Uber has been refused permission to dismiss 11 people at its EMEA headquarters in Amsterdam by the Dutch Employee Insurance Agency (UWV), the ride hailing company has confirmed.
The affected individuals did not take up an earlier severance offer as part of wider Uber layoffs earlier this year.
Uber announced major global layoffs of around 15% of its workforce in May — which included around 200 staff based in Amsterdam — blaming the cuts on changes to demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Late last week, Dutch newspaper NRC reported that Uber had been refused permission to fire the staff as the UWV had found there were no grounds for dismissal.
Per its report, affected Uber employees had faced pressure to accept Uber’s severance offer — saying they were disconnected from its internal systems the day after being informed of termination via Zoom video call and were then sent daily reminders to accept dismissal with Uber telling them ‘their position was ceasing to exist’.
Dutch law requires employers to obtain approval from the UWV for planned redundancies. But the majority of the affected staff in this instance accepted its severance offer before the agency had made a decision. Local press reports suggest many of those affected were expats — who may have been unaware of their labor rights under Dutch law.
We reached out to Uber with questions — and a company spokesperson sent us this statement:
Earlier this year we made the difficult decision to reduce our global headcount due to the dramatic impact of the pandemic, and the unpredictable nature of any eventual recovery. The headcount reductions in our EMEA Headquarters in Amsterdam are part of those efforts.
Uber also told us it does not agree with the UWV’s decision to refuse permission for it to dismiss the 11 employees who had not accepted severance, adding that it will review the decision before determining how to proceed.
It said the severance packages offered to the ~200 affected employees included at least 2.5 months of salary, health benefits to the end of the year, outplacement/recruitment support and additional support for Uber-sponsored visa holders.
Allison Xu is an investor at Bain Capital Ventures, where she focuses on investments in the fintech and property tech sectors.
In the wake of COVID-19 this spring, construction sites across the nation emptied out alongside neighboring restaurants, retail stores, offices and other commercial establishments. Debates ensued over whether the construction industry’s seven million employees should be considered “essential,” while regulations continued to shift on the operation of job sites. Meanwhile, project demand steadily shrank.
Amidst the chaos, construction firms faced an existential question: How will they survive? This question is as relevant today as it was in April. As one of the least-digitized sectors of our economy, construction is ripe for technology disruption.
Construction is a massive, $1.3 trillion industry in the United States — a complex ecosystem of lenders, owners, developers, architects, general contractors, subcontractors and more. While each construction project has a combination of these key roles, the construction process itself is highly variable depending on the asset type. Roughly 41% of domestic construction value is in residential property, 25% in commercial property and 34% in industrial projects. Because each asset type, and even subassets within these classes, tends to involve a different set of stakeholders and processes, most construction firms specialize in one or a few asset groups.
Regardless of asset type, there are four key challenges across construction projects:
High fragmentation: Beyond the developer, architect, engineer and general contractor, projects could involve hundreds of subcontractors with specialized expertise. As the scope of the project increases, coordination among parties becomes increasingly difficult and decision-making slows.
Poor communication: With so many different parties both in the field and in the office, it is often difficult to relay information from one party to the next. Miscommunication and poor project data accounts for 48% of all rework on U.S. construction job sites, costing the industry over $31 billion annually according to FMI research.
Lack of data transparency: Manual data collection and data entry are still common on construction sites. On top of being laborious and error-prone, the lack of real-time data is extremely limited, therefore decision-making is often based on outdated information.
Skilled labor shortage: The construction workforce is aging faster than the younger population that joins it, resulting in a shortage of labor particularly for skilled trades that may require years of training and certifications. The shortage drives up labor costs across the industry, particularly in the residential sector, which traditionally sees higher attrition due to its more variable project demand.
A construction tech boom
Too many of the key processes involved in managing multimillion-dollar construction projects are carried out on Excel or even with pen and paper. The lack of tech sophistication on construction sites materially contributes to job delays, missed budgets and increased job site safety risk. Technology startups are emerging to help solve these problems.
Here are the main categories in which we’re seeing construction tech startups emerge.
1. Project conception
How it works today: During a project’s conception, asset owners and/or developers develop site proposals and may work with lenders to manage the project financing.
Key challenges: Processes for managing construction loans are cumbersome and time intensive today given the complexity of the loan draw process.
How technology can address challenges: Design software such as Spacemaker AI can help developers create site proposals, while construction loan financing software such as Built Technologies and Rabbet are helping lenders and developers manage the draw process in a more efficient manner.
2. Design and engineering
How it works today: Developers work with design, architect and engineering teams to turn ideas into blueprints.
Key challenges: Because the design and engineering teams are often siloed from the contractors, it’s hard for designers and engineers to know the real-time impact of their decisions on the ultimate cost or timing of the project. Lack of coordination with construction teams can lead to time-consuming changes.
How technology can address challenges: Of all the elements of the construction process, the design and engineering process itself is the most technologically sophisticated today, with relatively high adoption of software like Autodesk to help with design documentation, specification development, quality assurance and more. Autodesk is moving downstream to offer a suite of solutions that includes construction management, providing more connectivity between the teams.
Asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 is a huge contributor to the pandemic, but of course if there are no symptoms, how can anyone tell they should isolate or get a test? MIT research has found that hidden in the sound of coughs is a pattern that subtly, but reliably, marks a person as likely to be in the early stages of infection. It could make for a much-needed early warning system for the virus.
The sound of one’s cough can be very revealing, as doctors have known for many years. AI models have been built to detect conditions like pneumonia, asthma and even neuromuscular diseases, all of which alter how a person coughs in different ways.
He and his team set up a site where people could contribute coughs, and ended up assembling “the largest research cough dataset that we know of.” Thousands of samples were used to train up the AI model, which they document in an open access IEEE journal.
The model seems to have detected subtle patterns in vocal strength, sentiment, lung and respiratory performance, and muscular degradation, to the point where it was able to identify 100% of coughs by asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers and 98.5% of symptomatic ones, with a specificity of 83% and 94% respectively, meaning it doesn’t have large numbers of false positives or negatives.
“We think this shows that the way you produce sound, changes when you have COVID, even if you’re asymptomatic,” said Subirana of the surprising finding. However, he cautioned that although the system was good at detecting non-healthy coughs, it should not be used as a diagnosis tool for people with symptoms but unsure of the underlying cause.
I asked Subirana for a bit more clarity on this point.
“The tool is detecting features that allow it to discriminate the subjects that have COVID from the ones that don’t,” he wrote in an email. “Previous research has shown you can pick up other conditions too. One could design a system that would discriminate between many conditions but our focus was on picking out COVID from the rest.”
For the statistics-minded out there, the incredibly high success rate may raise some red flags. Machine learning models are great at a lot of things, but 100% isn’t a number you see a lot, and when you do you start thinking of other ways it might have been produced by accident. No doubt the findings will need to be proven on other data sets and verified by other researchers, but it’s also possible that there’s simply a reliable tell in COVID-induced coughs that a computer listening system can hear quite easily.
The team is collaborating with several hospitals to build a more diverse data set, but is also working with a private company to put together an app to distribute the tool for wider use, if it can get FDA approval.
It wasn’t the lingering exhaustion that made Christine Huang, a New York public school teacher, leave the profession. Or the low pay. Or the fact that she rarely had time to spend with her kids after the school day due to workload demands.
Instead, Huang left teaching after seven years because of how New York City handled the coronavirus pandemic in schools.
“Honestly, I have no confidence in the city,” she says. Tensions between educators and NYC officials grew over the past few weeks, as school openings were delayed twice and staffing shortages continue. In late September, the union representing NYC’s principals called on the state to take control of the situation, slamming Mayor de Blasio for his inability to offer clear guidance.
Now, schools are open and the number of positive coronavirus cases are surprisingly low. Still, Huang says there’s a lack of grace given to teachers in this time.
Huang wanted the flexibility to work from home to take care of her kids who could no longer get daycare. But her school said that, while kids have the choice on whether or not to come into class, teachers do not. She gave her notice days later.
There are more than 3 million public school teachers in the United States. Over the years, thousands have left the system due to low pay and rigid hours. But the coronavirus is a different kind of stress test. As schools seesaw between open and closed, some teachers are left without direction, feeling undervalued and underutilized. The confusion could usher numbers of other teachers out of the field, and massively change the teacher economy as we know it.
Teacher departures are a loss for public schools, but an opportunity for startups racing to win a share of the changing teacher economy. Companies don’t have the same pressures as entire school districts, and thus are able to give teachers a way to teach on more flexible hours. As for salaries, edtech benefits from going directly to consumers, making money less of a budget challenge and more of a sell to parents’ wallets.
There’s Outschool, which allows teachers to lead small-group classes on subjects such as algebra, beginner reading or even mindfulness for kids; Varsity Tutor, which connects educators to K-12 students in need of extra help; and companies such as Swing and Prisma that focus on pod-based learning taught by teachers.
The startups all have different versions of the same pitch: they can offer teachers more money, and flexibility, than the status quo.
Underpaid and overworked teachers
There’s a large geographic discrepancy in pay among teachers. Salaries are decided on a state-by-state and district-by-district level. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a teacher who works in Mississippi makes an average of $45,574 annually, while a teacher in New York makes an average of $82,282 annually.
Although cost of living factors impacts teacher salaries like any other profession, data shows that teachers are underpaid as a profession. According to a study from the Economic Policy Institute, teachers earn 19% less than similarly skilled and educated professionals. A 2018 study by the Department of Education shows that full-time public school teachers are earning less on average, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than they earned in 1990.
The variance of salaries among teachers means that there’s room, and a need, for rebalancing. Startups, looking to get a slice of the teacher economy, suddenly can form an entire pitch around these discrepancies. What if a company can help a Mississippi teacher make a wage similar to a New York teacher?
Image: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch
Reach Capital is a venture capital firm whose partners invest in education technology companies. Jennifer Carolan, co-founder of the firm, who also worked in the Chicago Public School system for years, sees coronavirus as an accelerator, not a trigger, for the departure of teachers.
“We have an education system where teachers are underpaid, overworked, and you don’t have the flexibility that has become so important for workers now,” she said. “All these things have caused teachers to seek opportunity outside of the traditional schooling system.”
Carolan, who penned an op-ed about teachers leaving the public school system, says that new pathways for teachers are emerging out of the homeschooling tech sector. One of her investments, Outschool, has helped teachers earn tens of millions this year alone, as the total addressable market for what it means to be “homeschooled” changed overnight.
Gig economy powered by startups
Education technology services have created a teacher gig economy over the past few years. Learning platforms, with unprecedented demand, must attract teachers to their service with one of two deal sweeteners: higher wages or more flexible hours.
Outschool is a platform that sells small-group classes led by teachers on a large expanse of topics, from Taylor Swift Spanish class to engineering lessons through Lego challenges. In the past year, teachers on Outschool have made more than $40 million in aggregate, up from $4 million in total earnings the year prior.
CEO Amir Nathoo estimates that teachers are able to make between $40 to $60 per hour, up from an average of $30 per hour in earnings in traditional public schools. Outschool itself has surged over 2,000% in new bookings, and recently turned its first profit.
Outschool makes more money if teachers join the platform full-time: teachers pocket 70% of the price they set for classes, while Outschool gets the other 30% of income. But, Nathoo views the platform as more of a supplement to traditional education. Instead of scaling revenue by convincing teachers to come on full-time, the CEO is growing by adding more part-time teachers to the platform.
The company has added 10,000 vetted teachers to its platform, up from 1,000 in March.
Outschool competitor Varsity Tutors is taking a different approach entirely, focusing less on hyperscaling its teacher base and more on slow, gradual growth. In August, Varsity Tutors launched a homeschooling offering meant to replace traditional school. It onboarded 120 full-time educators, who came from public schools and charter schools, with competitive salaries. It has no specific plans to hire more full-time teachers.
Brian Galvin, chief academic officer at Varsity Tutors, said that teachers came seeking more flexibility in hours. On the platform, teachers instruct for five to six hours per day, in blocks that they choose, and can build schedules around caregiver obligations or other jobs.
Varsity Tutors’ strategy is one version of pod-based learning, which gained traction a few months ago as an alternative to traditional schooling. Swing Education, a startup that used to help schools hire substitute teachers, pivoted to help connect those same teachers to full-time pod gigs. Prisma is another alternative school that trains former educators, from public and private schools, to become learning coaches.
Pod-based learning, which can in some cases cost thousands a week, was popular among wealthy families and even led to bidding wars for best teacher talent. It also was met with criticism, suggesting the product wasn’t built with most students in mind.
The reality of next job
A tech-savvy future where students can learn through the touch of a button, and where teachers can rack in higher earnings, is edtech’s goal. But that path is not accessible for all.
Some tutoring startups could create a digital divide among students who can pay for software and those who can’t. If teachers leave public schools, low-income students are left behind and high-income students are able to pay their way into supplemental learning.
Still, some don’t think it’s the job of public school teachers, the vast majority of which are female, to work for a broken system. In fact, some say that the whole concept of villainizing public school teachers for leaving the system comes with ingrained sexism that women have to settle for less. In this framework, startups are both a bridge to a better future for teachers and a symptom of failures from the public educational systems.
Huang, now on the job hunt, says that the opportunities that edtech companies are creating aren’t built for traditional teachers, even though they’re billed as such. So far, she has applied to curriculum design jobs at educational content website BrainPop, digital learning platform Newsela, math program company Zearn and Q&A content host Mystery.org.
“What I’m finding is that a lot of edtech companies don’t seem to value our skills as teachers,” she said. “They’re not looking for teachers, they’re looking for coders.”
Edtech has been forced to meet increasing demand for services in a relatively short time. But the scalability could inherently clash with what teachers came to the profession to do. Suddenly, their work becomes optimized for venture-scale returns, not general education. Huang feels the tension in her job interviews, where she feels like recruiters don’t pay attention to creativity, knowledge and human skills needed for managing students. She has created 30 different versions of her resume.
The lack of suitable jobs made Huang decide to go on childcare leave instead of quitting the education system entirely, in case she needs to return to the traditional field. She hopes that is not the case, but isn’t optimistic just yet.
“I haven’t gotten a whole lot of interviews, because people see my resume; they see that I’m a teacher, and they automatically write me off,” she said.
European entrepreneurs who want to launch startups could do worse than Switzerland.
In a report analyzing Europe’s general economic health, cost of doing business, business environment and labor force quality, analysts looked for highly educated populations, strong economies, healthy business environments and relatively low costs for conducting business. Switzerland ended up ranking third out of 31 European nations, according to Nimblefins. (Germany and the UK came out first and second, respectively).
According to official estimates, the number of new Swiss startups has skyrocketed by 700% since 1996. Zurich tends to take the lion’s share, as the city’s embrace of startups has jump-started development, although Geneva and Lausanne are also hotspots.
As well as traditional software engineering startups, Switzerland’s largest city boasts a startup culture that emphasizes life sciences, mechanical engineering and robotics. Compared to other European countries, Switzerland has a low regulatory burden and a well-educated, highly qualified workforce. Google’s largest R&D center outside of the United States is in Zurich.
But it’s also one of the more expensive places to start a business, due to its high cost of living, salary expectations and relatively small labor market. Native startups will need 25,000 Swiss Francs to open an LLC and 50,000 more to incorporate. While they can withdraw those funds from the business the next day, local founders must still secure decent backing to even begin the work.
This means Switzerland has gained a reputation as a place to startup — and a place to relocate, which is something quite different. It’s one reason why the region is home to many fintech businesses born elsewhere that need proximity to a large banking ecosystem, as well as the blockchain/crypto crowd, which have found a highly amenable regulatory environment in Zug, right next door to Zurich. Zurich/Zug’s “Crypto Valley” is a global blockchain hotspot and is home to, among others, the Ethereum Foundation.
Lawyers and accountants tend to err on the conservative side, leading to a low failure rate of businesses but less “moonshot innovation,” shall we say.
But in recent years, corporate docs are being drawn up in English to facilitate communication both inside Switzerland’s various language regions and foreign capital, and investment documentation is modeled after the U.S.
Ten years ago startups were unusual. Today, pitch competitions, incubators, accelerators, VCs and angel groups proliferate.
The country’s Federal Commission for Technology and Innovation (KTI) supports CTI-Startup and CTI-Invest, providing startups with investment and support. Venture Kick was launched in 2007 with the vision to double the number of spin-offs from Swiss universities and draws from a jury of more than 150 leading startup experts in Switzerland. It grants up to CHF 130,000 per company. Fundraising platforms such as Investiere have boosted the angel community support of early funding rounds.
Swiss companies, like almost all European companies, tend to raise lower early-stage rounds than U.S. ones. A CHF 1-2 million Series A or a CHF 5 million Series B investment is common. This has meant smaller exits, and thus less development for the ecosystem.
What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally? Consumer-facing startups with first revenues.
What’s your latest, most exciting investment? AirConsole — a cloud-gaming platform where you don’t need a console and can play with all your friends and family.
Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now? I really wish that the business case for social and ecological startups will finally be proven (kind of like Oatly showed with the Blackstone investment). I also think that femtech is a hyped category but funding as well as renown exits are still missing.
What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? I am looking for easy, scalable solutions with a great team.
Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about? I think the whole scooter/mobility space is super hyped but also super capital intensive so I think to compete in this market at this stage is hard. I also think that the whole edtech space is an important area of investment, but there are already quite a lot of players and it oftentimes requires cooperation with governments and schools, which makes it much more difficult to operate in. Lastly, I don’t get why people still start fitness startups as I feel like the market has reached its limits.
How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less? Switzerland makes — maximum — half of our investments. We are also interested in Germany and Austria as well as the Nordics.
Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders? Zurich and Lausanne are for sure the most exciting cities, just because they host great engineering universities. Berne is still lagging behind but I am hoping to see some more startups emerging from there, especially in the medtech industry.
How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city? Overall, Switzerland is a great market for a startup to be in — although small, buying power is huge! So investors should always keep this in mind when thinking about coming to Switzerland. The startup scene is pretty small and well connected, so it helps to get access through somebody already familiar with the space. Unfortunately for us, typical B2C cases are rather scarce.
Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work? I think it is hard to make any kind of predictions. But on the one hand, I could see this happening. On the other hand, I also think that the magic of cities is that there are serendipity moments where you can find your co-founder at a random networking dinner or come across an idea for a new venture while talking to a stranger. These moments will most likely be much harder to encounter now and in the next couple of months.
Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times? I think travel is a big question mark still. The same goes for luxury goods, as people are more worried about the economic situation they are in. On the other hand, remote work has seen a surge in investments. Also sustainability will hopefully be put back on the agenda.
How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now? Not much. I think we allocated a bit more for the existing portfolio but otherwise we continue to look at and discuss the best cases. The biggest worries are the uncertainties about [what] the future might look like and the related planning. We tell them to first and foremost secure cash flow.
Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic? Totally! Some portfolio companies have really profited from the crisis, especially our subscription-based models that offer a variety of different options to spend time at home. The challenge now is to keep up the momentum after the lockdown.
What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two. What gives me hope is to see that people find ways to still work together — the amount of online events, office hours, etc. is incredible. I see the pandemic also as a big opportunity to make changes in the way we worked and the way things were without ever questioning them.
Facebook and Twitter took action against a post from President Trump Tuesday that claimed that COVID-19 is “far less lethal” than the flu. Trump made the tweet and posted the same message to Facebook just hours after arriving back at the White House following a multi-day stay at Walter Reed medical center, where the president was treated after testing positive for COVID-19.
Facebook took down Trump’s post outright Tuesday, stating that it “[removes] incorrect information about the severity of COVID-19, and have now removed this post.” Twitter hid the tweet behind a warning saying that it broke the platform’s rules about spreading misleading or harmful COVID-19 misinformation.
Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!
“We placed a public interest notice on this Tweet for violating our COVID-19 Misleading Information Policy by making misleading health claims about COVID-19,” a Twitter spokesperson said.
Taking down one of the president’s posts is rare but it wasn’t a first for Facebook. In August, Facebook removed a video Trump shared in which he claimed that children are “almost immune” to COVID-19. The clip originally aired on Fox News.
On twitter, Trump’s tweet will have “significantly limited” engagement, meaning that it can’t be retweeted without quoting, liked or replied to, but it will remain up because it’s in the public interest. By the time Twitter took action on the tweet it had more than 59,000 retweets and 186,000 likes.
Facebook and Twitter both created new policies to address the spread of pandemic-related misinformation earlier this year. In the pandemic’s earlier days, the false claim that COVID is comparable to the flu was a common refrain from Trump and his allies, who wished to downplay the severity of the virus. But after months of the virus raging through communities around the U.S., the claim that COVID-19 is like the flu is an even more glaring lie.
While much remains not understood about the virus, it can follow an aggressive and unpredictable trajectory in patients, attacking vital organs beyond the lungs and leaving people who contracted it with long-lasting health effects that are not yet thoroughly studied or understood. Trump’s own physician has said the president “may not be out of the woods yet” in his own fight with the virus.
In recent months, the president’s social media falsehoods had shifted more toward lies about the safety of vote-by-mail, the system many Americans will rely on to cast votes as the pandemic rages on.
But less than a day out of a multi-day stay at the hospital where he was given supplemental oxygen and three experimental treatments, it’s clear Trump’s own diagnosis with the virus doesn’t mean he intends to treat the health threat that’s upended the economy and claimed more than 200,000 lives with any seriousness at all.
Instead, Trump is poised to continue waging a political war against platforms like Twitter and Facebook — if the results of the election give him the chance. Trump has already expressed interest in dismantling Section 230, a key legal provision that protects platforms from liability for user-generated content. He tweeted “REPEAL SECTION 230!!!” Tuesday after Twitter and Facebook took action against his posts saying the flu is worse than COVID-19.
Spain’s startup ecosystem has two main hubs: Madrid and Barcelona.
Most observers place Barcelona first and Madrid second, but the gap appears to close every year. Barcelona has benefitted from attracting expats in search of sun, beach and lifestyle who tend to produce more internationally minded startups.
Madrid’s startups have predominantly been Spain or Latin America-focused, but have become increasingly international in nature. Although not part of this survey, we expect Valencia to join next year, as city authorities have been going all-out to attract entrepreneurs and investors.
The overall Spanish ecosystem is generally less mature than those in the U.K., France, Sweden and Germany, but it has been improving at a fast clip. More recently, entrepreneurs in Spain have moved away from emulating success in pursuit of innovative technologies.
Following the financial crisis, the Spanish government supported the creation of startups with the launch of FOND-ICO GLOBAL, a €1.5 billion fund-of-funds in 2017, which put €800 million into the market that year. Three years later, the fastest-moving sector is tech. In 2018, Spain counted 4,115 active startups, reported 150sec. Barcelona has seen a boom in startups and support systems, with companies based there raising €2.7 billion between 2015 and 2019, almost doubling Madrid’s figure (according to Dealroom).
In the first half of a two-part survey that asks 18 Spain-based startup investors about the trends they’re tracking, we reached out to the following VCs:
What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally? Infrastructural needs of the healthcare industry.
Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now? We see opportunities in data liquidity, in silico trials, biotech manufacturing … for which enabling technologies may already exist from the information technology and semiconductor industry.
What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? What we always do: Great unmet need, deep understanding of healthcare stakeholder ecosystem, the right technology solution, a team we love to work with.
Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about? Telemedicine.
How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less? Local ecosystem: 10% Rest of the world: 90%.
Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders? We only invest in healthtech. So, the answer is: healthtech 🙂
How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city? They all think we have a wonderful climate. After all, it’s Barcelona. Regarding the investment climate in particular, I believe too few international investors appreciate the full spectrum and significance of the opportunities that this city affords for starting and scaling a company.
Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work? Not really. I think most companies will continue to have HQs in the major hubs, but their teams are going to be more distributed. And hubs that were traditionally at disadvantage over the usual suspects will find themselves less so.
Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times? We are specialized healthtech investors. All our investments to date are B2B companies selling to healthcare organizations.
How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now? We decided to increase our reserves, to have more capital to support our portfolio companies in follow-on rounds. For more, see here.
What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two. My team is amazing. With them by my side, I never lost hope.
Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers? I know 2020 is a tragedy but … Isn’t it something to see everyone finally engaged in the conversations that matter (healthcare, science, public health, politics, equality, diversity).
Bird Blitch is the CEO of Patientco, a payment technology company founded specifically to rethink the healthcare payment experience.
While many industries are taking a major hit due to the ongoing pandemic, the healthcare technology market continues to grow. In fact, total healthcare-related innovation funding for H1 2020 hit $9.1 billion, up nearly 19% compared to the same period in 2019, according to StartUp Health’s 2020 Midyear Funding Report.
As the virus continues to pose new challenges for the industry, investors are rushing to pump money into startups addressing healthcare sub-sectors ranging from telemedicine to patient financial engagement.
The inefficiencies and frustrations of the U.S. healthcare system make it a tempting target for disruption-oriented VCs. But here’s the hard truth: Healthcare is unlike any other industry. It has a morass of regulations that a “move-fast-and-break-things” startup can’t handle over the long term.
Healthcare is also a sensitive, personal issue. As such, patients are inherently reluctant to adapt to new technologies, even when they’re dissatisfied with the status quo. Consequently, it’s crucial that startup technology leaders in this space understand how to wade through these unpredictable waters in order to thrive and deliver a strong ROI for investors.
But here’s the hard truth: Healthcare is unlike any other industry. It has a morass of regulations that a “move-fast-and-break-things” startup can’t handle over the long term.
Entering health technology
VCs are seeing all the latest headlines about COVID-19 and spying a potential money-making opportunity to invest capital into innovative startups. However, they must overcome barriers to entry when offering patient-focused, technology-centric solutions before they can compete with legacy players. As the saying goes, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” and, within the healthcare startup space, COVID-19 presents an opportunity for those who stood ready to offer a solution to the market before the situation became a crisis.
Therefore, VC and PE investors should focus on the problem the potential startup is trying to solve as recent times have rapidly refashioned the need for certain solutions. Are there other key players leading the market, or is the startup a duplicative offering that is currently available? If the value proposition is unique, it may be interesting. If it’s not, investors may want to think twice.
Pedro Alves is the founder and CEO of Ople.AI, a software startup that provides an automated machine learning platform to empower business users with predictive analytics.
The machine learning and AI-powered tools being deployed in response to COVID-19 arguably improve certain human activities and provide essential insights needed to make certain personal or professional decisions; however, they also highlight a few pervasive challenges faced by both machines and the humans that create them.
Nevertheless, the progress seen in AI/machine learning leading up to and during the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be ignored. This global economic and public health crisis brings with it a unique opportunity for updates and innovation in modeling, so long as certain underlying principles are followed.
Here are four industry truths (note: this is not an exhaustive list) my colleagues and I have found that matter in any design climate, but especially during a global pandemic climate.
Some success can be attributed to chance, rather than reasoning
When a big group of people is collectively working on a problem, success may become more likely. Looking at historic examples like the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, there were several analysts credited with predicting the crisis. This may seem miraculous to some until you consider that more than 200,000 people were working in Wall Street, each of them making their own predictions. It then becomes less of a miracle and more of a statistically probable outcome. With this many individuals simultaneously working on modeling and predictions, it was highly likely someone would get it right by chance.
Similarly, with COVID-19 there are a lot of people involved, from statistical modelers and data scientists to vaccine specialists, and there is also an overwhelming eagerness to find solutions and concrete data-based answers. Following appropriate statistical rigor, coupled with machine learning and AI, can improve these models and decrease the chances of false predictions that arrive from too many predictions being made.
Automation can help in maintaining productivity if used wisely
During a crisis, time-management is essential. Automation technology can be used not only as part of the crisis solution, but also as a tool for monitoring productivity and contributions of team members working on the solution. For modeling, automation can also greatly improve the speed of results. Every second a piece of software can perform automation for a model, it allows a data scientist (or even a medical scientist) to conduct other more important tasks. User-friendly platforms in the market now give more people, like business analysts, access to predictions from custom machine learning models.
Last week at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020, I got the chance to speak to Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist who is a Senior Fellow of the Federation of American Scientists. Dr. Feigl-Ding has been a frequent and vocal critic of some of the most profound missteps of regulators, public health organizations and the current White House administration, and we discussed specifically the topic of aerosol transmission and its notable absence from existing guidance in the U.S.
At the time, neither of us knew that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) would publish updated guidance on its website over this past weekend that provided descriptions of aerosol transmission, and a concession that it’s likely a primary vector for passing on the virus that leads to COVID-19 — or that the CDC would subsequently revert said guidance, removing this updated information about aerosol transmission that’s more in line with the current state of widely accepted COVID research. The CDC cited essentially an issue where someone at the organization pushed a draft version of guidelines to production — but the facts it had shared in the update lined up very closely with what Dr. Feigl-Ding had been calling for.
“The fact that we haven’t highlighted aerosol transmission as much, up until recently, is woefully, woefully frustrating,” he said during our interview last Wednesday. “Other countries who’ve been much more technologically savvy about the engineering aspects of aerosols have been ahead of the curve — like Japan, they assume that this virus is aerosol and airborne. And aerosol means that the droplets are these micro droplets that can float in the air, they don’t get pulled down by gravity […] now we know that the aerosols may actually be the main drivers. And that means that if someone coughs, sings, even breathes, it can stay in the air, the micro droplets can stay in the air anywhere from, for stagnant air for up to16 hours, but normally with ventilation, between 20 minutes to four hours. And that air, if you enter into a room after someone was there, you can still get infected, and that is what makes indoor dining and bars and restaurants so frustrating.”
Dr. Feigl-Ding points to a number of recent contact-tracing studies as providing strong evidence that these indoor activities, and the opportunity they provide for aerosol transmission, are leading to a large number of infections. Such studies were featured in a report the CDC prepared on reopening advice, which was buried by the Trump administration, according to an AP report from May.
“The latest report shows that indoor dining, bars, restaurants are the leading leading factors for transmission, once you do contact tracing,” he said, noting that this leads naturally to the big issues around schools reopening, including that many have “very poor ventilation,” while simultaneously they’re not able to open their windows or doors due to gun safety protocols in place. Even before this recent CDC guideline take-back, Dr. Feigl-Ding was clearly frustrated with the way the organization appears to be succumbing to politicization of what is clearly an issue of a large and growing body of scientific evidence and fact.
“The CDC has long been the most respected agency in the world for public health, but now it’s been politically muzzled,” he said. “Previously, for example, the guidelines around church attendance — the CDC advised against church gatherings, but then it was overruled. And it was clearly overruled, because we actually saw it changed in live time. […] In terms of schools, gatherings, it’s clear [that] keeping kids in a pod is not enough, given what we know about ventilation.”