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If you work for someone else, you likely know the drill: in comes that annual email reminding you that it’s time for unconscious bias or sexual harassment training, and if you could please finish up this mandatory module by this date, that would be terrific.

The email — not to mention the programming itself — is straight out of “Office Space.” Little surprise that when Anne Solmssen, a Harvard-trained computer scientist, happened to call a friend recently who was clicking through his own company-sponsored training program, his answer to how it was going was, “It’s more interesting when I have baseball on.”

Solmssen has some other ideas about how to make sexual harassment training far more interesting and less “cringe-worthy.” Indeed, she recently joined forces with Roxanne Petraeus, another Harvard grad, to create Ethena, a software-as-a-service startup that’s promising customizable training delivered in bite-size segments that caters to individuals based on how much they already know about sexual harassment in the workplace. The software will also be sector-specific when it’s released more widely in the first quarter of next year.

The company first came together this past summer led by Petraeus, who joined the U.S. Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to help defray the cost of her Ivy League education and wound up spending seven years in the U.S. Army, including as a civil affairs officer, before co-founding an online meals marketplace, then spending a year with McKinsey & Co. to get a better handle on how businesses are run.

Petraeus says that across her experience, and particularly in the Army, she had “great leaders who were super thoughtful” about sexual harassment training, “who cared about their [reports’] development goals and what was happening in their personal lives, and brought out the best in their people, rather than making them feel less than or marginalized.”

Still, she was aware that from an institutional standpoint, most harassment training is not thoughtful, that it’s a matter of checking boxes on an annual basis to ensure compliance with different state laws, depending on where an organization is headquartered. She marveled that so much of the content employees are being forced to consume seems “designed for a 1980s law firm.”

Solmssen was meanwhile working for a venture-backed public safety software company, Mark43. She was getting along just fine, too, but when a friend put the two in touch on the hunch that their engineering talent and vision could amount to something, that instinct proved right.

“I’d been working for Mark43 for four years, and I wasn’t particularly interested in starting a business,” Solmssen says. “But I fell in love with Roxanne and this idea, and I came to this thinking that someone needs to make [this training process] better. We’re still using the tools and technologies that we’ve had since 1997.”

So how is what they’re building different than what’s currently available? In lots of ways, seemingly. For starters, Ethena doesn’t want employees to “knock it out all at once” in an hour or two of training at the end of each year. Instead, it’s creating what it calls monthly “nudges” that deliver relevant studies and questions on a monthly basis — information that can then be used in an all-hands meeting, for example, helping to reinforce its goals.

It’s also focused on sending content and questions to people that’s iterative and that evolves based on how an individual responds. A new hire might answer very differently than a sponsor of other women within an organization, for example. It’s a stark contrast to to the black-and-white scenarios that every employee is typically presented. (Think: “Judy and Brian go to a bar after work.”)

These subtleties are a significant development, argues Petraeus, because “traditional training implicitly tells employees that going to spending time together outside of work is bad for mentorship. It’s why you hear things like, ‘I just hired my first female analyst; can I get into an Uber with her when we’re traveling?’ ” Turning every mixed-gender occasion into a potential minefield is “not the message we should be conveying.”

Yet it’s a message that’s being absorbed. According to a survey conducted earlier this year by LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey, 60% of managers who are men are now uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone or socializing together. That’s a 32% jump from a year ago. According to that same survey, senior-level men are now 12 times more hesitant to have one-on-one meetings with junior women, nine times more hesitant to travel together and six times more hesitant to have work dinners together.

Even the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission thinks sexual harassment training has gone wrong somewhere, noting that it hasn’t worked as a prevention tool in part because it’s been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability. Indeed, a few years ago, a task force studying harassment in the workplace on behalf of the EEOC concluded that “effective training cannot occur in a vacuum – it must be part of a holistic culture of non-harassment that starts at the top.” Similarly, it added, “one size does not fit all: training is most effective when tailored to the specific workforce and workplace and different cohorts of employees.”

Toward that end, and with compliance in mind, Ethena is also modernizing the content it delivers, including as it pertains to dating at work, which definitely happens; and inclusivity around pregnant colleagues, who are often subtly marginalized; and transgender colleagues, who can also find themselves feeling either misunderstood or overlooked by current sexual harassment training materials.

There’s also a heavy focus on analytics. If 60% of employees don’t know about a company’s policies around office dating, for example, or employees in an outfit’s marketing department appear to know less about an organization’s values than other departments, it will flag these things so managers can take preventative action. (“Say there’s a new manager in the LA office where employees seem to be answering less consistently,” suggests Solmssen. “We can provide additional training to get that person up to speed.”)

For Petraeus — who is the daughter-in-law of retired general and former CIA director David Petraeus — the overarching goal is to kill off mandatory yearly training where the takeaway for many employees, the fundamental standard, is, “Can I go to jail for this comment?”

It’s too soon to say if Ethena will be successful. It’s only halfway through a pilot training program at the moment. But Solmssen and Petraeus are strong pitchmen, and they say their software will be available beginning in the first quarter of next year for $ 4 per employee per month, which is on a par with other e-learning programs.

The startup has also won the support of early backers who’ve already given the months-old outfit $ 850,000 to start hiring. Among those investors: Neo, a venture fund started last year by serial entrepreneur Ali Partovi; Village Global; and Jane VC, which is a fund focused on women-led startups.

Numerous angel investors have also written Ethena a check, including Reshma Saujani, who is the founder of the organization Girls Who Code, and a handful of military veterans.

As for the last group, “they’re not a group that’s typically represented in startup ventures,” observes Petraeus, “but in terms of leadership and thinking about how to get a diverse team oriented around the same goal,” they’re hard to match.


TechCrunch

Toggle, a Brooklyn-based robotics startup, announced today that it scored $ 3 million in seed funding. The early-stage round was led by Point72 Ventures’ AI Group, with participation from Mark Cuban and VC Twenty Seven Ventures. The series follows a 2018 pre-seed round of $ 570,000 from its Urban-X accelerator, Urban Us, Accelerate NY / Empire State Development and Perl Street Capital.

The 15-person startup creates robotics that fabricate and assemble rebar. It’s designed to work in tandem with existing robotics and steel fabrication technologies, while speeding up the process up to 15 times, by the company’s count.

Toggle has already begun a soft launch “for a wide range of projects in New York City and the surrounding area,” according to the company. It expects to ramp up toward commercial production over the course of the next year and a half. CEO Daniel Blank tells TechCrunch that the seed round will be used toward R&D and growing the Toggle team.

“This funding will be used to further develop our technology — both the hardware and software — around assembly and fabrication automation, as well as grow the engineering team that supports this development,” Blank tells TechCrunch. “The funding also provides us with a strong foundation for our manufacturing operation which is already supplying services and materials to customers in New York City and the surrounding region.”


TechCrunch

During an event at the United Nations Delegates Dining Room in New York City, IBM unveiled the winners to its annual  Call for Code Global Challenge. The competition, which is targeted at computing solutions for global problems, crowned five winners, ranging from first responders to health care info.

Prometeo took the top price for its Watson-based AI solution targeted at firefighters. The team, which is lead by a 33-year firefighting veteran, has developed a tool designed to monitor health and safety in the industry, both long term and in real-time. The Spanish startup developed a smartphone-sized device that straps onto the wearer’s arm to gauge things like temperature, smoke and humidity.

“If the color signal is green, the health of the firefighter is okay,” cofounder Salomé Valero explains on IBM’s site. “But if the color signal is yellow or red, the command center must do something. They must take immediate action in order to rescue or remove the firefighter from the fire.”

The team is working to roll out the device for testing in Spain, but is currently seeking funding for the project. The $ 200,000 prize from IBM ought to help out a bit.

The second place price went to India/China/US-based Sparrow, which has developed a platform for addressing physical and psychological health during natural disasters. U.C.L.A. team, Rove scored third place with a similar concept.

Call for Code is a five year program that aims to hand out $ 30 million for teams addressing widespread societal issues.


TechCrunch

In less than two years, Revel has gone from an idea to a shared electric vehicle startup with more than 1,400 mopeds across Washington D.C., and Brooklyn and Queens, New York. Now, it’s ready to grow up — and beyond these three cities — with a fresh injection of $ 27.6 million in capital raised in a Series A round led by Ibex Investors.

The equity round included newcomer Toyota AI Ventures and further investments from Blue Collective, Launch Capital and Maniv Mobility.

The capital will, as it often does with startups, allow Revel to scale up. CEO and co-founder Frank Reig said this growth will extend to its fleet of scooters within the cities it currently operates as well as expand into new markets. Reig wouldn’t name where the New York-based startup will launch next, although he provided some hints. Large U.S. cities with the right population density and more temperate weather are at the top of the list.

Revel is targeting about 10 cities by mid-2020, Reig added.

How that growth occurs, and who is behind its operations, is what Reig believes differentiates Revel from other shared electric vehicle providers such as scooter startups that have had a record of deploying in cities before getting approval from local authorities.

Many startups in the shared industry, including Revel, talk up their focus on safety and desire to be responsible partners with cities. Revel’s choice of vehicle — along with a few other decisions — helps it stick to those promises.

“These mopeds are motor vehicles,” Reig noted. “This means there’s no regulatory gray area: you have to have a license plate. To get that license plate you have register each vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicles in each state and show third-party auto liability insurance. And then because it’s a motor vehicle, it’s clear that it rides in the street, so we’re completely off sidewalks.”

Revel caps the speed of its mopeds to 30 miles per hour. The company also provides two helmets — and single-use liners — on every ride and requires users to be licensed drivers aged, 21 or older who pass an initial safe driving history check. About one out of every 12 applicants does not make it past this screening, according to Revel.

Any concerns about users bypassing the protective headgear are largely erased because both New York and Washington D.C. have helmet laws, Reig said.

No giga workers

The company, unlike most on-demand mobility startups, does not have any gig economy workers either. Revel only has full-time employees, said Reig, adding that it’s decision he intends to stick with it even as his company grows.

“We don’t use gig economy in anything we do and I see a ton of value in that,” Reig said. “We need a well-trained workforce that is really committed and cares about the vehicles, because if not it’s something we’re going to be throwing out every 60 days.”

Revel’s shared mopeds have a 3-year asset life, Reig said based on their in-house estimates. To ensure the mopeds last, which has become a key factor in the unit economics of shared mobility businesses, they remain on street.

The mopeds are removed by employees for routine maintenance that occurs every four to six months. Otherwise, the mopeds aren’t loaded into vans by gig economy workers who make money by charging them up — a common practice with the small stand-up scooters that have inundated cities like San Diego and San Francisco. Instead, employees swap out the batteries on the mopeds, which have a range of about 50 miles.

20 months and 1,400 scooters

The idea for Revel was borne out of Reig’s travels to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he witnessed locals on every form of two-wheeled vehicle.

“A sort of light bulb went off my head, and I asked myself, ‘why is it not a thing in the U.S?,” Reig told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “I came back to New York, started studying the market more and saw all these electric moped operators had been popping up in Europe over the last few years and just realized that if I don’t do it, somebody else will.”

The company started with a small pilot of 68 mopeds in a few neighborhoods within Brooklyn. In May, after a nine-month pilot, Revel pulled the original mopeds it used in its limited pilot and has replaced them with 1,000 new models built for two riders and equipped with kickstands for parking. With more mopeds in its fleet, Revel expanded the service to more than 20 neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. In August, Revel launched its service in Washington D.C., where there are now more than 400 mopeds.

Revel rides cost $ 1 per person to start, followed by $ 0.25 per minute to ride and $ 0.10 per minute while parked. Revel says it will cut the cost by 40% for eligible riders — and give them a $ 25 credit — through its Revel Access program. Riders who use public assistance programs like SNAP or live in NYCHA housing are eligible for the program.


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

German just hit a new milestone in the space where venture capital and the burgeoning Cannabis industry meet.

Berlin startup Demecan has completed a Series A financing round of 7 million euros to expand its production facility for medical cannabis and the wholesale trade in Germany. It’s become the only German company allowed to produce medical cannabis in Germany.

This is a watershed for the country and is the first investment in this sector for btov Partners, a private investor network. The other half of the funding came from a single, named German family office, which is understood to have its roots in the consumer goods sector. Only two other companies, two of them from Canada, were awarded the contract to produce medical cannabis in Germany in May 2019.

btov Partners manages assets of €420 million and has previously invested in tech startups such as Blacklane, Data Artisans, DeepL, Facebook, Foodspring, ORCAM, Raisin, SumUp, Volocopter and XING.

The green light from Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM), means Demecan will be able to produce at least 2,400 kilograms of dried cannabis flowers over the next four years. Demecan is also active as an importer and wholesaler of medical cannabis and can thus cover the entire value chain. Since the German government allowed cannabis to be prescribed for therapeutic purposes in 2017 demand has outstripped supply.

Jennifer Phan of btov Partners said in a statement: “Demecan operates in a very attractive market at the right time. Germany currently represents the third-largest market for medical cannabis in the world and is on a growth path. We believe that the company has a first-mover advantage in a highly regulated market environment, especially as it is the only German manufacturing and trading company in the European market”.

Dr. Constantin von der Groeben, co-founder of Demecan, added: “In recent years, we have intensively dealt with the market and reached an important milestone by winning the tender process. We are now focusing on further growth and the start of production in 2020.”


TechCrunch

At the very beginning, there were 20 startups. After two days of incredibly fierce competition, we now have a winner.

Startups participating in the Startup Battlefield have all been hand-picked to participate in our highly competitive startup competition. They all presented in front of multiple groups of VCs and tech leaders serving as judges for a chance to win $ 100,000 and the coveted Disrupt Cup.

After hours of deliberations, TechCrunch editors pored over the judges’ notes and narrowed the list down to five finalists: OmniVis, Orbit Fab, Render, StrattyX and Traptic.

These startups made their way to the finale to demo in front of our final panel of judges, which included: Mamoon Hamid (Kleiner Perkins), Ashton Kutcher (Sound Ventures), Alfred Lin (Sequoia), Marissa Mayer (Lumi Labs), Ann Miura-Ko (Floodgate Ventures) and Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch).

Winner: Render

Render has created a managed cloud platform. The company wants to provide an alternative to traditional cloud providers, such as AWS, Azure and GCP. And it starts with an infrastructure that is easier to manage thanks to automated deployments and a abstracted way to manage your application that is reminiscent of Heroku.

Read more about Render in our separate post.

Runner-Up: OmniVis

OmniVis aims to make detection of cholera and other pathogens as quick, simple and cheap as a pregnancy test. Its smartphone-powered detection platform could save thousands of lives.

Read more about OmniVis in our separate post.


TechCrunch

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