Femtech hardware startup Elvie inks strategic partnership with UK’s NHS

Elvie, a femtech hardware startup whose first product is a sleek smart pelvic floor exerciser, has inked a strategic partnership with the UK’s National Health Service that will make the device available nationwide through the country’s free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare service so at no direct cost to the patient.

It’s a major win for the startup that was co-founded in 2013 by CEO Tania Boler and Jawbone founder, Alexander Asseily, with the aim of building smart technology that focuses on women’s issues — an overlooked and underserved category in the gadget space.

Boler’s background before starting Elvie (née Chiaro) including working for the U.N. on global sex education curriculums. But her interest in pelvic floor health, and the inspiration for starting Elvie, began after she had a baby herself and found there was more support for women in France than the U.K. when it came to taking care of their bodies after giving birth.

With the NHS partnership, which is the startup’s first national reimbursement partnership (and therefore, as a spokeswoman puts it, has “the potential to be transformative” for the still young company), Elvie is emphasizing the opportunity for its connected tech to help reduce symptoms of urinary incontinence, including those suffered by new mums or in cases of stress-related urinary incontinence.

The Elvie kegel trainer is designed to make pelvic floor exercising fun and easy for women, with real-time feedback delivered via an app that also gamifies the activity, guiding users through exercises intended to strengthen their pelvic floor and thus help reduce urinary incontinence symptoms. The device can also alert users when they are contracting incorrectly.

Elvie cites research suggesting the NHS spends £233M annually on incontinence, claiming also that around a third of women and up to 70% of expectant and new mums currently suffer from urinary incontinence. In 70 per cent of stress urinary incontinence cases it suggests symptoms can be reduced or eliminated via pelvic floor muscle training.

And while there’s no absolute need for any device to perform the necessary muscle contractions to strengthen the pelvic floor, the challenge the Elvie Trainer is intended to help with is it can be difficult for women to know they are performing the exercises correctly or effectively.

Elvie cites a 2004 study that suggests around a third of women can’t exercise their pelvic floor correctly with written or verbal instruction alone. Whereas it says that biofeedback devices (generally, rather than the Elvie Trainer specifically) have been proven to increase success rates of pelvic floor training programmes by 10% — which it says other studies have suggested can lower surgery rates by 50% and reduce treatment costs by £424 per patient head within the first year.

“Until now, biofeedback pelvic floor training devices have only been available through the NHS for at-home use on loan from the patient’s hospital, with patient allocation dependent upon demand. Elvie Trainer will be the first at-home biofeedback device available on the NHS for patients to keep, which will support long-term motivation,” it adds.

Commenting in a statement, Clare Pacey, a specialist women’s health physiotherapist at Kings College Hospital, said: “I am delighted that Elvie Trainer is now available via the NHS. Apart from the fact that it is a sleek, discreet and beautiful product, the app is simple to use and immediate visual feedback directly to your phone screen can be extremely rewarding and motivating. It helps to make pelvic floor rehabilitation fun, which is essential in order to be maintained.”

Elvie is not disclosing commercial details of the NHS partnership but a spokeswoman told us the main objective for this strategic partnership is to broaden access to Elvie Trainer, adding: “The wholesale pricing reflects that.”

Discussing the structure of the supply arrangement, she said Elvie is working with Eurosurgical as its delivery partner — a distributor she said has “decades of experience supplying products to the NHS”.

“The approach will vary by Trust, regarding whether a unit is ordered for a particular patient or whether a small stock will be held so a unit may be provided to a patient within the session in which the need is established. This process will be monitored and reviewed to determine the most efficient and economic distribution method for the NHS Supply Chain,” she added.

The quantum meltdown of encryption

The world stands at the cusp of one of the greatest breakthroughs in information technology. Huge leaps forward in all fields of computer science, from data analysis to machine learning, will result from this breakthrough. But like all of man’s technological achievements, from the combustion engine to nuclear power, harnessing quantum comes with potential dangers as well. Quantum computers have created a slew of unforeseen vulnerabilities in the very infrastructure that keeps the digital sphere safe.

The underlying assumption behind nearly all encryption ciphers used today is that their complexity precludes any attempt by hackers to break them, as it would take years for even our most advanced conventional computers to do so. But quantum computing will change all of that.

Quantum computers promise to bring computational power leaps and bounds ahead of our most advanced machines. Recently, scientists at Google began testing their cutting edge 72 qubit quantum computer. The researchers expect to demonstrate with this machine quantum supremacy, or the ability to perform a calculation impossible with traditional computers.

Chink in the Armor

Today’s standard encryption techniques are based on what’s called Public Key Infrastructure or PKI, a set of protocols brought to the world of information technology in the 1970’s. PKI works by generating a complex cipher through random numbers that only the intended recipient of a given message, the one in possession of the private key, can decode.

As a system of encoding data, PKI was sound and reliable. But in order to implement it as a method to be used in the real world, there was still one question that needed to be answered: how could individuals confirm the identity of a party reaching out and making a request to communicate? This vulnerability left the door open for cybercriminals to impersonate legitimate servers, or worse, insert themselves into a conversation between users and intercept communications between them, in what’s known as a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack.

The industry produced a solution to this authentication problem in the form of digital certificates, electronic documents the contents of which can prove senders are actually who they claim to be. The submission of certificates at the initiation of a session allows the parties to know who it is they are about to communicate with. Today, trusted third party companies called Certificate Authorities, or CAs, create and provide these documents that are relied upon by everyone from private users to the biggest names in tech.

The problem is that certificates themselves rely on public-key cryptographic functions for their reliability, which, in the not too distant future, will be vulnerable to attack by quantum machines. Altered certificates could then be used by cyber criminals to fake their identities, completely undermining certificates as a method of authentication.

Intel’s 17-qubit superconducting test chip for quantum computing has unique features for improved connectivity and better electrical and thermo-mechanical performance. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

 

Decentralizing the Threat

This isn’t the first time we’ve had to get creative when it comes to encryption.

When Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto, whose true identity is still unknown, revealed his revolutionary idea in a 2008 white paper, he also introduced the beginnings of a unique peer-to-peer authentication system that today we call blockchain. The brilliantly innovative blockchain system at its core is an open ledger that records transactions between two parties in a permanent way without needing third-party authentication. Blockchain provided the global record-keeping network that has kept Nakamoto’s digital currency safe from fraudsters. Blockchain is based on the concept of decentralization, spreading the authentication process across a large body of users. No single piece of data can be altered without the alteration of all other blocks, which would require the collusion of the majority of the entire network.

For years, blockchain and Bitcoin remained one and the same. About five years ago, innovators in the industry began to realize that blockchain could be used for more than just securing cryptocurrency. Altering the original system designed for Bitcoin could produce programs to be applied in a wide range of industries, from healthcare, to insurance, to political elections. Gradually, new decentralized systems began to emerge such as those of Ripple and Litecoin. In 2015, one of the original contributors to the Bitcoin codebase Vitalik Buterin released his Ethereum project also based on blockchain. What these new platforms added to the picture was the ability to record new types of data in addition to currency exchanges, such as loans and contractual agreements.

The advantages of the blockchain concept quickly became apparent. By 2017, nearly fifteen percent of all financial institutions in the world were using blockchain to secure aspects of their operations. The number of industries incorporating decentralized systems continues to grow.

Digital security key concept background with binary data code

Saving PKI

The best solution for protecting encryption from our ever-growing processing power is integrating decentralization into Public Key Infrastructure.

What this means essentially, is that instead of keeping digital certificates in one centralized location, which makes them vulnerable to being hacked and tampered with, they would be spread out in a world-wide ledger, one fundamentally impervious to alteration. A hacker attempting to modify certificates would be unable to pull off such a fraud, as it would mean changing data stored on enumerable diversified blocks spread out across the cyber sphere.

Decentralization has already been proven as a highly effective way of protecting recorded data from tampering. Similarly, using a blockchain-type system to replace the single entity Certificate Authority, can keep our digital certificates much safer. It is in fact one of the only foreseeable solutions to keep the quantum revolution from undermining the foundation of PKI.

 

Healthcare data breach in Singapore affected 1.5M patients, targeted the prime minister

In what’s believed to be the biggest data breach in Singapore’s history, 1.5 million members of the country’s largest healthcare group have had their personal data compromised.

The breach affected SingHealth, Singapore’s biggest network of healthcare facilities. Data obtained in the breach includes names, addresses, gender, race, date of birth and patients’ national identification numbers. Around 160,000 of the 1.5 million patients also had their outpatient medical information accessed by unauthorized individuals. All patients affected by the hack had visited SingHealth clinics between May 1, 2015 and July 4, 2018, Singapore newspaper The Straits Times reports.

“Investigations by the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) and the Integrated Health Information System confirmed that this was a deliberate, targeted and well-planned cyberattack,” a press release from Singapore’s Ministry of Health stated. “It was not the work of casual hackers or criminal gangs.”

The hackers appear to have accessed the sensitive data by compromising a single SingHealth workstation with malware and were then able to obtain privileged account credentials with which they accessed the patient database. The breach was first noticed on July 4 and a police report was filed on July 12.

During a press conference, investigating authorities disclosed that Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was “specifically and repeatedly targeted.”

The Prime Minister elaborated on the incident on his Facebook page:

SingHealth’s database has experienced a major cyber-attack. 1.5 million patients have had their personal particulars…

Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Friday, July 20, 2018

Sweden’s Engaging Care raises $800,000 for its digital healthcare SaaS

Engaging Care, a Swedish heathtech startup co-founded by Charlotta Tönsgård, who was previously CEO of online doctor app Min Doktor before being asked to step down, has raised $800,000 in “pre-seed” funding to continue building out its digital healthcare SaaS. Backing the burgeoning company are a host of well-established angel investors in the region.

They include Hampus Jakobsson (venture partner at BlueYard Capital and co-founder of TAT, which sold to Blackberry for $150 million), Sophia Bendz (EIR at Atomico and the former Global Marketing Director at Spotify), Erik Byrenius (founder of OnlinePizza, an online food ordering company sold to Delivery Hero) and Neil Murray’s The Nordic Web Ventures.

With the aim of dragging healthcare into the digital age, but in a more patient-friendly and patient-centred way than tradition electronic medical record systems, Engaging Care is developing a SaaS and accompanying apps to bring together patients, healthcare providers and partners to be “smarter and better connected”. Unlike software and digital services that work outside existing healthcare systems, the startup’s wares are billed as being designed to work within them. It is initially targeting people with long-term health conditions.

“There has been tremendous progress made in the healthcare sector over the last decade. New advanced drugs, new methods for surgery and other treatments, but how healthcare workers share important information with the patient and the interaction between caregiver and patient still basically happens the same way it did 50 years ago,” Tönsgård tells me.

“The systems of today are still designed around the doctor – even though we might spend as little as 15 minutes with him or her every year, but hours, days and years alone with our condition. On top of this, most western healthcare systems are struggling financially, with an ageing population, more prevalence of chronic diseases and a shift in expectations from the public, adding to the challenges”.

In order to maintain current levels of service and make room for medical breakthroughs and new treatments that are happening at an increasing pace, Tönsgård argues that individual patients and healthcare providers need to work together in a different way. And that begins with empowering patients to better understand and take greater control of their health conditions and treatment — which is where a platform like Engaging Care can help.

“Our ambition is to become the first truly global healthcare system; supporting us as individuals to be more in control, and to make better decisions about our healthcare and to provide digital tools for healthcare providers to share knowledge and use their resources more efficiently,” she says.

“Our goal is to become the end-users first point of contact, but the clinics/healthcare providers are our customers. Right now we’re targeting specific clinics, but in the end, our platform will support any type of healthcare”.

The first “vertical” Engaging Care is exploring is patients who have gone through an organ transplant. “It might sound like a strange place to start, but it’s actually perfect in many ways,” says Tönsgård. “Both in terms of the possibility to make a difference for the patients and the care teams, but also in terms of a landing pod when going international”.

This has seen the company work with a small number of clinics in Sweden that are performing organ transplants to put patients through a pilot of the software. The first stages of commercial discussions are underway and Tönsgård is hopeful of securing the first customer this Fall, which will coincide with a full launch of the Engaging Care platform. “In parallel, we’re exploring multiple options for which verticals to kick off next,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Murray of The Nordic Web Ventures concedes that Engaging Care’s goal to be the first platform that enables a truly global healthcare system is “incredibly lofty,” but says that if anyone has the “drive, passion, ambition and guts to pull this off then it’s Charlotta and team”.

New technology can see your body through walls

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has created a system that can see your body through walls, recreating your poses when you walk, sit, or simply stand still. It uses RF waves to sense where you are and then recreates your body as a simple stick figure. It’s called RF-Pose.

From the release:

The researchers use a neural network to analyze radio signals that bounce off people’s bodies, and can then create a dynamic stick figure that walks, stops, sits and moves its limbs as the person performs those actions.

The team says that the system could be used to monitor diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis (MS), providing a better understanding of disease progression and allowing doctors to adjust medications accordingly. It could also help elderly people live more independently, while providing the added security of monitoring for falls, injuries and changes in activity patterns.

The team is primarily interested in using this system for healthcare, allowing for passive monitoring of a subject inside a room without cameras or other intrusions. “All data the team collected has subjects’ consent and is anonymized and encrypted to protect user privacy,” wrote the researchers. “For future real-world applications, the team plans to implement a ‘consent mechanism’ in which the person who installs the device is cued to do a specific set of movements in order for it to begin to monitor the environment.”

The researchers trained the neural network by showing a machine a video of a person walking next to the RF interference they made as they moved. They then overlaid stick figures on the movement and trained the network to do the same automatically. Because RF signals are ubiquitous, it was easier to use than other sensing technologies.

Interestingly the researchers never trained the system to see through walls but it was able to “generalize its knowledge to be able to handle through-wall movement.”

“If you think of the computer vision system as the teacher, this is a truly fascinating example of the student outperforming the teacher,” said researcher Antonio Torralba. There is no word if the system will be used other commercial purposes.

Alibaba Group agrees to sell several Tmall healthcare categories to subsidiary Alibaba Health

Alibaba Group announced today that it has agreed to sell several of the healthcare categories on Tmall, its B2C shopping platform, to digital healthcare subsidiary Alibaba Health Information Technology. In exchange, Alibaba Group will receive $10.6 billion HKD (about $1.35 billion) in newly issued shares of Alibaba Health and increase its equity stake in the company, which is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, from 48.1% to 56.2%.

If you have followed Alibaba Group for a while and this news is giving you a feeling of déjà vu, there’s a reason why. In April 2015, Alibaba Group made a similar announcement, saying that it had agreed to integrate Tmall’s pharmacy business into Alibaba Health in exchange for a majority stake.

The next year, however, Alibaba Health disclosed to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that it had let the proposed deal lapse because of regulatory uncertainties as the Chinese government reviewed legislation related to online drug sales. In that disclosure, it also said that Alibaba Group “continues to support [Alibaba Health] to execute an organic growth and investment strategy as the healthcare flagship company for Alibaba Group,” with the two companies exploring service agreements between Tmall and Alibaba Health.

While the deal announced today is still subject to shareholder and regulatory approval, it furthers Alibaba Group’s goal of consolidating more of Tmall’s pharmacy and healthcare business operations into Alibaba Health. These include Tmall categories like medical devices and healthcare products and medical services, which in total cover 3,300 vendors and generated 20.6 billion RMB (about $3.2 billion) in gross merchandise volume in the fiscal year that ended in March.

Vendors moving over to Alibaba Health will now have access to its ecosystem, including data analytics, hospitals, doctors, healthcare consultants and equipment suppliers, creating more growth and synergy opportunities, an Alibaba spokesperson told TechCrunch.

In a press statement, Daniel Zhang said “Healthcare is a strategically important area for Alibaba Group with strong growth potential. This transaction is a logical evolution for the continued development of Alibaba Health into our healthcare flagship platform.”

Some of the top female founders in the U.S. are backing the latest Female Founders Fund

Roughly five years after the launch of its first fund in 2013, Female Founders Fund (F3) has closed on $27 million for its latest seed fund — backed by some of the startup world’s top women entrepreneurs and investors.

Backed by a clutch of seriously impressive names in the startup and tech community, entrepreneurs financed by F3’s latest endeavor can count on a rolodex that includes Melinda Gates, the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Fooundation; Katrina Lake, the founder and CEO of StitchFix; Jenny Fleiss, the co-founder of Rent the Runway and Code 8; Hayley Barna, the co-founder of Birchbox and a partner at First Round Capital; Elizabeth Cutler, the co-founder of SoulCycle; Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code; and Whitney Wolfe Herd, the founder of Bumble .

Launched by Anu Duggal with an $8 million first fund in 2013, F3 managed to amass an impressive portfolio of 30 companies that have gone on to raise some $500 million in capital. Early successes include Zola, Maven Clinic, Tala, WayUp, and ELOQUII. In the last two months alone, Tala has raised $65 million in new capital and Zola just closed on $100 million (Zola founder Shan-Lyn Ma is also backing the latest F3 Fund).

Duggal and her partner Sutian Dong are part of a clutch of female entrepreneurs and investors who are working hard to correct the gender discrimination that has plagued the tech community broadly, and the venture capital community specifically, from its earliest days.

Along with firms like Jesse Draper’s Halogen Ventures and Susan Lyne and Nisha Dua’s BBG Ventures, F3 is laser focused on backing female founded or led companies at the earliest stages, according to Duggal.

“We are continuing to double down on our focus on investing in female-founded companies,” she said.

The industry agnostic company has placed bets in everything from fintech, healthcare information technologies, enterprise software as a service and many other industries, but sees particular opportunities in the emergence of what Duggal calls “alternate communities” and at the confluence of healthcare and wellness.

She points to the startup Peanut, an online community for millennial mothers, and HipSobriety, a new take on Alcoholics Anonymous, as examples of the thesis.

Other companies in the fund’s current portfolio include Thrive GlobalWinky Lux, and Billie.

For Sutian Dong, who joined F3 from FirstMark Capital in 2016, the opportunity for seed investment in women entrepreneurs was too compelling to pass up.

“We have seen that capital can create a massive impact down the line,” says Dong of seed investing. But the advantages of F3’s investment go far beyond its money, the two partners said.

“The network and community perspective, and the ability to access other female founders that share knowledge and support each other,” is critical, says Dong. “The reality of early stage companies is that there’s never enough people and there’s never enough time,” she said. But leveraging the largest ecosystem of female founders can help startups with recruiting, customer development services and other unanticipated needs that founders have when getting a business off the ground.

Founding executives from the F3 portfolio gathered at the firm’s F3 Summit

“Female Founders Fund has done an incredible job of consistently creating value for their portfolio founders through their network and events,” said Arianna Huffington, founder of the F3 porfolio company, Thrive Global, in a statement. “Their values of supporting innovative female entrepreneurs and playing active roles in their growth is so important to us, and it’s been such an exciting journey working with them over the past year and-a-half. I’m honored to be a part of this community and to be a part of their growth story.”

“There’s a whole group of women who have really relevant professional and personal experiences and they’re leveraging that to start new businesses,” Duggal said.

While there’s still an overabundance of work that needs to be done, this wave of new investors and entrepreneurs is having an imapct on the community. “I run this women in VC community in New York and keep a directory of female investors internationally,” says Dong. “That group has expanded well into the hundreds of women across a number of countries at the early stage.”

Both Dong and Duggal point to the success of funds like Kirsten Green’s Forerunner Ventures, Aileen Lee’s Cowboy Ventures and Jennifer Fonstadt and Theresia Gouw’s Aspect Ventures as inspiration for their success and see opportunities for more funds to tap the underserved market for investing in good female entrepreneurs.

“We are incredibly excited to continue building on our thesis that it is possible to achieve outsized returns by investing in women,” said Duggal, in a statement. “With the support of our remarkable and successful base of investors, both institutional and strategic, we will continue to build a brand that invests in and champions female founders, while underscoring the larger conversation about the shift in dynamics within venture capital.”

The Business Of Hospitals: Big-ticket deals dominate PE/VC investment flows: The Indian Express

An Indian Express article quotes Venture Intelligence data on Private Equity investments in Hospitals: Data sourced from Chennai-based research firm Venture Intelligence shows that a total $3.4 billion has been injected into hospitals by PE investors from 2007 till 2017. Notably, almost half of the investment during the period came via 10 transactions. Prior to the Fortis deal, the

A prescription for healing the healthcare industry

 The year is 1900. Life expectancy is 47 years. Almost all hospitals in the U.S. are nonprofit institutions founded by religious organizations. Fast-forward to today. Healthcare in the U.S. has ballooned into a massive industry worth $3 trillion. The U.S. spends roughly three times more than most other first-world countries, yet, all that spending has not resulted in superior outcomes. Read More

A prescription for healing the healthcare industry

 The year is 1900. Life expectancy is 47 years. Almost all hospitals in the U.S. are nonprofit institutions founded by religious organizations. Fast-forward to today. Healthcare in the U.S. has ballooned into a massive industry worth $3 trillion. The U.S. spends roughly three times more than most other first-world countries, yet, all that spending has not resulted in superior outcomes. Read More