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Six imperatives for building AI-first companies

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Change happens slowly, and then all at once — especially in complex industries like healthcare.

Just five years ago, venture capital investments in healthcare AI were emerging and exploratory. Half a decade and one global pandemic later, we’re living in a brave and more ambitious new world defined by an unbridled enthusiasm for leveraging revolutionary technologies like AI.

Pointing this technology at previously intractable problems in key industries such as healthcare, life sciences, and beyond is among the greatest opportunities of the century.

The year 2022 was when the broader public bore witness to material advancements in AI research that have matured from lab to life. ChatGPT educated over 100 million people globally about transformers in just two months.

What was once a nascent area of research has now become venture capital’s next platform shift, and with that, investors ask, “How will generational AI companies be built in healthcare, life sciences, and beyond?”

AI-first companies are in the business of advancing AI as a science, whereas AI-enabled companies are implementation and distribution machines. The two company phenotypes establish moats at different layers — AI-first companies innovate just above silicon, while AI-enabled companies create enterprise value at the application level.

For founders, knowing what kind of company you are building is essential for recruiting proper talent, partnering with aligned investors, securing sufficient capital, and deploying a viable business model. AI-first companies require deep AI research acumen, investors willing to take a long view, materially more capital, and potentially less conventional business models than AI-enabled peers.

The impact of AI-first companies will be greater, financial returns superior, and moats more enduring than their AI-enabled counterparts.

In reality, this distinction is a spectrum, not a binary. Impactful companies will be built with both approaches. For AI-first companies, though, we believe the fruits will be worth the labors.

Influence over the technology stack from the ground up enables tight control over cost structure, immeasurable product optionality, and greater defensibility relative to AI-enabled companies that defer the exercise of scientific inquiry to those that are AI first.

We can no longer afford to conflate AI-first and AI-enabled companies. So far, the largest AI-first companies have been built for horizontal applications (e.g., OpenAI, Cohere, Anthropic); yet vertical, industry-specific platforms, such as those in healthcare and life sciences, will showcase the expansive capabilities of large-scale models to deliver real-world impact.

For founders, we believe enduring AI-first companies — in healthcare, life sciences, and beyond — will follow these six imperatives.

Create and sustain an undeniable data advantage

AI-first companies exhibit an insatiable appetite for data and employ creative means for acquiring it sustainably. In addition to amassing large and robust datasets, AI-first companies develop designer datasets that are uniquely suited to deliver high performance on specific tasks.

Designer datasets are unique in that they are not easily found in public; they are machine readable, in that they are ingestible by AI models; and they are scalable, in that it is tractable to generate high volumes over time.

Importantly, designer datasets are not simply the exhaust of processes within a given system, and they are not generated by customers alone. For example, the healthcare and life sciences industries generate 30% of the world’s data, and yet companies that train only on existing electronic health record data or resources like PubMed leave material performance gains and capabilities behind.

Designer datasets may require authoring experimental protocols for situations that do not occur naturally but that deliver strong model performance for a given task.

For example, Subtle Medical, an AI-first company focused on imaging acceleration, generated millions of imperfect MRI images captured in 15 minutes, which were later utilized to train deep learning models that could reconstruct and de-noise medical imaging exams taken in shorter periods of time. In practice, imperfect MRI images provide little clinical value; however, as an AI-first company, these images trained deep neural networks that created a data moat for Subtle’s technology.

Reinforcement learning with (expert) human feedback — RL(E)HF — is another critical tool for AI-first companies. RLHF is a technique where an AI system learns and improves its performance by receiving feedback from human input. With RL(E)HF, expert human feedback provided by individuals trained in particular disciplines such as neurology or structural biology can tune model outputs for high performance in that domain.

Abridge, an AI-first company that provides ambient documentation tools for clinicians, leverages clinician feedback on AI-authored notes to enhance note accuracy and quality across specialties.

Data derived from customers also creates flywheels of opportunities for generating novel and defensible data assets. After establishing product-market fit, AI-first companies can leverage this position to serve adjacent customer segments. By capturing and integrating datasets across stakeholders in a given industry, AI-first companies can strengthen data advantages, unlock TAM, and create new categories.

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SpaceX Rocket Suffers Engine Failure In Starlink Mission, Elon Musk Shares What’ll Happen Next

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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket suffered a rare failure on Friday. The launcher lifted off with 20 Starlink satellites at 8:06 am IST from California but failed to deploy them in the intended orbit.

According to SpaceX, the second stage of Falcon 9 did not complete its second burn necessary for reaching the desired orbit. The booster did its job and safely landed on the droneship in the Pacific Ocean. It was SpaceX‘s 70th mission this year.

Currently, the satellites are in a lower orbit than planned.

“SpaceX has made contact with 5 of the satellites so far and is attempting to have them raise orbit using their ion thrusters,” the company said in a statement on X.

ALSO SEE: Japan’s First Private Rocket Launch Ends In Massive Explosion, Video Goes Viral

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that it might not work “but it’s worth the shot. He also said that the satellites might fall toward Earth and burn up in the atmosphere if their thrusters are overpowered by the atmospheric drag.

In another post, Musk revealed that the upper stage engine exploded for unknown reasons while trying to raise the orbit. “Team is reviewing data tonight to understand root cause,” he said.

Notably, the reputed rocket by SpaceX has suffered only one full in-flight failure during a mission to the International Space Station in 2015.

ALSO SEE: Chinese Rocket Launches Accidentally, Crashes With Massive Explosion Seconds Later

(Image: SpaceX)





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China Plans To Destroy An Asteroid For Planetary Defense Mission By 2030: Report

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After the impeccable success of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, China is now planning to deflect an asteroid later this decade. According to The Planetary Society, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) is preparing its first planetary defense test which is expected to launch by 2030.

Scientists have proposed the near-Earth asteroid 2015 XF261 as a candidate for the mission which will include two probes. One will ram into the space rock to deflect it and the second will conduct impact assessment.

The asteroid 2015 XF261 measures about 100 feet or 30 metres in diameter and it made a close flyby of our planet earlier this month. According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the asteroid was about 50 million kilometres from our planet on July 9 and was travelling at a speed of around 42,000 kilometres per hour.

ALSO SEE: NASA Drills Freaky Scenario Where Elusive Asteroid Heads Towards Earth

Apart from China, Japan is also eyeing a ‘kinetic impact’ test mission to deflect an asteroid. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reportedly has plans to repurpose its Hayabusa2 spacecraft to collide with 1998 KY26. The probe which launched in 2014 is expected to rendezvous with the space rock in 2031 and potentially change its orbit.

The said missions by the two nations are driven by the success of NASA’s DART mission launched in 2021 which proved that smacking an asteroid can deflect them. It collided with Dimorphos which circles a larger rock Didymos in September 2022 and changed its orbit by about 32 minutes.

These missions are of immense importance as they enable technologies that could save Earth from a planet-killing asteroid. While predicting an impending asteroid armageddon is predictable, it is also the gravest threat that humanity faces.

ALSO SEE: Collision Of NASA’s DART With Asteroid Dimorphos Changed Its Shape; Finding Excites Scientists



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Uzbekistan mobile bank TBC raises $38.2M to expand its financial products

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Uzbekistan’s only mobile-exclusive bank, TBC Bank Uzbekistan, owned by London Stock Exchange-listed TBC Bank Group, has raised $38.2 million in a fresh equity investment. It plans to expand its local presence in the country and introduce new financial products as well.

TBC Bank Group has led the latest funding in TBC Bank Uzbekistan by infusing $23 million, while shareholders European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) have participated in the round by investing $7.6 million each.

After serving customers in Georgia, TBC Bank Group decided to expand outside that country’s borders in 2019 and found Uzbekistan as its first international market. The bank started its Uzbekistan operations in 2020 through a separate entity, TBC Group Uzbekistan, which launched the mobile-only bank after its debut, with no physical branches in the country. The plan was to leverage Uzbekistan’s increasing digitization effort and foresee business growth in the country, which has the biggest population after Russia and Ukraine in the region — the second-largest among all the Commonwealth of Independent States countries — and has upright economic and socio-demographics.

“Before TBC came in, there were no banking apps in Uzbekistan … Fast-forward four years, most of the banks have got a mobile app, but TBC is far ahead of the field,” said Oliver Hughes, head of international business at TBC Group, in an exclusive interview.

According to official data, Uzbekistan has a 70% smartphone penetration rate and a 77% internet penetration rate; 59% of its population of 37 million is under 30 years old, making it a viable market for a mobile-specific business.

TBC Bank Uzbekistan offers a mobile app through which customers can open bank accounts and access services, including cash loans and deposits. This omits the requirement of physically going to a bank branch to access banking.

Hughes told TechCrunch that a couple of years ago, customers in Uzbekistan typically had to visit their bank and stand in a queue to get any of their banking work done.

Alongside the mobile-only bank, TBC Group Uzbekistan owns Payme, the digital payments app for individual users and small businesses, as well as the Sharia-compliant credit business called Payme Nasiya. To broaden its coverage, it looks to integrate some experiences from these two businesses within the bank or sync them with the bank’s operations.

For instance, through its app, TBC Group Uzbekistan will offer tips, recommendations and user-generated content on local events, entertainment, concerts and travel to provide complementary services that are not strictly financially related. Some of these features will first arrive on the Payme app but will be available to the TBC Bank Uzbekistan customers over time.

Similarly, Payme Nasiya currently serves Uzbek customers with its point-of-sale and installment loans. To expand the credit business, it will introduce e-commerce and offline buy now, pay later. This is expected to attract more local businesses and eventually help the mobile bank gain more customers.

In addition to the new financial products in the pipeline, TBC Group Uzbekistan plans to bring AI experiences to its mobile bank. Hughes told TechCrunch the group has built a large language model predominantly using its customer dataset and is working on a voice assistant to deliver banking and financial services through a chatbot integrated within its app.

In the fall, TBC Bank Uzbekistan will use the fresh funding to add credit cards and an insurance product next year, Hughes said.

The bank’s roadmap includes additional services such as current accounts, as well as accounting, offline payments, e-commerce payments and lending specifically for small and medium enterprise customers, Hughes added.

“This investment will allow us to further capitalize on the immense opportunities in Uzbekistan, a fast-growing country with a population of over 37 million people where TBC UZ continues to leverage its growth momentum,” said Vakhtang Butskhrikidze, CEO of TBC Bank Group, in a prepared statement.

At the end of 2022, TBC Bank Uzbekistan broke even, and 2023 was the bank’s first full year of profit. As of March 2024, the bank had a user base of 4.8 million unique registered users. It also recorded monthly active users of 1.2 million in the first quarter of 2024.

Overall, TBC Group Uzbekistan, with a registered user base of 15 million users, reached profitability two years after launch and recorded 85% year-on-year revenue growth in the first quarter of this year. The company achieved gross loans of $296 million and deposits of $216 million through all three of its subsidiaries. Its net profit hit $23 million for the financial year 2023, most of which came from Payme. However, TBC did not disclose the mobile bank’s revenues or profits.

“TBC UZ’s impressive growth trajectory and innovative approach align with our mission to support sustainable economic development in the region,” said Andi Aranitasi, head of Uzbekistan, EBRD.

Hughes said that by the end of 2025, TBC Group Uzbekistan is projected to generate $75 million in net profit, most of which would come from TBC Bank Uzbekistan.

“We are encouraged with the progress TBC UZ has made so far and remain confident in its potential to contribute to economic growth and financial inclusion in Uzbekistan,” said Neil McKain, country manager, Uzbekistan, IFC.



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