Updated 9:43 AM ET, Thu February 18, 2021
(CNN) One of the largest consulting companies in the world is making a major commitment — to moms.
By Vanessa Yurkevich
Updated 9:43 AM ET, Thu February 18, 2021
(CNN) One of the largest consulting companies in the world is making a major commitment — to moms.
MIDDLETOWN, Conn. and CLEVELAND, Feb. 10, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — PursueCare and Thrive Peer Support today announced that they have partnered and have launched a statewide collaborative peer support and Substance Use Disorder treatment model across the state of Ohio. This collaboration promotes a seamless pathway from Thrive’s specialized in-person peer support to PursueCare’s comprehensive telehealth clinical addiction and behavioral health treatment, one that can be initiated at emergency rooms and other settings that are under mounting pressure due to COVID-19 and increasing overdose rates.
Thrive is a recovery support organization that sends certified peer recovery coaches into emergency room settings to help individuals who have experienced an overdose or substance-related emergency. Their services often help individuals overcome barriers like transportation, homelessness, stigma, and trauma. Thrive’s peers frequently refer individuals to outpatient Medication-Assisted Treatment (“MAT”) and other treatment programs, but COVID-19 has presented numerous challenges where access to in-person care was already scarce.
PursueCare is a technology-enabled addiction treatment and mental health treatment provider that offers its care through a digital platform accessible from mobile devices. The telehealth modality has effectively delivered MAT, psychiatry, counseling, at-home lab testing, and pharmacy services conveniently and privately. The program allows patients to meet frequently with their doctors and counselors from anywhere, including nights and weekends, to complete their individualized recovery programs.
While the telehealth model was emerging before the pandemic, it has proven essential for specific populations experiencing isolation or who do not have in-person care readily available in their community. “If there could be any positive drawn at all from COVID-19, it would be that telehealth has finally broken through as a real option for people who historically haven’t been able to get effective treatment in traditional brick-and-mortar settings,” said Nick Mercadante, PursueCare’s Founder and CEO. “When it comes to Substance Use Disorder, there’s no question that COVID-19 poured gasoline on an already burning fire. Evidence is showing us that our programs are helping many people in need,” Mercadante added.
Both organizations have several established partnerships with traditional health care settings that frequently diagnose Substance Use Disorder or treat overdoses, so this collaboration was a natural fit. It will effectively enhance the resources offered to patients in those settings that often lack effective interventive solutions.
While Thrive focuses on non-clinical support from a peer-to-peer standpoint, those in need of substance use disorder treatment and/or mental health care are transitioned into PursueCare’s digital treatment portal. PursueCare’s care coordination experts then introduce the virtual treatment model to patients, connect them with clinicians that can prescribe FDA-approved medications, and establish an ongoing at-home care regimen.
Throughout the course of care, Thrive staff collaborates with PursueCare’s treatment team to address in-person needs that arise and ensure that overall personal and health goals are met. Both PursueCare and Thrive feel they can better manage substance use in the region, which has surged due to COVID-19, by working together. “Thrive exists to provide peer support to people on their recovery journey. By partnering with PursueCare, we can meet the growing need for addiction and mental health services through a technology that keeps our clients and our peer support staff safe,” said Brian Bailys, CEO, Thrive Peer Support.
PursueCare offers virtual evidence-based addiction treatment for opioid and alcohol use disorders, all through our mobile application. By partnering with health systems, community health centers, employers, and health plans, PursueCare offers a transitional digital addiction treatment program for patients needing addiction treatment – with a focus on those who experience significant barriers to in-person care. Patients can also seek treatment without needing a partner referral. PursueCare is available in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Rhode Island and New Jersey, with more states being announced in the coming weeks. For more information, visit www.pursuecare.com.
About Thrive Peer Support:
Thrive Peer Support is a continuing care and recovery support organization located in Ohio. Thrive is certified by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Substance Use Services for Peer Support and Case Management in Ohio. Thrive offers a variety of programs to assist individuals in behavioral health recovery. These programs are designed from the ground up to offer continuing supportive care for individuals in behavioral health recovery. The Thrive team is innovative in their programming and takes the initiative to design programs to help behavioral health recovery. Thrive Emergency Room Peer Support was established with the goal of helping individuals who presented in the ER that survived an overdose. In the first 12 months, Thrive saw more than 1,200 patients and helped get more than 300 into detox or other immediate treatment. Others were linked with MAT or other recovery programs. Thrive Emergency aims to reduce ER visits and increase the opportunity for a patient to enjoy long-term recovery. For more information, visit www.thrivepeersupport.org.
CHICAGO – Feb. 3, 2021 – PRLog — Prisidio, a secure online vault where people can store and organize their most important documents and information, today announced a $3.3 million Seed round, co-led by OCA Ventures and Origin Ventures.
Prisidio is a private and secure cloud vault where people can centrally collect, store, organize, and share critical personal information, accessible only by close family members and trusted advisors. Information stored on Prisidio may include wills and trusts, legal agreements, health records, property and financial holdings, and other vital documents.
More than just a digital safety deposit box, Prisidio provides intelligent assistance to guide people through the process of identifying, documenting, and managing their physical and digital assets, as well as keeping those assets up to date. The platform gets people’s lives organized and affairs in order for retirement, business ventures, estate planning, or any unforeseen life events.
The company’s co-founders, Glenn Shimkus, CEO, and Paul Koziarz, CMO, have decades of digital document and workflow technology experience, having sold their prior startup, Cartavi, to DocuSign in 2013. Following the acquisition, they remained at DocuSign to help its successful expansion beyond e-signatures to the Agreement Cloud.
“We store our most vital information in myriad locations, so when we need critical information, we often struggle to find it,” said Glenn Shimkus, CEO and co-founder. “Even worse, if something were to happen to us suddenly, a risk the global pandemic has made quite real, our loved ones are left to search for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Prisidio provides families with security, convenience, and ultimately, peace of mind, knowing they are prepared for whatever life may bring their way.”
Today, most consumers’ critical and sensitive information is spread across multiple physical and digital locations. People write in paper notebooks, save PDFs on hard drives, send countless emails updating key information, or, worse, don’t have critical information inventoried and organized at all. With Prisidio, users have a highly-secure centralized location to organize and manage their vital information, such as key contacts, estate documents, or medical directives, and can share that information with those they trust—now or in the future.
“The market for identifying and organizing important personal information is ripe for disruption,”
“Consumers can quickly highlight leading companies that can file their taxes or make a restaurant reservation, but there is no leading brand focused on safeguarding vital documents and information for families,” said Jason Heltzer, Managing Partner at Origin Ventures. “Yet there is a big need, in that less than 40 percent of US adults have a will, and Gen Xers aren’t going to a brick-and-mortar bank to put paper into a safety deposit box. I look forward to working with Glenn and Paul again to help build the dominant brand in the space.”
Prisidio will use the investment to build out its leadership, technical, and marketing teams, drawing on the Chicago roots of its founding team as it expands its company and product.
Prisidio is a secure online vault for consumers to store their most important documents and information. Its cloud-based platform allows users to store, organize, manage, and share key documents and information with their family and advisors in one secure and easy-to-access digital location. Prisidio is led by two document management veterans, Glenn Shimkus and Paul Koziarz, who together founded and built real estate document management software company Cartavi, which was acquired by DocuSign ($DOCU) in 2013. For information about Prisidio, visit prisid.io
About Origin Ventures:
Origin Ventures is an early-stage venture capital firm founded in 1999 that invests in high-growth technology companies creating software and marketplaces for the “Digital Native Economy.” Origin Ventures was an early investor in Grubhub, Cameo, BacklotCars, Tovala, Tock, 15Five, and other market leaders. The investment team are all former operators and engineers with an average of 15 years of venture investing experience, with experience at Google, Twitter, SAP, and Metromile, among others. Origin’s offices in Chicago and Salt Lake City provide access to “between the coasts” investment opportunities in the U.S. and Canada. Learn more at www.originventures.com.
About OCA Ventures:
OCA Ventures is an early stage (Seed, Series A, and Series B) venture capital firm focused on equity investments in companies with dramatic growth potential, primarily in technology and highly-scalable businesses. OCA invests in many industries, with a preference for technology, financial services and healthcare technology. Founded in 1999, the firm is investing out of its fourth fund in companies across the United States with offices in Chicago and Palo Alto. Learn more at www.ocaventures.com.
MOUNT LAUREL, NJ– InSight + Regroup, a recognized leader in telepsychiatry and telebehavioral health has unveiled a new name, new logo and new website as part of an extensive rebranding initiative. The organization will now be known as Array Behavioral Care, a name that highlights their unique ability to deliver modern, quality behavioral health care to settings ranging from hospitals to homes.
“The time was right to modernize, streamline and simplify our brand identity,” said Geoffrey Boyce, Chief Executive Officer.
“The name Array represents our ability to offer services across the continuum of care and the breadth of opportunities we offer to clinicians,” said David Cohn, Chief Growth Officer, who led the rebranding efforts.
“We also wanted something that expresses our focus on innovation within the behavioral space while conveying a positive, hopeful tone. Our new brand symbolizes continuous growth while representing who we are, what we do, where we’ve been and where we want to go as an organization.”
The Array clinical team started practicing telepsychiatry in 1999 when its Chief Medical Officer, Jim Varrell, MD provided the nation’s first commitment via telepsychiatry.
In December 2019, InSight Telepsychiatry and Regroup Telehealth joined forces to form the largest telepsychiatry service organization in the country under the name InSight + Regroup.
In 2020, the organization positioned itself for significant growth by conducting hundreds of thousands of telepsychiatry sessions and hiring 325 new clinicians. The team made rapid expansions to its Array AtHome service line, formerly known as Inpathy, as consumers and clinicians alike shifted to totally remote options. Array also developed creative partnerships that integrated behavioral health services into primary care practices and launched programs that allowed for hospitals and health -systems to leverage teams of telebehavioral health clinicians in order to efficiently meet COVID-related spikes in mental health demand.
For 2021, the Array team forecasts significant enhancements and scaled-growth within their three service lines as well as a major investment in the organization’s growing ‘people’ function.
“We are prioritizing programs that cement Array as the employer of choice for forward-thinking behavioral health clinicians and administrators,” says Kelly Lewis, Array’s recently appointed Chief People Officer. “The Array brand perfectly encompasses the myriad of opportunities, the supportive, mission-driven team and the commitment to inclusion that this organization values.”
This rebranding, which was supported by branding firm Addison Whitney, solidifies Array’s value proposition and positions the organization as the industry-leader in modern behavioral care.
About Array Behavioral Care
Array Behavioral Care (formerly InSight + Regroup) is the leading and largest telepsychiatry service provider in the country with a mission to transform access to quality, timely behavioral health care. Array offers telepsychiatry solutions and services across the continuum of care from hospital to home with its OnDemand Care, Scheduled Care and AtHome Care divisions. For more than 20 years, Array has partnered with hundreds of hospitals and health systems, community healthcare organizations and payers of all sizes to expand access to care and improve outcomes for underserved individuals, facilities and communities. As an industry pioneer and established thought leader, Array has helped shape the field, define the standard of care and advocate for improved telepsychiatry-friendly regulations. To learn more, visit www.arraybc.com.
CHICAGO, Jan. 25, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Ocient, a data analytics solutions (DAS) company serving companies struggling with massive datasets, announced today the completion of a $40 million Series B funding round, bringing total invested capital to $65 million.
The investment was led by Chicago-based OCA Ventures and New York City/Los Angeles-based Greycroft, with participation by Valor Equity Partners, PSP Partners, Hyde Park Angels, Pritzker Group Venture Capital, Gaingels, and the MIT and Northwestern University chapters of Alumni Venture Group.
The new capital will be used to grow Ocient’s engineering, customer success, operations, and sales and marketing teams, with headcount expected to double to 150 by the end of 2021.
Co-founded in March 2016 by Chris Gladwin, Joseph Jablonski, and George Kondiles, Ocient transforms how industries ingest, store, and analyze the world’s largest datasets, delivering unmatched price/performance levels.
“Organizations are struggling to keep up with today’s data demands, a challenge that will only continue to increase exponentially,” said Gladwin, Ocient’s CEO. “With Ocient technology, organizations can tap into every piece of data now and in the future, unleashing massive new enterprise value.”
Ocient is deploying in Auction & Exchange Analytics, Security, and Geospatial customer use cases, all built on the proprietary Ocient DAS using industry-standard interfaces and hardware, which can hold quadrillions of rows of data, ingress billions of rows per second, and filter and compute across trillions of rows per second.
Available via the Ocient Cloud, public cloud, or on-premise, the Ocient DAS delivers in areas where existing data analytics solutions fall short:
“Ocient provides massive scale data analytics solutions with built-in machine learning via a full stack solution to optimize performance, supporting commodity hardware in the cloud or on premise, allowing customers to run queries in seconds which previously could not be executed,” said Jim Dugan, Managing Partner at OCA Ventures. “Ocient’s DAS enables its customers to gain higher fidelity and deeper insights from its data, and opens up new revenue streams while significantly reducing their cost of operations. As a lead investor from inception to exit in Chris’s prior data startup, Cleversafe, we experienced firsthand management’s ability to convert brilliant innovation into revolutionary commercial success, and we are thrilled to include a world-class firm like Greycroft and our other co-investors to help Ocient achieve dramatic results.”
Optimized for industry-standard hardware utilizing NVMe SSD, massively parallel processing on large core-count processors and 100Gbps networking, Ocient has benchmarked query-performance levels that are orders of magnitude better than competing products:
“The Ocient DAS is the new standard for analytics for the world’s largest datasets, where queries that take other applications one hour to complete can now take less than 10 seconds,” said Mark Terbeek, Partner at Greycroft. “Ocient is building and deploying industry leading distributed scalable architectures for the world’s largest enterprise and government customers, and we are excited to support their phenomenal growth.”
Ocient is building database and analytics software and services to enable rapid analysis of the world’s largest datasets. To learn more about Ocient, please visit http://www.ocient.com/.
About OCA Ventures
OCA Ventures is an early stage (Seed, Series A, and Series B) venture capital firm focused on equity investments in companies with dramatic growth potential, primarily in technology and highly-scalable businesses. OCA invests in many industries, with a preference for technology, financial services and healthcare technology. Founded in 1999, the firm is investing out of its fourth fund in companies across the United States, with offices in Chicago and Palo Alto. To learn more about OCA, please visit www.ocaventures.com.
Greycroft is a seed-to-growth venture capital firm that partners with exceptional entrepreneurs to build transformative companies. The firm has deep experience in both consumer and enterprise technology, with a portfolio that spans the globe. Greycroft values building enduring relationships with founders and understands that they want more from investors than just capital. Greycroft has raised more than $2 billion in commitments and has over 200 active investments. The portfolio includes Acorns, Anine Bing, App Annie, Axios, Bird, BetterCloud, Braintree, Bright Health, Buddy Media, Bumble, Flutterwave, Goop, Happiest Baby, Huffington Post, Icertis, Lightricks, Maker Studios, Medly, Openpath, Scopely, SEMrush, Shipt, TheRealReal, Thrive Market, Trunk Club, Venmo, and Yeahka. For more information visit, www.greycroft.com.
Media Contact: Josh Inglis, firstname.lastname@example.org, 312.504.7677
Our current approach to cybersecurity, specifically within the public sector, is not working. We continue to spend more and more money on this issue across all industries, as evident in the fact that we have spent $173 billion on cybersecurity in 2020, twice the amount we spent just 10 years ago, while our losses continue to increase and currently surpass $1 trillion.
Rather than accept this trend as inevitable, we should rethink our approach to software and build security into the foundation of programs, instead of adding it in as an afterthought and subsequently risking the nation’s most sensitive data. The current approach of utilizing firewalls, antivirus and other mitigations, while important, does not substantially affect the economics of cybercrime. Therefore, we must focus on reducing the number of vulnerabilities in software if we are to defend federal agencies against potential attacks.
It’s best to think of malware as a business—whether it is implemented by criminals or state adversaries—with business-like incentives and disincentives. Budgets are always limited and there must be a return on the adversary’s investment.
To raise attacker costs, one must consider the lifecycle of malware: delivery, exploitation and finally, the attack. If any of these phases can be disrupted, we can have a greater chance of defending federal software and data. Delivery and attack are, however, largely at the discretion of the attacker, making them difficult for defenders to affect. That leaves exploitation, which involves the finding and exploiting of software or system weaknesses. This step is dependent on vulnerabilities, or rather, bugs in the security controls, which are under the complete control of the software developers.
Much of today’s efforts have been focused on threat mitigations which, while they do not remove bugs, attempt to make them unexploitable. It’s like treating the symptoms of a disease rather than the cause. This does provide some measure of protection but is not enough, for once an attacker learns how to bypass a mitigation, that same bypass can be reused repeatedly, increasing the attacker’s profit. Instead, we should focus on the architecture of today’s computer software systems, the majority of which are still based on decades-old software-development practices that leave too much open to attack.
One example of a critical systematic architectural flaw is known as ambient authority, a defect that greatly impacts user security and affects many, if not all software programs. Such a flaw can be explained in the case of running a program on a computer to view a PDF file. When a user runs a program to view a PDF, the program does not just receive permission to read the file. Rather, the program gains access to all of the user’s permissions, not just the few needed to view the document. If an attacker were to find a vulnerability within the PDF reader, the attacker could reprogram the software to perform any action the user could perform. This creates a tremendous security gap and exposes the user and agency to a plethora of potential risks.
It seems like a daunting task, but if we are to overcome today’s hostile threat environment, software systems must be written to isolate authority to a small part of the program. In the case of a PDF viewer, this would involve isolating the parts of the program that interact with the operating system from the parts that interpret a PDF. The PDF-specific code can then be run in a way that only has permissions to interact with the remaining parts of the program but not the operating system. This PDF-specific code will be the majority of code in the program. With the majority of code now isolated away from authority, there are far fewer bugs for attackers to abuse, drastically reducing the number of bugs that can be considered vulnerabilities.
As the world continues to increase in complexity, adversaries are taking advantage and extracting more value and becoming increasingly hostile against the public sector, putting the rest of the nation at tremendous risk and danger. Only when applications are written with security as the foundation of the platform, and not just as an accessory, will we stand a chance to reduce the attacker value and the endless threats.
Jonathan Moore is the chief technology officer at SpiderOak.
Ocient builds database and analytics software and services to enable rapid analysis of the world’s largest sets of data (trillions to quadrillions of rows of data). For users of Big Data, this will optimize the value of the capture and analysis of their data at unprecedented speed and scale. In simple terms, Ocient’s novel platform can bring in extremely large amounts of data and then inexpensively organize it so it can quickly be found and used. Metaphorically speaking, imagine Ocient can sit under Niagara Falls and catch all the water, bottle it, label it, and organize it. This is what Ocient can do for Big Data.
By fundamentally rethinking database architecture, Ocient can achieve performance levels that are significantly better and faster than competing solutions. Performance metrics include:
Ocient’s speed allows for real-time loading which is necessary for companies such as in financial markets with constant bids, asks, and trades being executed, tech where multi-second analysis is necessary such as navigation systems, adtech, law enforcement, and network security. Ocient’s speed allows for more queries in a period of time. Ocient’s user-friendly technology was created with switching costs and market adoption in mind, making it an easy transition for any company.
On March 26, 2020 — less than two weeks after the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and one week after California became the first state in the U.S. to tell residents to stay home — MATTER startup member Clearstep and MATTER partner BayCare launched an online COVID-19 symptom screener.
The digital health startup and the Florida-based health system had connected earlier in 2020 at ACCESS, a MATTER program that helps industry partners connect to a curated group of startups through a series of one-on-one meetings. At the time, BayCare recognized that Clearstep’s digital triage and patient chat solution could improve how patients and providers navigate care and made plans to move forward together.
Then, COVID-19 changed everything.
In the wake of the pandemic, health systems began to focus on ways to keep patients out of hospitals who didn’t need to be there, but still provide guidance to the appropriate point of care for their needs. When BayCare was looking for a solution to help their patients navigate the questions brought up by COVID-19 — such as whether they should get tested, isolate themselves or go to the hospital — they remembered the startup they met through MATTER.
Derived from CDC guidelines and feedback from expert clinicians, Clearstep’s online screening tool gives people who are concerned about the virus a clear next step for care. Their screening tool also goes a step further than other COVID-19 screeners by incorporating clinical content used in more than 90 percent of nurse call centers in the country. In doing so, the solution ensures that individuals who report symptoms, but are deemed COVID-19 risk negative, are also pointed to their best next step for care.
To use the screening tool, users fill out a questionnaire and receive immediate triage results customized to connect them to the resources BayCare provides such as the emergency room, urgent care, or a telehealth visit through BayCare Anywhere.
Since the COVID-19 screening tool launched just under a month ago, it has been used more than 70,000 times by BayCare patients to identify the best next steps for care for symptomatic and concerned individuals.
“We saw incredible feedback from the users themselves almost immediately,” said Peter Garber, chief marketing and design officer at Clearstep. “In the past, the healthcare industry has lagged when it comes to user experience and design, so we knew we needed to nail it in a time when users are most concerned and fearful of what’s going on.”
How were BayCare and Clearstep able to move so quickly to deliver one of the first digital health solutions for COVID-19?
There are a few key ingredients.
According to Craig Anderson — director of innovation at BayCare and co-founder of his own health tech company, HeadRehab LLC. — the health system has built a ‘buy, not build’ model. The innovation team’s mission is to find novel health tech solutions built by third party companies, identify how those solutions will benefit BayCare’s almost a million patients and nearly 6,000 providers, and work with them to quickly launch and scale solutions within the BayCare system.
That can sometimes involve partnering with large tech organizations, but according to Craig, they often choose to partner with smaller, more agile startups like Clearstep.
“Everything in innovation is about moving at speed.” said Craig, “A good idea now will, a year from now, probably still be a good idea, but won’t be considered innovative because by then it will be standard practice.”
Craig’s team has nailed down a framework to work with startups like Clearstep — and to pivot quickly to solve the challenges COVID-19 presented to anxious customers.
“Whenever we have a time sensitive issue, especially one that’s affecting many or all our population, the C-suite will look to the innovation team to find solutions we’re aware of that BayCare may not be currently using,” said Craig. “What can we do that’s new to approach this problem differently, quicker and drive better results? Whether it’s COVID-19 or the hurricane season, innovation is asked to weigh in.”
When health systems look to partner with a startup, they look for both a solution that they believe in and a team they want to work with.
Clearstep checked both of those boxes for BayCare.
Launching a product quickly during an evolving crisis is no easy task, but Clearstep stepped up to the challenge. By the time BayCare reached out to work together on a COVID-19 solution, the Clearstep team had already realized that they were uniquely equipped to develop a powerful and comprehensive screener. They immediately jumped on the opportunity to work with BayCare and, nine days after Craig reached out, launched a solution.
“Staying on task towards fast development was a challenge,” said Bilal Naved, Clearstep’s chief operating officer. “We had to get adept at keeping every team aligned with one common vision and be willing to look at good ideas but say ‘ok, that’s part of v2 or v3.’”
According to Craig, Clearstep’s focus and drive impressed the BayCare team.
“Building something that a group of clinicians and senior leaders agree with quick enough and well enough that we have the confidence to launch it to our almost a million patients… that’s a rare combination to find,” said Craig.
Since originally launching their screening tool, Clearstep and BayCare have improved and expanded their solution. They plan to continue to work together to solve the challenges COVID-19 presents, but also anticipate a longer partnership.
“While we were in the right place at the right time for the COVID-19 screening…it’s not just about us providing one solution [for BayCare],” said Bilal. “It’s an iterative process with them. Not just the product, but the process so that Clearstep can act as an agile arm to BayCare.”
Working at a company with a strong and thoughtful leader can be a very important thing to consider when looking for an employer, and one career site just published its annual list of the most highly ranked CEOs according to employees.
Career website Comparably just released its fourth annual ranking of companies with the best CEOs. To do this, Comparably anonymously asked employees across 60,000 US companies to rate their CEO from December 1, 2019 to December 1, 2020.
CEOs across different industries, from HR software to pharmaceutical healthcare, made the top 25 among small and midsize companies, defined by Comparably as having 500 or fewer employees.
Jason Purcell, the CEO of e-commerce software company Salsify ranked at the top of the list of small and midsize companies. These companies have 500 or fewer employees. Ellen Kullman, the CEO of Carbon, ranked No. 24 on this year’s list. She was also the former Chairman and CEO of DuPont and named one of the 50 most powerful women according to Fortune.
It’s only a matter of time now before drones become a key component of everyday logistics infrastructure, but there are still significant barriers between where we are today and that future — particularly when it comes to regulation. Iris Automation is developing computer vision products that can help simplify the regulatory challenges involved in setting standards for pilotless flight, thanks to its detect-and-avoid technology that can run using a wide range of camera hardware. The company has raised a $13 million Series B funding round to improve and extend its tech, and to help provide demonstrations of its efficacy in partnership with regulators.
I spoke to Iris Automation CEO Jon Damush, and Iris Automation investor Tess Hatch, VP at Bessemer Venture Partners, about the round and the startup’s progress and goals. Damush, who took over as CEO earlier this year, talked about his experience at Boeing, his personal experience as a pilot and the impact on aviation of the advent of small, cheap and readily accessible electric motors, batteries and powerful computing modules, which have set the stage for an explosion in the commercial UAV industry.
“You’ve now shattered some of the barriers that have been in aerospace for the past 50 years, because you’re starting to really democratize the tools of production that allow people to make things that fly much easier than they could before,” Damush told me. “So with that, and the ability to take a human out of the cockpit, comes some interesting challenges — none more so than the regulatory environment.”
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and most airspace regulators around the world, essentially divide into two spheres regulations around commercial flight, Damush explains. The first is around operations — what are you going to do while in flight, and are you doing that the right way. The second, however, is about the pilot, and that’s a much trickier thing to adapt to pilotless aircraft.
“One of the biggest challenges is the part of the regulations called 91.113b, and what that part of the regs states is that given weather conditions that permit, it’s the pilot on the airplane that has the ultimate responsibility to see and avoid other aircraft. That’s not a separation standard that says you’ve got to be three miles away, or five miles away or a mile away — that is a last line of defense, that is a safety net, so that when all the other mitigations that lead to a safe flight from A to B fail, the pilot is there to make sure you don’t collide into somebody.”
Iris comes in here, with an optical camera-based obstacle avoidance system that uses computer vision to effectively replace this last line of defense when there isn’t a pilot to do so. And what this unlocks is a key limiting factor in today’s commercial drone regulatory environment: The ability to fly aircraft beyond visual line of sight. All that means is that drones can operate without having to guarantee that an operator has eyes on them at all times. When you first hear that, you imagine that this factors in mostly to long-distance flight, but Damush points out that it’s actually more about volume — removing the constraints of having to keep a drone within visual line of sight at all times means you can go from having one operator per drone, to one operator managing a fleet of drones, which is when the economies of scale of commercial drone transportation really start to make sense.
Iris has made progress toward making this a reality, working with the FAA this year as part of its integrated pilot program to demonstrate the system in two different use cases. It also released the second version of its Casia system, which can handle significantly longer-range object detection. Hatch pointed out that these were key reasons why Bessemer upped its stake with this follow-on investment, and when I asked if COVID-19 has had any impact on industry appetite or confidence in the commercial drone market, she said that has been a significant factor, and it’s also changing the nature of the industry.
“The two largest industries [right now] are agriculture and public safety enforcement,” Hatch told me. “And public safety enforcement was not one of those last year, it was agriculture, construction and energy. That’s definitely become a really important vertical for the drone industry — one could imagine someone having a heart attack or an allergic reaction, an ambulance takes on average 14 minutes to get to that person, when a drone can be dispatched and deliver an AED or an epi pen within minutes, saving that person’s life. So I really hope that tailwind continues post COVID.”
This Series B round includes investment from Bee Partners, OCA Ventures and new strategic investors Sony Innovation Fund and Verizon Ventures (disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Verizon Media Group, though we have no involvement, direct or otherwise, with their venture arm). Damush pointed out that Sony provides great potential strategic value because it develops so much of the imaging sensor stack used in the drone industry, and Sony also develops drones itself. For its part, Verizon offers key partner potential on the connectivity front, which is invaluable for managing large-scale drone operations.