European early-stage VC firm ‘Project A’ on Europe’s startup scene taking the next step

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Project A, the Berlin-based VC, just raised a new $200 million fund (€180 million) to continue backing European startups at Seed and Series A stage.

In addition, the firm — whose investments include WorldRemit, Catawiki, Voi and Uberall — announced it will now have a presence in London and Stockholm in order to put people on the ground in what it says are “two of its favorite ecosystems.”

What better time, therefore, to catch up with the team at Project A, where we talked investment thesis, why Stockholm and London, and the increasing interest in Europe from U.S. LPs and VCs. Other subjects we touched on include diversity in venture, and, of course, Brexit!

TechCrunch: You last raised a fund in 2016, totaling €140 million, what changes have you noticed since then with regards to the types of companies you are seeing and the European ecosystem as a whole?

Uwe Horstmann: Entrepreneurs definitely matured a lot over the last few years. We see more and more of serial founders who combine drive with experience delivering great results. We also noticed an increase in more tech / product-centric and in B2B models.

This doesn’t come as a surprise as the market for consumer-oriented models started developing much earlier and is now reaching its limits after a few years. Many entrepreneurs gained experience in the Old Economy or have been consulting companies for a few years, learned about the struggle with products and processes first-hand and developed solutions specifically tailored to the industry’s needs.

We also notice a rise in professionalism in company setups and a higher ambition level in founding teams. This is probably also due to a more professional angel and micro fund scene that has developed in Europe.

TC: I note that you have U.S. LPs in the new fund, which I think is a first for Project A, and more broadly we are seeing a lot more interest from U.S. VCs in Europe these days. Why do you think that is, and how does this change the competitive landscape for deal-flow and the ambition of European founders?

Thies Sander: Having our first U.S. LPs on board makes us proud. LPs have noticed that European VC returns have really picked up during recent fund cohorts.

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Amboss, the knowledge platform for medical professionals, scores €30M Series B

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Amboss, the Berlin-based ‘medtech’ startup that originally offered a learning app for students but has since pivoted to a knowledge platform for medical professionals, has raised €30 million in Series B funding.

The round is led by Partech’s growth fund, with Target Global acting as a co-investor. Existing investors, Cherry Ventures, Wellington Partners and Holtzbrinck Digital, also participated.

Launched in 2014 as a study platform for medical students, Amboss has since evolved to offer what it claims is the “most comprehensive and technologically-advanced” knowledge platform for medical professionals. It has been developed by a group of 70 doctors and 40 software engineers who work together in small cross functional teams.

“Medical Knowledge does not find its way into practice efficiently,” argues Amboss co-CEO Benedikt Hochkirchen. “This has two main root causes: the way we educate doctors is outdated, and the way doctors access knowledge is inefficient”.

Specifically, he says that medical students are still taught to memorize facts, which become outdated quickly, and there isn’t enough emphasis on understanding and application. In contract, Amboss’ “smart learning” technology claims to not only help students achieve higher scores in their medical exams but furthers their contextual understanding and therefore lays the foundation “to be better prepared for clinical practice”.

“In clinical practice, doctors would adapt 50% of their decisions if they had the latest and precise knowledge at hand,” says Hochkirchen. “In real life on the wards, doctors lack the time to research and find the relevant knowledge. For them, Amboss’ smart guidance app is there to provide instant, convenient and reliable medical knowledge to carry out the best possible care”.

The end result, says the Amboss co-CEO, is that the startup’s app reduces the average research time needed for doctors to make a clinical decision from 30 minutes to 30 seconds. Crucially, its knowledge base contains the most recent medical facts and guidelines “in every single case”.

“Young doctors have to take over a lot of responsibility early in their career,” adds Hochkirchen. “Career starters are regularly the first touch point with a doctor when a patient enters a hospital. Often young doctors do not feel properly prepared for the real life challenges in those situations. Amboss is the source of choice to master those decisions e.g. with emergency algorithms and lead symptoms”.

Likewise, more experienced and specialised doctors can also find utility in Amboss, as guidelines and therapies of choice are constantly changing. “It is almost impossible for the doctor to stay up to date for every possible indication,” he says. “Amboss provides them with precise knowledge based on latest guidelines to ensure doctors choose the best therapy possible”.

Or, put a another way, Amboss is attempting to build a “Google for medicine”. “They are tackling a very exciting space which will have a positive impact on society, bringing knowledge levels and skillsets of medical doctors to a higher level,” Cherry Ventures’ Christian Meermann tells me.

Meanwhile, armed with new capital, Amboss says it will accelerate the global rollout of its product with a focus on the U.S. In addition, the startup will further develop its product, for both generalist and specialist doctors, “to help improve their daily clinical decision-making”.

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India’s Darwinbox raises $15M to bring its HR tech platform to more Asian markets

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An Indian SaaS startup, which is increasingly courting clients from outside of the country, just raised a significant amount of capital to expand its business.

Hyderabad-based Darwinbox, which operates a cloud-based human resource management platform, said on Thursday it has raised $15 million in a new financing round. The Series B round — which moves the firm’s total raise to $19.7 million — was led by Sequoia India and saw participation from existing investors Lightspeed India Partners, Endiya Partners, and 3one4 Capital.

More than 200 firms including giants such as adtech firm InMobi, fintech startup Paytm, drink conglomerate Bisleri, automobile maker Mahindra, Kotak group, and delivery firms Swiggy and Milkbasket use Darwinbox’s HR platform to serve half a million of their employees in 50 nations, Rohit Chennamaneni, cofounder of Darwinbox, told TechCrunch in an interview.

The startup, which competes with giants such as SAP and Oracle, said its platform enables high level of configurability, ease of use, and understands the needs of modern employees. “The employees today who have grown accustomed to using consumer-focused services such as Uber and Amazon are left disappointed in their experience with their own firm’s HR offerings,” said Gowthami Kanumuru, VP Marketing at Darwinbox, in an interview.

Darwinbox’s HR platform offers a range of features including the ability for firms to offer their employees insurance and early salary as loans. Its platform also features social networks for employees within a company to connect and talk, as well as an AI assistant that allows them to apply for a leave or set up meetings with quick voice commands from their phone.

“The AI system is not just looking for certain keywords. If an employee tells the system he or she is not feeling well today, it automatically applies for leave for them,” she said.

Darwinbox’s platform is built to handle onboarding new employees, keeping a tab on their performance, monitor attrition rate, and maintain an ongoing feedback loop. Or as Kanumuru puts it, the entire “hiring to retiring” cycle.

One of Darwinbox’s clients is L&T, which is tasked with setting up subway in many Indian cities. L&T is using geo-fencing feature of Darwin to log the attendance of employees. “They are not using biometric punch machine that is typically used by other firms. Instead, they just require their 1,200 employees check-in from the workplace using their phones,” said Kanumuru.

darwinbox event

Additionally, Darwinbox is largely focusing on serving companies based in Asia as it believes Western companies’ solutions are not a great fit for people here, said Kanumuru. The startup began courting clients in Southeast Asian markets last year.

“Our growth is a huge validation for our vision,” she said. “Within six months of operations, we had the delivery giant Delhivery with over 23,000 employees use our platform.”

In a statement to TechCrunch, Dev Khare, a partner at Lightspeed Venture, said, “there is a new trend of SaaS companies targeting the India/SE Asia markets. This trend is gathering steam and is disproving the conventional wisdom that Asia-focused SaaS companies cannot get to be big companies. We firmly believe that Asia-focused SaaS companies can get to large impact value and become large and profitable. Darwinbox is one of these companies.”

Darwinbox’s Chennamaneni said the startup will use the fresh capital to expand its footprints in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian markets. Darwinbox will also expand its product offerings to address more of employees’ needs. The startup is also looking to make its platform enable tasks such as booking of flights and hotels.

Chennamaneni, an alum of Google and McKinsey, said Darwinbox aims to double the number of clients it has in the next six to nine months.

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Spanish startup Elma gets $3.2M for a digital-first health insurance play

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Insurtech startup Elma has closed a €3 million (~$3.2M) Series A funding round led by Mangrove Capital partners to build out a digital-first health insurance business starting with Spain, its domestic market.

Also investing in the Series A are a number of unnamed local investors focused on the healthcare space, along with Barcelona-based investor and company builder Antai Venture Builder (AVB), Arroba Capital, and US VC Joyance Capital Partners. 

Elma’s co-founders — Miguel Ángel Antón (CEO), Albert Malagarriga (CPO), and Miguel Vicente and Gerard Olivé (also co-founders of its investor, AVB) — have a background in digital industries and startups, building “user centric experiences”, as Antón puts it.

Healthcare experience in the founding team comes via the COO who we’re told spent 12 years at a C-level position at one of the largest health insurers in Spain (now owned by Bupa). Elma also has a chief medical officer — who Antón touts as bringing a wealth of experience in “digital care”.

Since 2017 the team has been building a number of digital healthcare tools that can be accessed via an app. The idea is to entice subscribers to Elma’s healthcare cover with the promise of tech-enabled convenience and a shorter wait time vs Spain’s (free) public healthcare service for remote chats with doctors.

It’s also hoping to disrupt legacy health insurance giants by offering slicker digital tools and services.

“Few companies or entities have had the opportunity to think about patient journeys and build and articulate a product that optimizes healthcare outcomes while controlling costs,” argues Antón. “We believe insurers have a privileged position to do that, yet they seem to have little incentive to innovate and adopt digital tools to make it happen given their legacy. We want to build a digital health subscription to better healthier, that includes insurance and is (finally) user centric.”

Among the tools Elma will offer subscribers initially is a telehealth service that lets members talk to a doctor via video call and chat, providing remote primary care and digital prescription (it has a team of seven doctors to serve that from launch) — and a doctor search engine for finding a medical professional to deal with a specific condition (it has a pool of 23,000 doctors in Spain for in-person healthcare).

“We are currently working on a booking feature and integration with test providers to make getting blood tests, scans and so on much easier and interconnected,” adds Antón.

“We are one of the few insurers that provide a full online, comprehensive quoting system for people to understand our products and buy entirely online. These are just a few features that we are releasing with, but our vision is to pursue the digitalization of the industry to fulfil our mission. Prevention, promotion of good habits, digital therapies, are coming up next.” 

On the prevention front, this being an insurtech startup, Elma’s roadmap includes linking insurance premiums to healthier lifestyles — via some form of behavior tracking.

“Healthier people should benefit from their good habits and we are already testing tools that identify people’s habits,” Antón confirms, adding: “Other features in our roadmap for next year are integration with wearables, care plans, skin prevention plans, etc.”

The team will be launching its first health insurance product in Spain next month.

Its website already lists pricing for a range of plans “con copago” (which means there’s a monthly fee to pay for the insurance cover plus an additional fee when you access healthcare services).

“We will have a full “sin copago” product in two weeks but we are believers of insurance with copayment,” Antón tells TechCrunch. “Being healthy makes you reduce visits to the doctor so you can keep your premium low and pay per use which will be best for our customers. We really love copayments…. Best way to pay less.”

The Series A will be put towards scaling in Spain, which is the firm focus for Elma for the foreseeable future given a large addressable local market.

Some 10M+ people (~23% of the population) pay for healthcare, according to Antón, who says this is on account of long wait time for the free public service. A majority of those (60%) pay for health insurance via their employer — so Elma is focusing on selling in to corporates to provide cover for their staff.

“We have an agreement with [insurance broker] Willis Towers Watson who will allow us to quote the most relevant companies in Spain,” he says, adding that it’s already signed agreements with listed companies  (such as Masmovil, Red Electrica Española); startups (eCooltra); and state owned companies (Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat).

“Healthcare is very country specific, that’s why its really hard to scale this type of company [to other markets]. So far we want to concentrate in Spain. The market here is huge, growing 5%-7% a year and needs a lot of digitalization,” he adds.

“We want to became leader in our market. In the future we will look for markets where our product fits the best, and it may be countries with or without a strong public health system. What we believe is true is if we make it here, where we are competing with an excellent service which is for free (Spanish public healthcare system), we can probably make it anywhere.”

In terms of app-focused competition, on Elma’s home turf there’s MediQuo, another Barcelona-based startup that promises to put a doctor in your pocket — via an app where users can chat to a medical “amigo”. While it’s not a fully fledged health insurance play pricing is low enough that users could combine it with legacy health insurance elsewhere — augmenting their usual cover with an up-to-date app supplement.

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