Congratulations to Healthpocket!

Plug and Play is thrilled to announce Healthpocket’s recent acquisition by Health Insurance Innovations for $30 million. The Healthpocket team has come a long way since their entry to Plug and Play just over two years ago, and we are lucky to have been host to the beginning of their journey.

According to founder and CEO Bruce Telkamp, Healthpocket is a “search and comparison shopping technology for health insurance.” Healthpocket is an all inclusive platform, covering every insurance market from Medicare to the ACA to Obamacare. They are the first company that has made it possible for the consumer to view and compare every type of health plan online in one place.

Healthpocket was founded in July of 2012, and they raised their Series A round of funding from Light Speed Venture Capital just two months later. A month after that they entered Plug and Play headquarters, and they have been in the building ever since. As stated by Bruce, “It’s been two years now at Plug and Play and it has been fantastic. The team here is incredibly helpful, and I don’t think we could have built our business as rapidly as we have without the support we received here.” In the two years since their arrival, the company has grown into one of the largest sources of information in the health care industry.

Health Insurance Innovations, a publicly traded company, develops health insurance and ancillary plan bundles through partnerships with a select group of carriers. Healthpocket has been a referral partner of Health Insurance Innovations for the past 6 months, and there has been “a lot of synergy between the two companies.” Bruce and his co-founder Sheldon Wong have been acquainted with Health Insurance Innovations for almost a decade at this point, and the merger is a natural progression for the company.

Whether it is towards an eventual acquisition or simply the next round of funding, helping companies grow is at the core of what Plug and Play does here in Silicon Valley.  We are extremely excited to work with the Healthpocket team moving forward as they continue to flourish.  To learn more about Healthpocket, check out their website.  To learn more about Health Insurance Innovations, check out their website.

9/15/2014: This Week in Tech, in Tweets

1. Bitcoins for a good cause!

2. Microsoft acquires Mojang for $2.5 billion.

3. Uber, Lyft, or Sidecar? They're all controversial, but Sidecar has got Sir Richard Branson!

4. Mountain goats are showing the way for disabled climbing enthusiasts.

5. Wikileaks releases controversial 'security' software.

6. Last Week's iPhone has set new records.

7. Android reveals three smartphones geared towards emerging markets.

8. Toyota reveals unique new concept car intended for 'tinkerers.'

Plug and Play Welcomes Cyberport Hong Kong!

This past Thursday, Plug and Play headquarters hosted a delegation from Hong Kong Cyberport for a Pitch and Networking Event. The group, led by Hong Kong Cyberport CEO Herman Lam, brought 15 of their hottest startups to present in front of a panel of judges composed of Plug and Play investors and Executives in Residence.

Cyberport, founded in 2002, is a “creative digital community with a cluster of technology and digital content tenants” that is owned by Hong Kong’s SAR Government. Their 100,000 square meter operation is host to a number of established companies in addition to an incubation program from which 15 startups presented in Sunnyvale and San Francisco yesterday afternoon. Cyberport’s startups represented a broad range of interests from retail optimization to education technology. The delegation featured entrepreneurs with innovative technology solutions across multiple verticals, each of which gave a five minute pitch detailing their idea.  Plug and Play’s panel of judges sat in attendance providing feedback while considering potential investment opportunities.

There are a host of reasons that Hong Kong is an extremely exciting place for startups. Hong Kong has the infrastructure as well as the economy to capitalize on a consistently innovative local talent base, and the citizens have a heightened global sensibility that speaks to the city’s unique history. According to Herman, “There is a lot of talent. People in Hong Kong are very international, but at the same time they know about China. We are a part of China, but we are facing the world.” As a Chinese city with a globalized community, Hong Kong stands as a perfect starting point for foreign companies looking to become acquainted with the region.

Yesterday’s Pitch and Networking Event came as a perfect opportunity for collaboration as Hong Kong is a global launchpad point for tech startups in the same way that Silicon Valley is the digital nexus of the United States. According to Leslie Yuen, the U.S. Consultant for Cyberport, Hong Kong is special because it is “a city of immigrants, very similar to Silicon Valley. If you look at the delegation today we have members from India, Europe, Australia, and China: it’s a representation of Hong Kong. It’s a very global city, and we have the same dream and the same goal as silicon valley.”

The event was a testament to the nature of Plug and Play’s relationship with Cyberport, and we hope to collaborate as much as possible moving forward. To find out more about Cyberport, check out their website.

PnP’s Weekly Bitcoin Meetup Featuring Yifu Guo

This past Tuesday, Plug and Play‘s weekly Bitcoin Meetup enjoyed its anniversary after meeting weekly since 2013 at our HQ facility. Our resident Bitcoin expert Scott Robinson took over the event a summer ago after Roger Ver (the “Bitcoin Jesus”) passed the oldest meetup in an effort to foster an ongoing discussion about emerging trends and challenges surrounding the development of crypto-currency. Since then, the event has been a huge success featuring an amazing cast of guest-speakers that have facilitated consistent engagement from the Bitcoin community.

For the most recent meet up we were lucky enough to host Yifu Guo, the man behind the first ASIC-based Bitcoin miners. Yifu first found out about Bitcoin through an RSS feed in 2011, and since then he has established himself as a major player in the space. Yifu’s company, Avalon, is credited with successfully producing the first ASIC based Bitcoin miners, which sold for up to $20,000 each at auction. He attributes his initial success to poor competition, reasoning that he was simply one of the first people to take advantage of the financial potential that crypto-currency has to offer.

However, according to Yifu, Bitcoin’s amateur hour has passed. “I was really lucky because my competitor was terrible and I was the first one to launch. But because of this I knew, after us it would be nations, states, and professionals.” He realized that this heightened level of interest would change the dynamic of the bitcoin scene drastically. With more government and professional interest, bitcoin mining will become significantly less distributed. Yifu believes that this could be a major problem, arguing that “in order to keep bitcoin the way that we know and love it, mining has to be as geographically distributed as possible.” He maintains that mining needs to remain decentralized in order to keep governments from rendering the platform financially infeasible.

Yifu’s prediction is based on what he witnessed first-hand while on a visit to China. Inner Mongolia is a region of China where there is a massive coal mining operation that produces 80% of the country’s total power. The plants there were producing an excess of power that was not being put to use, and this opportunity was recognized by a Chinese entrepreneur. According to Yifu, “this person went to the local government and essentially said ‘hey, you have all this power you’re not using. Why don’t we use it to mine bitcoins that you can convert to whatever asset you want?’” The government hastily accepted, and the largest known bitcoin mining operation in the world was started.

The problem that Yifu wants to solve surrounds the issue of individual players, such as the Chinese entrepreneur just mentioned, attempting to harness as much mining power as possible to drive everyone else out. If bitcoin mining becomes centralized, the very nature of the protocol becomes defunct and bitcoin will likely no longer be viable.

As it was presented by Yifu, the situation is best exemplified by a recent downtrend in the distribution of bitcoin nodes. At the present time, there are around 7,000 nodes currently up and running where there were 25,000 last year. In order to solve the problem, Yifu argues that we need to provide incentive for people to run nodes. He emphasizes: “if the US does not reach 25, 30% of the bitcoin market by the end of the year, it will actually become financially infeasible to compete with Asia.”

With the problem clearly outlined, the question remains as to what we can do to stop this seemingly inevitable decentralization. Yifu wants to try to put a bitcoin mining chip in every single home appliance as a potential way to help the platform stay distributed, but he believes it will not be enough.  The ball is in our court, and American citizens need to take action if they want to preserve the future of crypto-currency.

To find out more about the Silicon Valley Bitcoin Meetup taking place every Tuesday at Plug and Play headquarters, check out our website.

9/08/2014: This Week in Tech, in Tweets

1. This week’s Apple event is going to be HUGE.

2. You can now make 1-click purchases via Twitter.

3. 3d printing continues to find new applications.


4. There are going to be “different categories of Virtual Reality.”

5. Bitcoin fantasy football!

6. Telepathy via the internet?

7. Apparently the ice bucket challenge worked!

8. Driverless cars might be here a lot sooner than we think.

9. Bungie prepares gamers for the biggest MMO launch of the year.

Pademobile: Our Hottest Company of the Month!

Pademobile, Plug and Play’s Hottest Company of the Month, is the easiest way to send money anywhere in real time. With a simple text message you can send money instantly to any phone in the US or Mexico. Pademobile’s platform is compatible with any cellphone model that is SMS enabled, the only thing that you need is the ten digit telephone number of the person you want to receive money.

The idea for Pademobile was hatched around ten years ago when founder and CEO Raul Nogales was working a career in the financial sector of Spain. He had the opportunity to visit a number of smaller countries that lacked banking infrastructure, and it was during that time that he noticed the emerging problem of financial exclusivity.

When he arrived in Mexico he planned to create a platform through which locals would be able to send money from their bank accounts using their cell phones to recipients who would, in turn, be able to withdraw money from an ATM without using a card. However, he quickly realized that this idea was not nearly enough to account for the entire unbanked population of Mexico, that “the general population didn’t need the last link in the chain, they needed the whole chain.” His service was limited by the requirement of a bank account, and he needed to find a way to “democratize” the financial model. In an effort to find a solution, Raul founded Pademobile in Mexico about four and a half years ago as an alternative solution to common banks.

Pademobile is a mobile financial platform that “transforms a cell phone number into a digital wallet” that can be topped up using a prepaid balance, credit and debit cards, or Bitcoin. The entire platform is based on SMS, which makes it universally available to cell phone users rather than limited to smartphones. Since implementing the business model in Mexico, Pademobile has grown to almost 3 million users at more than 20 thousand physical points of operation.

Raul’s main goal following Pademobile’s success in Mexico has been global expansion. He has planned on an international model for his platform since its inception, and he became acquainted with Plug and Play in an effort to realize this goal. He relocated Pademobile headquarters to Plug and Play’s Silicon Valley facility to begin what he has referred to as a ‘learning phase.’ According to Raul, “Plug and Play and its team has had a fundamental role. We found the location and the environment perfect for us, where we have been able to learn and where we have found an ally at the right moment to take this significant step of moving towards an international model.”

Pademobile’s model provides a perfect solution to an emerging problem that affects millions of people across the globe. Their platform stands as an excellent model for international implementation, and at Plug and Play we are proud to play an instrumental role in the company’s imminent expansion. To find out more about Pademobile, check out their website.

Plug and Play Retail Visits Hong Kong

 

Plug and Play Retail Director Michael Olmstead spent this past week in Hong Kong where he sat on a panel with executives from Li & Fung, Omnistream, and Wellington Management. The panel addressed emerging trends and challenges specific to the brand and retail space such as the impact of digital currency and beacon technology. Michael was accompanied by Li & Fung EVP of Global Research Deborah Weinswig, Wellington Management CFA Steven Richter, and Omnistream COO Collin Thompson.

During his time there he also met with senior executives from Li & Fung to discuss the possibility of a strategic partnership with Plug and Play’s Brand and Retail Accelerator in the future. Li & Fung is a global sourcing firm that is the world standard in supply chain management. They specialize in using “market research, retail and fashion trend forecasts, and innovative technology” to “optimize pricing, quality, quantity, and delivery of products, enhancing speed to market.” As a complete supply chain manager, they oversee the entire production process of a given item from design to material sourcing to product delivery.

Plug and Play’s Brand and Retail Accelerator was founded last September, and since then we have partnered with sixteen companies including retailers, brands, and retail solutions. In a manner that is analogous to the process through which Li & Fung sources material suppliers to their factories, Plug and Play connects entrepreneurs to corporations to give them the ability to deliver on great ideas.

There are many reasons that Li & Fung stands as an excellent fit for our accelerator, and we are extremely excited about the possibility of a corporate partnership. To learn more about our Brand and Retail Accelerator as well as our Corporate Partnerships, check out our website.

9/02/2014: Last Week in Tech, in Tweets

1. LG, Samsung, Asus, and others compete with Apple in preparation for the next wave of smart watches.

2. Innovators are driving a shift in the way that we make payments.

3. Android TVs will have the ability to stream high-end video games.

4. This electric skateboard could change the way you look at your commute.

5. Apple’s new partnership will enable you to pay for things with your iPhone.

6. Smart dining has arrived.

7. Innovative food wrappers significantly reduce wasted material.

8. Uber opens new services, gets banned in Germany.

 

9. Ferguson police to wear body cameras following Michael Brown controversy.

Lending Club Files for $500 million IPO!

Lending Club has come a long way since its entry to Plug and Play seven years ago. When CEO and Founder Renaud Laplanche started the company in 2006, he had a clear vision of a more efficient alternative to the traditional system of loan trading. Since then, Lending Club has used technology and innovation to realize that vision and set a new industry standard.

Lending Club was initially launched as one of Facebook’s first apps, and since then has grown from a “disruptive idea to an industry leader.” Since its inception in 2006, the p2p lending platform has facilitated over $5 billion in loans and returned over $300 million in interest to investors. During its initial period of growth the company focused on securing borrowers of high-credit-quality, ensuring year after year of positive returns. Prior to the advent of Lending Club, investors and borrowers were limited to a traditional system of banks and credit unions. Lending Club has facilitated a revolution by providing a peer-to-peer lending service that is registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Lending Club joined Plug and Play in 2007 where the company was introduced to Norwest Venture Partners who provided them with their initial round of funding. Since then, their growth has been exponential with a 12 million dollar Series B led by Morgenthaler in 2009 and a 25 million dollar series C led by Foundation Capital in 2010.

Plug and Play CEO Saeed Amidi stated that “his greatest joy in life is to have a front seat when these startups and these entrepreneurs build great companies that change our lives.” Lending Club is a revolutionary company, and we would like to congratulate them on their huge IPO. We could not be more pleased to have been part of their journey.

Learn more about Plug and Play by visiting us on the web!

IoT Selection Day

Carefully selecting startups to provide strategically targeted investment opportunities for our corporate partners is one of our core offerings at Plug and Play, and our first Internet of Things Selection Day was a remarkable success. The Internet of Things (“IoT”) is changing the way that we look at household devices, improving our lives by connecting the things that we use every single day to one another by leveraging the connectivity of the internet. This revolutionary technological trend has created an unprecedented amount of buzz in the startup world, and Plug and Play has decided to open up an IoT accelerator in recognition of the opportunity to connect promising entrepreneurs to investors and corporations.

Yesterday afternoon, 30 hopeful startups gathered at Plug and Play headquarters in Sunnyvale to pitch their ideas in front of a panel of venture capitalists and corporate executives. Each company was given five minutes to present, and at the end of the last presentation the judges gathered to deliberate and decide which of the companies would be accepted into the accelerator. Of the 30 entrepreneurs that pitched startup ideas, 15 will be selected to be brought on to Plug and Play by the end of the day. The corporate partners represented by the judges included Bosch, State Farm, Ericsson, Cisco, Flextronics, and BMW in addition to venture capitalists from Johnson and Johnson, our internal Executives-in-Residence (“EIR’s”), Ice Breaker Ventures, and KPCB.

Internet of Things is a very broad term that refers to a vast array of ‘smart’ internet-connected devices. Examples of use-cases include: smart plugs for conserving electricity consumption or security systems that ping consumers when an alarm is triggered. Other examples are Wearable devices, such as smart watches, which can improve overall health by providing the user with important metrics while encouraging fitness. Many of the household objects that all of us use on a daily basis are being integrated into the digital world, and this trend has provided entrepreneurs with an opportunity to innovate towards significant improvements to our everyday lives.

The creative solutions presented throughout the day fostered a great deal of excitement from the investors and corporations in attendance. Mark Platshon of BMW i-ventures described the event as “really high quality,” expressing interest in a number of the automotive related ideas. For car manufacturers, the advent of the Internet of Things promises to create a network of cars constantly in communication with one another. Startups like Smartcar, a cloud-based app for the Tesla Model S presented by founder Sahas Katta, aim to capitalize on this promise by improving the manner in which our cars adapt to our behavior on a day to day basis. According to Katta, Smartcar is an “intelligent remote control for connected cars” that improves the user’s experience by “learning a person’s driving habits and automatically pre-conditioning their vehicle.” His app actively anticipates the owner of a given car’s next commute to make sure it is fully charged and perfectly conditioned to that person’s preferences before they set foot in the vehicle.

Jeff Yu, Managing Director of Plug and Play anchor partner Bosch, expressed interest in a few of the sensor-driven startups. One startup in particular, Chemisense, is manufacturing sensors to “develop a wearable air quality monitor to help individuals better understand the air around them.” Company founder Will Hubbard recognizes that air pollution is a serious problem that demands a creative solution, and he is crowdsourcing data from all over the globe to help realize his vision. Dynosense founder Saeed Azimi also presented an exciting product employing a sensor based scanner to capture a broad range of health data in less than sixty seconds with a single action. The Dynosense scanner then uses this data to generate a Healthscore for the user, providing a detailed analysis of over thirty health indices.


There are a number of challenges inherent to the development of the Internet of Things. While an entrepreneur may have a perfect idea for a ‘smart’ device, he may not possess the technical knowledge to make his product a reality. Also, as more and more devices are connected to one another bandwidth and data security will become an increasingly prominent concern. A few of the startups represented yesterday addressed these problems, providing products that make IoT more accessible to entrepreneurs wanting to break into the space. Electric Imp founder Hugo Fiennes presented an innovative platform that uses “fully integrated hardware, software, IS, APIs, and cloud services” to “empower businesses and developers to deploy, manage, and quickly scale their connected products.” By providing entrepreneurs that have valuable ideas with the means to quickly develop products we will be able to successfully move towards an IoT reality at a much faster pace.

Plug and Play’s IoT selection day stands as the grand opening of our accelerator, and we are extremely excited to welcome these startups into our program. To learn more about our brand new IoT accelerator, visit our website.