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Kinnos, a New York-based startup, was founded six years ago, but what the five-person company produces is suddenly top of mind — and a new round of funding reflects as much.
To wit, Kinnos, which makes additives that cause disinfectants to turn blue long enough to ensure a surface has actually been covered, just closed on $6 million in funding, a major chunk of which came from Prolog Ventures, though it was joined by Allston Venture Fund, Partnership Fund for New York City, Golden Seeds, MEDA Angels and numerous individual investors.
We talked this morning with co-founder and CEO Jason Kang, who started the company while still a biomedical engineering student at Columbia University. We wanted to understand the impact of the coronavirus on his business, possible competition from the likes of Clorox and whether Kinnos, which currently works mostly with hospital systems, is thinking about a consumer offering, too. Our chat has been edited lightly for length.
TC: Why start this company?
JK: My co-founders, Katherine and Kevin, and myself, were all undergrads at Columbia University in our junior year, and this was October 2014 during the height of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Columbia had this design challenge to help the healthcare workers there and they actually brought nurses and doctors in from the field. And one of the biggest problems they mentioned, over and over again, was that ineffective decontamination and human errors were literally killing them. That’s really how we came up with idea of colorized disinfection.
The disinfectants that people are using — bleach, alcohol — are transparent. So when you apply them to the surface, it’s actually quite difficult to make sure you’ve covered everything. A lot of the disinfectants also have a contact time, which is the time it needs to sit on the surface to inactivate the pathogens. If you touch a wet spot too early or you wipe it off too early, the pathogen can still be active, and that’s how infections can also spread.
TC: How many products are you selling?
JK: Two. The first one is called Highlight powder; it’s a patented color additive platform that’s meant to be combined with existing disinfectants that hospitals and healthcare settings are already using, so we’re not competing or replacing these disinfectants but rather combining our products with them so that they can be used more effectively. Highlight is a powder that you dissolve into bulk liquid solutions of bleach and is colorized blue, so when you apply it to a surface you [be sure you] don’t miss a spot, and the color will actually then fade from blue to colorless after a few minutes.
It was really designed to target epidemic outbreaks, so we’ve sold to humanitarian organizations that have deployed the product in Liberia and Guinea, Haiti, DR Congo and Uganda, and we recently had a couple shipments go to China for the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Our second product, Highlight wipes, is really designed more for hospitals here in the U.S., the reason being that a lot of hospitals tend to use wipes and not sprays. You don’t see a lot of people hosing down patient rooms.
TC: Did you have have to go through myriad tests to ensure the product was safe in a healthcare setting?
JK: With any product being used in a medical or healthcare setting, you do a very rigorous battery of tests to make sure that you know it’s safe and effective, especially when lives are on the line. So we did have to do a lot of third-party testing to make sure that adding our highlight additive to the disinfectants wouldn’t reduce the potency of the disinfectant itself.
TC: How does the thoroughness of cleaning translate into savings for your customers?
JK: It’s not a direct correlation [to dollars], but studies have shown that about 50% of surfaces and healthcare settings are missed or not cleaned properly, and that if you are able to improve thoroughness of cleaning and cleaning techniques, you can reduce infections by up to 80%. At hospitals right now, it’s a $45 billion annual problem in terms of medical costs, reimbursement penalties and so on. So if you are able to effectively reduce 80% of infections, that’s on the scale of billions of dollars saved.
TC: It’s a huge market. Are you thinking about creating a consumer-facing product, as well?
JK: Definitely. We’re starting with hospitals right now because this is a big problem that happens every day. Around one out of every 25 people who stay in a hospital will actually get an infection from the hospital — which is pretty ironic considering that, you know, you go to hospital to get care and treatment, not to become more sick. Once we have established a foothold in the hospital market, the next most obvious use case would be consumer. Especially with the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, prevention and effective hygiene is kind of top of mind for everyone.
TC: This seems like a no-brainer, your product. Why aren’t companies like Clorox selling the same thing?
JK: I think that it’s definitely been on their radar. The challenge is that it’s very difficult to get a color to last in a container of disinfectant at the point of manufacture and to get it to fade on the surface at point of use, especially within a certain amount of time.
The way that we got around that is by creating a point-of-use additive, so, for example for our wipes device, only as the wipe goes through our lid, right before you use it, does it get impregnated with the chemistry. That way we have much more control over how the color is dispensed, the intensity of the color and the color fading time.
TC: What about with the other product, into which the additive is added directly?
JK: We’re very proud to say that when you add our powder to a bucket of bleach, for example, it’ll last in the bucket for five hours. And then when used on a surface, it’ll fade in about three minutes. Getting that separation of time was actually really, really hard.
So far, government officials have offered little direction and no financial support despite urging people to stay home and take care of themselves.
The Chinese government has been removing criticism of its coronavirus response from apps like Weibo, the local equivalent of Twitter. But before it can, that content is being saved, decentralized and highlighted thanks to Arweave’s permaweb. Today it’s announcing another $8.3 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Union Square Ventures and Coinbase Ventures.
Arweave has developed a new type of blockchain based on Moore’s Law of the declining cost of data storage. Users pay upfront for a hundred years of storage at less than a cent per megabyte, and the interest that accrues will cover the dwindling storage cost forever. More than one million pieces of data are now stored on the permaweb, and nearly 200 apps have been developed.
That includes perma-apps like WeiBlocked, which crawls Weibo for content likely to be censored. It indexes these posts and decentralizes them in the storage of hundreds of Arweave nodes operated around the world. WeiBlocked later checks back to see if the content has been censored, and then highlights them on its permaweb site you can access from a standard web browser. “By censoring it, it puts it out of the control of the censor,” says Arweave founder Sam Williams.
It’s like the Streisand Effect in product form. The act of censorship actually causes the sensitive content to become increasingly visible. The more the Chinese government tries to hide information about Dr. Li Wenliang, an early coronavirus whistleblower who was pressured into silence by Chinese police and later died of the sickness, the more attention it receives. Williams tells me he’s excited that WeiBlocked is “Putting the censorship protection of the network into practice.”
Funding the immutable future
The potential to become the unmutable layer of the internet attracted the new $8.3 million in funding just four months after Arweave raised its last $5 million from Andreessen Horowitz, USV and Multicoin Capital. Along with video chat apps, Arweave is one of the startups benefiting from the unfortunate ripple effects of the tragic coronavirus.
Rather than providing traditional equity in exchange for cash, Arweave sold investors some of its cache of its blockchain’s tokens. These are what users spend to store data on the Arweave permaweb. There’s only a finite number in the market, so as demand for everlasting storage increases, so does the value of the tokens. Investors could later sell their stake to generate returns.
But what’s especially interesting is how Arweave is employing these token economics to build out its developer ecosystem. “We can invest fiat dollars into developers, increasing usage of the network, thereby increasing the value of the tokens,” Williams explains. “That makes it sustainable so we can do it in the future, endlessly investing in the ecosystem.” As long as investments in developers cause Arweave’s token stash to accrue more value than the size of the investment, it will always have more to deploy. “We can make it recurring, indefinitely.”
Regarding the new $8.3 million, the startup writes, “This money is for you, the Arweave community. The founding team now sees it as our primary role to dispense these funds carefully to the community.” Specifically, it will dispense Arweave Grants to fund proposals for startups, projects, organizations and marketing initiatives that will grow permaweb usage. It’s also launching Arweave Boost, which gives $50,000 worth of free storage to startups and projects trying to build on the permaweb. Both resources come with technical guidance and mentorship from Arweave and its investors.
With more than 500 nodes in operation, Arweave supports decentralized blogging platforms, indestructible documents, a social network called FEEDweave and apps that can keep running even if their owners go out of business. Unlike Bitcoin, where miners are rewarded for storing or verifying just the latest block, Arweave’s blockchain incentivizes storage of old blocks on unused server space.
“WeiBlocked maintains an up-to-date list of politically sensitive search phrases and hashtags that are being censored in Weibo searches,” its creators Aidan O’Kelly and Sam Rahini tell TechCrunch. “WeiBlocked makes use of the ‘permaweb’ capabilities of the Arweave blockchain . . . This makes it impossible to block users within China from viewing the content in the WeiBlocked archive, as there is no one host or IP that can be blocked by the firewall (or attacked by CCP hackers).”
Williams believes Arweave has hit a tipping point, with a functioning economy that means the network will keep running even without his company’s involvement. “I find it increasingly easy to sleep at night. We’re just focused on pushing adoption and the question is ‘how fast’ not ‘if.’ It’s a truly decentralized network now.”
There’s always the risk of some yet-undiscovered code problems, or another permanent approach to the web undercutting Arweave. But with countries like Russia pushing new attempts to wall themselves off from the outside internet, there’s increasing need for Arweave’s network. “Activity is exploding, expectably around where censorship resistance can be valuable.”
Next, the permaweb community wants to safeguard itself from even a disruption of internet connectivity itself. There’s an initiative to make Arweave work over high-frequency radio. Through a Morse code-like system, sensitive content could be smuggled out of a country via radio, indexed, and kept accessible forever.
When Ada Health was founded nine years ago, hardly anyone was talking about combining artificial intelligence and physician care — outside of a handful of futurists.
But the chatbot boom gave way to a powerful combination of AI-augmented health care which others, like Babylon Health in 2013 and KRY in 2015, also capitalized on. The journey Ada was about to take was not an obvious one, so I spoke to Dr. Claire Novorol, Ada’s co-founder and chief medical officer, at the Slush conference last year to unpack their process and strategy.
Co-founded with Daniel Nathrath and Dr. Martin Hirsch, the startup initially set out to be an assistant to doctors rather than something that would have a consumer interface. At the beginning, Novorol said they did not talk about what they were building as an AI so much as it was pure machine learning.
Years later, Ada is a free app, and just like the average chatbot, it asks a series of questions and employs an algorithm to make an initial health assessment. It then proposes next steps, such as making an appointment with a doctor or going to an emergency room. But Ada’s business model is not to supplant doctors but to create partnerships with healthcare providers and encourage patients to use it as an early screening system.
It was Novorol who convinced the company to pivot from creating tools for doctors into a patient-facing app that could save physicians time by providing patients with an initial diagnosis. Since the app launched in 2016, Ada has gone on to raise $69.3 million. In contrast, Babylon Health has raised $635.3 million, while KRY has raised $243.6 million. Ada claims to be the top medical app in 130 countries to date and has completed more than 15 million assessments to date.
Humor can relieve anxiety; it can also stoke racial tensions or spread misinformation. So, the answer isn’t simple.
A NASA project to study snowstorms in the Northeast has faced a lack of storms and a broken plane. They’re not giving up.