Balto raises $10 million to analyze call center conversations with AI

Balto, which is developing a conversational AI platform for call centers, today announced the close of a $10 million round. A spokesperson said the capital will enable Balto to triple the size of its go-to-market team while bolstering product development.

With customer representatives increasingly required to work from home in Manila, the U.S., and elsewhere, companies are turning to AI to bridge resulting gaps in service. The solutions aren’t perfect — humans are needed even when chatbots are deployed — but COVID-19 has accelerated the need for AI-powered contact center messaging.

Balto’s AI listens to both sides of a conversation and visually prompts agents what to say next. A smart checklist feature reminds agents of the prescribed conversational flow, with Balto automatically checking each point off a list. Balto also offers voice-trigged dynamic prompts, including rebuttals, compliance statements, and product knowledge. Notifications give agents feedback on keywords, soft skills, and other habits, while reminders can be delivered via digital sticky notes, along with team leaderboard rankings.

On the backend, Balto offers a range of management features, including an agent performance dashboard that swiftly converts all customer calls into data. This data funnels into a portal that shows metrics for agent and team performance, as well as snippets of call transcripts. An accompanying win rate analysis tool analyzes the effectiveness of phrases across different agents, while a trend analysis feature shows agent, customer, and competitor trends in real time. Balto also offers a playbook designer managers can use to send winning phrases, important points, reminders, and more to agents’ machines.

Balto says it encrypts all data in transit and at rest. The thin client, which starts when agents begin a call and sits to the side of agents’ screens, is designed to work with any system that relies on headsets plugged into a computer to place calls.

There’s no shortage of competition in the AI-driven call center analytics space. Gong offers an intelligence platform for enterprise sales teams and recently nabbed $200 million in funding at a $2.2 billion valuation. Observe.ai snagged $26 million in December for AI that monitors and coaches call center agents. AI call center startups Cogito and CallMiner have also staked claims alongside more established players like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google.

But Balto says business has been booming during the pandemic, with the addition of customers like Empire Today, eHealth, and National General Insurance. Balto claims it has seen a 90-second average improvement in handle time and a 35% increase in conversion rates.

“COVID-19 has ripped the carpet out from under sales managers across the country,” Balto CEO and cofounder Marc Bernstein told VentureBeat via email. “Balto provides the real-time call guidance they need to empower agents and sales executives to work remotely. It’s like having a coach at your side during every call to help agents say the right thing at the right time … Customers are seeing 35% higher sales conversion rates, 75% faster ramp time for new agents. One customer said their close rate was up 132%. We’re ready to roll out to new enterprises, and this funding will pave that path.”

Sierra Ventures led today’s series A, with participation from Jump Capital, OCA Ventures, Cultivation Capital, and others. The round brings the company’s total raised to over $14 million.

Health iPASS Featured In New Healthcare Payments Industry Research

Exciting news! Health iPASS features prominently in a recent report produced by Financial Technology Partners in conjunction with QED Investors entitled, “Healthcare Payments: Consumerization and Digitization Create a Massive FinTech Opportunity.” This in-depth report provides a well-researched and complete picture of the healthcare financial landscape, outlines challenges, and presents emerging technologies that address these challenges.

Highlights of the report include:

  • Defintion of key constituents in the healthcare industry and an explanation of the roles of each.
  • Spotlighting of significant trends driving improvements in healthcare payments. Health iPASS is featured as an emerging solution under Point-of-Care Intake and Receivables Financing.
  • A detailed breakdown of FinTech companies servicing the healthcare and health insurance industries.
  • Interviews with CEOs and top executives of companies driving innovations in Fintech, including one with our own Imran Ahmad on pages 159-163.
  • Updates on recent financing and M&A transactions among Fintech companies.
  • Profiles of 60 of the top companies in the Fintech space. Our Health iPASS profile can be found on page 228.

 

Health iPASS is honored to be included in this prestigious group of Fintech movers and shakers! Stay tuned for key takeaways from the report in the coming weeks as part of our blog series on what’s next for the healthcare finance industry.  If you’d like to schedule a deep-dive demo on our patient intake and payment solution, click below. We can’t wait to show you what we can do for your practice.

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Osso VR Secures $14M Investment to Further Develop VR Surgical Training Platform

Osso VR today announced it has raised $14 million in Series A funding to further develop its VR surgical training platform.

The financing round was led by Kaiser Permanente Ventures, with participation from SignalFire, GSR, Scrum Ventures, Leslie Ventures and OCA Ventures.

According to Crunchbase, the Series A brings Osso VR’s overall funding to $16 million, with its most recent funding round arriving in June 2017.

Founded in late 2016 by UCLA and Harvard-trained orthopedic surgeon Justin Barad, MD, Osso VR has developed a VR training platform that allows surgeons and other healthcare professionals to learn and review medical procedures.

Apparently in the years since its founding, the company has celebrated a measure of success with surgical training programs worldwide. The company now says its platform is currently used by over 20 teaching hospitals and 11 medical device companies, distributed across 20 countries.

Not only does the platform allow for hands-on learning with surgical procedures, but it also includes assessment modules, which can gauge a trainee’s knowledge of “steps, level of precision and overall efficiency throughout the procedure providing a benchmark for proficiency.”

“Being on the frontlines as a provider gives me a daily reminder that we are facing an accelerating challenge with how we train for and practice procedures in medicine,” said CEO and co-founder  Justin Barad, MD. “We set out from day one with a focused mission: to improve patient outcomes, increase the adoption of higher value medical technology, and democratize access to surgical education around the world. Osso VR has done so much in such a short amount of time, yet we have much more to do. With strategic partners like Kaiser Permanente Ventures, we are ready to work together to ensure that patients all around the world have safe access to the best care.”

Tammi Jantzen of Astarte Medical: “Why you shouldn’t surround yourself with people who look and think exactly as you do”

You shouldn’t surround yourself with people who look and think exactly as you do. You need differing opinions and points of view to truly expand your thinking. Building a diverse team has always been important to us, however, it was never about achieving a prescribed diversity quota. Every hire we make is based on the best possible candidate with the right experience and skillsets. Our core values of competence, respect, authenticity, and communication help guide us as we grow. I’m proud to say our efforts have resulted in an incredibly talented and diverse team of amazing individuals. There’s so much we learn from one another — it amazes me every day.

a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tammi Jantzen.

Tammi is co-founder and CFO of Astarte Medical, a precision nutrition company using software and predictive analytics to improve health outcomes in the first 1000 days of life, initially focused on preterm infants. NICUtrition® by Astarte Medical is a real-time, clinical decision support solution designed to standardize feeding and optimize nutrition for preterm infants in the neonatal ICU (NICU). Tammi spent 15 years as CFO of three early stage venture capital funds and is an angel investor and serial entrepreneur.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

or the last 20 years, I have worked with my co-founder, Tracy Warren, as both investors and entrepreneurs. We have historically targeted healthcare, but six years ago decided to focus exclusively on women’s and children’s health, an area we are both passionate about and a largely underserved area of innovation and investment. In an attempt to gain insights into clinical needs and pain points, we visited many women’s and children’s hospitals talking to innovation groups and researchers. It was during a visit to Brigham and Women’s Hospital that we met Kate Gregory, a NICU nurse and Harvard researcher. Kate opened our eyes to the challenges of preterm infants and early life nutrition. She was clearly a rock star and we knew immediately that we wanted to work with her. Kate’s passion quickly became our passion, and we realized we didn’t just want to invest in the idea, we wanted to build the company ourselves. At the time, we didn’t know what the product would be, but we set out to investigate the problem first and develop the solution second. About nine months later, Astarte Medical was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In early 2019, we successfully raised a $5M Series A financing and then another $3.5M convertible note financing at the end of the year. Woo hoo! The Series A fundraising journey, however, was not what we expected it to be. Having spent so much time in early stage venture capital investing, we went into this thinking we knew exactly what we needed to do to win over investors. We focused on the business and the opportunity and shared our vision for revolutionizing care. It was clear early on that we had set very unrealistic expectations on how much time and energy would be expended to raise this round of funding. Sitting on the other side of the table as entrepreneurs, we gained an appreciation for all the founders that had come before us as investors for over 15 years. Nothing happens as quickly as you think it should and there’s a lot of “tire kicking” that sucks up so much of your time and never leads to an actual investment. And the worst part was investors that could never get to a “yes” or “no”. Hearing “no” is better than perpetual indecision. But with persistence and drive, it can be done! Sitting here today, I’m happy to report that we have an amazing investor base.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The mistake was taking multiple meetings with a group of investors that were clearly never going to invest in a female-led company. I can call it a funny mistake now, and lesson learned for sure, but at the time not so much. Here’s how it transpired…at a meeting with an all-male group of potential investors, we were asked, “Do you have any men on your team?” In fact, we do. But, when the CEO has 15 years’ experience in the industry and an MBA, the CSO is a registered nurse with a PhD and over 10 years researching our product area, and the CFO is a certified public accountant with extensive financial experience, should that matter? The question about our company’s testosterone level was followed by one about who would handle mergers and acquisitions negotiations for us. Those can get quite complicated, the potential investors helpfully informed us. The mistake was not listening to our inner voices that day that were screaming “RUN! and don’t look back”. But we continued for the next 12 months to take meetings and entertain questions. Ultimately, they couldn’t pull it together and we successfully closed our $5M Series A financing — without them. The lesson learned is that not all money is good money. I’m so grateful they are not part of our investor base — I just wish we would have listened to our instincts sooner.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Hands down, that person is my co-founder, Tracy Warren. We have worked together for 20 years — longer than most marriages. We joke about the fact that we have “one brain” because we often know what the other is thinking before speaking. Although, strangely, people often mix us up, we are definitely not the same person. Tracy is the high-level strategic thinker of the team. She comes up with the crazy brilliant ideas, and I figure out how to actually get them done. Tracy has continually pushed me to think bigger and outside the box. I am forever grateful to her for helping me see my own potential and push me to be a better me.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Before Astarte Medical was founded, I would say I was much more comfortable staying behind the scenes, being supportive but not putting myself in the spotlight — ever. But when it comes to startups and fundraising, it’s all hands on deck. I had to push aside my fears and give the company pitch, as often as we were given the opportunity, whether it was to an individual investor or on stage with an audience of 200 people. In the beginning, I stressed myself out in unhealthy ways over every single pitch. I have now learned the key to releasing and relieving that stress and anxiety is preparation, practice, and confidence. When preparing for a high stakes meeting or presentation, always remember that no one knows your business better than you do. That realization is game changing.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

You shouldn’t surround yourself with people who look and think exactly as you do. You need differing opinions and points of view to truly expand your thinking. Building a diverse team has always been important to us, however, it was never about achieving a prescribed diversity quota. Every hire we make is based on the best possible candidate with the right experience and skillsets. Our core values of competence, respect, authenticity, and communication help guide us as we grow. I’m proud to say our efforts have resulted in an incredibly talented and diverse team of amazing individuals. There’s so much we learn from one another — it amazes me every day.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

We are in a unique position at Astarte Medical to use our current NICUtrition® platform to tackle health disparities in neonatal ICUs. As shown in recent studies, racial disparities are widespread in NICUs in the United States. Black and Hispanic preterm infants experience a significantly increased risk of developing comorbidities than white preterm infants. Even within NICUs, disparities exist in how preterm infants are fed and nourished resulting in adverse outcomes that disproportionately impact Blacks and Hispanics. We can leverage our NICUtrition® platform to liberate data from a hospital’s electronic medical record to support health equity programs and develop a better understanding of the causes of these disparities. By providing data to highlight racial disparities in real time, we can enable effective interventions to reduce disparities and improve care while the baby is still in the NICU.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

While all leaders make contributions, responsibility for success rests on the shoulders of the executive team. Success is multifactorial and means building a sustainable and profitable business that provides continued employment to employees, reliable and innovative products to customers, and a solid financial return to investors. Ultimately, the executives are the ones held accountable for this success.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

The biggest myth is that you need to have fancy credentials, prior experience, an extreme type-A personality or that you need to be a middle-aged white man to be a great executive.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Women often face skepticism, consciously or unconsciously, about whether they can get the job done or be effective leaders. Success has to be proven. Whereas with male executives, it’s assumed they will be successful until proven otherwise.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

As with any startup, you wear many hats. Although my official title is CFO, I actually spend less than 25% of my time on financial-related matters. As a CPA, I wouldn’t have thought in a million years that I would lead the marketing effort for any company. Yet, here I am, doing just that. Admittedly, I’m learning as I go and lean heavily on the team for support but I’m enjoying it way more than I thought. Astarte Medical was born from an idea, and here we are, four years later with 12 employees, selling our product, seeing our vision take shape in a meaningful way. I’m not sure what I thought it would be, but I know it’s not a “job”. It’s so much a part of who I am now, it’s more like another child to grow and nurture.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

I can’t imagine being a successful executive without having passion for what you are doing. Passion, drive and determination are key. If you are a person looking for a 9 to 5 job, this isn’t for you.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Stay focused on executing and delivering on your core business. Too many start-ups attempt to take on an impossible scope early in their gestation and fail to do any one project well.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Over the last 40 years, there has been a significant increase in diseases such as allergy, asthma and obesity — conditions which are all linked to gut health. In order to reverse this trend and have a positive impact on the next 40 years, we are focused on the first 1,000 days of life, from conception through age two. It is a period of tremendous potential and enormous vulnerability. The foundations for life-long health are largely set during this 1,000-day period as this is the most critical time for brain development, healthy growth and creating a strong immune system. Proper nutrition during this time can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn and thrive. Astarte Medical is initially focused on optimizing nutrition and gut health for preterm infants; however, our strategy is to then move into prenatal care and early infant nutrition to optimize gut health across this unique window of opportunity. Our vision is to have a hand in creating the healthiest generation ever.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Invest time in finding the right hires — take the time to make sure the cultural fit is right. A bad fit can create negative energy and can bring the whole team down.
  2. Communicate expectations — ensure that every employee knows what is expected of them. It is key that they know what success looks like for them individually and as a team.
  3. Hold the team accountable — both when things aren’t going as planned but also when goals are achieved.
  4. Always trust your gut instinct (pun intended) — if that inner voice is telling you that someone doesn’t fit with the company culture you are working hard to build, don’t wait to make a change. See #1 above — it impacts the whole team.
  5. Think big and encourage your team to do the same — it will make them feel part of something bigger and can be a motivating factor in their current role.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would like to inspire the movement toward wellness and prevention rather than treatment of disease. At Astarte Medical we are inspiring this movement by using data and analytics to inform care early in life during the most critical time of growth and development to set our kids on the proper trajectory toward life-long health.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” During the early part of my career, as a venture fund CFO, I was pretty content working in the background to support the partners in the firm. I enjoyed my work and found satisfaction in my accomplishments, but never at any time did they include promoting myself, speaking to an audience, or in any way shape or form “putting myself out there”. As co-founder of Astarte Medical, I have had to push myself out of my comfort zone and do whatever it takes to make the team and the company successful. Stepping up and getting out there has resulted in a confidence level that was previously unknown to me and has led to a tremendous amount of both personal and professional growth and was a key driver in closing our financing.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Melinda Gates — because of her philanthropic work around the world in health, particularly children, but also because of her push to empower women. We share similar interest in increasing diversity in the workplace, encouraging more women to start businesses, and in closing the funding gap for female founders.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

MPulse Mobile Announces Closing Of Series C Funding Of More Than $16 Million, Led By Optum Ventures

New investment will support mPulse Mobile’s engagement and outcomes strategy through Conversational Artificial Intelligence

mPulse Mobile, a leader in Conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions for the healthcare industry, announced more than $16 million in funding. The round was led by Optum Ventures and includes existing investors HLM Venture Partners, OCA Ventures, SJF Ventures, Echo Health Ventures and Rincon Ventures.

Powering more than 300 million personalized, automated consumer healthcare conversations annually, mPulse Mobile’s solutions help consumers and healthcare organizations achieve better health outcomes by increasing engagement and improving communication through meaningful, tailored conversations. mPulse combines behavioral science, artificial intelligence and an enterprise-grade platform to assist healthcare organizations guide consumers to adopt healthy behaviors.

mPulse Mobile has more than a decade of healthcare consumer engagement experience, serving more than 100 healthcare organizations. The Series C investment will help mPulse Mobile further enhance solutions that deliver positive consumer experiences on behalf of its customers.

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“We are excited to have the support of Optum Ventures and all of our current investors as we execute on our strategic roadmap to improve health outcomes for consumers and our customers through improved communications,” said Chris Nicholson, CEO of mPulse Mobile. “This new investment recognizes that scale and solution performance are key factors in successfully engaging consumers in their healthcare, and we will use it to expand our consumer conversational AI capabilities, enhance our client engagement analytics platform and expand our engagement solutions across healthcare verticals.”

“mPulse Mobile enables valuable connections between healthcare organizations and consumers, while addressing a significant market need for better experiences,” said Laura Veroneau, Partner, Optum Ventures. “We believe mPulse’s innovative approach to consumer engagement can play a key role in improving health outcomes and lowering the total cost of care.”

Chicago’s 100 Best Places To Work in 2020

Looking over this year’s Best Places to Work winners, it’s hard not to get nostalgic for the office, pre-COVID. Talk of tricked-out breakrooms, birthday celebrations, impromptu happy hours and rooftop decks has us pining for the days of interacting in real life with co-workers.

Today, most of us are still working from home, unsure when office life (or any part of life) will be back to normal. It will happen, of course, and when it does, these companies are showing the way: providing employees with the perks, amenities, pay and benefits that keep them happy and productive.

A record 14,522 employees participated in our survey about their workplaces this year, well before the virus took hold. Read more about the top companies in three categories—largemedium and small.

Back-to-school shoppers are showing up after all, study shows

Dive Brief:

  • The back-to-school season isn’t going to be as strong as it was last year, when August store visits rose 5.1% at Target, 3.7% at Best Buy and 2.5% at Walmart. But recent footfall analysis from Placer.ai suggests it is nevertheless set to come to the aid of retailers.
  • Back-to-school shoppers are showing up after all, as those chains, along with office supply retailers Staples and Office Depot (where visits declined last year) saw foot traffic pick up during the last week of July and continue into August, according to a report from location analytics firm Placer.ai.
  • Walmart’s 4.5% year-over-year increase in time spent in stores suggests customers are getting their errands done in one place, Placer.ai said.

    Dive Insight:

    The back-to-school season has been something of a wild card this year, with the pandemic forcing consumers away from stores and students away from schools, not to mention dragging down employment and the economy more broadly.

    That has retailers on edge, considering how back-to-school trends serve as a bellwether for the all-important holidays in the fourth quarter. Both spending periods depend on foot traffic to stores.

    Placer.ai has recorded upticks of exactly that. Best Buy appears to have indeed benefited from the bigger-than-usual spending on tech forecast by Deloitte earlier this year, as Placer.ai found its traffic up from July 13 to the week of Aug. 10, hitting a 7.6% peak rise the week of Aug. 3. The electronics retailer views stores as an important asset, telling analysts last week that some 60% of sales flow through the store somehow, through curbside pickup and ship-from-store as well as in-store sales.

    Back-to-school season is usually a big one for office supplies retailers. Despite pressures this year, sales have actually picked up somewhat for them too, most evident in the week-over-week data, according to a blog post from Placer.ai Marketing Vice President Ethan Chernofsky. Staples’ foot traffic increased nearly 20% the week of Aug. 10 compared to the week prior, while Office Depot’s traffic increased 14.2% during the same period.

    “All of the brands analyzed have seen growth since the week beginning July 27th, signifying a strong momentum to the overall retail recovery,” Chernofsky said in the post. “So, while the pinnacle of the back-to-school season will likely be lower than in 2019, the peak is still taking place, giving a needed boost to this sector.”

Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare: Suelin Chen

Suelin Chen believes that embracing your own mortality can be a force for good. She’s the CEO of Cake, a web-based service that helps users plan for their end-of-life goals and wishes. The 39-year-old says the pandemic has produced feelings of uncertainty and fear—but that addressing death head-on can be empowering and life-affirming. The executive started the company in 2015 with her business partner, Mark Zhang, a palliative-care physician, after meeting at an MIT event on hacking health care. By then, Chen had already spent years in academia, health care and business, but her on-the-spot pitch was to develop an easy, digital service to help people let their family and friends know their wishes if they’re at the end of their life or incapacitated. The service doesn’t include creating a will, but lets users map out everything from how they’d like their social media accounts to be managed after they’re gone, even how they’d like their funeral to feel—including the music—and store documents in one place. It has since been used by major hospitals and banks, including Massachusetts General Hospital and Natwest, and Cake closed a $1.6 million funding round at the start of the year. And there’s evidence that the pandemic has spurred end-of-life planning: By April, user engagement with the service had increased by more than 400%.