Homage’s Gillian Tee on how technology can serve the world’s aging population

It’s always a pleasure to chat with Homage co-founder and chief executive Gillian Tee because of her nuanced take on how technology can help elderly and other vulnerable people.  According to the United Nations, people 65-years-old and over is the fastest-growing age group worldwide. At the same time, there is also an acute shortage of caregivers in many countries, complicated by high rates of burnout in the profession.

“It’s absolutely one of the most important social topics and global issues,” Tee said during her Disrupt session (the video is embedded at the bottom of this article).

Launched in Singapore four years ago, Homage’s platform uses a matchmaking engine to help families find the best caregivers, while its telehealth platform provides services like online medical consultations and screenings. It has since expanded in Malaysia and yesterday announced a new strategic investment from Infocom, one of the largest healthcare technology companies in Japan. The partnership will enable Homage to accelerate its Asia-Pacific expansion.

Before launching Homage, Tee was co-founder of New York-based Rocketrip. A ticket-booking platform created to reduce work travel-related costs for companies, Rocketrip attracted investors like Google Ventures, Y Combinator and Bessemer Ventures, and raised more than $ 30 million. But in 2016, Tee decided to return to Singapore, her home country, after living abroad for about 15 years. In her Disrupt session, Tee said this was to be closer to her mother, and because she felt that her startup experience could also be applied to Southeast Asia.

Tee knew that she wanted to launch another company, but she didn’t decide to tackle the caregiving space immediately. That idea materialized when several of her close relatives were diagnosed with chronic conditions that needed specialized care.

“We didn’t know how to cope or how even to start thinking about what was required, and that was when I realized, wow, I needed to get myself schooled in many ways,” Tee said.

Many families around the world are dealing with the same challenges as their populations age and social dynamics shift. Family members who traditionally would have been carers for relatives are unable to do so because they have moved away or need to work.

Families often rely on word-of-mouth or agencies to find caregivers, a complicated, time-intensive and often emotionally difficult process. Homage uses matching algorithms to make it easier. One of the most unique things about the platform is how much detail it goes into. Providers are not only screened based on their certifications and the kind of care they provide (for example, long-term care, respite care, physical therapy or rehabilitation), but specific skills. For example, many patients need mobility assistance, so Homage assesses what kind of transfers they are able to safely perform.

Then its matching technology decides which caregivers are best suited for a patient, and final assignments are made by Homage’s staff. By making the process more efficient, Homage also lowers its costs, making its services accessible to more people while increasing pay rates for providers.

This taps into another one of Homage’s goals: expanding the caregiving pool in its markets and retaining talent. Other ways it addresses the issue is by placing caregivers on its platform into the jobs they are best suited for, organizing continuing education programs and making sure they are not over-scheduled. Some caregivers on the platform have long-term contracts, while others work with Homage clients only a few days a week.

A holistic approach to “age-tech”

In June, Homage launched its telehealth service. Called Homage Health, the platform has been in development for a while, but its launch was accelerated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote consultations fit into the “high-touch,” or in-person, care side of the company’s business because many patients need regular screenings or consultations with doctors and specialists. For patients who have limited mobility or are immunocompromised, this makes it easier for them to make routine consults.

Hardware, including wearable sensors, also show promise to identify any potential health issues, like heart conditions, before they require acute care, but one challenge is making them easy for patients to integrate into their daily routines or remember to wear, Tee said.

Overall, Homage’s mission is to create a holistic platform that covers many caregiving needs. Its new partnership with strategic investor Infocom will help bring that forward because the company, which Tee said Homage has been talking to for several years, works with about 13,000 facilities in Japan, including senior residences and hospitals. Infocom develops software for a wide range of verticals, including drug, hospital and medical record management, and medical imaging.

Infocom also runs its own caregiving platform, and its partnership with Homage will enable the two companies to collaborate and reach more patients. Japan has one of the largest populations of elderly people in the world. Tee said at minimum, half a million caregivers need to be mobilized within the next five to ten years in Japan in order to meet demand.

“We need to start building infrastructure to enable people to be able to access the kind of care services that they need, and so we really align in terms of that mission with Infocom,” said Tee. “They also have a platform that engages caregivers to apply for jobs in Japan and they see the Homage model as being particularly applicable because it’s curated as well.”

Startups – TechCrunch

Semalytix picks up €4.3M to build the world’s largest patient experience data set

Semalytix, a Bielefeld, Germany-based startup that offers pharmaceutical companies an AI-powered data tool to better understand real-world patient experiences, has raised €4.3 million in Series A funding.

Leading the round is venture capital firm btov Partners, with participation from existing investor Fly Ventures and several unnamed angels. Semalytix will use the injection of cash to expand its business development with pharma companies and the wider healthcare market.

Founded in 2015 as a spin-out of research group Semantic Computing, Semalytix pitches itself as a data and AI analytics startup that wants to bring more real-world evidence to the development of new drugs and treatments. Its flagship product, dubbed “Pharos,” is a patient research tool that pulls in and cleans up various unstructured public data — such as blogs, forums, social media etc. — and then applies algorithms to deliver real-time patient insights into unmet needs, treatment experience and how severely a disease impacts the lives of those who suffer from it.

“Our vision is that we help make patient insights a real Northstar KPI in drug development,” Semalytix co-founder and CEO Janik Jaskolski tells me. “Due to new regulatory initiatives (and public pressure), pharma needs to demonstrate patient-centricity in drug development, [and] include the patient perspective into decision making and produce evidence that their treatments provide value in the real world. For patients, that value usually doesn’t consist of, for example, having their blood sugar lowered by an additional 3%. Instead, they care about improving their quality of life, being able to play longer with their kids or simply having an easier time going about their everyday tasks.”

However, Jaskolski argues that such patient insights and related evidence is difficult to obtain. “If asked, a patient will often tell a different story about how a disease impacts their life and what they need to improve it, compared to what a doctor would say. Which is why we don’t analyse physician or hospital data. Instead, we are looking at already existing public data that patients share online, in their own authentic voice, all around the world.”

Semalytix’s AI claims to be able to identify, read through and summarise millions of online patient journeys in a highly scalable way. The AI is also able to turn this data into online target populations for different diseases, and covers 11 different languages. “It does so by applying WHO, FDA and EMA inspired algorithmic research instruments to make the analysis transparent and scientifically meaningful for pharma,” adds Jaskolski.

Image Credits: Semalytix

Meanwhile, although electronic health records, patient registries and similar data sources are already receiving much attention from startups, Jaskolski argues that the largest source of unstructured patient data that exists today is being overlooked and yet holds a lot of potential to “improve patient care, identify new therapeutic opportunities, inform clinical trial development and even help accelerate development of novel therapies for rare conditions.”

Semalytix’s business model is a tried and tested one. The startup sells enterprise licenses for access to its platform. A company can buy a license for 12 months or more for specific diseases. “Each license enables disease-specific sub-group analyses, assess populations and create cohorts based on the severity of different disease burdens, treatment experiences, and quality of life,” adds the Semalytix CEO.

“Over time, we want to include more and more diseases into the platform and provide a unique patient data stream to pharma but also to the payer and regulator side of healthcare.”

Startups – TechCrunch

Swiss foodtech startup Planted develops world’s first vegan kebab skewer

Swiss foodtech startup Planted has just announced its newest launch, the world’s first plant-based kebab skewer, called the ‘planted.kebab’. This animal-free version of the popular dish is a revolutionary step for alternative protein consumption.

Founded in July 2019, Planted aims to revolutionize the meat market. The team uses cutting edge technology to turn four natural ingredients into plant-based meat, that mimics the taste, texture, and mouthfeel of traditional animal meat. They’re also ‘clean’ – made exclusively from four natural ingredients (pea protein, pea fibers, water and rapeseed oil), with no preservatives and no additives. The startup’s first product ‘planted.chicken’ was followed by ‘planted.pulled’, a kind of pulled pork alternative, with both being available in supermarkets and restaurants. 

So far, the startup has closed 6 rounds of funding, with the last round being announced in November of last year, at around €5 million. Additionally, having only launched last year, the team has already grown to +25 people. 

Following the success of their previous products, the team has created their next innovation: the vegan kebab skewer. This new product is a layered up, fake chicken kebab skewer, which aims to mimic the traditional dish. Staying true to their ‘clean’ eating roots, this new product is also made from only four ingredients (water, pea proteins, canola oil and pea fibers) and seems set to win the title of being the plant-based meat with the fewest number of ingredients on the market.  

Judith Wemmer, member of the executive board at Planted, commented: “We were aiming for a reinvention of the traditional kebab – and we have achieved our goal. Our research activities in recent months have enabled us to combine all four ingredients in such a way that each single one contributes to texture, taste, nutritional value and overall feel. This allows us to do without any additives.”


[Stellar Cyber in Business Wire] REVEZ Partnership Expands Stellar Cyber World’s First AI/ML Cybersecurity Platform in Asia-Pacific

Stellar Cyber, the only cohesive security AI/ML platform that delivers maximum protection, today announced that REVEZ Corporation Ltd., a major technology Company based in Singapore, has selected the Stellar Cyber platform to provide comprehensive cybersecurity for its customers to increase productivity while enabling lower traditional operational costs. 

Read more here.

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[Stellar Cyber in SalesTech Star] REVEZ Partnership Expands Stellar Cyber World’s First AI/ML Cybersecurity Platform In Asia-Pacific

Stellar Cyber, the only cohesive security AI/ML platform that delivers maximum protection, today announced that REVEZ Corporation Ltd., a major technology Company based in Singapore, has selected the Stellar Cyber platform to provide comprehensive cybersecurity for its customers to increase productivity while enabling lower traditional operational costs. 

Read more here.

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Five VCs discuss how no-code is going horizontal across the world’s industries

Few topics garner cheers and groans quite as quickly as the no-code software explosion.

While investors seem uniformly bullish on toolsets that streamline and automate processes that once required a decent amount of technical know-how, not everyone seems to think that the product class is much of a new phenomenon.

On one hand, basic tools like Microsoft Excel have long given non-technical users a path toward carrying out complex tasks. (There’s historical precedent for the perspective.) On the other, a recent bout of low-code/no-code startups reaching huge valuations is too noteworthy to ignore, spanning apps like Notion, Airtable and Coda.

The TechCrunch team was interested in digging in to what defines the latest iteration of no-code and which industries might be the next target for entrepreneurs in the space. To get an answer on what is driving investor enthusiasm behind no-code, we reached out to a handful of investors who have explored the space:

As usual, we’re going to pull out some of the key trends and themes we identified from the group’s collected answers, after which we’ll share their responses at length, edited lightly for clarity and formatting.

Trends, themes

Our investor participants agreed that low-code/no-code apps haven’t reached their peak potential, but there was some disagreement in how universal their appeal will prove to various industries. “Every trend is overhyped in some way. Low-code/no-code apps hold a lot of promise in some areas but not all,” Lightspeed’s Raviraj Jain told us.

Meanwhile, Gradient’s Darian Shirazi said “any and all” industries could benefit from increased no-code/low-code toolsets. We can see it either way, frankly.

CapitalG’s Laela Sturdy says the breadth of appeal boils down to finding which industries face the biggest supply constraints of technical talent.

“There just isn’t enough IT talent out there to meet demand, and issues like security and maintenance take up most of the IT department’s time. If business users want to create new systems, they have to wait months or in most cases, years, to see their needs met,” she wrote. “No-code changes the equation because it empowers business users to take change into their own hands and to accomplish goals themselves.”

Mayfield’s Rajeev Batra agreed, saying it would be cool “to see not twenty million developers [building] really cool software but two, three hundred million people developing really cool, interesting software.” If that winds up being the case, the sheer number of monthly-actives in the no and low-code spaces would imply a huge revenue base for the startup category.

That makes a wager on platforms in the space somewhat obvious.

And those bets are being placed. On the topic of valuations and developer interest, our collected interviewees were largely bullish on startup prices (competitive) and VC demand (strong) when it comes to no-code fundraising today.

Sturdy added that the number of early-stage companies in the category “are being funded at an accelerating pace,” noting that her firm is “excitedly watching this young cohort of emerging no-code companies and intend to invest in the trend for years to come.” So, we’re not about to run short of fodder for more Series A and B rounds in the space.

Taken as a whole, like it or not, the no and low-code startup trend appears firm from both a market-fit perspective and from the perspective of investor interest. Now, the rest of the notes.

Laela Sturdy, general partner, CapitalG

We’ve seen some skepticism in the market that the low-code/no-code trend has earned its current hype, or product category. Do you agree that the product trend is overhyped, or misclassified? 

I don’t think it’s over-hyped, but I believe it’s often misunderstood. No code/low code has been around for a long time. Many of us have been using Microsoft Excel as a low-code tool for decades, but the market has caught fire recently due to an increase in applicable use cases and a ton of innovation in the capabilities of these new low-code/no-code platforms, specifically around their ease of use, the level and type of abstractions they can perform and their extensibility/connectivity into other parts of a company’s tech stack. On the demand side, the need for digital transformation is at an all-time high and cannot be met with incumbent tech platforms, especially given the shortage of technical workers. Low-code/no-code tools have stepped in to fill this void by enabling knowledge workers — who are 10x more populous than technical workers — to configure software without having to code. This has the potential to save significant time and money and to enable end-to-end digital experiences inside of enterprises faster.

What other opportunities does the proliferation of low-code/no-code programs open up when it comes to technical and non-technical folks working more closely together?

This is where things get exciting. If you look at large businesses today, IT departments and business units are perpetually out of alignment because IT teams are resource constrained and unable to address core business needs quickly enough. There just isn’t enough IT talent out there to meet demand, and issues like security and maintenance take up most of the IT department’s time. If business users want to create new systems, they have to wait months or in most cases years to see their needs met. No-code changes the equation because it empowers business users to take change into their own hands and to accomplish goals themselves. The rapid state of digital transformation — which has only been expedited by the pandemic — requires more business logic to be encoded into automations and applications. No code is making this transition possible for many enterprises.

Startups – TechCrunch

Some of the world’s biggest investors are gearing up for a food fight

Companies making plant-based milk and meat products are heating up

Hot on the heels of Beyond Meat, the plant-based burger company that scored the most successful IPO of 2019, I see the beginnings of a non-dairy milk war. Producers of plant-based milk substitutes are racking up record sales of products made from oats, peas, soy, almond, coconut and rice.

In July, Blackstone, Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, Howard Schultz and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation took a 10% stake in the Swedish oat milk company Oatly at a $ 2 billion valuation. The market is potentially huge and while Oatly is clearly the front runner with sales in 2019 of $ 200 million, investors are sniffing around other dairy substitute companies, realizing there will be many other creams in the crop. Noops, a newcomer offering non-dairy oatmilk desserts, closed a $ 2 million seed funding round in July led by 25Madison.

Meanwhile, Beyond Meat is still on fire. Its second quarter sales, announced August 4, jumped 69% to $ 113 million. Its main rival, Impossible Foods, creators of the plant-based Impossible Burger and Impossible Sausage, increased distribution from 150 grocery stores in March to 5,000 stores and 22,000 restaurants in July.

We are in the middle of a huge transition to plant-based alternatives – first from meat, and now dairy. Venture investors, more used to the clean technology of enterprise software, cloud and edge computing, have smelled the winds of change in the multibillion-dollar food industry and they are ready for a scrap.

To read more and subscribe to Jon’s “Investors on the Frontlines” Newsletter on LinkedIn, click here.

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Paris-based DNA Script expands Series B to €75.5 million to launch world’s first DNA printer

French startup DNA Script has announced an approximate €42.4 million extension to its Series B financing, bringing the total investment of this round to around €75.5 million. This oversubscribed round was led by Casdin Capital and joined by Danaher Life Sciences, Agilent Technologies, Merck KgaA, Darmstadt, Germany, through its corporate venture arm, M Ventures – three of the world’s leaders in oligo synthesis – LSP, the Bpifrance Large Venture Fund and Illumina Ventures. 

Founded in 2014, this French biotech startup is working on revolutionizing DNA write with enzymes, in order to accelerate breakthroughs in personalised human health and the life sciences. Their flagship and first product is a world-first DNA printer, which can be used in many industries and applications, including developing new drugs and tests for cancer, as well as new foods like artificial meat.

The fresh funds will enable DNA Script to accelerate the development of its suite of enzymatic DNA synthesis technologies, and in particular support the commercial launch of their unique SYNTAX DNA benchtop printer.

Thomas Ybert, CEO and co-founder of DNA Script explains more about the DNA printer: “This first-of-its-kind DNA printer makes writing DNA as simple and straightforward as reading DNA is currently, meaning that research and clinical labs will be able to do same-day synthesis of oligonucleotides, saving precious time when it comes to iterating experiments or developing diagnostic or confirmatory tools.”

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for quick research iteration without relying on centralized distributors, which can be hampered by capacity and shipping bottlenecks, has been made even more clear. It’s no wonder that laboratories have had their attention turned to the value of in-lab tools, like the SYNTAX DNA benchtop printer.

The startup will soon begin testing the SYNTAX system with a select group of partners, with plans to launch a beta testing programme later this year and to take orders for the DNA printer by next year. In addition, the funds raised will be put towards a second project, which also received around €19.5 million from Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity’s Molecular Information Storage programme. This project aims to develop deployable DNA data storage and retrieval technology as part of the Molecular Encoding Consortium, along with partners at the Broad Institute and Harvard University.