League raises $47.1M Series B to fix corporate health care benefits

League founder and CEO Michael Serbinis

League, an online platform that wants to reduce the strain of managing health benefits for companies and employees alike, announced today that it has raised a $62 million CAD (about $47.1 million USD) Series B. The round was led by TELUS Ventures, with participation from Wittington Ventures and returning investors OMERS, Infinite Potential Group, RBC Ventures and BDC Ventures.

The Toronto-based startup’s last round of funding was a $25 million Series A two years ago. With clients like Uber, Shopify and Unilever, League is currently one of the bigger players in the “employee wellness space,” which encompasses a roster of startups dedicated to boosting retention and productivity rates by improving health benefits. The growth of the sector is fueled by competition for top talent, the rising cost of healthcare and increasing awareness of mental health issues.

League was launched in 2014 by serial entrepreneur Michael Serbinis, who was previously founder and CEO of Kobo, the Kindle competitor acquired by Rakuten in 2011. Serbinis tells TechCrunch that his interest in health technology was sparked by a conversation about healthcare inefficiencies with Patrick Soon-Shiong, the pharmaceutical entrepreneur and NantHealth founder probably better known outside of biotech circles as the newest owner of the Los Angeles Times. Serbinis says Soon-Shiong told him that the healthcare system needed to be fixed by someone outside of the industry, who was able to take a fresh, consumer-driven approach.

“I got into it naively not being a healthcare person, with not even a biology class anywhere in my past, and I very quickly realized that most people think about healthcare through the lens of health insurance, i.e. can I do it, can I afford it?” Serbinis, League’s CEO, says. “The more I learned about it, the more I realized how broken it is. In the U.S. and Canada and Western European nations, healthcare gets more expensive, but you get less and less, and no one loves the experience.”

He notes that health benefits “are a top three requirement for anyone seeking a new job in the U.S. today and for millennials it’s the top one or two, depending on the survey.” At the same time, healthcare is also one of the top three expenses for companies.

While there is a growing roster of startups, including Spring Health, Lyra Health and Lumity, tackling different corporate healthcare issues, Serbinis felt the space was still missing “an end-to-end platform that fits on top of health insurance providers and underwriters, to give employers a way to offer a competitive solution in the war for talent and saving money.”

League’s mission is to let employees take more control over their health plans, while reducing costs for companies by providing a HIPAA-compliant platform that connects all benefits. This enables employees to manage their health plan and benefits with League’s chat-based online assistant and a digital wallet. They also gain more transparency into things like health insurance pricing and flexible spending accounts. League partners with other companies to offer perks like ClassPass or Headspace discounts, prescription delivery services or access fertility treatments that aren’t covered by traditional insurance plans.

On the other end, companies get analytics to help them design healthcare plans and see if the benefits they offer are actually improving employee morale.

Serbinis says League’s ease of use is proven by its high engagement rate. The company claims three-quarters of users log onto the platform each month, and of that number, many access it five to 20 times a month.

One interesting aspect of League’s story is that Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan are currently making headlines for a new joint health care initiative. While the venture will start by overhauling health benefits at those three organizations, it is being closely watched because of its potential influence on the health care industry. Thanks to Kobo, which was once Kindle’s top competitor, Serbinis already has experience going head-to-head with Amazon.

After learning about the triumvirate’s plans, Serbinis says he emailed Bezos. “I said I love the initiative and would love to help out, because for the most part, what people expect in the short-term is really aggregate purchasing power and driving costs down there. But ultimately, I expect a lot more from them, and the idea of bringing strategic assets and capability, a big pool of employees and technology together is the right strategy,” he says. “I can see Amazon looking for a partner like League.”

He adds that the joint initiative will light a fire in the sector. “I see new entrants into this market accelerate because of Amazon. It really has opened people’s eyes to the idea that this is a massive problem,” Serbinis says. “I see a lot of people getting into the game because of Amazon leading the way, and what I’ve seen already is incumbent players trying to speed up and accelerate their innovation programs.”

In a media statement, TELUS Ventures managing partner Rich Osborn said “We believe that innovative companies like League–which deliver compelling, consumer-centric experiences–will not only drive high employee and employer engagement, but will also deliver fundamental improvements in health outcomes for Canadians through their carrier-friendly open platform.”

The company’s Series B will be used to open offices in San Francisco, New York and London. League launched in the United States in 2017, starting with an office in Chicago, and is now licensed to operate in all 50 states. Serbinis says one of the markets that will help its American expansion are employers with less than 50 “full-time equivalent” employees who aren’t mandated to provide coverage under the Affordable Care Act, but still need to offer health benefits in order to attract talent. Another new opening is the recent Department of Labor ruling on “association health plans” that makes it easier for small businesses in the same sector to team up and buy employee health insurance together.

League also plans to begin operating in the United Kingdom and European Union next year, which will make it easier to attract multinational clients who want to use the same platform to manage health benefits in different countries.

“When you think about the future of health insurance, it’s easy to think about more of the same, but with a better website or app,” says Serbinis. “But the fact is that the future of health insurance is not just about insurance, but health and there is the idea of focusing on consumers and delivering personalized experiences, a digital experience that is data driven and helps them every day, instead of waiting to the point where they are sick and have to go to a website under duress to find out what to do.”

ezCater acquires GoCater to expand beyond the US

Catering marketplace company ezCater is already putting its big $100 million funding round to good use. The company is acquiring GoCater, a European marketplace that operates in the same field. This is ezCater’s first international expansion move.

If you’re in charge of ordering catered lunch at your office, you probably have heard about ezCater . The company lets you order breakfast, lunch or dinner for 10, 30 or maybe 100 people at once. This service could be particularly useful to impress a client, throw an office party, get lunch together during an off-site and more.

But ezCater doesn’t cook anything itself. The company is a marketplace and connects you with catering companies and big restaurants around you. In other words, ezCater lets you browse the menu of dozens of restaurants around you from the same website and place an order without picking up the phone.

Of course, ezCater didn’t invent catering. But catering is a fragmented industry with a lot of friction. It’s hard to know how much you’re going to pay in advance, it takes a lot of effort to find a new restaurant outside of your usual list. And restaurants could use a new way to promote their offering. Those are the perfect ingredients to create an online marketplace.

You may already know all the options around your office, but ordering through ezCater provides additional benefits. For instance, all your receipts are centralized in the same interface, which lets you get a clear overview of your spendings on catering.

You can also let other people order food for their clients and events. ezCater lets you set maximum amounts, tipping policies and more.

GoCater offers more or less the same thing, but in France and Germany. The company started as a spinoff from French startup La Belle Assiette. GoCater lets you create a whitelist of catering options. You can also set up an approval system so that the intern doesn’t order ice creams for everyone. Finally, GoCater clients only get billed once per month, even if companies order multiple times.

You pay the same price if you order through GoCater or the catering company directly. Catering companies end up paying a cut on GoCater orders. But the startup takes care of billing, accounting and accounts receivable. This way, you can focus on your core business instead of chasing money from past clients.

ezCater is an order of magnitude bigger than GoCater. ezCater works with 60,000 restaurants, while GoCater only has a few hundred restaurants on its platform. It’s worth noting that ezCater has been around for much longer.

But GoCater has one big advantage over ezCater — they have a team on the ground in Europe, ready to attract new restaurants and corporate clients. It’s clear that ezCater was looking for a way to get started in Europe, and GoCater seems like the right fit.

For now, the company will keep both brands after the acquisition. The teams will slowly merge the platforms into a single product.

“The entire GoCater team is staying, and we’re now going to rapidly expand the European team of the company — both the sales team for Europe and the tech and product team for the group,” GoCater founder and CEO Stephen Leguillon told me.