Nigeria’s Helium Health acquires Qatar’s Meddy in rare Africa-GCC deal

Nigeria-based health tech startup Helium Health has acquired Meddy, a Qatar- and UAE-based doctor booking platform for an undisclosed amount.

The acquisition, termed “a great deal” by Helium Health CEO Adegoke Olubusi on a call, is unusual in the sense that it overlaps two regions that rarely do in tech: Africa and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Meddy CEO Haris Aghadi and COO Abed Alkarim Khattab will join Helium’s leadership team as part of the deal. They will “play integral roles in Helium’s execution of its GCC strategy and operations.”

Helium Health’s acquisition of Meddy is a major expansion play. The company, founded by Olubisi, Dimeji Sofowora and Tito Ovia in 2016, is well-known for its core electronic medical records (EMR) and hospital management solutions in Africa. But it has since evolved to offer other services under its platform, including HeliumPay, a billing and payments solution; a collateral-free loan product, HeliumCredit; patient-provider and revenue cycle management service HeliumDoc; and data analytics services.

With a presence in six African countries — Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Liberia, Kenya and Uganda — Helium Health has signed more than 500 healthcare facilities. Over 7,000 medical professionals from these facilities now provide care to more than 300,000 patients monthly.

Typically, an enterprise client needs various services on one platform — from electronic medical record and management information systems to revenue cycle management, consolidated analytics and telemedicine services.

However, most platforms in the GCC have use cases that are more vertical than horizontal. For instance, Vezeeta and Okadoc help users book appointments, access teleconsultation services and order medications; Bayzat offers an online platform for HR administration, payroll management and health insurance; and Clinicy runs a digital healthcare management system. So, for enterprise clients to get a holistic EMR experience, they will need to stack these different products on top of each other.

Though Helium Health has a wide range of B2B offerings, it lacks in these other areas especially in telemedicine and appointment bookings, which are more consumer-facing products. The company could have built out these services but acquiring Meddy presented a better option due its expansion play. Apart from providing a doctor booking platform and telemedicine product to manage bookings and patient reviews, Meddy offers marketing solutions for hospitals to improve their online presence and attract new patients.

Helium Health

With Meddy, the Y Combinator and Tencent-backed company can now cover a broader range of services health groups need. Meddy will merge with Helium Health’s patient-provider and revenue cycle management platform under the name Helium Doc.

“You don’t have a lot of people who can provide a suite like ours in the GCC. If they do, they’re doing it at a price point that’s so high that they’ve already priced out the market in that sense,” Olubusi said to TechCrunch.

“But we can provide a full suite where you can do your appointments booking, marketing solution, EMR, hospital management information system, and have everything in a one-stop shop. It saves you a lot of stress in the process from trying to consolidate many different systems.”

Aghadi adds that the partnership gives interoperability to its clients, an absent feature in other EMRs and siloed individual platforms.

Many legacy and new products do not have open APIs and that makes it difficult for data to move between them. Healthcare providers feel the brunt of this missing interoperability when they use such platforms to make uninformed health decisions.

“Interoperability is a very big challenge in the region, and having this one-stop place like ours solves that,” Aghadi remarked.

While two obvious factors — exploiting what other healthcare platforms lack and taking advantage of a growing opportunity in the GCC region (where investment in digital infrastructure will account for 30% of healthcare investment between 2023 to 2030) — drove this acquisition and partnership, there is a third, more subtle factor Olubisi and Aghadi point out: the teams.

According to both founders, the Helium Health and Meddy teams are identical in operations, technology execution, culture and market price points. These similarities made it easy for both companies to sign off the deal in less than four months.

“Beyond the actual product and market opportunity, what made this possible was really the composition of the team, how well they executed the fact that they share a DNA and culture that’s very similar to ours,” said Olubusi.

Meddy currently serves more than 150 private clients within the UAE and Qatar. The company, backed with just $1.8 million in VC funding, has facilitated over 200,000 doctor appointments while enabling healthcare providers to generate approximately $130 million in billings.

As both companies come together, Olubusi says the next plan is to figure out how better to serve the GCC market with its complete EMR solutions and, at the same time, roll out telemedicine and doctor booking services for its clients in Africa.

“Over the next few months, a lot of what we’re doing is being able to better roll out these consolidated product suites in our markets and serve them more,” he said. “I mean, we want to double, triple the growth of our client base over the next two to three years and extend our reach even further to make sure that Helium Health is the top health tech provider in the GCC region just as it is in Africa.”

Intro’s app attracts Andreessen, Seven Seven Six, Kevin Durant to connect celebrity e-design experts with those seeking advice

Advice is not a new concept, but Intro is putting its spin on access to in-demand experts through personalized one-on-one video calls.

The San Francisco company was founded in 2020 by entrepreneur Raad Mobrem, who previously founded Lettuce, an operating system for small businesses that was acquired by Intuit in 2014.

Raad Mobrem, Intro

Raad Mobrem, founder of Intro. Image Credits: Intro

When Mobrem was younger, he had a chance encounter with Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea and had the opportunity to bend his ear about being an entrepreneur.

“In 15 minutes, I learned more about being an entrepreneur than I could have elsewhere,” Mobrem told TechCrunch. “I left our chat feeling inspired, and as I became an entrepreneur, Paul became a lifelong mentor.”

That conversation gave him the idea for Intro, which has a mission to provide access to people who are great at their craft. Mobrem says most of these people share a common theme: they had access to someone who was also great. If everyone had access to those types of people, they could gain that knowledge and could act on that information.

Users create an account on the Intro app, currently available on iOS, and browse a marketplace of style, wellness, business, home, beauty and astrology experts. The company has already curated an expert list touting stylist Rachel Zoe, interior designer Nate Berkus and dietitian McKel Kooienga.

On the expert side, the app offers a self-service model for scheduling, payments and video calls. The expert can set and modify their own prices, manage availability and decide how many sessions they want to offer and when.

Video sessions, what Mobrem calls “micro consultations,” average 15 minutes to two hours, and can price out from $30 to $200 for a 15-minute session, depending on the experts. Working with a high-caliber interior designer could run thousands of dollars, so to have a quick session on refreshing a room, “the virtual access is quite powerful, and the value is incredible,” he added.

Instead of charging the experts a subscription fee, Intro makes money when they do, taking 30% commission for calls the company brings in or 10% when the expert initiates a call through their booking tool.

To continue democratizing this kind of access, the company raised a $10 million seed investment led by Andreessen Horowitz. Joining the firm was Seven Seven Six, CAA founder Michael Ovitz, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, 23 & Me CEO Anne Wojcicki, Kevin Durant, Tiffany Haddish and other strategic investors. The latest funding gives the company $12 million in total funding to date.

”The team at Intro is building a beautiful product in the form of a marketplace that is offering a direct line to some of the world’s leading voices and minds,” said Andrew Chen, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, in a written statement. ”This platform has enormous potential and is well positioned to scale across multiple disciplines. It also creates opportunities for experts and creators to monetize their followers and diversify their revenue stream in an effective way.”

Intro has been in beta mode, but facilitated 500 sessions within its first two months. Mobrem personally called the first customers after their sessions to find out about the experience. Many told him that as the conversations turned into advice, it was “shocking how much they could get done in a short period of time,” he said.

He plans to use the new funding to hire more people and recruit additional experts. The marketplace has about 75 experts so far, and he anticipates adding experts in career and business categories, parenting and everyday advice, like how to buy your first home.

There are other startups going after service-based providers, but Mobrem sees what Intro is doing to be a new industry catalyzed by the global pandemic. He considers telemedicine being the closest competitor to what Intro is doing, similarly driven by the global pandemic, and enabling doctors to be more efficient with their existing patient base while opening their practice up to additional patients, he said.

“Next up, we will be chipping away at our task list,” Mobrem added. “We think we have already built the best product that is easy to use, but we can always improve. We also want to get more experts, which we will do by helping them make more money, which means consumers will ultimately have more access.”

Habitual is using digital support plus food replacement to help reverse type 2 diabetes

London-based Habitual, a healthtech startup which offers a weight loss program aimed at people with type 2 diabetes (or prediabetes) that combines “evidence-based” food replacement with digital support to help people manage and even reverse the condition (so they can be medication free), has closed a $2.3 million seed round.

The round was led by Berlin-based Atlantic Food Labs, with existing investors Seedcamp and MMC also participating. Oxford Seed Fund, which is an initiative of the Entrepreneurship Centre at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, also participated — and the round is Habitual’s third round since it was founded back in September 2019, including a pre-seed earlier this year to fund a soft launch. Its total raised to date is just over $3M.

Habitual’s program involves a period of total food replacement — when it supplies users with all their daily meals in nutritionally controlled, packet-form (there’s a choice of flavored porridges, shakes and soups).

For the food replacement product, Habitual says it worked with a product development consultancy that had previously done development work for the European Soylent-rival Huel to develop the formulations.

Its companion digital program is designed to wrap around and support patients throughout their dietary transitions — including guiding them through the reintroduction of healthy whole foods, with the app giving them tools to track their weight and mood, and access resources and digital coaching.

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“We use the same nutritional framework as was used in DiRECT [trial] (and other total diet replacement studies) — that is, three months of total diet replacement followed by a slow reintroduction of whole foods back into the diet, during which time we help patients to retrain around healthy nutritional, mental, and physical habits,” says co-founder and COO Napala Pratini.

“The main difference… is that we guide patients through the programme completely digitally, as opposed to via in-person of telemedicine appointments.”

Per Pratini, Habitual’s digital intervention consists of three key components — first, “evidence-based” daily behavior change lessons and exercises, which she says run the gamut from CBT to nutritional education to support users as they re-introduce whole foods; second, the app provides personalised daily tracking (through self reporting) to help patients monitor progress over time; and lastly users can access the startup’s patient care team and “bespoke virtual peer groups”.

Health problems associated with obesity and poor diet are a huge and growing problem across most parts of the world, often linked to heavily processed, sugar-laden foods that have been staples on supermarket shelves in rich, Western countries for decades — but which are increasingly finding their way into developing countries, too.

In the West, over the past decade or so, a number of digital health startups have sprung up on both sides of the Atlantic aiming to use technology to help tackle this problem — such as the likes of Livongo, Liva Healthcare, Omada, Oviva (which recently raised an $80M round), Second Nature (formerly OurPath) and Sequoia-backed Virta, to name a few.

There are also general weight loss platforms, like Noom. And — more recently — increasingly specialized plays, such as YC-backed Fella (which, as the name suggests, does targeted obesity support specifically for men).

But the opportunity to provide digital support in the area of diet and health is huge, with different approaches also likely to work for different people (or indeed, different health conditions) — so it’s unlikely to be a winner-takes-all scenario.

The cost of diabetes-related healthcare has also been predicted to pass $1 trillion per year by 2025 by some estimates — so even just capturing a tiny fraction of this market could sum to a sizeable business.

“We are tackling the root cause of the biggest problems facing modern healthcare systems, and while US companies have raised and been valued in the billions, there is so much room to do better for patients,” argues Pratini.

She says the London-based startup has “global ambitions” — and wants to take on US giants with what she describes as “a more empathetic, patient-led model of diabetes care”.

During a private beta of Habitual’s program which involved 30 patients, Pratini says users saw an average weight loss over the 3 months of 17kg — a little over the amount of weight that she says has been shown to be “necessary” to reverse type 2 diabetes in a majority of people.

“As you say, some people will of course need to do shorter or longer periods [of total food replacement] to achieve their goals, and we support patients in doing that,” she adds.

Pratini, who has a marketing background, says she and her co-founder, CEO Ian Braithwaite, a medical doctor with a background in digital health startups and clinical practice, met working alongside the DiRECT team — “and are therefore very familiar with the research”.

Habitual will be putting its product through its own peer-reviewed trials “in the next year”, she also tells TechCrunch.

The startup has started with a direct-to-consumer program — meaning individuals are referring themselves and it’s charging these users a fee (£39/week or £139/month for 6 months — “this includes all of a patient’s food for 3 months, and about half of their food for the second 3 months”).

But it’s hoping to be able to work with payers like the UK’s National Health Service in the future, as well as self-insured employers and insurance companies (the latter being the dominant model in the US).

“We have taken the direct to consumer route to begin with because it has enabled us to start building evidence and scaling more quickly than we would be able to whilst relying on NHS procurement,” notes Pratini.

“The NHS is already doing trials of similar programs, however these pilots only reach a tiny fraction of the UK’s Type 2 diabetics. We expect these programs will be rolled out on a larger scale in a few year’s time, at which point we’ll have a significant amount of evidence under our belt to be able to successfully bid for these NHS tenders,” she adds.

Instacart shopper activist group asks customers to delete the app until demands for better conditions are met

Yesterday, the Gig Workers Collective — representing a body of about 13,000 Instacart shoppers — launched a #DeleteInstacart campaign, urging customers to delete the Instacart app as a show of solidarity with workers advocating for better treatment. The collective of shoppers asked that customers refrain from reinstalling the app until five demands are met. They are asking to be paid by individual order, not by a batch of orders; to re-introduce item-based commissions; to ensure the rating system doesn’t punish shoppers for issues beyond their control; to provide occupational death benefits; and to make the default tip at least 10%, up from the current 5% default.

“We’re deeply committed to creating the best possible experience for our shopper community. Over the past several years, this unwavering commitment has led us to introduce new features, policies, offerings, and support for shoppers — significantly improving the shopper experience and resulting in the highest shopper sentiment in company history. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve invested in countless new measures to support the health and safety of the shopper community. We take shopper feedback very seriously and remain committed to listening to and using that feedback to improve their experience,” Instacart said in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

Instacart employs 500,000 shoppers, the company said, up from 200,000 before a pandemic-driven hiring spree. The company told TechCrunch that its payment structure has not changed since February 2019. That month, the company faced a class-action lawsuit over its practice of subsidizing wages with tips — Instacart had previously instituted a $10 earning minimum per order, but on small orders that totaled less than $10, customer tips would subsidize the rest of the cost (so, if a customer bought $8 of food and tipped $3, the customer would receive $10 plus $1 in tips, rather than the $10 minimum plus a $3 tip). Former CEO Apoorva Mehta wrote an apology to shoppers and affirmed that tips should always be separate from employee compensation, and Instacart retroactively compensated shoppers whose tips were included in minimums.

A Gig Workers Collective lead organizer and Instacart shopper, Willy Solis said that he was hopeful workers’ concerns would be met when Fidji Simo took over as Instacart CEO in August. Since then, the company set up an inbox for shoppers to send messages to a VP or CEO. Instacart said that Simo has been regularly conversing with shoppers about their experiences on the job, but Solis said that shoppers don’t feel like their concerns are being heard.

“While we had hope, there seems to be a disconnect from what she’s saying publicly and what she’s actually doing,” Solis told TechCrunch.

On her first day as CEO, Simo wrote an open letter to Instacart shoppers asking for feedback. In response, the Gig Workers Collective outlined the same five demands that they shared again yesterday, posing them as dire issues that needed to be addressed. But the collective said their letter was ignored, and shoppers’ emails to Simo were met with canned responses.

“Each time the company gives us one thing, they take something else away,” the Gig Workers Collective wrote. When former CEO Mehta apologized for subsidizing wages with tip money, Instacart changed the minimum order payment from $10 to a range between $7 and $10 per batch, which can contain up to three orders. The issue of batch order payment has become a key part of the Gig Workers Collective’s demands.

“If we shopped a single order, the base pay would be $7, but if we shopped three orders at once, the base pay would be $7 for the lot. Instead of a shopper fulfilling three orders for a total of $30 base, we now do it for $7 base,” the collective wrote in their post today. “This is effectively a 76% cut to base pay, and is unacceptable.”

Shoppers can see what payment is offered before they accept a batch. But Solis told TechCrunch that there is “no rhyme or reason” to the way orders are batched.

“You would think that they would be in the same geographic location that you’re delivering to, but they’re not,” he said. “It can be totally different parts of the city, so you have to drive east for one and west for the other.”

Instacart said that batching orders makes it possible for shoppers to earn three separate tips, and that the $7 base is a minimum that is adjusted based on time, effort, items, mileage, and other factors. But tipping is another hot issue for organizers.

“We rely on tips heavily,” Solis said. “Without tips, a large majority of orders that we take are not beneficial or profitable for us.”

The default tip on Instacart is set at 5%, which means customers must manually select a higher tip. Organizers want Instacart to make the default tip 10%. Instacart told TechCrunch that tipping is encouraged, but not required. Though the default tip is 5%, the company said, if a user chooses a different tip percentage, then that percentage will become the default for their following order. So, if a customer tips 15% on their first order, for example, then their second order will default to a 15% tip instead of a 5% tip.

The collective is also demanding occupational death benefits due to the risk of shoppers’ work during the coronavirus pandemic; even beyond that, one Instacart shopper Lynn Murray was killed in a mass shooting while on the job. But Instacart does offer coronavirus protections to its shoppers, as well as shopper injury protection, which is inclusive of accidental death benefits. For example, if a part-time employee or full-service shopper is diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in mandatory isolation, they can receive up to 14 days’ pay. Accrued sick pay is also available to in-store shoppers; pay is determined by the shopper’s average daily earnings. Instacart also provides a vaccine support stipend, enabling workers to take time off to get vaccinated, and offers access to free telemedicine and safety supplies. But in May 2020, the Gig Workers Collective alleged that a shopper who was on a ventilator was denied payment and healthcare under Instacart’s COVID-19 policy. Instacart reaffirmed to TechCrunch that since March 2020, shoppers have been able to receive up to 14 days’ pay if they have COVID-19 or are in mandatory isolation.

But some of shoppers’ health benefits were only extended after the Gig Workers Collective staged an emergency walkout on March 30, 2020. At the time, the collective said Instacart didn’t provide PPE or sick pay to people who had a doctor’s note urging them not to be on the job (for example, people who were quarantined due to an exposure).

Instacart didn’t indicate to TechCrunch that it has any plans to address the Gig Workers Collective’s demands. As Instacart considers going public, Solis thinks now is a good time to take shoppers’ demands to the next level by asking customers to boycott the service.

“People that speak out against us taking action will say things like, ‘You know, if you don’t want to do this, get another job,'” Solis said. “But the problem is that this work is so exploitative that if somebody doesn’t take a stand, then the next person in line is going to be exploited. Together, we gain so much power and traction by collectively speaking out.”

Singapore-based caregiving startup Homage raises $30M Series C

Homage, the caregiving-focused startup, has raised a $30 million Series C led by Sheares Healthcare Group, which is wholly-owned by investment firm Temasek. Other participants included new investors DG Daiwa Ventures and Sagana Capital, and returning backers East Ventures (Growth), HealthXCapital, SeedPlus, Trihill Capital and Alternate Ventures.

The new funding will be used to develop Homage’s technology, continue integrating with aged and disability care payer and provider infrastructure and speed-up its regional expansion outside Singapore through partnerships with hospitals and care providers.

The Singapore-based company’s services include home visits from caregivers, nurses, therapists and doctors; telemedicine; and services for chronic illnesses. One of the reasons Homage’s platform is able to scale up is its matching engine, which helps clients, like older adults and people living with chronic conditions, find providers who are best suited to their needs (the final matches are made by Homage’s team).

The startup says the round was oversubscribed and one of the largest fundings raised by an on-demand care platform in Southeast Asia and Oceania so far. It brings Homage’s total raised to more than $45 million.

As part of Series C, Sheares Healthcare Group chief corporate development officer Khoo Ee Ping will join Homage’s board of directors.

Homage now has a regional network of more than 6,000 pre-screened and trained care professionals. It claims that its business outside of Singapore has grown more than 600% year-over-year in 2021, and it has more than tripled revenue over the past year.

Southeast Asia “omnichannel” health startup Doctor Anywhere gets $88M SGD

Doctor Anywhere, a startup that takes an “omnichannel” approach to healthcare, announced today it has raised $88 million SGD (about $65.7 million USD) in Series C funding. The round was led by Asia Partners, with participation from Novo Holdings, Philips and OSK-SBI Partners. It also included returning investors EDBI, Square Peg, IHH Healthcare, Kamet Capital and Pavilion Capital. 

As part of the round, Asia Partners co-founder Oliver Rippel and Novo Holdings Equity Asia senior partner Dr. Amit Kakar will join Doctor Anywhere’s board of directors. The company’s Series C, which it claims is one of the largest private rounds raised by a Southeast Asian healthtech company, brings its total funding to more than $140 million SGD. 

Doctor Anywhere’s omnichannel approach means that in addition to online consultations, it runs in-person clinics, provides home visits, medication deliveries and operates an in-app marketplace for health and wellness products. 

Founded in 2017 by Lim Wai Mun, Doctor Anywhere claims it now serves more than 1.5 million users. It is available in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, and recently established tech hubs in Bangalore and Ho Chi Minh City. 

Lim told TechCrunch in an email that when he started working on Doctor Anywhere, there were already successful telemedicine platforms in the United States, the United Kingdom and China, but the model was still nascent in Southeast Asia. A former investor, Lim began Doctor Anywhere as a side project because he had older relatives who could not leave their homes for medical visits. 

Doctor Anywhere launched as an online-only telehealth platform, but “we quickly realized that physical presence is very important in order to build trust with users,” Lim said. As a result, the company started its home care services and physical clinics. 

According to Doctor Anywhere’s estimates, the COVID-19 pandemic fast-tracked the adoption of telehealth services in Southeast Asia by at least five years. The company saw more demand for online medical consultations, medication deliveries and marketplace purchases. 

“In the past year, we have more than doubled the size of our network, from around 1,000 providers at the start of 2020 to currently close to 2,500 medical professionals across Southeast Asia,” Lim said. 

In response to the pandemic, Doctor Anywhere launched an online COVID-19 Medical Advisory Clinic last year to provide on-demand consultations for people with suspected symptoms. It also created an online mental wellness module with psychologists. Lim said the company has seen an increase in demand for mental health-related services, like insomnia and anxiety. 

Other telehealth startups in the region include WhiteCoat, Speedoc and Doctor World. Lim said Doctor Anywhere wants to differentiate by quickly launching new products in response to user inquiries, and “cultivating a balance between technology and human touch.” 

The funding will be used to deepen Doctor Anywhere’s presence in its current markets and expand into new ones. It also plans to scale its tech infrastructure and big data capabilities for a better online-to-offline user experience, and will introduce new medical specialty modules, shorten medication delivery times and develop personalized healthcare plans. 

Virtual clinic Hey Jane raises $2.2M to solve for state anti-abortion legislation

As more states pass some type of abortion ban, Hey Jane, a virtual clinic startup offering telemedicine abortion care, announced Thursday that it raised $2.2 million in an oversubscribed round from a group of investors, including Koa Lab, Gaingels and Foursight Capital Partners.

The idea for the remote-first company stemmed from a conversation in 2019 that founder and CEO Kiki Freedman had with some friends regarding Missouri being one of six states that has one abortion clinic left. Freedman, who goes by a nickname to avoid violence against abortion providers, explained that, in fact, the clinic was slated for closure that summer, which would have meant Missouri was the first state to not have any abortion care. The clinic was ultimately able to stay open.

“At the time, many of the emerging telemedicine clinics I saw were focused on men’s wellness and didn’t talk about women’s health,” Freedman told TechCrunch. “I thought this virtual model could be used for safe and discreet abortion care.”

One of Hey Jane’s investors, who wished to remain publicly anonymous, “was excited to invest in Freedman and Hey Jane” because he agreed — women’s health was an underserved category. Unlike men’s healthcare, abortion care is segregated from women’s health care. This stemmed from Reagan’s mandates separating abortion care from hospitals.

One in four women will have an abortion by age 45, according to Planned Parenthood. However, just in 2021, over 90 abortion restrictions were enacted in the United States, and there are 1,320 restrictions in total, according to The Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights. Currently, Arkansas and Oklahoma have near-total abortion bans except when a patient’s life is endangered. Meanwhile, Idaho, South Carolina and Texas ban abortion at either six weeks or with very limited exceptions.

In July 2020, a federal judge granted approval for women to obtain abortion medication without having to see a doctor, which opened the door for companies, like Hey Jane and others, to begin offering “no touch” services for people who were less than 10 weeks pregnant.

The $249 treatment includes screening by a medical doctor, FDA-approved medication prescribed and shipped overnight to the person’s house, follow-up virtual visits and the ability to chat with a doctor during the entire process. The Hey Jane team also checks in frequently with the patient via text message.

The company said removing financial barriers is “a huge priority for us.” Though the company does not accept insurance yet, it is offering financial assistance through a nonprofit abortion fund partner, Reprocare. This organization subsidizes up to $110 of the $249 treatment so that patients can pay as little as $139 for treatment.

The new funding will enable Hey Jane to expand into new states and add to its team of seven to build out the product and automated process and for legal research so the company can stay abreast of telemedicine laws and telemedicine abortion laws for each state.

There are several regulatory requirements Hey Jane must follow in each state, including ensuring that clinicians only provide care to patients in states in which they’re licensed. For this reason, the company has clinicians licensed in each state in which it operates who are ready to prescribe medication when appropriate. It also has on-demand experts for emotional relief.

Hey Jane just launched across California this week and is also in New York and Washington. This means that Hey Jane’s service areas now cover up to 34% of all abortions performed annually in the United States, Freedman said. Those states were chosen first because California and New York have the highest number of abortions performed annually, she added.

“Although people in those states may have easier access to clinics, they could still strongly benefit from treatment with Hey Jane since it’s as safe and effective and half the price of in-clinic care,” Freedman said. “It doesn’t require costs, or time for travel or child care, ensures privacy and discretion and provides additional layers of emotional support.”

Freedman expects to be in 10 states by the end of the year and plans to be able to offer treatment in all 50 states in coming years. However, there are regulatory barriers limiting access to telemedicine abortion in 19 states. Hey Jane is partnering with the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health research group out of the University of California at San Francisco to gather information to this end.

“We are working with leading researchers to expand the ample existing evidence that this modality of care is safe, effective and preferred by patients,” she added. “We hope this research can further advance discussions in more restrictive states, ultimately leading to much needed, patient-centric updates to outdated regulations. Existing data on the safety and effectiveness of telemedicine abortion paints a very clear picture that this is the future of abortion care.”

The company is currently seeing 250% quarterly growth in the number of patients using the service. As it has grown, it is focusing more on additional tools for coordinated care and new products.

Abortions are often kept secret due to worries of judgment and discrimination, and Hey Jane will provide a much-needed outlet for patients to discreetly share their experiences and emotion, Freedman said.

“We are focusing on convenience and privacy,” she added. “Two-thirds of women don’t want to talk about their experience, so we want to provide a space for them.”

Matters of women’s health are highly personal. If you or someone you know is struggling with a private women’s health concern, please contact your primary care physician or secular community health clinic for more information.

Mental health startup Intellect gets $2.2M to expand across Asia

Intellect, a Singapore-based startup that wants to make mental health care more accessible in Asia, announced it has raised $2.2 million in pre-Series A funding. It is taking part in Y Combinator’s current batch, which will hold its Demo Day at the end of this month.

The round was led by returning investor Insignia Venture Partners and included participation from Y Combinator, XA Network and angel investors like Rainforest co-founder J.J. Chai; Prenetics and CircleDNA founder Danny Yeung; and Gilberto Gaeta, Google’s director of global HR operations.

This brings Intellect’s total funding since it launched a year ago to $3 million, including a seed round announced in December 2020 that was also led by Insignia.

Intellect offered two main product suites: a consumer app with self-guided programs based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, and a mental health benefits solution for employers with online therapy programs and telehealth services. The startup now claims more than 2.5 million app users, and 20 enterprise clients, including FoodPanda, Shopback, Carousell, Avery Dennison, Schroders and government agencies.

Founder and chief executive officer Theodoric Chew told TechCrunch that Intellect’s usage rate is higher than traditional EAP helpline solutions. On average, its mental health benefits solution sees about 20% to 45% engagement within three months after being adopted by companies with more than 5,000 employees.

In many Asian cultures, there is still a lot of stigma around mental health issues, but that has changed over the last year and a half as people continue to cope with the emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chew said. “From individuals, to companies, insurers and governments, all these different types of people and organizations are today prioritizing mental healthcare on an individual and organizational level in an extremely rapid manner.”

Intellect protects user privacy with zero-knowledge encryption, so the startup and employers don’t have access to people’s records or communications with their coaches and counsellors. Any insights shared with employers are aggregated and anonymized. Chew said the company is also compliant with major data privacy regulations like ISO, HIPAA and GDPR.

Intellect is currently collaborating in 10 studies with institutions like the National University of Singapore, King’s College London, University of Queensland and the Singapore General Hospital. It says studies so far have demonstrated improvements in mental well-being, stress levels and anxiety among its users.

The new funding will be used to expand into more Asian markets. Intellect currently covers 12 countries and 11 languages.


Back to the suture: The future of healthcare is in the home

The pandemic has highlighted some of the brightest spots — and greatest areas of need — in America’s healthcare system. On one hand, we’ve witnessed the vibrancy of America’s innovation engine, with notable contributions by U.S.-based scientists and companies for vaccines and treatments.

On the other hand, the pandemic has highlighted both the distribution challenges and cost inefficiencies of the healthcare system, which now accounts for nearly a fifth of our GDP — far more than any other country — yet lags many other developed nations in clinical outcomes.

Many of these challenges stem from a lack of alignment between payment and incentive models, as well as an overreliance on hospitals as centers for care delivery. A third of healthcare costs are incurred at hospitals, though at-home models can be more effective and affordable. Furthermore, most providers rely on fee for service instead of preventive care arrangements.

These factors combine to make care in this country reactive, transactional and inefficient. We can improve both outcomes and costs by moving care from the hospital back to the place it started — at home.

Right now in-home care accounts for only 3% of the healthcare market. We predict that it will grow to 10% or more within the next decade.

In-home care is nothing new. In the 1930s, over 40% of physician-patient encounters took place in the home, but by the 1980s, that figure dropped to under 1%, driven by changes in health economics and technologies that led to today’s hospital-dominant model of care.

That 50-year shift consolidated costs, centralized access to specialized diagnostics and treatments, and created centers of excellence. It also created a transition from proactive to reactive care, eliminating the longitudinal relationship between patient and provider. In today’s system, patients are often diagnosed by and receive treatment from individual doctors who do not consult one another. These highly siloed treatments often take place only after the patient needs emergency care. This creates higher costs — and worse outcomes.

That’s where in-home care can help. Right now in-home care accounts for only 3% of the healthcare market. We predict that it will grow to 10% or more within the next decade. This growth will improve the patient experience, achieve better clinical outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

To make these improvements, in-home healthcare strategies will need to leverage next-generation technology and value-based care strategies. Fortunately, the window of opportunity for change is open right now.

Five factors driving the opportunity for change

Over the last few years, five significant innovations have created new incentives to drive dramatic changes in the way care is delivered.

  1. Technologies like remote patient monitoring (RPM) and telemedicine have matured to a point that can be deployed at scale. These technologies enable providers to remotely manage patients in a proactive, long-term relationship from the comfort of their homes and at a reduced cost.

Elektra Health funnels new $3.75M round into helping women navigate menopause

Every woman will go through menopause some time during her life, but like many other femtech topics, this one is still not talked about as much as it should be.

Enter Elektra Health, a women’s health technology company startup that raised $3.75 million in seed funding to continue developing its platform that provides evidence-based care, education and a community for women going through the various stages of menopause.

Co-founders Alessandra Henderson and Jannine Versi told TechCrunch that more than 50 million women in the United States are currently in some stage of menopause, while the industry itself represents a $600 billion global market opportunity.

CEO Henderson, whose background includes business creation platform Human Ventures, called menopause a “cultural zeitgeist” that is coming into its own in terms of the conversation and having investors believe in Elektra’s mission. The company is also personal for Henderson — she went on a hormonal health journey that began four years ago after experiencing symptoms that went unexplained by specialists.

Several years later, she wanted to start a company in femtech. There was so much already in the reproductive space, yet no one was talking about what comes next or the phases for moving through menopause, Henderson said. It was when she was introduced to her co-founder Versi, whose background is in digital health, that the idea for Elektra came together.

Menopause is a hormonal health transition that typically starts in women when they reach their 40s or 50s. There have been up to 34 identified symptoms of menopause, and research has found that 80% of women say menopause symptoms have negatively impacted their quality of life in some way. At the same time, less than 20% of obstetrics/gynecology residency programs educate doctors about menopause.

Elektra’s platform is picking up that slack by offering clinical care via telemedicine and its proprietary “Meno-morphosis” program that features evidence-based guidance on symptoms, a community of support and access to a 1:1 dedicated menopause expert. The program will open completely to the public in 2022.

“We are all about caring for women by providing content, education, care, coaching and counseling, especially working in the arc of their journey,” Versi said. “This is such an intimate topic, but we have referral rates of 40% where women are talking about it themselves and then bring a friend along. Sustaining that is important to us. We are seeing clusters of friends come along and really bond with the community.”

The New York-based company’s seed funding was co-led by Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six and Flare Capital Partners, with participation from City Light Capital, January Ventures, Human Ventures, The Fund, Community Fund and a group of angel investors, including Hannah and Guy Raz, Claire Diaz-Ortiz and Jenny Fielding.

This new round of funding will be used to grow its team and to expand its integrative, evidence-based solution to millions of women in the U.S., and beyond.

Since launching the company in 2020, more than 1,800 women have participated in Elektra’s private beta educational programming.

“Last year was about learning and growing the things that women want,” Henderson said. “We are making an impact in the way women deserve.”

Much of women’s health technology is aimed at fertility, but Elektra Health is not alone in tackling this issue: new startup Peppy recently reported funding to address menopause in employee health; meanwhile, Vira Health raised £1.5 million in seed funding for a U.K. platform.

Katelin Holloway, founding partner at Seven Seven Six, said in her previous roles leading compensation and benefits for companies, she became increasingly aware that the need for menopause care was just as desired by employees as fertility benefits.

When her employees began requesting desk fans, she started investigating the source of the requests and found it was from the company’s non-Gen Z employees, and all women.

“I realized I had a decent cohort of women experiencing menopause,” Holloway said. “The fan on the desk was kind of a ‘bat signal’ to other employees, unlocking conversations between them where they had previously been experiencing these symptoms in silos.”

Once she became an investor, she put out the call again looking for a company providing that kind of care and was introduced to Elektra. Holloway said there is a whole new group of women entering their 40s who want to talk about menopause and have the technology available, while also wanting privacy for care and a community to share in the experience.

She called Elektra’s co-founders “incredible women who care deeply about this space and have amazing credentials and background to bring to this company.” She also said she was sold on their approach of care, community and content, which aligns with what was working in the pregnancy and fertility spaces.