New guidance on SBA loans means most startups are still excluded from $349 billion stimulus

Under new guidance issued by the Small Business Administration it seems non-profits and faith-based groups can apply for the Paycheck Protection Program loans designed to keep small business afloat during the COVID-19 epidemic, but most venture-backed companies are still not covered.

Late Friday night, the Treasury Department updated its rules regarding the “affiliation” of private entities to include religious organizations but keep in place the same rules that would deny most startups from receiving loans.

The NVCA and other organizations had pushed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to clarify the rules regarding startups and their potential eligibility for loans last week. And House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy even told Axios that startups would be covered under the revised regulations.

Apparently that didn’t happen, as Mark Suster, the managing partner of Los Angeles-based Upfront Ventures, noted in a tweet.

At its essence, the issue for startups seems to be centered on the board rights that venture investors have when they take an equity stake in a company. For startups with investors on the board of directors, the decision-making powers that those investors hold means the startup is affiliated with other companies that the partner’s venture firm has invested in — which could mean that they’re considered an entity with more than 500 employees.

“[If] there’s a startup that’s going gangbusters right now, they shouldn’t apply for a PPP loan,” wrote Doug Rand, the co-founder of Seattle-based startup Boundless Immigration, and a former Assistant Director for Entrepreneurship in the Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Obama administration, in a direct message. “But most startups are getting killed because, you know, the economy is mostly dead.”

The $2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress and signed by President Trump was designed to help companies that are adversely affected by the economic fallout resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak in the US and their employees — whether those businesses are directly affected because their employees can’t leave home to do their jobs or indirectly, because demand for goods and services has flatlined.

While some tech startups have seen demand for their products actually rise during these quarantined days, many companies have watched as their businesses have gone from one to zero.

The sense frustration among investors across the country is palpable. As the Birmingham-based investor, Matt Hottle, wrote, “After 4 days of trying to help 7 small businesses navigate the SBA PPP program, the program went to shit on launch. I’m contemplating how many small businesses, counting on this money, are probably locked out. I feel like I/ we failed them.”

And although the rules around whether or not many startups are eligible remain unclear, it’s probably wise for companies to file an application, because, as the program is currently structured, the $349 billion in loans are going to be issued on a first-come, first-served basis, as Suster flagged in his tweets on the subject.

General Catalyst is advising its companies that are also backed by SBIC investors to apply for the loans, because that trumps any other rules regarding affiliation, according to an interview with Holly Maloney Burbeck, a managing director at the firm.

And there’s already concerns that the money could run out. In a tweet, the President announced that he would request more money from Congress “if the allocated money runs out.”

“Congress saw fit to allow Darden to get a forgivable small business loan—actually a taxpayer-funded grant—for like every Olive Garden in America. But Congress somehow neglected to provide comparable rescue measures for actual small businesses that have committed the sin of convincing investors that they have the potential to employ a huge number of people if they can only survive,” Rand wrote in a direct message. “The Trump administration has full authority to ride to the rescue, and they did… but only for large religious organizations.”


Source: Tech Crunch

Why telehealth can’t significantly flatten the coronavirus curve—yet

The COVID-19 pandemic rages on.

As cases in the United States skyrocket, one of the most foreboding possibilities of COVID-19’s rapid growth is the potential to overwhelm hospital capacity. Hospitals in cities like New York are already underwater, relying on hospital boats (“70,000 ton message[s] of hope and solidarity”) to keep them afloat, and on retired providers as well as prematurely graduated medical students to staff those beds.

In tandem, telehealth has rapidly evolved from a “nice to have” to a “need to have” for U.S. health systems.

Telehealth: from hype to hope to here, overnight

This timing is prescient, as the technologies for telehealth have existed for several decades (at varying levels of sophistication) with modest uptake to-date. From 2005 to 2017, only one out of every 150 doctor visits and one in every 5,000-10,000 specialist visits were conducted via telemedicine.

A major catalyst to uptake was the federal government’s announcement two weeks ago that restrictions on the use of telehealth for Medicare would be temporarily lifted. That policy change included expanding coverage across specialties and settings; waiving co-payments; and loosening HIPAA privacy requirements (such as prohibiting ubiquitous teleconferencing technologies like Apple’s FaceTime).

Accordingly, telehealth—overnight(ish)—is finally mainstream.

At America’s largest health systems, adoption of telehealth has accelerated rapidly: at Massachusetts General Hospital, the weekly number of virtual appointments has multiplied 10-20 times in the past weeks, while at NYU Langone Health, staffing was increased fivefold to handle the rush of new appointments. Teladoc, the U.S.’s largest virtual-care provider, is now reporting over 100,000 appointments weekly.

The diversification of telehealth use cases

The proliferation of telehealth via pioneering health systems has spawned unique use cases rarely seen before in the landscape of U.S. healthcare.

These use cases cut across numerous settings: emergent care, intensive care, triage, and monitoring, to name a few. Outside the hospital setting, domestic initiatives such as Houston’s Project Emergency Telehealth and Navigation (ETHAN) has provided a precedent for the use of telemedicine by paramedics and EMTs in first-response. These sorts of programs have actively been pioneered by startups such as RapidSOS in response to COVID-19.

At the gateway to the hospital (the emergency room), building on work by Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, health systems including Kaiser Permanente, Intermountain Health, and Providence Health have adopted programs for tele-intake to minimize contact between providers and patients under investigation (PUIs) for COVID-19.

Upon admission to the hospital, telehealth is being used for monitoring patient status while also ensuring the safety of health providers. Such technologies are proving exceptionally important given wide-scale shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE).

At Washington State’s Providence Regional Medical Center Everett (the site of the first COVID-19 case in America), programs for telemonitoring of ICU patients were built from the ground up in six weeks. Startups like EarlySense are combining multimodal sensors with audiovisual capabilities to enable remote detection and evaluation of clinical deterioration on non-intensive wards.

Following discharge from the emergency room or the inpatient units of the hospital, telescreening tools like TytoCare are enabling physicians to conduct exams and deliver care remotely that previously would have required in-person contact. In the case of discharge from the emergency room—given the volatile clinical course of COVID-19—methods for streamlined and regular check-ins are critical to monitor symptoms and guide the need for more intensive treatment.

Likewise, given recovery from the disease can potentially be tumultuous (especially after ICU care), these technologies are essential for mitigating what has been deemed the “post-hospital syndrome” and ensuring long-term health after discharge from inpatient care.

Here—but there, or everywhere?

While the near-overnight expansion of telehealth in diverse forms is positive news, barriers remain to its widespread dissemination in this country. To move from the prototyping stage at the meccas of modern medicine to a widely useful tool across healthcare settings, telehealth must seek to solve what has been deemed the “last mile problem.”

The last mile refers to the non-technological, practical elements of local care delivery. As with telehealth, when these practical elements of care delivery are inadequately addressed, they inhibit providers from implementing new technologies for patients. In the case of telehealth, the last mile can be grouped into four domains: those related to (a) coverage and reimbursement (b) legal concerns (c) clinical care and (d) social challenges. The federal government’s policy change this month took major steps forward to resolve some legal concerns, including limitation of tort liability and allowing common teleconferencing platforms that may not be strictly HIPAA compliant.

However, considerable obstacles to the uptake of telehealth persist across the other three domains, especially for the 86.5% of Americans not on Medicare. To effectively combat COVID-19, telehealth must also reach these 281 million individuals in the under-resourced nooks and crannies of the U.S. As the virus becomes more pervasive across the country, rural health systems are depending heavily on these technologies to manage the imminent surge of cases.

The essentials to expanding telehealth

In terms of coverage for patients, only 36 states mandated coverage of telehealth services in insurance plans as of April 2019. For those with mandatory coverage, out-of-pocket copays typically ranged $50-80 per appointment. Alternatively, certain plans waived copays, but only following an annual fee for premium services—premiums which may well rise going forward.

All of these costs will hinder the use of telehealth in non-Medicare patients amidst the present outbreak.

While in the past two weeks, some private insurers such as United Healthcare (covering 45 million Americans), Humana (39 million), and Aetna (13 million) waived copays on telehealth services, the privates covering the remaining hundreds of millions of Americans must follow quickly. States can help accelerate this by following the lead of Massachusetts, which last month required all insurers to cover telehealth.

In terms of reimbursement to providers, only 20% of states required payment parity for telehealth to ensure—if telehealth was covered at all—it is remunerated at rates approximating in-person visits for similar diagnoses. This disparity has made adoption of telehealth undesirable and/or untenable for health systems, since the reimbursement rates for telehealth average 20-50% lower than for comparable in-person service.

The challenges to adoption of telehealth are further heightened for independent practices, who must pay subscription fees to use standard telehealth platforms, but simultaneously experience revenue decreases of some 30% upon integrating telehealth. To make adoption of telehealth financially feasible for health systems and individual practices amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, states once again should follow Massachusetts in seizing the opportunity to enforce payment parity by private insurers.

Finally, in terms of clinical care, issues abound in the minutia of how and where telehealth can be performed. In terms of how telehealth is performed: while these services should integrate with the existing workflows of clinical practice, insurance rules currently hinder this. For example, e-visits and check-ups are only permitted for “existing” patients rather than for new patients presenting with mild symptoms or fleeting concerns, who may not require a full work-up (this is the case even under the recent CMS policy).

Moreover, asynchronous methods such as “store-and-forward” consultations and remote patient monitoring—exactly the sort of efficient and highly-scalable pathways integral to the flexible provision of care to the dispersed masses—are restricted in most states.

Additionally, where telehealth can be conducted is hamstrung by “origination site” policies banning these services in patient homes but for a select few conditions (such as stroke assessment and opiate rehabilitation). Such arbitrary, excessive regulations make the widespread utilization of telehealth unrealistic. Also, state-by-state licensing requirements prevent physicians from providing care across borders (for reasons rooted in nineteenth-century concerns of medical quality gaps between states).

To promote the care of COVID-19 patients in epicenter regions, states should follow the lead of New York and Florida to suspend out-of-state licensing bans, allow license transferability, or at least expedite licensing through “licensure compacts” in allied states.

Finally, in terms of social challenges, considerable access disparities exist between demographic groups. For example, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s 2018 survey, vulnerable populations such as the elderly were 21% less likely to have internet access and almost 50% less likely to conduct videocalls; the poor were 34% less likely to communicate with doctors online; and other demographic minorities (such as Hispanic ethnicity or lower educational attainment) were also less likely to have access to and/or use telehealth technologies.

Since these populations are more likely to face the sorts of comorbid conditions and social determinants of health that heighten mortality from COVID-19—and less likely to have levels of health literacy allowing them to reduce their risk of transmitting infectious diseases like coronavirus—inequalities in telehealth access bear important implications on the country’s ability to flatten the curve of COVID-19.

One of the single best interventions to augment access for these individuals is expanding the scope of practice of non-physician health providers. These providers have their wings clipped by arcane laws fiercely defended by state medical associations that require their “supervision” by physicians for most cases of patient care. This is despite analyses since the 1980s exhibiting the capability for non-physician healthcare providers (such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants) to provide services as high quality as those of physicians.

Liberating various allied health practitioners (including also registered nurses, pharmacists, dentists, paramedics, and social workers) to screen, diagnose, treat, and prescribe with increased autonomy would undergird telehealth’s capabilities as a “force multiplier” in the setting of COVID-19. They can also unleash the potential of startups such as The MAVEN Project which provide platforms for peer-to-peer consults between specialty and generalist health providers in emergency settings.

In geographically dispersed states such as California—where allied health providers are expected to provide half of all primary care appointments by 2030—these policies are especially vital. Bills designed to facilitate these programs like the California Assembly Bill 890 that remains stalled should be endorsed to protect patients across the state from the insidious diffusion of COVID-19.

In summary, the early responses by federal and state agencies to COVID-19 have made progress to promote the uptake of telehealth. However, as the virus expands its siege across the country, more comprehensive solutions are urgently needed to equip the creators, users, and beneficiaries of telehealth with the arsenal they desperately require to vanquish this invisible enemy. Accordingly, pen-and-paper may be the most important technologies for bolstering telehealth today. Letters to senators, in the near-term, may be the most potent ammunition we’ve got.


Source: Tech Crunch

Cultivating adaptability is a pandemic coping skill

It’s no secret that adaptability has become a critical trait for knowledge workers. To stay on top of a rapidly evolving world, we must assess new situations, make intelligent decisions and implement them effectively.

A 2014 research report by Barclays indicated that 60% of employers say adaptability has become more important during the last decade, and BBC called adaptability the “X factor” for career success in an era of technological change.

But even the most intrepid executive, entrepreneur or freelancer would be forgiven for struggling to adapt to a global pandemic. The impact of coronavirus has been unrelenting: hospitals at capacity, students sent home, conference cancellations, sold out inventory, markets in free fall and cities under lockdown.

Whatever you thought 2020 was going to look like, you were dead wrong. Box CEO Aaron Levie and Stanford professor Bob Sutton’s recent Twitter exchange said it all:

This moment requires us to learn new skills, develop new habits and let go of old ways of working. In the book “Range,” there’s a chapter about “dropping familiar tools” that details how experienced professionals will overlearn specific behavior and then fail to adapt to a new circumstance. This mentality affected everyone from firefighters to aviation crews to NASA engineers, often with deadly results, and underscores how hard it can be to adapt to change.

To help us cultivate adaptability in this unprecedented moment, I sought answers in unexpected places. Here’s what I learned.

Let go of your attachments

Adaptability is required first and foremost when circumstances change. It’s easy to get attached to certain outcomes, especially when they’ve been planned long in advance or have significant emotional weight.

Due to coronavirus, a couple I know is postponing their wedding originally set for April. Having tied the knot only a year ago myself, I can’t imagine how frustrating that must be for them. But it was the right decision; demanding that the show go on would have been dangerous for their families, friends and the public at large.

I recently spoke with my friend Belinda Ju, an executive coach with a longstanding meditation practice. Non-attachment is a core concept of Buddhism, the spiritual path she’s followed for many years, and I wanted her thoughts on how that idea might help us adapt to unforeseen circumstances.

“Attachment doesn’t work because certainty doesn’t work. You can’t predict the future,” she explained. Being attached to something means “seeing the world through a false lens. Nothing is fixed.” For Ju and her clients, non-attachment doesn’t mean giving up on goals — it means focusing on what you can control.

“You might have a fixed goal of needing to raise X million dollars to keep your team afloat,” she said. “But in the age of coronavirus, investors might be slower to respond. So what are the levers in your control? What are the options you have and the pros and cons to each one?”

Her points hit home for me. As a NYC-based startup founder, I was preparing to make several trips to the West Coast to raise the next round for my company, Midgame, a digital party host for gamers.

I like pitching in person, but that’s obviously not going to happen, so I need to embrace video calls as my new reality. By doing that, I can get to stocking up on coffee, cleaning up my work space and setting up a microphone so when I do pitch over video, I’m bringing my A game.

Be present

Another way to think about adaptability is that it’s the ability to improvise. In theater, improv performers can’t rely on prewritten lines, and have to react in real time to suggestions from the audience or the words and actions of their scene partners.

“ ‘Playing the scene you’re in’ is a principle from improv which means to be present to the situation you’re in.”

That’s what Mary Lemmer told me. As an entrepreneur and VC who spent a stint at The Second City improv theater in Chicago, Lemmer knows a thing or two about having to adapt. Today, she brings her insights to corporations through training and workshops.

She explained that as an improv performer, you may start a scene with a certain idea in mind of how it will go, but that can quickly change. “If you’re not present,” she said, “then you’re not actively listening and because there’s no script, you’ll miss details. That’s when scenes fall apart.”

When I was a PM at Etsy and we had a major launch, we’d get engineering, dev ops, product, marketing and customer support together in a room to talk through the final event sequencing. These weren’t always the most exciting meetings and it was easy to get distracted by email or chat. One time engineering announced a significant last-minute issue that almost slipped through the cracks. Luckily, someone piped up with a clarifying question and we were all able to work together to minimize the issue.

Lemmer argues that in improv, like in business, you can’t make assumptions about people or situations. “We see this a lot in board meetings. People start to assume ‘Sally’ will always be the proactive one or ‘Jim’ will always be the naysayer and tune out.”

This is kind of attitude is problematic in a stable environment, but downright dangerous in an unstable situation where new data and events can quickly open up a new set of challenges and opportunities.

Early on, some experts thought the coronavirus crisis would stabilize globally by April. In early February, S&P Global stated that in the “worst-case scenario,” the virus would be contained by late May. A month later, that prediction already looked wildly optimistic.

Build mental toughness

Experts are saying now that cases may peak in May or June, which means everyone should be hunkering down for eight or more weeks of social distancing and isolation. A COVID-19 vaccine just started human trials, but testing in large enough sample sizes to identify side effects and then ramping up large-scale production still might not be fully available for more than a year.

In other words, dealing with this virus is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. A marathon no one signed up for.

Someone who knows a lot about this topic is Jason Fitzgerald. A 2:39 marathoner, Fitzgerald now helps people run faster and healthier as an author and coach.

When we spoke over the phone, he pointed out that running, unlike say basketball or gymnastics, is a sport where “you have to voluntarily want to experience more and more discomfort.”

Fitzgerald calls this ability to endure “mental toughness,” and it’s a skill we all can build. For runners, it requires doing workouts that scare them, putting in mileage that’s higher than they have in the past and racing regularly. It’s also about accepting and even embracing the pain of running hard.

The same is true for adaptation. We can train ourselves to respond better to change (we’re all getting lots of practice right now!), but developing new habits and working in new ways is always uncomfortable. As decorated cyclist Greg LeMond once said, “it doesn’t get easier, you just get faster.”

We also have to recognize that we won’t get it right every time. “The more that we get comfortable with poor performances, the more we can learn from them,” Fitzgerald said, noting that he’s had his share of bad races, including failing to finish an ultramarathon in 2015. “Sometimes you dwell on a bad race for a couple days, but then you have to just forget about it and move on with your training.”

Many of us are reeling from more cancellations, suspensions and complete one-eighties in the last month than in the last five years. But we can’t let ourselves stay bogged down by our feelings of frustration or disappointment. We accept our new reality, learn what we can from it, and keep going.

It’s clear that the people who can let go of their past plans and embrace the new environment ahead will thrive. Already we’re seeing companies pivot from live events to online webinars, and remote-first workplaces becoming the new normal. Shares of Zoom have risen even as the stock market has taken a beating and I’m sure other winners will emerge in the coming weeks and months.

But adaptability doesn’t just matter for individuals or even companies, it matters for governments. For China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, thanks to aggressive testing and quarantining efforts, life is returning, somewhat, to normal. New cases are on the decline and there’s hope of life returning to normalcy in the near future. Countries that bungled their response to the disease progression, including Italy, Spain, the U.K. and the United States, are now facing increasingly dire consequences.

Whether you want to survive a global pandemic, reach the next phase in your career or be selected on a mission to Mars, it’s hard to overstate the importance of adaptability in getting there.


Source: Tech Crunch

Google rolls back SameSite cookie changes to keep essential online services from breaking

Google today announced that it will temporarily roll back the changes it recently made to how its Chrome browser handles cookies in order to ensure that sites that perform essential services like banking, online grocery, government services and healthcare won’t become inaccessible to Chrome users during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The new SameSite rules, which the company started rolling out to a growing number of Chrome users in recent months, are meant to make it harder for sites to access cookies from third-party sites and hence track a user’s online activity. These new rules are also meant to prevent cross-site request forgery attacks.

Under Google’s new guidance, developers must explicitly allow their cookies to be read by third-party sites, otherwise, the browser will prevent these third-party sites from accessing them.

Because this is a pretty major change, Google gave developers quite a bit of time to adapt their applications to it. Still, not every site is ready yet, so the Chrome team decided to halt the gradual rollout and stop enforcing these new rules for the time being.

“While most of the web ecosystem was prepared for this change, we want to ensure stability for websites providing essential services including banking, online groceries, government services and healthcare that facilitate our daily life during this time,” writes Google Chrome engineering director Justin Schuh. “As we roll back enforcement, organizations, users and sites should see no disruption.”

A Google spokesperson also told us that the team saw some breakage in sites “that would not normally be considered essential, but with COVID-19 having become more important, we made this decision in an effort to ensure stability during this time.”

The company says it plans to resume its SameSite enforcement over the summer, though the exact timing isn’t yet clear.


Source: Tech Crunch

How Homage is tackling Southeast Asia’s growing eldercare need

The world’s population is aging, but the needs of elderly people are still being underserved. A United Nations report found that older people make up more than one-fifth of the population in 17 countries, and by 2100, a majority of the world’s population, or 61%, will be aged 60 and above.

One of the most urgent needs for families is caregiving, with demand outstripping the pool of qualified providers. This means many people in their thirties and forties are now part of the “sandwich generation,” juggling jobs and child care while looking after elderly relatives. This creates both an opportunity and challenge for tech startups and investors in almost every market around the world.

In Southeast Asia, Homage is addressing the issue with a platform that takes a curated approach to pairing caregivers and families, using a combination of in-person screening and its matching engine to make the process more efficient. Currently operating in Singapore and Malaysia, the startup announced earlier this year that it will use its Series B funding to expand into five new countries in the region.

Backed by investors, including HealthXCapital, Golden Gate Ventures and EV Ventures, Homage was co-founded in 2016 by chief executive officer Gillian Tee, who grew up in Singapore and was inspired by her family’s own experiences looking for caregivers. Tee says she wanted to build a platform that would make the process of matching caregivers and clients easier, and be scalable into different markets.

“It’s not the easiest space to be in, and I would say that you do need to want to be intentionally working in this space, rather than just falling into it. It goes hand in hand,” she told TechCrunch. “We found that there is a huge market opportunity, but why we’re doing it goes way beyond that.”

How Homage addresses the talent pool shortage


Source: Tech Crunch

GM and Honda are co-developing two new electric vehicles due to arrive in 2024

GM and Honda will jointly develop two new electric vehicles slated for 2024, the latest move by the two automakers to deepen their existing partnership.

Under the plan, the automakers will focus on their respective areas of expertise. Honda will design the exterior and interiors of the new electric vehicles; GM will contribute its new electric vehicle architecture and Ultium batteries. This new architecture, which GM unveiled last month to showcase its own EV plans, is capable of 19 different battery and drive-unit configurations. The architecture includes large-format pouch battery cells manufactured as part of a joint venture between LG Chem and GM.

The vehicles, which will have a Honda nameplate, will incorporate GM’s OnStar safety and security services. GM’s hands-free advanced driver assistance technology, known as Super Cruise, will also be available in the new vehicles.

The vehicles will be produced at GM plants in North America. Sales are expected to begin in the 2024 model year in Honda’s U.S. and Canadian markets.

The aim is to pull the strengths of both companies to unlock economies of scale around electric vehicles, according to Rick Schostek, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., who added that the two companies are already in discussions about further extending the partnership.

The companies have a long history of working together, including sharing vehicles as far back as the late 1990s when Isuzu was part of GM. The bulk of the joint projects have centered on hydrogen fuel cell tech, batteries and more recently, autonomous vehicles.

GM and Honda formed a strategic alliance in July 2013 to develop hydrogen fuel cell technology, a partnership that has produced some 1,200 patents. The automakers formed a joint venture in 2017 called Fuel Cell System Manufacturing LLC to produce hydrogen fuel cell systems. FCSM is installing the production equipment for their first high-volume fuel cell manufacturing facility in Brownstown, Michigan with production expected to begin this year, according to GM.

The companies announced in 2018 an agreement for Honda to use battery cells and modules from GM in electric vehicles built for the North American market.

GM acquired Cruise in 2016; Honda later committed $2.75 billion as part of an exclusive agreement with GM and its self-driving technology subsidiary Cruise to develop and produce a new kind of autonomous vehicle. Cruise Origin, an electric, self-driving and shared vehicle and the first product of that arrangement, was revealed January 21.


Source: Tech Crunch

Insight closes $9.5B fund to help support portfolio companies through the pandemic crunch

We’re now several weeks into what has become a very big dip for the global economy due to the coronavirus pandemic, but amidst that, we are seeing are some notable pockets of investment activity emerging that will help shape how the future startup landscape will look. Today, one of the biggest venture capital firms in the world announced the closing of a huge fund, money that it will use in large part to help its portfolio businesses weather the storm.

Insight, the firm that has backed the likes of Twitter and Shopify and invests across a range of consumer and enterprise startups (400 in all), today announced that it has closed a fund of $9.5 billion, money it will be using to support startups and “scale-ups” (larger and older startups that are still private) in the coming months. Investments will typically be between $10 million and $350 million, “although larger transactions are also possible,” the company said.

“First and foremost, we want to acknowledge the current climate and the hardships being felt across the globe,” said Jeff Horing, Insight Partners’ founder and MD, in a statement. “We are thankful and humbled by the support of our investors which enables us to continue to deliver world class resources during turbulent economic times. Fund XI gives us continued flexibility to provide the combination of capital and operating support that suits the different needs of every software company in a dynamic world.”

This fund, numbered XI, brought in a number of returning backers alongside new investors, and it is record-sized for the company. It also appears to have been oversubscribed, since back in November when it was launched the fund was estimated to be worth just over $7 billion. All the more impressive, too, is that it closed just this week, at a time when many startups are starting to feel the pinch of a business downturn, and are either laying off staff or freezing hiring to curtail costs, leading investors to get a little shaky.

Insight’s fund is a signal of two themes. One is that there are, even now, some silver linings, where particular business areas are seeing huge surges of activity (videoconferencing to connect all the people now sheltering in place at home; those helping keep food delivery operational; entertainment streaming companies; and those focusing on medical research or telehealth are just five categories seeing a positive impact; there are more). This fund will help Insight invest in these opportunities to help these businesses grow to meet the demand.

The second theme is a little less upbeat but still important, and that is the fact that there are a number of very promising ideas out there that have already been backed by VC money, which will not survive the current economic crunch without some support. VC money will likely be used in a very targeted way to help in those situations, alongside more fiscal belt-tightening and other funding means (for example, loans that the U.S. government will be issuing via the CARES act to help small businesses get through lean times brought by the coronavirus pandemic).

Indeed, a spokesperson said Insight will be “hyper-focused on supporting its portfolio companies” with ongoing and near-future funding.

We’ve reached out to see if we can get more detail on how new investments, versus reinvesting in existing portfolio companies, will figure in future funding, and we’re also asking if there are specific categories that are of particular interest at the moment. We’ll update this post as we learn more.

“Since our first investment 25 years ago, the global software ecosystem has matured even as it continues to innovate, spurring Insight’s own innovation in sourcing, and our data-driven partnership approach to working with ScaleUp companies as a minority or buyout investor,” said Managing Director Deven Parekh. “We are grateful that through economic cycles and unprecedented circumstances, Insight Partners remains a sought-after institutional platform for supporting next generation software companies.”

In a separate letter to investors, Horing and Parekh also noted the complicated climate of the moment — which includes not just the challenge of VCs raising funds right now amid a climate of LPs also feeling the crunch, but also the fact that not all startups will be able to rely on all their investors to support them through these challenging times. Tough decisions will need to be made at all levels.


Source: Tech Crunch

Sleep apnea retrofit designed by doctors and engineers could help address ventilator shortage

The FDA has been working to adapt its policies and restrictions to respond to the growing need for unconventional solutions like shortages of medical equipment needed for treating COVID-19 patients. A group of doctors, engineers and medical researchers from UC Berkeley, UCSF and working hospitals has devised a creative solution to the ventilator shortage they’re hoping will meet FDA standards for emergency use authorization (EUA), working with readily available hardware and a stockpile of medical breathing equipment that’s resting mostly unused under our noses.

The group, which includes pulmonary care physicians, medical and engineering professors, and many more, is calling themselves the COVID-19 Ventilator Rapid Response Team, and together they’ve figured out a way to modify existing CPAP machines typically used to treat sleep apnea to act as the kinds of ventilators needed for intubation to keep severe COVID-19 patients breathing in the ICU.

Sleep apnea machines are not designed for continuous use with patients who can’t breathe on their own — they basically just ensure that a patient’s airway doesn’t become blocked during sleep, which maintains oxygen levels, and prevents unwanted wake-ups and snoring. The group behind this new CPAP modification has adapted the hardware using a tube that can be used for intubation, led by Dr. Ajay Dharia, a critical care physician focused on pulmonary issues in the ICUs at three Bay Area hospitals, as well as an engineering graduate from UC Berkeley.

Already, the FDA has issued guidance stating that healthcare facilities and professionals should consider use of breathing devices not designed for use as ventilators in case of urgent need, so the Ventilator Rapid Response Team already has some leeway in its approach. It’s still seeking an emergency authorization from the agency, however, because it would like to work with suppliers and manufacturers at scale to start producing large quantifies of the modifications required.

It’s also enlisting the help of any individuals or organizations looking to donate CPAP or sleep apnea machines that aren’t currently in use to assist with the supply of the base hardware needed to make the modified ventilators. Anyone interested in that can check out their website for more info.


Source: Tech Crunch

Instacart to provide shoppers with face masks, hand sanitizers and thermometers

Instacart will start providing health and safety kits to its full-service shoppers. These kits will include a face mask, hand sanitizer and a thermometer, the company announced today.

The kits will be available for free to shoppers starting next week. Shoppers, according to Instacart, will be able to request a kit by registering with their Instacart shopper email address. In order to keep up with demand, Instacart will update its inventory daily. For in-store shoppers, Instacart will bring the face masks to shoppers at their respective retail locations.

“Our teams have been working around the clock over the last few weeks to proactively secure personal protective equipment like hand sanitizer and face masks, without taking away valuable resources from healthcare workers given inventory delays and global supply scarcity,” Instacart President Nilam Ganenthiran said in a statement. “We want to provide customers with an essential service they can rely on to get their groceries and household goods, while also offering safe and flexible earnings opportunities to Instacart personal shoppers. As COVID-19 evolves, today’s health and safety solutions will be tomorrow’s table stakes, and our teams are working quickly to introduce new services and features to ensure our shopper community is supported as this situation unfolds.”

This announcement comes amid worker strikes led by the folks over at Gig Workers Collective. Last Friday, a group of Instacart shoppers announced plans to strike and not return to work until the company meets its demands. Those demands were for Instacart to provide personal protective equipment at no cost to workers and hazard pay of $5 extra per order, change the default tip to 10%, extend the sick pay policy to those who have a doctor’s note for a pre-existing condition that may make them more susceptible to contracting the virus and extend the deadline to qualify for those benefits beyond April 8th.

Instacart has since extended that deadline and changed the default tip to a customer’s last tip, but shoppers say that’s not enough. In a Medium post, workers called Instacart’s response “insulting” and “a sick joke.

“It’s abhorrent that it took this long for them to act, but on the bright side, it shows that a strike will work to change their behavior,” the group wrote in a Medium post.

Instacart is not the only company stepping up its safety protocols. Earlier today, Amazon said it would start providing surgical masks for its warehouse workers and employees at Whole Foods.


Source: Tech Crunch

Activity-monitoring startup Zensors repurposes its tech to help coronavirus response

Computer vision techniques used for commercial purposes are turning out to be valuable tools for monitoring people’s behavior during the present pandemic. Zensors, a startup that uses machine learning to track things like restaurant occupancy, lines, and so on, is making its platform available for free to airports and other places desperate to take systematic measures against infection.

The company, founded two years ago but covered by TechCrunch in 2016, was among the early adopters of computer vision as a means to extract value from things like security camera feeds. It may seem obvious now that cameras covering a restaurant can and should count open tables and track that data over time, but a few years ago it wasn’t so easy to come up with or accomplish that.

Since then Zensors has built a suite of tools tailored to specific businesses and spaces, like airports, offices, and retail environments. They can count open and occupied seats, spot trash, estimate lines, and all that kind of thing. Coincidentally, this is exactly the kind of data that managers of these spaces are now very interested in watching closely given the present social distancing measures.

Zensors co-founder Anuraag Jain told Carnegie Mellon University — which the company was spun out of — that it had received a number of inquiries from the likes of airpots regarding applying the technology to public health considerations.

Software that counts how many people are in line can be easily adapted to, for example, estimate how close people are standing and send an alert if too many people are congregating or passing through a small space.

“Rather than profiting off them, we thought we would give our help for free,” said Jain. And so, for the next two months at least, Zensors is providing its platform for free to “selected entities who are on the forefront of responding to this crisis, including our airport clients.”

The system has already been augmented to answer COVID-19-specific questions like whether there are too many people in a given area, when a surface was last cleaned and whether cleaning should be expedited, and how many of a given group are wearing face masks.

Airports surely track some of this information already, but perhaps in a much less structured way. Using a system like this could be helpful for maintaining cleanliness and reducing risk, and no doubt Zensors hopes that having had a taste via what amounts to a free trial, some of these users will become paying clients. Interested parties should get in touch with Zensors via its usual contact page.


Source: Tech Crunch