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Ro raises $500M to grow its remote and in-home primary care platform

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Healthcare tech startup Ro has raised $500 million to help fuel continued growth of its hybrid telehealth/in-home primary care platform, which also includes a growing pharmacy business as the company pursues a strategy of vertical integration to optimize delivery and reduce costs for clients. The company’s latest raise is a Series D round, and means it has now raised over $876 million since its 2017 founding.

That may seem like a lot of money, but as Ro co-founder and CEO Zachariah Reitano told me in an interview, it’s actually “peanuts” when it comes to the healthcare industry – which is part of why they founded the company in the first place.

“Sometimes people talk about how great it is to be in the healthcare arena, in tech circles,” Reitano said. “They say, ‘Oh, healthcare is a $4 trillion market – it’s so massive.’  But that’s the worst thing in the entire world; it’s awful how large it is. And I think what we have the opportunity to cut it in half with technology.”

That’s what Reitano says will be the primary focus of this round of funding: Fueling its efforts around vertical integration of healthcare services and technology, to further the eventual end goal of reducing costs to patients through the efficiencies realized in that process.

“To me, what I’m really excited about is being able to continue to invest in that infrastructure and add even more,” Reitano told me. “We’ll continue to invest in telemedicine, we’ll continue to invest in our logistics and pharmacy, and continue to invest in in-home care, as well as the connection between the three, and then we’ll also invest in additional diagnostics, remote patient monitoring – so collecting and distributing devices to patients to go from reactive to proactive care.”

Ro’s model focuses on primary care delivered direct to consumer, without involving any payer or employer-funded and guided care programs. The idea is to reduce costs through vertical integration and other efficiency engineering efforts in order to get them to the point where they’re effectively on par with your out-of-pocket expense with co-pays anyway. Reitano explained that the insurance system as it exists in the U.S. now only effectively masks individual costs, making it less clear that much of what a person pays out in healthcare costs comes out of their pocket anyway, whether it’s through taxation, or employers allocating more of the funds they have available for compensation to healthcare, vs. take-home pay.

Image Credits: Ro

That’s what’s behind Ro’s recent push into operating its own pharmacies, and growing that footprint to include more all the time. Reitano told me that the company will have 10 pharmacies by the end o this year, and 15 by the end of next, all placed strategically around the country to ensure that it can provide next-day shipping to patients at ground shipping rates pretty much anywhere in the U.S.

Doing that kind of vertical optimization has enabled Ro to offer 500 common drugs at $5 per month, including treatments for heart disease, anxiety, depression and diabetes — with a plan to ramp it to 1,000 drugs available at that price by year’s end. That’s roughly equal to the co-pay required for many insurers for the same treatments.

Meanwhile, Reitano says Ro has seen big changes in the healthcare system generally that favor its model and accelerate its hybrid care plans owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would say that there are two most profound impacts of the pandemic on the healthcare system,” he said. “One is that it simultaneously shed light on all of the inequities for the entire country to see, right at the same time where we all cared about it. So those things were sort of known for the people impacted day to day — the geographic inequity, the financial inequity, the racial inequity. If someone felt that that inequity, then they would talk about it, but it wasn’t something everyone cared about at the same time. So this massive spotlight was shed on the healthcare system. And the second was that everyone’s healthcare journey now starts online, even if it is going to end in person, it will still start online.”

Ro’s model all along has espoused this time of healthcare delivery, with remote care and telehealth appointments handling most day-to-day needs, and follow-up in person care delivered to the home when required. That obviously generate a lot of efficiencies, while ensuring that older patients and those with mobility issues also don’t need to leave the house and make a regular trip into their physician’s office for what amounts to a 15-minute visit that could’ve been handled over video.

Ro co-founders Rob Schutz, Zachariah Reitano and Saman Rahmanian (left to right)

Ro co-founders Rob Schutz, Zachariah Reitano and Saman Rahmanian (left to right)

According to most industry observers, Reitano is likely right that healthcare probably won’t go back to the old, inefficient model of favoring primarily in-person care after the pandemic ends. One of the positive outcomes of the COVID-19 situation has been proving that telehealth is more than capable of handling a lot of the primary care needs of a lot of people, particularly when supplemented with remote monitoring and ongoing proactive health measures, too.

While Ro doesn’t work with insurance currently, Reitano points out that he’s not against the concept entirely – he just says that health insurance as it exists now doesn’t actual work as intended, since it’s meant to pool risk against an, expensive, uncertain and rare outcome. Eventually, he believes there’s a place for insurance in the overall healthcare mix, but first the industry needs to face a reckoning wherein its incentive structure is realigned to its actual core customer – patients themselves.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/03/22/ro-raises-500m-to-grow-its-remote-and-in-home-primary-care-platform/

Techcrunch

Lenovo won’t be attending MWC in person, either

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Shortly after Samsung announced that it won’t be attending the upcoming MWC Barcelona, Chinese hardware giant (and Motorola parent) Lenovo has confirmed with TechCrunch that it has also decided to forgo the in-person event. The event is scheduled for June 28 to July 1.

“Lenovo is not attending in person but will participate in the virtual partner program,” the company said in a brief statement. The decision reflects that of Samsung’s – opting to skip a booth in favor of going all-virtual.

The move is not particularly surprising – and, as noted earlier, it’s hard to shake the feeling we had early last year, as the dominos started falling ahead of the event’s cancelation (though by all accounts this year’s MWC will have a physical presence regardless). Google, IBM, Nokia, Sony, Oracle and Ericsson have all already confirmed they will not be in attendance.

Some key hardware names are still up on the official MWC exhibitor list, including ZTE, Xiaomi and LG – though things are further complicated by the fact that the latter recent announced its exit from the smartphone business.

Following Samsung’s announcement, the show’s governing board, the GSMA, told TechCrunch, “Of course we respect that planning in a pandemic is complicated. Samsung will adapt their presence to virtual for MWC21 and we look forward to seeing them in person 2022.” It’s safe to assume the response is similar for the moment, though we’ll update if we receive additional comment.

These announcements are, no doubt, a massive blow for MWC’s ambitions for a small return to normalcy this year. But given travel restrictions in many places as the pandemic continues to rage on in various parts of the world, it’s hard to fault any of the companies for their abundance of caution.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/11/lenovo-wont-be-attending-mwc-in-person-either/

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Blockchain

eBay embraces NFTs

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eBay is joining the NFT frenzy, telling Reuters today that going forward it will allow the sales of NFTs on its platform, a mainstream embrace that follows billions of dollars in NFT purchases over the past few months. The e-commerce company seems poised to slowly build up sales of digital collectibles on the platform, starting with a smaller group of verified sellers on the platform.

“In the coming months, eBay will add new capabilities that bring blockchain-driven collectibles to our platform,” eBay exec Jordan Sweetnam told them.

eBay has invested heavily in infrastructure for physical collectibles like trading cards, as well as items like sneakers and watches which they help verify for buyers.

eBay is a major presence in online shopping, but the platform will have its work cut out for it competing with dozens of crypto native NFT marketplaces already out there. While NFT interest has been high as of late, the infrastructure for buying collectibles with cryptocurrencies still isn’t the most user-friendly. Earlier this week, executives at eBay said they were open to accepting cryptocurrencies in the future.

This news comes as the Ethereum cryptocurrency, which is the primary method of purchase for most NFTs, reaches past all-time-highs, currently trading over $4,100.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/11/ebay-embraces-nfts/

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Aerospace

Rocket Lab prepares to recover second booster at sea after May 15 launch

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Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck shared more details on the company’s next launch, which is set to take off from its New Zealand facility on May 15. The Electron vehicle will be carrying satellites from BlackSky, but delivering that payload is only half of the mission: the other half will be recovering the booster stage after an ocean splashdown.

This is the second of three planned booster recovery missions, part of Rocket Lab’s long-term plan to reach reusability for its launch vehicle, an achievement most famously held by its competitor SpaceX. The first recovery mission, dubbed “Return to Sender,” successfully splashed down in the Atlantic in November. While Beck told reporters Tuesday the condition of that booster “was remarkable,” this upcoming mission nevertheless features a number of component and system upgrades aimed at further fortifying the booster.

Most notably, the booster will be equipped with a redesigned heat shield made out of stainless steel, rather than aluminum, “designed to carry the reentry loads as well as the ascent loads,” Beck said. Electron must endure temperatures as high as 2400ºC during reentry, conditions the original equipment wasn’t intended to handle.

The company is also introducing what it’s calling the Ocean Recovery and Capture Apparatus, or ORCA, a dedicated system to help lift the rocket stage out of the water and onto the deck of a ship. Rough seas in November presented a challenge to the recovery effort, though ultimately the booster was not damaged.

The mission will also reuse components from the recovered booster, which (although the booster itself was dismantled) were subsequently inspected and requalified for flight. “From here on in, we should be able to reuse this system on every single launch vehicle that we’ve been bringing back,” Beck said.

Rocket Lab is pursuing a unique route to reusability. As opposed to the approach from SpaceX, whose Falcon 9 rockets use powered decelerations and landings, Rocket Lab’s approach with Electron is to decelerate the vehicle passively using the atmosphere and a parachute.

The reentry method is constrained by the size of the launch vehicle, Beck explained. “You don’t really have that ability to carry extra fuel to do maneuvers or deceleration burns or anything like that,” he said. Instead, the vehicle enters engines-first and propagates a massive shockwave on its journey back to Earth, carefully managed to reduce peak heat on its vulnerable parts. This results in a nearly negligible payload reduction: about 10%, as opposed to the 30-40% required for a propulsive landing. These are very tight margins, Beck acknowledged:

“This is not a simple thing to do. It sounds pretty basic – let’s just bring the stage back and put it under a parachute and splash down – but actually, doing it with no significant reentry elements and just using the atmosphere to do all the work is really challenging.”

The final splashdown recovery mission will take place before the end of 2021, Beck said, and will include improvements to the decelerator and a more general block upgrade. Once these missions are complete, Rocket Lab will turn to its ultimate goal: to do away with splashdown recovery altogether and to retrieve the booster mid-descent under its parachute using a helicopter.

Looking ahead, the company’s next rocket will be the Neutron, “a vehicle designed for reusability from day one,” Beck said. The Neutron will be much larger than its predecessor and capable of lifting heavier payloads to orbit. He estimated that Rocket Lab will construct one Neutron rocket per year and aim to operate a fleet of four to begin with.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/11/rocket-lab-prepares-to-recover-second-booster-at-sea-after-may-15-launch/

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Techcrunch

Subaru’s first electric vehicle is called the Solterra and it’s due out in 2022

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For Subaru diehards holding out for an electric vehicle, the wait is almost over. The Japanese automaker just announced new details about its first ever EV, which is set to hit the streets in 2022.

Subaru will call its first EV the Solterra, a fitting name for a brand synonymous with outdoor adventures and you know, the sun and the Earth. Also fittingly, Subaru’s first full-fledged EV will be an SUV thats ships with the manufacturer’s well-regarded all-wheel drive capabilities.

The Solterra is built on a new platform the company is developing in partnership with Toyota, which the latter company will use for its impossibly named BZ4X crossover (BZ stands for “beyond zero,” apparently).

Subaru has only released two teaser images so far, but given that the new SUV will share DNA with the Toyota BZ4X, Subaru’s offering will likely look like a toned-down, less aggressively styled version of Toyota’s forthcoming futuristic electric crossover.

Other than that, we don’t know a whole lot. If the Solterra winds up looking a lot like the BZ4X, you can expect a sort of squashed RAV4, maybe somewhere between a Crosstrek and a Forester in size.

Subaru’s first proper EV will join the plug-in hybrid Crosstrek, which the company began selling in 2014 — currently its only option for climate-conscious drivers. The Solterra will go on sale next year in the U.S., Canada, China, Europe, and Japan.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/11/subaru-solterra-ev-2022/

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