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Does the NFT craze actually matter? – TechCrunch

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Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, we talked about Apple’s subscription addiction. This week, I’m diving deep into whether there’s actually any meaning to pull out of the NFT mania of 2021.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny


Image via OpenSea

the big thing

The NFT market is still defying reason, but then again that’s kind of its thing. But one thing I’m especially unsure about lately as I see JPGs continue to sell for millions of dollars is… does any of this actually matter?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year grappling with the NFT market, at times I’ve lost sleep over it. As a reporter frequently covering this market, I don’t own or trade the little images myself, but that hasn’t stopped me from obsessing over the fluctuations in their prices and scouring Discords trying to follow the trends. I’ve tuned into countless Twitter Spaces and lurked subreddits trying to understand it all. I’ve also done my best to keep most of that out of this newsletter — it’s a weird niche interest that’s especially niche at the moment — but as Bitcoin flirts with a new all-time-high and the NFT mania persists, just consider this a timely update.

So, in the past month, investors have continued dropping billions upon billions of dollars on NFTs. OpenSea has seen more than $3 billion in transaction volume in the past 30 days, and that number is actually way down quite a bit from August, showcasing just how much off-peak money continues to flow into NFTs.

All of that money has gone to some colorful places. One of the bigger success stories of the past month has been the platform CrypToadz which investors dumped $100 million into. They look like this. In the past couple weeks, a brand new project called MekaVerse saw $130 million in transaction volume. They’re a bit prettier, but would you spend more than $8,000 on one? The platform Cryptoslam (where I pulled most of the data I reference here) is tracking 163 platforms which did more than $1 million in volume in the past 30 days, a number which doesn’t even account for individual artists selling their work on platforms like OpenSea.

Now, there are two incredibly different segments of NFT communities out there, larger-scale NFT projects like Axie Infinity and NBA Top Shot with tens and hundreds of thousands of users and smaller-scale NFT projects like CryptoPunks and Art Blocks with just a few hundred or thousand owners. Larger-scale projects can represent more traditional gaming titles with more complex in-game economies while smaller-scale projects simply look more like fine art markets teamed with exclusive social clubs. Some smaller-scale projects have the ambition to eventually become larger-scale ones, but many have capped the number of NFTs in their projects and are designed to be exclusive.

In the past 30 days, Axie Infinity did more than $500 million in sales spread across nearly 2 million transactions and over 350,000 buyers. On the flip side, CryptoPunks did $200 million in sales during that same time frame across 484 transactions and 309 buyers.

Generally, when I’m talking about some of these big sales from smaller-scale projects with friends of mine, the first thing they mention is how this is probably all just money laundering. While I’d certainly imagine some of that is happening, that’s ultimately a much more boring explanation than my best guess of what’s really going on, which is that a group of several thousand investors have separately rationalized irrational investing. They just happen to have chosen to do so through buying pixel art and drawings of animals.

While some investors might suggest that a handful of the earliest NFTs hold intrinsic value as historic objects, there are plenty of brand new NFT projects earning ten-million dollar valuations on day one with low amounts of effort and imagination.

It’s seemingly the result of momentum from awe-struck retail investors entering a market filled with massive amounts of wealth being generated and re-invested by Ethereum millionaires who can massively overpay for deals while pushing the implied value of the objects, the projects, the entire NFT market and the price of Ethereum up concurrently. Most of these investors are also people who have held onto Ethereum through its waves and have grown fundamentally averse to cashing out, meaning they’re less likely to sell the NFTs they buy unless they’re just trying to buy another more expensive NFT or have been made an offer too good to refuse. As a result, many high-value smaller-scale projects stay liquid on the low-end while fewer sales of the rarer items underpin the massive valuations of the projects and those occasional big buys keep pushing prices higher.

All of this babbling of mine is to say, what’s happening here is strange. It’s also an incredibly large amount of noise mostly coming from a few thousand buyers.

But when most investors talk about mainstream adoption and future use cases, they’re looking at the creation of more larger-scale projects like Axie and Top Shot which embody many of the technical bells and whistles of crypto economics in more user-friendly packages that can reach the mainstream. NFTs as a concept for driving more complex virtual economies is, indeed, really fascinating, but I don’t think there are as many takeaways to draw from billions of dollars flowing into digital art and these smaller-scale projects like CrypToadz as many crypto investors and venture capitalists are trying to convince themselves.

Only three NFT platforms out there had more than 10,000 active unique buyers in their community in the past 30 days, and while the successes of platforms like Axie Infinity are definitely worth dissecting, it also seems clear we’re in the midst of a speculative frenzy and it’s not a very easy time to draw sober conclusions about what all this madness means for the future of the web.


Ali Balikci / Anadolu Agency

other things

Here are a few stories this week that I think you should take a closer look at:

Apple probably won’t be supporting alternate App Store payments anytime soon
Apple did their best to convince the press and public that the court’s decision in its legal fight with Epic Games was an outright win for Apple, but over the weekend they quietly announced that weeks later they’re appealing the decision and asking the courts to put the ordered changes to allow alternative payments inside iOS apps on hold.

Apple put on a cool demeanor after this ruling, but it’s apparent that there are billions on the line for Apple if this order stands. Therefore delaying its rollout means billions of dollars that aren’t going to other payment providers or staying in developer coffers. Epic had already appealed the decision as well, hoping to try for a more favorable ruling, but it’s clear that anyone hoping for a speedy resolution will be disappointed — as is often the case in corporate law.

Nintendo reshapes its SaaS ambitions
Nintendo has been and probably always will be a bit of an odd big company. They’ve been resistant to new trends in gaming and when they embrace them, they don’t necessarily do a great job capitalizing on them, and yet their mountain of beloved IP allows them chance after chance to get things right. This week, they announced more details on their new annual membership called Nintendo Switch Online+ which, for $50 per year will give gamers a deeper array of content. That’s a good deal more than the standard $20 per year for the regular Nintendo Switch Online subscription, but beyond expanded virtual console support for an unannounced array of N64 games, it’s not clear what exactly the sell is for consumers.

Interestingly, they’re launching the service with free access to a major update for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s a play that only works when you’re Nintendo and the penetration of your first-party titles is so incredibly high among device-owners (and especially likely subscribers). Nintendo has sold more than 3.4 million copies of the new Animal Crossing title globally.

Microsoft pulls LinkedIn from China
It’s been a particularly turbulent time for tech companies across China as government regulators crack down and the outlook clouds for big platforms there. This week, Microsoft announced that it’s pulling LinkedIn out of China, detailing that LinkedIn was now “facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.” LinkedIn didn’t have a huge presence in China so this won’t make major waves, but as other American tech giants are forced to make major adjustments to their China strategy, this marks yet another datapoint in the cooling of relations between China and the West.

The LinkedIn’s of the world don’t hold much sway in China, the most curious bit of this is how this regulatory upswing eventually affects Apple which does hold plenty of influence. While officials probably aren’t keen to jam them up, the past year has shown that China’s regulators have plenty of surprises up their sleeves.


Stack of woolen checked blankets

Image Credits: Manuta / Getty Images

added things

Some of my favorite reads from our newly-renamed TechCrunch+ subscription service this week:

Inside Plaid
“…Visa and Plaid might have chosen to go their own ways in the end, but the year wasn’t a total loss for the data connectivity startup: Plaid claims its customer count grew 60% in 2020, and company execs say it has had similar growth so far this year….”

Founders should use predictive modeling to fundraise smarter
“More capital is flooding into growth equity at earlier stages, and it’s happening faster than ever before. But even with the rampant enthusiasm for pouring bigger equity checks into startups, founders are now in a unique place in time where they can think differently about how to capitalize their companies….

How one startup boosted productivity with ‘get s*** done’ day
“…To improve our productivity, we introduced a Getting Shit Done Day (GSDD): Our employees define clear-cut goals and receive specific, usually non-trivial, tasks with little to no communication involved (we encourage our employees to avoid social media on this day, but we are not looking over their shoulder). The goal of GSDD is to increase the amount of time we spend in deep work by minimizing distractions for one day every other week…”


Thanks for reading, and again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny

Lucas Matney



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Digital pensions platform Penfold raises $8.5M Series A led by Bridford Group – TechCrunch

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Penfold, a digital pensions platform, has closed a £7m ($8.49m) Series A funding round led by Bridford Group, an investment group.

Also participating in the round was Jeremy Coller, Chief Investment Officer and Chairman of Coller Capital. Penfold also raised additional funding via a crowdfund amongst its customer base. The cash will be used to expand Penfold’s workplace pension division.

Chris Eastwood, Co-Founder at Penfold, commented (in a statement): “It’s been a big year for Penfold – from launching our workplace pension offering, to reaching £100m AUA.”

Bridford Group, lead investor, commented: “The pensions industry represents a huge market – with £8trn in savings in the UK alone. Despite this, many people remain uninterested and unengaged in their pensions. With so many people not saving enough, there’s a real opportunity for a new provider to step in.” 



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After the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago, online threats quickly turn into real-world violence – TechCrunch

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Threats of violence reached a fever pitch — reminiscent of the days leading up to the Capitol attack — following the news that the FBI raided Trump’s Florida beach club to retrieve classified documents the former president may have unlawfully taken there.

After Trump himself confirmed Monday’s raid at Mar-a-Lago, pro-Trump pundits and politicians rallied around declarations of “war,” and Trump’s ever-fervent supporters called for everything from dismantling the federal law enforcement agency to committing acts of violence against its agents. The situation escalated from there in record time, with online rhetoric boiling over quickly into real-world violence.

By Thursday, an armed man identified as Ricky Shiffer attempted to force his way into an FBI office in Cincinnati, Ohio, brandishing a rifle before fleeing. Law enforcement pursued Shiffer and he was fatally shot during the ensuing standoff with police.

Analysts with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a nonprofit that researches extremism and disinformation, found evidence that Shiffer was driven to commit violence by “conspiratorial beliefs related to former President Trump and the 2020 election…interest in killing federal law enforcement, and the recent search warrant executed at Mar-a-Lago earlier this week.” He was also reportedly present at the January 6 attack — another echo between this week’s escalating online threats and the tensions that culminated in political violence at the Capitol that day.

Shiffer appears to have been active on both Twitter and Truth Social, the platform from Trump’s media company that hosts the former president and his supporters. As Thursday’s attack unfolded, Shiffer appeared to post to Truth Social about how his plan to infiltrate the FBI office by breaking through a ballistic glass barrier with a nail gun had gone awry. “Well, I thought I had a way through bullet proof glass, and I didn’t,” the account posted Thursday morning. “If you don’t hear from me, it is true I tried attacking the F.B.I., and it’ll mean either I was taken off the internet, the F.B.I. got me, or they sent the regular cops…”

In posts on Truth Social, the account implored others to “be ready to kill the enemy” and “kill the FBI on sight” in light of Monday’s raid at Mar-a-Lago. It also urged followers to heed a “call to arms” to arm themselves and prepare for combat. “If you know of any protests or attacks, please post here,” the account declared earlier this week.

By Friday, that account was removed from the platform and a search of Shiffer’s name mostly surfaced content denouncing his actions. “Why did you censor #rickyshiffer‘s profile? So much for #truth and #transparency,” one Truth Social user posted on Friday. Still, online conspiracies around the week’s events remain in wide circulation on Truth Social and elsewhere, blaming antifa for the attack on the Ohio FBI office, accusing the agency of planting documents at Mar-a-Lago and sowing unfounded fears that well-armed IRS agents will descend on Americans in light of Friday’s House passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.

“‘Violence against law enforcement is not the answer no matter what anybody is upset about or who they’re upset with,’ FBI director Christopher Wray said in light of emerging threats of violence this week. Trump appointed Wray to the role in 2017 after infamously ousting former FBI director James Comey.”

Friday is also the five-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally, which saw white nationalists clad in Nazi imagery marching openly through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. The ensuing events left 32-year-old protester Heather Heyer dead and sent political shockwaves through a nation that had largely grown complacent about the simmering threat of white supremacist violence.



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Diagnostic Robotics has AI catching health problems before they take you to the ER – TechCrunch

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A stitch in time saves nine, they say — and a blood thinner in time saves a trip to the emergency room for a heart attack, as Diagnostic Robotics hopes to show. The company’s machine learning-powered preventative care aims to predict and avoid dangerous (and costly) medical crises, saving everyone money and hopefully keeping them healthier in general —  and it’s raised $45 million to scale up.

It’s important to explain at the start that this particular combination of AI, insurance, hospital bills, and “predictive medicine” isn’t some kind of technotopian nightmare. The whole company is based on the fact that it’s both better for you and cheaper if you, for example, improve your heart health rather than have a heart attack.

That’s why your doctors tell you to cut down on red meat and maybe even take a cholesterol-maintenance medication instead of saying “well, if you have a heart attack just go to the ER.” It’s just common sense, and it also saves patients, hospitals, and insurance companies money. And don’t worry, this kind of prediction can’t be used to raise your premiums or deny care. They want you making monthly payments — they just don’t want to have to shell out for a $25,000 operation if they can help it.

The question is, what about less obvious conditions, or ones that patients haven’t had specific tests for? This is where machine learning models come in; they’re very good at teasing out a signal from a large amount of noise. And in this case what the AI was trained on is 65 million anonymized medical records.

“We see how people look before the problems — everything we do is preventative care,” said Kira Radinsky, CEO and co-founder of Diagnostic Robotics. “It’s all about offering the right intervention, at the right time, to the right patient.”

She noted that providers often focus on the most expensive patients in order to reduce costs — for example, someone with advanced heart disease. But while acute and maintenance care continues to be important for them, that money has already gone out the door. On the other hand, if you diagnose someone with early signs of congestive heart failure, you can stop it from advancing and save money and possibly even a life. And the technique applies beyond things that can be detected in labs.

“Say the challenge is to find patients suffering from depression or anxiety, but aren’t taking any medications,” Radinsky proposed. “How do you identify someone with depression or anxiety based on medical records? We identify the entropy of their visits — lots of providers, lots of complaints — that’s a strong signal. Then you do specific questions, a medical triage, and you get them connected to a psychologist or psychiatrist, and they’re no longer deteriorating.”

The company claims it can reduce ER visits by three quarters, which is important beyond the immediate benefits for a person and their provider; ERs and urgent cares are overwhelmed in the U.S., paradoxically due to the pervasive fear of incurring huge medical expenses.

Example of a tablet interface showing a patient’s info as sorted by Diagnostic Robotics’ models.

In many cases, she said, medical providers or insurers will offer medications or treatment for free or at nominal cost, since they know they’re saving themselves a bigger bill down the line. Sure, it’s all out of self-interest, but that means you can trust them.

The Tel Aviv-based Diagnostic Robotics just raised a big $45 million B round, led by StageOne investors, with participation from Mayo Clinic, Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) and Bradley Bloom. Radinsky said this will help the company start working more directly with providers, taking on more holistic health goals in addition to specific high-risk conditions. (The company currently tracks around 20.)

A pilot test of this broader approach was recently validated in a study of a few hundred patients, in which the AI-prepared health plan was statistically indistinguishable from a clinician’s. The company is already serving millions of patients in some capacity, in Israel, South Africa, and in the U.S., with Blue Cross Rhode Island.

If they expand to your provider, don’t expect some kind of robotic examination, though the name obviously suggests this.

“You’ll get phone calls from care managers offering additional treatments, for free or almost for free,” Radinsky said. The AI will already have done its work, and maybe your test results and location suggest you’re at risk for something — and you’d do well to take these recommendations seriously. AI may have a lot of room to grow still but it’s good at sniffing out statistical correlations.

She was careful to add that they are also actively working on finding, defining, and mitigating bias in the algorithms, whether it results from biased data or human error somewhere else along the lines. “What the algorithm is trying to do is see who will benefit the most,” Radinsky explained, but as with other forms of AI and machine learning, only careful monitoring will tell whether its idea of who benefits matches the real world.



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Amazon-owned MGM makes a viral video show with surveillance footage from Amazon-owned Ring – TechCrunch

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MGM (which is owned by Amazon) is making a viral video show based on footage from Ring security cameras (also owned by Amazon). The syndicated television show, “Ring Nation,” is poised to be a modern-day, surveillance-tinged spin on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” with Wanda Sykes as host.

According to a report in Deadline, the show will feature Ring footage of “neighbors saving neighbors, marriage proposals, military reunions and silly animals.” Ring is also known for activities like accidentally leaking people’s home addresses and handing over footage to the government without users’ permission.

Between January and July of this year, Amazon shared ring doorbell footage with U.S. authorities 11 times without the device owner’s consent. Ring has been critiqued for working unusually closely with at least 2,200 police departments around the United States, allowing police to request video doorbell camera footage from homeowners through Ring’s Neighbors app. Like Citizen and Nextdoor, the Neighbors app tracks local crime and allows users to comment anonymously — plus, Ring’s police partners can publicly request video footage on the app.

An Amazon-owned police surveillance network is bad enough, but Neighbors users have also faced repeated safety and security issues.

An executive at MGM, Barry Poznick, praised the new show: “From the incredible, to the hilarious and uplifting must-see viral moments from around the country every day, Ring Nation offers something for everyone watching at home.”

But perhaps what viewers at home really want is data privacy.

Ring only started disclosing its connections with law enforcement after fielding demands for transparency from the U.S. government. In a 2019 letter, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) said that the company’s relationship with police forces raise civil liberties concerns.

“The integration of Ring’s network of cameras with law enforcement offices could easily create a surveillance network that places dangerous burdens on people of color and feeds racial anxieties in local communities,” Sen. Markey wrote. “In light of evidence that existing facial recognition technology disproportionately misidentifies African Americans and Latinos, a product like this has the potential to catalyze racial profiling and harm people of color.”

Amazon bought the smart video doorbell company in 2018 for $1 billion, then bought MGM for $8.5 billion earlier this year. Now, these two investments — which seemingly have nothing to do with each other — are merging to create a late-capitalist dystopian spectacular that we couldn’t have imagined in our worst nightmares. Amazon also just spent $1.7 billion on iRobot, maker of the Roomba vacuum, but we will not dare to imagine how that acquisition may one day inspire a horrifying TV show.



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Teens have abandoned Facebook, Pew study says – TechCrunch

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Gen Z internet use is on the rise, but the rate at which teens use Facebook is rapidly declining. A Pew Research Center study on teens, technology and social media found that only 32% of teens aged 13-17 use Facebook at all, but in a previous survey from 2014-2015, that figure was 71%, beating out platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.

Jules Terpak, a Gen Z content creator covering digital culture, told TechCrunch that teens just don’t find value in Facebook anymore.

“There are now well over five strongly positioned social media platforms to endlessly scroll through, and it isn’t sustainable for our minds to compartmentalize nor prioritize our relationship with all of them,” Terpak said via email. “For the sake of time and sanity, people have to eliminate platforms that begin to lack a value-add incentive.”

Terpak thinks that Facebook, which teens often associate with their parents, has little to offer Gen Z.

“The culture cultivated by the average Facebook user is very disconnected from what attracts Gen Z to a platform today, instead exuding the energy of a spam email,” she said.

Even in 2013, when 77% of online teens used Facebook, young users still felt negatively about the platform.

“While Facebook is still deeply integrated in teens’ everyday lives, it is sometimes seen as a utility and an obligation rather than an exciting new platform that teens can claim as their own,” Pew’s report from 2013 said. In that nine-year-old study, Pew found that teens expressed more enthusiasm for other platforms, even if they weren’t using them as much as Facebook. That trend has remained constant — as new generations of teens join social media, they’ve almost abandoned Facebook altogether.

Pew’s new findings are also consistent with Facebook’s own internal reporting, according to documents leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen. A Facebook researcher found in early 2021 that teenage users on Facebook’s app had declined 13% since 2019 and projected that the figure would continue to plummet 45% over the next two years. Overall, Facebook usership has remained somewhat stagnant, but this drop-off in a key demographic is bad news for Facebook’s ads business, which makes up the bulk of its revenue.

“Most young adults perceive Facebook as a place for people in their 40s and 50s,” said the 2021 internal Facebook document obtained by The Verge. “Young adults perceive content as boring, misleading, and negative.”

Instagram is not far behind TikTok

Even if teens are tired of Facebook, they haven’t given up on Instagram, another Meta platform. Sixty-two percent of teens use Instagram, up from 52% in the 2014-2015 survey. But TikTok, which wasn’t even released at the time of the last study, is now used by 67% of U.S. teens. Ninety-five percent of teens say they use YouTube, which may make it seem like it’s the dominant social platform — but many users interact with the platform simply to watch videos, rather than as a place to connect with others online. For example, a teen who uses YouTube to listen to music would be included in that 95%.

But as TikTok inches above Instagram and Snapchat — which are used by 62% and 59% of American teens, respectively — it makes sense why these older platforms are so desperate to mimic their newer competitor.

Pew also asked the 1,316 surveyed teens about the frequency with which they use these apps. But TikTok still earned a greater share of teens’ attention than any platform aside from YouTube, which 19% of teens say they use “almost constantly.” TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat earned this “almost constant attention” from 16%, 10% and 15% of teens respectively. Only 2% said this about Facebook.

These “almost constant” admissions might seem alarming, but teens are aware that social media usage may not always provide the social connection they hope for. Thirty-six percent of teens think that they spend too much time on social media. Conversely, only 8% of teens said that they think they don’t use social media enough.

If you think Gen Z is full of phone-addicted zombies, though, you might be wrong. Forty-five percent of teens said that they wouldn’t have trouble giving up social media. More power to them.



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Google Meet’s new feature lets users consume YouTube and Spotify together – TechCrunch

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As Google continues the great merger between its Duo and Meet video communications apps, the company today announced that it’s introducing new Apple SharePlay-like live-sharing features to Meet, making it easier for call-participants to engage with content together in real time.

It’s worth noting that Google already introduced some live-sharing features (e.g. watching YouTube videos together) to Duo back in February, and now it’s bringing them to Meet as the part of the merger.

The live-sharing feature will let users watch YouTube videos together, for example, and listen to songs on Spotify or play games such as Heads Up!, UNO! Mobile or Kahoot!.

These new features will be available under a new Activities tab — which also hosts Q&A and polls options — and is accessible through the three-dot menu. From there, users can start a shared activity — for instance, if they want to listen to a Spotify track together, they would tap on the Spotify icon and Meet redirects them to the Spotify app where they can join a group session. Notably, the group session feature is only available for Spotify Premium customers, with support for two to five participants.

Last week, Google took the next step of merging both video calling apps by updating the icon for Duo and renaming it Google Meet. As for Google Meet, it will be now called “Google Meet (original),” with a green icon — yes, it’s all very confusing. The tech giant has been adding other new features to Meet, too, such as instant and schedule meeting options, in-meeting chat, and virtual backgrounds.

While these latest updates work well for Meet calls across different platforms, consumers embedded in Apple’s ecosystem will already be familiar with this type of social content consumption through SharePlay, which works across a broader array of apps such as Apple TV+, TikTok, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, NBA, Twitch, TikTok, MasterClass, ESPN+, Paramount+, Pluto TV, Apple Fitness+, and Apple Music.



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This Yale alum wants to build a telemedicine platform expressly for Alzheimer’s disease – TechCrunch

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Nikhil Patel is the kind of founder who investors adore. He’s a brainiac who, before studying computer science at Yale, spent three years in high school working as a research associate at the University of Central Florida. “I started working there before I could drive, and it was the most embarrassing thing to get dropped off by my mom at the office,” he says with a laugh.

Patel also has a personal connection to the problem he is trying to solve, that of trying to diagnose and address Alzheimer’s disease as early as possible. Watching his grandmother lose ground to Alzheimer’s, and understanding, from a young age, that an early diagnosis and intervention can delay the onset of dementia, he centered his research on building Alzheimer’s-related computerized diagnostics — which wasn’t easy to pull off as a teenager.  (He says he finally found one professor who was willing to publish his findings under the auspices of the lab after more than 100 others turned him down.)

Patel did get a wee bit distracted. After graduating from college, he logged time at a “couple of different hedge funds” and at Goldman Sachs where he worked on trading algorithms. But by early last year, as another relative was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he returned to earlier work, founding Craniometrix, which is today a tiny, three-person operation with sizable ambitions.

So far, the team has raised $6 million in seed funding for a HIPAA-compliant app that, according to Patel, can help identify Alzheimer’s disease — even years before symptoms appear — after just 10 minutes of gameplay on a cellphone. It’s not purely a tech offering. Patel says the results are given to an “actual physician” affiliated with Craniometrix who “reviews, verifies, and signs that diagnostic” and returns it back to a patient.

But the company’s backers —  including Quiet Capital, Defy.vc, Olive Tree Capital, Rebel Fund, J Ventures, Cathexis Ventures and Y Combinator — and really betting on Patel and his bigger vision to create a one-stop, direct-to-consumer tele-medicine platform that not only helps with early Alzheimer’s detection but that also provides ongoing support to patients and their caregivers.

It’s a concept that Neil Sequeira of Defy says he rallied around easily, given his firm’s interest in startups that use tech to improve upon legacy healthcare businesses. (Others of Defy’s bets include a cloud-based lab management startup called Genemod and Apploi, a healthcare hiring platform.)

But Sequeira suggests that he might back anything Patel worked on. In fact, he says he met Patel through another CEO whose stealth startup Defy has funded and who, when asked about the smartest person he has ever met, pointed to Patel.

Only time will tell whether those smarts will successfully bolster a big business, but unsurprisingly, Patel already has a roadmap.

While step one centers on people who are concerned about developing Alzheimer’s, want to self-screen at home, and will receive a doctor-reviewed diagnostic report from the company within 48 hours, Craniometrix expects to soon offer real-time doctor access to customers who may have questions and concerns after receiving their report.

Craniometrix also plans to create bundled monthly subscriptions that will include point-in-time screenings, access to live doctor assistance, and other tools to address symptom management and caregiver support.

It’s a big market, Patel argues. He asserts that caregivers today spend $3,000 a year out of pocket on the types of services that Craniometrix will eventually offer online. He also notes that while the direct-to-consumer market alone is a big opportunity, he is already having “interesting conversations” with health plans about using tools like those that Craniometrix is developing to cut down on unnecessary patient visits.

Says Patel, “a lot of today’s visits could easily be served by a chat service or an offline communication service.”

Ultimately, Patel says, the idea is to eliminate the need to go to a medical office. But it’s also to “keep people on better footing” when it comes to managing the disease.

Considering that Alzheimer’s currently afflicts 6 million Americans alone and that those numbers are growing fast as the overall population ages, the company could well be one to watch. Stay tuned.



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