February 23, 2018
Category archive


Vetted buys VetPronto in yet more on-demand consolidation

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Consolidation continues to dog the world of on-demand startups — literally and figuratively. In the latest development, Vetted, a startup focused on veterinary services is acquiring VetPronto, an almost identical peer.

A few months ago we covered the launch of Vetted, an on-demand veterinary startup that raised $3.3M from investors like Amplify LA, Sterling.VC and Foundation Capital. At the time the company explained that in terms of expansion they were focused on depth over breadth – which is why they are only operating in Los Angeles.

But that’s now changing, as the startup is acquiring VetPronto, another on-demand veterinary startup that’s live in San Francisco, San Diego, Atlanta, DC, Chicago, NYC, and Baltimore.

Launched out of Y Combinator’s Winter 2015 class, VetPronto had raised about $1.3M to fuel its nationwide growth to date. While a sale price wasn’t disclosed, the deal was a mixture of cash and equity, with the cash portion being some number less less than the $3.3M that Vetted raised over the summer.

Readers of TechCrunch know that consolidation (and failure) is nothing new in the on-demand space. In fact there’s a pretty predictable trend we’ve seen play out countless times. First, a segment of the on-demand industry gets hot (like ridesharing or cleaning companies). Next a ton of companies pop up to try to dominate the space, and then over the next few years they go out of business or consolidate. It’s almost like clockwork at this point.

Which is why it’s no surprise that we’re seeing the same thing happen in the pet care space. On-demand is hard until you hit scale, especially when you throw in highly-compensated employees like veterinarians into the mix. Of course it’s important to remember that this isn’t always a bad thing – sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – especially when one of those parts can help you scale faster.

Case in point – this deal will double Vetted’s customer base to around 10,000. At first the two services will remain separate, at least from a customer’s perspective – but this will soon change as Vetted consolidates operations under its brand.

News Source = techcrunch.com

New technology puts the AI in aid for US veterans

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As part of their latest endeavor to improve care for our country’s combat vets, the Department of Veterans Affairs has invested in a rapidly advancing form of intelligence: the artificial kind. AI has been hailed by most forecasters as a revolutionary force in all manner of fields, from transportation to predicting the weather, and this exciting wave of possibility promises to transform the healthcare sphere, as well. The opportunity to use this growing tech to improve veteran healthcare has rightfully attracted positive attention to some intriguing new initiatives.

What works for one may be inadequate for another, so planning regimens of care is a frequently complicated endeavor, encompassing a number of variables like sensitivity to medication or cultural values. This complexity has been an obstacle for many years, so the potential for AI to simplify the process has naturally attracted a great deal of attention. This excitement has arisen in the healthcare world as a whole, but is getting serious attention in the halls of the Department of Veterans Affairs as the VA seeks to improve healthcare for those returning home from overseas deployments.

The military population is no stranger to AI. Artificial intelligence has already begun to roll out in combat applications, but it looks to take the leap into health treatment, creating exciting new possibilities for treating and preventing debilitating and fatal diseases in our veteran population. Especially when considering the challenges unique to veterans’ healthcare, this new approach carries hope for more effective and intelligently designed treatment for every veteran who needs it.

Although the VA has shown some hesitation in the past, canceling a heralded deal with AI firm Flow Health, AI-based assessment plans look to be a major aspect of treatment for all Americans moving forward. Thirty-five percent of hospitals plan to implement AI into their regimen of care within the next two years, with that percentage rising to 50 percent within the next five years. What this means for all people, not just veterans, is that AI in mental health treatment is likely to be a major aspect of healthcare in the coming years and beyond.

This growth is bolstered by some extremely positive developments in AI-supported treatment for vets. The problem of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a well-documented one among our returning fighting force. VA research has found that 80 percent of those who undergo PTSD treatment programs are able to fully recover from this often-debilitating condition. An experiment to incorporate AI into these treatment programs resulted in a 73 percent completion rate, compared to the fewer than 10 percent who normally complete such a course of treatment. For the estimated 300,000+ Iraq and Afghanistan vets afflicted by this case, AI might appear to represent a brighter future.

In improving healthcare through tech, the VA has attracted substantial support from their counterparts at the Department of Energy. The DOE plans to lend support for veteran care in the form of their ultra-powerful supercomputers, bringing Big Data and AI into the VA’s information ecosystem. Using these tools, the VA hopes cutting-edge information technology will assure that no more veterans are left with inadequate treatment. Given everything our service members have done for our country, providing them with the best possible care is something all Americans can get behind.

As they stood at the front lines to defend our freedom, our vets will be at the front line of receiving these innovative new courses of care.

The joint DOE-VA plan has pinpointed several areas to which these 21st century computing solutions will be applied, representing a few of the most crucial areas of veteran care. New breakthroughs can be made in suicide prevention, prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease, eventually creating regimens of treatment informed by the most state-of-the-art assessments available.

The tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., suicide is a sad fact of the veteran population. It’s believed that 20 veterans per day are lost in this tragic fashion. Despite the bravery they’ve shown during their service, many unfortunately suppress their emotional trauma until it’s too late. To tackle this issue, researchers will attempt to create an AI-bolstered assessment program, one that can build patient-specific algorithms to identify behaviors indicating suicidal inclinations. For those at risk, the VA’s Office of Suicide Prevention will execute a clinical plan to reach out and give comprehensive mental health support to prevent downtrodden veterans from making a fatal mistake.

Although women make up a growing cohort of the veteran population, the vast majority remains male — some of whom suffer from prostate cancer, in some cases caused by chemical agents. Unfortunately, treatment of prostate cancer remains an inexact science under present methods. Lethality of the cancer being treated is indeterminable, so sufferers frequently undergo invasive surgeries that end up being unnecessary. Aided by AI and advanced computing, projects under this initiative will determine new hallmarks of prostate cancer, which can be analyzed to identify which are lethal and which are benign. Reducing unnecessary treatments represents a large improvement in quality of life for sufferers, veteran and otherwise.

The fight against cardiovascular disease is another major health area that stands to gain from AI and advanced computing. CVD kills one out of every four Americans, and research shows that PTSD exacerbates its debilitating effects, making heart disease especially worrisome for the veteran population. New tools developed by the DOE/VA initiative will one day be able to more effectively identify previously unknown risk factors, as well as aid in the development of new treatments for heart ailments. When diagnosis and management of the disease are improved, more Americans, veterans and civilians, will enjoy the benefits.

As they stood at the front lines to defend our freedom, our vets will be at the front line of receiving these innovative new courses of care. It’s only right that they will be at the receiving end of these cutting-edge treatments. It may be impossible to fully repay them, but giving them the most forward-thinking treatment is a good start, and one day it’s likely that we’ll all get the benefit. With the VA leading the charge in the AI healthcare revolution, every American can look forward to a brighter, smarter and healthier future.

Featured Image: Tetra Images/Getty Images

News Source = techcrunch.com

VCs’ carried interest is safe for now, preserved in a new tax bill released today

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The House tax bill released earlier today has something for VCs (and private equity folks, and hedge fund managers) to celebrate: it doesn’t touch the carried interest tax break that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton vowed to do away with on the campaign trail last year.

Carried interest is the percentage of a fund’s profit — usually a 20 percent share but sometimes up to 30 percent for top firms — that’s paid to firms’ institutional investors. It’s currently treated as long-term capital gains, making it eligible for a tax rate as low as 23.8 percent. Ordinary income, in contrast, can be taxed as much as 39.6 percent for single individuals earning more than $415,050 or more than $466,950 for those who are married and filing jointly.

During every U.S. presidential election season, at least one candidate vows to repeal carried interest deductions, while VCs and other private market investors rail against these proclamations, in part because they believe they deserve the tax break for taking risks and holding on to assets for what often becomes many years on end.

Indeed, in summer of last year, the National Venture Capital Association, which represents venture firms’ interests, called Clinton’s plans to do away with carried interest “misguided” and of Trump’s similar promises to do away with carried interest, the organization said it would  “threaten [the] entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said the NVCA.

In fairness, the NVCA might have been right about Trump’s proposal. It suggested ending carried interest at long-term capital gains rates and instead taxing it at 33 percent, which was the highest marginal tax bracket in his plan at the time. That wasn’t the confusing part, though. What didn’t make sense to academics was a related plan to create a 15 percent business tax for members of partnerships and other pass-through business entities — which would probably destroy a lot more than the entrepreneurial ecosystem. (The very real concern: that pretty much every business would restructure as a pass-through, and the country would essentially run out of tax dollars.)

Former Goldman Sachs president turned White House advisor Gary Cohn said last month on CNBC that Trump remains intent on eliminating the carried interest tax break even though it wasn’t specified in his tax framework.

“The president remains committed to ending the carried interest deduction,” he’d said. “As we continue to evolve on the framework, the president has made it clear to the tax writers and Congress. Carried interest is one of those loopholes that we talk about when we talk about getting rid of loopholes that affect wealthy Americans.”

We’ll see. For one thing, even a blanket increase of taxation on capital gains to ordinary tax rates would result in only $1 billion to $2 billion per year in additional tax revenue according to some estimates, out of $3.4 trillion in revenue collected every year.

The House plan is also far from final and, as notes The New York Times, has already “ignited a legislative and lobbying fight” with business groups, special interests and Democrats expected to fight tooth and nail for their own interests as Republicans race to get the legislation passed and on Trump’s desk for a final sign-off by Christmas.

Featured Image: Ismagilov/Shutterstock

News Source = techcrunch.com

Logitech is experimenting with a keyboard built for Virtual Reality

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As simple as it seems, dealing with the keyboard is of the weirder challenges that many notice the first time they check out virtual reality. Even if you’ve been touch typing for decades, even just figuring out where the heck your keyboard is can be hard once you’ve popped a headset over your eyes and dropped into another world.

Logitech, makers of about a zillion different keyboards, doesn’t want keyboards to fall out of the VR equation. So they’ve built a keyboard for VR. It works with the HTC Vive, and brings both your keyboard and your hands into the virtual world.

The kit is made up of three parts: a keyboard, a sensor that tells the Vive where the keyboard is, and an SDK to let developers start tinkering.

As the demo video (below) shows, they’ve managed to bring in a view of your hands to overlay over the keyboard, helping you find the good ol’ home row keys. I’m curious as to how they did that; all Logitech has said for now is that they’ve “created a way to use the Vive’s existing tracking” to get it done.

The catch: it’s just an experiment for now, and a small one at that. Logitech is taking applications from developers who want an early look from now until November 16th, with plans to send out 50 kits in this first batch. Curious? You can find more details here.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Local news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist shut down

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DNAInfo and Gothamist have both shut down, a week after reporters and editors at the local news sites unionized.

Their archives seem to have disappeared — if you visit either front page, or any article, you’re redirected to a letter from CEO Joe Ricketts, who trots out some growth numbers before saying:

But DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure. And while we made important progress toward building DNAinfo into a successful business, in the end, that progress hasn’t been sufficient to support the tremendous effort and expense needed to produce the type of journalism on which the company was founded.

This is the end of a 16-year run for Gothamist, which has been my go-to source for neighborhood news site I moved to New York, and which was acquired by DNAinfo earlier this year. The closure will result in layoffs for 115 journalists, according to The New York Times.

Was this a direct response to the staff’s decision to unionize? Well, Ricketts is a vocal opponent of unions, and a DNAinfo spokesperson didn’t exactly deny it: “The decision by the editorial team to unionize is simply another competitive obstacle making it harder for the business to be financially successful.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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