Bessemer Venture Partners closes on $3.3 billion across two funds

Another major VC firm has closed two major rounds, underscoring the long-term confidence investors continue to have for backing privately-held companies in the tech sector.

Early-stage VC firm Bessemer Venture Partners announced Thursday the close of two new funds totaling $3.3 billion that it will be using both to back early-stage startups as well as growth rounds for more mature companies.

The Redwood City-based firm closed BVP XI with $2.475 billion and BVP Century II with $825 million in total commitments.

With BVP XI, it plans to focus on early-stage companies spanning across enterprise, consumer, healthcare, and frontier technologies. 

Its Century II fund is aimed at backing growth-stage companies that Bessemer believes “will define the next century,” and will include both follow-on rounds for existing portfolio companies or investments in new ones.

BVP XI marks Bessemer’s largest fund in its 110-year history. In October 2018, the firm brought in $1.85 billion for its tenth flagship VC fund. This latest fund is its fifth consecutive billion-dollar fund, based on PitchBook data. 

Despite being founded more than 100 years ago, Bessemer didn’t actually enter the venture business until 1965. It’s known for its investments in LinkedIn, Blue Apron and many others, with a current portfolio that includes PagerDuty, Shippo, Electric and DocuSign. Exits include Twitch and Shopify, among many others.

With more money than ever before available for backing startups, the challenge now for VCs is to see how and if they can find (and invest in) whatever will define the next generation of tech. 

“As venture capitalists, we pay too much attention to pattern recognition and matching when in reality, the biggest opportunities exist where those patterns break,” the firm wrote in a blog post today. “Our job is to make perceptive bets on the future, especially those that others will dismiss and ridicule. We are fundamental optimists and strong believers in the power of innovation; our life’s work is putting our reputation, time, and money to help entrepreneurs realize a different future. They’re the ones pioneering something entirely new and obscure – a technology, a business model, a category.

In addition to announcing the new funds, Bessemer also revealed today that it’s brought on five new partners including Jeff Blackburn, who joins after a 22-year career at Amazon, alongside the promotion of existing investors Mary D’Onofrio, Mike Droesch, Tess Hatch, and Andrew Hedin.

Most recently at Amazon, Blackburn served as senior vice president of worldwide business development where he oversaw dozens of Amazon’s minority investments and more than 100 acquisitions across all business lines – including retail, Kindle, Echo, Alexa, FireTV, advertising, music, streaming audio & video, and Amazon Web Services.  

“Having been part of Amazon for more than two decades, I’m excited to begin a new chapter helping customer-focused founders build breakthrough companies,” said Blackburn in a written statement.  “I’ve known the Bessemer team for many years and have long admired their strategic vision and success backing early-stage ventures.” 

With the latest changes, Bessemer now has 21 partners and over 45 investors, advisors, and platform “team members” located in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Boston, London, Tel Aviv, Bangalore, and Beijing. 

“At Bessemer, there’s no corner office or consensus; every partner has the choice, independently, to pen a check. This kind of accountability and autonomy means a founder is teaming up with a partner and board director who thoroughly understands your business and can respond quickly and decisively,” the firm’s blog post read.

Bessemer’s task is all the more difficult because there is more competition than ever before to get into the best deals. TCV closed on a record $4 billion fund to invest in e-commerce, fintech, edtech, travel and more in late January.

Last November, Andreessen Horowitz (a16z)  closed a pair of funds totaling $4.5 billion. The firm raised $1.3 billion for an early-stage fund focused on consumer, enterprise and fintech; and closed a $3.2 billion growth-stage fund for later-stage investments.

And, last April, Insight, the firm that has backed the likes of Twitter and Shopify and invests across a range of consumer and enterprise startups, announced it had closed a fund of $9.5 billion, money it said it would be using to support startups and “scale-ups” (larger and older startups that are still private) in the coming months.

Oak HC/FT closes on $1.4 billion to invest in fintech and healthcare startups

Oak HC/FT general partners Annie Lamont, Andrew Adams and Tricia Kemp invested in healthcare and fintech before the two sectors were mainstream, and today, as a result of that early intuition and a handful of key exits, the trio has over a billion dollars in new fund money to show for it.

The firm announced today that it has secured $1.4 billion for its largest fund to date, an investment vehicle that will exclusively back healthcare and fintech companies. The firm previously raised $500 million, $600 million and $800 million for its other funds, respectively. Doing quick math, Oak HC/FT, which closed its first fund in 2014, has been able to triple its total assets managed in six years.

Over the history of its fund, the team has outlined six notable exits, including Anthem’s acquisition of Aspire Health, Thermo Fisher Scientific’s acquisition of Core Informatics, Diplomat’s acquisition of LDI Integrated Pharmacy Services, AXA Group’s acquisition of Maestro Health, GoDaddy’s acquisition of Poynt and Limeade’s public debut. The firm declined to share any numbers around IRR, or share information on what percent of current portfolio companies are planning to go public and which are best capitalized to do so.

Today’s fund, its fourth to date, will be invested across 20 companies, with average check sizes between $60 million and $100 million. Oak HC/FT invests in both early-stage and growth-stage companies. The fresh capitalization comes during a watershed moment for the two sectors, heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic from an innovation and adoption perspective.

For example, digital health funding broke records in 2020, attracting over $10 billion in the first three quarters and increase in deals by investors, compared to the previous year. Fintech, despite an uneven beginning, has been tearing through capital to meet with demand, and valuations continue to skyrocket.

From a healthcare perspective, Adams told TechCrunch that it is looking at startups working on the cost of delivering care and ability to engage with complex patients. Lamont said that “virtualization of [both doctors and patients] has been incredible in the last year,” and that much of the firm’s focus is on startups that rely on providers taking risk. The investor is hinting at the big push of startups that are betting that value-based care will replace fee-for-service care. The former rewards service for money, instead of time for money, placing monetary incentive for doctors more on outcomes than number of visits it takes to get to an outcome.

I asked the team if telehealth was no longer as big of a question mark for them, since the pandemic has accelerated adoption. But Lamont argued that telehealth is still “unbelievably complicated to pull off at scale, which is less obvious to the public.” The firm is looking for startups who can bring a consumer experience to telehealth, taking the place of an in-person receptionist.

The firm is also looking at startups that blend its two expertises, healthcare and fintech, around payments and digitization of billing. Kemp said that the firm is less interested in standalone point-of-sale services for restaurants and bills, and are now looking at items that reduce friction with payments. One of its e-commerce optimization portfolio companies, Rapyd, raised $300 million at a $2.5 billion valuation in January.

Other subsectors of interest include digital consumer payments, as shown by portfolio companies Namogoo and Prove, and fraud and risk identification, as shown by portfolio companies Au10tix and Feedzai.

On the diversity front, Oak HC/FT said that within its portfolio, 26% of C-suite and executive leadership roles are held by women, and 52% of senior management roles are held by women.

The firm has invested in nearly 100 startups to date. Of the 35 investments it made in 2020, 20 of the deals were follow-on rounds.

SESO Labor is providing a way for migrant farmworkers to get legally protected work status in the US

As the Biden administration works to bring legislation to Congress to address the endemic problem of immigration reform in America, on the other side of the nation a small California startup called SESO Labor has raised $4.5 million to ensure that farms can have access to legal migrant labor.

SESO’s founder Mike Guirguis raised the round over the summer from investors including Founders Fund and NFX. Pete Flint, a founder of Trulia joined the company’s board. The company has 12 farms it’s working with and negotiating contracts with another 46.

Working within the existing regulatory framework that has existed since 1986, SESO has created a service that streamlines and manages the process of getting H-2A visas, which allow migrant agricultural workers to reside temporarily in the U.S. with legal protections.

At this point, SESO is automating the visa process, getting the paperwork in place for workers and smoothing the application process. The company charges about $1,000 per application, but eventually as it begins offering more services to workers themselves, Guirguis envisions several robust lines of revenue. Eventually, the company would like to offer integrated services for both farm owners and farm workers, Guirguis said.

SESO is currently expecting to bring in 1,000 workers over the course of 2021 and the company is, as of now, pre-revenue. The largest industry player handling worker visas today currently brings in 6,000 workers per year, so the competition, for SESO, is market share, Guirguis said.

America’s complicated history of immigration and agricultural labor

The H-2A program was set up to allow agricultural employers who anticipate shortages of domestic workers to bring in non-immigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to work on farms temporarily or seasonally. The workers are covered by U.S. wage laws, workers’ compensation and other standards, including access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.

Employers who use the the visa program to hire workers are required to pay inbound and outbound transportation, provide free or rental housing, and provide meals for workers (they’re allowed to deduct the costs from salaries).

H-2 visas were first created in 1952 as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which reinforced the national origins quota system that restricted immigration primarily to Northern Europe, but opened America’s borders to Asian immigrants for the first time since immigration laws were first codified in 1924. While immigration regulations were further opened in the sixties, the last major immigration reform package in 1986 served to restrict immigration and made it illegal for businesses to hire undocumented workers. It also created the H-2A visas as a way for farms to hire migrant workers without incurring the penalties associated with using illegal labor.

For some migrant workers, the H-2A visa represents a golden ticket, according to Guirguis, an honors graduate of Stanford who wrote his graduate thesis on labor policy.

“We are providing a staffing solution for farms and agribusiness and we want to be Gusto for agriculture and upsell farms on a comprehensive human resources solution,” says Guirguis of the company’s ultimate mission, referencing payroll provider Gusto.

As Guirguis notes, most workers in agriculture are undocumented. “These are people who have been taken advantage of [and] the H-2A is a visa to bring workers in legally. We’re able to help employers maintain workforce [and] we’re building software to help farmers maintain the farms.”

Opening borders even as they remain closed

Farms need the help, if the latest numbers on labor shortages are believable, but it’s not necessarily a lack of H-2A visas that’s to blame, according to an article in Reuters.

In fact, the number of H-2A visas granted for agriculture equipment operators rose to 10,798 from October through March, according to the Reuters report. That’s up 49% from a year ago, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor cited by Reuters.

Instead of an inability to acquire the H-2A visa, it was an inability to travel to the U.S. that’s been causing problems. Tighter border controls, the persistent global pandemic and travel restrictions that were imposed to combat it have all played a role in keeping migrant workers in their home countries.

Still, Guirguis believes that with the right tools, more farms would be willing to use the H-2A visa, cutting down on illegal immigration and boosting the available labor pool for the tough farm jobs that American workers don’t seem to want.

Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images.

David Misener, the owner of an Oklahoma-based harvesting company called Green Acres Enterprises, is one employer who has struggled to find suitable replacements for the migrant workers he typically hires.

“They could not fathom doing it and making it work,” Misener told Retuers, speaking about the American workers he’d tried to hire.

“With H-2A, migrant workers make 10 times more than they would get paid at home,” said Guirguis. “They’re taking home the equivalent of $40 an hour. The H-2A is coveted.”

Guirguis thinks that with the right incentives and an easier onramp for farmers to manage the application and approval process, the number of employers that use H-2A visas could grow to be 30% to 50% of the farm workforce in the country. That means growing the number of potential jobs from 300,000 to 1.5 million for migrants who would be under many of the same legal protections that citizens enjoy, while they’re working on the visa.

Protecting agricultural workers through better paperwork

Interest in the farm labor nexus and issues surrounding it came to the first-time founder through Guirguis’ experience helping his cousin start her own farm. Spending several weekends a month helping her grow the farm with her husband, Guirguis heard his stories about coming to the U.S. as an undocumented worker.

Employers using the program avoid the liability associated with being caught employing illegal labor, something that crackdowns under the Trump Administration made more common.

Still, it’s hard to deny the program’s roots in the darker past of America’s immigration policy. And some immigration advocates argue that the H-2A system suffers from the same kinds of structural problems that plague the corollary H-1B visas for tech workers.

“The H-2A visa is a short-term temporary visa program that employers use to import workers into the agricultural fields … It’s part of a very antiquated immigration system that needs to change. The 11.5 million people who are here need to be given citizenship,” said Saket Soni, the founder of an organization called Resilience Force, which advocates for immigrant labor. “And then workers who come from other countries, if we need them, they have to be able to stay … H-2A workers don’t have a pathway to citizenship. Workers come to us afraid of blowing the whistle on labor issues. As much as the H-2A is a welcome gift for a worker it can also be abused.” 

Soni said the precarity of a worker’s situation — and their dependence on a single employer for their ability to remain in the country legally — means they are less likely to speak up about problems at work, since there’s nowhere for them to go if they are fired.

“We are big proponents that if you need people’s labor you have to welcome them as human beings,” Soni said. “Where there’s a labor shortage as people come, they should be allowed to stay … H-2A is an example of an outdated immigration tool.”

Guirguis clearly disagrees and said a platform like SESO’s will ultimately create more conveniences and better services for the workers who come in on these visas.

“We’re trying to put more money in the hands of these workers at the end of the day,” he said. “We’re going to be setting up remittance and banking services. Everything we do should be mutually beneficial for the employer and the worker who is trying to get into this program and know that they’re not getting taken advantage of.”

Notable Health seeks to improve COVID-19 vaccine administration through intelligent automation

Efficient and cost-effective vaccine distribution remains one of the biggest challenges of 2021, so it’s no surprise that startup Notable Health wants to use their automation platform to help. Initially started to address the nearly $250 billion annual administrative costs in healthcare, Notable Health launched in 2017 to use automation to replace time-consuming and repetitive simple tasks in health industry admin. In early January of this year, they announced plans to use that technology as a way to help manage vaccine distribution.

“As a physician, I saw firsthand that with any patient encounter, there are 90 steps or touch points that need to occur,” said Notable Health Medical Director Muthu Alagappan in an interview. “It’s our hypothesis that the vast majority of those points can be automated.”

Notable Health’s core technology is a platform that uses robotic process automation (RPA), natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning to find eligible patients for the COVID-19 vaccine. Combined with data provided by hospital systems’ electronic health records, the platform helps those qualified to receive the vaccine set up appointments and guides them to other relevant educational resources.

“By leveraging intelligent automation to identify, outreach, educate and triage patients, health systems can develop efficient and equitable vaccine distribution workflows,” said Notable Health strategic advisor and Biden Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board Member Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, in a press release.

Making vaccine appointments has been especially difficult for older Americans, many of whom have reportedly struggled with navigating scheduling websites. Alagappan sees that as a design problem. “Technology often gets a bad reputation, because it’s hampered by the many bad technology experiences that are out there,” he said.

Instead, he thinks Notable Health has kept the user in mind through a more simplified approach, asking users only for basic and easy-to-remember information through a text message link. “It’s that emphasis on user-centric design that I think has allowed us to still have really good engagement rates even with older populations,” he said.

While the startup’s platform will likely help hospitals and health systems develop a more efficient approach to vaccinations, its use of RPA and NLP holds promise for future optimization in healthcare. Leaders of similar technology in other industries have already gone on to have multibillion dollar valuations and continue to attract investors’ interest.

Artificial intelligence is expected to grow in healthcare over the next several years, but Alagappan argues that combining that with other, more readily available intelligent technologies is also an important step toward improved care. “When we say intelligent automation, we’re really referring to the marriage of two concepts: artificial intelligence — which is knowing what to do — and robotic process automation — which is knowing how to do it,” he said. That dual approach is what he says allows Notable Health to bypass administrative bottlenecks in healthcare, instructing bots to carry out those tasks in an efficient and adaptable way.

So far, Notable Health has worked with several hospital systems across multiple states in using their platform for vaccine distribution and scheduling, and are now using the platform to reach out to tens of thousands of patients per day.

Mate Fertility is aiming to create a franchise of fertility clinics open to everyone

Mate Fertility, the new Los Angeles startup launching today with $2.8 million in financing, has a mission to create a more inclusive network of family planning services for people struggling with the high cost and low availability of fertility clinics around the country.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Oliver Bogner and his brother Gabriel, Mate was born from both brothers’ struggles with trying to start a family. For Oliver, that was when he and his partner were looking at IVF as a way to screen for the BRCA1 gene from her embryos after she found out that she was a carrier. Meanwhile, Gabriel, an IVF baby who is a member of the LGBTQ community, felt that the services for family planning weren’t always accepting of the gay community.

“IVF and surrogacy were the only options for me to have kids,” the younger Bogner said. “And the queer community has been locked out of these services. It became my mission to democratize healthcare for my community.”

Once Oliver started doing research into the market and discovered that there were only 460 fertility clinics in the U.S. and that over 80% were concentrated in five major metropolitan areas, he knew there was an opportunity for a new business.

Mate Fertility co-founders Gabriel and Oliver Bogner. Image Credit: Mate Fertility

The Bogner brothers enlisted famed reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, who trained under the British doctors that pioneered In Vitro Fertilization, to come on board and together the three men launched Mate Fertility.

The co-founders have enlisted an impressive array of financiers to back their business, boasting an investor base that includes Andy Dunn, the founder of Bonobos; Peter Pham, the co-founder of the LA-based consumer-focused company incubator, Science; Patrick Schwarzenegger; Brian Schwartz; the investors behind Roman, Allbirds and Caspar, Rosecliff Ventures; Pure Imagination Brands; Mana Ventures; and Maschmeyer Group Ventures.

Mate is launching first in Oklahoma City, where two legacy providers are charging anywhere from 10% to 15% above the national average for family planning services. “We’re going in at anywhere from 50% to 60% lower costs than they are,” said Oliver Bogner.

The company said it would offer egg freezing services for as low as $5,000 and IVF for $9,400*, while the national average for IVF cycle costs ranges from $15,000 to $18,000, including medication.

“We’re still making healthy margins that allow us to operate the business. It’s not a matter of these procedures costing more. These 460 clinics are allowed to radically mark up the process,” said the elder Bogner. “One of these clinics is making approximately 1,000% profit margin on every procedure.”

Given the fact that the company estimates roughly 18% of the U.S. population will face some fertility issue, the need for more clinics — setting aside the lower costs — would be enormous.

We need 3,000 clinics to properly serve our population; today we have 460. There’s a huge gap in care,” said Bogner. 

The company is working with the architects behind Dry Bar, Heitler Houstoun, to design its clinics in an effort to popularize and destigmatize the services.

“We were really intrigued by Oliver and Gabe. In terms of what the biggest risks are… you’re not playing around. You’re not creating software, you’re creating life,” said Adam Struck, the founder of Mate Fertility’s lead investment firm, Struck Capital. “The ultimate KPI which is success rate for our patients is top tier. There’s a lot that Mate is doing to ensure that some of the best medical personnel in the world are part of the Mate mission.” 

Mate Fertility offers modern EHR platforms, an e-pharmacy, proven protocols, payment assistance and digital patient and provider portals for services that include IVF, genetic screening, egg freezing, surrogacy and LGBTQ family building treatments, the company said.

Its first locations will be clinics in Oklahoma City, Anchorage, Alaska; Bakersfield, California; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Oregon.

*An earlier version of this story cited the company’s IVF price as $8,000.

Bangladesh-based Maya, a startup focused on accessible healthcare, raises $2.2 million seed round

Based in Bangladesh, Maya is dedicated to making it easier for women to get healthcare, especially for sensitive issues like reproductive and mental health. The startup announced today it has raised $2.2 million in seed funding. The round, which Maya said is the largest raised by a Bangladeshi health tech company so far, was led by early-stage fund Anchorless Bangladesh and The Osiris Group, a private equity firm focused on impact investing in Asian markets.

The funding will be used to introduce new products to Maya’s telehealth platform and expand into more countries. Maya recently launched in Sri Lanka and plans to expand into India, Pakistan, Middle Eastern markets and Indonesia.

Maya uses natural language processing and machine learning technology for its digital assistant, which answers basic health-related questions and decides if users need to be routed to human experts. It has about 10 million unique users and currently counts more than 300 licensed healthcare providers on its platform.

Founder and chief executive officer Ivy Huq Russell, who grew up in Chittagong and Dhaka before moving to the United Kingdom for university, started Maya as a blog with healthcare information in 2011. At the time, Russell worked in finance. She had just given birth to her first child and her mother had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Russell told TechCrunch she realized how many challenges there were to seeking medical care in Bangladesh, including financial barriers, a shortage of providers and long travel times to clinics.

She began Maya with the goal of providing trustworthy health information, but quickly realized that the site’s visitors needed more support. Many sent messages through WhatsApp, email or the site’s chat box, including survivors of sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence. After receiving a grant from BRAC, a Bangladeshi non-governmental organization, Maya’s team began developing an app to connect users with medical information and experts.

Bangladesh-based healthcare app Maya's homescreen

Maya’s homescreen

“We were very focused on two things,” Russell said. “One is how do we built trust in our community, in their language, because it’s very important that they communicate in the language that they’re comfortable using. At the same time, we realized as soon as we started getting hundreds and hundreds of questions, that we’re not going to be able to scale up if we just have 50 experts on computers typing.”

To support Bengali and regional dialects, Maya spent more than two years focused on developing its natural language processing technology. It collaborated with data scientists and linguists and took part in Google Launchpad’s accelerator program, working on tokenization and training its machine learning algorithms. Now Maya is able to provide automated answers in Bengali to basic questions in 50 topics with about 95% accuracy, Russell said. Out of the four million queries the platform has handled so far, about half were answered by its AI tech.

Many have to do with sexual or reproductive health and the platform has also seen an increase in questions about mental health. These are topics users are often hesitant seeking in-person consultations for.

“Growing up in Bangladesh, we got minimum sexual education. There’s no curriculum at school. Recently in the last one or two years, we’ve also started to see a lot of mental health questions, because I think we’ve made a good drive toward talking about mental health,” said Russell. She added, “it’s quite natural that whatever they couldn’t go and ask a question about very openly in traditional healthcare systems, they come and ask us.”

More consultations are coming from men, too, who now make up about 30% of Maya’s users. Many ask questions about birth control and family planning, or how to support their partners’ medical issues. To protect users’ privacy, consultations are end-to-end encrypted, and experts only see a randomly-generated ID instead of personal information.

In order to understand if someone needs to be routed to a human expert, Maya’s algorithms considers the length, complexity and urgency of queries, based on their tone. For example, if someone types “please, please, please help me,” they automatically get directed to a person. The majority of questions about mental health are also sent to an expert.

Russell said Maya’s approach is to take a holistic approach to physical health and mental wellness, instead of treating them as separate issues.

“People don’t just ask about physical health issues. They also ask things like, ‘I wear a hijab and I want to go for a run, but I feel really awkward,'” said Russell. “It sounds like a very normal question, but it’s actually quite a loaded question, because it’s affecting their mental health on a day-to-day basis.”

One of the company’s goals is to make the app feel accessible, so people feel more comfortable seeking support. “We’ve literally have had sweets delivered to our office when a user has a baby,” Russell said. “These are the personal touches that I think Maya has delivered in terms of dealing with both physical as well as mental health conditions combined together.”

The company is currently working with different monetization models. One is business-to-business sales, positioning Maya as a software-as-a-service platform that employers can offer to workers as a benefit. Garment manufacturing is one of Bangladesh’s biggest export sectors, and many workers are young women, fitting Maya’s typical user profile. The startup has worked with Marks and Spencer, Primark and the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturer and Exporters Association (BGMEA).

Another B2B route is partnering with insurance providers who offer Maya as a benefit. On the direct-to-consumer side, Maya recently launched premium services, including in-app video consultations and prescription delivery. Demand for consultations increased sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it now handles about 300,000 video visits a month. Russell expects many users to continue using telehealth services even after the pandemic subsides.

“They’ve really seen the advantage of just having a doctor right in front of you,” she said. “For people with chronic conditions, it’s easier because they don’t have to go somewhere every week, and the fact they have monitoring and their history gathered is helpful for regular users, too.”

Techstars Los Angeles names Matt Kozlov as its new managing director

Techstars Los Angeles, the local Los Angeles-focused branch of the global accelerator network, has named Matt Kozlov as its new managing director.

Kozlov, a longtime Techstars network fixture, has previously served as the head of the organization’s healthcare accelerator through a partnership with Cedars-Sinai and as the head of the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator, which was focused on space and aerospace startups.

Now, Kozlov turns his attention to the Los Angeles ecosystem broadly.

“I’m humbled to have the opportunity each day to support incredible founders who are solving some of humanity’s greatest challenges,” said Kozlov, in a statement. “As I begin this new role, my goal is to continue to leverage my experience to help generate opportunities for future Techstars LA companies to make meaningful, long-term impact.”

Kozlov’s appointment comes as the Los Angeles tech ecosystem is having something of a moment. As the diaspora out of Silicon Valley continues, the Southern California tech world has proven to be a tempting landing pad during the COVID-19 pandemic. And remote work means that Los Angeles could be a fixture for more investors looking to escape the Bay.

Beyond Southern California’s coastal appeal is a vibrant technology ecosystem that encompasses enterprise software, financial services, healthcare, aerospace and defense, robotics, ecommerce and social media. It’s the home of social networking favorites Snap and TikTok’s U.S. base of operations and SpaceX’s significant presence has born a number of talented hardware and engineering startups.

LA is truly having a moment and Kozlov’s experience with some of the less-well-known corners of the city’s tech ecosystem could be a boon for the Techstars program.

“I’m thrilled by the selection of Matt as the new Managing Director for Techstars LA,” said Anna Barber, former Managing Director, Techstars LA, who stepped down from the role in November to join venture firm M13 as Partner, in a statement. “He is a talented investor and longstanding leader in LA’s Techstars community, and has been an essential and valued mentor for the program for the past four years. He embodies the Techstars values of #givefirst and I have every confidence that he is the right leader to continue building on what we’ve established in the LA community.”

Collectively, the 40 alumni companies who have participated in Techstars Los Angeles accelerator program have raised over $126 million and have a combined market cap of $328.6 million.

“Techstars LA plays a critical role in the Los Angeles tech ecosystem as the premier startup accelerator, providing valuable mentorship and funding for dozens of companies a year,” said Spencer Rascoff, Chair of dot.LA and Los Angeles angel investor. “I’m very excited that Matt will be the new Managing Director of Techstars LA. He brings extensive experience in healthcare and aerospace investing and has been an incredible mentor and leader to the companies of the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator over the last several years.”

 

Bot MD, an AI-based chatbot for doctors, raises $5 million for expansion into more Asian markets

Time is critical for healthcare providers, especially in the middle of the pandemic. Singapore-based Bot MD helps save time with an AI-based chatbot that lets doctors look up important information from their smartphones, instead of needing to call a hospital operator or access its intranet. The startup announced today it has raised a $5 million Series A led by Monk’s Hill Venture.

Other backers include SeaX, XA Network and SG Innovate, and angel investors Yoh-Chie Lu, Jean-Luc Butel and Steve Blank. Bot MD was also part of Y Combinator’s summer 2018 batch.

The funding will be used to expand in the Asia-Pacific region, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, and to add new features in response to demand from hospitals and healthcare organizations during COVID-19. Bot MD’s AI assistant currently supports English, with plans to release Bahasa Indonesian and Spanish later this year. It is currently used by about 13,000 doctors at organizations including Changi General Hospital,  National University Health System, National University Cancer Institute of Singapore, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, Parkway Radiology and the National Kidney Transplant Institute.

Co-founder and chief executive officer Dorothea Koh told TechCrunch that Bot MD integrates hospital information usually stored in multiple systems and makes it easier to access.

A smartphone with Bot MDs medical AI assistant for doctors displayed on it

Bot MD

Without Bot MD, doctors may need to dial a hospital operator to find which staffers are on call and get their contact information. If they want drug information, that means another call to the pharmacy. If they need to see updated guidelines and clinical protocols, that often entails finding a computer that is connected to the hospital’s intranet.

“A lot of what Bot MD does is to integrate the content that they need into a single interface that is searchable 24/7,” said Koh.

For example, during COVID-19, Bot MD introduced a new feature that takes healthcare providers to a form pre-filled with their information when they type “record temperature” into the chatbot. Many were accessing their organization’s intranet twice a day to log their temperature and Koh said being able to use the form through Bot MD has significantly improved compliance.

The time it takes to onboard Bot MD varies depending on the information systems and amount of content it needs to integrate, but Koh said its proprietary natural language processing chat engine makes training its AI relatively quick. For example, Changi General Hospital, a recent client, was onboarded in less than ten days.

Bot MD plans to add new clinical apps to its platform, including ones for electronic medical records (EMR), billing and scheduling integrations, clinical alerts and chronic disease monitoring.

Folx Health raises $25 million for virtual clinical offerings and care for the LGBTQIA+ community

Folx Health is leveraging the explosion of virtual care services to offer greater access to healthcare focused on the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community, and has raised $25 million in new funding to help it grow.

It’s part of a revolution in care that’s targeting the needs of specific communities with access to physicians that understand those needs. And it’s all made possible by virtual interactions.

“We have a good sense of the nature of the need and the depth of the pain in the community,” said A.G. Breitenstein, the founder and chief executive of Folx Health. “As a non-binary lesbian and healthcare industry veteran, I have seen and experienced firsthand just how broken the current system is for the queer and trans community,”

Breitenstein said Folx would be using the cash to try and expand to all fifty states and increase the available products and services the healthcare company would look to make available to the queer and trans community.

“Whether it’s HRT, PrEP, sexual health or family creation, health care is essential for us to be who we are. It’s about time we build a platform for ourselves, so Queer and Trans people feel seen, heard, and celebrated,” she said in a statement. 

That was one reason why Bessemer Venture Partners leapt at the chance to lead the new financing round for Folx, according to Morgan Cheatham, an investor out of Bessemer’s New York office. The other was the size of the market.

“At a high level, 2% of the population identify as transgender,” said Cheatham. “At that math, when we looked at that, we were able to see a multibillion dollar market opportunity not just to provide [hormone replacement therapy], but to provide a healthcare destination for this community.”

Telescoping out to the opportunity to provide care to the LGBTQ community broadly, when that population represents about 10% to 20% of the population is a “deca-billion opportunity,” said Cheatham.

Breitenstein envisions offering family planning services, broad primary care, and sexual health and wellness care in addition to the hormone therapies that the company currently offers.

Folx joins a cohort of companies tackling health issues specifically for the LGBTQIA+ community which include the mental healthcare service, Violet; Included Health, an employee benefit service; and Plume, which focuses on care for the transgender community.

“We believed in the vision and the approach that she’s taking. She’s building a healthcare experience that is celebratory and dignified rather than one that pathologizing healthcare,” said Cheatham. 

For Bessemer and Cheatham, the investment speaks to broader opportunities to identify specific populations that need care tailored to their specific experience. That includes companies like Spora Health and Live Chair Health, which focus on providing healthcare specifically to people of color.

“Our individual identities whether it be socioeconomic status, race, gender… All of these things inform how we interface with the medical industrial complex,” Cheatham said.

Previous investors Define Ventures and Polaris Venture Partners will also participate in the round, which follows quickly on the heels of Folx’s launch from stealth in December 2020. 

For its patients, Folx Health is offering Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT: testosterone or estrogen) with monthly plans starting at $59 a month. Folx Health will also begin releasing its sexual health and wellness offerings starting with Erectile Dysfunction (ED) treatment, soon to be followed by at-home STI Testing and Treatment, all customized for the specifics of Queer and Trans bodies, the company said. 

The services will include unlimited on-demand clinical support with at-home lab testing (for most plans) and home-delivered medications (costs may vary based on medication). The company’s services are now available in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New York, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

The company is also launching a Folx Library, which will serve as a content hub and resource for Queer and Trans health, written by Folx clinicians and its broader community.

“Our partnership with Folx is a historical moment. It’s challenging to articulate how transformative Folx is for our community. We do so mindful of the brilliant and brave Queer and Trans people who fought for this moment to happen,” said Cheatham in a statement.

LA-based Sidecar Health’s low-cost, cash-pay health insurance service is now valued at $1 billion

Meet Sidecar Health, the newest member of the tech industry’s billion dollar healthcare startup club.

The valuation comes thanks to $125 million in new funding that the company will use to expand its new model for health insurance. Sidecar Health’s insurance plans give consumers the ability to pay directly for care — often at steep discounts to the prices that patients would be charged through traditional insurance plans.

A typical Sidecar Health plan costs $240 per-member, per-month and its flexibility has made it a popular choice for the nation’s 20 million to 30 million uninsured individuals, according to chief executive officer Patrick Quigley.

The core of Sidecar’s plan is an ability to offer its policy holders the ability to pay directly for their medical care — and shop around to find the best provider using pricing information that the company provides through its mobile app.

Sidecar’s app provides real-time, geo-located information on the costs of any number of medical procedures, consultations, or drugs — and allows its users to shop at the places that offer them the best deal — in some cases the company will even pay money back if a price-savvy healthcare shopper finds a better deal.

If this all sounds kind of dystopian and nightmarish — well, welcome to the world of American healthcare!

In an ideal world, low-cost medical care would be a right, not a privilege and a baseline level of healthcare access would be available to everyone — including an ability to pay a set price for drugs, consultations and treatment. But if you live in America, bargain hunting for care may be the best bet to curb skyrocketing healthcare costs — at least for now.

While Sidecar pitches its service for everyone, the average age of the company’s current patient population is 33 years-old, Quigley said.  “It’s typically people that earn more than $45,000 a year and less than $75,000,” said Quigley of the company’s demographics.

The way it works is that Sidecar issues its insured members what’s basically a debit card that they use to pay for care, prescriptions, and consultations directly. The money comes from Sidecar’s claims accounts and is paid directly to doctors. By avoiding the middleman (traditional insurance companies), Sidecar can reduce overhead for care providers who like to get paid directly and will offer discounts in exchange for receiving cash in hand.

“It is 40% cheaper than the traditional commercial insurance companies would pay,” said Quigley.

Sidecar covers around 170,000 medical conditions and procedures, according to Quigley — including things from horse therapy (it’s a thing) for anxiety relief to heart transplants and chemotherapy, Quigley said.

Sidecar is currently available in 16 states and hopes to expand to most of the country on the back of its latest round of funding.

And while the company is working with uninsured patient populations now, it’s hoping to also expand its footprint with government-backed healthcare plans and into employer-sponsored health insurance as well.

It’s still early days for the service, which has only been around through two open enrollment periods for would-be plan members to sign up. And while the company doesn’t disclose its membership figures, Quigley said it would end the year above 30,000 members.

“It’s still super early,” Quigley said. 

Despite the stage of the business, investors are convinced that the business model has an opportunity to transform health insurance in the US. 

“The extraordinary level of transparency Sidecar Health brings to the marketplace has the  potential to fundamentally change how millions of Americans shop for healthcare,” said Molly  Bonakdarpour, a partner at the Drive Capital, which provided early backing for the company. “We think Sidecar Health’s team of consumer,  technology and healthcare veterans is well positioned to capitalize on the large healthcare  insurtech opportunity.” 

For the latest round, Drive Capital was joined by new investors including BOND, Tiger Global and Menlo Ventures, according to a statement.

Sidecar Health will use the investment to expand its geographic footprint, grow its team and  invest in new insurance products that build on its success in the uninsured market. The first of  these will be an ACA or “Obamacare” offering for 2022, followed by a product for the self funded employer market. 

“We believe we can take $1 trillion in waste out of the U.S. healthcare system,” Quigley said.