Apple brings Health Records to iPhone in the UK and Canada

Apple has added support for the Health Records feature of its Health app on iPhones in two new markets – the UK and Canada. The electronic medical records feature originally debuted in the U.S. in 2018, and the company says that it’s now supported by over 500 institutions across that country. At its debut in its two new markets, it’ll be supported by three hospitals in Canada and two in the UK, but obviously the plan is to expand support to more over time.

Apple’s EHR feature was created with its commitment to user privacy in mind. In practice, that means that any information transferred between a user’s iPhone and their healthcare provider is encrypted, and the data is transmitted directly, with no intermediary sever storage. Also, Apple Health Records data on a user’s device is fully encrypted and locally stored, unlock able only via a user’s individual passcode, as well as Touch ID or Face ID for devices that support those.

Health Records on iPhone requires institutional support, but can provide a high degree of individual ownership of health data, as well as a means of making sure that data is portable and can follow a patient to integrate with a variety of care facilities and providers. Many efforts have been made to unify and standardize EHR systems in different parts of the world, but few have gained widespread support. Apple’s has the advantage of working broadly with devices that make up roughly half the mobile representation in markets where it’s available, and a user-friendly, clear and concise design.

I’m a software engineer at Uber and I’m voting against Prop 22

I’ve been a software engineer at Uber for two years, and I’ve also been a ride-hail driver. I regularly drove for Lyft in college, and while my day job involves writing code for the Uber Android app, I still make deliveries for app-based companies on my bike to understand the state of the gig economy.

These experiences have made me realize a crucial factor in the gig economy: Uber works because it’s cheap and it’s quick. The instant gratification when we book a ride and a car shows up only minutes later gives us a sense of control. It’s the most convenient thing in the world to go to your friend’s house, the grocery store or the airport at the click of a button.

But it’s become clear to me that this is only possible because countless drivers are spending their personal time sitting in their cars, waiting to pick up a ride, completely unpaid. Workers are subsidizing the product with their free labor.

I’ve decided to speak out against my employer because I know what it’s like to work with no benefits. Before joining Uber, I worked a range of low-wage jobs from customer service at Disneyland to delivering pizza with no benefits. Uber is one of several large companies bankrolling California’s Proposition 22. They’ve now contributed $47.5 million dollars to the campaign. At work, management tells us that passing Prop 22 is for the best because it is critical for the company’s bottom line. Yet, a corporation’s bottom line will not and should not influence my vote.

Uber claims Prop 22 would be good for drivers, but that depends on Uber the company treating drivers better. I know from my experience working as an Uber engineer there is a slim chance of that happening. At the beginning of the pandemic, we learned Uber was about to embark on a round of layoffs. For weeks we sat around not knowing if we’d keep our jobs and health insurance.

Ultimately the company laid off 3,500 workers in the middle of a pandemic, and they did it via a three-minute Zoom call. For many of us, the layoffs seemed random and arbitrary, as if managers had been given a quota of people they should fire, not dissimilar to the way in which Uber deactivates drivers without recourse. The entrenched culture of not caring about workers had extended to engineers. We realized we too are a fungible resource.

As a software engineer, I have a very different experience working for Uber than drivers do. Being classified as an employee affords me benefits including healthcare, a retirement plan, stock vesting and the ability to take paid vacation and sick leave. Uber drivers are not afforded these benefits, since Uber misclassifies them as independent contractors. Since January 1 of this year, the law has been clear: Gig drivers should be classified as employees. Yet Uber refuses to obey the law and is now seeking to get Prop 22 passed so they can write a new set of rules for themselves.

There’s a misconception that all Uber drivers are part-time. Maybe they drive as a fun hobby in retirement or pick up a few hours after class in college, as I did. These drivers exist, but the drivers who are essential to Uber’s business are full-time workers. A study commissioned by the city of San Francisco released in May found that 71% of the city’s gig drivers work at least 30 hours per week. It is these drivers who give the majority of the rides. California legally requires employers to provide benefits to all workers working at least 30 hours per week, so 71% of daily drivers are currently denied benefits required by the state.

Were it not for my background as a Lyft driver, I would have accepted my employer’s argument at face value. This was never about disrupting an industry; their business model is the same as any other company’s — cut costs no matter what in order to increase profits. I’ve been lucky to meet some of Uber’s fantastic drivers while organizing with the advocacy organization Gig Workers Rising. Everyone knows about the high cost of living in San Francisco — these folks are often trying to make do on less than minimum wage. I’ve met drivers who have to sleep in their cars, risk financial ruin over a single doctor’s appointment or go without life-saving medication. There’s no way around it, Uber’s Prop 22 is a multimillion dollar effort to deny these workers their rights.

My message to other tech workers and to the public at large is this: Research ballot propositions on your own. When your employer tells you to vote for something because it’s what is best for the company, consider that your employer’s interests might not align with your own, or with society’s.

To employees at Uber, Lyft, DoorDash or other gig economy companies: Get to know the drivers who use your product every day. In many ways, we have more in common with these workers than we do with the executives making millions from our labor.

In November, you will have a choice to either stand with other workers and vote no on Prop 22, or align yourself with executives and billionaires by voting yes.

Stand with workers — vote no on Prop 22.

Investors give Baltimore’s Facet Wealth $25 million to sell businesses on financial planning as a benefit

Yesterday, Baltimore-based fintech company Facet Wealth said it raised $25 million in financing as it readies a new business line pitching financial planning as an employment benefit to businesses looking to recruit top talent.

Employment benefit packages are expanding beyond the basic gym membership and healthcare to include subscriptions to Netflix, discounts on delivery and ride-share services, and other perks. So why not financial wellness?

The thesis certainly managed to attract a big-money backer, with Warburg Pincus, the multi-billion dollar private equity investment firm which doubled down on its commitment with the new financing into the company.

The company said the latest round would be used to finance the expansion of Facet Wealth’s direct-to-consumer business even as it readies its employee benefit service for launch.

Already customers are signing up for pre-launch partnerships to get their employees on the program. Early wannabe users include ClassPass, MyVest and ChiliPiper, the company said.

“Since our first investment two years ago, the Facet Wealth team has proven their ability to meet a unique consumer need, evolving and expanding their offering to build a truly innovative client experience and business model”, said Jeff Stein, Managing Director at Warburg Pincus. “Their expansion into the employer market further solidifies them as a category-defining company that is well-positioned to disrupt the wealth management industry for years to come.”

To date, Facet Wealth has raised $62 million in funding from Warburg Pincus, Slow Ventures and other, undisclosed investors.

Osso VR raises $14 million to bring virtual reality to surgical and medical device training

It seems that distance learning is even coming for the healthcare industry.

As remote work becomes the order of the day in the COVID-19 era, any tool that can bring training and education services to folks across industries is gaining a huge amount of investor interest — and that includes healthcare.

Virtual reality tools like those on offer from Osso VR have been raising investor dollars at a rapid clip, and now the Palo Alto, Calif.-based virtual reality distribution platform joins their ranks with a $14 million round of financing.

The money came from a clutch of investors led by the investment arm of Kaiser Permanente, a healthcare giant whose network of managed care facilities and services spans the country. Previous backers and new investors like SignalFire, GSR, Scrum Ventures, Leslie Ventures and OCA Ventures, also participated in the funding. 

Osso has seen its adoption skyrocket during the pandemic as medical device manufacturers and healthcare networks turn to training tools. that don’t require a technician to be physically present.

According to company founder Dr. Justin Barad, the market for medical device education services alone is currently around $3 billion to $5 billion and growing rapidly.

Staffed by a team that comes from Industrial Light and Magic, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, and Apple, Osso VR makes generic educational content for training purposes and then produces company specific virtual reality educational videos for companies like Johnson and Johnson. Those productions can run the gamut from instructional videos on vascular surgery to robotic surgery training tips and tricks.

While Kaiser Permanente Ventures’ Amy Belt Raimundo said that the strategic investor’s decisions to commit capital aren’t based on what Kaiser Permanente uses, necessarily, the organization does take its cues from what employees want.

“We don’t tie our investment to a deployment or customer contract, but we look for the same signals within Kaiser Permanente,” said Belt Raimundo. But the organization did have employees interested in using the Osso technology. “We made the announcement that we are looking at [Osso VR] technology for use. And that’s where the investment and commercial decision was signaling off of each other, because the response showed that there was an unmet need there,” she said.

Osso VR currently has around 30 customers, 12 of which are in the medical device space. The company uses Oculus Quest headsets and is deployed in 20 teaching hospitals across 20 different countries. In a recent validation study, surgeons training with Osso VR showed a 230 percent improvement in overall surgical performance, the company said in a statement.

The goal, according to Barad, a lifelong coder with a game development credit from Activision/Blizzard, is to democratize healthcare. “This is about improving patient outcomes, democratizing access, and improving education,” said Barad. “Now that the technology is growing and maturing and VR is growing as a platform, we can attack the broader problems,” in healthcare, he said.

 

Does early-stage health tech need more ‘patient’ capital?

Crista Galli Ventures, a new early-stage health tech fund in Europe, officially launched last week. The firm offers “patient capital” — with only a single LP (the Danish family office IPQ Capital) — and promises to provide portfolio companies with deep healthcare expertise and the extra runway needed to get over regulatory and efficacy hurdles and to the next stage.

The firm has an initial $65 million to deploy and is led by consultant radiologist Dr. Fiona Pathiraja. With offices in London and Copenhagen, it operates as an “evergreen” fund, meaning it doesn’t follow traditional five-year VC fundraising cycles.

In fact, Crista Galli Ventures’ pitch is that traditional venture isn’t well-suited to early-stage health tech where it can take significantly longer to find product-market fit with healthcare practitioners and systems and then become licensed by local regulators.

To dig deeper into this and CGV’s investment remit more generally, I interviewed Pathiraja about what she looks for in health tech founders and startups. We also discussed Crista Galli LABS, which operates alongside the main fund and backs founders from underrepresented backgrounds at the pre-seed stage.

TechCrunch: You describe Crista Galli Ventures (CGV) as an early-stage health tech fund that offers patient capital and backs companies in Europe. In particular, you cite deep tech, digital health and personalised healthcare. Can you elaborate a bit more on the fund’s remit and what you look for in founders and startups at such an early stage?

Dr. Fiona Pathiraja: We like founders with bold ideas and international ambitions. We look for mission-driven founders who believe their companies can make a real and positive impact on the lives of people and patients the world over.

We will look for founders who deeply understand the problem they are trying to tackle from all angles — especially the patient’s perspective, but also that of the clinician and relevant regulators — and we want to see that they are building their solutions to solve this. This means they will make an effort to understand the complex and nuanced healthcare landscape and all the stakeholders in it.

In terms of founder characteristics, in my opinion, the best founders will be mission driven, able to tell a compelling story, and motivate others to join them. Grit and resilience are important and several of our portfolio companies were founded around 6-8 years ago and they are doggedly continuing to build.

Homage announces strategic partnership with Infocom, one of Japan’s largest healthcare IT providers

Homage, a Singapore-based caregiving and telehealth company, has taken a major step in its global expansion plan. The startup announced today that it has received strategic investment from Infocom, the Japanese information and communications technology company that runs one of the largest healthcare IT businesses in the country. Infocom’s solutions are used by more than 13,000 healthcare facilities in Japan.

During an interview with TechCrunch that will air as part of Disrupt tomorrow, Homage co-founder and chief executive Gillian Tee said “Japan has one of the most ageing populations in the world, and the problem is that we need to start building infrastructure to enable people to be able to access the kind of care services that they need.” She added that Homage and Infocom’s missions align because the latter is also building a platform for caregivers in Japan, in a bid to help solve the shortage of carers in the country.

Homage raised a Series B earlier this year with the goal of entering new Asian markets. The company, which currently operates in Singapore and Malaysia, focuses on patients who need long-term rehabilitation or care services, especially elderly people. This makes it a good match for Japan, where more than one in five of its population is currently aged 65 or over. In the next decade, that number is expected to increase to about one in three, making the need for caregiving services especially acute.

The deal includes a regional partnership that will enable Homage to launch its services into Japan, and Infocom to expand its reach in Southeast Asia. Homage’s services include a caregiver-client matching platform and a home medical service that includes online consultations and house calls, while Infocom’s technology covers a wide range of verticals, including digital healthcare, radiology, pharmaceuticals, medical imaging and hospital information management.

In a statement about the strategic investment, Mototaka Kuboi, Infocom’s managing executive officer and head of its healthcare business division, said, “We see Homage as an ideal partner given the company’s unique cutting-edge technology and market leadership in the long-term care segment, and we aim to drive business growth not only in Homage’s core and rapidly growing market in Southeast Asia, but also regionally.”

SoftBank Vision Fund 2 leads $100 million Series C in digital therapeutics company Biofourmis

Biofourmis, which combines AI-based data analytics and biosensors to monitor the progress of medical treatments, has raised funding from one of the world’s most high-profile investors. The digital therapeutics company, which launched in Singapore and is now headquartered in Boston, announced today it closed a $100 million Series C led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, with participation from returning investors Openspace Ventures, MassMutual Ventures, Sequoia Capital and EDBI.

The company’s last funding announcement was in May 2019 for a $35 million Series A led by Sequoia India and MassMutual, the venture capital arm of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.

Biofourmis’ platform combines AI-based health analytics and wearable sensors to help healthcare providers gauge patient progress and the effectiveness of drugs and other treatments. The company, founded in 2015 by chief executive Kuldeep Singh Rajput and managing director Wendou Niu, said this is the largest funding for a healthtech startup in Southeast Asia to date. In addition to Boston and Singapore, Biofourmis also has offices in Switzerland and India.

Since its Series A funding, Biofourmis has grown through a series of partnerships with seven pharmaceutical companies and 10 health systems, including Novartis, AstraZeneca, and Mayo Clinic. Biofourmis also made several acquisitions, including wearable biosensor startup Biovotion and Gaido Health, a digital therapeutics company for cancer patients.

The funding will be used to validate and bring new digital therapeutic solutions for cardiology, respiratory, oncology and pain treatments to the market. Biofourmis also plans to expand in the United States and Asia-Pacific markets including China and Japan.

Biofourmis also said today that it is realigning its internal operations into two verticals: Biofourmis Therapeutics, which partners with companies like AstraZeneca and Chugai to created software that can help increased the efficacy of drug treatments, and Biofourmis Health, a “home hospital” platform that allows health providers to monitor patients remotely as they transition out of acute care. Biofourmis Health focuses on heart failure, coronary artery disease, respiratory illnesses and cancer.

EDBI is an investment firm linked to Singapore’s government, and looks for startups that can help advance the country’s industries, including healthcare. Biofourmis’ funding from EDBI is a strategic investment, and its technology is being used in Singapore as it copes with repeated outbreaks of COVID-19.

Announced last July, SoftBank Vision Fund 2 launched with $108 billion to invest in AI-based technology. The first Vision Fund is coping with heavy losses stemming in large part from its investments in WeWork and Uber, so the performance of Vision Fund 2’s focus on markets including healthtech (its other investments in the space include pharmaceutical delivery startup Alto and life sciences company Karius) is being closely watched.

In a press statement, SoftBank Investment Advisers partner Greg Moon said, “We believe predictive health is the future of medicine and Biofourmis is a leader in using AI and machine learning-based models to advance digital therapeutics.”

Femtech poised for growth beyond fertility

The market for female-focused health products (aka ‘femtech’) is set for growth via segmentation, per an analyst note from PitchBook which identifies opportunities for entrepreneurs to target a growing number of health issues that specifically affect women or affect women in a specific way — broadening out from a traditional focus on reproductive health.

Femtech remains a “significantly underdeveloped” slice of healthtech, according to the analysis, which highlights the disparity between how much women spend annually on medical expenses — estimated at ~$500BN — vs how little healthcare R&D is targeted specifically at women’s health issues (a mere 4%).

Last year the global market for female-focused health products generated $820.6M, per the note, and is estimated to reach at least $3BN by the end of 2030. While it says femtech posted $592.1M in VC investment in 2019, slightly down on 2018’s $620.3M. But so far this year it’s racked up $376.2M in VC across 57 deals — putting it on pace to match 2019’s funding levels.

Areas of growth opportunity PitchBook sees for femtech outside its traditional focus on reproductive health are: Endometriosis, a painful disorder of the womb lining affecting one in 10 women; what it calls “personalized and female-oriented approaches to general health & disease management”, with a specific focus on heart health, pain management, and diabetes and weight management within that; and the life-stage transition of the menopause.

“While we still view femtech as a niche industry, we believe secular drivers could help propel new growth opportunities in the space,” write analysts Kaia Colban and Andrew Akers. “These include the increasing representation of women in the venture-backed technology community, rising awareness and acceptance of women’s health issues, and the growing prevalence of infectious diseases among women in some countries in Africa and Asia.

“Furthermore, while the majority of femtech products have traditionally focused on reproductive health, we believe new approaches to women’s health research will help open the door to new products and services.”

Expansion of the vertical is being driven by universal growth of the personalized medicine industry — which PitchBook notes is expected to reach $3.2TR by 2025, registering a CAGR of 10.6% over the forecast period.

While the massive underrepresentation of women in the venture community goes a long way to explaining the relative lack of attention investors have paid to products addressing women’s health — with the note acknowledging pitching to male investors remains a challenge for femtech startups — it suggests investors have also been cool on the subcategory because of a relatively poor track record of “sizable” exits.

“Only six femtech exits were completed in 2019; however, this still represents a 64% increase in exit value compared to 2018,” it writes. “The largest exits in recent years include Progyny’s $130M IPO and Procter & Gamble’s acquisition of This is L. for $100M. Progyny’s stock has roughly doubled in the eight months since it went public.”

PitchBook says it expects just 14% of VC to go toward female-founded startups this year — further noting that only 17% of startups have at least one female founder. (For femtech startups the figure is considerably higher — yet still only 69% of those PitchBook tracks; NB, this does not include startups building products targeted at women where there isn’t a medical need, such as skincare & beauty etc.)

“However, we believe these barriers may be subsiding as male investors begin to recognize the femtech market opportunity and as the VC world becomes more gender-diverse,” it adds, noting that female-founded companies deliver over twice as much per dollar invested than their male-owned counterparts which it reckons could help to turn more investors’ heads.

Other key industry growth drivers the note points to are a conducive regulatory environment; a rise in preventative medicine & holistic health; and advancements in health technology that have made personalized products more accessible and affordable, such as AI and “cloud-based infomatics”.

On the M&A front, PitchBook notes this is most common for femtech startups in the general health & wellness category. And while most remain single-product companies it says it expects a maturing femtech industry to lead to product diversification — “potentially driven by M&A” — noting recent examples of pregnancy-focused apps tapping into the menopause market, which it says suggests an expanding opportunity for fertility startups.

Synthetic biology startups are giving investors an appetite

There’s a growing wave of commercial activity from companies that are creating products using new biological engineering technologies.

Perhaps the most public (and tastiest) example of the promise biomanufacturing holds is Impossible Foods . The meat replacement company whose ground plants (and bioengineered additives) taste like ground beef just raised another $200 million earlier this month, giving the privately held company a $4 billion valuation.

But Impossible is only the most public face for what’s a growing trend in bioengineering — commercialization. Platform companies like Ginkgo Bioworks and Zymergen that have large libraries of metagenomic data that can be applied to products like industrial chemicals, coatings and films, pesticides and new ways to deliver nutrients to consumers.

The new products coming to market

In fact, by 2021 consumer products made with Zymergen’s bioengineered thin films should be appearing at the Consumer Electronics Show (if there is a Consumer Electronics Show). It’s one of several announcements this year from the billion dollar-valued startup.

In August, Zymergen announced that it was working with herbicide and pesticide manufacturer FMC in a partnership that will see the seven-year-old startup be an engine for product development at the nearly 130-year-old chemical company.

Synthetic biology startups are giving investors an appetite

There’s a growing wave of commercial activity from companies that are creating products using new biological engineering technologies.

Perhaps the most public (and tastiest) example of the promise biomanufacturing holds is Impossible Foods . The meat replacement company whose ground plants (and bioengineered additives) taste like ground beef just raised another $200 million earlier this month, giving the privately held company a $4 billion valuation.

But Impossible is only the most public face for what’s a growing trend in bioengineering — commercialization. Platform companies like Ginkgo Bioworks and Zymergen that have large libraries of metagenomic data that can be applied to products like industrial chemicals, coatings and films, pesticides and new ways to deliver nutrients to consumers.

The new products coming to market

In fact, by 2021 consumer products made with Zymergen’s bioengineered thin films should be appearing at the Consumer Electronics Show (if there is a Consumer Electronics Show). It’s one of several announcements this year from the billion dollar-valued startup.

In August, Zymergen announced that it was working with herbicide and pesticide manufacturer FMC in a partnership that will see the seven-year-old startup be an engine for product development at the nearly 130-year-old chemical company.