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Virgin Orbit targets launch window opening January 10 for next orbital flight attempt

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Virgin Orbit is wasting no time in 2021 getting back to active flight testing: The company has a window for its next orbital demonstration launch attempt that opens on Sunday, January 10, and that continues throughout the rest of the month. This follows an attempt last year made in May, which ended before the LauncherOne rocket reached orbit — shortly after it detached from the Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft, in fact.

While that mission didn’t go exactly as Virgin Orbit had hoped, it was a significant milestone for the small satellite launch company, and helped gather a significant amount of data about how the vehicle performs in flight. LauncherOne was able to briefly light its rocket booster before safety systems on board automatically shut it down. The company had been looking to fly this second test before the end of last year, but issues including COVID-19 meant that they only got as far as the wet dress rehearsal (essentially a run-through of everything leading up to the flight with the vehicles fully fueled).

This next mission will once again attempt an orbital launch, and this time, the stakes are somewhat higher because actual customer payloads from NASA are on board. They include a number of small satellite science experiments and demonstrations, and while they’re specifically selected for the mission profile (meaning it’s not a tremendous loss if the launch fails), it still would make everyone happiest to actually get them to their target destination.

The nature of the launch window means that Virgin Orbit will likely wait for conditions to be as good as possible before taking off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, so take that January 10 date as the earliest possible launch time, but not necessarily the most likely. If successful, Virgin Orbit will join a select group of private small launch vehicles that have made it to orbit, so the industry will definitely be watching the next time Cosmic Girl takes off with LauncherOne attached.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Health insurance startup Alan launches free medical app Alan Baby

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French startup Alan is generating 100% of its revenue from health insurance products — and that isn’t going to change. But the company wants to start a conversation with a bigger use base. Alan is going to launch multiple mobile apps that let you learn more about health topics, contact a doctor and chat with the community.

“We are proud to announce today that we’re launching free medical apps for everyone,” co-founder and CEO Jean-Charles Samuelian-Werve said in a virtual press conference. “We’re going to develop services for specific groups of people who are facing specific issues or questions.”

And the company is starting with Alan Baby. As you can guess from the name, Alan Baby helps you stay on top of your baby’s health. The company has chosen to focus on that segment as your baby’s health can be a great source of mental stress.

When you first open the app, you get a feed of articles on specific topics, from sleep to nutrition and child development. You can get relevant articles by entering the birthdate of your child as you often don’t have the same questions at day one and day 100.

While parents usually have 10 pediatrician appointments in the first year, you may have a burning question that cannot wait that long. From Alan Baby, you can start a text discussion with a doctor. The company says users should expect an answer within 24 hours.

Alan had already hired doctors for a similar messaging feature for its users who are covered under the health insurance products. The company is opening up that feature to more users beyond its paid customers.

Finally, people who install Alan Baby can interact with each other in the community section. It works a bit like an online forum on health topics, except that it’s mobile-first and Alan wants to moderate it with some help from its doctors.

“Thanks to what we’re setting up for parents, we will be able to extend it to other topics soon,” Samuelian-Werve said. He names fertility, mental health or diabetes as potential topics for other free apps.

While the apps are going to be free, the company expects to attract new clients for its health insurance thanks to those new apps. Essentially, Alan is broadening the top of its sales funnel with free apps.

Alan Baby is rolling out progressively in France. There’s a waitlist and the iOS app is available to pre-order (for free) in the App Store.

An update on the health insurance products

Back in October, Samuelian-Werve told me that 100,000 were covered through Alan. A few months later, 139,000 people are covered through one Alan insurance product or another. Overall, 8,300 companies have chosen the company as their health insurance provider. Basically, Alan’s user base has more than doubled in 2020.

In France, employees are covered by both the national healthcare system and private insurance companies. So Alan convinces other companies to use its product for its employees. The company has obtained its own health insurance license, which means that it can customize its health insurance products completely depending on the segment and client.

The company is also operating in Spain and Belgium. But it’s been a slow start with 300 members in Spain and 500 members in Belgium. Alan is going to focus on those two markets before launching new countries in the future.

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Google backs India’s Dunzo in $40 million funding round

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Google is writing check to another startup in India. The Android-maker, which last year unveiled a $10 billion fund to invest in the world’s second largest internet market, said on Tuesday that it is participating in a $40 million investment round of hyperlocal delivery startup Dunzo, a Bangalore-based firm that it has also previously backed.

Five-year-old Dunzo said Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada, and Alteria among others participated in its Series E financing round, which brings its to-date raise to $121 million.

Dunzo operates an eponymous hyper-local delivery service in nearly a dozen cities in India including Bangalore, Delhi, Noida, Pune, Gurgaon, Powai, Hyderabad and Chennai. Users get access to a wide-range of items across several categories, from grocery, perishables, pet supplies and medicines to dinner from their neighborhood stores and restaurants.

E-commerce accounts for less than 3% of all retail sales in India, according to industry estimates. Mom and pop stores and other neighborhood outlets that dot tens of thousands of cities, towns, villages and slums across the country drive most of the sales in the nation. The way Dunzo has grown, it poses a challenge to e-commerce firms, as well as local food and grocery delivery startups such as Swiggy, Zomato, BigBasket, and Grofers.

“As merchants go digital, Dunzo is helping small businesses in their digital transformation journey in support of business recovery,” said Caesar Sengupta, VP, Google, in a statement. “Through our India Digitization Fund, we’re committed to partnering with India’s innovative startups to build a truly inclusive digital economy that will benefit everyone.”

Kabeer Biswas, chief executive and co-founder of Dunzo the startup has grown its annual gross merchandise value business to about $100 million. (GMV used to a popular metric that several e-commerce firms relied on to demonstrate their growth, however, it’s one of the meaningless ways to gauge a startup’s growth. Most firms have stopped using GMV. Additionally, when a startup speaks GMV language, traditionally it has meant they are anything but close to profitability, which happens to be true in the case of Dunzo.)

“Dunzo’s mission resonated stronger than ever in 2020. We have been amazed by everything merchants and users have started to depend on the platform for. We truly believe we are writing a playbook for how hyperlocal businesses can be built with sustainable unit economics and capital responsibility. As a team, we are more focused than ever to enable local Merchants to get closer to their Users and build one of the most loved consumer brands in the country,” Biswas said in a statement.

Google, which invested $4.5 billion in Jio Platforms last year, recently backed social news app Dailyhunt and Glance, a part of ad giant InMobi Group that is aggressively expanding ways to populate content on Android users’ lockscreen. Google is also in talks with local social media ShareChat and may alone invest more than $100 million in the Indian startup, TechCrunch reported earlier this months. Talks about Google’s interest in ShareChat has previously also been reported by local media houses Economic Times and ET Now.

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TikTok’s Chinese version Douyin launches an e-wallet

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Tencent’s WeChat Pay and Alibaba’s affiliate Alipay have long dominated digital payments in China, but they have always faced new challengers. The latest entrant in online payments is Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese version.

The short video app recently added “Douyin Pay” to its list of existing payment options, which have included Alipay and WeChat Pay.

“The set-up of Douyin Pay (Douyin Zhifu) is to supplement the existing major payment options, and to ultimately enhance user experience on Douyin,” a Douyin spokesperson said.

Payment is a natural step for Douyin, which has a growing e-commerce business. Users can be directed to a product link while watching a video of an influencer reviewing, say, a lipstick. Instead of the ubiquitous WeChat Pay and Alipay, they may opt for Douyin Pay one day, if the incentives are great enough.

Other internet giants, such as e-commerce giant JD.com and food delivery service Meituan, have also tried luring people to use their own payment methods, though the market duopoly is hard to break. All in all, Alipay and WeChat Pay handle about 90% of China’s electronic payments.

Like other internet firms, Douyin parent ByteDance snapped up a coveted payments license by acquiring a third-party payments firm. Last September, a company controlled by ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming bought out a payments solution provider called Wuhan Hezhong Yibao Technology Co. The license, in turn, allows Douyin, Toutiao and other ByteDance services to offer payment features.

Users can, for instance, receive a cash-filled electronic red packet from a Douyin campaign and deposit that cash to their bank accounts.

Douyin Pay

The rollout of Douyin Pay seems well-timed with the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday, a time when families and friends gift each other red packets. Over the past decade, WeChat has been popularizing electronic versions of these auspicious money-filled envelopes, which helped WeChat Pay take off in the early days.

Douyin inked a deal with Chinese state broadcaster CCTV to be its red envelope technology provider for the Spring Festival Gala, traditionally a major advertising event of the year, according to Chinese business news provider LatePost. Alibaba’s young rival Pinduoduo had a similar deal last year in an attempt to grow its own payments users.

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