Lantum, a platform to manage healthcare staffing, gets a $15M injection

Of the many labor issues that arose during the Covid-19 pandemic, one major focus was on healthcare workers, and specifically the challenge of staffing medical environments at a critical moment, during a public health crisis. Today, a healthcare staffing management platform called Lantum is announcing $15 million in funding, underscoring both how it came into its own over the last two years, and the business it has in its pipeline going forward.

Finch Capital led the round, with Piton Capital, Samos, and strategic backer Cedars-Sinai Hospital also participating.

Lantum is based out of London and works extensively with the UK’s National Health Service: 20 out of the NHS’s 40 integrated care systems, covering thousands of healthcare service providers, have already signed up to manage staffing through Lantum’s platform, with a bulk of that business inked since the pandemic. In the last 12 months, the startup said that booking volumes more than doubled, onboarding 14,000 additional clinicians.

Lantum’s sweet spot is to make it easier for healthcare organizations to break down silos and make it easier to move staff around as and when its needed most in operations that are adjacent to each other.

“The NHS recognized that the way to conquer its workforce crisis was by sharing each organization’s workforce with one another,” Lantum’s CEO and founder Melissa Morris (pictured, right) said in an interview.

She said she first became aware of the issue when she was doing consultancy work for the NHS to try to address this issue. “I saw how chaotic workforce management was,” she recalled, finding that a whopping 70% of the entire system’s budget was going towards staffing and workforce costs. “Why would you not focus on that?”

Lantum’s platform enables care centers — be they vaccination or specialist clinics, hospital departments, GP surgeries (local family doctors’ offices), telehealth centers, or something else — list what help they need and when. It then allows qualified contract, permanent, and temporary, paid and unpaid NHS workers who are open to taking those shifts find them based on skillsets, location and time, and sign up for them, and then eventually get paid for their work.

In doing this, Lantum also effectively creates a comprehensive database of active and less active individuals, and what they are able to do in terms of their skills and availability, so that an organization can get a better picture of who is potentially available and where they might need to work on staffing and skilling up.

The approach seems simple enough, and frankly not unlike any other staffing platform on the surface. The difference here, Morris said, is that Lantum is purpose-built for the specificities of staffing in a healthcare system. More general purpose platforms are not able to onboard new people and verify qualifications, and then run a system that only enables those people to connect with jobs they are capable of doing, not those that they cannot. And those general-purpose tools do not cater to the needs of the healthcare centers — the employers — to a have an interface that makes it easy to create and list jobs that target those people.

Covid-19 put front-line healthcare workers center-stage in a critical way because they were collectively, by virtue of their jobs, perhaps the group most exposed to those with infections. So being able to at least better organize who worked when and where, and how to make that as efficient as possible, became especially important.

I should point out that I experienced Lantum’s usefulness first-hand. When the U.K.’s vaccination campaign first kicked off, I was one of the more than 540,000 people in the country who have to-date volunteered their time to help with the effort.

At first, the call-outs for volunteers with specific skills were chaotic and haphazard. I was an “admin” who was trained to look up, update, and find and flag problems in individuals’ health records when they came in for their shots; others were trained to give vaccines; others were “stewards” who helped usher people through the process.

All of us would have found out volunteering likely through word-of-mouth or by going to get our own vaccines. We’d email a person and get added to a mailing list. Then, usually the night before or maybe a day before, we would get an email with the call-out for help.

The people running the volunteers were usually very overworked nurses and other professionals who were themselves usually giving up free time to volunteer above their normal workdays. Often, it never felt like any single person’s dedicated job to just stay on top of it all.

Even with what were regular vaccine days each week, it was hard to know if you’d be called in, or for them to know who they might need to help, until the very last minute. I wondered many times why the nurses corralling volunteers in my local network of four clinics didn’t at least use a spreadsheet to try to get people to sign up in advance. Then suddenly Lantum appeared, and things got a lot easier.

The Cedars-Sinai investment and relationship — which are important not just because of the profile of that hospital, but because it’s Lantum’s first big foray in U.S. market and the U.S. health system — has been several years in the making, Morris said.

“We first started working with Cedars-Sinai in LA started before the pandemic, but then we had to put that on hold,” she said. Now it’s providing scheduling for the hospital’s ICU staff. “It’s eye opening how similar the problems are in the U.S. even though the system is so different from the U.K.’s,” she said. Many people were indeed using pen, paper and excel spreadsheets, she said, a poor substitute for a smart system that worked end to end, from the creation of the job, through to finding suitable candidates, having them sign up and finally paying them.

A part of the funding will be used to continue staffing up Lantum and developing tools for its UK customers, but another part will be going towards the U.S. expansion. Morris described Cedars-Sinai as a “beachhead” for the latter strategy. It may also involve raising more money in this round after Lantum got significant interest from other investors as it raised this $15 million.

“Lantum has had a momentous year. Their staff count has doubled in the last year alone, as they work to help those on the frontline of this pandemic,” said Aman Ghei, a partner at Finch Capital, in a statement. “Digital transformation must be at the forefront of the NHS [and] Lantum is well-positioned to continue to deliver solutions that do better by the NHS, for its staff and for its patients.”

Shift5 raises $50M to defend transport networks from cyberattacks

You might not think much about the train or the airplane that gets you from one place to another, but behind any transportation link is a vast sprawling network of electronics, devices, and data that keep trains on the tracks and planes in the sky.

Companies like Shift5, which today announced $50 million in Series B funding, are trying to defend those very same systems critical to transportation networks today, an area that Shift5 says is underserved but rapidly growing.

Transportation networks rely on operational technology (OT) systems, like on-board components, which are critical to the functioning of trains, aircraft and even military equipment like tanks, but are becoming more prone to cyberattacks because these once-isolated systems are increasingly added to internet-facing networks.

While attacks on OT networks are rare, OT system failures can lead to millions of dollars in losses, downtime, or even create safety risks when things go wrong. The U.S. government’s cybersecurity agency CISA has warned of a growing threat to critical infrastructure.

But OT systems are often unique to their application, and stripping out components from a tank, for example, to test for security vulnerabilities is not practical, nor are tanks readily easy to acquire.

Shift5 tries to solve this by giving transportation companies and leaders visibility into their OT networks, which helps to reduce their overall attack surface. This visibility aims to help detect threats and defend systems from internet-based attacks.

That effort seems to be paying off. Shift5’s latest round of funding lands just a few months after its $20 million Series A raise, buoyed by several million-dollar deals last year during which the company doubled its headcount. The Series B round was led by Insight Partners, which saw senior advisor Nick Sinai join Shift5’s board.

Shift5 said the round will go towards investing in talent to keep up with its demand, and ramping up its product development.

“This cat and mouse game is bleeding into critical infrastructure, and defenders must extend their purview to encompass operational technology. If the past year has proven anything, it’s that the leading defenders in rail, aviation, and national defense see the prescient risks and are mobilizing to get ahead of costly damages,” said Joe Lea, Shift5’s president.

Amazon brings Alexa to hospitals and senior living centers

After already targeting verticals like hotels and apartment complexes, Amazon announced today it’s now rolling out new solutions for healthcare providers and senior living centers. The solutions, which are a part of Alexa Smart Properties, are designed specifically to meet the needs of deploying Alexa devices at scale and will allow the facility’s administrators to create customized experiences for their residents or patients.

In senior living centers, the residents would be able to use Alexa devices to call their family members and other loved ones, as well as keep up with the goings-on at their community and other community news. The devices could also be used to make announcements, allow the residents to communicate with each other through direct audio messages, make voice and video calls, and they can streamline other center activities — like check-ins, maintenance requests, and various administrative tasks. Amazon believes this could help make facilities more efficient and productive.

Amazon says senior living communities include Atria and Eskaton will integrate with its new solution.

The market for using Alexa in senior living communities was already being explored by third-party providers, like K4Connect, which last year closed on $21 million in Series B funding to bring newer technologies, including Alexa’s voice assistance, to older adults and those living with disabilities. Companies like K4Connect and others, including Lifeline Senior Living, Aiva, and Vocera, can now tap into Alexa Smart Properties’ tools and APIs to make it easier for them to roll out their own, customized solutions and software.

Image Credits: Amazon

Meanwhile, Amazon had already piloted putting Alexa in patient rooms in a test with Cedars-Sinai, which allowed patients to use voice commands for performing basic tasks, like changing TV channels, as well as communicating with caregivers. The idea was that, by offloading some of the everyday tasks to Alexa, it could free up nurses to focus more on medical care.

With Amazon’s new solution for hospitals, patients will be able to use Alexa to communicate with care staff, control the devices in their room, and stay entertained with news and music. Healthcare providers can also communicate with their patients using Alexa features like calling and Drop-In, without having to enter the patient rooms. This could also help hospitals be more productive and conserve their medical supplies and protective equipment like gloves, masks, and gowns, notes Amazon. (PPE shortages had been an ongoing issue in some locations as Covid spiked during the pandemic.)

Cedars-Sinai is among those officially rolling out the Alexa Smart Properties solution, following its pilot program, and is joined by BayCare and Houston Methodist, Amazon says.

“Voice is intuitive for patients, regardless of age or tech-savviness,” said Peachy Hain, executive director of Medical and Surgical Services at Cedars-Sinai, in a statement. “Since it’s so easy to operate, patients can use Alexa to connect with their care team and stay entertained as soon as they settle in, while care providers can streamline tasks to make more time to care for those patients. It’s a total gamechanger for enhancing our hospital experience,” Hain added.

Though Amazon has struggled with privacy issues related to its use of voice recordings and transcriptions, the healthcare and senior living center solutions will not save the voice recordings and don’t require users to share personal info with Alexa to use the device, the company explains. Users can also mute the Echo’s microphone at any time with the button on top. Amazon also claims it safeguards protected health information received through HIPAA-eligible Alexa skill interactions.

Amazon has been working to bring Alexa to healthcare facilities for some time. A report in 2018 by CNBC had said the company was building out a healthcare team with Alexa in order to make the voice assistant useful in the industry. This included working through the complex HIPAA regulations that would be required to do so. The following year, Amazon announced its first HIPAA-compliant medical skills and began piloting its devices in hospitals. Elsewhere across Amazon, the company has invested in healthcare solutions in other ways, including through solutions like Amazon Comprehend Medical, a machine learning tool that gathers information from things like doctors’ notes and patient health records, and acquisitions like online pharmacy PillPack.

Both of the new Alexa Smart Properties solutions will roll out in the U.S. starting next month, Amazon says.

Techstars Los Angeles names Matt Kozlov as its new managing director

Techstars Los Angeles, the local Los Angeles-focused branch of the global accelerator network, has named Matt Kozlov as its new managing director.

Kozlov, a longtime Techstars network fixture, has previously served as the head of the organization’s healthcare accelerator through a partnership with Cedars-Sinai and as the head of the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator, which was focused on space and aerospace startups.

Now, Kozlov turns his attention to the Los Angeles ecosystem broadly.

“I’m humbled to have the opportunity each day to support incredible founders who are solving some of humanity’s greatest challenges,” said Kozlov, in a statement. “As I begin this new role, my goal is to continue to leverage my experience to help generate opportunities for future Techstars LA companies to make meaningful, long-term impact.”

Kozlov’s appointment comes as the Los Angeles tech ecosystem is having something of a moment. As the diaspora out of Silicon Valley continues, the Southern California tech world has proven to be a tempting landing pad during the COVID-19 pandemic. And remote work means that Los Angeles could be a fixture for more investors looking to escape the Bay.

Beyond Southern California’s coastal appeal is a vibrant technology ecosystem that encompasses enterprise software, financial services, healthcare, aerospace and defense, robotics, ecommerce and social media. It’s the home of social networking favorites Snap and TikTok’s U.S. base of operations and SpaceX’s significant presence has born a number of talented hardware and engineering startups.

LA is truly having a moment and Kozlov’s experience with some of the less-well-known corners of the city’s tech ecosystem could be a boon for the Techstars program.

“I’m thrilled by the selection of Matt as the new Managing Director for Techstars LA,” said Anna Barber, former Managing Director, Techstars LA, who stepped down from the role in November to join venture firm M13 as Partner, in a statement. “He is a talented investor and longstanding leader in LA’s Techstars community, and has been an essential and valued mentor for the program for the past four years. He embodies the Techstars values of #givefirst and I have every confidence that he is the right leader to continue building on what we’ve established in the LA community.”

Collectively, the 40 alumni companies who have participated in Techstars Los Angeles accelerator program have raised over $126 million and have a combined market cap of $328.6 million.

“Techstars LA plays a critical role in the Los Angeles tech ecosystem as the premier startup accelerator, providing valuable mentorship and funding for dozens of companies a year,” said Spencer Rascoff, Chair of dot.LA and Los Angeles angel investor. “I’m very excited that Matt will be the new Managing Director of Techstars LA. He brings extensive experience in healthcare and aerospace investing and has been an incredible mentor and leader to the companies of the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator over the last several years.”


Ford, 3M, GE and the UAW to build respirators, ventilators and faceshields for coronavirus fight

Ford announced the details of its current manufacturing efforts around building much-needed medical supplies for front-line healthcare workers and COVID-19 patients on Tuesday. Its efforts include building Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) with partner 3M, including a new design that employs existing parts from both partners to deliver effectiveness and highly-scalable production capacity.

Ford says that it’s also going to be building face shields, leaning on its 3D printing capabilities, with an anticipated production rate of over 100,000 units per week. These are key pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) used by frontline healthcare staff to protect them against virus-containing droplets that are spread by patients through coughing and sneezing in clinical settings. The company has designed a new face shield, which will be tested with the first 1,000 units this week at Detroit Mercy, Henry Ford Health Systems and Detroit Medical Center Sinai-Grace Hospitals in Michigan to evaluate their efficacy. Provided they perform as planned, Ford anticipates scaling to building 75,000 by end of week, with 100,000 able to be made in one of the company’s Plymouth, MI production facilities each week thereafter.

The automaker is also going to be working with GE on expanding production capacity for GE Healthcare’s ventilator, with a simplified design that should allow for higher volume production. That’s part of a response to a U.S. government request for more units to support healthcare needs, the company said. On top of its U.S.-focused ventilator project with GE, Ford is also working on a separate effort to spin up ventilator production targeting the UK based on a request for aid from that country’s government, and it’s also shipping back 165,000 N95 respirator masks that were sent by the company from the U.S. to China earlier this year, since the need for that equipment is now greater back in the U.S., the company said, and China’s situation continues to improve.

Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted that U.S. automakers, including Ford, GM and Tesla had received the “go ahead” to make “ventilators and other metal products, fast.”

“We have had preliminary discussions with the U.S. and U.K. governments and looking into the feasibility,” Ford spokesperson Rachel McCleery said at the time in a statement to TechCrunch . “It’s vital that we all pull together to help the country weather this crisis and come out the other side stronger than ever.”

Based on this update, it seems like Ford did indeed move quickly to take stock of where it could contribute, and in what capacity. The company will be looking at using both its own and partner facilities to produce this much-needed medical equipment, it said on Tuesday during a press conference call about the announcement, and it’ll also be leveraging existing parts and equipment to speed production capabilities and capacity.

The PAPRs that Ford is building, for instance, will use off-the-shelf components from the automaker’s F-150 truck’s cooled seating, as well as 3M’s existing HEPA filters. These respirators could potentially offer significant advantages in use compared to N95s, since they are battery-powered and can filter airborne virus particles for up to eight hours on a single, swappable standard power tool battery pack worn at the waist. Asked about production timelines and capacity, 3M Global Technical Director Mike Kesti said that they’re still working that out, with a focus on how Ford can supplement existing PAPR production before moving into producing their new version.

“[Ford is] helping us expand the capacity of our existing units,” Kesti said. “So impact will be over the next days and weeks to just increase capacity of our existing [PAPR]. But we’re also working closely together with them the leverage components both from Ford, that they have available, and 3M, particularly our filters that meet the NIOSH [National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health] regulatory requirements, and trying to integrate that into a modified design that will meet the NIOSH regulation performance requirements, and scale it up as as quickly as possible.”

Ford is also assisting 3M with ramping production of its existing N95 respiratory masks, Kesti said.

Ford and GE don’t yet have a timeline, or estimates of production capacity for the new types of ventilators they’re working on either, but the team is “working feverishly to get to the release point,” according to GE Healthcare VP and Chief Quality Officer Tom Westrick.

“We don’t have specific timelines and numbers related to the to the design and the release of the new ventilators,” he said. “Although, obviously this is of utmost importance to both us and Ford.”

YC grad SINAI helps companies understand their emissions in a bid to fight climate change

The first step to combating climate change for businesses is for them to understand their contributions to it. That’s where the new Y Combinator graduate, SINAI Technologies, comes in.

Founded by Maria Fujihara, a 16-year veteran of the sustainability industry whose previous work had been around the technical adaptation of LEED certification tools, SINAI is the culmination of her years of working to adapt certification tools to international markets and five years spent researching carbon emissions profiles — most recently at Singularity University .

“When I started the company, I started to do carbon offsets,” Fujihara said. “For the past three years companies and governments have been calculating their carbon emissions and they know their carbon footprint and they know their carbon inventory and they’ve been using their carbon inventory to buy carbon credits.”

The market is mature enough for more companies to get involved, she said. “Emissions have only increased in the past six years and not decreased at all,” said Fujihara. “We’re not thinking of mitigation solutions.”

Companies have been focusing on understanding their measurements, but not identifying how to mitigate those emissions through different policies — or even what areas of the business to target, Fujihara said.

“Once we understand their business as user scenarios we can reduce emissions in their value chain,” she said.

The SINAI service automates different reporting and data around emissions for companies to monitor in an easy format. “It’s kind of like doing financial analysis, but doing the environmental analysis in addition,” said Fujihara. “We allow them to do this year-by-year, if not quarter-by-quarter.”

Right now the company is focused on five industries: manufacturing, transportation, apparel and retail, food and beverage and real estate. 

“The building blocks of a carbon journey are: create carbon emissions inventories (footprint), build a low-carbon scenario by selecting options that will reduce emissions, set up a carbon reduction target (science-based or not), calculate their carbon budget, analyze potential carbon taxes, define an optimal carbon price and finally, do external scenario analysis (based on national or international policies compliance),” the company said in a statement. 

Joining Fujihara is Alain Rodriguez, one of the first 20 engineers at Uber who is now focused on the climate issue.

“Basically, we combine climate finance methodologies, to manage emissions reductions and costs related to the implementation of low-carbon technologies (ultimately, this is what a carbon price means for a company). Our inter-dependent modules allow us to onboard companies at any moment of their carbon journey and provide value on every single step,” SINAI said in a statement.