Healthcare Crowdfunding Platform Watsi Grabs $1.2M From Tencent, Paul Graham, Vinod Khosla, Ron Conway And More

Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 5.48.16 AM

At TechCrunch Disrupt NYC back in April, former Facebook exec-turned-venture capitalist, Chamath Palihapitiya delivered a deflating critique of the tech industry – in particular, the quality of its startups. Had he been issuing a report card, the Tech World would have gotten an “F,” with an extra side of “shame.” His frustration seemed to emanate principally from the fact that “Big Ideas” are few and far between in the industry today. Rather than aiming high, he intoned, entrepreneurs seem content to reach for low-hanging fruit despite the diminishing returns inherent to that approach.

While Big Ideas may not be at all-time high, today’s news brings some assurance that they are still alive and well in the tech industry – and that there’s even capital to support them, for-profit or not. Watsi, a Y Combinator-backed healthcare crowdfunding platform, is tackling one of the biggest: That more than one billion people can’t afford (or don’t have access to) adequate medical services. Even Chamath would likely agree that falls in the “Big Idea” camp.

Today, the non-profit crowdfunding platform announced that it has raised $1.2 million in what is its first round of financing, or “philanthropic seed round,” as the startup is calling it. Granted, if Watsi is setting its sights high, than $1.2 million will only be a drop in the bucket compared to the capital and resources it will need if it truly hopes to make a difference at scale.

A good start, to be sure, especially when considering the impressive roster of names contributing to its first financing, which includes institutional investors, like China’s largest Internet services portal, Tencent, Y Combinator partners – including personal investments from founder Paul Graham and YC Partner Geoff Ralston – along with the “godfather of angel investing” and owner of the most pristine coiffure in the Valley, Ron Conway, Sun Microsystems and Khosla Ventures co-founder, Vinod Khosla, venture philanthropy fund (and Kiva investor), The Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation and Flixter founder and Rotten Tomatoes CEO, Joe Greenstein – to name a few.

While the list is impressive, it’s not a group of investors one would typically find contributing to a non-profit fundraiser. Watsi founder Chase Adam explains that the reason the company opted for this approach is that the traditional mechanisms for non-profit fundraising sometimes act as a counterproductive force by undermining the social movements they’re trying to support. Instead of devoting themselves to their “Big Idea,” socially-minded entrepreneurs often spend their time entering online voting competitions and hosting banquets to raise money to support their operations.

Instead, Adams hopes that the collection of VC, angel and institutional donations represents a move toward a new future of non-profit fundraising. Granted, Watsi is in the unusual (and fortunate) position to have been the first non-profit startup to be accepted into Y Combinator and to have had the vocal support of Y Combinator’s founder, Paul Graham, who also recently accepted a seat on the startup’s board – the first time he’s done so for a YC incubation.

In reference to this question, Graham suggested to Watsi that they call this raise a “Series N” (non-profit and n=variable).

On the flip side, Adams tells us that he set a three-month deadline for fundraising, deciding to go after industry leaders and big names in the angel and venture world, regardless of whether or not the efforts proved to be successful. By doing so, the Watsi founder hopes that this might help encourage other social businesses to consider forgoing traditional sources of fundraising.

Ben Rattray, the founder and CEO of social action platform Change.org and I recently spoke on this very subject after the socially-minded for-profit company closed its own $15 million round of funding. As a for-profit business, there’s more pressure for Change.org to raise institutional or venture capital.

As a non-profit, Watsi would likely be more attractive to investors, whereas Big Idea-based, for-profit companies have traditionally found it difficult to raise money from these types of investors. However, both Adams and Rattray share similar goals, as the Change.org founder that would enable them to remain independent without having to constantly be looking for a one-time liquidity event.

“These kind of social enterprise businesses are working over the long-term, 15 to 20 year windows, which is beyond the scope of most venture capitalists,” Rattray said at the time. However, he believes that it’s going to change: “I have no doubt this is going to change – that eventually more investors are going to start backing socially-conscious businesses,” Rattray says. And it’s for that very reason that I think the juxtaposition of Watsi and Change.org is worthwhile. Although perhaps idealistic – and, admittedly, Watsi is a non-profit, perhaps the startup’s funding is the first sign that it is, in fact, beginning to change.

Nonetheless, for Watsi, this raise is an important validation of its own ambitious, “Big Idea” goals. Of course, eliminating poverty or fixing global healthcare and covering the uncovered, don’t happen over night and aren’t solved by one person or one founder. That’s why Watsi is leveraging the “many hands” approach of crowdfunding to let anyone contribute to the funding of low-cost, high-impact medical treatments for those in need.

Furthermore, the platform automatically creates profiles for those in search of financial support for treatments or surgeries and makes it easy to make direct donations. Furthermore, these profiles, besides providing critical transparency into how your donation will be used and actually help someone, it also works towards attaching actual, human faces to global poverty – which sounds cheesy but is critical to conditions or problems like this that are so huge that providing real faces, one-by-one, can help discourage, say, just ignoring it and hanging for a lower-hanging fruit.

To further incentivize donations, Watsi offers 100 percent of the donations it collects from the crowd to those in need. Graham also says that the startup is paying “all their operational costs from their own funding, and none from your donations,” and in turn, even stomach credit card processing fees. A noble gesture in its own right.

The startup hosts the profiles of people in need but who can’t afford them, allowing donors to peruse profiles, donate as little as $5
, Watsi hosts profiles of people in dire need of medical care, but who can’t afford it. Donors can browse the profiles and donate as little as $5 to help someone get well. 100% of donations go to the sick, and Watsi funds its operations and even pays credit card processing fees on donations out of its own pocket. We name

Zenefits Lands $2.1M From Venrock, Maverick, Aaron Levie, Charlie Cheever And More To Automate Startup HR

Screen shot 2013-07-26 at 4.31.08 PM

For small businesses, managing health insurance and payroll services can be a huge pain and time-sink. They probably don’t have someone on staff dedicated to these issues, and they themselves would rather be dedicating that energy to building a company. Zenefits launched out of Y Combinator this winter to remove the friction of setting up and managing group health coverage and payroll by automating the process and bringing it online – for free.

As a testament to how much demand there is among startups and small businesses, since expanding its service at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC in April, Zenefits co-founder Parker Conrad tells us that the company has signed on over 110 clients (ranging from 2 employees to over 100) and is now bringing on an average of 10 customers each week. Today, as it looks to continue expanding operations beyond California, Zenefits is announcing that it has raised $2.1 million in seed capital from an impressive roster of venture firms and angel investors.

The new round, which includes the initial $372K chunk of capital the startup raised out of Y Combinator from Andreessen Horowitz, Yuri Milner, General Catalyst, Garry Tan, Justin Kan and Alexis Ohanian, was led by Venrock and Maverick Capital. A big reason why Zenefits was keen to bring these two investors on board in particular, Conrad tells us, was that Bob Kocher, who led Venrock’s investment, was a key player in helping to write the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) when he worked at the White House.

As Greg explained in April, at its core, Zenefits is essentially a digital insurance broker, meaning that they help startups automate insurance, benefits and payroll but they also get paid a commission by insurance companies each time a company opens a new plan through its system. Over the next two years, as Obamacare goes into effect, the new regulations and provisions mean big changes for health insurance companies and brokers.

These health players are not only being forced to move operations online but will also see the amount of commissions they can take drop – among other things. Many health insurance brokers are going to drop their small-group clients to focus on bigger-ticket customers as a result – and, as premiums could go up for businesses – Zenefits could stand to benefit big-time by offering their services for free. Plus, having someone who’s intimately familiar with the complex and nuanced provisions and regulations in Obamacare (because he helped write them) is huge.

Maverick Capital is also familiar with the healthcare and health insurance industries itself, having backed some of the bigger startups and players in the market, like OneMedical, Castlight Health and SeaChange Health, for example.

On top of its lead investors and the Y Combinator partners (like Sam Altman, Garry Tan, Harj Taggar, Alexis Ohanian, Paul Bucheit and Justin Tan – who all invested personally), Zenefits also saw a number of recognizable names contribute as angels, including Box co-founder and CEO, Aaron Levie, Quora co-founder Charlie Cheever, former Googler and Twitter VP of Corporate Strategy Elad Gil, Weebly co-founder David Rusenko, former Googler and Badoo COO Ben Ling, Google’s Head of Spam Slamming Matt Cutts and Inkling co-founder and CEO, Matt MacInnis.

With the new capital under its belt, Zenefits has expanded its team to 12 and will look to add more in the coming year. Because the company is considered a broker, it is paid a commission from insurance companies for each new employee and employee added (every month), which is great for its bottom line. But this also requires that it be approved by the government on a state-to-state basis. Currently, regulations limit it (and others like it) to a few states.

But with the changes Obamacare will bring, Conrad expects that digital insurance brokers of its ilk will be allowed to expand to more states beginning in January, at which point, Zenefits will look to move quickly beyond California and New York.

In the meantime, Conrad tells us that, according to BenefitMail, the company has already vaulted into the top 5 percent of insurance brokers (in terms of number of clients) in California, primarily as a result of new company submissions to Blue Cross – not bad for a startup five months from launch.

For those unfamiliar, Zenefits has been growing fast in California by turning a paper-heavy process into a digital one, allowing users to create new plans, while serving up quotes for group coverage across health, dental and vision insurance. The company’s system makes it easier for companies hiring new employees to add coverage for each employee, or, if a company fires someone (or they leave), they can click a button to remove their coverage and take them off the payroll, while starting them on COBRA coverage.

It works for companies regardless of whether they don’t have existing coverage or already are set up, syncing employee coverage data and taking over as your insurance broker for those in the latter camp. The company also recently added payroll services, so that startups and small businesses can just tell Zenefits about a new hire and give them the employee’s information, at which point Zenefits will take care of generating offer letters, IP agreements, onboarding details and then add them to its payroll system. They can also do the same for that employee’s benefits.

As part of its payroll services, Zenefits also sets up deductions employees pay for health insurance and other benefits, which employers would usually have to set up themselves. This is a pain, because salary and pricing can be different for each employee and whenever deductions change (which happens a lot when employees move, get married and so on), the price changes. Traditionally, the price of deductions change every 10 years, but with Obamacare, this will happen every year. This could be a huge boon for Zenefits, as it takes care of this stuff for startups and small businesses, who would be seeing a lot more paperwork as a result.

Furthermore, while services like Zenefits may seem familiar or not particularly disruptive to some, it’s hard to over-state just how old-school (and offline) most of the big, old school health insurance brokers are in the U.S. Some of them are multi-billion-dollar market cap companies, but may have little or no software or online-based solutions for their customers. So many startups and founder say “we’re disrupting and old offline industry” to get you excited about your company, and in a lot of cases that’s only half-true.

Health insurance brokerage is definitely one of those industries that qualifies as ripe for disruption thanks to its archaic procedures, practices and infrastructure. Many are aware of the changes that are coming, but they’re limited in how quickly they can react by responsibilities to shareholders, quarterly earnings and so on. Easier to preserve and protect the current state of things than re-build from the ground up. Zenefits won’t be the only one to benefit – many new companies are going to spring up in this space – but it’s definitely off to a good start.

As Inkling CEO Matt MacInniss (who personally invested in this round) told us:

Zenefits has identified a huge opportunity in the shifting landscape of benefits and healthcare among growing companies. Incumbents aren’t going to move as quickly as smaller, nimble companies – and they’re not technologists – so I think there’s a huge opportunity for new digital health insurance brokers to quickly move out front to take the pole position in what’s essentially a new category

ClearDATA Lands $14M To Give The Healthcare Industry A HIPAA-Compliant Cloud Alternative To AWS And Rackspace

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 4.48.48 AM

As Big Data and analytics are take hold in nearly every industry, a whole new set of demands and problems face IT teams within organizations. This is especially true among healthcare companies, which are now struggling in masse to upgrade archaic infrastructure and technology and reduce costs both for the sake of their businesses and for their customers.

While moving to the cloud can help reduce costs and increase agility, given the sensitivity of health data, healthcare clouds need to be HIPAA-compliant – in other words, the security of health data and applications is paramount.

Companies like Box are rising to fill the gap, as the enterprise storage and collaboration giant has begun to serve healthcare providers, and recently secured HIPAA-compliance for its new platform. While newcomers like Box are bringing more attention to the problem, startups like ClearDATA are growing fast thanks to clouds built exclusively for the healthcare industry.

Now serving over 300,000 healthcare professionals and hosting data and apps (including tens of millions of health records) for a litany of healthcare providers, ClearData has raised $14 million in Series B funding as it looks to expand its platform and move into new geographies. Investors in the startup’s latest round include Merck Global Health Innovation Fund, Excel Venture Management and Norwest Venture Partners.

The round includes the $7 million ClearDATA announced in August, explaining that it decided to hold a second closing of its Series B round to allow the participation of its newest strategic investor, Merck Global.

As Alex explained at the time, ClearDATA’s appeal lies in its healthcare-centric approach to data, offering healthcare customers an end-to-end service designed to make it easy to move their apps and data to the cloud, while accessing that data over a private Internet connection. It also uses a data storage model that makes it easy for companies to locate its data to allow the kind of auditing required by healthcare privacy requirements and HIPAA.

In this sense, ClearDATA differs from AWS, Azure or Rackspace in that its storage equipment is custom-designed for health data and images. This allows the company to compete with the massive footprints of cloud providers like Amazon, for example, which offers a more general-purpose cloud and a growing set of storage services and analytics tools.

Today, the healthcare information technology market is growing at a breakneck speed thanks to the demands of thousands of healthcare providers looking to go digital, transfer health records to the cloud and maintain huge amounts of critical (and sensitive) data.

These companies often lack the resources and capacity to design, deploy and manage their applications, and they’re looking for rentable, on-demand infrastructure as a result. Plus, none of the commercial clouds can meet the particular requirements of healthcare’s migration to the cloud line-for-line, so that’s where ClearDATA wants to help.

By customizing its cloud to meet these unique demands, it now works with customers that range from small organizations and practices to hospitals and large clinics, and extending to client-server and SaaS-based healthcare software providers.

For more, find ClearDATA at home here.