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The latest news on Startups from Business Insider

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    First Minute HQ Brent and George

    LONDON — Lastminute.com founder Brent Hoberman has raised a $60 million (£47 million) fund to invest in early stage technology companies.

    The "Firstminute Capital" fund will be used to make seed stage investments in companies across Europe. It has been set up with former Goldman Sachs analyst Spencer Crawley. 

    The fund will invest between $250,000 (£196,000) and $750,000 (£589,000) at a time. 

    "We believe that emerging European technology startups will continue to excite, and build on the momentum that has seen 47 unicorn companies built in Europe in the last 10 years," Hoberman said in a statement.

    "We hope to help the next generation of top entrepreneurs, both with our reach and by giving them credibility and support. We will invest not just in the UK, but across Europe. We were aiming to raise $60 million for our first fund, and to have achieved that with oversubscription before our final close is a strong signal for European technology. We believe the fund represents an unparalleled wealth of expertise to deliver on this promise."

    times100richest Niklas ZennstromA number of entrepreneurs contributed to the new fund including the cofounders of companies like Skype, Supercell, Betfair, Zoopla, King.com, Skyscanner, BlaBlaCar, Autonomy, Net-a-Porter.

    Ex-Skype CEO Niklas Zennström, partner and CEO at Atomico, said in a statement: "Brent is a pioneer of technology entrepreneurship in Europe. For two decades he has done more than most to find, support and encourage Europe's best founders.

    "That's why we wanted to be his first investor. We share a firm belief in the future of Europe's technology ecosystem so we're excited to be part of this new fund as it backs Europe's most promising early stage founders."

    Hoberman is involved with a number of other companies including startup incubator Founders Factory and online furniture store made.com.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's why Steve Wozniak used to wait in line overnight for new Apple products


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    Jeremy Corbyn

    Imagine being told by your employer that you would be first in the firing line if you voted for a particular political party.

    Well, that's exactly what happened to staff at Storm Technologies in Watford, according to a BBC report.

    John Brooker reportedly sent an email to employees informing them that they would be in line for redundancy if they voted for Labour in last week's General Election.

    The email, sent on the day of the election, said: "Labour voters will be made redundant first if Labour do win and things slow down".

    After the GMB union said Brooker's email was "unacceptable and morally wrong," Brooker reportedly claimed that the email was "banter" and that it was "made in jest".

    The email was sent to more than 100 employees that work at Storm Technologies in Croxley Business Park, according to the BBC.

    It also said: "If by any chance Labour win, we'll have to re-think a few things." Brooker added: "Feel free to vote for whoever you want but I have said my piece."

    Warren Kenny from the GMB told the BBC: "A boss should not be harassing employees or interfering with their right to vote for who they wish — it's Dickensian, workhouse nonsense.

    "Any staff working for John Brooker should have been able to vote for their candidate or party of choice without fear for their jobs and their livelihoods."

    Storm Technologies did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Bill Gates is backing the waterless toilet of the future — here's how it works


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    Yumi_0373

    At an upscale café in Manhattan, bouquets decorate a candlelit wooden table. Glass jars of rosewater overnight oats and blueberry chia seed pudding, served family-style, sit in the center.

    This isn't a normal brunch — it's a launch party for Yumi, a startup that delivers organic baby food. And everything on the table is technically food for infants.

    The company is pitching its products as healthier than store brands, which can contain high levels of sodium and sugar. A subscription service, Yumi delivers meals weekly to customers' doors, making it more convenient and less time-consuming than putting together food at home, according to the company's founders.

    "You used to live in a town where your mom and your grandma lived, and they used to help you. But now you live far away from home, and they might not know the right [baby] food to cook anymore," Angela Sutherland, a cofounder, told Business Insider. "We want to support you, as a mother, so you don't have to think about those things."

    yumi_

    From 2010 to 2015, the baby-food industry grew globally from $36.7 billion to about $55 billion. At the same time, sales of traditional baby food have been declining since 2005, partly because of an increase in parents making meals for their babies at home. Sales of Gerber, the top-selling baby food in the US, dropped by 2% within the category in 2016, according to Euromonitor.

    To keep up, legacy brands like Gerber and Beech-Nut have in recent years added organic lines with trendy ingredients like quinoa and kale.

    Yumi, which launched on Tuesday, works like many food-delivery subscriptions: Customers sign up and pay a monthly fee, and meals are brought to their doorstep. All the products are certified organic by the US Department of Agriculture and contain simple ingredients, Sutherland says. The service is available throughout California, with plans to expand in the future.

    Even for organic baby food, Yumi's prices are on the high side. Meals range from $6.07 to $8.33 each, depending on the plan. For comparison, a 3.5-ounce pouch of Gerber's organic veggies costs $1.25 at Walmart.

    But Gerber doesn't offer a weekly delivery service or chef-prepared, nutrient-dense meals.

    To see how customers might respond to the food and prices, the company conducted a pilot test with 100 babies (and their parents) in early 2017. One Santa Monica-based parent who participated, Natalie Bruss, told Business Insider that ordering Yumi was worth the time and money she would normally spend preparing organic baby food at home.

    "I was paying a nanny on Saturday or Sunday afternoons to spend prime time with my son, Jack, so that I could slave away in the kitchen trying to purée him beets and add wheat germ oil and this and that. It was too complicated. Meanwhile, I could hear Jack goo-ing and gaga-ing," she said. "So I thought, 'Why am I doing this when I could be spending time with my kid?'"

    Bruss used to pay a babysitter $60 to watch her son while she prepared weekly meals, so she said she considered the $50 plan for six meals a week a bargain, and she supplements it with organic store-bought meal pouches.

    Yumi_0460

    Yumi isn't the only startup offering high-end organic baby food.

    Tinder cofounder Sean Rad and Chobani cofounder Kyle O'Brien were early backers of a similar service called Little Spoon, which launched in New York in April. Raised Real, a California-based company that started delivery on the West Coast in 2016, is more like a Blue Apron for baby food — it sends customers organic ingredients, and they purée the food themselves. Thistle and Gather, other healthy-meal-delivery startups, have recently added organic baby food to their offerings.

    Yumi has raised $4.1 million in venture-capital funding, led by Brand Foundry, August Capital, and NEA. Sutherland, previously a director at the private-equity firm Sierra Partners, founded the company with Evelyn Rusli, a former Wall Street Journal reporter. The company says its target demographic is new parents, most of whom are millennials.

    "People want more from a food brand — this is not Gerber," Sutherland said. "Millennials want transparency. That's one of the reasons why our food is transparent. It's in a see-through container, so you see what you're getting."

    "If we say this is kale, it is kale," Rusli said.

    "There is that much green stuff" in the container, she added. "There's no hiding it."

    Yumi_0415To ensure the meals include the right nutrients, the founders worked with Nicole Avena, a nutritionist, who followed the Food and Drug Administration's 2016 daily-intake recommendations for infants.

    She told Business Insider she paid special attention to how vegetable and fruit nutrients changed when puréed. For example, puréed apples have been shown to raise insulin levels by more than smashed bananas, while certain blended berries can reduce insulin levels.

    While some studies suggest that homemade baby food is healthier than commercial brands, most of the research on early pediatric nutrition is new.

    "We don't know all the answers yet," Carina Venter, a registered dietitian at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and a coauthor of a new narrative review of infant-nutrition research, told Business Insider.

    In her review, Venter found there were a handful of concerns with most store-bought baby food. Yumi manages to avoid many of them.

    There is little data available about nutrient profiles for store-bought baby food. It often lacks texture, which can stunt infants' chewing development; there is little variety in the ingredients, which in early life has been associated with an increased risk of asthma; and the microbial load (the amount of good bacteria) in commercial baby foods is typically much lower than in homemade foods.

    Organic foods, on the other hand, have been shown to contribute to a more diverse gut microbiome, which can help prevent allergy development, as well as conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, depression, and anxiety.

    "We put rosewater in the oats — you would never make that at home," Sutherland said. "Parents can eat it, too. It's a new kind of baby food."

    SEE ALSO: These 10 companies control everything you buy

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: These secret codes let you access hidden iPhone features


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    Travis Kalanick

    Eight years ago, Travis Kalanick launched a startup called UberCab in San Francisco.

    Now, Uber is a global behemoth and one of Silicon Valley's most successful companies — and one of the most contentious.

    Uber operates in nearly 600 cities worldwide, and it's said to be worth nearly $70 billion. The 40-year-old Kalanick is now said to have a net worth of more than $6 billion.

    But Uber — and Kalanick — have been caught up in one scandal after another in recent months, leading to a four-month investigation, more than 20 firings, and Kalanick now taking a leave of absence from the company. 

    Here's how it all began. 

    Maya Kosoff contributed to an earlier version of this post. 

    SEE ALSO: After a 4 month investigation and 20 firings, Uber releases explosive report on corporate culture

    Uber CEO Travis Kalanick grew up in Northridge, California — a suburb outside Los Angeles. When he was a kid, he wanted to be a spy.

    Source: Business Insider



    Kalanick got good grades and was athletic growing up, running track and playing football. But he was bullied by older students, and later vowed that he'd never be pushed around by anyone again.

    Source: The New York Times



    Kalanick would eventually follow in the entrepreneurial footsteps of his mom, a retail advertiser: He went door-to-door as a teen, selling knives for Cutco. He then started his first business at 18, an SAT-prep course called New Way Academy.

    Source: Business Insider



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    South Korea elderly women

    A startup in South Korea is making headlines for only hiring staff that are aged 55 years and over.

    Channel NewsAsia reports the founder of content monitoring company EverYoung established the rule to prove the futility of age discrimination – a phenomenon that’s reportedly prevalent in modern Korean corporate culture.

    Employees at EverYoung monitor blog content on Korean web portal Naver and detect sensitive information on Naver Maps, as well as perform other IT tasks, including running coding classes for school students.

    The Seoul startup, which has 420 seniors from a variety of career backgrounds working for it, mandates a 10-minute break for every 50 minutes of work, and staff are rostered on four-hour shifts.

    Manager Kim Seong-Kyu told ChannelNews Asia that older employees have an attention to detail not as common in the younger workforce, with distracting mobile phones stored away during work time.

    “They are full of passion. The time that they have, and their interest in this work, are primarily why they come to work,” he said.

    Read the full article at ChannelNews Asia »

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: 9 jobs that are quickly disappearing in the US


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    miley cyrus cash dollars bills wild free

    JPMorgan announced the winners of a $3 million competition on Thursday.

    The contest seeks to recognize the most innovative companies in financial technology focused on remedying social issues related to personal finance. It drew applications from more than 300 firms across the US.

    The contest is a joint initiative between the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), a community of financial innovators, and JPMorgan. Each winning company is set to receive $250,000 and join the CFSI's Financial Solutions Lab, which will provide the winners access to mentors and resources with which they can scale their business.

    "We are encouraged to see so many talented startups and nonprofits focused on finding truly innovative solutions that can help the 57% of Americans who struggle with financial health," Jennifer Tescher, CEO and founder of CFSI.

    Here are the 2017 winners:

    SEE ALSO: A 'paradigm shift' is taking place in financial technology

    SEE ALSO: Deloitte's COO explains his view of the economy, fintech, and why we shouldn't be afraid of robots

    Dave

    Dave wants to save people from overdraft fees. The app connects with a user's checking account and forecasts the account's lowest possible balance in seven days based on their spending habits. When a user's forecast dips below zero they are notified so that they can make adjustments to their spending.

    Dave also allows users to borrow cash if their balance gets low. Users who have a negative seven-day balance can borrow up to $250 of their coming paycheck to cover expenses.

    The company has the financial backing of billionaire investor Mark Cuban.



    EverSafe

    EverSafe wants its customers to rest easy knowing that their sensitive banking information won't be jeopardized by crypto-criminals. The Maryland-based cybersecurity firm seeks to protect seniors by monitoring their financial behavior and alerting them and designated family members when irregular transactions takes place on their financial accounts.

    Alerts can be sent by email, text message, or phone.



    Grove

    Grove is a San Francisco-based financial-advice platform that pairs technology with people. According to a news release, the firm strives to provide "accessible and affordable" financial plans "within reach for everyone."

    To sign up for early access, visit the company's site.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Untuckit

    It's a simple idea: a shirt with a shorter hem that is designed to be worn to be untucked.

    Untuckit, a startup founded by Aaron Sanandres and Chris Riccobono in 2011 out of an extra bedroom in Riccobono's Hoboken, NJ apartment with just $150,000 from friends and family, has turned that concept into a full-fledged clothing company. 

    Untuckit has been profitable since its second year of business. The company recently secured a $30 million boost with its first round of funding led by Kleiner Perkins.

    The investment puts the company at a more than $200 million valuation, according to Reuters.

    Untuckit has also doubled sales every year since its inception, now offering both signature shorter shirts and a wide range of other clothing categories for both men and women.

    The founders are the first to admit they're not the first to create the shorter shirt. It was a chronic problem among men, they discovered.

    Untuckit is, however, the first to market itself with the shorter shirt as their signature, as well as the first to do market research to find out what the best place for a shirt hem to fall is — which took almost exactly a full year.

    "I joke by saying it's the world's largest study ever undertaken on untucked shirts," founder and CEO Aaron Sanandres  said.

    Turns out, the perfect length is mid-fly.

    Untuckit

    The founders advertised Untuckit on sports radio and in print airline magazines — two captive audiences — to get the word out. They said they almost didn't even need visuals to explain what problem they were solving.

    "Guys had a primal knowledge of what this was," Sanandres said. "Guys suffer with it. If you know, no explanation is necessary."

    The customer response to the ads was "immediately overwhelming," which buoyed the company into profitability and the success it enjoys today.

    The idea, according to the founders, hit at the right time when the casualization of men's wardrobes was reaching fever pitch.

    "Can't say we generated that trend, but we certainly hit the trend at the right time," Sanandres said.

    It also fits neatly into the demand for "neater" casual clothes that can be worn to work, fancy restaurants, or just to look more put together.

    "We stopped using the word versatile because it was in the description of every shirt on our website," Riccobono said.

    UntuckitUntuckit has gone broad in its marketing, appealing to men from all over the country in the generous age range of 35-65.

    "If you go to our Soho store you'll see a 25-year-old hipster from Brooklyn next to an 85-year-old man from Florida. it's just amazing the range," Riccobono said. "Anybody who's worn their shirt untucked whether it's the old classic brands or the new brands, if you've worn your shirt untucked and put on an Untuckit [shirt], it resonates."

    The brand awareness for Untuckit is now such that the founders are no longer worried about other companies coming along and stealing the idea of making shorter shirts.

    "I stopped worrying a couple years ago," Sanandres said. "Now I actually see it as a positive. If more people are typing in 'untucked shirts' because more brands are bringing awareness to the issue, that only helps grow the proverbial pie."

    UntuckitUntuckit's shirts are premium priced — what the founders call a "thoughtful acquisition"— with an average cost of about $80 a pop. Apart from the shorter, rounder hemline, they also feature a small arrow on the untucked shirttail, indicating the brand with a signature logo.

    The brand now has eight stores, but will have 22 stores open by the end of 2017 with locations across America concentrated in larger metro regions. 

    Though Untuckit hopes to open as many as 100 stores in the next two years using the new capital, the founders say they will remain in the margin of profitability.

    "That is part of our DNA," Sandares said.

    SEE ALSO: 17 things every guy needs in his closet for summer

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: JIM ROGERS: The worst crash in our lifetime is coming


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    sofia pitta misk google xoogler

    • Google's legendary perks don't stop when you leave: There's a network of 2,000 ex-Googlers that throws events and holds meetups around the world.
    • A "Pitch Day" was recently held at Google's offices in London where a dozen "Xooglers" pitched their new startups to more than 80 European investors.
    • Xoogler.co is launching an exclusive app for Xooglers to connect them to everything from hiring to funding.

    LONDON — An app that turns your bookshelves — and your neighbours' book collections — into a single giant lending library. A platform for tutors to teach students online, built by a ex-tutor who used lesson fees to pay his way through university without debt. The world's first "AI-powered best friend."

    These are a few of the ambitious (and sometimes pretty out-there) startups being built by ex-Google employees in Europe.

    On Tuesday, around 80 investors descended on Google's offices in King's Cross, North London. They were there to be pitched by more than a dozen startups led by "Xooglers"— the term for former Google employees — in the second-ever Xoogler Pitch Day.

    Xoogler.co is an increasingly powerful network. Founded two years ago, it now has almost 2,000 members around the world, and claims to be the largest organisation of ex-Googlers, which number an estimated 20,000. The group holds meetups to trade expertise and advice, chats online in a private Slack channel, organises pitch days for members who have started their own businesses, and even directly funds startups via an investment syndicate.

    It is now preparing to launched a dedicated app called Xoma that will act as a kind of exclusive social network, connecting Xooglers to opportunities and talent. And its organisers are already setting their sights beyond the Google network.

    Google's mission statement is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." Quoting from Xoogler.co's     private Slack group, ex-Googler and Pointy CEO Mark Cummins joked on stage: "Xoogler is about organising the world's Xooglers and making them universally accessible and useful."

    'Everyone has to die one day'

    Business Insider sat in on the demo day at Google's offices on Tuesday. The 13 startups on show, from London, Berlin, Portugal, Egypt, and more, varied wildly: Some were straightforward consumer propositions, like SimplyJob, an online job marketplace founded in Denmark. Others aim to solve enterprise pain-points, such as Tensorflight: A firm that uses computer vision to analyse aerial photography for insurance firms. And others seemed pretty experimental — take Another.ai, led by an ex-Google product manager-turned-founder who is trying to use AI to build "a trusted and loyal friend who's always there for us." (Scroll down for a full list of all the companies that exhibited.)

    What connected them is that they are all early stage startups on the hunt for funding, and see the network of ex-Googlers as a way try and make that happen.

    Ismail Jeilani xoogler google london"The network from the ex-Googlers network is amazing, it's genuinely incredible," Education platform Scoodle founder Ismail Jeilani said. "Not just because of the calibre of the people who are here, but also the support network that they provide in the buildup to this."

    He said he had spoken to multiple investors following his pitch, and cited the Xoogler network itself as a potential draw to investors — creating a virtuous cycle where ex-Googlers are encouraged to contribute by the promise of rewards, thereby attracting investors and making the rewards for ex-Googlers even more appealing.

    "Whenever anyone invests in an ex-Google startup, they also invest in the fact that these guys now have access to tonnes of experience in a lot of different areas."

    The former AdWords account strategist says he was motivated to launch Scoodle because of his own mortality. "It sounds quite morbid, but I don't know, life goes really quick. Everyone has to die one day and I don't want live a life [unfulfilled] ... from my own experience, teaching is not just about solving problems for me, but trying my best to solve problems that people are experiencing en masse."

    Investors are drawn to the Google brand

    There were more than 80 investors at the event, both angels and institutional venture capitalists. Organisations that signed up to attend included Seedcamp, Entrepreneur First, Atomico, Forward Partners, Balderton, and Index Ventures, one of the organisers said. So what draws them to something like this? It's all about the Google brand.

    "Google hires super-smart and curious people with strong engineering talent — a promising set of ingredients for entrepreneurs. So I went to see if there were interesting potential future investments," Harry Briggs, an investor at London-based venture capital firm BGF Ventures, said.

    "I'm a McKinsey alum and they get lots out of that community — it gives a reason to work at McKinsey (access to the network), and of course gives them sources of future work ... I think it's probably similar for Google: they're trying to say 'come and work here, and look how many great people have worked here and gone on, with our help, to build great businesses' — if that helps them attract great talent, that's a great thing. And of course some of those startups end up being acquired by Google too!"

    Arto Käyhkö works for Pollen Velocity Capital, a fintech firm that lends cash to startups, and is an ex-Googler himself. He said he attended because of the reputation of the network: "I went to the event because I knew previously and had learned that Xooglers can make a one hell of a companies. They are hard working, talented, and ambitious."

    He also cited the power of the network: "What do we get out of it? Connection to the Google innovation tap and also support for marketing, testing and sense of the pulse on whats happening on the markets."

    google office kings cross london

    From Moma to Xoma

    Alongside the Pitch Days, there is an array of other opportunities available to Xoogler.co members. Monthly drinks offer a chance to network with other ex-Googlers. Its Slack channel provides real-time chat and communication with members around the world. Alongside its pitch events, of which the London one was the second-ever, there's an investment syndicate for funding promising Xoogler-led startups.

    It also throws additional events, including panels on VC and artificial intelligence. One panel featuring speakers from Google's buzzy artificial intelligence (AI) lab DeepMind took place the night before the pitch day. Ismail Jeilani, who professes to have "zero experience in that whatsoever," went along to hear from what he called "the best people in the world [in the field]."

    Xoogler.co is now stepping its efforts up a notch with the announcement of "Xoma," an exclusive app for ex-Googlers.

    zi wang google xoogler xoma momaXoma? Think ex-Moma. Google employees have access to "Moma," an intranet system that is part-employee directory, part-internal search engine, part-company info source. Xoma aims to be a similar to Moma — an app that can connect ex-Googlers with others for everything from hiring to funding, providing info on their backgrounds and other useful information.

    Zi Wang, an ex-Googler who spent nine years at the company and lives in Mountain View, works on Xoma and cites Google's collaborative culture as part of the reason behind the Xoogler network: "Many of us came here because we have a shared, very similar ideal: How do we actually improve the world through technology?"

    But there's also clearly a commercial aspect to it: It's an old-boys-and-girls network of former employees from one of the most powerful companies in the world, often with significant fortunes they're looking to invest ("so much is not what you know it's who you know," Zi Wang said).

    "It's a bit of a filter, right, but it's in a good way," the Xoogler said. "It really reduces the opaqueness of 'are you a good founder, is your idea really valid?' ... This is a filter for transparency."

    He is among the core team of five or six volunteers helping to develop Xoma, and suggested that in the future, it won't just be limited to Google employees — envisioning it as a kind of next-generation LinkedIn.

    "It's not a closed, gated community — 'hello, you're a Googler, you're allowed to be in it.' We do intend to go from community to community. So imagine in the foreseeable future, you're at Facebook, Apple, or some other companies that are in the tech industry, you can also create your own community, because why not ... It doesn't have to be just for Googlers. We do intend for this platform to go from company to company and network to network."

    But that's not for a year or two yet, at least. For now, it will be just one more benefit in an already-impressive package available to Google alumni.

    Decentralised libraries and medical marketplaces

    Lastly, here are all the startups who pitched on-stage at the demo day in London, in order of appearance:

    Scoodle. An app that connects tutors to their students, letting them answer questions and provide study materials. Its founder, Ismail Jeilani, is an ex-tutor himself, and used the money he made from it to pay his way through university without taking out any loans.

    Libro Library."Chances are you've got books at home taking up valuable space, just collecting dust," founder Juju Rhee said. Libro Library aims to change that, by turning your personal collection and those of people living near you into libraries that anyone can borrow books from.

    Fractal Labs. This fintech firm wants to help businesses communicate their financial information with banks, aggregating all the relevant data into one place, with a chat interface.

    Misk. Misk is another firm trying to tackle the problem of eating out and recommendations. It does this by creating a feed based entirely on recommendations by your friends and family.

    Worksome. Founder Mathias Linnemann bills Worksome as "a marketplace that matches freelance consultants with companies." A recruiting platform, in other words. After five months of running in Denmark, it has 1,000 freelancers on the platform.

    Tada Analytics. The clue is in the name: Tada Analytics offers analytics, helping users interpret datasets and visualising results. "We want to make insight discovery fast and easy," said founder and former Google engineer Lewis Hemens.

    TensorFlight. Aerial and satellite photography has created huge quantities of data, and TensorFlight aims to analyse it with AI. It currently works with b2b customers including Google and KPMG, and aims to ultimately work with the insurance industry to help evaluate risks and damage in images that could affect quotes and payouts.

    Localistico. This startup tries to provide more analytics to companies about offline purchases and improve footfall for local businesses. It is already working with TFI Fridays, Starbucks, and O2.

    Junomedical. Junomedical says it tries to find its customers the best healthcare possible — wherever it is in the world. That might mean hopping on a plane, and for that it organises a full package of flights and accommodation where necessary. It works with 70 clinics in 22 countries.

    Simply Job. It's a job platform, with a twist — a Tinder-like swiping interface. Users can view potential jobs, then swipe right on the ones they like.

    Plytix. One of the more enterprise-focused businesses at the event, Plytix builds a PIM — Product Information Management software — for its customers, which is [IT] promises can help launch new products up to three times faster.

    Lynks."People in emerging markets crave products from the US and China," said Lynks cofounder Alex. "However, for customers abroad shopping for US and Chinese restaurants is a horrible experience." His startup lets customers place orders smoothly via messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, consolidating orders to reduce shipping costs, and even offers returns.

    Another.AI. Arguably the most ambitious of the startups on show, Another.AI has set out to build an AI-powered best friend in your smartphone. "We need a loyal and trusted friend who's always there for us," founder Andrew said as he pitched. Do you want to invest now, he asked investors, "or do you want to find out about this product when your kids are using it to change the world?"

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Bill Gates is backing the waterless toilet of the future — here's how it works


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    Evan Spiegel

    Daniel Newman, a 19-year-old student at USC, grew up in Beverly Hills and loves Southern California's star tech company, Snap (formerly known as Snapchat).

    Newman dreams of being a tech mogul in the image of Snapchat. He even launched a company that helped local businesses create geofilters.

    So when Snap's famous founder, Evan Spiegel, came to USC and spoke to one of his classes, Newman was all over it.

    Spiegel created Snapchat with his cofounders while he was still a student at Stanford just a few years ago, and earlier this year took it public in a whopping $33 billion IPO. 

    So Newman approached Spiegel after the talk, and to his surprise, Spiegel gave him his contact information and a few days later took his call.

    They talked for about 30 minutes during which Spiegel gave him three pieces of career advice that has changed Newman's aspirations, and quite possibly his life.

    Find an area of expertise

    First, Speiegel told Newman to find an area of specialization, something you can do very well, and become the best at it.

    He told Newman that for him, the "thing" was graphic design. He told Newman that while at Stanford, he became so good at graphic design that it later made it easier to him to master product design, Newman recounted. Spiegel also indicated that learning how to master something was later useful too, as he had to learn all sorts of things beyond design to become an effective CEO at Snap.

    "The thing that really resonated with me was finding a specialty," Newman said. 

    But mastering something is, on its own, not enough, Spiegel said. The second piece of advice Spiegel gave was to make sure that people know you are an expert — and that means finding creative ways to get yourself seen.

    Daniel Newman

    While the famously-secretive Spiegel didn't open up to the teen about what Snapchat is working on, he did tell Newman about the favorite part of his job. 

    "He said that what makes him get up in the morning is being creative because that's what he has fun doing ... and then seeing Facebook copy it," Newman recalls.

    Newman also asked Spiegel his opinion about his geofilter company, called Geocasion, which has already been serving a few small business customers.

    Spiegel disliked it, and that became his third bit of advice: Don't build a company that is wholly reliant on another company. 

    "After speaking with him, I decided to end Geocasion (very ironic, I know) because it was too dependent on Snapchat," Newman said.

    Having shut down his business, Newman realized he had no real specialty. So he changed course. Instead of trying to run his own startup, he decided to become the person in the know of the LA college startup scene.

    Take the initiative

    Newman upped his involvement in a student organization called TAMID, a group that matches US college kids with Israeli startups for mutual advice, internships, and the like. He and the TAMID team created a "Shark Tank" like event where students got to pitch to three VCs for prize money. Dozens of student-made startups participated, and over 500 people showed up to watch the live event.

    And all of that helped Newman land a two-month internship at an Israeli VC firm, where he's currently spending the summer.

    Most importantly, the conversation with Spiegel encouraged Newman to put himself out there, approach people and try and make things happen.

    "Evan showed me the value of taking initiative. Of all people in the world, I would've never expected the Evan Spiegel to respond to one of my emails, but he did. It's almost as if when you least expect a response is when you actually get one."

    Snap declined comment on this story.

    SEE ALSO: Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer wants his wealth to help families here at home in the US

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    NOW WATCH: Here's what companies like Snap can learn from Amazon's last 20 years


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    WOnderschool1

    When Arrel Gray went looking for a daycare program for his young child, he was met with endless waitlists.

    He quickly realized just how intense the demand for childcare was: In California, 75% of kids are unable to find a spot in a child care program. 

    Gray's experience sparked the idea for Wonderschool, a San Francisco startup that facilitates a network of high-quality in-home early childhood daycares and preschools. It essentially helps educators and childcare providers start their own schools out of their homes — even if they're condos or apartments — and helps provide software for those teachers to manage their students.

    Wonderschool currently has over 50 programs in cities throughout California, and recently raised $2 million in seed funding led by First Round Capital. The new funding will help Wonderschool expand across the country. Chris Bennett, co-founder of Wonderschool, said the company is focusing on recruiting teachers in places where there are shortages of child care. 

    In getting Wonderschool off the ground, Gray and Bennett's first step was finding experienced educators to partner with. They decided to develop the technology and business backends themselves, and let the people who knew best about early childhood education to focus on those programs. Gray and Bennett partnered with two teachers who wanted to pursue their dreams of opening their own schools, rented two houses, and got down to the business of learning how to run a school. 

    After that, they found three teachers who wanted to run schools out of their own homes, and evolved from there. 

    Each program has between six and 12 children. A brief glance at the website tells you that the schools range in focus and practice. There are Reggio- and Montessori-inspired schools, plus ones that focus on providing a bilingual environment. 

    Bennett said word spreads through the education community: Teachers seek them out to start their own in-home programs. The educators bring their experience in the classroom and Wonderschool gives them the skills and programs they need to launch their own childcare center from their homes. Wonderschool provides each program director with a mentor to help coach and support them throughout the process.

    On the backend, Bennett and his team help with licensing, program setup, and marketing. Program directors and teachers also have access to the Wonderschool marketplace where parents can find and learn about their program, schedule visits, and pay bills. Directors can also run their entire program and manage all their students and parents through a single dashboard thanks to Wonderschool's software platform.

    Teachers in California make around $38,000 a year. Wonderschool teachers are making double that, according to the company. 

    Wonderschool's goal is to help ease the intense demand for childcare and give parents more options for quality places to put their child. “The first five years of a child’s life are a critical period of learning and development, when a child needs opportunities to explore and socialize,” Bennett said.

    SEE ALSO: 33 startups to watch in 2017, according to VC investors

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    NOW WATCH: Google opens up a 21,000-square-foot campus in South Korea for startups


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    Travis Kalanick

    Eight years ago, Travis Kalanick launched a startup called UberCab in San Francisco.

    Today, Uber is a global behemoth and one of Silicon Valley's most successful companies — and one of the most contentious.

    Uber operates in around 600 cities worldwide, and it's said to be worth nearly $70 billion.

    The 40-year-old Kalanick is now said to have a net worth of more than $6 billion.

    But Uber — and Kalanick — have been caught up in one scandal after another in recent months, leading to a four-month investigation, more than 20 firings, and finally, Kalanick's resignation from the company he created.

    Here's how it all began. 

    Maya Kosoff contributed to an earlier version of this post. 

    SEE ALSO: After a 4 month investigation and 20 firings, Uber releases explosive report on corporate culture

    Uber CEO Travis Kalanick grew up in Northridge, California — a suburb outside Los Angeles. When he was a kid, he wanted to be a spy.

    Source: Business Insider



    Kalanick got good grades and was athletic growing up, running track and playing football. But he was bullied by older students, and later vowed that he'd never be pushed around by anyone again.

    Source: The New York Times



    Kalanick would eventually follow in the entrepreneurial footsteps of his mom, a retail advertiser: He went door-to-door as a teen, selling knives for Cutco. He then started his first business at 18, an SAT-prep course called New Way Academy.

    Source: Business Insider



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Classpass Payal Kadakia 2782

    When ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia started her fitness company in 2013, money was tight.

    Even though she'd been part of rigorous tech accelerator Tech Stars, she had trouble raising her initial funding, she told Business Insider US editor-in-chief Alyson Shontell on an episode of Business Insider's podcast,"Success! How I Did It."

    "I think I had a lot of people who were like, 'Payal, we love you but product's not there,' or 'business is not there.'" she said. "I never gave up, though. I think as a founder and entrepreneur, you just keep hustling through it."

    Kadakia raised a bridge round of funding — "an extra $300,000 to stitch between where I was with my capital and where I wanted to go"— and it made all the difference.

    With that money, she was able to show potential bigger investors her company's progress. She explained:

    "I always say investors invest in lines, not dots. I was giving them so many dots that were so much better than the last time I had seen them and I was keeping people in the loop. For me the reservation number and our revenue trajectory, I remember just sending charts and the hockey stick to people. So many of my investors, I remember when they were like, 'When you texted me that, it was like, 'Oh my God'.'"

    By June of 2014, "I feel like that was when I knew we had cracked something that was really special," Kadakia said. Soon, many of the investors who had initially turned her down were clamoring to invest. And then, the toughest thing became figuring out which of the VCs she could trust.

    "I was meeting all these people who I know were now chasing me because they saw traction, but I didn't know if they believed in my mission," Kadakia said. 

    You can listen to the full interview here:

    Subscribe to "Success! How I Did It" on Acast or iTunes. Check out previous episodes with:

    Here's an excerpt from the transcript:

    Alyson Shontell: Does the money come easily? Was it a bit of a slog? I know you had two different co-founders I think at the time.

    Payal Kadakia: When you have hype of something like Tech Stars, it definitely gives you some clout but at the end of the day, we didn't have the numbers at the time. It was a moment for me to go back to my mission and I decided we would let go of certain people. We would focus the company on pivoting and iterating, which was a hard decision to do but what was the point of keeping a product up and funding that when it's not working?

    ...

    Shontell: How hard was it the first few years and were investors actually interested in it? Did you find that it hard to pitch to them at first?

    Kadakia: I think I had a lot of people who were like, "Payal, we love you but product's not there," or "business is not there." I never gave up, though. I think as a founder and entrepreneur, you just keep hustling through it. I knew I'd figure it out and as long as you don't run out of money, which is the number one key, that's like your right to keep going. You have to keep making hard decisions, like I remember I needed a bridge round and people were like, "of course," because they were seeing –

    Shontell: Explain what a bridge round is.

    Kadakia: I needed an extra $300,000 to stitch between where I was with my capital and where I wanted to go and I wasn't ready to go into a big round and so it was awesome because I think people were just like, "your progress." I always say investors invest in lines not dots. I was giving them so many dots that were so much better than the last time I had seen them and I was keeping people in the loop. For me the reservation number and our revenue trajectory, I remember just sending charts and the hockey stick to people. So many of my investors, I remember when they were like, "when you texted me that, it was like oh my God." I remember sitting down with Hayley from Birchbox and I was like, "here's what it looks like," she was just like, "show me that again." I feel like that was when I knew we had cracked something that was really special. That was January of 2014.

    Shontell: I had investors emailing me saying, "I've seen you write about Payal before. Do you know her, and can you intro me?" You had a serious demand that cooked up. VCs are like, "Oh, what's the next shiny thing? I have to get into this hot deal." You were — you became that hot deal. What was it like when you hit that inflection point? Do you notice a change? How do you deal with that as a founder?

    Kadakia: I did notice the change. I remember going out to raise my series A and ending up with multiple term sheets when I had gone to Silicon Valley probably four times at that point and coming back with nothing. This is when I met Fritz, and I was like, "Fritz is the type of person I want involved in my company."

    Shontell: Fritz Lanman is your now CEO.

    Kadakia: He's the CEO of ClassPass. It was one of those moments when I met Fritz I knew he believed in my mission. I was meeting all these people who I know were now chasing me because they saw traction, but I didn't know if they believed in my mission. It's really hard to figure that out in three days when everyone's like, "Let's sign a term sheet tomorrow." I had that struggle, and I remember Fritz and I chatted about it. He was very much helping me with the fund raise. I was like, "I just don't know if I trust any of these folks. I don't know them, and I want the chance to get to know them." I had multiple data points with them, the same way they have multiple data points on me — it didn't feel fair. Fritz was like, "I think I can get you the capital," so he ended up leading my series A and getting more involved in the company, and I said no to some really great people who actually got involved in the company in later rounds because I had enough data on them.

    SEE ALSO: How the founder of ClassPass pivoted a struggling startup into a $470 million business, then made a tough decision to stop being CEO

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    NOW WATCH: An exercise scientist reveals the best time to do a cardio workout


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    Alain falys Michael rolph yoyo mobile wallet app founders

    Yoyo Wallet, an app that allows shoppers to make payments and earn loyalty rewards, has raised £12 million, bringing total investment in the UK startup to around £24 million.

    The latest series B round, announced on Monday, was led by German wholesale and food retail giant Metro Group, asset management company Woodford Investment Management, and tech investor Touchstone Innovations. It is still subject to FCA approval.

    Founded in 2013 and launched a year later, Yoyo operates in an increasingly crowded field of mobile apps that lets users pay for items with their smartphones. It also competes with Apple and Google, who have developed their own payment apps.

    Yoyo started out by targeting students on university campuses across the UK through its smartphone app but it now targets employees working on large corporate campuses and people on the high street.

    Yoyo processes payments using QR codes: At the point of sale, a unique QR code is generated for each transaction. The retailer then scans the code to receive the payment. This doesn't require proprietary technology, just a 2D barcode-scanner — already found in around 50% of retailers.

    Shoppers like it because they can earn rewards for buying things — such as 20% off or a free coffee — and retailers like it because they can get valuable marketing insights.

    The company claims to have more than 400,000 registered users and 1,700 retailers that accept its app.

    YoYo Wallet

    The latest funding round comes around half a year after Yoyo built a custom loyalty app for Caffè Nero, which is now used across 640 stores in the UK and Ireland.

    If approved, the funding will be used to help Yoyo Wallet expand partnerships with UK high-street retailers, boost the consumer and retail capabilities of the platform, and grow across Europe.

    "Yoyo is now delivering proven benefits to a rapidly growing number of merchants and their customers in universities, corporate campuses and the high street," said Alain Falys, cofounder and CEO of Yoyo Wallet, in a statement.

    He added: "This new funding will allow us to provide the benefits of customer identification and mobile engagement to a wider array of retailers, large and small, in the UK and across Europe. We could not have found a better combination of Investors to support us through this next stage of growth."

    Other investors include a number of figures from London's Taavet Hinrikus, cofounder of money transfer platform TransferWise, the founders of Money20/20, Philip Riese, former President of American Express Consumer Cards, and former TeleCity Group CEO Michael.

    Hansjörg Sage, a general manager at Metro Group, added in a statement: "Yoyo has convinced a growing number of customers to deploy its data-driven payment and loyalty marketing solutions, including most recently, Caffè Nero, the third largest coffee retail chain in the UK.

    "With its strong track record of deploying digital technology at the customer interface, Yoyo's solution can have a meaningful positive impact on a wide spectrum of retail businesses, in particular in the food and beverage segment. As digitisation becomes mainstream in hospitality, Yoyo's technology is a strong candidate for currently untapped market segments. As part of our engagement, Metro intends to contribute to this deployment."

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Alice Bentinck Matt Clifford Entrepreneur First

    UK startup builder Entrepreneur First (EF) has made a number of changes to its leadership team and created a new executive committee.

    The London-based organisation, which teams founders up with other founders and helps them to build a startup, told Business Insider on Sunday that it has made several internal promotions as well as a number of external hires.

    The most notable hire is Alex Diaz, who spent nine years in senior product roles with Google and Yahoo in Silicon Valley. He is joining to lead EF's company building operations in London, a role previously played by EF cofounder Alice Bentinck.

    As part of the shake up, Moonfruit cofounder Wendy Tan White, who joined EF two years ago as general partner, is leaving to join venture capital firm BGF Ventures.

    EF will now be run by an executive committee of six led by cofounders Clifford and Bentinck, the company said. The other members are:

    • Joe White, who becomes global CFO
    • Nadav Rosenberg, who becomes global director of commercial
    • Zoe Jervier, who becomes global director of talent
    • Alex Crompton, director, Singapore

    Clifford, EF's CEO, said: "It's increasingly clear that we need to think like a scaling operating company, not a traditional VC firm, to fulfil EF's mission of supporting the world's most ambitious people to build the world's most important companies.

    Moonfruit founder Joe White"We now have over 100 portfolio companies, 45 team members, two locations and three active funds; EF's grown a lot in the last 12 months and it's time to build a comprehensive executive team to allow us to achieve EF's global potential."

    Bentinck added that EF was "very sad" to say goodbye to Tan White.

    "She's contributed a huge amount over the last two years. As EF increasingly shifts focus to building a scalable company building model, it's clear that Wendy's ambitions and skills make her an ideal fit as a partner of an ambitious later stage venture capital fund like BGF Ventures. We're excited to build lots of companies for her to invest in."

    Tan White's husband, Joe White, added: "After building companies together for 18 years at Moonfruit and EF, it will certainly be adjustment for me and Wendy to work in different places. But I couldn't be more excited about the huge global opportunity EF has and I'm looking forward to helping realise that in my new role as CFO."

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    BGF

    Wendy Tan White, the cofounder of DIY website builder Moonfruit, is leaving company builder Entrepreneur First in September and joining venture capital firm BGF Ventures, where she will be the firm's first female partner.

    Tan White, a 46-year-old entrepreneur that was awarded an MBE in 2016 for services to technology businesses, will work alongside existing BGF Ventures partners Rory Stirling, Simon Calver, and Harry Briggs.

    BGF Ventures is the VC arm of the Business Growth Fund (BGF) — a £2.5 billion investment company that backs businesses across the UK. It is funded by five of the UK’s main banking groups — Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS and Standard Chartered. 

    Launched in 2015, BGF Ventures has £200 million at its disposal. It has invested almost £50 million in 18 UK companies so far including the likes of meal kit delivery service Gousto and edtech startup Firefly. Each investment is between £1 million and £6 million. 

    Explaining her logic for moving, Tan White told Business Insider: "I want to help UK early stage tech companies really scale right through their lifecycle from seed to growth and eventually exit/IPO. I'd like to work with fewer teams more deeply through each stage of growth and use the full range of experience I have as I took my own business from start to exit and to global scale after we were acquired over a 15 year journey.

    "EF has become a scaled 'company builder' producing a high volume of incredibly, talented deep tech companies from formation to seed. I'll look forward to investing in them when I'm at BGF Ventures at their next stage."

    Moonfruit founder Joe WhiteAt BGF Ventures, Tan White will be responsible for spotting the next generation of high-potential young startups across the UK to invest in.

    Tan White studied computer science at Imperial College London before founding Moonfruit with her now husband Joe White. The Moonfruit platform was launched in 2010 and sold to Yell in 2012 for a reported $29 million (£23 million).

    Tan White — who has been an active angel investor for several years, backing the likes of Magic Pony Technology, which was acquired by Twitter last year for $150 million (£118 million) — said it "it was a big decision" for her and her husband to go their separate ways in their careers. 

    "Joe is staying at EF and taking on a bigger role as CFO," said Tan White. "Joe and I are excited at the opportunity of being able to supporting the UK ecosystem more broadly at different stages.

    "I'm still fully behind EF, I will remain an LP and shareholder. I have personally mentored 20+ EF companies through formation and got them seed funded. Having worked successfully at this pre-seed/seed stage, I'm now ready to work with a smaller group of companies more deeply all the way through to exit/IPO. I'm keen to invest in and scale EF companies but also other ambitious startups in the UK ecosystem. I can do this at BGF Ventures as part of BGF."

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The inventor of Roomba has created a weed-slashing robot for your garden


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    U.S. President Donald Trump (C) gathers with Congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House after the House of Representatives approved the American Healthcare Act, to repeal major parts of Obamacare and replace it with the Republican healthcare plan, in Washington, U.S., May 4, 2017. - RTS157RI

    Senate Republicans released their version of a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare last week, and it, like the one passed by the House of Representatives, could have a major effect on health tech companies started in recent years.

    The Senate's plan, like the one passed by the House in May, dismantles many of the provisions of Obamacare, as well cutting funding to the Medicaid program.

    The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the plan — titled the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) — would result in 22 million fewer people insured by 2026 than the current healthcare system.

    A number of health-tech startups established their businesses under the healthcare rules and environment created by the Affordable Care Act, the law otherwise known as Obamacare. If either the Senate or the House bills pass, it could drastically affect how they operate.

    Here's what's at stake

    Oscar Center

    Healthify, a startup that works with people on Medicaid and Medicare, got its start in 2015 and now works in 30 states. The company uses technology to identify social determinants of health and works with Accountable Care Organizations (networks of doctors and hospitals that share responsibility for your healthcare) to connect patients to everything from housing and food to day care and transportation to improve overall health. ACOs are an integral part of the ACA.

    Healthify CEO Manik Bhat told Business Insider that the healthcare reform will put undue pressure on vulnerable people as well as the states to fund these programs that connect people to healthcare.

    Medicaid, which Healthify works extensively with, covers more than 74 million Americans, including low-income people, families, and kids, as well as pregnant women, people with disabilities, and the elderly. CBO estimates project cuts up to $772 billion over the next decade for the Senate bill and $880 billion for the House bill. That would leave states — which also fund the program — with fewer resources to cover those populations.

    Quartet Health is a behavioral health startup founded in 2014 that uses data to connect a patient's primary care doctors with his or her mental health professionals to identify co-occurring or related issues.

    CEO Arun Gupta, told Business Insider that the ACA helped create an environment based around the healthcare outcomes patients actually get that helped the company flourish.

    The ACA, and a predecessor piece of legislation, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, provided the foundation that the company is built on. The two laws established that health plans must provide equal benefits for mental health conditions that they do for other medical conditions.

    Both the AHCA and the BCRA provide states the opportunity to waive some of the "essential health benefits" that healthcare plans must cover, of which mental health coverage is one. However, that would only affect plans in the individual market and Medicaid, not group insurance, which is covered under the 2008 law. 

    Because of that, the GOP's healthcare efforts will likely not have a direct impact on Quartet, Gupta said, though changes to the EHBs, which would happen on state-by-state basis, would affect many of the patients that Quartet works with.

    "The train's left the station on this movement to integrate behavioral healthcare and to reconnect the body and mind and all that, but I think it'd be very sad for people," Gupta said. "They're called essential health benefits for a reason."

    Not covering preventative healthcare, according to Gupta, ends up costing patients and society as a whole a lot more in the long run. 

    The uncertainty around the national policy, Gupta added, has also led to a standstill for health insurers and providers, which leads to indecision in an already slow-moving sector when it comes to adopting new healthcare programs and technologies.

    Oscar Health, the $2.7 billion health insurance startup founded in 2012 by Jared Kushner's brother, Joshua, is perhaps the health-tech startup most directly intertwined with the ACA. It was created to sell individual market plans under Obamacare. If either the House or Senate bills become law, it could drastically upend the individual exchanges where Oscar derives most of its customers from.

    But instead of shying away, the company has been doubling down by expanding its coverage areas in the past few weeks. Alan Warren, Oscar's chief technology officer told Business Insider in June that the company's been seeing positive signals. "We’re seeing things stabilize," he said. 

    "We're confident that when the dust settles, the market for health insurance will stabilize in time for 2018," Oscar CEO Mario Schlosser said in a blog post around the same time. 

    SEE ALSO: Medicaid cuts in the Senate healthcare bill are going to hit some states hard – here's who will feel it

    DON'T MISS: Senate Republicans just released a significant change to their healthcare bill

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    Vaqso headset

    The smell of freshly baked cookies or cut grass can elicit strong memories. A Japanese startup is using that insight to try to make virtual reality an even more immersive experience.

    Tokyo based Vaqso has designed an odor emitting attachment for VR headsets. About the size and shape of a candy bar, the device has space for up to three different odors and comes with a fan that can change the intensity of the smell based on what is happening on the screen. 

    The startup raised $600,000 this week in a seed round from Japanese venture capital firm Weru Investment to continue development of the gadget, which works with Facebook's Oculus, HTC's Vive and the PlayStation VR headsets.

    The company is hoping to work with advertising, movie and games companies to tie its scent technology into their products. Using a plugin designed by the startup, developers can insert a command into their games that will instruct the Vaqso device to release a scent at certain moments in the action. If you were to karate chop through a wall while playing a Vaqso connected game, you could potentially smell the rubble.

     

    Incorporating smells into virtual experiences has a long history. In the 1950s Hans Laube pioneered Smell-O-Vision; a technique that released smells in movie theaters in time with the action. Sadly for Laube, the idea never took off, but companies have been toying with the idea for awhile. You might remember the Got Milk? bus station ad that gave off the smell of cookies that was promptly taken down after San Francisco residents made it clear they were not interested. 

    Vaqso founder Kentaro Kawaguchi has a history with selling smells. He was previously involved in Zaaz, a company that worked with incorporating scents into restaurant promotions. 

    Vaqso isn't the only organization looking to connect scent delivery with virtual reality. The Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford is studying VR's influence on perceptions of food. And projects like Birdy combine scent, touch and VR to turn users into birds (minus the feathers).

    SEE ALSO: You can now tell Amazon's Alexa to make your home smell better — here's how

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Wonder CEO Andy Kleinman

    Andy Kleinman thinks the well has run dry for smartphones.

    He’s not necessarily wrong. The phone market today is led by Apple, Samsung, a handful of Chinese companies with little Western presence — and that’s about it.

    Few companies make big profits. And the devices themselves have become commodified to the point where fans’ most passionate disputes now concern display bezels.

    Kleinman’s solution, then, is to go niche. He’s spent the past two years building a new startup called Wonder, which is aiming to build a number of devices, new phone included, aimed specifically at video game enthusiasts.

    The Los Angeles-based company has largely been working out of the public eye, but on Tuesday announced that it has raised $14 million to date. That includes a recently-closed Series A round of funding led by Grishin Robotics, a Russian VC firm focused on the Internet of Things, and TCL, a Chinese manufacturer behind select Roku TVs and various smartphones. Kleinman says the latter will help Wonder with manufacturing and distribution.

    In a press release, Wonder says its first product will be “a new type of portable hardware device that might be considered a hybrid between a powerful smartphone and a gaming console.”

    Kleinman declined to share more specifics in an interview with Business Insider, but a source familiar with the company’s plans described the product as a large, high-end mobile device that will work with a number of accessories aimed at making it more useful for gaming. That will include a dock for use with TVs, the source said, which helps the device function somewhat like Nintendo’s Switch console. All of this is based on Android.

    Kleinman has previously said the company is interested in virtual reality tech as well.

    There is plenty of reason to be skeptical of a project like this. But Kleinman and Wonder do have some relevant experience: Kleinman has previously had stints at mobile game makers Scopely and Zynga, while a LinkedIn search shows veterans from HTC, Activision, Sony, and former Android modder Cyanogen holding prominent positions at the company.

    Kleinman says there’s at least 50 people working directly on the project today, but that the company is actively growing. Investors in Wonder are similarly diverse, ranging from Silicon Valley types like Joe Lonsdale’s 8VC firm to Atari founder Nolan Bushnell to entertainers like Kevin Spacey and Shakira.

    Reasons to doubt

    In any case, starting from scratch in a saturated smartphone market is extremely difficult. Making a mobile device aimed at gamers may be even harder.

    Wonder startupKleinman speaks frequently about how Wonder will focus heavily on the community of enthusiasts it wants to build, but it’s not obvious that the game-playing public wants gaming devices not made by Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo in the first place. Multifunction gaming devices like the Nokia N-Gage and Sony Xperia Play have bombed spectacularly, as have alternative consoles like the Ouya. (Former Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman says she is currently an advisor to Wonder.) These are not names you want your stuff to evoke. 

    If Wonder does manage to find demand, then the challenge, as always with video games, becomes software. Android-based gaming devices like the Nvidia Shield have carved out some niche, but generally offer a lesser selection of games than a console like the PlayStation 4. They also live in a market far away from the iPhone.

    Wonder, for its part, is promising “exclusive software, services, and content,” and Kleinman says the company is meeting with “big, small, and medium” gaming companies to make that happen.

    The results of that will have to be more involved than Scopely’s brand of casual games, however, for Wonder to have any chance with the hardcore crowd Kleinman is targeting.

    Not for everybody

    For now, it's not clear what Wonder's device even looks like — or where it will be sold — so there's still plenty of room for speculation. But Kleinman’s belief that future smartphones have to be significantly differentiated to survive is sensible.

    “If you think about cars, for example, it started as a basic method of transportation, and over the years it started becoming more about — there are different sizes, there are different colors, there are different levels of luxury, different speeds," Kleinman said. "People started to get whatever they identified with the best.

    "And so I think we’re here. If there’s going to be four billion people with a smartphone in the next couple of years, it doesn’t make sense that everyone has something that looks exactly the same. It makes sense that people have experiences more unique to who they are.”

    Andy Rubin Essential PhoneWonder’s plan to cater to its niche exclusively is what Kleinman thinks will separate it from other new hardware startups like Andy Rubin’s Essential, which unveiled a new Android phone last month.

    “I've never said, ‘Okay, Wonder is going to go straight up and compete with Apple, or Samsung, or Google in the same place.’ It’s not the same thing. We’re focused on something specific,” Kleinman said.

    Kleinman says the company has started production, and that it’ll slowly reveal details about the device to those who sign up for an "Alpha program" on its website. A full reveal will then come before the end of the year.

    Whether the result will be something appealing enough to attract the enthusiasts Kleinman wants — and whether enough people even want to trade their iPhones for a different device at all — is an open question.

    SEE ALSO: Sony made an $800 phone with extravagant features you won't find in any iPhone or Galaxy phone — here's what it's like

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    Teens TextingKen Smith and Dr. Matthew Phillips were standing on the sidelines of their 16-year-old sons' lacrosse game when they both noticed the same thing — every one of the teens in the stands was looking down at their phones instead of at the action in front of them.

    The moment made clear to both of them just how addicted kids were to their phones. And it served as a kind of inspiration for SocialJudo, a smartphone monitoring app the duo created and recently launched.

    Both Smith and Philips had both heard the horror stories about teens and their smartphones. From the moment kids receive their first phones, they face threats including cyberbullying, distracted driving, and sexual predators.

    The two dad had each separately looked at the options for monitoring their teens' smartphones, but neither was impressed. The typical monitoring methods and apps involved breaking into teens' phones and going through all their data. Neither Smith nor Philips wanted to spy on his kid; each thought that looking at his kid's texts was akin to rummaging through his bedroom drawers. 

    So they set out to create an alternative and sketched out what they as fathers wanted from a smartphone monitoring app. The result is SocialJudo, an app parents install on their kids' phones.

    The app logs kids' texts and calls, and allows their parents to monitor their activity on social apps like Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. Parents can also configure SocialJudo to alert them when it sees certain phrases or their their kids access particular websites. 

    The app was launched June 1 and has over 200 families using it.  

    SocialJudo recognizes some 50,000 slang terms for different behaviors like pot smoking or sex. Parents can set the app to send them alerts whenever their child receives or sends a text with one of the flagged terms. Parents can then view the texts in the SocialJudo app on their phones. 

    The app also allows parents to track their kid's location and to set up geofences that alert them when their kid goes into an area they’ve labeled off limits.

    Before SocialJudo, neither Smith nor Phillips had ever developed an app. Philips is a brain surgeon, and Smith works with RFID technology in cars.

    “It’s felt like the biggest, longest, fastest roller coaster ride without a seatbelt,” said Phillips of the journey so far.

    While other startups grow with an eye on the bottom line, Smith and Phillips are trying to stay focused on the needs of parents. 

    Both of their sons got a driving permit recently and each quickly started asking to borrow a car. That got Phillips and Smith thinking about adding new capabilities to SocialJudo. They now have in development a texting-and-driving feature that will automatically mute all calls (except for the ones from Mom and Dad, of course) and send an auto reply to any incoming text messages.

    SEE ALSO: New research suggests smartphones might actually be making you dumber

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    Function of Beauty

    Function of Beauty is a young startup trying to tackle an age-old problem: getting better hair. 

    The New York-based startup, which launched last October, lets you create custom shampoos and conditioners based on your hair type and goals. If you want smooth, shiny hair, for instance, you can let the company know and they'll build a concoction that fights frizz. 

    Function of Beauty is less than a year old, but it's already seen massive success: The company went through Y Combinator, raised a total of $12 million — including a $9.5 million Series A in March — and is already generating revenue, according to founder and CEO Zahir Dossa (although Dossa declined to disclose monthly revenue).

    Plus, Function of Beauty is valued at a whopping $110 million, according to a person familiar with the company. 

    12 billion combinations

    The idea for creating bespoke hair products was the result of Dossa's studies at MIT. While working on his dissertation, which focused on value chain optimization and ecommerce, Dossa began studying different industries. 

    "I saw that was the most bloated [industry] was beauty, and more interestingly, the value chain for beauty hadn't really changed over the last 100 years," Dossa told Business Insider. "There were all these middlemen in the way."

    Dossa decided to build a direct-to-consumer company that focused specifically on hair care. Shampoos and conditioners were the most varied because of different hair types and hair goals, he learned, which meant endless customization. 

    Well, not quite endless — Function of Beauty can create 12 billion different combinations of ingredients.

    Function of Beauty

    Here's how it works:

    • You start by taking a quiz on Function of Beauty's website about your hair. By doing this, you're building your Hair Profile, which the company saves so you can easily reorder more products.
    • You'll answer questions about your hair type, hair structure, and scalp moisture.
    • Next, you'll select five "hair goals," like volumize, deep condition, or lengthen.
    • Then, you'll pick which color and scent you'd like the shampoo and conditioner to be, along with the fragrance strength.

    After that, Function of Beauty will build your custom formula using its algorithm.

    Function of Beauty"If we know what a person's hair profile is and how they’d like their hair to behave or look or feel, then basically we can combine those two data points to be able to come up with a unique base for each person based on their profile, and then various performance blends that we can add that appeal to each hair goal that they fill out," Dossa said. "And then they are other various ways to personalize it, like the fragrance or the color."

    Once the set is delivered to a customer, they can test it out. If it doesn't work for their hair, they can send it back and a new formula will be created, free of charge.

    Function of Beauty also has a subscription service, so you can have new products delivered without having to manually reorder or shop in a store. 

    Still, the company is considering how traditional retail ties into its future plans. 

    "The question is, how do we balance our fast online growth, which we’re still struggling to keep up with, with also having a retail presence?" Dossa said. "Originally, [a retail space] was slotted for a summer launch, but we might end up doing an exclusive showroom for our more fervent customers, those who really want to see how their sets are being made."

    SEE ALSO: In less than 10 minutes, this powerful $400 hair dryer gave me the best hair of my life

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