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Oura partners with UCSF to determine if its smart ring can hep detect COVID-19 early

Startups continue to find new ways to contribute to ongoing efforts to fight the global spread of COVID-19 during the current global coronavirus pandemic, and personal health hardware-maker Oura is no exception. The smart ring startup is working with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) on a new study to see if its device can help detect early physiological sings that might indicate the onset of COVID-19.

This study will include two parts: Around 2,000 frontline healthcare professionals will get Our rings to wear during the study. The rings track a users’s body temperature continuously, as well as their sleep patterns, heart rate and activity levels. Fever is a common and early symptom that could indicate COVID-19, and a continuously updated body temperature reading could detect fever very early. That’s not enough to confirm a case of COVID-19, of course, but the purpose of the study is to determine whether the range of readings Oura’s ring tracks might, taken together and with other signals, be useful in some kind of early detection effort.

There’s good reason why researches believe that Oura could be used in early detection: An Oura user in Finland alerted him to the fact that he was ill before he was displaying any overt symptoms of the virus, prompting him to get tested (relatively easy in that country). Test results confirmed that while asymptomatic, he had indeed contracted COVID-19. As a result, UCSF researcher Dr. Ashley Mason hypothesizes that the Oura ring could anticipate COVID-19 onset by as many as two to three days before the onset of more obvious symptoms, like coughing.

Being able to detect the presence of the virus in an individual early is key to global containment efforts, but even more important when it comes to frontline healthcare workers. The earlier a frontline responder is diagnosed, the less chance that they expose their colleagues or others they’re working around in close quarters.

In addition to the Oura rings being provided to study participants, the plan is to expand it to include Oura’s general user population, meaning its over 150,000 global users can opt in to participate and add to the overall poor of available information with their ring’s readings and daily symptom surveys. For existing Oura users, it’s a relatively low-lift way to contribute to the global effort to combat the pandemic – without even leaving the house.

Refurbished electronics startup Refurbed raises $17M round, led by Evli Growth Partners

Renewed phones, laptops and tablets can be as much as 40% cheaper than their brand new cousins, working equally as well and, because they have been saved from the scrapheap, are therefore a great deal more environmentally friendly. Players in this space include
Back Market (raised €48M), Swappa (US) and Amazon Renew.

Refurbed, a marketplace for exactly these types of refurbished electronics plans to take advantage of this growing market, after raising a $17 million Series A round of funding led by Finland’s Evli Growth Partners. They have been joined in the round by Almaz Capital, Bonsai Partners, All Iron Ventures and FJ Labs as new investors. Existing investors Klaus Hofbauer and Inventure Partners also participated.

Refurbed is active in Austria, Germany, Poland and Italy, and now plans to use the capital to expand to additional markets in 2020, notably into the German market.

The startup’s refurbish devices are renewed through a 40-step process and come with a 12-month guarantee. Founded in 2017, it now has more than 150,000 customers throughout Europe with sales, its says, growing over five times in 2019. It claims to have also posted more than $45 million in gross merchandising volume.

Peter Windischhofer, co-founder of refurbed, said: “Our mission is to bring one refurbished product into every household in Europe and change the way we consume as a society,” , said. “This funding round is the next big step to reach our ambitious goal.”

But why is it that they think they can take on some of their larger competitors? “We only work with the best merchants across Europe with the highest quality and superior customer service. This leads to the highest customer satisfaction in the industry (e.g 4.8/5 on Trusted Shops),” Windischhofer told TechCrunch .

Riku Asikainen, managing partner of the lead investor Evli Growth Partners, added: “We admire the refurbed team that manages to have a positive impact on the world and is financially successful at the same time.”

At the Green Alley Award 2018 refurbed was ranked among the top 3 most sustainable tech startups in Europe, and took second place in the Climate Impact Battle 2018 at the Slush Festival.

Tencent to grow gaming empire with $148M acquisition of Conan publisher Funcom in Norway

Tencent, one of the world’s biggest videogaming companies by revenue, today made another move to help cement that position. The Chinese firm has made an offer to fully acquire Funcom, the games developer behind Conan Exiles (and others in the Conan franchise), Dune and some 28 other titles. The deal, when approved, would value the Oslo-based company at $148 million (NOK 1.33 billion) and give the company a much-needed cash injection to follow through on longer-term strategy around its next generation of games.

Funcom is traded publicly on the Oslo Stock Exchange, and the board has already recommended the offer, which is being made at NOK 17 per share, or around 27% higher than its closing share price the day before (Tuesday).

The news is being made with some interesting timing. Today, Tencent competes against the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo in terms of mass-market, gaming revenues. But just earlier this week, it was reported that ByteDance — the publisher behind breakout social media app TikTok — was readying its own foray into the world of gaming.

That would set up another level of rivalry between the two companies, since Tencent also has a massive interest in the social media space, specifically by way of its messaging app WeChat . While many consumers will have multiple apps, when it comes down to it, spending money in one represents a constraint on spending money in another.

Today, Tencent is one of the world’s biggest video game companies: in its last reported quarter (Q3 in November), Tencent said that it make RMB28.6 billion ($4.1 billion) in online gaming revenue, with smartphone games accounting for RMB24.3 billion of that.

Acquisitions and controlling stakes form a key part of the company’s growth strategy in gaming. Among its very biggest deals, Tencent paid $8.6 billion for a majority stake in Finland’s Supercell back in 2016. It also has a range of controlling stakes in Riot Games, Epic, Ubisoft, Paradox, Frontier and Miniclip. These companies, in turn, also are making deals: just earlier this month it was reported (and sources have also told us) that Miniclip acquired Israel’s Ilyon Games (of Bubble Shooter fame) for $100 million.

Turning back to Funcom, Tencent was already an investor in the company: it took a 29% stake in it in September 2019 in a secondary deal, buying out KGJ Capital (which had previously been the biggest shareholder).

“Tencent has a reputation for being a responsible long-term investor, and for its renowned operational capabilities in online games,” said Funcom CEO Rui Casais at the time. “The insight, experience, and knowledge that Tencent will bring is of great value to us and we look forward to working closely with them as we continue to develop great games and build a successful future for Funcom.”

In retrospect, this was laying the groundwork and relationships for a bigger deal just months down the line. 

“We have a great relationship with Tencent as our largest shareholder and we are very excited to be part of the Tencent team,” Casais said in a statement today. “We will continue to develop great games that people all over the world will play, and believe that the support of Tencent will take Funcom to the next level. Tencent will provide Funcom with operational leverage and insights from its vast knowledge as the leading company in the game space.”

The rationale for Funcom is that the company had already determined that it needed further investment in order to follow through on its longer-term strategy.

According to a statement issued before it recommended the offer, the company is continuing to build out the “Open World Survival segment” using the Games-as-a-Service business model (where you pay to fuel up with more credits); and is building an ambitious Dune project set to launch in two years.

“Such increased focus would require a redirection of resources from other initiatives, the most significant being the co-op shooter game, initially scheduled for release during 2020 that has been impacted by scope changes due to external/market pressures with increasingly strong competition and internal delays,” the board writes, and if it goes ahead with its strategy, “It is likely that the Company will need additional financing to supplement the revenue generated from current operations.”