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| June 26, 2019

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Chewy raises $1 billion in IPO, and stock soars in trading debut

June 14, 2019 |

PetSmart Inc.-controlled Chewy Inc. surged in its first day of trading after raising $ 1.02 billion in an initial public offering, as investors bet that pet owners will do more of their shopping online for cat food, dog sweaters, horse vitamins and other pet products.

Chewy’s shares opened at $ 36…


L.A. Times – Business

Modern Fertility raises $15 million to sell its hormone tests — and gather more fertility data from its users

June 12, 2019 |

Modern Fertility is a San Francisco-based company that sells fertility tests directly to consumers, but increasingly, those customers will be educating the company, too. Indeed, the two-year-old startup now plans to develop a database of anonymized data about its largely younger demographic.

A fresh $ 15 million in funding led by Forerunner Ventures should help. Forerunner founder Kirsten Green, who takes a board seat as part of the round, is known for countless savvy bets on a wide number of consumer brands that have taken off with users, from Dollar Shave Club to Bonobos to Glossier. With Forerunner’s help, Modern Fertility may well become a breakout hit, too, though potential customers should also understand its limitations before they click the “buy” button.

First, let’s back up. We’d originally written about Modern Fertility last year, when it began selling a kit from its website that’s sent to women’s doorsteps and allows them to gauge their levels of eight different reproductive hormones by using a finger prick. More specifically, the startup sends off its customers’ panels to CLIA-certified labs, where the tests are conducted, and most prominently, those tests are looking at the women’s level of AMH, or anti-mullerian hormone.

Why that’s relevant: every egg inside a woman’s ovaries sits within a fluid-filled sac full of cells that support egg maturation and produce hormones, including AMH. A woman’s AMH levels can provide one clue about how many of these sacs — or follicles — she has. That in turn provides a clue as to how many eggs she can release, or her ovarian reserve.

The point, says Modern Fertility’s cofounder and CEO, Afton Vechery, is to enable women to learn more about their bodies without having to shell out $ 1,500 to gain access to a similar picture by turning to a reproductive endocrinologist, of which there are relatively few.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are roughly 500 infertility clinics in the U.S., and 2,000 reproductive endocrinologists.

Mixed feelings in medical community . . .

It’s a compelling pitch, especially given that women are putting off children longer for a variety of reasons, including to secure their financial future. In 2017, for the first time, U.S. women in their early 30s eclipsed younger moms to become the group with the highest birth rate, according to CDC data.

But there is room for pushback. The reality is that AMH and other tests can be conducted elsewhere, including by competing startups, for roughly the same cost that Modern Fertility is charging its customers. (Its kits originally sold from its website for $ 199; today, they sell for $ 159.)

Fertility testing is also generally is covered by health insurance plans because fertility problems can be linked to or caused by other health problems like endometriosis. (Not covered, typically: actual infertility treatments.)

A far bigger concern to some doctors is the unnecessary alarm that AMH screening may create for women who haven’t been diagnosed with infertility and who are less than 35 years old.

As Zev Rosenwaks, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, told the New York Times a couple of years ago, “All it takes is one egg each cycle . . . AMH is not a marker of whether you can or cannot become pregnant.”

Esther Eisenberg, the program director of the Reproductive Medicine and Infertility Program at the National Institutes of Health, has also said that AMH doesn’t dictate a woman’s reproductive potential. In fact, the NIH funded research in 2017 that found a “non-statistical difference” between low and normal AMH levels in a time-to-pregnancy study of women who were between the 30 to 44 years and who did not have a history of infertility.

Asked about such findings, Vechery, who was most recently a former product manager at the genetic testing company 23andMe, is clearly aware of them. She readily acknowledges that AMH is “not an indicator of your ability to get pregnant right now in this moment,” adding that “it has so many other helpful benefits in thinking about your reproductive health in a much broader sense.”

Vechery also notes the company’s team of PhDs. She points to a clinical study that was published in The Green Journal (the official publication from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). She also speaks of Modern Fertility’s medical advisory board, which includes dedicated five medical doctors, including reproductive endocrinologists Nataki Douglas, a former associate professor at Columbia University Medical Center, and Scott Nelson, a professor at the University of Glasgow.

All are important pieces to building Modern Fertility, but it’s nevertheless worth mentioning that the company employs just two full-time PhDs currently.

Further, the company’s medical advisory members, including Nelson, are paid consultants.

As for the study, which Modern Fertility sponsored, it doesn’t actually prove anything about the power of AMH testing, though it does underscore that AMH, along with the seven other hormones the company measures on behalf of its customers, can be tested just as effectively with “fingerstick sampling” as a traditional blood draw.

The educator turns the tables . . .

Those curious about Modern Fertility — often younger women eager to get a jump on any later reproductive issues they may face — may well decide that information about their hormone levels is enough to part with the cost of a kit, which includes a one-on-one phone consultation with a nurse.

Interestingly, when they do, they’ll increasingly be asked to opt-in to questions about their health, lifestyles, and more. They may be asked repeatedly, too, as the company recommends that customers re-take the test yearly to track their hormones over time. Indeed, because so many of Modern Fertility’s customers do not have fertility issues, the company hopes to aggregate as much pertinent information from them as possible in order to complement the vast amounts of research that has been conducted on infertility.

“The fertility space needs to catch up, and a huge part of what we’re focused on is moving fertility science forward,” says Vechery. “So much research is primarily done on these women who are having issues; Modern Fertility is interested in flipping that around.”

It’s a strange state of affairs, but we’ve talked with several customers of the company in the past, and one can imagine them supporting it however they can, thanks in part to the sense of community that Modern Fertility has also been fostering. Among other things, for example, the company hosts get-togethers for customers in San Francisco so they can share their thoughts, their fears, and, presumably, their results.

As for whether Modern Fertility is also interested in selling that anonymized data as has happened at genetic testing outfits like Ancestry and Vechery’s former employer, 23andMe, Vechery insists that it will not, that the information will instead be used to inform the company’s product development.

Fertility startups have generally been on a fundraising tear, and little wonder. According to one estimate, the  global fertility services market is expected to exceed $ 21 billion by 2020. In fact, while venture capital has poured into everything from period-tracking apps to sperm storage startups, Modern Fertility has its own direct competitors, excluding obstetricians. Among these is KindBody, a New York-based startup that raised $ 15 million two months ago, and three-year-old, Austin-based Everlywell, which has garnered $ 55 million from VCs so far.

Notably, Modern Fertility represents Forerunner’s first foray into the so-called femtech space. Asked about Green’s involvement, Vechery notes she was particularly “excited about the community,” which Phil Barnes of First Round Capital, has also cited as the reason he wrote Modern Fertility an early check.

Ultimately, though, says Vechery, “Our business model is information, and I think for Kirsten, seeing what that trusted brand could do in women’s health and the conversations it could spark” was what she found most compelling about the company.

We understand why. We also can’t help but wonder if those conversations will drive some women to see — unnecessarily — the very specialists that Modern Fertility wants to free them of visiting.

Modern Fertility has now raised $ 22 million to date. Among its other backers are Maveron and Union Square Ventures as investors.

Pictured above: Modern Fertility cofounders Afton Vechery and Carly Leahy. Vechery is CEO; Leahy is the company’s CCO, or chief commercial officer.

TechCrunch

Study Raises Alarming Stat About the World’s Plants

June 11, 2019 |

“Most people can name a mammal or bird that has become extinct in recent centuries, but few can name an extinct plant,” says Aleys Humphreys, co-author of a gloomy new study on the fate of the planet’s plants. Here, then, are three plants that have disappeared in the last 250…
Newser

‘Unexplained Phone Call’ Raises Eyebrows in Skripal Case

May 20, 2019 |

The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal just slathered another layer of mystery on. The Guardian reports Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin, the two Russians suspected of attacking the father and daughter in Salisbury, England, in March 2018 with a Novichok nerve agent, may have had some off-site assistance. Investigators…
Newser

Uber raises $8.1 billion in IPO priced near bottom of range

May 10, 2019 |

Uber Technologies Inc. raised $ 8.1 billion in its initial public offering after pricing shares near the bottom of their marketed range.

The ride-hailing giant sold 180 million shares for $ 45 each, according to a statement Thursday. It had marketed them for $ 44 to $ 50 apiece.

Based on the amount…


L.A. Times – Business

Pearl, the healthcare spinout from LA-based AI startup, GumGum, raises $11 million

May 9, 2019 |

GumGum, the Los Angeles-based startup that’s spent the past decade applying machine learning technologies to advertising and sports, has spun out a new healthcare startup focused on the dental industry called Pearl.

The company has raised $ 11 million in financing from undisclosed strategic investors and Craft Ventures, the investment firm set up by former Yammer founder, David Sacks.

GumGum’s co-founder, Ophir Tanz, stepped down from the adtech giant to run the new startup last month, while GumGum’s president and chief operating officer, Phil Schraeder took the reins as chief executive at GumGum.

“This idea was seeded within GumGum,” says Tanz. “I started the process of collecting dental x-rays over three years ago.”

GumGum’s strategy has been to build out a holding company of computer vision driven businesses, Tanz says. Both its portfolio of services for advertising and for sports franchises have become profitable on their own, and the opportunity in healthcare was too tempting of a target to pass up.

For Tanz, the decision to set up Pearl as a separate business was necessary for the new company to be able to focus on a huge opportunity to transform a portion of the healthcare industry that has remained largely untouched by machine learning applications.

It’s also a space that’s ripe for technology to come in and give a more clear-eyed assessment of patient health than the industry standard currently provides.

“We are isolated from the larger health-care system. So when evidence-based policies are being made, dentistry is often left out of the equation,” Jane Gillette, a dentist in Bozeman, Montana, who works closely with the American Dental Association’s Center for Evidence-Based Dentistry, told “The Atlantic” recently. “We’re kind of behind the times, but increasingly we are trying to move the needle forward.”

Pearl may be one way to move that needle.

It’s also a return to the family business, for Tanz, whose father worked as a dentist for decades.

“The thing with dentistry is that it’s always somehow the forgotten medicine, but it’s such a massive market opportunity,” says Tanz. 

Machine learning in the dental business can achieve four main objectives, says Tanz. It can reduce fraud for insurers, validate the performance of dentists in networks that are being created through the consolidation of small practices by large private equity firms, and automate workflows inside the dental office.

Imagine having diagnostics tools integrated with medical devices through software that can be distributed and updated remotely, giving practitioners the best quality information. That’s the goal for Pearl, Tanz says.

Eventually, the company will look to expand to other verticals within healthcare, but for now, the new money is focused on building out its toolkit for teeth.

“We’ll expand beyond dental eventually,” says Tanz. “We’re going to be focused on dentistry and the dental category and the laboratory for quite a while.”

The company is coming to market with three products: “Second Opinion”, which scans x-rays and identifies pathologies and anatomy to ensure a proper diagnosis; “Practice Intelligence”, which delivers advanced analytics for dental practices and groups to deal with patients more effectively; and “Smart Margin”, which provides feedback on intraoral scans for dental restoration and manufacturers.

“Pearl will have an immediate positive impact on the dental category,” said Tanz, “It will streamline tedious, repetitive tasks, enhance profitability across dentistry, and, most importantly, it will improve the standard of care by validating diagnoses, removing large elements of uncertainty from the dental equation.”

TechCrunch

Thunes raises $10M to make financial services more accessible in emerging markets

May 6, 2019 |

Cross-border fintech continues to be an area of interest for venture capitalists. The latest deal sees GGV Capital — the U.S-China firm that’s backed Xiaomi, Airbnb, Square and others — lead a $ 10 million investment in Singapore-based startup Thunes.

Other investors in the Series A round are not being disclosed at this point.

Thunes — which is slang for money in French and is pronounced ‘tunes’ — is not your typical startup. Its service is a b2b play that provides payment solutions for companies and services that deal with consumers and need new features, increased interoperability and flexibility for users. It makes money on a fee basis per transaction and, in the case of cross border, a small markup on exchange rates using mid-market rates for reference.

The company was founded in February of this year when TransferTo, a company that provided services like mobile top-up cross-border split itself in two. Thunes is the b2b play that uses TransferTo’s underlying technology, while DT One was spun out to cover the consumer business of top-up and mobile rewards.

The investment, then, is a first outside raise for Thunes, which had previously been financed by TransferTo, which is a profitable business, according to Thunes executive chairman Peter De Caluwe, who led payments startup Ogone to a €360 million acquisition in 2013.

De Caluwe, who is also CEO of DT One, told TechCrunch that Thunes reached $ 3 billion in payment volumes over the last 12 months. His goal for this year is double that to $ 6 billion and already, he said, it is “on track to get there.” (Steve Vickers, who previously managed Xiaomi in Southeast Asia and has worked with Grab, is Thunes CEO.)

Thunes works with customers across the world in North America, Central America, Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia, but it is looking particularly at Southeast Asia and the wider Asia continent for growth with this new capital. It is not a consuming facing brand, but its biggest customers include Western Union, PayPal and Mpesa — where it has worked to connect the two payment interfaces in Africa — and India’s Paytm and ride-hailing company Grab, which it helps to pay drivers.

In the case of Grab — the $ 14 billion company backed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund — De Caluwe said Thunes helps it to pay “millions” of drivers per day. Grab uses Thunes’ real-time payment system to help drivers, many of whom need a daily paycheck, to convert their earnings to money in Grab’s wallet, their bank account or cash pick-up locations.

It’s hard to define exactly what Thunes’ role is, but De Caluwe roughly calls it “the swift of the emerging markets.” That’s to mean that it enables interoperability between different wallets, banks in different countries and newer payment systems, too. It also provides feature — like the instant payout option used by Grab — to enable this mesh of financial endpoints to work efficiently — because right now the proliferation of mobile wallets can feel siloed to the ‘regular’ banking infrastructure.

De Caluwe said that Thunes will work to add more destinations, support for more countries, more partners and more features. So growth across the board with this money. It is also looking to increase its team from the current headcount of 60 to around 110 by the end of this year.

Singapore is HQ but Thunes also has staff located in London and Nairobi offices, with some employees in the U.S. — they share a Miami office with DT One — and others remote in India and Indonesia. A Dubai office, covering the important and lucrative Middle East region, is in the process of being opened.

The company is also looking to raise additional capital to support continued growth. De Caluwe, who has spent time working at Telenor and Naspers-owned PayU, said a Series A+ and Series B is tentatively timed for the end of this year or early next year. The Thunes executive chairman sees massive potential since he believes the company “doesn’t have much competition.”

That’s echoed by GGV managing partner Jenny Lee .

“In China and the U.S, currency is homogenous and payment systems are established,” Lee told TechCrunch in an interview. “But in Southeast Asia right now, a huge number of the population is just getting on the internet and there are not a lot of established players.”

GGV has just opened its first office in Singapore — Lee herself is Singaporean — and the company intends to make fintech a major focus of its deals in the region. To date, Thunes is just its second investment in Southeast Asia, so there is certainly more to come.

TechCrunch

Tesla raises $2.35 billion in boosted debt and stock offerings

May 4, 2019 |

Tesla Inc. raised $ 2.35 billion through debt and stock offerings, more than the company initially planned, helping to put some near-term liquidity fears to rest.

The electric-car maker raised $ 750 million selling common stock and $ 1.6 billion from convertible bonds, up from originally offering…


L.A. Times – Business

CNN

UN boss raises Xinjiang Uyghurs during his trip to China

April 30, 2019 |

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has reminded China that its treatment of Uyghurs is still under close watch. Human rights must be respected even when fighting terrorism, he told Chinese authorities during a visit to last week’s billion-dollar Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, according to a UN spokesman.
CNN.com – RSS Channel – World

Crypto Charity Airdrop Venezuela Raises $292K – Mostly in BCH

April 22, 2019 |

Crypto Charity Airdrop Venezuela Raises $  292K With BCH Donations Leading the Pack

According to the founder of Airdrop Venezuela, the charity that aims to donate US$ 1 million worth of cryptocurrencies to Venezuelans, the nonprofit has registered 60,000 beneficiaries and raised $ 292,000 in donations so far. Moreover, bitcoin cash (BCH) has led the pack as far as the most donations are concerned with roughly 670 BCH ($ 194,900) gifted to date.

Also read: Darknet Users Allege Wall Street Market Exit Scammed, Possibly Snatching $ 30M

Airdrop Venezuela Gathers 60,000 Beneficiaries and Close to $ 300K in Digital Donations

During the end of 2018, a cryptocurrency fundraiser was initiated to help citizens of the crisis-stricken South American nation of Venezuela. The charitable effort, dubbed Airdrop Venezuela, was created by the digital currency startup Airtm, a nonprofit that aims to raise $ 1 million in digital assets for Venezuelans. The leader of the campaign, economics professor Steve Hanke, announced during an interview on April 21 that the project has more than 60,000 registered beneficiaries and has raised $ 292,000 since the launch.

Crypto Charity Airdrop Venezuela Raises $  292K – Mostly in BCH

The humanitarian aid campaign hopes to onboard Venezuelans into the world of cryptocurrencies. The Airdrop Venezuela project started on Nov. 27, 2018, and has continued to raise money for Venezuelans in need for the last few months. Hanke explained this past weekend that the main reason for the venture is to provide citizens with economic freedom.

“There’s really no particular political motivation. It’s just to help people to give them some purchasing power — The money comes from private donations,” Hanke explained during his interview. The economist added:

[Airdrop Venezuela] will be a demonstration of how relief agencies all around the world can easily deliver aid and relief to people in need.

Crypto Charity Airdrop Venezuela Raises $  292K – Mostly in BCH

Bitcoin Cash (BCH) Donations Capture the Lead by a Landslide

The beneficiaries of the fundraiser will be a total of 100,000 ID-authenticated Venezuelans and the funds donated, no matter which cryptocurrencies they are, can be quickly converted to dollars. Since the crowdfunding started, donors have been able to send bitcoin cash, airtm, ethereum, litecoin, bitcoin core, zcash, dash, dai, komodo, and a few other coins. During his discussion, Hanke said the method used to fundraise eliminates inefficient donation schemes like “driving a pickup truck around filled with cash that you’re giving away or filled with medicine or clothing or food.” Hanke revealed that beneficiaries can simply use the Airtm platform to exchange the cryptos for U.S. dollars and use the proceeds to buy food, medicine, and other necessary supplies.

“When the currency in your country is literally melting in your hand and — knowing that, the key is getting people hard currency that they can actually use to purchase something — So that was the general attraction,” Hanke stressed. “And the technology of using this internet platform is just what the doctor ordered.”

Crypto Charity Airdrop Venezuela Raises $  292K – Mostly in BCH
The most donated cryptocurrency to date is bitcoin cash (BCH), capturing close to two thirds of all Airdrop Venezuela’s crypto donations.

According to the Airdrop Venezuela website, the most donated cryptocurrency by far is bitcoin cash (BCH). In addition to 670 BCH donated, other leading cryptocurrency donations include airtm, bitcoin core, zcash, dai, and ethereum. When the project distributes the funds to registered Venezuelans, the cryptos will be donated on a weekly basis to recipient Airtm wallets. Hanke noted this method of donating funds is not only more efficient but a “very safe way” to distribute money to individuals who need it most.

What do you think about the Airdrop Venezuela project’s accomplishments? Let us know what you think about this subject in the comments section below.


Image credits: Shutterstock, Pixabay, Airdrop Venezuela, and Steve Hanke.


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