specific position requirement, rather than forcing them to wade through large numbers of potential applicants who might not have the skills they need. In a field like nursing, which has a lot of specific professional designations and certifications, specificity actually helps both sides quite a bit.
“The end result of all of that is hires that happen at least three or four times faster,” Abuzeid told me. “Our average right now is 13 days, and the efficiency is about 30 times more efficient than a standard job board. Really, some of the biggest impacts we have are financial – we save on average, each hospital we work with, about $2 million per year. We do that by reducing their travel nurse budget, because they don’t have to use as many contract workers when they’re permanently staffed. And we also reduce their overtime costs, and their HR costs.”
Abuzeid also told me that nurses hired through Incredible Health tend to stick around longer. The startup only has about a year of historical data to check against so far, but she said that so far, they’re seeing about 25% percent higher retention vs. the industry average. She added that they suspect this is due largely to the fact that nurses are able to consider multiple offers and hospital options on the platform, since there are often multiple employers vying to hire the same employee, especially in the case of specialization like ICU nurses.
As for what’s new to Incredible Health, the company has introduced automated interview scheduling. Abuzeid says that has led to 70% of interviews being scheduled via automation within 36 hours on the platform currently. The platform has also introduced remote interviewing for safely distanced pre-hiring interactions, and in-app chat between potential employers and nurses right in the iOS, Android and web apps that Incredible Health offers. Profiles for nurses on the platform also now list socialites and skills, from a pre-set catalog of 45 specialities and 250 skills that are specific to the nursing field, like ICU or OR expertise. Abuzeid said that most of these were fast-tracked due to significant changes they were seeing in the hiring process as a result of the COVID pandemic.
“We saw several impacts,” she told me. “First is like the number of offers that started to go out – we see one go out every few hours now. And the number of interview requests is up to one being sent every few minutes. So it’s really accelerated, and that’s been a combination of two things. One is just that we made the software better and more efficient – but the other thing is the urgency also increased on the hospital end given the pandemic.”
Aside from improving the process of hiring vs. traditional methods, and supporting more remote hiring and onboarding workflows, Incredible Health also addresses some of the diversity gaps in the current healthcare industry hiring process. Abuzeid explained that that’s due in part to built-in features of the platform like salary estimate calculators, and adds that some tweaks have been created intentionally to level the playing field.
“30% of nurses identity in the U.S. identify as minorities, so we take diversity pretty seriously because that’s a huge chunk of our user base,” she said. “By giving nurses salary data, it democratizes that and makes you more informed. We also provide talent advocates who are also nurses on our team that support every single nurse, helping them almost as career coach to support them throughout the hiring process.”
Incredible Health also takes steps to ensure the product isn’t itself reinforcing any existing biases that may be present, consciously or otherwise, on the part of hiring parties.
“We random sort the list of the list of nurses as they’re displayed in front of employers and the application, or we use avatars instead of profile pictures,” We’re also constantly monitoring the data that that that’s in the platform. So for example, we noticed that recruiters were biasing against nurses that lived further away. And so we just removed the current location of the nurse, we just stopped displaying that, and that bias went away. So it’s really important that the software and our algorithms actually counter human bias.”
So far, Incredible Health has raised $17 million in funding, including a Series A last year led by Jeff Jordan at Andreessen Horowitz. The company is already in use at over 200 hospitals across the U.S., as well as at a number of the largest health care networks in the country, like HCA and Baylor, and at academics medical centres including Cedar Sinai and Stanford as well. The startup is growing quickly by addressing a long-standing need with software designed specifically to the challenge, and looks poised for even more future growth as the demand for qualified, well-supported healthcare professionals grows.