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The upcoming CCPA regulations coming into effect in the US have put a renewed focus on how companies online are handling the issues of data privacy and compliance. Today a startup that’s built a platform to help them navigate those waters more easily is announcing a round of funding to meet that demand.

Ethyca, which lets organisations both identify where sensitive data may be used and then provides an easy set of API tools to create permissions, reporting and analytics around it, has raised $ 13.5 million in financing after picking up a number of major companies, including some high-profile tech companies, as customers.

The crux of the issue that Ethyca is tackling is that online privacy compliance has become a critical issue, in part because of regulations, but mainly because the online world has, before anyone had a chance to blink, become a critical component of our lives so getting things wrong can be disastrous.

“Move fast and break things sounds good on a T-shirt, but the web is effectively society infrastructure now,” explained co-founder and CEO Cillian Kieran, who hails from Ireland but now lives in New York. “If you met a bridge builder wearing a t-shirt saying that you’d panic. So despite the omnipresence of tech we don’t have the tools to deal with privacy issues. The aim here is to build safe systems, and we provide the data and data maps to do that.”

The funding comes on the back of a seed round Ethyca raised in July 2019 and brings the total raised to about $ 20 million. 

IA Ventures, Affirm and PayPal cofounder Max Levchin’s SciFi VC, CAA cofounder Michael Ovitz, Warby Parker cofounders Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa, Harry’s cofounder Jeff Raider, Allbird’s cofounder Joey Zwillinge, Behance cofounder Scott Belsky, former Chief Data Scientist of the US Office of Science and Technology Policy DJ Patil, Lachy Groom, and Abstract Ventures make up the long list of high-profile names and firms that are a part of this latest round, which speaks to some of the traction and attention that New York-based Ethyca has had to date.

On the enterprise side, the company works with a number of large tech businesses including banks and some major tech companies that don’t want their names disclosed, to help them both better map personal data within their systems, as well as create better workflows for extracting that information when it’s requested either by a user, or for the purposes of reporting for data compliance regulations, or more often to make sure that when new products are being built, that they take that existing personal data into account comply with data policies around it.

If it sounds odd that a tech company might need to turn to a third-party startup for privacy services, it’s not so strange. Even at big tech companies, which would have spent years and millions of dollars preparing for privacy regulations, the complexity has meant that not all use cases can be accounted for.

On the smaller end of the scale, it also has a number of well known brands like luggage company Away, Parachute Home and Aspire IQ as well a number of other smaller businesses implementing its tools.

As Kieran describes it, while there are already others out there building tools to navigate data protection and privacy regulations like CCPA and GDPR in Europe (OneTrust and DataGuard being two in the startup arena that have raised big rounds), the aim of Ethyca is to build a layer that makes it quick and relatively easy to implement a compliance layer into a system.

The company has APIs but also now has introduced a self-service version of its product for smaller businesses, which he says means that “any customer can turn it on and follow the automated process in a TurboTax type of way.”

CCPA compliance can take 8-10 weeks to implement, and you often need consultants and more technical talent to get the work done and run services afterwards, he said. “Now it can be done in as little as an hour for an average midsized business.” Larger companies may take a few days, he added.

Kieran and his co-founder Miguel Burger-Calderon know first-hand about some of the issues that brands and other online businesses might face when it comes to identifying what kind of data might fall under these newer regulations, and the challenges of navigating that once you do. BrandCommerce, a previous company that the two founded, helps brands and businesses build and run D2C operations online. (You can also see, therefore, why Ethyca may have in part picked up the particular investors that it has.)

“Companies can no longer simply strive to be compliant and get by – enterprises need to think long-term and show their customers that they can be trusted with their data,” said Roger Ehrenberg of IA Ventures in a statement. “Forward-thinking companies have recognised the value of Ethyca’s product to their bottom line as you can see from looking at the growing set of blue-chip brands and technology customers so far.”

 


TechCrunch

The head of what is arguably private equity’s most successful technology investment firm — Vista Equity Partners — made a rare appearance on Meet The Press to discuss the steps that the country needs to take to help minority-owned businesses recover from the economic collapse caused by the COVID-19 epidemic.

Robert F. Smith is one of the worlds wealthiest private equity investors, a noted philanthropist, and the richest African American in the U.S.  Days after announcing a $ 1.5 billion investment into the Indian telecommunications technology developer Jio Platforms, Smith turned his attention to the U.S. and the growing economic crisis that’s devastating minority businesses and financial institutions even as the COVID-19 epidemic ravages the health of minority communities.

Calling the COVID-19 “a pandemic on top of a series of epidemics”, Smith said that the next round of stimulus needs to support the small businesses that still remain underserved by traditional financial institutions — and that new financial technology software and services can help.

“We need to continue to rally as Americans to come with real, lasting, scalable solutions to enable the communities that are getting hit first, hardest, and probably will take the longest to recover with solutions that will help these communities thrive again,” Smith told NBC’s Chuck Todd.

Smith called for an infusion of cash into community development financial institutions and for a new wave of technology tools to support transparency and facilitate operations among these urban rural communities that aren’t served by large banking institutions. 

In all, the first round of the Congressional stimulus package poured $ 6 trillion into the U.S. economy through authorizations for the Treasury to issue $ 4 trillion in credit and $ 2 billion in cash payouts to various industries. The average size of those initial loans was just under $ 240,000, according to a post-mortem assessment of the Payroll Protection Program written by Lendio chief executive Brock Blake for Forbes

Blake’s assessment of the shortcomings of the PPP echoes Smith’s own criticism of the program. “Many of these small communities — urban, rural — aren’t being banked by the large institutions,” Smith said. Instead they’re working with community development financial institutions that in many instances weren’t approved lenders under the Small Business Administration and so were not able to distribute PPP money and make loans to their customers.

“We have to take this opportunity to reinvest in our business infrastructure in these small to medium businesses. In our banking infrastructure so that we can actually emerge out of this even stronger,” Smith said. “We have to invest in technology and software so that these ‘capillary banking systems’ are more efficient and they have more access to capital so they can engage with these businesses that are underbanked.”

In many instances this would amount to the construction of an entirely new financial infrastructure to support the small businesses that were only just beginning to emerge in minority communities after the 2008 recession.

“We need to get this average loan size to $ 25,000 and $ 15,000,” said Smith. To do that, community banks and development finance institutions are going to need to be able to access new fintech solutions that accelerate their ability to assess the creditworthiness of their customers and think differently about how to allocate capital and make loans. 

In some ways, Smith is echoing the call that fintech executives have been making since the PPP stimulus first started making its way through the financial system and banks began issuing loans.

“We would be remiss if we didn’t take a significant portion of capital to reinvest in the infrastructure of delivering capital back into those businesses and frankly reinvest in those businesses and give them technology and capability so there’s more transparency and visibility so there’s an opportunity to grow [and] scale,” said Smith. “I don’t want to see us go back to the same position where we were so we have these banking deserts.”

The head of Vista Equity Partners has even tasked his own portfolio companies to come up with solutions. As Barron’s reported last week, Smith told the Vista Equity portfolio company Finastra to develop technology that could help small lenders process Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses in underserved communities.

“In the process, it became apparent how unbanked these most vulnerable communities are, and we felt it was imperative to help build out permanent infrastructure in those banks so that they can build long-term relationships with the U.S. Small Business Administration beyond PPP,” Smith told Barrons.

As of last week, 800 lenders had processed 75,000 loans using the software that London-based Finastra developed for U.S. small lenders. Those loans generated $ 2.2 million in processing fees for the fintech company, proving that there’s money to be made in the small ticket lending market. And even as Finastra is reaping the rewards of its push into small business lending services, Vista Equity and Smith are donating the same amount to local food banks, according to a spokeswoman for the private equity firm, Barron’s reported.


TechCrunch

Vaping is a controversial habit: it certainly has its downsides, but anecdotally it’s a fantastic smoking cessation aid. The thing is, until behavioral scientists know a bit more about who does it, when, how much, and other details, its use will continue to be something of a mystery. That’s where the PuffPacket comes in.

Designed by Cornell engineers, the PuffPacket is a small device that attaches to e-cigarettes (or vape pens, or whatever you call yours) and precisely measures their use, sharing that information with a smartphone app for the user, and potentially researchers, to review later.

Some vaping devices are already set up with something like this, to tell a user when the cartridge is running low or a certain limit has been reached. But generally when vaping habits are studied, they rely on self-report data, not proprietary apps.

“The lack of continuous and objective understanding of vaping behaviors led us to develop PuffPacket to enable proper measurement, monitoring, tracking and recording of e-cigarette use, as opposed to inferring it from location and activity data, or self-reports,” said PhD student Alexander Adams, who led the creation of the device, in a Cornell news release.

The device fits a number of e-cigarette types, fitting between the mouthpiece and the heating element. It sits idle until the user breathes in, which activates the e-cigarette’s circuits and the PuffPacket’s as well. By paying attention to the voltage, it can tell how much liquid is being vaporized, as well as simpler measurements like the duration and timing of the inhalation.

An example using real data of how location and activity could be correlated with vaping.

This data is sent to the smartphone app via Bluetooth, where it is cross-referenced with other information, like location, motion, and other metadata. This may lead to identifiable patterns, like that someone vapes frequently when they walk in the morning but not the afternoon, or after coffee but not meals, or far more at the bar than at home — that sort of thing. Perhaps even (with the proper permissions) it could track use of certain apps — Instagram and vape? Post-game puff?

Some of these might be obvious, others not so much — but either way, it helps to have them backed up by real data rather than asking a person to estimate their own usage. They may not know, understand, or wish to admit their own habits.

“Getting these correlations between time of day, place and activity is important for understanding addiction. Research has shown that if you can keep people away from the paths of their normal habits, it can disrupt them,” said Adams.

No one is expecting people to voluntarily stick these things on their vape pens and share their info, but the design — which is being released as open source — could be used by researchers performing more formal studies. You can read the paper describing PuffPacket here.


TechCrunch

India’s push to digital payments in the last three years has seen tens of millions of people get comfortable with exchanging money online for the first time. But most businesses in the country are still offline and relying on traditional ways to engage with their customers. A Bangalore-based startup that is attempting to bring a similar digitization to them just got a nod from high profile investors.

Setu, a two-year-old startup, said on Wednesday that it has raised $ 15 million in its Series A financing round from Falcon Edge and Lightspeed Venture Partners U.S. Existing investors Lightspeed India Partners and Bharat Inclusion Seed Fund also participated in the round.

Setu is an API infrastructure provider that allows financial institutions such as banks to connect with companies and small businesses that want to provide financial services to their customers.

The idea is to connect small businesses such as a local cable TV operator or a neighborhood store that is already engaging with thousands of people to serve their customers better by offering formal financial services such as credit. Local kirana stores already have a great understanding of their customers and offer them informal credit. Could they work with financial institutions to formalize their services?

Setu, which means bridge in Sanskrit, today estimates that over a billion people in India need access to formal sachet-ized financial products and services. “Poor product design, high distribution costs, and legacy technology have been barriers to make this happen,” said Nikhil Kumar, co-founder of the startup.

Kumar previously worked as a fellow at iSPIRT Foundation that built an ecosystem for UPI, an infrastructure developed by a coalition of banks and backed by the Indian government that has amassed over 100 million users and clocks over a billion transactions a month. Setu’s other co-founder, Sahil Kini, worked at Aspada Investments.

The startup today offers open APIs across four categories — bills, savings, credit, and payments. Any developer can access its sandbox to build an application and go through a rigorous developer certification program to go live, the startup said. This makes it easy for any company to acquire plug-and-play financial services and become a fintech player.

“We are big believers in Setu’s vision to build infrastructure that enables the large-scale distribution of, and access to, financial products. Sahil, Nikhil, and the Setu team have an exciting roadmap for the future of financial services in India and we’re proud to support their journey,” said Bejul Somaia, Managing Partner at Lightspeed India, in a statement.

Setu recently launched Collect, an API bundle designed for developers to build their own custom collections product. For instance, lending collection companies are using Setu to build an omni-channel collections stack for banks and NBFCs. “This API platform is built on top of public infrastructure such as UPI and BBPS by partnering with some of India’s leading banks — Kotak, ICICI, & Axis Bank,” said Kumar.

The startup is now working on building blocks for digital financial services across FASTag, savings, credit, and data, he said.

More to follow…


TechCrunch

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is moving much more quickly to grant special ’emergency use authorization’ to equipment and tests that could help increase testing for the novel coronavirus in the U.S., which lags behind most countries in the world when it comes to tests conducted relative to the size of its population. One type of test just approved for use could help expand the availability of frontline testing in hospitals and at clinics where patients are receiving care – without requiring round-tripping to a dedicated diagnostics lab.

Cepheid’s COVID-19 test, which the agency approved this week, also has the advantage of being able to be run either with or without use of a nasal swab, which is key because supplies of nasal swabs are taxed globally in light of the need for testing. It’s also a molecular, PCR-based test, with high rates of accuracy just like the lab-based testing that’s already in place across facilities in the U.S., but it uses the company’s GeneXpert machine (basically a diagnostics kit the size of an inkjet printer cartdrige lab in a box roughly the size of an inkjet printer) to produce results on-site.

Cepheid says that around 23,000 of its GeneXpert micro-labs are already in use around the world, with around 5,000 of those located in the U.S. The company’s hardware has been running tests for the flu for years already, with high reliability rates. The new COVID-19 tests for the system will begin to be shipped out by the Sunnyvale-based molecular diagnostics company starting next week.

Testing in the U.S. has increased over the past week, thanks in large part to widespread efforts to expand availability especially in hard-hit regions like New York State. But the need for more tests is still pressing, as the limits of availability mean that essentially only the most severe cases, often requiring confirmed contact tracing or proof of elevated risk, are being tested. Solutions like Cepheid’s, as well as other potential alternative test methods than can be done entirely at home, like Scanwell’s forthcoming test that looks for antibodies in a person’s blood, are much-needed if we hope to truly expand testing to a degree that it can properly inform any coronavirus mitigation strategy.


TechCrunch

All over the globe, the population of people who are aged 65 and older is growing faster than every other age group. According to United Nations data, by 2050, one in six people in the world will be over age 65, up from one in 11 right now. Meanwhile, in Europe and North America, by 2050, one in four people could be 65 or over.

Unsurprisingly, startups increasingly recognize opportunities to cater to this aging population. Some are developing products to sell to individuals and their family members directly; others are coming up with ways to empower those who work directly with older Americans.

BrainCheck, a 20-person, Houston-based startup whose cognitive healthcare product aims to help physicians assess and track the mental health of their patients, is among the latter. Investors like what it has put together, too. Today, the startup is announcing $ 8 million in Series A funding round co-led by S3 Ventures and Tensility Venture Partners.

We talked earlier today with BrainCheck cofounder and CEO Yael Katz to better understand what her company has created and why it might be of interest to doctors who don’t know about it. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity.

TC: You’re a neuroscientist. You started BrianCheck with David Eagleman, another neuroscientist and the CEO of NeoSensory, a company that develops devices for sensory substitution. Why? What’s the opportunity here?

YK: We looked across the landscape, and we realized that most cognitive assessment is [handled by] a subspecialty of clinical psychology called neuropsychology, where patients are given a series a tests and each is designed to probe a different type of brain function — memory, visual attention, reasoning, executive function. They measure speed and accuracy, and based on that, determine whether there’s a deficit in that domain. But the tests were classically done on paper and it was a lengthy process. We digitized them and gamified them and made them accessible to everyone who is upstream of neuropsychology, including neurologists and primary care doctors.

We created a tech solution that provides clinical decision support to physicians so they can manage patients’ cognitive health. There are 250,000 primary care physicians in the U.S. and 12,000 neurologists and [they’re confronting] what’s been called a silver tsunami. With so many becoming elderly, it’s not possible for them to address the need of the aging population without tech to help them.

TC: How does your product work, and how is it administered?

YK: An assessment is all done on an iPad and takes about 10 minutes. They’re typically administered in a doctor’s office by medical technicians, though they can be administered remotely through telemedicine, too.

TC: These are online quizzes?

YK: Not quizzes and not subjective questions like, ‘How do you think you’re doing?’ but rather objective tasks, like connect the dots, and which way is the center arrow pointing — all while measuring speed and accuracy.

TC: How much does it cost these doctors’ offices, and how are you getting word out?

YZ: We sell a monthly subscription to doctors and it’s a tiered pricing model as measured by volume. We meet doctors at conferences and we publish blog posts and white papers and through that process, we meet them and sell products to them, beginning with a free trial for 30 days, during which time we also give them a web demo.

[What we’re selling] is reimbursable by insurance because it helps them report on and optimize metrics like patient satisfaction. Medicare created a new code to compensate doctors for cognitive care planning though it was rarely used because the requirements and knowledge involved was so complicated. When we came along, we said, let us help you do what you’re trying to do, and it’s been very rewarding.

TC: Say one of these assessments enables a non specialist to determine that someone is losing memory or can’t think as sharply. What then?

YZ: There’s phrase: “Diagnose and adios.” Unfortunately, a lot of doctors used to see their jobs as being done once an assessment was made. It wasn’t appreciated that impairment and dementia are things you can address. But about one third of dementia is preventable, and once you have the disease, it can be slowed.  It’s hard because it requires a lot of one-on-one work, so we created a tech solution that uses the output of tests to provide clinical support to physicians so they can manage patients’ cognitive health. We provide personalized recommendations in a way that’s scalable.

TC: Meaning you suggest an action plan for the doctors to pass along to their patients based on these assessments?

YZ: There are nine modifiable risk factors found to account for a third of [dementia cases], including certain medications that can exacerbate cognitive impairment, including poorly controlled cardiovascular health, hearing impairment, and depression. People can have issues for many reasons — multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Parkinson’s — but health conditions like major depression and physical conditions like cancer and treatments like chemotherapy can cause brain fog. We suggest a care plan that goes to the doctor who then uses that information and modifies it. A lot of it has to do with medication management.

A lot of the time, a doctor — and family members — don’t know how impaired a patient is. You can have a whole conversation with someone during a doctor’s visit who is regaling you with great conversation, then you realize they have massive cognitive deficits. These assessments kind of put everyone on the same page.

TC: You’ve raised capital, how will you use it to move your product forward?

YK: We’ll be combining our assessments with digital biomarkers like changing voice patterns and a test of eye movements, and we have developed an eye-tracking technology and voice algorithms, but those are still in clinical development; we’re trying to get FDA approval for them now.

TC: Interesting that changing voice patterns can help you diagnose cognitive decline.

YK: We aren’t diagnosing disease. Think of us as a thermometer that [can highlight] how much impairment is there and in what areas and how it’s progressive over time.

TC: What can you tell readers who might worry about their privacy as it relates to your product?

YK: Our software is HIPAA compliant. We make sure our engineers are trained and up to date. The FDA requires that we we put a lot of standards in place and we ensure that our database is built in accordance with best practices. I think we’re doing as good a job as anyone can.

Privacy is a concern in general. Unfortunately, companies big and small have to be ever vigilant about a data breach.


TechCrunch

An Indian startup that is attempting to improve the way how millions of people in the nation lease or buy an apartment — by not paying any brokerage — just raised a significant amount of capital to further expand its business.

NoBroker said on Wednesday it has raised $ 50 million in a new financing round. The Series D round for the Bangalore-based real estate property operator was led by Tiger Global Management and included participation from existing investor General Atlantic. The five-year-old startup, which closed its previous financing round in June, has raised $ 121 million to date. The new round valued NoBroker at about $ 325 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

NoBroker operates in six cities in India: Bengaluru, Chennai, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Pune. The startup has established itself as one of the largest players in the local real estate business. It operates over 3 million properties on its website and serves about 7 million users. It is adding more than 280,000 new users each month, Amit Kumar, cofounder and CEO of NoBroker, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Real estate brokers in India, as is true in other markets, help people find properties. But they can charge up to 10 months worth of rent (leasing) — or a single-digit percent of the apartment’s worth if someone is buying the property — in urban cities as their commission. NoBroker allows the owner of a property to directly connect with potential tenants to remove brokerage charges from the equation.

The startup makes money in three ways. First, it lets non-paying users get in touch with only nine property owners. Those who wish to contact more property owners are required to pay a fee. Second, property owners can opt to pay NoBroker to have its representatives deal with prospective buyers — in a move that ironically makes the startup serve as a broker.

NoBroker also offers end-to-end services such as rent agreements, home loans, and movers and packers, for which it also charges a fee. The startup says it uses machine learning to speed up the transactions and make it service low-cost.

The startup processes about $ 14 million in rent each month, Kumar said. This is increasing by 25%-30% each month, he said. NoBroker’s business in Bangalore and Mumbai, two of its largest cities, are already profitable, Kumar said.

The startup will use the fresh capital to expand its business and build more products. It recently launched a community and digital management app to keep a digital log of all the entries — say a Flipkart delivery personnel comes to your house — occurring in a society, and maintain a dialogue with other people in a vicinity. The app also allows users to exchange goods with one another and pay their utility bills, startup’s executives said.

The new financing round is oddly smaller than $ 51 million NoBroker had raised in June this year. Saurabh Garg, chief business officer of NoBroker, told TechCrunch in an interview that the founding team did not want to dilute their stake in the startup, hence they opted for a smaller round.

NoBroker is competing with a number of players including Proptiger, 99Acres, and heavily backed NestAway, which counts Goldman Sachs and Tiger Global among its investors. NestAway operates in eight Indian cities and has raised north of $ 100 million to date. Budget hotel startup Oyo, which has already become one of the largest hotel businesses in the world, also operates in NoBroker’s territory with Oyo Living.

But NoBroker’s Kumar said he does not see Oyo and other startups as competition. Instead, “these other players are some of our largest clients,” he said. India’s real estate industry is estimated to grow to $ 1 trillion in worth by 2030.

The business model of NoBroker has also created new local challenges for the startup. Brokers are unsurprisingly not happy with startups such as NoBroker and have grown hostile in recent years. In recent years, they have attacked and harassed NoBroker employees. So much so that the startup had to delist its address from Google Maps. But Kumar said the mindset of people is changing.


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