Facebook Watch Sets Interactive AI Reality Series ‘Rival Peak’ With After-Show Hosted by Wil Wheaton

Facebook Watch is set to launch the first-ever interactive AI reality series, titled “Rival Peak,” on Dec. 2.

Hailing from dj2 Entertainment, Pipeworks Studios, and Genvid Technologies, the series places twelve AI contestants in the Pacific Northwest where they must survive elimination and solve the mystery that brought them together. Viewers can observe, help, or hinder one or more AI contestants via the 24/7 character-dedicated, interactive livestreams throughout the show’s initial 12-week season. Viewers’ voting will eliminate one contestant from the competition, but not the story, each week.

The characters represent a diverse array of cultural backgrounds, with each one voiced by an actor of the same background. They will interact in character with Wil Wheaton as part of the weekly live-action companion series “Rival Speak.” The show will feature key moments from the previous week, interviews, and clues to the Season 1 mystery.

“In under six months we went from generating a concept to shooting our first promos,” said dj2 Entertainment chief creative officer Stephan Bugaj. “It’s been the privilege of dj2 and the talented writing team we assembled to deliver enough content, not to fill every minute of the feed – that’d be unrealistic – but to keep the audience invested in each character’s story and in the overall meta-narrative regarding the mystery that brought them into this strange situation.”

Pipeworks and Genvid came together on the project to create the first-ever audience-influenced, persistent, global entertainment program. dj2 Entertainment came onboard to create the first-season’s storyline, the personas of the twelve diverse AI “contestants” along with their respective narratives, as well as to conceive and produce the weekly companion show.

This marks the latest announced project for dj2. The company had their first theatrical release in 2020, the highly-successful “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie. Currently under a first-look deal with Legendary Television, the company is also developing a number of TV shows based on video game properties, including “Disco Elysium” and “Life Is Strange.” The company is also producing a live-action theatrical adaptation of the game “Sleeping Dogs” with Donnie Yen, while a Sonic sequel has been announced.

Pipeworks focuses on things like cloud gaming, Radical AI, and interactive streaming. In addition to creating original IP games they are working with other game franchises and outside partners.

Genvid is working on advancing interactive streaming technology. The Genvid SDK is middleware capable of running on any streaming platform and infrastructure. The company was founded in 2016 by game industry veterans as is backed by Horizons Ventures, Makers Fund, March Capital Partners, and OCA Ventures, as well as strategic investments from Huya, NTT Docomo Ventures, and Samsung Ventures.

How Ubiq Security uses APIs to simplify data protection

As cyberthreats continue to multiply, startups with tools to protect data are in high demand. But companies are now facing the growing complexity of managing security across their various data sources.

San Diego-based Ubiq Security believes APIs could play a key role in simplifying this task. The company hopes to encourage more developers and enterprises to build security directly into applications rather than looking for other services to plug the holes.

“How do you take the messy and complicated world of encryption and distill it down to a consumable, bite-sized chunk?” Ubiq CEO Wias Issa asked. “We built an entirely API-based platform that enables any developer of any skill set to be able to integrate encryption directly into an application without having any prior cryptography experience.”

Issa is a security veteran and said companies have generally been focused on security for their data storage systems. When they start layering applications on top, many developers find they haven’t built security into those products. In addition, the underlying storage is becoming a thicket of legacy and cloud-based solutions.

“You could have an Oracle database, an SQL Server, AWS storage, and then a Snowflake data warehouse,” Issa said. “You’ve got to go buy five or six different tools to do encryption on each one of those because they’re all structured differently.”

Even when encryption is included in the application, it can be poorly designed. Issa said cryptographic errors have typically been among the top three vulnerabilities in software applications over the past decade.

“When you’re a developer in 2020, you’re expected to know multiple languages, do front end, back end, full-stack development,” Issa said. “And on top of that, someone comes along and says, ‘Hey, can you do cryptography?’ And so the developer thinks, ‘How do I just get past this so I can go back to building a fantastic product and focusing on my day job?’ So key management is an area where developers either don’t understand it or don’t want to deal with it because it’s so complicated and so burdensome and, frankly, it’s very expensive to do.”

To cut through those challenges, Ubiq’s API-based developer platform lets developers simply include three lines of code that make two API calls. By handling encryption at the application layer with an API, the security works across all underlying storage systems as well.

“The application will handle all the encryption and decryption and simply hand the data in an encrypted state to the storage layer,” Issa said. “That allows them to not only have a better security posture but improve their threat model and reduce the overall time it takes to roll out an encryption plan.”

Customers can then use a dashboard to monitor their encryption and adjust policies without having to update code or even know the developer jargon. This, in turn, simplifies the management of encryption keys.

Lessons from the government

Among its more notable customers, Ubiq announced this year that it had signed deals with the United States Army and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. While government buyers have their particular issues, in this case the military and civilian systems faced many of the same obstacles large enterprises encounter.

“The government is struggling with digital transformation,” Issa said. “They’re stuck on all these legacy systems, and they’re not able to innovate as fast as the adversaries. So you’re seeing the likes of Iran and Syria and China and Russia and other Eastern Bloc countries start to build these offensive cyber capabilities. All you need is an internet connection, a bunch of skilled, dedicated resources, and now an entire country’s military cyber capability can rapidly grow. We don’t want that to outpace the United States.”

Part of the obstacle here is systems that run across tangled legacy and cloud infrastructure and mix structured and unstructured data and a wide range of coding languages. While there have been big gains in terms of protecting the underlying storage, Issa said attackers have increasingly focused on vulnerabilities in the applications.

“Encryption is something that everybody knows they need to do, but applying it without tripping over yourself is hard to do,” Issa said. “They turned to us because they’ve got all these disparate data types and they have all these unique types of storage. The problem is how to apply a uniform encryption strategy across all those diverse datasets.”

Issa said the emergence of the API economy has made such solutions far more accepted among big enterprises. They see APIs in general as a faster, more efficient way to build in functionality. Issa said applying that philosophy to security seemed like a natural evolution that not only eases the task but improves overall security.

“One of the other traditional challenges with encryption is when you deploy it somewhere and it breaks something,” he said. “And then you can’t deploy it in some sectors because the system is old. So you just apply it in two areas and then realize you’ve only applied encryption to 30% of your infrastructure. We enable a much more uniform approach.”

Ubiq got a boost earlier this month with a $6.4 million seed round. Okapi Venture Capital led the round, which included investment from TenOneTen Ventures, Cove Fund, DLA Piper Venture, Volta Global, and Alexandria Venture Investments. Ubiq plans to use the money for product development, building relationships with developers, and marketing.

“Our core focus is going to be on growing the platform, getting customer input, and making sure that we’re making the changes that our customers are asking for so we can run a very resilient, useful platform,” he said.

Sign up for Funding Weekly to start your week with VB’s top funding stories.

The Top 20 Cybersecurity Startups To Watch In 2021 Based On Crunchbase

  • Cybersecurity, privacy and security startups have raised $10.7 billion so far this year, five times more than was raised throughout 2010 ($1.7 billion), according to a Crunchbase Pro query today.
  • 22,156 startups who either compete in or rely on cybersecurity, security and privacy technologies and solutions as a core part of their business models today, 1.450 of which have received pre-seed or seed funding in the last twelve months based on a Crunchbase Pro query
  • From network and data security to I.T. governance, risk measurement and policy compliance, cybersecurity is a growing industry estimated to be worth over $300B by 2025, according to C.B. Insight’s Emerging Trends Cybersecurity Report.

Today, 797 cybersecurity, privacy and security startups have received a total of $10.73 billion so far this year, with $4.6 million being the median funding round and $17.5 million the average funding round for a startup. The number of startups receiving funding this year, funding amounts and the methodology to find the top 25 cybersecurity startups are all based on Crunchbase Pro analysis done today.

New startups and established vendors are attracting record levels of investment as all organizations look to thwart increasingly complex, costly and unpredictable cyberattacks. There is an arms race going on between cyber attackers using A.I. and machine learning and the many startups and existing vendors whose goal is to contain them. CBInsights and PwC recently published their latest quarterly joint study of the venture capital landscape, MoneyTree™ Report, Q3, 2020. The study finds that monitoring and security deals grow more than double in Q3, 2020, as the heat map below shows:

The 20 Best Cybersecurity Startups To Watch In 2021

Based on a methodology that equally weighs a startup’s ability to attract new customers, current and projected revenue growth, ability to adapt their solutions to growing industries and position in their chosen markets, the following are the top 20 cybersecurity startups to watch in 2020:

Axis Security – Axis Security’s Application Access Cloud™ is a purpose-built cloud-based solution that makes application access across networks scalable and secure. Built on zero-trust, Application Access Cloud offers a new agentless model that connects users online to any application, private or public, without touching the network or the apps themselves. Axis Security is a privately held company backed by Canaan Partners, Ten Eleven Ventures and Cyberstarts. Axis is headquartered in San Mateo, California, with research and development in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Bitglass – What makes Bitglass unique and worth watching is how they are evolving their Total Cloud Security Platform to combine cloud access security brokerage, on-device secure web gateways and zero-trust network access to secure endpoints across all devices. Its Polyscale Architecture is delivering uptimes of 99.99% in customer deployments. Bitglass’s 2020 Insider Threat Report has several interesting insights based on their recent interviews with a leading cybersecurity community. One interesting takeaway is 61% of those surveyed experienced an insider attack in the last 12 months (22% reported at least six).

Cado Security – Cado Security’s cloud-native forensics and response platform helps organizations respond to security incidents in real-time, averting potential breaches and security incidents. The Cado Response platform is built on analytics components that perform thorough forensic analyses of compromised systems. Cado’s platform, Cado Response, is an agentless, cloud-native forensics solution that allows security professionals to quickly and comprehensively understand an incident’s impact across all environments, including cloud and containers as well as on-premise systems. “Finding the root cause of security incidents in cloud or container environments is incredibly difficult. Traditional tools don’t support these new environments and there is a shortage of people who know both forensics and cloud security,” said CEO James Campbell, formerly Director, Cyber Threat Detection and Response at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Our Cado Response platform completely changes how security professionals can respond to incidents in the cloud.”

Confluera – Originally mentioned as one of the 20 Best Cybersecurity Startups To Watch In 2020, Confluera’s sustained innovation pace in the middle of a pandemic deserves special mention. They are one of the most resilient startups to watch in 2021. Confluera is a cybersecurity startup helping organizations find sophisticated security attacks going on inside of corporate infrastructures. The startup delivers autonomous infrastructure-wide cyber kill chain tracking and response by leveraging the ‘Continuous Attack Graph’ to stop and remediate cyber threats in real-time deterministically. Confluera’s platform is designed to detect and prevent attackers from navigating infrastructure. Confluera technology combines machine comprehended threat detection with accurately tracked activity trails to stop cyberattacks in real-time, allowing companies to simplify security operations radically. It frees up human security personnel to focus on more important work instead of spending hours trying to join the dots between the thousands of alerts they receive daily, many of which are false positives. The following is a video that explains how Confluera XDR for Cloud Infrastructure works:

DataFleets – DataFleets is a privacy-preserving data engine that unifies distributed data for rapid access, agile analytics and automated compliance. The platform provides data scientists and developers with a “data fleet”​ that allows them to create analytics, ML models and applications on susceptible data sets without direct access to the data. Each data fleet has easy-to-use APIs and under-the-hood, they ensure data protection using advances in federated computation, transfer learning, encryption and differential privacy. DataFleets helps organizations overcome the struggle between data privacy and innovation by maintaining data protection standards for compliance while accelerating data science initiatives.

DefenseStorm – DefenseStorm’s unique approach to providing cybersecurity and cyber-compliance for the banking industry make them one of the top startups to watch in 2021.  Their DefenseStorm GRID is the only co-managed, cloud-based and compliance-automated solution of its kind for the banking industry. It monitors everything on a bank’s network. It matches it to defined policies for real-time, complete and proactive cyber exposure readiness, keeping security teams and executives updated on bank networks’ real-time security status. The company’s Threat Ready Active Compliance (TRAC) Team augments its bank customers’ internal teams to protect business continuity and skills availability while ensuring cost-effective coverage and management.

Enso Security – Enso is an application security posture management (ASPM) platform startup known for the depth of its insights and expertise in cybersecurity. With Enso, software security groups can scale and gain control over application security programs to protect applications systematically. The Enso ASPM platform discovers application inventory, ownership and risk to help security teams quickly build and enforce security policies and transform AppSec into an automated, systematic discipline.

Ethyca –  Ethyca is an infrastructure platform that provides developers and product teams with the ability to ensure consumer data privacy throughout applications and services design. It also provides your product, engineering and privacy teams with unmatched ease of use and functionality to better care about your user’s data. The company helps companies discover sensitive data and then provides a mechanism for customers to delete, see, or edit their data from the system. Ethyca’s mission is to increase trust in data-driven business by building automated data privacy infrastructure. Ethyca’s founder and CEO Cillian Kieran is a fascinating person to speak with on the topics of privacy, security, GDPR and CCPA compliance. He continues to set a quick pace of innovation in Ethyca, making this start-up one of the most interesting in data privacy today. Here’s an interview he did earlier this year with France 24 English:

Havoc Shield – Havoc Shield reduces the burden on small and medium businesses (SMBs) by giving them access to advanced security technology that protects against data breaches, phishing, dark web activity and other threats. The Havoc Shield platform offers comprehensive security and compliance features that meet the standards of Fortune 100 companies, making it easier for businesses working to win deals with those companies. “For a long time, cybersecurity technology has been virtually inaccessible to small businesses, who largely can’t afford those resources,” said Brian Fritton, CEO and co-founder of Havoc Shield. “We created Havoc Shield because we believe in democratizing cybersecurity for the little guy. Small businesses deserve the ability to protect what they’ve built, just as much as larger companies that have dedicated cybersecurity staff.” Since the end of Q2 2020, Havoc Shield has quadrupled its client list. In the coming months, the company aims to grow its team to help more small businesses protect themselves from threats and achieve customer trust.

Illumio – Widely considered the leader in micro-segmentation that prevents the spread of breaches inside data centers and cloud environments, Illumio is one of the most interesting cybersecurity startups to watch in 2021. Enterprises such as Morgan Stanley, BNP Paribas, Salesforce and Oracle NetSuite use Illumio to reduce cyber risk and achieve regulatory compliance. The Illumio Adaptive Security Platform® uniquely protects critical information with real-time application dependency and vulnerability mapping coupled with micro-segmentation that works across any data center, public cloud, or hybrid cloud deployment on bare-metal, virtual machines and containers. The following video explains why Illumio Core is a better approach to segmentation.

Immuta – Immuta was founded in 2015 based on a mission within the U.S. Intelligence Community to build a platform that accelerates self-service access to and control sensitive data. The Immuta Automated Data Governance platform creates trust across data engineering, security, legal, compliance and business teams to ensure timely access to critical data with minimal risk while adhering to global data privacy regulations GDPR, CCPA and HIPAA. Immuta’s automated, scalable, no-code approach makes it easy for users to access the data they need when they need it while protecting sensitive information and ensuring customer privacy. Selected by Fast Company as one of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies, Immuta is headquartered in Boston, MA, with offices in College Park, MD and Columbus, OH.

Isovalent – Isovalent makes software that helps enterprises connect, monitor and secure mission-critical workloads in modern, cloud-native ways. Its flagship technology, Cilium, is the choice of leading global organizations including Adobe, Capital One, Datadog, GitLab and many more. Isovalent is headquartered in Mountain View, CA and is backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Google and Cisco Investments. Earlier this month, Isovalent announced that it had raised $29 million in Series A funding, led by Andreessen Horowitz and Google with participation from Cisco Investments.

JupiterOne – JupiterOne, Inc. reduces the cost and complexity of cloud security, replacing guesswork with granular data about cyber assets and configurations. The company’s software helps security operations teams shorten the path to security and compliance and improve their overall posture through continuous data aggregation and relationship modeling across all assets. JupiterOne customers include Reddit, Databricks, HashiCorp, Addepar, Auth0, LifeOmic and OhMD. Earlier this year, JupiterOne received $19 million in venture funding. The Series A round was led by Bain Capital Ventures, with additional investment from Rain Capital, LifeOmic and individual investors. “JupiterOne has developed a compelling product that integrates quickly, has applicability across enterprise segments and is highly reviewed by current customers,” said Enrique Salem, partner at Bain Capital Ventures and former CEO at Symantec. Salem now joins the JupiterOne board. “We see a multibillion-dollar market opportunity for this technology across mid-market and enterprise customers. Asset management is the first step in building a successful security program and it’s currently a tedious, imperfect process that’s well-suited for automation.”

Lightspin – Lightspin is a pioneer in contextual cloud security protecting native, Kubernetes and microservices from known and unknown risks and has recently announced a $4 million seed funding round on November 24th. They will use the proceeds of the round to finance continued R&D on how to secure cloud infrastructures. The financing round was led by Ibex Investors LLC, the firm’s first global investment from its new $100 million early-stage fund and also included participation from private angel investors. Lightspin’s technology uses graph-based tools and algorithms to provide rapid, in-depth visualizations of cloud stacks, analyze potential attack paths and detect the root causes, all of which are the most critical vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.

Orca Security – Orca Security is noteworthy for its innovative approach to providing instant-on, workload-deep security for AWS, Azure and GCP without the gaps in agents’ coverage and operational costs. Orca integrates cloud platforms as an interconnected web of assets, prioritizing risk based on environmental context. Delivered as SaaS, Orca Security’s patent-pending SideScanning™ technology reads cloud configuration and workloads’ runtime block storage out-of-band, detecting vulnerabilities, malware, misconfigurations, lateral movement risk, weak and leaked passwords and unsecured PII.

SECURITI.ai – SECURITI.ai is an AI-Powered PrivacyOps company that helps automate all significant functions needed for privacy compliance on a single platform. It enables enterprises to grant individual and group rights to data and comply with global privacy regulations like CCPA and bolster their brands. They collect and manage consent from multiple sources, including web properties, web forms and SaaS applications. Their AI-Powered PrivacyOps platform is a full-stack solution that operationalizes and simplifies privacy compliance using robotic automation and a natural language interface. SECURITI.ai was founded in November 2018 and is headquartered in San Jose, California.

SecureStack – SecureStack helps software developers find security & scalability gaps in their web applications and offers ways to fix those gaps without forcing them to become security experts. The results are faster time to business and a 60%-70% reduction in the app attack surface. The SecureStack platform’s intelligent automation manages security controls across distributed infrastructures using rules and profiles customizable by customers. SecureStack is noteworthy for its analytics and logging expertise in helping enterprises scale applications across cloud infrastructures.

Stairwell – What makes Stairwell one of the top startups to watch in 2021 is its unique approach to cybersecurity built around a vision that all security teams should be able to determine what alerts are threat-related or not and why. Mike Wiacek, the founder of Google’s Threat Analysis Group and co-founder and former Chief Security Officer of Alphabet moonshot Chronicle, leads the company as its CEO and founder. Wiacek is joined by Jan Kang, former Chief Legal Officer at Chronicle, as COO and General Counsel. Stairwell is backed by Accel Venture Partners, Sequoia Capital, Gradient Ventures and Allen & Company LLC.

Ubiq Security – What makes Ubiq Security one of the top cybersecurity startups to watch in 2021 is how rapidly their API-based developer platform is maturing while gaining traction in the market. Ubiq Security recently signed commercial agreements with the United States Army and the Department of Homeland Security. This month, the startup announced it had raised $6.4 million in a seed equity investment round. Okapi Venture Capital, an early investor in Crowdstrike, led the round with participation from TenOneTen Ventures, Cove Fund, DLA Piper Venture, Volta Global and Alexandria Venture Investments. Ubiq will use the funds to accelerate platform development, developer relations and customer acquisition.

Unit21 – Unit21 helps protect businesses against adversaries through a simple API and dashboard to detect and manage money laundering, fraud and other sophisticated risks across multiple industries. Former Affirm and Shape Security employees Trisha Kothari and Clarence Chio founded Unit21 in 2018 and work with customers like Intuit, Coinbase, Gusto and Line to create a powerful & customizable rules engine for risk and compliance teams. Unit21’s highly flexible, customizable and intelligent cloud-based system provides a configurable engine for transaction monitoring, identity verification, case management, operations management and analytics and reporting. On October 19th of this year, Unit21 announced a $13 million funding round led by A.Capital Ventures. Additional participation includes investors such as Gradient Ventures (Google’s A.I. venture fund), Core V.C., South Park Commons, Diane Greene (founder of VMWare), William Hockey (founder of Plaid), Chris Britt and Ryan King (founders of Chime), Sumit Agarwal (founder of Shape Security) and Michael Vaughan (former COO of Venmo). Unit21 will use the new capital to grow its product and distribution-focused management team, increase sales and marketing efforts and sell into new industries.

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.

Schedule a Demo

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.

Recommended AI NewsAspera Named in Gartner 2020 Magic Quadrant for SAM Managed Services

“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.”