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February 24, 2019
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Comcast Ventures

Orai raises $2.3M to make you a better speaker

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Orai, a startup building communication coaching tools, is announcing that it has raised $2.3 million in seed funding.

CEO Danish Dhamani said that he co-founded the company with Paritosh Gupta and Aasim Sani to address a need in his own life — the fact that he was “held back personally and professionally” by lackluster “communications skills and public speaking skills.”

Dhamani said he attended Toastmasters International meetings hoping to improve those skills, where he came to a surprising conclusion — that he could build an algorithm to analyze your speaking abilities and give tips on how to improve.

To be clear, Orai isn’t necessarily trying to replace groups like Toastmasters, or individual speaking coaches. However, Dhamani said the “status quo” involves a “one-to-one” approach, where a human coach gives feedback to one person. Orai, on the other hand, can coach “entire IT teams, entire student bodies.”

“I am a big advocate of personalized, one-on-one coaching as well,” he said. “Orai is not replacing that, it’s enhancing that if used together.”

The startup has created iOS and Android smartphone apps to demonstrate the technology, which offer focused lessons and then assess your progress by analyzing recordings of your voice. (I did the initial assessment, and although I was praised for not using any “filler words,” I was told that I need to slow down — something I hear a lot.)

The real business model involves selling the tools to businesses, which can then assign Orai lessons to salespeople or other teams, create their own lessons and track everyone’s progress.

Attendees of TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF hackathon may recognize the team, which presented a body language analyzer in 2017 called Vocalytics. So you can probably guess that Dhamani’s plans go beyond audio.

The funding was led by Comcast Ventures — Orai was one of the startups at Comcast’s LIFT Labs Accelerator in Philadelphia. (Currently accepting applications for its second class!) In addition to announcing the funding, Orai has signed up famed speaking coach Nancy Duarte as an advisor.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Dandelion Energy, the Alphabet X spinout, raises another $16M led by GV and Comcast

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As tech companies continue their race to control the smart home, a promising energy startup has raised a round of funding from traditionally-tech and strategic investors, for a geothermal solution to heat and cool houses. Dandelion Energy, a spinout from Alphabet X, has raised $16 million in a Series A round of funding, with strategic investors Comcast Ventures leading the round along with GV, the investment arm of Alphabet formerly known as Google Ventures.

Lennar Corporation, the home building giant, is also coming in as an investor, as are previous backers NEA, Collaborative Fund, Ground Up, and Zhenfund, and other unnamed investors. Notably, Lennar once worked with Apple but is now collaborating with Amazon on smart homes.

As a side note, Dandelion’s investment is a timely reminder of how central “new home” startups are right now in smart home plays. Amazon just yesterday announced one more big move in its own connected home strategy with the acquisition of Mesh WiFi startup eero, which helps extend the range and quality of WiFi coverage in a property.

This is the second funding round for Dandelion in the space of a year, after the company raised a seed round of $4.5 million in March 2018, a mark of how the company has been seeing a demand for its services and now needs the capital to scale. In the past year, it had accrued a waitlist of “thousands” of homeowners requesting its services across America, where it is estimated that millions of homeowners heat their homes with fossil fuels, which are estimated to account for 11 percent of all carbon emissions.

The company is based out of New York, and for now New York is the only state where its services are offered. The funding may help change that. It will be used in part for R&D, but also to hire more people, open new warehouses for its equipment and supplies, and for business development.

Dandelion is not disclosing its valuation, but in its last round the company had a modest post-money valuation of $15 million, according to PitchBook. It has now raised $23 million in total since spinning out from Alphabet X, the company’s moonshot lab, in May 2017.

The premise of Dandelion’s business is that it provides a source of heating and cooling homes that takes people away from consuming traditional, energy grid-based services — which represent significant costs, both in terms of financial and environmental impact. If you calculate usage over a period of years, Dandelion claims that it can cut a household’s energy bills in half while also being significantly more friendly for the environment compared to conventional systems that use gas and fossil fuels.

While there have been a number of efforts over the years to tap geothermal currents to provide home heating and cooling, many of the solutions up to now have been challenging to put in place, with services typically using wide drills and digging wells at depths of over 1,000 feet.

“These machines are unnecessarily large and slow for installing a system that needs only a few 4” diameter holes at depths of a few hundred feet,” Kathy Hannun, cofounder and CEO of Dandelion, has said in the past. “So we decided to try to design a better drill that could reduce the time, mess and hassle of installing these pipes, which could in turn reduce the final cost of a system to homeowners.”

The smaller scale of what Dandelion builds also means that the company can do an installation in one day.

While a pared-down approach this means a lower set of costs (half the price of traditional geothermal systems) and quicker installation, that doesn’t mean that upfront costs are non-existent. Dandelion installations run between $20,000 and $25,000, although home owners can subsequently rack up savings of $35,000 over 20 years. (Hannun noted that today about 50 percent of customers choose to finance the installation which removes the upfront cost and spreads it out across monthly payments.)

This is also where Lennar comes in. The company is in the business of building homes, and it has been investing in particular in the idea of building the next generation of homes by incorporating better connectivity, more services — and potentially alternative energy sources — from the ground up.

“We’re incredibly excited to invest in Dandelion Energy,” said Eric Feder, Managing General Partner for Lennar Ventures, in a statement. “The possibility of incorporating geothermal heating & cooling systems in our new homes is something we’ve explored for years, but the math never made sense. Dandelion Energy is finally making geothermal affordable and we look forward to the possibility of including it in the homes Lennar builds.”

The fact that Comcast is among the investors in Dandelion is a notable development.

The company has been acquiring, and taking strategic stakes in, a number of connected-home businesses as it builds its own connected home offering, where it not only brings broadband and entertainment to your TV and come computers, and also provides the tools to link up other connected devices to that network to control them from a centralised point.

Dandelion is “off grid” in its approach to providing home energy, and while you might think that it doesn’t make sense for a company that is investing in and peddling services and electronic devices connected to a centralised (equally electricity-consuming) internet to be endorsing a company that’s trying to build an alternative, it actually does.

For starters, Dandelion may be tapping geothermal energy but its pump uses electricity and sensors to monitor and moderate its performance.

“Dandelion’s heat pump is a connected device with 60 sensors that monitor the performance and ensures that the home owner is proactively warned if there are any issues,” Hannun said in an interview. “This paves the way to operate it in a smart way. It’s aligned with the connected home.” In other words, this positions Dandelion as one more device and system that could be integrated into Comcast’s connected home solution.

Aside from this, view in terms of the segment of customers that Comcast is targeting, it’s selling a bundle of connected home services to a demographic of users who are not afraid of using (and buying) new and alternative technology to do things a different way from how their parents did it. Dandelion may not be “connected” but even its approach to disconnecting will appeal to a person who may already be thinking of ways of reducing his or her carbon footprint and energy bills (especially since they may be consuming vast amounts of electricity to run their connected homes).

“The home heating and cooling industry has been constrained by lack of innovation and high-costs,” said Sam Landman, managing director of Comcast Ventures, in a statement. “The team at Dandelion and their modern approach to implementing geothermal technology is transforming the industry and giving consumers a convenient, safe, and cost-effective way to heat and cool their homes while reducing carbon emissions.”

Landman and Shaun Maguire, a partner at GV, will both be joining Dandelion’s board with this round.

“In a short amount of time, Dandelion has already proven to be an effective and affordable alternative for home heating and cooling, leveraging best-in-class geothermal technology,” said Maguire, in a statement. “Driven by an exceptional leadership team, including CEO Kathy Hannun, Dandelion Energy is poised to have a meaningful impact on adoption of geothermal energy solutions among homeowners.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

K Health raises $25m for its AI-powered primary care platform

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K Health, the startup providing consumers with an AI-powered primary care platform, has raised $25 million in series B funding. The round was led by 14W, Comcast Ventures and Mangrove Capital Partners, with participation from Lerer HippeauBoxGroup and Max Ventures – all previous investors from the company’s seed or Series A rounds. Other previous investors include Primary Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners.

Co-founded and led by former Vroom CEO and Wix co-CEO, Allon Bloch, K Health (previously Kang Health) looks to equip consumers with a free and easy-to-use application that can provide accurate, personalized, data-driven information about their symptoms and health.

“When your child says their head hurts, you can play doctor for the first two questions or so – where does it hurt? How does it hurt?” Bloch explained in a conversation with TechCrunch. “Then it gets complex really quickly. Are they nauseous or vomiting? Did anything unusual happen? Did you come back from a trip somewhere? Doctors then use differential diagnosis to prove that it’s a tension headache vs other things by ruling out a whole list of chronic or unusual conditions based on their deep knowledge sets.”

K Health’s platform, which currently focuses on primary care, effectively looks to perform a simulation and data-driven version of the differential diagnosis process. On the company’s free mobile app, users spend three-to-four minutes answering an average of 21 questions about their background and the symptoms they’re experiencing.

Using a data set of two billion historical health events over the past 20 years – compiled from doctors notes, lab results, hospitalizations, drug statistics and outcome data – K Health is able to compare users to those with similar symptoms and medical histories before zeroing in on a diagnosis. 

With its expansive comparative approach, the platform hopes to offer vastly more thorough, precise and user-specific diagnostic information relative to existing consumer alternatives, like WebMD or – what Bloch calls – “Dr. Google”, which often produce broad, downright frightening, and inaccurate diagnoses. 

Ease and efficiency for both consumers and physicians

Users are able to see cases and diagnoses that had symptoms similar to their own, with K Health notifying users with serious conditions when to consider seeking immediate care. (K Health Press Image / K Health / https://www.khealth.ai)

In addition to pure peace of mind, the utility provided to consumers is clear. With more accurate at-home diagnostic information, users are able to make better preventative health decisions, avoid costly and unnecessary trips to in-person care centers or appointments with telehealth providers, and engage in constructive conversations with physicians when they do opt for in-person consultations.

K Health isn’t looking to replace doctors, and in fact, believes its platform can unlock tremendous value for physicians and the broader healthcare system by enabling better resource allocation. 

Without access to quality, personalized medical information at home, many defer to in-person doctor visits even when it may not be necessary. And with around one primary care physician per 1000 in the US, primary care practitioners are subsequently faced with an overwhelming number of patients and are unable to focus on more complex cases that may require more time and resources. The high volume of patients also forces physicians to allocate budgets for support staff to help interact with patients, collect initial background information and perform less-demanding tasks.

K Health believes that by providing an accurate alternative for those with lighter or more trivial symptoms, it can help lower unnecessary in-person visits, reduce costs for practices and allow physicians to focus on complicated, rare or resource-intensive cases where their expertise can be most useful and where brute machine processing power is less valuable.

The startup is looking to enhance the platform’s symbiotic patient-doctor benefits further in early-2019, when it plans to launch in-app capabilities that allow users to share their AI-driven health conversations directly with physicians, hopefully reducing time spent on information gathering and enabling more-informed treatment.

With K Health’s AI and machine learning capabilities, the platform also gets smarter with every conversation as it captures more outcomes, hopefully enriching the system and becoming more valuable to all parties over time. Initial results seem promising with K Health currently boasting around 500,000 users, most having joined since this past July.

Using access and affordability to improve global health outcomes

With the latest round, the company has raised a total of $37.5 million since its late-2016 founding. K Health plans to use the capital to ramp up marketing efforts, further refine its product and technology, and perform additional research to identify methods for earlier detection and areas outside of primary care where the platform may be valuable.

Longer term, the platform has much broader aspirations of driving better health outcomes, normalizing better preventative health behavior, and creating more efficient and affordable global healthcare systems.

The high costs of the American healthcare system and the impacts they have on health behavior has been well-documented. With heavy copays, premiums and treatment cost, many avoid primary care altogether or opt for more reactionary treatment, leading to worse health outcomes overall.

Issues seen in the American healthcare system are also observable in many emerging market countries with less medical infrastructure. According to the World Health Organization, the international standard for the number of citizens per primary care physician is one for every 1,500 to 2,000 people, with some countries facing much steeper gaps – such as China, where there is only one primary care doctor for every 6,666.

The startup hopes it can help limit the immense costs associated with emerging countries educating millions of doctors for eight-to-ten years and help provide more efficient and accessible healthcare systems much more quickly.

By reducing primary care costs for consumers and operating costs for medical practices, while creating a more convenient diagnostic experience, K Health believes it can improve access to information, ultimately driving earlier detection and better health outcomes for consumers everywhere.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Home insurance provider Hippo brings in $70M amid a record year in funding for insurtech startups

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Felicis Ventures and Lennar Corporation have co-led the $70 million Series C funding round for Hippo, a tech-enabled home insurance marketplace.

Existing investors in the startup, like Comcast Ventures, Fifth Wall Ventures, Horizons Ventures and GGV Capital, also participated in the round.

Hippo has raised $109 million to date, including a $25 million Series B earlier this year. Co-founder and chief executive officer Assaf Wand declined to disclose Hippo’s valuation.

Wand, who co-founded the startup in 2015 with Eyal Navon, said he spent 14 years imagining the technology that would become Hippo, inspired by his father’s career in the antiquated insurance industry.

Hippo co-founder and chief executive officer Assaf Wand.

“I was born into insurance,” Wand told TechCrunch. “Now, the entire real estate ecosystem is changing and the industry is massive. We are getting a crazy good challenge. We think the sky’s the limit with this thing.”

The Mountain View, California-based company officially launched to consumers in 2017. It plans to use its latest investment to fuel the growth of its product, which sells home insurance plans at lower premiums. So far this year, Hippo has expanded into 10 new states and says its sales have grown 30 percent month-over-month since January.

“Hippo has set the bar for the future of insurance with its fully automated, proprietary policy management and proactive underwriting,” Felicis managing director Victoria Treyger said in a statement. “Insurance is the next big sector to undergo the dramatic transformation of customer experience and improved risk management enabled by access to real time data. We see Hippo’s current growth rate and efficient automated policy management system as just the beginning of driving this transformation.”

Treyger will join Hippo’s board of directors as part of the round.

The insurance industry is indeed undergoing a dramatic transformation as a result of technology companies targeting the sector, which are part of a relatively new category of startups dubbed insurtech.

According to PitchBook, insurtech startups have raised nearly $6 billion in venture capital funding since 2012. This year alone, companies in the space have brought in a record amount of capital at $1.8 billion across 94 deals.

Whether or not the hype for the emerging category will continue into 2019 remains to be seen.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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