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Passion Capital backs UK fertility workplace benefits provider, Fertifa

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UK-based Fertifa has bagged a £1 million (~$1.3M) seed to plug into a fertility-focused workplace benefits platform. Passion Capital is investing in the round, along with some unnamed strategic angel investors.

The August 2019-founded startup sells bespoke reproductive health and fertility packages to UK employers to offer as workplace benefits to their staff — drawing on the use of technologies like telehealth to expand access to fertility support and cater to rising demand for reproductive health services.

Challenges conceiving can affect around one in seven couples, per the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

In recent years fertility startups have been getting more investor attention as VC firms cotton on to growing market. Employers have also responded, with tech industry workplaces among those offering fertility ‘perks’ to staff. Although the access-to-services issue can be more acute in the US — given substantial costs involved in obtaining treatments like IVF.

In the UK the picture is a little different, given that the country’s taxpayer funded NHS does fund some fertility treatments — meaning IVF can be free for couples to access. Although how much support couples get can depend on where in the country they live, with some NHS trusts funding more rounds of IVF than others. There can also be access restrictions based on factors such as a woman’s age and the length of time trying to conceive.

This means UK couples can run out of free fertility support before they’ve been able to conceive — pushing them towards paying for private treatment. Hence Fertifa spotting an opportunity for a workplace benefits model around reproductive health services.

It signed up its first employers this spring and summer, and says it now has a portfolio of corporate clients with an employee pool from a few hundreds to >10,000 — although it isn’t breaking out customer numbers. Rather it says its services are available to around 700,000 UK employees at this point.

“At Fertifa we want to make fertility services more widely accessible to people,” says founder and CEO Tony Chen. “Some levels of fertility services can be provided by the NHS but every single NHS trust is different with eligibility, requirements and resources, and so unfortunately it can too often be reduced to a ‘postcode lottery’.

“We believe that everyone should have easy access to information, resources, education and services relating to fertility — and that working with workplaces is one way to start. With our efforts and partnerships we hope to normalise the conversations about fertility at work, just as other forms of health are openly discussed and provided for.”

Passion Capital partner Eileen Burbidge — who is joining Fertifa’s board (along with Passion’s Malin Posern) — has been public about her own use of IVF and takes a very personal interest in the fertility space.

“The unfortunate fact is that over recent years, even though success rates have increased and of course more and more patients are exploring the benefits of IVF, NHS funding has been declining and the number of patients using the NHS for their first cycle has also been decreasing,” she tells TechCrunch.

“This doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s brilliant what we get from the NHS here in the UK, but there’s clearly a lot more which can be done to further increase accessibility and affordability — given less and less funding for the NHS in the face of increasing demand of both the NHS and private routes.”

Fertifa says its model is to provide direct care and support to employees — rather than being a broker or acting as part of a referral system. So it has two in-house clinicians at this stage (out of a team of 10-15 people). Although it also says it “partners” with clinicians and clinics across the UK. So it’s not doing everything in-house.

It offers what it bills as a “full range” of fertility and gynaecology services — from assisted reproductive technology such as IVF, IUI and more; fertility planning such as egg, sperm and embryo freezing to donor-assisted and third-party reproduction such as donor eggs and sperm; as well as surrogacy and adoption.

Its doctors, nurses and “fertility advocates” are there to provide a one-to-one care service to support patients throughout the process.

“We use technology in a number of ways and are ambitious about how it will help us to maintain an advantage over others in the sector and provide the best customer experience,” says Chen, noting it’s developed “a full end-to-end” app for patients to guide them through the various stages of their fertility journey.

“On the employer side we have a full employer portal as well which provides educational resources, support options and access to services for HR/People teams to use and share with their workforces. Additionally, we use telehealth to enable more efficient, convenient (particularly in the age of COVID-19 restrictions) and immediate consultations with clinicians and nurses. Finally, we are refining our machine learning algorithms to help drive more informed decision making for patients and clinicians alike.”

It’s not currently applying AI but says that over time its in-house medical experts will use artificial intelligence to aid decision-making — with the aim of reducing clinic visits, enhancing the patient experience and yielding better clinical pregnancy rates.

Chen points to the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority having already made its data publicly available on more than 100,000 couples and their treatment and outcomes — suggesting such data-sets will underpin the development of new predictive models for fertility.

“With additional insight and data sources could more accurately predict probability of success for a patient — or the best type of treatment for them,” he adds.

While Fertifa’s current focus is UK expansion — targeting workplaces of all sizes and scale — it’s also got its eye on scaling overseas down the line. Although it will of course face more competition at that point, with the likes of Y Combinator backed Carrot already offering global fertility benefits packages for employers.

“Fertility and reproductive health is important to people all over the world,” says Chen. “Globally one in four women experience a miscarriage, every LGBT+ individual requires support to become a parent, and everyone needs to be increasingly empowered to take control of their reproductive health through fertility preservation treatment.”

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F3, a Stories-style Q&A app for Gen Z teens, raises $3.9M

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F3, an anonymous Q&A app targeting Gen Z teens which blends a Tinder-style swipe-to-friend gamification mechanic, Stories-esque rich media responses and eye-wateringly expensive subscriptions to unlock a ‘Plus’ version that actually lets you see who wants to friend you — has raised a $3.9M seed round, including for a planned push on the US market.

The Latvian team behind F3 are not new to the viral teen app game having founded the anonymous teen Q&A app Ask.fm — which faced huge controversy back in 2013 over bullying and safety concerns after being linked to a number of suicides of users who’d received abusive messages. Not that they’ve let that put them off the viral teen app space, clearly.

Investors in F3’s seed round hail from the Russian dating network Mamba (including the latter’s investor, Mail.ru Group) and a co-investor VC firm with a marketing focus, called AdFirst.

Alex Hofmann (former musical.ly president) and Marat Kichikov (GP at Bitfury Capital) are also named as being among those joining the round as angel investors.

F3, which launched its apps in 2018, has 25M registered users at this point — 85% of whom are younger than 25.

The typical user is a (bored) teenager, with the user base being reported as 65% female and 60% Europe / 20% LatAm / 20% Rest of World at this point. (They’re not breaking out any active user metrics but claim 80% of users have been on the app for more than three months at this point.)

On the safety front, F3 is using both automated tools and people for content moderation — with the founders claiming to have learnt lessons from their past experience with Ask.fm (which got acquired by IAC’s Ask.com back in 2014, given them the funds to plough into F3’s development up to now).

“We’ve been solving problem of violating content in our previous company (Ask.fm), and now at F3 we’ve used all our knowledge of solving this problem from day one. Automation tools include text analysis in all major languages with database of 250k+ patterns that is continuously being improved, and AI based image recognition algorithms for detecting violating content in photos and videos,” says the founding team — which includes CEO Ilja Terebin.

“Our 24/7 content moderation team (8 in-house safety experts and 30+ outsourced contractors) manually reviews user reports and items flagged by automation tools,” they add.

However reviews of the app that we saw included complaints from users who said they’ve being pestered by ‘pedophiles’ asking for nudes — so claims of safety risks being “solved” seem riskily overblown.

Why do teens need yet another social discovery/messaging app? On that Terebin & team say the app has been tailored for Gen Z from the get-go — “focusing on their needs to socialize and make new friends online, ‘quick’ content in the form of photos and short videos, which is true and personal”.

“Raw & real” is another of their teen-friendly product market fit claims.

F3 users get a personalized URL that they can share to other social networks to solicit questions from their friends — which can be asked anonymously or not. (F3 users can also choose not to accept anonymous questions if they prefer.)

Instead of plain text answers users snap a photo or grab a short video, add filters, fancy fonts and backgrounds, and so on to reply in a rich-media Stories-style that’s infiltrated all social networking apps (most recently infecting Twitter, where it’s called Fleets).

These rich media responses get made public on their feed — so if an F3 user chooses to answer a question they’re also engaging with the wider community by default (though they can choose not to respond as questions remain private until responded to).

Asked how F3 stands out in a very packed and competitive social media landscape, they argue the app’s “uniqueness” is that the Q&A is photo and video based — “so the format is familiar and close to other social networks (‘stories’ or ‘snaps’) but in a Q&A style back-and-forth communication”, as they put it, adding that for their Gen Z target “the outdated text-based Q&A just was too boring”.

“We compete for eyeballs of Gen Z with Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram. Our key strength is that through the Q&A format one can make new friends and truly get to know other people on a personal level through the prism of ‘raw and real’ content, which is not central on any of those platforms,” they also claim.

In terms of most similar competitors, they note Yolo has seen “some traction” and concede there are a bunch of others also offering Q&A. But here they argue F3 is more fully featured than rivals — suggesting the Q&A feature is just the viral hook to get users into a wider community net.

“[F3] is a fully functional social platform, built around visual communication — users have content feed where they can view posts by people they follow, they can create photo/video content using editing tools in the app itself, there’s a messenger functionality for direct chats, follow-ships, content and user discovery. So for us, the anonymous messaging/Q&A format is just an entry point which allows us to grow quickly and get the users on our platform, but then they make new connections and keep engaging with their unique social circle they have only on F3, making it a sustainable stand-alone social network.”

Again, though, user reviews tell more of a raw (and real?) story — with plenty of complaints that there’s little value in the free version of the app (while F3 Plus costs $3.99 for 7 days; $8.99 for 1 month or $19.99 for 3 months), and questions over the authenticity of some anonymous questions, as well as complaints that other users they’re able to meet aren’t nearby and/or don’t speak the same language. Other reviews aren’t wowed by more of the  same Q&A format. Others complain the app just feels like a data grab. (And the F3 ‘privacy policy‘ definitely has a detailed story to unfold vis-a-vis the tracking users are agreeing to, for anyone who bothers to dig in and read it.)

“This whole app is literally just like all the other apps. Just another copy cat that you still have to pay for,” runs one review from July 2020. “Don’t download.”

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Altana raises $7M to protect supply chains from disruptions, child labor

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Supply chains used to be one of those magical elements of capitalism that seemed to be designed by Apple: they just worked. Minus the occasional salmonella outbreak in your vegetable aisle, we could go about our daily consumer lives never really questioning how our fast-fashion clothes, tech gadgets, and medical supplies actually got to our shelves or homes.

Of course, a lot has changed over the past few years. Anti-globalization sentiment has grown as a political force, driving governments like the United States and the United Kingdom to renegotiate free trade agreements and attempt to onshore manufacturing while disrupting the trade status quo. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic placed huge stress on supply chains — with some entirely breaking in the process.

In short, supply chain managers suddenly went from one of those key functions that no one wants to think about, to one of those key functions that everyone thinks about all the time.

While these specialists have access to huge platforms from companies like Oracle and SAP, they need additional intelligence to understand where these supply chains could potentially break. Are there links in the supply chain that might be more brittle than at first glance? Are there factories in the supply chain that are on alert lists for child labor or environmental violations? What if government trade policy shifts — are we at risk of watching products sit in a cargo container at a port?

New York-headquartered Altana wants to be that intelligence layer for supply-chain management, bringing data and machine learning to bear against the complexity of modern capitalism. Today, the company announced that it has raised $7 million in seed financing led by Anne Glover of London-based Amadeus Capital Partners.

The three founders of the startup, CEO Evan Smith, CTO Peter Swartz, and COO Raphael Tehranian, all worked together on Panjiva, a global supply chain platform that was founded in 2006, funded by Battery Ventures a decade ago, and sold to S&P Global in early 2018. Panjiva’s goal was to build a “graph” of supply chains that would offer intelligence to managers.

That direct experience informs Altana’s vision, which in many ways is the same as Panjiva’s but perhaps revamped using newer technology and data science. Again, Altana wants to build a supply-chain knowledge graph, provide intelligence to managers, and create better resilience.

The difference has to do with data. “What we continually found when we were in the data sales business was that you are kind of stuck in that place in the value chain,” Smith said. “Your customers won’t let you touch their data, because they don’t trust you with it, and other proprietary data companies don’t let you work on and manage and transform their data.”

Instead of trying to be the central repository for all data, Altana is “operating downstream” from all of these data sources, allowing companies to build their own supply chain graphs using their own data and whatever other data sources they have access to.

The company sells into procurement offices, which are typically managed in the CFO’s office. Today, the majority of customers for Altana are government clients such as border control, where “the task is to pick the needles out of the haystack as the ship arrives and you’ve got to pick the illicit shipments from the safe ones and actually facilitate the lawful trade,” Smith said.

The company’s executive chairman is Alan Bersin, who is a former commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency currently working as a policy consultant for Covington & Burling, which has been one of the premier law firms on trade issues like CFIUS during the Trump administration.

Altana allows one-off investigations and simulations, but its major product goal is to offer real-time alerts that give supply chain managers substantive visibility into changes that affect their business. For instance, rather than waiting for an annual labor or environmental audit to find issues, Altana hopes to provide predictive capabilities that allow companies to solve problems much faster than before.

In addition to Amadeus, Schematic Ventures, AlleyCorp, and the Working Capital – The Supply Chain Investment Fund also participated.

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Adobe expands customer data platform to include B2B sales

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The concept of the customer data platform (CDP) is a relatively new one. Up until now, it has focused primarily on pulling data about an individual consumer from a variety of channels into a super record, where in theory you can serve more meaningful content and deliver more customized experiences based on all this detailed knowledge. Adobe announced its intention today to create such a product for business to business (B2B) customers, a key market where this kind of data consolidation had been missing.

Indeed Brian Glover, Adobe’s director of product marketing for Marketo Engage, who has been put in charge of this product, says that these kinds of sales are much more complex and B2B sales and marketing teams are clamoring for a CDP.

“We have spent the last couple of years integrating Marketo Engage across Adobe Experience Cloud, and now what we’re doing is building out the next generation of new and complimentary B2B offerings on the Experience platform, the first of which is the B2B CDP offering,” Glover told me.

He says that they face unique challenges adapting CDP for B2B sales because they typically involve buying groups, meaning you need to customize your messages for different people depending on their role in the process.

An individual consumer usually knows what they want and you can prod them to make a decision and complete the purchase, but a B2B sale is usually longer and more complex involving different levels of procurement. For example, in a technology sale, it may involve the CIO, a group, division or department who will be using the tech, the finance department, legal and others. There may be an RFP and the sales cycle may span months or even years.

Adobe believes this kind of sale should still be able to use the same customized messaging approach you use in an individual sale, perhaps even more so because of the inherent complexity in the process. Yet B2B marketers face the same issues as their B2C counterparts when it comes to having data spread across an organization.

“In B2B that complexity of buying groups and accounts just adds another level to the data management problem because ultimately you need to be able to connect to your customer people data, but you also need to be able to connect the account data too and be able to [bring] the two together,” Glover explained.

By building a more complete picture of each individual in the buying cycle, you can, as Glover puts it, begin to put the bread crumbs together for the entire account. He believes that a CRM isn’t built for this kind of complexity and it requires a specialty tool like a CDP built to support B2B sales and marketing.

Adobe is working with early customers on the product and expects to go into beta before the end of next month with GA some time in the first half of next year.

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