Wash your hands, social distance, isolate!  Humans are doing their part to fight COVID-19, but   the technology side of the story that is currently underreported.  There was a boost last week to Google’s Verily when President Trump mentioned that they were going to be using technology to screen.  As we saw, they were nowhere close to launching such a tool. Verily’s rush to build a COVID-19 screening tool on the fly underscored how tech companies have been forced to improvise to stay in Trump’s good graces.  There’s no way to do this in days, weeks, or even months. The data has never been properly aligned in healthcare, and COVID-19 is exposing this weakness. There are many self assessment mediacal tools however, CloudMedx is one of the only companies that uses crowdsourced data and artificial intelligence (AI) to fine tune and inform doctors’ models to flatten the curve of COVID-19; they have been in development for 5 years.  CloudMedx does this by using AI on data to help both doctors and patients.

The company believes in “Aligning Intelligence” to the 3 Ps in healthcare – Payers, Providers, and Patients to serve their needs. CloudMedx uses AI to enhance existing workflows and generate automated clinical insights, which in turn improve operations, case management, and patient engagement for health organizations.

Supporting some of the top hospitals and payers in the country, CloudMedx integrates natural language understanding (NLU) and deep learning with major EHRs and healthcare organizations nationwide. In the case of COVID-19, this may include predicting surge, length of stays, resource utilization (ICU beds, equipment, etc.), staffing needs, and identification of high-risk individuals based on available data.  Without aligning all the data, you can’t treat people based on the one thing that drives all care, i.e. what happened with the other person who was just like you, had similar symptoms, because you need to do what worked last time again.

For patients, CloudMedx announced that its AI chatbot, AskSophie, is now enabled to help them self-assess for the risk of COVID-19.  AskSophie is a free, online symptom checker that uses guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide patients with the relative risk of contracting the disease based on their location, symptoms, and age. It further provides reference guidelines on what to do if patients are high, medium, or low risk.  AskSophie is available via Medicare.gov and Covid2019.health.  t works similarly to how Waze sources user-provided traffic information. However, instead of real-time traffic information, CloudMedx uses guidelines from the CDC to better inform the  patient about their relative risks, lab centers near them, and having a meaningful and personalized conversation with a doctor. Then, like an Air Traffic Control, it provides the healthcare ecosystem with the location, spread, and impact of the virus, so they can prepare for what’s coming.  This allows patients to be a part of the decision-making process with their doctors while avoiding public interaction as symptoms persist. AskSophie is not intended to provide anything definitive, but rather to provide patients with categories of conditions common to people with similar symptoms for education purposes and to further investigate with their health providers.  In the near future, CloudMedx plans to connect AskSophie to telemedicine providers and provide additional resources to assist patients.

Tashfeen Suleman, CEO of CloudMedx said, “Instead of user-submitted transportation information, we want to gather and organize large volumes of medical information to help patients and healthcare administrators assess this disease together and collectively align care to drive better patient outcomes.”

Doing the right thing for patients is deeply rooted into the ethos of the company and is also the genesis. Six years ago, Suleman’s father went to an emergency room twice complaining of frequent headaches, and twice doctors sent him home with a diagnosis of allergies. It turned out he was suffering from a subdural hematoma — bleeding around the brain. Following the second misdiagnosis, he went into a coma and required emergency brain surgery (he made a full recovery). After trying to get to the root of the inaccurate diagnoses, his family discovered the hematoma was the side effect of a new medication his father had been prescribed a few weeks prior. He lacked physical symptoms like slurred speech and difficulty walking, which normally would have prompted doctors to order a CT scan and detect the bleeding earlier. CloudMedx exists today because of this misdiagnosis.

“We believe healthcare is a fundamental right for everyone, and we are driven to tackle its greatest challenges by aligning intelligent insights to improve care at scale,” said Suleman.  “With enough crowd sourced self-reported data, we can get a better handle of the disease. COVID-19 has exposed that the health system has a data problem. When you are sick, it is all the other sick people who preceded you, from their symptoms and pre-existing conditions to their heredity and location, that enables doctors to ensure you’re properly guided for care. Without this insight, it’s very hard to make the right call about treatment. And that’s why COVID-19 is tricky, because there is no history to work from, and it’s being exacerbated by the speed of which it’s coming, making it impossible to ensure that only people who need assistance can be prioritized and properly cared for.  Healthcare is a village, and with the current pandemic growing in numbers, it becomes paramount to contribute patient data to a broader collaboration with technology companies and healthcare service providers, to join forces and tackle this challenge together.


Article first appeared March 18, 2020 on Forbes.com.


Last week, Sequoia Capital, one of the oldest and most respected venture funds, issued its “Black Swan” memo to its portfolio companies warning them to have enough cash on hand and make decisive decisions to weather the storm that has been the financial, economic and social crisis triggered by Coronavirus. Since then, there has been a debate among venture investors whether to continue to fund, pull out of existing commitments, write “Corona Clauses” in their term sheets, or invest as an opportunity against the drop in other asset classes.

There are many smart investors who are continuing to invest right now. There is still dry powder out there that needs to be invested, just cautiously. It seems like much of the venture business is “open for business” according to Fred Wilson at Union Square Ventures. Others are posting about how they are closing deals from start to finish using Zoom and not meeting in person. The technology and investing businesses are used to operating fairly decentralized anyway. It seems as if Coronovirus has just accelerated that trend – and perhaps will make it more permanent.

Historically, startups might find it difficult to raise capital with recession warnings. No matter what the economic circumstances are, there’s always capital for companies that have the product market fit and a strong relationship with a diversified set of customers. Some investors already have been pressing founders to be more mindful of the fundamentals of running a sound business: cut unnecessary expenses to extend cash runway, expand their customer base, be sure to have a dependable board of directors and, at last, become a great storyteller about how their company is successfully solving a problem. Companies should hold off on deploying capital until they understand business drivers that enable them to become category-owning companies offering a defensible product or service.

As Sequoia notes “Google and PayPal soldiered through the aftermath of the dot-com bust. More recently, Airbnb, Square, and Stripe were founded in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis.” Some of the best returning funds also happened in those years.

So what is the case for investing in technology at the earliest stage besides the fact that returns are the best and investors are seeking a long term game now? Early stage pre-revenue tech startups become in relative terms less risky. At the early stage, risk doesn’t change much in absolute terms but changes dramatically in relative terms. If you at normal times evaluate a pre-seed startup risk to be, say, 100x higher than that of a later-stage company, at the time of crisis this could become only 20x. this of course assumes the crisis is bounded in time. If the crisis is long-term other factors come into play, like sharply increased funding risk.

Pre-revenue startups have zero exposure to market, and generally benefit from crises, because they can get cheaper workforce (this assumes employees will still want to join a company with financing risk). If you expect the crisis will take x number of months, and the startup has >x runway, you know it will survive. There are almost no other variables except in the Coronavirus instance, we don’t know x number of months yet.

There is no supplier risk. Compare this with revenue-generating companies. Market demand squeeze makes them shed costs, which is detrimental in the long term. Growing back to the same size will take more time than small companies. They also are more exposed to supplier risks, and systemic economic shocks (lending etc.).

Technology trends are not going to stop moving forward in a crisis – in fact they will accelerate in many areas. Think of the Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things and other technologies that are currently being used to assist in the Coronavirus crisis for instance. In China, Blockchain startups popped up to assist this quarter. Innovation is born of necessity. It’s a matter of looking in the right places at the right time.


Article first appeared March 13, 2020 on Forbes.com.


Can a Superhero Inspired Game Solve the Climate Crisis?

I sit down with “ecopreneur” Alfie Rustom to learn about his plans to motivate superhero fans to restore climate through gaming.    Bioman’s Forest Garden is a farming simulation game that empowers players to take constructive action against climate change; in both digital and real realities.

What is Bioman™? 

Bioman™ is a new visionary superhero franchise that explores what it means to be human in the 21st century. It evolves our understanding of our relationship with nature and technology. The eponymous novel was unleashed on Earth Day 2018 and was listed by the publishing industry’s gold standard, Kirkus Reviews, as one of the best books of 2018. You can think of it as Avatar meets Spiderman.

Why does the world need another superhero?

The world doesn’t need just another superhero, the world needs a cadre of superheroes that are aligned with a purpose beyond the box office.  A purpose-driven superhero franchise with global reach could help mobilize a global population currently in danger of being paralyzed by eco-anxiety.

Tell us more about eco-anxiety, and how gaming can help?

According to the U.N., we now have less than 11 years to prevent catastrophic climate change.  And, as extreme weather events start sweeping across the globe, worry about the climate crisis is affecting more and more people.  Today, 70% of Americans are “worried” about climate change and 51% feel “helpless.” With no framework for treatment, eco-anxiety is fanning the flames of our global mental health crisis. 

What if a game could be designed that transforms feelings of learned helplessness around climate change into feelings of hope. And gives us the strength to take on the challenge of solving climate change.

We saw a hint of this story potential with James Cameron’s eco-myth, Avatar.  Where we were given a view of what life connected with nature could look like.  I struggle to think of any other media franchise that is doing this.

Sounds great, but what kind of game can alleviate eco-anxiety?

I see eco-anxiety as a form of learned helplessness. Psychologists know that we can transform learned helplessness through setting and achieving goals. This provides a sense of control over outcomes – especially as players begin to meet those goals on a consistent basis.

Games are perfect for this first step.   With gaming being the fastest growing media platform in the world, we can reach the greatest number of people. And games, unlike standard two-hour movies, can be played for years with new content being delivered continuously.

Specifically, in Bioman’s Forest Garden you are a climate refugee in a camp on the edge of a forest devastated by industrialization and climate change. The player has to use robots and drones to transform the dying forest into a biodiverse and bountiful forest garden.

Based on principles of sustainable agroecology the game teaches players how to plant and nurture forest gardens. Players then harvest the plants to craft food, medicine and other goods that are in short supply in the camp.

In addition, we will generate real-world impact through our partnership with Tree Nation. The partnership will allow players to plant real trees through the game and monitor the CO2 offset. CO2 leaderboards will gamify tree-planting.

Finally, the game is social and designed to get players to collaborate in the game to tackle the worst effects of climate change.   We also will offer an opportunity for our players to come together in the real world to volunteer in urban gardening/farming projects.

How will you use blockchain? 

Blockchain will serve as a ledger that maintains ownership of non-fungible tokens (NFTs).  These tokens are attached to individual digital assets within a game.  This allows digital collectible items to be bought and traded with clear provenance of the asset. This eliminates the risk of fraud and provides the potential for digital assets to be used interchangeably between games.

Cryptokitties was the ground-breaking blockchain game that allowed people to buy digital cats — breeding them to create more unique and rare cats. Cryptokitties showed the possibilities of how these assets can be used across games, creating an ecosystem of independent developers building new experiences on top of it.  According to some estimates, the game had 1.5 million users who were responsible for $40 million worth of transactions on its platform. Individual cryptokitties have sold for more than $300,000 a piece.

In comparison, in games like Fortnite, players spend money on digital assets like cosmetic skins, dance moves, etc. that they don’t own. And, if the game shuts down then they will lose all their investment in the game assets. NFTs eliminate platform risk.

Where are you now? 

The game is in pre-production and I’m partnering with one of the top mobile free-to-play game designers in the world. He designed FarmVille and is passionate about permaculture and sustainable farming.  Farmville generated 700 million installs and over a billion dollars in revenue. With that player base and those revenues, we can generate a significant impact.

The movie adaptation of the critically acclaimed novel is in the final stages of development. The former chief creative of DC comics consulted on the script and the film is slated for release on Earth Day 2022.

See more at www.defendnature.com


Article first appeared March 4 5, 2020 on Forbes.com.