SirionLabs raises $44M to scale its contract management software

SirionLabs, a startup that provides vendor management software to enterprises, has raised $44 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand and handle surge in demand from clients.

Tiger Global and Avatar Growth Capital led the Seattle-headquartered startup’s Series C round. The eight-year-old startup, which was founded in India, has raised $66 million to date. The new round values the startup at about $250 million.

Enterprises broadly handle two kinds of contracts, one when they are buying things from a supplier for which they use a procurement contract, and the other when they are selling things to customers, when a sales contract comes into play.

A significant number of companies today handle these contracts manually with different teams within an organization often dealing with the same entity, which leads to discrepancies in their promises. Teams work in silos and often don’t know the terms others in the organization have already agreed upon.

That’s where SirionLabs comes into the picture. “We use artificial intelligence and natural language processing to connect the dots between contracts and what happens after the contract has been signed,” explained Ajay Agrawal, cofounder, chairman and chief executive of the startup, in an interview with TechCrunch.

“For us, it’s not just creating a contract, but also realizing the promises that have been made in those contracts,” he said. SirionLabs also audits the invoice of suppliers, which has enabled its customers to save a significant amount of money.

SirionLabs today hosts contracts in over 40 languages for more than 200 of the world’s largest companies including Credit Suisse, Vodafone, EY, Unilever, Abbvie, BP, and Fujitsu.

Agrawal said the startup has seen a 4X growth in the number of customers it has signed up in the last 18 months. Part of the new capital would go into handling their demand. He said the coronavirus crises has resulted in many companies becoming more cautious about what they promise in their contracts.

The startup, which just opened a technology center in Seattle, also plans to open an AI laboratory in the Washington state to fuel technology innovation and grow sales.

It has also hired several industry veterans including the appointment of Amol Joshi as chief revenue officer, Anu Engineer as chief technology officer, Mahesh Unnikrishnan as chief product officer, and Vijay Khera, who will serve as chief customer officer.

Vishal Bakshi, founder and managing partner at Avatar Growth Capital, said he expects SirionLabs to “capture massive network effects as the platform continues to scale.”

What top VCs look for in women’s fertility startups

A number of promising women’s health tech companies have popped up in the last few years, from fertility apps to ovulation bracelets — even Apple has jumped into the subject with the addition of period tracking built into the latest edition of the watch. But there hasn’t been much in the way of innovation in women’s sexual health for decades.

In-vitro fertilization (IVF) is now a 40-year-old invention and even the top pharmaceutical companies have spent a pittance on research and development. Subjects like polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis and menopause have taken a backseat to other, more fatal concerns. Fertility is itself oftentimes a mysterious black box as well, though a full 10% of the female population in the United States has difficulty getting or staying pregnant.

That’s all starting to change as startups are now bringing in millions in venture capital to gather and treat women’s health. While it’s early days (no unicorns just yet) interest in the subject has been jumping steadily higher each year.

To shine a better light on the importance of tech’s role in spurring more innovation for women’s fertility, we asked five VCs passionate about the space for their investment strategies, including Sarah Cone (Social Impact Capital), Vanessa Larco (NEA), Anu Duggal (Female Founders Fund), Jess Lee (Sequoia) and Nancy Brown (Oak HC/FT).

Sarah Cone, Social Impact Capital

Sarah Cone, Social Impact Capital

We’re interested in companies that create large data sets in women’s health and fertility, enabling personalized medicine, clinical trial virtualization, better patient outcomes, and the application of modern AI/ML techniques to generate hypotheses that discover new targets and molecules.

Lack of transparency in healthcare startups risks another Theranos implosion

Are more Theranos -style scandals looming for investors in healthcare startups?

A team of researchers associated with the Meta Research Innovation Center at Stanford thinks so. They’ve  published a paper warning investors in life sciences startups that a systemic lack of transparency exists in their portfolio companies — creating the possibility for more multi-billion dollar implosions and scandals like the one that toppled Theranos and its charismatic founder, Elizabeth Holmes.

Indeed, one of the study’s authors, Dr. John Ioannidis, the co-director of the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford and director of the University’s PhD program in Epidemiology and Clinical Research, was  among the first people to identify the risks associated with Theranos and its “stealth research”.

Now Dr. Ioannidis and his co-authors, Ioana A. Cristea and Eli M. Cahan have published a study surveying the publicly available research from the largest privately held companies in the healthcare space, and found them lacking. 

Most of the highest valued startups in healthcare have not published any significant scientific literature, the study found. Nearly half of the publications from companies worth over $1 billion came from only two startups — 23andMe and Adaptive Biotechnologies, according to the paper.

“Many years ago I was the first person to say that Theranos had a problem,” says Ioannidis. “The problem that I had then was that Theranos did not have any peer-reviewed evidence to show.”

In an interview and in their paper, Ioannidis and Cahan warn that investors have overlooked systemic problems created by the lack of transparency among healthcare startups by

They write:

“It would be tempting to dismiss the Theranos case as just one rotten apple. However, we worry that the focus on fraud puts aside a more fundamental concern. Fraud is making waves in the news, but stealth research may have a more detrimental impact.”

According to the study’s findings, more than half of the healthcare startups that are worth more than $1 billion have published no highly cited papers at all. For companies that were acquired or are publicly traded that number is around 40%.

In all, healthcare startups that are currently valued at over $1 billion published 425 Pubmed papers. And of those papers only 34 (8%, including 2 reviews) were highly cited. For companies with valuations of over $1 billion who had been acquired or are publicly traded on stock exchanges, the researchers counted 413 papers, of which 47 (11%, including 9 reviews) were highly-cited.

Digging deeper into some of the companies which had high valuations but little or no published research revealed scores of operational and technological issues for the researchers.

For instance, StemCentrx, which was bought for $10.2 billion in 2016 by AbbVie, had published 16 papers — and only one highly-cited paper. Since the acquisition, the Food and Drug Administration had imposed a delay on the readout of the company’s phase II trial for its Rova T targeted antibody drug for cancer treatment. In December a Phase III trial for Rova T as a second-line treatment for patients with advanced small cell lung cancer was halted, because the treatment wasn’t working, according to a report in Targeted Oncology

Acerta Pharma, another healthcare focused startup focused on cancer treatments was bought by AstraZeneca for $7.3 billion. That company published nine articles and had one highly-cited paper for a very early study of a potential treatment for relapsed chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Acerta received accelerated approval for a drug called acalabrutinib, which treats a rare form of lymphoma called mantle cell lymphoma. Two years ago, AstraZeneca had to retract data and admit that Acerta falsified preclinical data for its drug.

Then there’s Intarcia, the developer of a device for diabetes treatment that’s worth $5.5 billion. That company had its device rejected by the FDA and was forced to lay off staff and halt a couple of later stage trials. It had only published six papers — none of them very highly cited.

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that highly valued healthcare startups don’t contribute to published research and that the valuation of these companies by investors is divorced from any externally validated data.

For the researchers (and for investors) this should presents a problem.

“Many unicorns may be overvalued [21] and subject to unrealistic scientific expectations,” the study’s authors write. And they reject the argument that simply applying for — and receiving — patents is enough to prove that a technology in the healthcare space has been thoroughly vetted. “[Patents] do not offer the same level of documentation as peer-reviewed articles. For example, Theranos had over 100 patents [1], but these were unable to supplant the vacuum in their evidence,” the researchers wrote. 

Even if companies want to protect their technology, there are still ways for them to be more transparent about the results or benefits of their technology. The authors acknowledge that publishing isn’t the primary mission of startups. They can, however publish a few high-value articles, secure their technology through patents and then work with researchers, universities or hospitals to validate the technology and have those organizations publish results of the tests, the authors argue.

As the authors conclude:

Start-ups are key purveyors of innovation and disruption. Consequently, holding them to a minimal standard of evaluation from the scientific community is crucial. Participation in peer review, with all its limitations, is the best way we have to uphold this standard. We are not arguing that start-ups should divert excessive resources to having peer-reviewed papers. However, when their products are destined to affect patient health, they should neither be solely doing marketing. Confidential data sharing with potential investors or regulators cannot replace more open scrutiny by the scientific community.