This Startup Can Get You Vaccinated

Today’s Highlights: PPP loans are gridlocked. Burger King drive-throughs can predict your order. And are California bagels really better than New York’s?

REOPENING

The CDC’s guidance that vaccinated people may gather indoors in small groups has implications for businesses: “Perhaps most important, the guidelines urge individuals to follow guidance issued by individual employers, which may include vaccine mandates. This poses the question of how employers will choose to collect this information: physically by accepting a copy of or looking at their vaccine card, through an electronic record, or through the use of a vaccine management system. It also serves as an early test of vaccine passports or ‘vax passes,’ which contain a record of a person's vaccination status on a mobile device. As more workers get vaccinated and in-person business resumes in greater capacity, some businesses may increasingly ask customers to present their vaccination records upon entry.”

  • “Doing so has to this point been discouraged, as some information such as when a person was vaccinated may unintentionally reveal confidential medical information such as a pre-existing condition.” READ MORE

OPPORTUNITIES

App makers are cashing in on software that tracks Covid compliance: “Employers can tell from a glance at the screen whether a conference room has exceeded the number of employees who can safely meet, or whether too many people are on one floor. Workers can also use these apps to take precautions like checking how many colleagues are using the gym, or how recently the cafeteria was sanitized. While apps with similar features have been available for years for office security or convenience purposes, landlords and big corporate tenants are giving these tools a fresh look during the pandemic. This is especially true as the recent rollout of vaccines in the U.S. raises the prospect that millions of workers could return to their office this year.” READ MORE

Looking for a leftover vaccine? A startup will match you with a clinic: “At some larger vaccination sites, the race to use every dose sets off a flurry of end-of-the-day phone calls. In every case, if the leftover dose does not find an available arm, it must go into the trash. Now, a New York-based start-up is aiming to add some order to the rush for leftover doses. Dr. B, as the company is known, is matching vaccine providers who find themselves with extra vaccines to people who are willing to get one at a moment’s notice. Since the service began last month, more than 500,000 people have submitted a host of personal information to sign up for the service, which is free to join and is also free to providers.”

  • “Dr. B is a for-profit effort, set up as a public-benefit corporation that includes efficient and equitable vaccine distribution in its mission.”

  • “But its founder, Cyrus Massoumi, a tech entrepreneur, hasn’t yet described Dr. B’s business model. He said he was financing the project out of his own pocket and had no plans to collect revenue.” READ MORE

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

The looming deadline and last-minute changes are hurting the PPP drive: “The result has been gridlock and uncertainty that have left tens of thousands of self-employed people frantic to find lenders willing to issue the more generous loans before the program ends on March 31. JPMorgan Chase, the program’s largest lender this year in terms of dollars disbursed, doesn’t plan to act on the new loan formula before it stops accepting applications on March 19. Bank of America, the second-biggest lender, opted against updating its loan application and said it would contact self-employed applicants to manually sort out their applications — but stopped accepting new ones on Tuesday.”

  • Hundreds of thousands of borrowers who have already received their loans have no way to reapply under the more generous rules, infuriating business owners like Bryan Cordova, who finalized a loan for his printing business in Round Rock, Texas, just days before Mr. Biden announced the changes.”

  • “It would take an act of Congress to push back the deadline, and lenders and trade groups have been calling, with increasing urgency, for an extension.”

  • “The program still has $119 billion on hand of the $284 billion that Congress authorized when the Paycheck Protection Program was renewed for this year, even with loans already made to 2.4 million borrowers.” READ MORE

FINANCE

Pipe has built a marketplace to give companies with recurring revenue an alternative way to raise capital: “The buzzy startup’s goal … was to give SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts. (Pipe describes its buy-side participants as ‘a vetted group of financial institutions and banks.’) A few months after that initial seed raise, Pipe brought in another $10 million in funding as an extension of that round. And now today, Miami-based Pipe is announcing a new raise — $50 million in ‘strategic equity funding’ from a slew of high-profile investors.”

  • “In conjunction with the new financing, Pipe said it is also broadening the scope of its platform beyond strictly SaaS companies to ‘any company with a recurring revenue stream.’”

  • “This could include D2C subscription companies, ISP, streaming services or a telecommunications company.”

  • “Pipe’s platform assesses a customer’s key metrics by integrating with its accounting, payment processing and banking systems. It then instantly rates the performance of the business and qualifies them for a trading limit.” READ MORE

HUMAN RESOURCES

The rise of remote work has opened up new opportunities for autistic people: “The pandemic has made it easier for people who don’t adapt well to office environments to thrive. The longtime resistance to supporting remote accommodations for disabled employees evaporated when neurotypical (i.e., not autistic) people had to work from home. At the same time, the growing awareness of neurodiversity—the idea that humans aren’t all wired the same way, and that differences like autism and ADHD also come with unique strengths—means there is more appreciation for what neurodivergent employees can contribute.”

  • “Just think about all the tech that has blossomed in the past year, thanks to the mainstreaming of remote work. For instance, as messaging platforms like Slack and Teams replace hallway conversations or office drop-ins, they remove a major obstacle for people who struggle with distraction or social interaction.”

  • When meetings move online, we all lose access to most of those nonverbal cues. What leads to ‘Zoom fatigue’ for neurotypical people—who often find the loss of nonverbal communication disorienting and exhausting—can actually be liberating for neurodivergent workers.

  • “‘Being autistic, there’s no such thing as a welcome surprise,’ says Hunter Hansen, a business analyst who is autistic. When he was working in an office, he says, ‘I had to keep myself from bristling: I couldn’t triage the interruption if someone sneaked up behind me. It really did affect my ability to lock in and focus.’” READ MORE

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THE ECONOMY

For American farmers, China is back and bigger than ever: “China is once again the U.S.’s chief customer for agricultural goods, three years after the start of a bruising trade war that prompted American farmers to try to wean themselves off their biggest market. Following a cease-fire between the world’s two largest economies last year, U.S. farmers are shipping record volumes of crops and meat across the Pacific. The surging agricultural exports are helping power a turnaround in the U.S. farm economy, lifting commodity prices and profits for agribusinesses, and fueling expectations that farmers will devote more land than ever for some crops.”

  • “Josh Gackle, a North Dakota farmer who grows corn, soybeans and other crops, said sharply higher commodity prices have allowed him to show his bankers this year—the first in six—that his farm will turn a profit.”

  • “Michigan hog farmer Brian Pridgeon said China’s pork-purchasing spree is exciting. But he said he worries it will wane as China’s own production rebounds. ‘We can’t just be reliant on one partner,’ said Mr. Pridgeon.” READ MORE

FOOD & BEVERAGE

Restaurant chains are investing big in drive-throughs: “As the dining industry looks toward a post-pandemic world, many companies are betting big that digital ordering and drive-throughs will remain integral to their success. And the basic experience of sitting in a single line of cars, speaking into a sometimes garbled intercom and pulling up to a window to pay for your food before driving away is poised to be demonstrably altered for the first time in decades. A number of restaurants are moving quickly to improve their online order and app abilities, change their physical designs or add two or three drive-through lanes. Some are testing artificial intelligence systems to tailor suggestions for individuals who pull up to the menu board.”

  • “Burger King is testing a Bluetooth technology that will be able to identify customers in Burger King’s loyalty program and show their previous orders.”

  • “If a customer ordered a small Sprite and a Whopper with cheese, hold the pickles, the last three visits, Deep Flame will calculate that chances are high that the customer will want the same order again.” READ MORE

There’s a West Coast bagel boom, and The New York Times says the bagels are better than New York’s: “This is where the writer (me), a former resident of New York City (Brooklyn), smugly tells you that these bagels are good for California bagels, excellent by West Coast standards. But no, to be clear: Emily Winston’s bagels are some of the finest New York-style bagels I’ve ever tasted. They just happen to be made in Berkeley. And it’s not an anomaly. Ms. Winston, 43, is part of a West Coast bagel boom, one of many bakers tinkering and excelling with regional styles. The wood-fired bagels at Daily Driver, and the impressive blocks of butter, have their own fan base. So do the dark, wonderfully chewy bagels at Gjusta, the puffy beauties at Bueller’s Bagels, the hefty sandwiches from Yeastie Boys and the more understated ones from Maury’s.” READ MORE

THE 21 HATS PODCAST

Episode 52: I Need a Vacation: This week, we talk about what we were thinking a year ago as the contours of this crisis began to emerge. It was this week that the W.H.O. declared a pandemic, the NBA suspended its season, and toilet paper started to disappear. It has all taken a toll. “This is where it gets tricky,” Jay Goltz tells us. “Just because everybody shows up every day and looks like they're happy-go-lucky, they're not. People have stresses in their life, whether it's their kids, whether it's their aging parents, whether it's their financial situation, whether it's their physical well-being—any of the above. This is just layered on top of whatever was going on in their life before.” Plus: Karen Clark Cole’s company goes to Mars, Dana White gets a smart question about expansion from a retailer in Canada, and Jay discovers that ESOP companies don’t have to pay federal income tax.