OCA Ventures completes Amplified Sciences’ $1.8M seed round

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Amplified Sciences, a startup life science diagnostic company, announced that its $1.8 million seed round of funding has been completed by Chicago-based OCA Ventures. Amplified Sciences is developing diagnostics to detect debilitating diseases earlier than traditional methods do.

Diana Caldwell, CEO and president of Amplified Sciences, said the funding will enable validation of the company’s lead assay to detect pancreatic cancer and bring it closer to commercial launch. The funding also allows the company to accelerate the hiring of key talent, including Dan Sheik, as director of research and technology, and further advance the development of the company’s proprietary technology platform.

Other investors in this round include Purdue Ventures, Indiana University Ventures, IU Angel Network, Golden Seeds, Houston Angel Network, Chemical Angel Network and Gravity Ventures.

“I’m especially thrilled that OCA Ventures has closed the round given their history of investing in diagnostic companies,” Caldwell said. “OCA is a well-known venture capital firm, and we are pleased that they have appreciated the potential of our technology and want to join our journey.”

Bob Saunders, general partner at OCA Ventures, chairs its health care investing activity.

“Amplified Sciences appeared on our radar by winning the MedCity News diagnostics track pitch competition in 2020. After substantial diligence, we determined that the company’s novel technology was very promising and fit our investment theme in precision diagnostics,” Saunders said.

“Of the 95-plus companies in our portfolio, 23 are in the health care sector. We believe Amplified Sciences complements our portfolio as it strives to detect pancreatic cancer sooner and help patients begin treatments earlier.”

Caldwell said the $1.8 million seed round compares strongly to investments earned by other Indiana companies.

“The national reach of investors and size of this seed round is significant as highlighted in the 2020 Indiana Life Sciences Capital Report published by BioCrossroads. The report conveyed that only 25 companies in the state raised over $1 million last year,” Caldwell said.

Amplified Sciences is based in the Purdue Research Park of West Lafayette. Its diagnostic technology was developed at the Purdue University College of Pharmacy and licensed through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization.

About Amplified Sciences

Amplified Sciences is a startup life science diagnostics company focused on detecting and preempting the risks of debilitating diseases, thus providing health providers the ability to treat patients earlier with better outcomes. The company has operations in West Lafayette, Indiana, leverages technology licensed from Purdue University, and has developed a platform that scales to point of care. To learn more about Amplified Sciences, visit amplifiedsciences.com.

About OCA Ventures

OCA Ventures is an early-stage venture capital firm focused on equity investments in companies with dramatic growth potential in highly scalable businesses. Founded in 1999, the firm has 95-plus portfolio companies and has offices in Chicago and Palo Alto, California. To learn more about OCA, visit online.

Writer: Steve Martin, sgmartin@prf.org

Sources: Diana Caldwell, diana.caldwell@amplifiedsci.com

Bob Saunders, bob@ocaventures.com

Call center automation startup Balto secures $37M

Balto, a call center automation startup based in St. Louis, Missouri, today announced that it raised $37 million in a series B funding round led by Stripes, with participation from RingCentral Ventures, Sierra Ventures, TIA Ventures, OCA Ventures, Stage Venture Partners, SaaS Venture Capital, Sandalphon Capital, Cultivation Capital, and Atreides Management. The capital brings the company’s total funding to $51.2 million so far, and CEO Marc Bernstein says it’ll be used to “make leaps” in closed-loop reporting, allowing customers to scale top-performing agent behavior.

During the pandemic, shifts to digital have bolstered enterprise investments in customer service automation. A recent Harris Poll survey found that 46% of customer interactions are now automated — a percentage that’s expected to climb to 59% within three years. The over $339.4 billion contact center market has received outsize attention in recent months, with 56% of multimedia and tech companies saying that they plan to implement AI-powered contact center technology in the future, according to Deloitte.

Founded in 2017 by Chris Kontes, Davidson Girard, and Bernstein, Balto aims to provide contact centers with a way to improve conversations as they’re happening, in real time. The company leverages AI optimized for contact center applications — specifically automated speech recognition and natural language processing models trained on a dataset of more than 75 million calls and 1 billion labels.

Bernstein says that Balto continued to grow during the pandemic, due in large part to companies needing a way to get information to now-remote agents. “When contact center teams work remotely, managers don’t have the luxury of talking to agents in person for coaching or training,” he told VentureBeat via email. “Using Balto’s real-time tools, that roadblock becomes significantly smaller. Managers can push out script updates to all agents at the push of a button; they can instantly jump into calls when an agent needs support; and they have access to the data from all their calls in real time.”

AI-powered platform

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 launches 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.

Automation trend

According to McKinsey, 29% of customer service agent duties have the potential to be automated. That might be why an estimated 33% of contact centers had invested in AI and robotics in 2019, a Deloitte report found.

“Enterprise companies currently spend hours listening to call recordings and rely on sampling a small percentage of calls to gauge agent performance … [They] also struggle with identifying which calls to coach,” Bernstein explained. “This leads to wasted time spent searching for a good coaching opportunity instead of actually coaching.”

Sensing the opportunity, tech giants and startups alike have released products in recent years designed to automate common call center tasks. Google’s Contact Center AI combines virtual agents with agent assistance software, as does Amazon Connect. Observe.aiAsappCallMinerCogitoUniphoreCresta, and Augment offer similar solutions.

Gartner research director Megan Marek Fernandez said that customer experience improvement and contact center projects today are being driven by a growing focus on customer retention, customer expansion, and customer interaction efficiency improvements. As interaction volumes rise, customers are using a broader mix of channels to connect with brands.

“Social media interfaces like websites, mobile devices, and email represent a growing entry point for interactions. This means many businesses are struggling to figure out how to improve customer service while handling higher interaction volumes from a broader mix of channels,” Fernandez told VentureBeat via email. “Gartner expects investments in contact center solutions that can enable automation of interactions across channels to accelerate. As part of this automation, AI-enabled bots and virtual assistants will handle more basic interactions while contact center agents handle more complex topics.”

But Balto has managed to hold its own, attracting “dozens” of customers including AmTrust Financial, Katapult, Advantage Communications, and National General Insurance. Bernstein says that the company’s platform has provided over 160 million real-time recommendations to date.

“Our [product] automatically scores 100% of all calls and provides the data to managers in real time,” Bernstein said. “Real-time coaching alerts managers for key in-call coaching opportunities in real time. And unlike other listening or chat coaching tools, [Balto] allows managers to join the call and guide the agent with just a few clicks.”

Cake Raises $3.7M to Expand End-of-Life Planning Offerings Amidst Growing Demand

Serving more than 30 million people per year, Cake has emerged as world’s largest online platform for end-of-life planning

BOSTON, July 21, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Cake (JoinCake.com), the world’s largest online platform for end-of-life planning and navigating mortality, announced an oversubscribed round of $3.7 million in funding from new investors including AARP, InHealth Ventures (IHV), Two Lanterns, Portfolia’s Aging and Longevity Fund, Scrum Ventures, Reflect Ventures, and existing investors GoAhead Ventures, Pillar, and OCA Ventures. Cake also received investments from prominent angel investors including Arnold Whitman, Bill Hambrecht, and Betsy Hambrecht.

“The pandemic sped up existing trends in consumer views on end-of-life,” says Suelin Chen, Cake’s CEO. “We’ve seen increased demand and decreased stigma around end-of-life topics. This has not only led to spiking consumer engagement but also a surge of interest from enterprises that serve these consumers and view end-of-life planning as an essential part of people’s health and financial well-being.”

Cake is the first company to use AI and NLP technology at scale to improve the user experience in end-of-life planning. In a year where health issues and racial inequities were brought to light, Cake led the industry in providing end-of-life planning resources that addressed racial equity. As such, the company’s reach skyrocketed, growing more than 10x last year, and serving more than 30 million people annually.

In addition to consumer-facing tools, Cake also has a business line building custom advance care and end-of-life planning solutions for health systems, health plans, insurance companies, and banks, including one of the largest health systems in the US. These customers find that offering self-serve digital end-of-life tools to consumers improves impressions of their brand, provides opportunities to educate and engage and deepens their relationship with consumers. For healthcare customers, increasing advance care planning can improve care and satisfaction for patients and families, and prevent inappropriate care from being delivered.

“We invested in Cake because of their traction in a massive category that impacts every human being,” says Ben Evans from InHealth Ventures. “Advance care and end-of-life planning are essential for the health and financial well-being of both individuals and organizations, and we see Cake leading solutions for honoring life from beginning to end.”

“At Scrum, we realize opportunities for innovation in fragmented categories composed of various point solutions, which is the case for end-of-life planning,” said Ryan Mendoza, Partner with Scrum Ventures. “Cake consolidates services and educates to provide a seamless experience to people struggling with hardship. We are very excited about future iterations of Cake’s product, moving upstream into ‘near-death’ planning, and using AI to improve the user experience, and becoming the central tool for this market.”

 About Cake

Cake (joincake.com) is the leading platform for end-of-life planning and navigating mortality, serving millions of people each year. With thousands of articles and innovative planning tools, Cake is a one-stop-shop for all aspects of death and end-of-life including healthcare, funerals, financial and legal concerns, making meaning in your life, and curating your digital legacy. Founded by a Harvard-trained palliative care physician and an MIT engineer, Cake is a venture-backed company that is trusted by a variety of organizations in healthcare, financial services, and insurance.  For more information about Cake and our team, please visit www.joincake.com

Media Contact:
Suelin Chen

Osso VR raises $27M to train surgeons via simulations

Osso VR has raised $27 million to train doctors and other medical professionals using virtual reality surgery simulations.

The San Francisco-based Osso VR said its numerous hospitals have validated its virtual reality surgical training and assessment platform as a training tool for surgeons.

GSR Ventures led the second institutional round of funding, with participation from SignalFire, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, OCA Ventures, Scrum Ventures, Leslie Ventures, and Anorak Ventures.

Osso VR’s surgical training technology provides on-demand, educational experiences that are effective, repeatable, and measurable to help surgeons reach proficiency with emerging surgical techniques and technologies, the company said.

Osso VR grew rapidly during 2020 to meet the increased demand in virtual training thanks to the pandemic. The company says it works with industry leaders like Johnson & Johnson, Stryker, and Smith & Nephew.

As part of the recent growth, the company recently expanded into additional specialties, such as orthopedics, endoscopy, and interventional procedures. Osso VR has more than 120 modules and 10 specialties in its surgical training library.

Sunny Kumar, a partner at GSR Ventures, said in a statement that Osso VR is poised to transform how surgeons are trained on new devices and surgical procedures. He said the Osso platform’s level of immersion provides an experience that mirrors the operating room in a manner more efficient, accessible, and effective than any surgical training platform that’s come before.

Osso VR’s platform has high visual fidelity to ensure that every aspect of surgery, from anatomical detail to the OR environment, enhances the training experience. Osso VR employs the world’s largest medical illustration team and alums from Industrial Light & Magic, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, and Apple.

With nearly 30,000 training sessions completed on the platform, working out to an average of 22,000 minutes of training a month, Osso claims its VR’s platform is proven to significantly affect surgical performance. In two recent randomized peer-reviewed studies, surgeons training with Osso VR showed anywhere from a 230% to a 306% improvement in overall surgical performance compared to traditional training.

Osso VR is available in more than 20 countries, and all top five orthopedic medical device companies are using Osso VR as their VR training partner. The platform is available in multiple languages including English, Japanese, Spanish, German, and French. More than 20 global hospital residency programs use it, including Brown University, Hospital for Special Surgery, Johns Hopkins University, and Rush University.

Curate Brings In $1.25M Seed For Small Business Sales, Operations Platform

After a year of helping small businesses navigate sales and operations during the global pandemic, Curate has raised a $1.25 million seed to continue developing its modern sales and operations platform for florists, caterers and other creative businesses.

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Ryan O’Neil and his wife founded the St. Louis-based company in 2013 after previously owning a wedding and event floral business together. A year in, and their event company was losing customers because it was taking too long for O’Neil’s wife to get proposals back due to the time she put into researching all of the event components and their costs.

“Sitting at the kitchen table, we realized that all of these spreadsheets and lists should be talking to each other,” he said. “We started building a tool for ours and other florist businesses, but then started having catering companies ask us for software.”

Curate’s platform enables businesses to create proposals, process payments, manage supply chains, and maintain communication with customers and suppliers so owners can spend more time on their business. It also has workflow integrations with popular tools such as SquareQuickBooks and Stripe.

The seed round was led by OCA Ventures, which was joined by Jim McKelveyCultivation Capital and Stout Street Capital. Prior to this investment, Curate was largely bootstrapped with a small seed round, O’Neil said.

“Coming out of COVID, there were some important opportunities we knew we had to jump on, and we knew if we were going to raise a Series A, we needed all of the pieces in order,” he added. “We ended up finding great partners, like OCA.”

O’Neil intends to use the new funding on technology development, to grow and provide new features and functionalities, especially for catering companies, as well as for a more robust customer relationship management platform for florists.

Tamim Abdul Majid, general partner at OCA Ventures, said he was introduced to O’Neil by another entrepreneur in St. Louis. The firm was looking for solid vertical SaaS solutions and was impressed with how well O’Neil had coordinated Curate’s growth.

“Ryan is the kind of customer-driven CEO that we like,” Abdul Majid said in an interview. “His numbers are really good, he has good economics and churn rates — the right kind of thing you want to see in a SaaS play. In addition, Ryan’s customers are some of the best we have had in terms of fans, who are saying ‘you can’t take this service away from me.’”

Meanwhile, O’Neil said Curate experienced “explosive demand” over the past year, with April 2021 revenue up 700 percent over the year prior. As such, he also expects to double his employee headcount to 32 people and is hiring in infrastructure and product development.

During the global pandemic, the company was working with customers to cancel events and solve supply chain issues. Within six weeks, Curate had also built a brand-new product for customers to see what their workflow would look like for one product versus another. It even hired a full-time employee to answer Paycheck Protection Program questions and help companies apply, O’Neil said.

Next up, the company will round out key roles within the leadership team and work on product development.

“As we look forward, we will be restructuring the application so it is faster and stronger,” O’Neil added. “One of the key things that showed up this year was that we can jump verticals. We are seeing dynamic growth with caterers, but also have landscapers, interior designers and creative small businesses, and we want to be the sales and operations center for all businesses.”