‘Brotopia’ inspired OODA Health to raise its $40.5M round only from firm’s with female partners

OODA Health, a startup developing technology to make the U.S. healthcare payment system more efficient, has raised $40.5 million in a round led by Oak HC/FT and DFJ.

It’s never particularly easy to raise a round of venture capital — but I think most experienced founders will tell you its not quite as bad the second or third time around, when you’ve got some experience under your belt and a track record to present to VCs.

It helps if you’re male too, at least according to all the data out there on the gender funding gap in VC.

The leadership team at OODA Health, a startup developing technology to make the U.S. healthcare payment system more efficient, is both male and experienced. But unlike most companies of that nature, OODA decided to raise money for the business only from VC firms that have at least one female leader, a solution to one of tech’s greatest problems that is oft suggested and rarely executed.

“‘Brotopia’ really hit me hard,” OODA Health co-founder and CEO Giovanni Colella told TechCrunch.

Colella is the founder and former CEO of Castlight Health, which raised nearly $200 million in VC funding before going public on the NYSE in 2014. Co-founder and COO Seth Cohen is Castlight’s former VP of sales and alliances and co-founder and CTO Usama Fayyad is the former global chief data officer at Barclays and Yahoo .

The trio ultimately landed on lead investors Annie Lamont of Oak HC/FT and Emily Melton of DFJ, both of which have joined the company’s board of directors.

We have a responsibility of setting an example,” Colella said. “There is no machismo in what we’ve done. We are not better than you because we did it. We were blessed. We had more investors that wanted to invest than we could accommodate.”

Though the company’s c-suite is occupied by men, Cohen and Colella were quick to clarify that the rest of their founding team, head of operations Julie Skaff, head of product Sophie Pinkard and director of product strategy Midori Uehara, are women.

The team began working on OODA Health last year after Colella and Cohen agreed to build something that would upend the healthcare industry. Healthcare, they realized, is at least 20 years behind the advances in financial tech.

The pair said their real aha moment was when they learned even insurance companies — the real laggards — are ready to be rid of the slow, futile billing and payment methods that accompany any and every doctor and hospital visit.

“The idea of submitting a claim and not knowing when you are going to get reimbursed or get a bill, that has been the same for decades,” Cohen told TechCrunch. “Imagine, today, if you took a Visa card and you went to a restaurant … and then a month later received a bill, that’s how healthcare works.”

If OODA has their way, paying for a doctor’s visit will be more like paying for a hotel. You’re told upfront what you owe and you work exclusively with the insurance company to make that payment. And in this idyllic future, you won’t receive an “explanation of benefits” notice in the mail as well as a bill and subsequently fall into a downward spiral of confusion, stress and frustration.

Headquartered in San Francisco, OODA has teamed with several big-name insurance providers, including Anthem, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, Blue Shield of California, Zaffre Investments, Dignity Health and Hill Physicians to make this happen.

As far as lifting up women in VC, that’s purely been a side benefit of the overall operation.

“At the end of the day, we found two of the best investors to back us,” Cohen said.

12 years in, Techstars doubles down on corporate relationships

The goal of any accelerator is to back startups that are reaching exponential growth. Sometimes, though, the accelerator itself hits that inflection point. Techstars, which was founded in 2006, has expanded aggressively over the past twelve years. Once a single accelerator program for a handful of early-stage startups in Boulder, the program now encompasses 44 […]

The goal of any accelerator is to back startups that are reaching exponential growth. Sometimes, though, the accelerator itself hits that inflection point.

Techstars, which was founded in 2006, has expanded aggressively over the past twelve years. Once a single accelerator program for a handful of early-stage startups in Boulder, the program now encompasses 44 separate programs covering six continents and a large number of industry verticals. The firm has hundreds of employees across its headquarters and member programs, and more than 1,600 portfolio companies.

Along the way, the mission of Techstars has evolved, from purely accelerating a cohort of startups to championing a culture of “entrepreneurship anywhere.” Co-CEO David Cohen, who co-founded Techstars along with Brad Feld, David Brown, and Jared Polis, said that “Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed,” adding that “the product we are offering is really not an accelerator, but a network.”

The key insight for Techstars was that startups needed to talk to large companies in order to drive sales and ultimately revenues, while at the same time, large companies were looking to talk with startups in order to learn more about innovation and take advantage of it in their operations.

Techstars is looking to intensify that synergy through two new programs the company is announcing today. The first is a Network Engagement Program that offers new concierge-style connections for corporations looking to build relationships with startups. The other is a 54-hour Innovation Bootcamp that will teach corporate employees innovation skills in a rapid learning environment with involvement from Techstars alumni.

The larger story here though is how Techstars is increasingly leveraging startups and corporations together to improve both. Techstars runs a number of corporate-backed accelerators with companies like Barclays, Rakuten, MetLife, and Comcast NBCU, with each accelerator focusing on areas relevant to their sponsoring companies. Barclays, which has sponsored accelerators in New York City, London, and Tel Aviv, focuses on fintech, for instance.

These companies accrue a number of benefits from the relationship. They get to meet startups that might not have otherwise shown up in their milieu, allowing them to build early relationships. Those early connections can then lead to new purchases and possibly even an investment.

Cohen provided the example of Sphero, which launched out of a Disney co-branded Techstars accelerator and led to the startup’s famed BB-8 product, which drove “$100 million in sales.“ Every company approaches the network differently he said, and “part of the beauty is that they have that choice.” Disney has since parted ways with Techstars, however.

Beyond investment and sales growth from corporations, startups can also use their relationships to help with finding an exit when they are ready for one, helping them get through the corporate development gauntlet. Cohen says that “we have an M&A group of 6-7 people” whose full-time job is to maximize the value of a startup’s return.

Beyond these transactional components though, Techstars hopes to change the culture around companies and how they interact with startups. Cohen says that “for our corporations, one of the meta impacts we are learning is how to help them behave better…How to give first to the startup community, versus the classic corporation, how do I take advantage of a startup.”

Obviously, there are a lot of positives when building connections between incumbents and upstarts, but there is also a dark side — challenges around stealthiness and conflicts of interest. After all, some of the startups in Techstars almost certainly want to dislodge the incumbents who may be sponsoring their very program. Cohen even brought this up in the context of the company’s mobility accelerator and the benefits companies receive: “Next time an Uber comes along, Ford isn’t surprised by it.”

Cohen argues against this line of thought in a couple of different ways. First, all decisions are “always up to the startup” and emphasized that “our large company partners don’t have the rights to invest in companies…they don’t have the right to acquire them or frankly do business with them.” Plus, even when co-branded, accelerators are exclusively run by Techstars staff, and the plethora of programs allows startups to avoid potential competitors. “Let’s say you want to go up against Ford, you can still be in the Techstars network, but not in the Ford program,” Cohen explained.

For startup founders, the key ultimately is to be mindful of who they partner with and what information they share with them. That is true as much in Techstars as it is in any other context. As Techstars continues to spread its message of entrepreneurship far and wide in the enterprise world through its new programs, the benefits of closer cooperation — and its attendant downsides — should be thoughtfully evaluated on that well-trodden road to exponential growth.

Clinc expands to automotive, releases SaaS platform for its voice AI assistant

Clinc co-founder and CEO Jason Mars just announced the company is expanding to a third vertical: Automotive. The company, which started in fintech and recently unveiled a product for drive-thru restaurants, is aiming its voice AI service at the automotive industry. The idea is to give automakers a platform that they can integrate into their […]

Clinc co-founder and CEO Jason Mars just announced the company is expanding to a third vertical: Automotive. The company, which started in fintech and recently unveiled a product for drive-thru restaurants, is aiming its voice AI service at the automotive industry. The idea is to give automakers a platform that they can integrate into their vehicles that will allow drivers to control and interact with their vehicles through natural language.

Launching alongside the new product, Clinc also revealed a platform to give developers access to the conversational AI. The company says it’s easy enough for developers with little to no experience in machine learning to build with Clinc’s products.

Clinc’s conversational AI is fantastic and the company’s products in other verticals show that if it’s used by automakers, the technology could usher in a new wave of user interfaces. This is not Siri.

The company was founded in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2015 with a solution for fintech and currently has several contracts with major banks such as USAA, Barclays and S&P Global. In most cases, when integrated into the bank’s system, Clinc’s technology emulates human intelligence and can interpret unstructured, unconstrained speech. The idea is to let users converse with their bank account using natural language without pre-defined templates or hierarchical voice menus. The company says it works in any language.

With its new developer platform, companies can use Clinc’s system to integrate the company’s natural language processing into their products.

“We’re thrilled to be democratizing the world’s most powerful conversational AI and to be empowering people to solve important problems and to create amazing things,” said Dr. Jason Mars, Clinc CEO. “We’ve taken the complexity out of machine learning infrastructure and we’re giving developers the keys to our AI brain to create and deploy their own customizable virtual assistants.”

The Amazonization of Whole Foods, one year in

Amazon promised to breathe new tech into the relationship with Whole Foods after putting a $13.7 billion ring on it one year ago. So how did that promise shake out? At the time, Amazon said the goal was to make “high-quality, natural and organic food affordable for everyone.” Bananas, avocados and even tilapia was going to be […]

Amazon promised to breathe new tech into the relationship with Whole Foods after putting a $13.7 billion ring on it one year ago. So how did that promise shake out?

At the time, Amazon said the goal was to make “high-quality, natural and organic food affordable for everyone.” Bananas, avocados and even tilapia was going to be cheaper than before. Prime members would receive increased benefits with discount rewards and Amazon drones would be delivering packages right to your door.

Okay, that last bit was not promised — though we’re not the first to speculate on that possibility in the future.

A bunch of other Amazon offerings involving delivery options were also mentioned, including the getting of Whole Food groceries through a then new Amazon Fresh grocery delivery program and Whole Foods private label products would be made available through Prime Now and Prime Pantry. Further, Amazon lockers would be showing up at select stores to make pick ups and returns easier for Amazon customers. And, of course, new jobs would be created to handle all the new infusion of technology.

Soon customers started to see Amazon Echo devices popping up in stores, urging people to install them in their home for easier grocery ordering through voice command. Echo dots lined the walls and could be found surrounded by produce. Amazon promised to deliver more devices to try in-store ahead of purchase as time went on.

Since the launch, “customers have already saved hundreds of millions of dollars,” according to Whole Foods co-founder and CEO John Mackey. “So whether it’s better prices on your weekly shop, saving time through delivery from Prime Now or taking advantage of incredible weekly deals for Prime members, the overall customer experience is richer and more seamless than it’s ever been,” he continued.

I’m not sure the average customer would see the experience as “richer and more seamless” but the changes are noticeable. Walking into my local Whole Foods, the Amazon branding is everywhere from the deep orange lockers off to the side, the large, green Amazon Fresh coolers greeting me at the entrance to the parking lot and rows of bags ready for pickup and delivery via Amazon workers.

A large “Prime Member Deal” sign hangs down from the ceiling, greeting me at the front of the store. Beyond, there’s the produce, once fresh and free of rot with all organic labeling. Now? It’s unclear. I used to argue the “whole paycheck” prices were worth it for the better quality produce. Lately, I’ve had to throw a bunch of stuff out because it just doesn’t last as long or look as good. Not everything is organic.

Other shoppers have noticed the same dip in quality across the U.S., along with missing products or a lot of out of stock items they’d been buying for years at their grocery store.

It’s been called the “conventionalization” of Whole Foods by Wall Street investment bank Barclays, which also noted there had been some comments from Mackey about cultural “clashes” during his appearance at the American Production and Inventory Control society’s annual conference.

On the flip, Amazon has managed to add some nifty integrations for Prime members including club member style sales prices and five percent cash back for those purchasing groceries with their Prime Visa card. You want to do one better, just download the Amazon app to your smartphone, use the code given and then purchase with Apple pay using your Amazon Prime credit card for maximum benefits. Of course, that’s only for those all in with the system.

Adding to that, there’s the super fast two-hour delivery option (in 20 cities for now, with more to come this year, according to Amazon) and grocery pickup so you don’t even have to wander through the store to get everything you need (although, I am one of those who likes picking out my own produce and wandering through the store sometimes),

I’ve also enjoyed using the integrated partnership to order Whole Foods items straight from my Amazon Fresh account (a lifesaver in those early days of postpartum when it was impossible to get out of the house). Before the integration I could use Instacart but had to order from each store separately in different orders. With Amazon, I can order from various stores, including Whole Foods through my Amazon Fresh account all in one order and then choose a time for delivery.

There’s still some bumps with that process — you can’t order every item available in Whole Foods, just what Fresh offers that week through the Amazon platform. The bags are also large and often don’t fill up to their full potential, leaving a lot of waste. But that’s like complaining you can’t get good WiFi on an airplane. It’s frustrating but you are flying through the sky and messaging people on the ground. Similar, you are ordering food through the air waves and it shows up at your door step. In the grand scheme, it’s amazing!

Anyway, yes, there are more conveniences for Amazon Prime members and further integrations with technology to make the shopping experience easier. It does also seem Amazon has hired more workers to fulfill the needs this technology creates. At my own market it seems tough to tell who is an Amazon worker rummaging through the aisles for listed items and who’s just shopping for themselves these days.

Is the marriage working? Tough to tell at this point. Those promised changes may seem exciting for both parties but between disappointed shoppers and a “clash” in culture it may not have been what Whole Foods faithful wanted. Still, at least some vendors have said they’ve seen an increase in sales and volume of products sold since the acquisition, despite the drop in prices. And Mackey, comparing his love for his wife with the relationship said in a recent interview “I don’t love absolutely everything about my wife, either, but on balance I love, like, 98%. That’s a pretty good ratio, based on my previous relationships.”

It might not even matter what loyal Whole Foods customers think. The acquisition gives Amazon an opportunity to introduce its 100 million Prime members to the grocery store it envisions — one that could drop organic, fossil fuel free groceries via drone at their doorstep in the future.

While it’s hard to know how the partnership has impacted Amazon’s bottom line overall, we do know sales going up and to the right is a good thing. We still need to see how this relationship performs over time but one year in looks promising.

Barclays: AirPods 2 due by Christmas 2019, AirPower launching in September

Some conflicting rumors are swirling regarding what Apple might have in cards for future AirPod models, with a new analyst report claiming that we’ll see a pair of second-generation earphones some time this year.

A second-generation AirPods will launch in the fourth quarter of 2019, Barclays claims, contradicting an earlier report from Bloomberg which predicted AirPods 2 with an improved Apple W2 wireless chip and built-in Hey Siri support would release this year.... Read the rest of this post here


"Barclays: AirPods 2 due by Christmas 2019, AirPower launching in September" is an article by iDownloadBlog.com.
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Barclays: cheaper HomePod coming in 2019

Apple’s Siri-powered wireless speaker could widen its addressable market next year by adding a new, more affordable model to the mix, according to Barclays analyst Blayne Curtis and his associates.

Barclays analyst Blayne Curtis and his associates returned from a recent tour of Asian firms in Apple’s supply chain, concluding that a more affordable HomePod model is due next year.... Read the rest of this post here


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Analyst predicts Apple will kill 3D Touch in 2019

According to Barclays analyst Blayne Curtis and his associates, Apple no longer finds 3D Touch an essential feature and will remove it from all OLED-based iPhone models to be released in 2019.

Apple is expected to adopt the iPhone X design across 2018’s iPhone models, but the company is now suspected to potentially ditch the 3D Touch pressure-sensing display feature from all 2019 iPhone models with an OLED screen.... Read the rest of this post here


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