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Zenefits, in a Shake-Up, Appoints New C.E.O., Replacing Parker Conrad

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Parker Conrad, a co-founder of Zenefits, in 2014.Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Zenefits, a fast-growing San Francisco start-up that has attempted to shake up the health insurance brokerage industry, said on Monday that Parker Conrad, its co-founder and chief executive, had resigned from the company and from its board of directors.

Mr. Conrad was replaced by David Sacks, who joined Zenefits a year ago as its chief operating officer. Mr. Sacks previously had led his own start-up, Yammer, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2012.

Mr. Conrad’s recent tenure was rocked by lapses in complying with health insurance regulations in several of Zenefits’ markets. The company makes software that is intended to streamline the way small businesses buy health insurance for their employees. The company was valued at $4 billion in a funding round last year, and its investors have called Zenefits one of the fastest-growing business software companies in history.

But in the last few months, a series of reports by BuzzFeed News found that the company was cutting corners in its rise. According to BuzzFeed, Zenefits employed unlicensed brokers to sell insurance to customers, resulting in scrutiny from regulators and the undoing of many of its sales. In an email to employees on Monday, Mr. Sacks pointed to these failures as the reason for Mr. Conrad’s departure.

“The fact is that many of our internal processes, controls and actions around compliance have been inadequate, and some decisions have just been plain wrong,” Mr. Sacks wrote. “As a result, Parker has resigned.”

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“Some decisions have just been plain wrong,” said David Sacks, Zenefits’s new chief, who has vowed to reform company practices.Credit David Paul Morris/Bloomberg, via Getty Images

Mr. Sacks vowed to reform the company’s processes for dealing with regulators. He appointed Josh Stein, a former federal prosecutor, to become the firm’s chief compliance officer. Mr. Stein will be charged with coordinating with state insurance regulators and putting into place the findings from an outside audit of its policies that Zenefits commissioned last year.

But in a highly unusual move in Silicon Valley, where a break-anything culture is revered, Mr. Sacks called on Zenefits to straighten up its image.

“We must admit that the problem goes much deeper than just process,” he wrote. “Our culture and tone have been inappropriate for a highly regulated company.”

In addition to naming a new chief executive, Zenefits also appointed three new members to its board of directors: Antonio Gracias, of the investment firm Valor Equity Partners; William E. McGlashan Jr, of the firm TPG Growth; and Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal who is now an investor at Founders Fund.

Though its current investors say they remain enthusiastic about Zenefits’ prospects, the resignation represents a second disappointment for Mr. Conrad, who was pushed out of SigFig, a start-up he was a co-founder of in 2007. In an interview in 2014, Mr. Conrad was frank about his fear of reprising that failure at Zenefits, which he described as the plausible danger in a company growing so quickly.

“Even when we think things are going well, it always feels like the wheels are ready to come off the cart,” he said.

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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