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Sword Health raises $4.6M for its digital physiotherapy solution

Sword Health raises .6M for its digital physiotherapy solution

Sword Health, a startup operating out of Portugal that has developed a digital physiotherapy solution to enable patients to be treated remotely in their own homes, has raised $4.6 million in seed funding. Backing the round is Green Innovations, Vesalius Biocapital III, and other unnamed investors in the U.S. and Europe.

The company says it will use the new capital, which adds to an earlier ~$1.2 million grant from the European Commission, to accelerate the development of new digital therapies and drive global growth.

Using what it describes as a combination of “high-precision motion tracking sensors” and the latest advances in AI, the Sword Health solution aims to make the delivery of physiotherapy infinitely more scalable, in recognition that there is a worldwide shortage of physiotherapists. Its flagship product “Sword Phoenix” provides patients with interactive physical rehabilitation exercises from the comfort of their own home, supervised by remote physiotherapists.

“Twenty years ago my brother had a car accident. What I realised then (and this is still true now) is that there is a huge gap between the demand for physical therapy and our ability, as a developed society, to deliver that therapy,” Sword Health co-founder and CEO Virgílio Bento tells me.

“The problem is that the physical rehabilitation industry has not changed in the last 50 years. We’re still very much dependent on the one-to-one patient-therapist interaction, which is the gold standard, but it is not a scalable model and is actually very costly for both patients and healthcare providers”.

To remedy this, Bento and the Sword team began work on what he calls a “digital physical therapist” concept. The idea is that by using motion sensors attached to the appropriate places of a patient’s body, combined with an AI-driven user interface that can take that motion data and give instant feedback, some of what a physiotherapist does can be augmented by machines.

“With Sword Phoenix, clinical teams extend their therapeutic footprint to each patient’s home, scale their reach and are able to devote more time to delivering the human touch,” he says.

To date, Bento says Sword is working with insurance companies, national health services, health maintenance organisations and providers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Norway, and the startup’s home country, Portugal.

“These customers are able to provide higher quality physical therapy services directly in the patient’s home and decrease operational costs at the same time – an accomplishment that is only possible in healthcare through enlightened use of data analysis and technology,” he adds.

In terms of competitors, Bento argues that the majority of health tech companies are focused on developing technologies that improve the one-to-one patient therapist interaction (e.g., Tyromotion, Hocoma). “This incremental improvement is not the solution because it does not result in a paradigm shift,” he says.

With that said, Bento does conceded that there are other startups trying to create a digital therapist. One I’ve covered in detail is Atomico-backed Hinge Health, which has developed a digital solution for musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders.

Sword Health raises .6M for its digital physiotherapy solution
Source: TechCrunch

Zillow surprises investors by buying up homes

Zillow surprises investors by buying up homes

Real estate platform Zillow changed up its business model this week, announcing that it plans to purchase and sell homes in Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Zillow will be working with Berkshire Hathaway and Coldwell Banker to make offers on homes before it finds a buyer. Zillow will pay commissions and also “make necessary repairs and updates and list the home as quickly as possible.”

Calling it “Instant Offers,” Zillow says,

“the program gives real estate agents the opportunity to acquire new listings by connecting them with motivated sellers who have taken a direct action to sell their home. Across all testing, Zillow found the vast majority of sellers who requested an Instant Offer ended up selling their home with an agent, making Instant Offers an excellent source of seller leads for Premier Agents and brokerage partners.”

Shares fell 7% on Friday, following the revelation.

This is a marked business change for the website, which is mainly a hub of information about real estate properties. Buying up homes will provide added costs and risks, so some investors didn’t like it.

Yet Zillow says it has been testing out this program for about a year and that it is optimistic about its future success.

In an interview with CNBC, CEO Spencer Rascoff said, “we’re ready to be an investor in our own marketplace.” He believes Zillow has “huge advantages because we have access to this huge audience of sellers and huge audience of buyers.”

Rascoff acknowledged that Zillow will be taking on debt to execute on its new mission.

This will also put it in competition with Opendoor. CEO Eric Wu provided us the following statement.

“We are genuinely excited, having invented this new category in 2014, and it’s invigorating to see a host of others in the industry recognize the importance of removing hassle and time from the transaction.  We are proud to have served over 15,000 customers, to be expanding to dozens of markets, and to be reaching market share numbers that demonstrate the significant demand and love for our experience and product.  We continue to be focused on building technology to remove friction from the transaction through a world-class pricing model, a suite of vertically integrated applications, All-Day Open Houses, our Buyer Guarantee, and a few new products we will be launching shortly.  Most importantly, we are here to service our customers, buyers and sellers who crave and deserve a best-in-class experience as they transition from one home to their next.”

Game on.

Zillow surprises investors by buying up homes
Source: TechCrunch

Singapore orders Grab to delay closing Uber app for an additional 3 weeks

Singapore orders Grab to delay closing Uber app for an additional 3 weeks

Grab’s plan to shutter Uber’s app quickly following its merger deal in Southeast Asia has hit another snag in Singapore where the ride-hailing firm has been forced to delay closing its rival’s service until May 7.

This is the second time that Grab has pushed back the removal of Uber’s app in Singapore, which was initially scheduled for closure on April 8 but was given an additional week as part of an investigation from the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) which is assessing the merger deal. This new May 7 date is also down to the CCCS probe, with the commission issuing an ‘Interim Measures Directions’ (IMD) to Grab in order to “ensure that the market remains open and contestable.”

Those directives — which Grab said it has had a hand in formulating — include measures that prevent Grab from taking Uber’s operational data on customers and their trip history, prevent lock-in and exclusivity options for drivers that join Grab or move over from Uber’s Lion City Rental entity, and end any exclusive deals Grab has with Singapore taxi firms.

The CCCS has also ruled that Grab and the Uber service must maintain prices for passengers and drivers, and remind both that their migration to the Grab platform is optional.

The ruling impacts the Singapore market only, which is where Grab is registered. The Uber app has already been closed in six other markets where it operated in Southeast Asia, while the UberEats service will fold into GrabFood by the end of May. Elsewhere, Uber’s ride-hailing service is scheduled to be closed on April 16 in the Philippines where, like Singapore, the regulator had handed down a week-long extension while it looked into the merger deal.

In both extensions, Grab is the one footing the bill for the continued operation of Uber since the U.S. firm has already exited these markets, in terms of funding and staffing, Uber’s head of operations for Asia Pacific has said.

The CCCS previously said that it has “reasonable grounds” to suspect that the Grab-Uber deal may fall foul of section 54 of Singapore’s Competition Act. The Philippine Competition Commission is still looking into the and there’s no word on whether it will follow the CCCS’ lead and force Grab to keep the Uber app open for a longer period.

The Singapore ruling is a blow for Grab which set out an aggressive two-week timeframe for closing Uber in Southeast Asia, having contacted regulators in advance of the deal which sees it pick up a dominant slice of app-based taxi books across eight countries in Southeast Asia. The key question for regulators, however, appears to be whether app-based hailing is a market unto itself, or whether it is part of the wider taxi market.

If regulators chose the former option, then Uber-Grab almost certainly creates a monopoly, but since consumers can also hail apps in more traditional ways — e.g. on the street — or via taxi companies’ dedicated apps — as is the case in Singapore — then the deal hasn’t created a dominant player. It’s certainly a tricky one to assess.

Meanwhile, here is Grab’s statement on the Uber app extension and the IMD:

We appreciate that CCCS accepted our alternative interim measures. On CCCS’ request, we have agreed to extend the Uber app to 7 May to allow for a smoother transition time for riders and drivers. We trust that the CCCS’ review takes into account a dynamic industry that is constantly evolving, highly competitive, and being disrupted by technology and new services. The interim measures should not have the unintended effect of hampering competition and restricting businesses that have already been investing in the country over the years.

Grab notes the CCCS’ objective of giving drivers choice, and is fully supportive of extending our platform to all taxi drivers, including ComfortDelGro drivers who are still constrained from picking up JustGrab jobs. Grab entered Singapore five years ago with minimal resources and the goal of enabling all taxi drivers to earn a better living using our platform. We recognise CCCS’ commitment to preserving competition; all companies – no matter big or small, digital or traditional – are capable of innovation in a free market.

We’re proud to headquarter in Singapore, where the country’s free market economy and policies enable businesses to compete and innovate vigorously to solve customer needs. We trust the government will continue to be pro-business in providing a path for startups to flourish and become sustainable businesses. We will work within the set constraints and continue to focus on building better products to compete, ensuring fairness for passengers and drivers, and cultivating the local tech talent pool through our regional R&D centre in Singapore.

Note: The original version of this story was updated to correct that Grab said it had been in contact with regulators prior to announcing the deal with Uber. Also corrected the name of its food delivery service is GrabFood.

Singapore orders Grab to delay closing Uber app for an additional 3 weeks
Source: TechCrunch

Backpage pleads guilty to sex trafficking, CEO faces up to 5 years for money laundering

Backpage pleads guilty to sex trafficking, CEO faces up to 5 years for money laundering

Backpage .com, for years the primary online platform for the sex trade, has pleaded guilty as a company to charges of sex trafficking in Texas, the state’s attorney general announced today. Its CEO, Carl Ferrer, pleaded guilty to money laundering, for which he may be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison.

The site was seized last week and a 93-count indictment issued days later.

Ferrer was arrested back in 2016, and will be sentenced “once he’s fulfilled the terms of his plea agreement.”

The Texas AG’s office does not elaborate beyond the charges mentioned in the press release, except to say that Ferrer’s cooperation could lead to new ones. Considering the site was an international and popular platform for all kinds of sex-related commerce — allegedly including child trafficking — it seems likely there’s far more yet to come, including pleas for similar crimes in different jurisdictions.

The execution of this strike against Backpage, the culmination of an 18-month investigation (beginning around the arrest of Ferrer), is coincident but not directly related to the passage and signing of FOSTA. The bill, just this week signed into law, effectively removes the “safe harbor” enjoyed by internet companies protecting them from having liability for the actions of their users. Under FOSTA, a company like Craigslist would be responsible if, for example, a prostitute listed their services on the site.

Unsurprisingly Craigslist and other sites have removed listings or services that may put them at risk under FOSTA, prompting criticism from the more legitimate sides of the sex industry that relied on them.

Backpage pleads guilty to sex trafficking, CEO faces up to 5 years for money laundering
Source: TechCrunch

LG promises to speed up bringing Android updates to its smartphones

LG promises to speed up bringing Android updates to its smartphones

LG is making efforts to improve the user experience on its devices after it opened a “Software Upgrade Center” in its native Korea.

The new lab will be focused on “providing customers worldwide with faster, timelier, smartphone operating system and software updates,” the company explained in a brief statement.

The idea is to help get the latest versions of Android out to more users at a faster pace than it does right now.

That’s a genuine problem for Android OEM who are tasked with bringing the latest flavor of Android to devices that already in the market. Issues they have to deal with include different chipsets, Android customization and carriers.

The issue has been pretty problematic for LG. Android Oreo, for example, announced by Google last September only began rolling out to the first handful of LG devices last month.

The Korean firm said that one of the first priorities for this new center is to get Oreo out to Korea-based owners of the LG G6 — last year’s flagship phone — before the end of this month. After that, it will look to expand the rollout to G6 owners in other parts of the world.

Beyond Android updates, the center will also focus on stability update to make sure that the newest features work on devices without compromising performance.

This move is one of the first major strategies from new LG Mobile CEO Hwang Jeong-hwan, who took the top job last year. He came directly from the company’s R&D division, which suggests that he identified the update issue as a fairly urgent one to address.

His bigger challenge is to stop LG’s mobile division bleeding capital. LG Electronics itself is forecasting record Q1 financial results later this month, but its smartphone unit is likely to post yet another loss that drags the parent down.

We’ll find out more when LG’s next flagship is unveiled next month.

LG promises to speed up bringing Android updates to its smartphones
Source: TechCrunch

Lyft is considering entering Japan’s challenging ride-hailing market for some reason

Lyft is considering entering Japan’s challenging ride-hailing market for some reason

Lyft, Uber’s chief nemesis in the U.S., is thinking of entering the fiercely competitive Japanese ride-hailing space, according to comments from one of its founders.

“We would love to be in Japan, and we also will be looking at that possibility,” John Zimmer, Lyft co-founder and president, said at the New Economy Summit 2018 in Tokyo.

“I think the regulatory framework here will play an even larger role than it likely had in other regions,” he added, according to a report from Japan Times.

Lyft made its first global expansion when it entered Canada last December so it is natural that the firm is eyeing overseas opportunities. Japan is one that springs to mind since it has counted Rakuten, the country’s dominant e-commerce service, as an investor since 2015, while the taxi market is one of the most lucrative in the world. Business in Tokyo alone is estimated to be worth over $15 billion in annual sales.

Hopping over the border to Canada is an obvious first move for many companies, but Japan would, by contrast, be a far more complicated market for Lyft to navigate.

Just ask Uber .

The U.S. giant has struggled to gain a foothold in a market that remains dominated by licensed taxi operators. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi recently paid a visit to Japan where he said he conducted “promising” meetings with taxi companies aimed at boosting Uber’s licensed taxi product in the market.

However, there are plenty of rivals.

Japanese taxi companies have an Uber of their own, JapanTaxi, which recently raised $69 million from Toyota. (Toyota is also an Uber backer, but those conflicts are becoming normal.) Beyond top backers, JapanTaxi is notable for being owned by Ichiro Kawanabe, who runs Japan’s largest taxi operator Nihon Kotsu and heads up the country’s taxi federation.

Other rivals include Line, Japan’s top messaging app which has offered taxi services for a few years, while Sony plans to introduce AI-based taxi hailing and Didi, Uber’s Chinese frenemy, is planning a Japan expansion in partnership with SoftBank, the notorious Uber investor.

In short, Lyft may harbor an interest in Japan but it would do better to prioritize less complicated markets for its next expansion.

Lyft is considering entering Japan’s challenging ride-hailing market for some reason
Source: TechCrunch