After reportedly spending a year and a half working on a cloud service meant for China and other countries, Google cancelled the project, called “Isolated Region,” in May due partly to geopolitical and pandemic-related concerns. Bloomberg reports that Isolated Region, shut down in May, would have enabled it to offer cloud services in countries that want to keep and control data within their borders.
According to two Google employees who spoke to Bloomberg, the project was part of a larger initiative called “Sharded Google” to create data and processing infrastructure that is completely separate from the rest of the company’s network. Isolated Region began in early 2018 in response to Chinese regulations that mean foreign tech companies that want to enter the country need to form a joint venture with a local company that would hold control over user data. Isolated Region was meant to help meet requirements like this in China and other countries, while also addressing U.S. national security concerns.
Bloomberg’s sources said the project was paused in China in January 2019, and focus was redirected to Europe, the Middle East and Africa instead, before Isolated Region was ultimately cancelled in May, though Google has since considered offering a smaller version of Google Cloud Platform in China.
After the story was first published, a Google representative told Bloomberg that Isolated Region wasn’t shut down because of geopolitical issues or the pandemic, and that the company “does not offer and has not offered cloud platform services inside China.”
Instead, she said Isolated Region was cancelled because “other approaches we were actively pursuing offered better outcomes. We have a comprehensive approach to addressing these requirements that covers the governance of data, operational practices and survivability of software. Isolated Region was just one of the paths we explored to address these requirements.”
Alphabet, Google’s parent company, broke out Google Cloud as its own line item for the first time in its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings report, released in February. It revealed that its run rate grew 53.6% during the last year to just over $10 billion in 2019, making it a more formidable rival to competitors Amazon and Microsoft.
College in the United States is expensive and, for many, comes with massive student debt. The price tag has led to the increase of coding bootcamps and alternative schooling options to help students gain employment, and a salary, without taking on millions of dollars in debt.
In Europe, the picture looks vastly different: A majority of universities are low-cost or free to attend. Students have to front the cost of living, textbooks and other externalities, but overall education in Europe comes with a lower price tag than the United States.
But accessibility doesn’t equate to effectiveness, according to Tobia De Angelis, the co-founder of Berlin-based Strive School.
De Angelis launched Strive School to address what he sees as an existing weakness in European universities: outdated STEM course material. The company, which is currently going through Y Combinator, connects students to a six-month coding program and then connects them to a job in exchange for a portion of their future salary, also known as income-sharing agreements (ISA).
“The market is demanding [from] universities something they’re not meant to deliver in the first place: more high quality, job-ready software engineers,” De Angelis told TechCrunch.
ISAs are often used by companies as a pitch to help students forgo the expensive price tag of a university or online degree. The idea is that students only need to pay for the education once it works, or once it leads to a job.
Strive School, with its focus on Europe, needs to convince students to pay for education they could otherwise get low-cost because of the job prospects.
It’s hard to do, but so far Strive School has placed five out of seven students in its inaugural class. The second class is being placed, and the third class is in session. The company is accepting applications for its fourth cohort, starting in late September.
The company uses Europe’s free education model to its advantage by going to STEM faculties around Europe to recruit talent and students. The first focus for Strive School programming is full-stack web engineering.
Beyond that, Strive School looks and feels like a digital bootcamp. Students, or “strivers,” learn to code with deadlines, in a team environment and within the scope of a project. Lessons are taught fully remote with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication.
Strive’s curriculum, according to De Angelis, is more focused on soft skills (like applying code to real-life situations) than hard skills. The teachers on the platform are engineers, scientists and coders.
Once a student completes the coursework, Strive School will help them get placed. Its ISA terms are that it charges 10% of salary for four years with a maximum total of €18,000.
The ISA space has grown considerably in recent years, bringing with it a whole bunch of regulatory and legal scrutiny. Another Y Combinator company, Lambda School, tackles the coding skills shortage through an ISA model and launched in 2017. Since, students have complained about the quality of education a company can bring when it demands venture-sized returns with an ISA model.
Lambda cut staff and executive pay in April, citing the coronavirus and a general dialing back of growth plans. Strive School’s De Angelis said that the coronavirus makes placing students into jobs harder due to layoffs, thus hurting the upstart’s main source of revenue, but he is hopeful of growth in sub-sectors within tech like e-commerce.
ISA struggles doesn’t mean companies are straying away just yet. Within the YC alumni network, Blair helps college students finance their education through income-sharing agreements. And VCs recently bet millions in Microverse, a Lambda School for the developing world.
De Angelis is confident that Europe is big and diverse enough to need a platform that is specialized in working for its student base.
De Angelis spent time working at two early-stage funds in Italy and Denmark, and his co-founder Diego Banovaz is a software engineer who worked at startups and taught postgraduate courses in Trieste, Italy.
The coronavirus has forced the world to rethink online education models and move past the status quo put in place by institutional universities. It has brought re-skilling networks into the mainstream and forced questions about inclusion to be dealt with head-on. But perhaps Jomayra Herrera, an investor with Cowboy VC, puts it best: “You can give someone access to something, but it’s not true access unless they have the tools and structure to really engage with it.”
A deep tech startup building cryptographic solutions to secure hardware, software, and communications systems for a future when quantum computers may render many current cybersecurity approaches useless is today emerging out of stealth mode with $7 million in funding and a mission to make cryptographic security something that cannot be hackable, even with the most sophisticated systems, by building systems today that will continue to be usable in a post-quantum future.
PQShield (PQ being short for “post-quantum”), a spin out from Oxford University, is being backed in a seed round led by Kindred Capital, with participation also Crane Venture Partners, Oxford Sciences Innovation and various angel investors, including Andre Crawford-Brunt, Deutsche Bank’s former global head of equities.
PQShield was founded in 2018, and its time in stealth has not been in vain.
The startup claims to have the UK’s highest concentration of cryptography PhDs outside academia and classified agencies, and it is one of the biggest contributors to the NIST cybersecurity framework (alongside academic institutions and huge tech companies), which is working on creating new cryptographic standards, which take into account the fact that quantum computing will likely make quick work of breaking down the standards that are currently in place.
“The scale is massive,” Dr Ali El Kaafarani, a research fellow at Oxford’s Mathematical Institute and former engineer at Hewlett-Packard Labs, who is the founder and CEO of PQShield said of that project. “For the first time we are changing the whole of public key infrastructure.”
And according to El Kaafarani, the startup has customers — companies that build hardware and software services, or run communications systems that deal with sensitive information and run the biggest risks from being hacked.
They include entities in the financial and government sectors that it’s not naming, as well as its first OEM customer, Bosch. El Kaafarani said in an interview that it is also in talks with at least one major communications and messaging provider exploring more security for end-to-end encryption on messaging networks. Other target applications could include keyless cars, connected IoT devices, and cloud services.
The gap in the market the PQShield is aiming to address is the fact that while there are already a number of companies exploring the cutting edge of cryptographic security in the market — they include large tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft, Hub Security, Duality, another startup out of the UK focused on post-quantum cryptography called Post Quantum and a number of others — the concern is that quantum computing will be utilised to crack even the most sophisticated cryptography such as the RSA and Elliptic Curve cryptographic standards.
El Kaafarani says that PQShield is the first startup to approach that predicament with a multi-pronged solution aimed at a variety of use cases, including solutions that encompass current cryptographic standards and provide a migration path the next generation of how they will look — meaning, they can be commercially deployed today, even without quantum computers being a commercial reality, but in preparation for that.
“Whatever we encrypt now can be harvested, and once we have a fully functioning quantum computer people can use that to get back to the data and the sensitive information,” he said.
For hardware applications, it’s designed a System on Chip (SoC) solution that will be licensed to hardware manufacturers (Bosch being the first OEM). For software applications, there is an SDK that secures messaging and is protected by “post-quantum algorithms” based on a secure, Signal-derived protocol.
Thinking about and building for the full spectrum of applications is central to PQShield’s approach, he added. “In security it’s important to understand the whole ecosystem since everything is about connected components.”
Some sectors in the tech world have been especially negatively impacted by the coronavirus and its consequences, a predicament that has been exacerbated by uncertainties over the future of the global economy.
I asked El Kaafarani if that translated to a particularly tricky time to raise money as a deep tech startup, given that deep tech companies so often work on long-term problems that may not have immediate commercial outcomes.
Interestingly, he said that wasn’t the case.
“We talked to VCs that were interested in deep tech to begin with, which made the discussion a lot easier,” he said. “And the fact is that we’re a security company, and that is one of the areas that is doing well. Everything has become digitised, and we have all become more heavily reliant on our digital connections. We ultimately help make the digital world more secure. There are people who understand that, and so it wasn’t too difficult to talk to them and understand the importance of this company.”
Indeed, Chrysanthos Chrysanthou, partner at Kindred Capital, echoed that sentiment:
“With some of the brightest minds in cryptography, mathematics and engineering, and boasting world-class software and hardware solutions, PQShield is uniquely positioned to lead the charge in protecting businesses from one of the most profound threats to their future,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier to support the team as it works to set a new standard for information security and defuse risks resulting from the rise of quantum.”
Nauta Capital, the pan-European venture capital firm that invests in B2B technology startups at seed and Series A, is launching its fifth fund.
The new vehicle has an initial close of €120 million and is expected to surpass the VC’s 2016 fund, which topped out at €155 million.
With offices in London, Barcelona and Munich, Nauta Capital has over half a billion under management and is supported by a team of 24 people, making it one of Europe’s largest B2B focused VCs. The firm invest in companies mainly based in the U.K., Spain, and Germany, as well as those based in other continental European countries with plans to significantly increase their presence in one of its key geographical hubs.
Describing itself as “sector-agnostic,” Nauta Capital’s main areas of interest include B2B SaaS solutions with “strong network effects”, vertically focused enterprise tech that is attempting to transform large industries, and deep tech applications that solve an array of challenges faced by large enterprises. More broadly, it says it targets “capital-efficient” B2B software companies.
In total, Nauta has led investments in more than 50 companies. They include Brandwatch, a U.K. digital consumer intelligence company with $100 million ARR; Onna, a knowledge integration platform that unifies workplace knowledge platforms for the likes of Facebook and Dropbox; PromoteIQ which was acquired by Microsoft in 2019; zenloop, a Berlin-based experience management platform; and MishiPay, a mobile self-checkout technology.
LPs in this fifth fund’s first close include both existing and new investors from continental Europe and America. They span fund of funds, financial institutions, insurance companies, and large family offices that lead large corporates with “strong synergies” with Nauta’s portfolio.
“We have doubled the first close compared to our 2016 fund in record time against a backdrop of a global pandemic,” says Carles Ferrer, Nauta’s London-based General Partner, in a statement. “With more than 80% of the contributions received from existing LPs, we are humbled to see that our thesis has resonated with so many of our current LPs who have joined us again”.
That thesis has seen Nauta have the discipline to back companies that take a leaner approach, including during fundraising or leveraging cash efficiently to achieve growth, according to Carles. “At a time when we are navigating a global pandemic, where the global economy has taken a severe hit, it’s more apparent than ever that our conviction in capital-efficiency maximises sustainability and leads to greater long-term outcomes for entrepreneurs, regardless of their stage,” he says.
Meanwhile, Nauta is disclosing that the first company to be backed from its new fund is NumberEight, which has raised a $2.3 million seed round led by the VC. Based in the U.K., NumberEight offers a “contextual intelligence” platform for mobile devices that predicts consumer context to “enable the delivery of the right content at the right time,” while claiming to preserve user privacy by not sending or storing sensor data beyond the user’s device.
“The startup leverages advanced context recognition and on-device AI techniques to predict over 100 contextual signals such as ‘travelling to work on a bicycle’, thus providing mobile apps with real-time behavioural and situational consumer insights,” explains Nauta.
The daily updates on COVID-19 outbreaks, tragic stories of related fatalities, and our narrowed scope of life due to lockdown have all put the concept of mortality — and for some the sad business of actually dealing with a death — squarely into focus for many people. Today, a startup that’s building out a suite of services related to that is announcing a round of funding on the back of a boost of growth in business.
Farewill, a UK startup that provides a platform for people write online wills, organise probate services (such as sorting out death duties and taxes on a person’s property) and order cremations, has raised £20 million ($25 million) in funding — money that it hopes will not only help the company grow its business but also to help in the process of coping with our own deaths and those of our loved ones.
“We want to help by destigmatising death,” said Farewill CEO Dan Garrett in an interview about the complexity of the proposition. “We all have to face death. It lives inside everyone. But for most of us, we are psychologically hardwired not to think about it, and as a process people have been largely at the behest of an industry that doesn’t think about its customers.”
The name is, as you may have guessed, a play on farewell. “Think of the pun, and you can start the company,” Garrett said with the hint of wryness in his voice that I’m not sure you can avoid at the moment, especially given the subject.
The round is being led by Highland Europe, with Keen Ventures, Rich Pierson of Headspace, Broadhaven Ventures, Venture Founders and previous investors Augmentum Fintech, Taavet Hinrikus of TransferWise and Kindred Capital also participating. It’s being described as a venture round — a Series A of just under $10 million was closed in January 2019 — and brings the total raised by Farewill to £30 million.
Farewill is currently only live in the UK but longer term has plans to expand to more. In its home market, Garrett (who co-founded the company with university friend Dan Rogers, who is the CTO and CPO) says that in the five years that Farewill has been operational, it’s become the biggest will writer in the country in what is a quite fragmented market: the startup accounts for one out of every 10 wills written, or a 10% market share.
The cremation funeral and probate services are more recent launches from December 2019. But even so, given the current state of play with lockdown, social distancing and sadly the rise in actual deaths, they too have seen a lot of activity. Garrett said that Farewill’s cremation service, where the order for cremation and other details are all carried out online and costs on average one-fifth of the typical funeral — the idea being that families can then choose how to memorialise after that process, bypassing that more traditional funeral option — is now the third/fourth-biggest cremation provider in the country. It’s not all about the last few months, however: overall growth for the startup, he added, was 800% last year (before COVID-19) on a revenue basis.
Just as death is not an easy topic for most people, it’s a complicated one to pinpoint as a target industry for a startup to “disrupt.” Farewill’s origin story, in that context, is an interesting one.
Garrett — who studied engineering at Oxford as an undergraduate — said the the idea came to him while doing postgraduate work on a joint degree between Imperial College and the Royal College of Art on design and innovation.
He came into the degree with a lot of big ideas, inspired by companies like Airbnb. “There is just so much potential for design-led companies,” he said of his thinking at the time.
One of the remits that the course cohort was given, he said, was to think about the broader concept of aging and services to address that. As part of the course, he travelled to Japan — which has its own specific reverence for ageing and the death process — and based himself at an old people’s home in Tokyo for six months along with “a team of enthnographers and anthropologists.”
He came out of that with an insight he didn’t expect, he recalled. “I felt that at the end of my six months there, I’d failed in my role as a designer,” he said. “All we focused was on the superficiality of ageing: how can we make better cutlery, or beds or seating that helped them move around? It was all about mobility and the physical aspects. But why we didn’t get close to talking about was that most of these people were facing their mortality. And in care homes, you don’t have friends or family around.” In other words, physical details and making life more manageable or enjoyable are fine, but Garrett didn’t feel that they got to the heart of the matter.
“To my mind, if you’re a designer, your responsibility is to get to the bottom of whatever the issue is,” he said. His dissertation, about dementia care, raised questions not about cutlery per se but person-centered approaches. “So much of it is about physical amelioration, not psychological aspects.”
So when he returned to the UK, he set to work trying to understand “the death industry.” He spent two months doing what he described as “mystery shopping”, regularly visiting funeral directors, and saying he was coming to discuss a death (a hypothetical one, not a real one) to understand what process people went through when they walked through the door for a real funeral. “I made sure I didn’t waste too much of their time,” he said.
He then also got a qualification in will writing and started offering services to his friends (free) who needed help to go through the probate process — which involves sorting out death duties, organising personal effects and the estate and so on. He — and Farewill — have also tried to embody a transparent and ethical approach in the work throughout, which has also included making it easier to designate pledged legacy income in wills (that is donations to causes). The aim is to reach £1 billion in pledged legacy income by 2023, with over £200 million raised so far and the numbers accelerating.
All that hands-on experience was important, he said, to get to grips with what he wanted to build. “I may have three masters degrees, but I am terrible at learning without actually doing something,” he said.
One big conclusion Garrett found was that not only was the death industry large and complicated, not least because of the subject matter, but because it had no technical innovation at all around it.
“There is this profound human aversion to dealing with death, and that is a brilliant design challenge,” he said.
Indeed, like it or not, death is always around us, and perhaps particularly right now. In the US — itself home to a number of startups focusing on death-related services — will writing companies have seen huge spikes in their business in the last several months. And even with the economic slowdown much of the globe is now seeing as a result of COVID-19, death care services (which don’t include will writing but everything after death), is projected to be a $102 billion industry this year.
It’s numbers like that, and Farewill’s execution in what it is doing, that has attracted investors.
“How about entirely removing the administrative pain for those grieving for their loved ones? How about providing an affordable, effortless and considerate service? That’s what the Farewill team is doing – with an extraordinary blend of compassion and tech-fueled efficiency,” said Stan Laurent, Partner at Highland Europe in a statement. “For too long, the wills and funeral industry has been largely geared towards profit over purpose. Since our first meeting with Dan, we knew that Farewill had the ingredients to radically disrupt the industry. We’re excited to back them as they broaden their ambition.”
“Farewill has made phenomenal progress since our initial investment 18 months ago,” added Tim Levene, CEO of Augmentum Fintech, in a statement. “They have grown by 10x and launched a suite of successful new products. This additional capital will provide further opportunity for the company to innovate an archaic industry, and become the leading digital platform in death services.”
(Farewill also recently won a Europa award for its contribution to social innovation.)
LeanIX, the enterprise architecture software company founded out of Bonn in Germany, has closed $80 million in Series D funding. The round is led by new investor Goldman Sachs Growth. Previous investors Insight Partners and DTCP also followed on.
The Series D brings LeanIX’s total funding to over $120 million. The company says it will use the investment to continue international growth and to further develop its complementary solutions for cloud governance. In the last 12 months, LeanIX has opened new offices in Hyderabad (India), Munich (Germany) and Utrecht (Netherlands), and now has 230 employees worldwide (up from 80 when we last covered the company).
Founded in 2012, LeanIX operates in the enterprise architecture space and its SaaS might well be described as a “Google Maps for IT architectures”. The software lets enterprises map out all of the legacy software or modern SaaS that the organisation is run on. This includes creating meta data on things like what business process it is used for or capable of supporting, what tech powers it, which teams are using or have access to it, as well as how the different architecture fits together.
The idea is that enterprises not only have a better handle on all of the software from different vendors they are buying in, including how that differs or might be better utilised across distributed teams, but can also act in a more nimble way in terms of how they adopt new solutions or decommission legacy ones.
“Many well-known enterprises have successfully restarted their EA initiative with LeanIX,” says André Christ, LeanIX CEO and co-founder (pictured). “Due to its high usability and seamless integrations with other data sources, fast-growing businesses like Atlassian, Dropbox, and Mimecast have also kick-started their EA practices”.
Image Credits: LeanIX
To that end, LeanIX says it is currently working with 300 international customers and achieved 100% revenue growth in 2019. Specifically, 39% of total sales are generated in the U.S. market, and 57% in its home market of Europe.
Comments Christian Resch, Managing Director Goldman Sachs Growth, in a statement: “LeanIX is a thought leader in Enterprise Architecture. We were impressed by its strong revenue growth, the positive customer feedback and the company’s visionary concept: LeanIX develops software solutions to reduce complexity in IT application landscapes. Importantly, LeanIX’s software helps companies with their transition to, and maintenance of, both the cloud and modern microservices architecture”.
Alexander Lippert, Vice President at Goldman Sachs Growth, will join LeanIX’s board of directors.
Connect Ventures, the London-based seed-stage VC that was an early investor in Citymapper and Typeform announced a new $80 million fund last month to continue investing in “product-led” founders.
Launched back in 2012, when there was a shortage of institutional capital at seed stage in Europe and micro VC was a novelty in the region, Connect Ventures invests in B2B and consumer software across Europe, including SaaS, fintech, digital health and “future of work.”
Running throughout the firm’s investment thesis is a product focus, with the belief that product-led — or “product-first” — software entrepreneurs are the kinds of founders most likely to transform the way we live and work at scale.
Connect Ventures does fewer deals per year than many seed-stage firms, promising to place bets in a smaller number of early-stage companies. It recently backed scaling startups such as Curve and TrueLayer. Keeping a compact portfolio lets the shop throw more support behind its investments to help tip the scales toward success.
To learn more about Connect’s strategy going forward, I put questions to partners Sitar Teli, Pietro Bezza and Rory Stirling. We covered what makes a product-first founder, the upsides and downside of “conviction investing,” and the next digital product opportunities in fintech, health and the future of work.
TechCrunch: Connect Ventures positions itself as a pan-European VC investing in “product-led” founders at seed stage. Can you be more specific with regards to check size, geography and the types of startups you look for?
Sitar Teli: Of course, I know it can be hard to differentiate seed funds at first glance, so it’s worth digging in one layer down. Connect is a thesis-led, seed stage, product-centric fund that invests across Europe. I know we’re going to dive into some of those parts later, so I’ll focus on our investment strategy and what we look for. We lead seed rounds of £1-£2 million (sometimes less, sometimes more) and make 8-10 investments a year. Low volume, high conviction, high support is the investment strategy we’ve executed since we started eight years ago.
Meet Koyeb, a new French startup founded by Yann Léger, Édouard Bonlieu and Bastien Chatelard who have previously worked at Scaleway for many years. Koyeb is a serverless startup that helps you manipulate data in different ways without worrying about your server infrastructure.
Competition has become incredibly fierce between cloud service providers, and Koyeb wants to take advantage of that. You can integrate Koyeb with multiple cloud service providers and let Koyeb do the heavy lifting.
For instance, you may store a ton of videos on an object storage bucket managed by DigitalOcean. Let’s say you want to re-encode those videos to optimize them for a new device. Koyeb can import data from this bucket, re-encode those videos and upload the new files to your bucket.
But Koyeb goes one step-further by letting you mix and match services and APIs. As cloud platforms become smarter, they provide services that go beyond running servers and storing data for you.
For instance, Google Cloud’s speech-to-text API is arguably better than Amazon Transcribe. Instead of having to manually set up a multi-cloud workflow, Koyeb can take video files from an AWS S3 bucket, transcribes the audio from those video files on Google Cloud and save the result on the AWS S3 bucket.
There are many use cases for Koyeb. It ranges from copying data from an S3-compatible object storage provider to another every day for redundancy to triggering data processing with API calls. Everything scales automatically and once a workflow is done, you no longer get billed for runtime.
There are already dozens of integrations with data sources (as input and output) and ready-to-use processing APIs. Everything can be configured in the web interface with multiple processing steps, using a command-line interface or the Koyeb API.
The company is just coming out of stealth and is already working on more product updates. For instance, you’ll be able to use Docker containers and custom functions in the future, which should enable a lot more workflows. But it’s a promising start.
Cavalry Ventures, the Berlin-based early-stage venture fund which was the lead inceptor into BRYTER, has closed its second fund of €80M, more than 3.5x the size of its maiden fund.
Geared somewhat like a large Angel syndicate, Cavalry’s LPs tend to be active founders and other LPs in early-stage funds in the DACH region, and the fund is best known for its focus on key SaaS and B2B infrastructure startups such as those in HR, sales, PR, fundraising, legal and internationalization.
In a statement Stefan Walter, managing partner at Cavalry, said: “Our mantra has always been ‘what’s best for the startup?’. If that is staying on the sidelines and letting you as a founder do your job, that’s what we’re going to do. But if you request our support, you can count on us to be there – any time of the day.”
Typically, Cavalry invests alongside angels, both external and from within its network.
Among these angels are Martin Henk (Pipedrive), Nico Rosberg (former F1 World Champion), Viktoriya Tigipko (TA Ventures), Myke Naef (Doodle), Emmanuel Thomassin (Delivery Hero), Gero Decker (Signavio), Joshua Cornelius & Mehmet Yilmaz (Freeletics), Tobias Balling (Blinkist) and Felix Jahn (Rocket Internet, McMakler).
The Cavalry II fund is the partnership’s first vintage with institutional funds including the European Investment Fund .
Cavalry was launched by Rouven Dresselhaus, Claude Ritter and Stefan Walter in 2016 and has since invested in McMakler, Rekki and PlanRadar among others.
The remit remains the same, however: targeting Spanish startups with an international outlook, the seed-stage firm plans to invest from €200,000 to €2 million, writing first checks in 25-30 companies. A portion of the fund will also be set aside for follow-on funding for the most promising of its portfolio.
“We’re business model and sector agnostic, and we currently have a healthy mix of B2B and B2C companies across a wide variety of sectors, including travel, fintech, insurtech and others,” says K Fund .
Following in the footsteps of Europe’s Heartcore Capital, K Fund is launching a pre-seed funding program, too. Dubbed “K Founders,” it will seek out companies that are less than 6 months old, and invest up to €100,000 pre-seed. The program will initially be quite modest in size, targeting between 10 and 20 startups.
“We won’t take board seats in these companies and we won’t have preferential rights. We’ll use convertible notes to speed up the process and we have a commitment of taking no more than three weeks from first meeting to money in the bank,” explains K Fund’s Jaime Novoa.
“Since we also believe in building bridges with other co-investors (funds and business angels), we’ll be super happy to share deals with co-investors to reach the capital needed by the companies.”
Meanwhile, K Fund’s first fund portfolio includes online travel agency Exoticca (which says that in 2019 more than 35,000 people from 6 different countries traveled to 50 destinations using its platform), HR software Factorial (which has more than 60,000 clients in 40 different countries and just raised a $16 million Series A round from CRV), insurtech startup Bdeo, and conversational messaging tech provider Hubtype.
“We continue to be super bullish on the Spanish startup ecosystem and Southern Europe in general, with markets such as Portugal or Italy that we believe are punching above their weight,” adds the VC firm. “We’ve already invested in four Spanish startups with the new fund; all of them are going after huge markets, and have experienced professionals in their founding team”.
One of those is sales prospecting platform Bloobirds. The others will be disclosed in the coming weeks.
Organise, a U.K. startup that has built a platform to help workers organise and campaign for better rights, has raised £570,000 in seed funding.
The round is led by Ada Ventures, fitting into the VC firm’s remit to back “overlooked markets and founders”. Also participating is Form Ventures, RLC Ventures (a seed-stage fund who commit a portion of their profits back to charitable causes chosen by founders), and Ascension Ventures via its Fair By Design Fund.
Founded in 2017 by CEO Nat Whalley and CTO Bex Hay, Organise describes itself as a “worker-driven network” that provides and range of digital tools and support to enable anyone to start a campaign to improve their working conditions. The idea is to combine the power of collective action, traditionally harnessed by trade unions, with the reach and insight of modern digital campaigns.
That makes sense. given its founders’ resumes. Whalley has a background in political campaigning at 38 Degrees and Avaaz, and also ran ChangeLab, a digital agency building campaigning technology. And Hay was formerly the tech director at 38 Degrees, and also ran Amazon Anonymous, leading her to be dubbed “the thorn in Jeff Bezos’ side”.
“With so many people working remotely, it’s harder to share your problems with colleagues or raise issues about work,” says Whalley. “When people run into issues around unsafe environments or concerns about unfair pay or maternity rights, they have nowhere to turn for support. We provide a way to bring workers together and give them the tools needed to make themselves heard. Our platform empowers individuals, groups and workplaces, helping them to affect meaningful change”.
Whalley explains that users discover Organise in one of three ways: they’re looking to change something in their workplace and discover Organise as a way to make that happen; they join a campaign someone else in their workplace has already started; or they join a campaign calling for a national-level change related to the world of work.
“When people join Organise, we ask them to share their workplace and employment status,” she says. “The platform is then able to connect employees to existing networks of people from the same organisation, immediately enabling them to speak with one, much louder voice. For new campaigns, we can help people build up the awareness they need to get colleagues or workers from across their industry on board.
“Once part of the network, users are in control of their campaigns. They decide what change they want and we provide the tools to make it happen. This might be through surveys, calls to sign petitions, or open letters to decision makers”.
To date, Organise has enabled workers to mount successful campaigns against unjust working practices at companies including McDonald’s, Ted Baker, Amazon, Uber and Deliveroo. No doubt helped by the coronavirus crisis and resulting pressure on workers, the platform has grown from 90,000 to 400,000 members in the last three months.
Asked if Organise is designed to be an alternative to unions or to work with them, Whalley says the platform is complementary to union activities and that many of its members are union members too.
“They use the Organise tools to enhance their impact and increase their reach,” she adds. “For others, Organise makes it possible to bring colleagues together around a single issue where time is of the essence. The dynamic nature of the tools we provide and the speed at which campaigns can get off the ground can be exactly what employees need to drive through meaningful change”.
On competitors, Whalley says Organise is the only platform empowering workers’ rights at scale. There are also whistleblowing platforms in existence, like Vault, which she points out is paid for by companies, “meaning it’s not ultimately in the interests or control of the workers”.
Meanwhile, the business model is simple enough and, I’m told, is working. Organise is free for anyone to join but also offers paid-for, enhanced support for those who need it.
Around 5% of users pay a subscription (usually £1 – £2 a week, depending on income) for enhanced support. This includes employment advice and access to a peer-to-peer forum. “Because it’s paid for by the individuals who will ultimately benefit from it, we can scale and sustain impact at the same time,” says Whalley.
French startup Lydia is announcing a new partnership with Younited Credit, which lets you borrow anything between €500 and €3,000 and pay back within 6 to 36 months. The feature will be released in France at some point during the summer.
This isn’t the first time Lydia is playing around with credit. The company already partnered with Banque Casino to let users borrow between €100 and €1,000. But that feature was limited to short-term credit as you had to reimburse everything over three installments.
This time, you can borrow more money and you have more time to pay back your loan. Lydia will try to be as transparent as possible when it comes to interests. And there’s no fee in case or early repayment.
Compared to the first credit product, you can’t borrow money instantly. You apply for a loan in the app and get an answer within 24 hours. If you accept the offer, you have seven days to change your mind — it’s a regulatory requirement in France. You then receive money on your account.
By offering two different credit products, Lydia wants to cover more use cases. If something unexpected happens (your laptop broke down, you have to book an emergency flight, etc.), you can borrow as much as €1,000 in just a few seconds.
You receive the money on your Lydia account and you can start using it instantly using a virtual card, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Lydia’s debit cards or Lydia’s peer-to-peer payments.
Fees on instant credit lines are pretty high as you pay 3.13% in interests and a one-time fee of €6.90 to €19.90 to receive the money instantly depending on how much you borrow.
If you’re planning a big purchase but you can wait a week, you can go through the new credit offering with Younited Credit . This isn’t the first time Younited Credit offers an integrated credit product with another fintech startup. For instance, N26 also offers credit lines with Younited Credit in France.
Lydia started as a peer-to-peer payment app with 3.5 million users in Europe. It recently raised a $45 million funding round led by Tencent. The startup now wants to build a marketplace of financial products. And integrating Younited Credit in the app seems in line with that strategy.
Distressed satellite constellation operator OneWeb, which had entered bankruptcy protection proceedings at the end of March, has completed a sale process, with a consortium led by the UK Government as the winner. The group, which includes funding from India’s Bharti Global – part of business magnate Sunila Mittal’s Bharti Enterprises – plan to pursue OneWeb’s plans of building out a broadband internets satellite network, while the UK would also like to potentially use the constellation for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services in order to replace the EU’s sat-nav resource, which the UK lost access to in January as a result of Brexit.
The deal involves both Bharti Global and the UK government putting up around $500 million each, respectively, with the UK taking a 20 percent equity stake in OneWeb, and Bharti supplying the business management and commercial operations for the satellite firm.
OneWeb, which has launched a total of 74 of its planned 650 satellite constellation to date, suffered lay-offs and the subsequent bankruptcy filing after an attempt to raise additional funding to support continued launches and operations fell through. That was reportedly due in large part to majority private investor SoftBank backing out of commitments to invest additional funds.
The BBC reports that while OneWeb plans to essentially scale back up its existing operations, including reversing lay-offs, should the deal pass regulatory scrutiny, there’s a possibility that down the road it could relocate some of its existing manufacturing capacity to the UK. Currently, OneWeb does its spacecraft manufacturing out of Florida in a partnership with Airbus.
OneWeb is a London-based company already, and its constellation can provide access to low latency, high-speed broadband via low Earth orbit small satellites, which could potentially be a great resource for connecting UK citizens to affordable, quality connections. The PNT navigation services extension would be an extension of OneWeb’s existing mission, but theoretically, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to leverage planned in-space assets to serve a second purpose.
Also, while the UK currently lacks its own native launch capabilities, the country is working towards developing a number of spaceports for both vertical and horizontal take-off – which could enable companies like Virgin Orbit, and other newcomers like Skyrora, to establish small-sat launch capabilities from UK soil, which would make maintaining and extending in-space assets like OneWeb’s constellation much more accessible as a domestic resource.
Venture capital is “not the only fruit” for entrepreneurs, as the often quieter ‘Growth Capital’ can also see great returns for entrepreneurs who prefer to retain a lot of ownership and control but are also willing to bootstrap over a longer period in order to reach revenues and profits. With the COVID-19 pandemic pushing millions of people online, tech investors of all classes are now reaping the dividends in this accelerated, Coronavirus-powered transition to digital.
Thus it is that Kennet Partners, a leading European technology growth equity investor, has raised $250m (€223m) for its fifth fund, ‘Kennet V’, in partnership with Edmond de Rothschild Private Equity, the Private Equity division of the Edmond de Rothschild Group.
Kennet is perhaps best know for its involvement in companies such as Receipt Bank, Spatial Networks and its exist from Vlocity, IntelePeer, and MedeAnalytics. It’s also invested in Eloomi, Codility, Nuxeo and Rimilia. In raising this new fund, Kennet says it exceeded its target and secured new investors from across Europe and Asia.
The Kennet V fund has already started to deploy the capital into new investments in B2B, SaaS across the UK, Europe and the US.
Typically, Kennet invests in the first external funding that companies receive and is used to finance sales and marketing expansion, particularly internationally. It’s cumulative assets managed are approximately $1 billion.
Hillel Zidel, managing director, Kennet Partners, told me by phone that: “We were fortunate in that most of the capital was raised just before Covid hit. But we were still able to bring additional investors in. Had we been designing a fund for now, then this would have been it, because people have rushed towards technology out of necessity. So this has brought forward digitization but at least five years.”
Johnny El-Hachem, CEO, Edmond de Rothschild Private Equity said in a statement: “We partnered with Kennet, because we liked the dynamism of the team coupled with their strategy of financing businesses providing mission-critical technology solutions. The COVID crisis has underscored the importance of many of these tools to business continuity.”
OurPeople, the U.K. startup that’s built a team communication and engagement platform for desk-less workers, has raised $2 million in Series A funding.
Leading the round is Alpine Meridian, an investment firm that specialises in digital media, e-commerce and healthcare, and entrepreneur Robert Neveu, who also joins OurPeople as managing partner. It brings total funding to $3 million.
Founded in 2016 by Ross McCaw, Bristol-based OurPeople offers a secure mobile platform to let businesses communicate digitally with employees, ensuring teams can stay connected. The startup primarily works in industries with large numbers of desk-less workers, such as fitness and leisure. Clients currently include West Ham United Foundation, Virgin Active UK, Paulton’s Park and Serco Leisure.
McCaw — who used to be a part-time lifeguard and swim teacher — previously founded CoursePro to improve the way swim lessons were administered in the U.K. and other countries. At the time the company was fully acquired by Jonas Software in 2014, over a million swimmers had enrolled. After the success of CoursePro, he spotted another opportunity and launched OurPeople.
“I saw first-hand how companies struggled to communicate with their employees,” says McCaw. “Specifically their remote, desk-less team members who, more often than not, do not have access to a company email but who are the people with the most direct exposure to their customers”.
What really stood out was how many of the trainers were not engaging with company news and announcements. “This was bad for both the company and them. I looked at a number of other sectors and saw that this was a wider issue amongst many industries with high numbers of desk-less workers”.
McCaw describes the OurPeople solution as a “highly-sophisticated yet simple to use” messaging service that ensures the right people in an organisation receive the information they need when they need it. He reckons it’s this targeted nature and being mobile-first that sets the communication platform apart from competitors.
“Generally our competitors come in one of two categories: the workplace social network or the consumer-style workplace chat groups. Both, in our opinion, create too much noise and chatter. They are not targeted enough,” says McCaw.
“Employees want to see content that is relevant to them and incredibly quick to read or watch. The employer, on the other hand, wants to know that the communication has been seen and acknowledged. To achieve this we have a ‘tagging’ system so that only the people that absolutely need to see that message receive it”.
Furthermore, the OurPeople founder says the platform is different because the startup is not attempting to create a workplace social network “where vital information can get lost in all the typical noise”.
“OurPeople is about crucial, relevant information at the right time that engages those hard to reach employees and won’t slow them down as they carry out their customer-facing duties. We make internal communications, especially with remote and desk-less colleagues, effective and efficient”.
We’re excited to announce that we’ve added Extra Crunch support in Ireland, Portugal and Greece. That adds to our existing support in Europe as we are already in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and the U.K.
Portugal’s 10 million citizens are no strangers to startup investment, with the country totting up 813 to date, according to Crunchbase. Notably, of that total, 113 have been announced in 2020 thus far.
That means that in 2020, despite COVID-19 and its ensuing economic impacts, Portugal is on track to best its 2019 startup round total of 206. And it’s not just small companies that Portugal is building. OutSystems, now based in Boston and worth north of $1 billion, was founded in the country, for example. As Europe recovers from COVID-19, perhaps Portugal can take a larger share of the continent’s startup activity. It appears to have the momentum it would need to do so.
There’s been data from the last few years to indicate that the Greek startup scene is also growing nicely. With larger seed deals and more deal volume, Greece has seen its startups raise more money, more quickly in recent years. It appears that 2020 is no exception to the trend. With 43 known startup rounds in the country so far in 2020, Greece is set to storm its 2019 total of 59. Indeed, the country could nearly double the number of startup deals it saw in 2019 during a pandemic-disrupted year.
In the past 18 months, the country has seen around 38% of its all-time total known startup deals. Surely that means the country is at a local maxima when it comes to startup activity.
Ireland is a startup powerhouse. Crunchbase has 2,327 known rounds for companies based in the country, including 539 in 2019 and 335 so far this year. So like our other two countries, we can spot acceleration in deal volume. Irish startups raised over $5 billion in 2020 so far, according to Crunchbase. There are going to be more names bubbling up from the island that are worth getting to know.
As a nation, Ireland has a history of startup successes. Software company FINEOS was founded in Ireland back in 1993, and today it’s a public company worth more than a billion dollars. Havok, another software company from the country sold to Microsoft in 2015. And Ireland has other neat tech startups that are still coming up, like Farmflo, to pick one from the list we made this morning.
We’re excited to welcome readers from Greece, Portugal and Ireland to our growing community of startups, investors and entrepreneurs.
You can sign up for Extra Crunch here.
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Committing to an annual and two-year plan will save you a few bucks on the membership price and unlock access to TechCrunch event discounts and Partner Perks. The Partner Perks program features discounts and savings on services from AWS, DocSend, Crunchbase and more.
Thanks to everyone who voted on where to expand next. If you haven’t voted and you want to see Extra Crunch in your local country, let us know here.
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European startup studio eFounders has looked back at the first half of 2020 to share some metrics about its portfolio companies. The startup studio that is focused on building software-as-a-service enterprise startups has now launched 25 companies in total. Those startups have raised $148 million in 2020 alone.
You may remember that the portfolio of eFounders reached a total valuation of $1 billion late last year. After those new funding rounds, the consolidated valuation of eFounders companies is now at $1.5 billion.
And because we’re talking about SaaS, the monthly recurring revenue has also doubled year over year compared to the first half of 2019. Overall, those companies now generate around $10 million in monthly recurring revenue.
Of course, some companies are doing better than others. In particular, Front and Aircall have raised $59 million and $65 million respectively. Back when I wrote about those stories, Front said its valuation had quadrupled compared to its previous funding round, while Aircall said it had done more than 3x on the valuation.
eFounders seems particularly well-positioned for the current situation. Due to lockdowns around the world, many companies have been looking at tools that help them work remotely and work more efficiently. “We build the future of work,” eFounders writes on its website.
“The changes that were naturally, but slowly, occurring in companies for a decade have accelerated in a matter of months. We’ve certainly gained a few years of digitalisation in the space of a quarter,” eFounders co-founder Thibaud Elziere said in a statement.
If you’re not familiar with eFounders, the company first comes up with an idea for a new company and hires a founding team. The core team works alongside the founders for a year or two to define product-market fit, and eFounders keeps a stake in those startups.
After that initial launch, portfolio companies usually raise a seed round, which helps them build a solid team. eFounders can switch their focus and start working on new startups.
Last year The Europas Awards for European Tech Startups was held at a sunny garden party next to a historic museum in London. Last night, because of the global Coronavirus pandemic, it was held over Zoom. But the enthusiasm and success of Europe’s tech startup industry still shone through the list of finalists and winners.
After 11 years of identifying the most innovative tech startups in Europe (past winners have included Spotify, Transferwise, Soundcloud, and Babylon Health) The Europas has shown itself capable of finding Europe’s hottest startups and remains the only independent and editorially-curated event to recognize the European tech startup scene. The winners have been featured in Reuters, Bloomberg, VentureBeat, Forbes, CNET, many other media outlets — and of course, TechCrunch which was the exclusive media sponsor of the awards, alongside the to-be-launched “impact innovation” title The Pathfounder.
The awards cover 20 categories, including new additions such as AgTech / FoodTech, SpaceTech and GovTech. After a record number of awards entries, an intense round of public voting and judges’ deliberations, then 13 deep-dive online workshops (which ticket holders are still able to watch here) the awards reached their conclusion. The all-star panel of judges (see below) were drawn from a diverse range of European tech founders, investors and journalists and their picks for the winners were combined with the results of the online public voting, as they have done for the last 11 years.
The live stream of the awards – which also featured two panels on addressing racial diversity in the tech industry and the future for environmental innovation – on Zoom is available here (Password: 2v*34=^f), although due to a technical hitch recording started a few minutes into the first panel, before the start of the awards themselves. You can sign up to get news of next year’s awards and similar events here.
— Cordelia Meacher (@CordeliaMeacher) June 25, 2020
This year the physical event was replaced by 13 live workshops built around the awards categories, where shortlisted companies were able to pitch live on the platform. In addition, the “Pathfounder Sessions” offered exclusive workshops with specially invited guests, aimed at European startups raising money at this time. Attendees networked on the dedicated Slack community.
Sponsors of The Europas Awards:
1. FieldHouse Associates
2. The Royal Academy of Engineering
3. Burlington CC
4. The Telecom Infra Project
5. Potter Clarkson
6. PlayFair Capital
The winners are listed both here and below:
There were two, panel, discussions. The first was on “Black Founders: The State of Black Tech Entrepreneurship and Increasing Access to Funding”. Featuring: Tom Adeyoola, co-founder at Extend Ventures and former founder and CEO of Metail; Andy Davis, Venture Partner, Backstage Capital, and Angel Programme Atomico 2020; and Yvonne Bajela, of Impact X Capital (pictured below).
The second panel was on Sustainability. “Here comes the next crisis: can green startups save the planet?”. This featured Greg Jackson, CEO and Founder, Octopus Energy; Lubomila Jordanova, CEO and Founder, PlanA.Earth; and Ana Avaliani, Associate Director, Enterprise, Royal Academy of Engineering.
At the end of the awards, attendees were entertained by DJ MAX, broadcasting live from Munich.
So, the winners of The Europas Awards 2020 are:
Hottest Ag/FoodTech Startup
ConstellR, Germany, monitoring our planet’s temperature down to the fraction of a degree through a constellation of satellites
Earth Rover, UK, AI Powered crop agronomy service for high-value crops.
iFarm, Finland, Building indoor farming tech including automated vertical farms
Planted, Switzerland, Turning all-natural ingredients into plant-based meat, including chicken.
With sales across 21 countries, iFarm is seeing steadily growing revenues from its indoor farming tech that can be installed in stores, restaurants, warehouses, and homes for a more sustainable way of growing some 120 crops.
Hottest Climate/GreenTech Startup
Cervest, UK, Building climate security tools to empower optimal, informed decisions about climate.
GreyParrot, UK, Waste recognition software to monitor, audit & sort waste at scale
Hawa Dawa, Germany, transforming data on air pollution into real insights for greener cities & future-oriented companies
Solytic, Germany, Maximizing the all-round performance of PV plants.
Winner: GreyParrot – The startup has gained early, significant traction amongst waste recycling plants not just in the UK, but in Italy and South Korea. They also recently won Cathay Pacific’s global tender to help the airlines monitor the waste going to landfill to support airline’s sustainability goal of zero waste to landfill by 2030. Serving a massive market, that since the pandemic is getting worse.
Hottest Cyber Startup
Aloha Browser, Cyprus, Private browser with free unlimited VPN for not so tech savvy users
Buguroo, Spain, anti-fraud solution founded in behavioural biometrics.
Picus Security, a cybersecutiry breach and attack platform
SwIDch, United Kingdom, generate OTAC (One Time Authentication Code) on your own device for each transaction without a network connection.
Winner: SwIDch has built dynamic virtual PAN (primary account number) technology for businesses offering a numberless cards solution. It’s recently scored two massive contracts within Indondesia that will secure revenues across a guaranteed 100m transactions.
Hottest EdTech Startup
Blackbullion, UK, financial education platform for university students
CoachHub, Germany, digital coaching platform for companies available globally.
Life Based Value, Italy, Transforming life experiences into sustainable training grounds for soft skills development.
Lingoda, Germany, building the one-stop language learning ecosystem centered around the live classroom.
SoSafe Cyber Security Awareness, Germany, building an awareness platform that offers employees effective and engaging training on IT security topics with a lasting impact
Winner: Blackbullion, with a growing number of university partners, Blackbullion is educating students on financial skills by teaching them how to manage financing and budgeting for their university education.
Hottest Fintech Startup
FintechOS, is the technology as a service platform that makes fast, plug and play digital transformation for financial services possible.
Funding Options, the UK’s marketplace for business finance
Holvi, the business account for sole traders and the self-employed.
TaxScouts, your Self Assessment sorted online by a certified accountant, fast,
WeVat, helping travellers get their tax refunds on their UK shopping
YuLife, life insurance that rewards your team for living well.
Winner: Fintech OS, Helping banks and insurers build digital products in weeks rather than months. In 24 months, onboarded 30 clients across the world, with $25bn under management, and opened offices in London, Amsterdam, Vienna and Bucharest.
Hottest HealthTech Startup
Axial3D, enabling surgeons to create surgical plans in the form of high-quality, patient-specific 3D anatomical models.
Foodmarble, Using breath analysis to measure the foods individuals can digest most successfully
Fundamental Surgery, the flight simulator for surgeons.
Joint Academy, connects patients with physical therapists to deliver an online treatment for chronic joint pain
Patchwork Health, digital platform helping hospitals fill vacant shifts more cost-effectively whilst stemming the tide of clinicians leaving the health service due to poor work-life balance.
Medshr, the secure and easy way to discuss cases by specialty with verified medical colleagues.
Siilo,a secure medical messenger platform designed for healthcare professionals
Winner: Joint Academy – combining the best of both worlds, access to physical therapists along with digital tracking and reminders to change outcomes for the better for chronic joint pain.
Hottest Mobility Startup
Cake, Sweden, Light, clean and silent. CAKE develops high performance electric off-road motorbikes.
Dott, Netherlands. offering our dockless, shared electrical scooters and bikes as alternatives for short-distance travel.
Einride, Sweden. Building both autonomous and driver operated electric trucks
Tier Mobile, Germany, sustainable micro-mobility sharing-solutions, including electric scooters.
Winner: Einride, Helping drive road freight to a more sustainable future with all-electric trucks. Growing number of partnerships with known corporates like Lidl and Oatly.
Hottest Proptech Startup
GoodMonday, a digital Workspace Management Platform for office managers and employees
MQube – UK
Tiko – Spain,
Winner: GoodMonday, In Covid-challenged times, those companies that must maintain offices need more than ever an easy, efficient way to manage them. GoodMonday does this through their platform
Hottest PubTech, GovTech, RegTech, CivTech Startup
Apiax, Germany, a platform making it radically simple for companies to comply with global regulations.
Apolitical, UK, the global learning platform for government
Cyan Forensics, UK, software to help law enforcement, social media and cloud companies find and block harmful content
Parlia, UK, building an encyclopaedia of all the world’s opinions
Seed Legals, UK, platform leveraging big data and automation to give startups the exact legals they need in minutes.
Winner: Seed Legals, Helping launch UK startups by giving them a quick, fast, digital way to sort the legals.
Anthony Rose, CEO and Founder, CONFIRMED
Hottest RetailTech / eCommerce Startup
Trouva, UK. Taking the world’s best independent retail online
Typology, France, vegan, ethically sourced and manufactured, skin care range
Ave + Edam, Germany, a new generation of skincare: personalized by advanced technology and powered by the cleanest, high-performance ingredients.
Winner: Typology, The under £15 skin care range packaged in flat, rectangular bottles that post through the letterbox has tapped into the lockdown, self care zeitgeist
Hottest Sustainability Tech Startup
SPONSORED BY THE ROYAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING
Infinited Fiber Company, transforming pre- and post-consumer textile waste, cellulose rich agricultural waste and cardboard into high quality, cotton-like fibers
Little Black Door, social wardrobe sharing application that lets users play, share, borrow and sell to rethink and retrain our relationship with fashion.
Otrium: an online fashion marketplace that helps independent clothing brands sell end-of-season collections
Peelpioneers: turning citrus peel waste into valuable resources
Winner: Infinited Fiber Company – For a more sustainable fashion industry -Infinited Fiber Company has created tech that allows textile waste to be used again and again, preserving 100% quality – this isn’t just recycling, but creating a new fiber.
Hottest Social Innovation Startup
Aidonic, a social fundraising and last mile aid distribution technology for humanitarian and development programs, powered by blockchain technology.
Amicable, building a kinder, better and affordable way to divorce, separate and co-parent.
DataSwift, enables everyone to benefit from the ethical data economy, by providing the essential tools to give, take and use data responsibly.
Farewill, Services that make death easier
Winner: Farewill – The easiest way to sort your will – and more importantly, for destigmatizing death and making it simple for people to take care of a bureaucratic process typically fraught with emotion.
Hottest SpaceTech Startup
Angoka, managing cybersecurity risks inherent in machine-to-machine communication (M2M) networks.
FocalPoint, transforming the capability of all GNSS systems worldwide.
SatelliteVu, High frequency thermal imagery for better decisions in the trading, environmental and insurance markets.
Winner: FocalPoint, just in time for contact tracing, Focalpoint increases the accuracy of the positioning ability of mobiles, wearables and vehicles in urban environments.
Hottest SaaS/B2B Startup
Akur8, AI-based insurance pricing solution that automates risk modeling for insurance companies while keeping full transparency and control on the models created, as required by regulators worldwide.
AnyDesk, fastest and most seamless remote desktop offering for today’s workforce
Chattermill, helping companies understand and improve customer experience, by taking unstructured customer feedback and generating clear and actionable customer experience insights.
Dixa, a customer service platform that unifies channels and data to create exceptional experiences for agents and customers alike
Funnel, helping businesses become fully data-driven and answer all their marketing and business questions easily with the help of the data they have.
Huub, an integrated logistics platform which is fully dedicated to fashion brands
Keylight, platform for managing and selling subscriptions
Polystream, the world’s most scalable 3D interactive cloud streaming platform
Winner: Funnel – Funnel collects and normalizes data from all digital marketing channels that then allows it to be analysed. With digital marketing still leading the spend, Funnel continues to grow with it.
Hottest AI Startup
Builder.ai, Platform builds, runs and scales just about anything you can think of.
Monolith AI, the first AI Platform for Engineers to enable companies to build better products, dramatically faster
Mostly AI, A Synthetic Data platform, leveraging generative AI, that allows organizations to balance their need for AI & Big Data Innovation with privacy protection.
Papercup, A tool which translates voices, allowing all audio and video content to be watched in other languages.
Sonantic, The world’s most expressive and realistic artificial voices
Speechly, Developer tool for next-generation voice user interfaces
Veriff, building an AI driven tool to verify a person’s identity online.
Winner: Builder.ai, At a time when every business needs to be digital, Builder.AI giving them an easy way to go live fast.
Hottest Blockchain Startup
Fireblocks, a Secure Asset Transfer Network that enables financial institutions to move, store and issue digital assets on-chain, without compromising speed or security.
Trustology, A custodial wallet for individuals and businesses
Ubirch, Enabling New Data Driven Business Models, by Making Data Trustworthy and Verifiable Through Blockchain Technology.
Nexus Mutual, uses the power of blockchain technology and Ethereum to allow people from all over the world to share insurance risk together without the need for an insurance company.
Winner: Fireblocks, As digital assets are increasingly held by mainstream banks, a secure and fast way for them to hold and move them.
Hottest Quantum Startup
IQM, builds useful quantum computers to generate value for the society using faster quantum processors designed hand-in-hand with their applications.
Oxford Quantum Circuits, building quantum computers, to help solve some of humanity’s most pressing challenges, from the discovery of new drugs to the development of secure communications.
Phasecraft, developing fundamental quantum theory and software for quantum computers. aims to design quantum algorithms to solve problems beyond the capacity of classical computation
Rahko, building the capability to model the behaviour of drugs and chemical reactions, and design advanced materials with vastly greater speed and accuracy than what is currently possible, at greatly reduced cost.
Winner: Rahko – building “quantum discovery” capabilities for chemical simulation, which could enable groundbreaking advances in batteries, chemicals, advanced materials and drugs.
Hottest European Accelerator
Seraphim Space Camp
Startup Wise Guys
Winner: SetSquared Bristol, This regional player has helped propel some of the UK’s leading startups to success, including Immersive Labs and Ultraleap (ultrahaptics).
Hottest European Seed Investor
Cavalry Ventures, an early stage venture fund based in Berlin with true value-add for founders.
Entrepreneur First, an international Talent Investor, which supports individuals to build technology companies. It has offices in seven locations; Toronto, London, Berlin, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangalore.
Forward Partners, a venture fund meets startup studio, investing capital, craft and capability from day one…UK
Kima Ventures, Paris based – Kima Ventures is one of the world’s most active early-stage investors, investing in 2 to 3 startups per week all over the world; providing founders with funding, network, and support for them to reach the next steps of their journey.
Playfair Capital, an early-stage fund that commits to companies early and with conviction. Based in London, Playfair combines the best aspects of angel investing with a focused fund, to invest in truly ambitious founders, wherever they are in the world
Winner: Playfair Capital, Based in London, Playfair combines the best aspects of angel investing with a focused fund, to invest in truly ambitious founders, wherever they are in the world. Playfair takes a sector-agnostic approach and investments span deep tech, SaaS, marketplaces and B2B companies. We’ve backed the founders of more than 50 companies including CryptoFacilities, Mapillary, Ravelin, Stripe, Thought Machine and Trouva. Recent exit, Mapilliary sold to FB.
Hottest European VC
Winner: EQT Ventures, founded and run by the founders who built and scaled King, Spotify, Booking.com, Hotels.com, Huddle, and Lithium to name but a few. Building a global success story takes more than just money. It takes a whole ecosystem of expertise and support from people who’ve done it before, made plenty of mistakes along the way and learnt from them.
Hottest European Unicorn
Bolt, the European transportation platform providing ride-hailing and scooter sharing services.
DoctoLib, the online booking platform and management software provider for doctors in Europe
Klarna, the e-commerce payment solutions platform for merchants and shoppers.
Meero, the world’s leading on-demand photography platform
Winner: Bolt raised €100 million from Naya Capital Management, pushing its valuation to €1.7 billion. The Estonian business will use the funds to increase its market share by investing in its ridehailing, food delivery and e-scooter segments. The investment comes as many ridehailing companies are struggling amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Europe’s third fastest growing company in FT 1000 for the second year in a row.
The “Pathfounder” Of The Year award
Taavet Hinrikus, Estonia, UK
Winner: Taavet Hinrikus
This year’s judges were:
CEO and c-founder
CEO and founder
Co-Founder & Chief Medical Officer
Chief Commercial Officer
Co-founder & Chief Marketing Officer
Joyance Partners, New York
CEO and co-founder
Founder and CEO
CEO and co-founder
Founder & CEO
Nate Lanxon (Speaker)
Editor and Tech Correspondent
CEO and founder
Mike Butcher (Chair)
Another brick in the wall for vacation rental platforms: Amsterdam is booting Airbnb and other such platforms from three districts in the city’s old center from July 1, further tightening its rules for such services.
In other districts in the famous city of canals, vacation rentals will only be permitted with a permit from next Wednesday, still for a maximum of 30 nights per year.
The latest tightening of the city’s rules on Airbnb and similar platforms comes after a period of consultation with residents and organizations which city authorities say drew 780 responses — a full 75% of which supported banning the platforms from operating in the three central districts.
The three districts where vacation rentals on platforms such as Airbnb are prohibited from next Wednesday are: Burgwallen-Oude Zijde, Burgwallen-Nieuwe Zijde and the Grachtengordel-Zuid.
“This [consultation] indicates that the subject is very much alive among Amsterdammers. What is striking is that no less than 75% are in favor of a ban on holiday rentals in the three districts, said deputy mayor Laurens Ivens in a press release [translated from Dutch using DeepL].
Furthermore, Ivens said the consultation exercise showed some support for a citywide ban on such platforms. However current pan-EU rules — notable the European Services Directive — limit how cities can respond to public sentiment against such services. Hence Amsterdam applying the ban to specific districts where it has been able to confirm tourism leads to major disruption.
The legal cover afforded to vacation platforms operating in the region by the European Services Directive has show itself to be robust to challenge, after Europe’s top court ruled in December that Airbnb is an online intermediation service. A French tourism association had sought to argue the platform should rather be required to comply with real estate regulations.
Ivens said Amsterdam will conduct another tourism review in two years — and may add more districts to the ban list if it finds similar problems have migrated there.
These are by no means the first restrictions the city has put on vacation rental platforms. Back in 2018 it tightened a cap on the number of nights properties can be rented, squeezing it from 60 nights to 30 per year.
Yet despite such restrictions city authorities note tourist rental of homes has experienced “strong growth” in recent years, with 1 in 15 homes in Amsterdam being offered online. It also said that the supply of homes on the various platforms has increased fivefold — amounting to around 25,000 advertisements per month.
Due to this increase, tourist rental has an increasingly negative impact on the quality of life in various Amsterdam neighborhoods, the council writes in a press release.
The permit system which is also being brought in is intended to aid enforcement of tighter rules — with stipulations that a house must be inhabited; and that the maximum of 30 nights per year can only be rented to a maximum of four people. The council has also made it mandatory for those renting homes on vacation rental platforms to report to the municipality every time the house is rented, so will be building up its own dataset on how these platforms are being used.
Additional changes to Amsterdam’s housing regulations also include higher fines for repeat offender landlords, such as if they rent a property without a permit or violate the maximum number of nights for holiday rentals.
The city has also put limits on conversions, stipulating that only properties larger than 100 m2 may be converted into two or more smaller homes — a provision that seems aimed at landlords who try to maximize holiday rental income by turning a single larger property into two or more smaller flats, and thereby reducing suitable housing stock for larger families.
After early skirmishes between cities and vacation rental platforms related to the collection of tourist taxes, access to data remains an ongoing bone of contention — with cities pressing platforms to share data in order that they can enforce tighter regulations. Platforms, meanwhile, have a clear commercial incentive to avoid such transparency.
In 2018, for example, city officials in Amsterdam called for Airbnb to share “specific rental data with authorities — who is renting out for how long, and to how many people”.
We’ve asked Airbnb to confirm what data it shares with the city now.
The European Commission has sought to play a mediating role here, announcing earlier this year it had secured agreement with p2p rental platforms Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia Group and Tripadvisor to share limited pan-EU data — and saying it wanted to encourage “balanced” development of the sector while noting concerns that such platforms put unsustainable pressure on local communities.
The initial pan-EU data points the platforms agreed to share are number of nights booked and number of guests, aggregated at the level of “municipalities.” A second phase of the arrangement will see platforms share data on the number of properties rented and the proportion that are full property rentals vs rooms in occupied properties.
However the Commission is also in the process of updating the rules around digital services, via the forthcoming Digital Services Act. So it’s possible it could propose specific data access obligations on vacation rental platforms.
We reached out to the Commission to ask if it’s considering updates in this area and will update this report with any response.
Ten EU cities — including Amsterdam — penned an open letter last year, calling on the Commission to introduce “strong legal obligations for platforms to cooperate with us in registration-schemes and in supplying rental-data per house that is advertised on their platforms”. So the regional pressure for better platform governance is loud and clear.
European lawmakers are eyeing binding transparency requirements for Internet platforms in a Digital Services Act (DSA) due to be drafted by the end of the year. But the question of how to create governance structures that provide regulators and researchers with meaningful access to data so platforms can be held accountable for the content they’re amplifying is a complex one.
Platforms’ own efforts to open up their data troves to outside eyes have been chequered to say the least. Back in 2018, Facebook announced the Social Science One initiative, saying it would provide a select group of academics with access to about a petabyte’s worth of sharing data and metadata. But it took almost two years before researchers got access to any data.
“This was the most frustrating thing I’ve been involved in, in my life,” one of the involved researchers told Protocol earlier this year, after spending some 20 months negotiating with Facebook over exactly what it would release.
Facebook’s political Ad Archive API has similarly frustrated researchers. “Facebook makes it impossible to get a complete picture of all of the ads running on their platform (which is exactly the opposite of what they claim to be doing),” said Mozilla last year, accusing the tech giant of transparency-washing.
Facebook, meanwhile, points to European data protection regulations and privacy requirements attached to its business following interventions by the US’ FTC to justify painstaking progress around data access. But critics argue this is just a cynical shield against transparency and accountability. Plus of course none of these regulations stopped Facebook grabbing people’s data in the first place.
In January, Europe’s lead data protection regulator penned a preliminary opinion on data protection and research which warned against such shielding.
“Data protection obligations should not be misappropriated as a means for powerful players to escape transparency and accountability,” wrote EDPS Wojciech Wiewiorówski. “Researchers operating within ethical governance frameworks should therefore be able to access necessary API and other data, with a valid legal basis and subject to the principle of proportionality and appropriate safeguards.”
Nor is Facebook the sole offender here, of course. Google brands itself a ‘privacy champion’ on account of how tight a grip it keeps on access to user data, heavily mediating data it releases in areas where it claims ‘transparency’. While, for years, Twitter routinely disparaged third party studies which sought to understand how content flows across its platform — saying its API didn’t provide full access to all platform data and metadata so the research couldn’t show the full picture. Another convenient shield to eschew accountability.
More recently the company has made some encouraging noises to researchers, updating its dev policy to clarify rules, and offering up a COVID-related dataset — though the included tweets remains self selected. So Twitter’s mediating hand remains on the research tiller.
A new report by AlgorithmWatch seeks to grapple with the knotty problem of platforms evading accountability by mediating data access — suggesting some concrete steps to deliver transparency and bolster research, including by taking inspiration from how access to medical data is mediated, among other discussed governance structures.
The goal: “Meaningful” research access to platform data. (Or as the report title puts it: Operationalizing Research Access in Platform Governance: What to Learn from Other Industries?)
“We have strict transparency rules to enable accountability and the public good in so many other sectors (food, transportation, consumer goods, finance, etc). We definitely need it for online platforms — especially in COVID-19 times, where we’re even more dependent on them for work, education, social interaction, news and media consumption,” co-author Jef Ausloos tells TechCrunch.
The report, which the authors are aiming at European Commission lawmakers as they ponder how to shape an effective platform governance framework, proposes mandatory data sharing frameworks with an independent EU-institution acting as an intermediary between disclosing corporations and data recipients.
It’s not the first time an online regulator has been mooted, of course — but the entity being suggested here is more tightly configured in terms of purpose than some of the other Internet overseers being proposed in Europe.
“Such an institution would maintain relevant access infrastructures including virtual secure operating environments, public databases, websites and forums. It would also play an important role in verifying and pre-processing corporate data in order to ensure it is suitable for disclosure,” they write in a report summary.
Discussing the approach further, Ausloos argues it’s important to move away from “binary thinking” to break the current ‘data access’ trust deadlock. “Rather than this binary thinking of disclosure vs opaqueness/obfuscation, we need a more nuanced and layered approach with varying degrees of data access/transparency,” he says. “Such a layered approach can hinge on types of actors requesting data, and their purposes.”
A market research purpose might only get access to very high level data, he suggests. Whereas medical research by academic institutions could be given more granular access — subject, of course, to strict requirements (such as a research plan, ethical board review approval and so on).
“An independent institution intermediating might be vital in order to facilitate this and generate the necessary trust. We think it is vital that that regulator’s mandate is detached from specific policy agendas,” says Ausloos. “It should be focused on being a transparency/disclosure facilitator — creating the necessary technical and legal environment for data exchange. This can then be used by media/competition/data protection/etc authorities for their potential enforcement actions.”
Ausloos says many discussions on setting up an independent regulator for online platforms have proposed too many mandates or competencies — making it impossible to achieve political consensus. Whereas a leaner entity with a narrow transparency/disclosure remit should be able to cut through noisy objections, is the theory.
The infamous example of Cambridge Analytica does certainly loom large over the ‘data for research’ space — aka, the disgraced data company which paid a Cambridge University academic to use an app to harvest and process Facebook user data for political ad targeting. And Facebook has thought nothing of turning this massive platform data misuse scandal into a stick to beat back regulatory proposals aiming to crack open its data troves.
But Cambridge Analytica was a direct consequence of a lack of transparency, accountability and platform oversight. It was also, of course, a massive ethical failure — given that consent for political targeting was not sought from people whose data was acquired. So it doesn’t seem a good argument against regulating access to platform data. On the contrary.
With such ‘blunt instrument’ tech talking points being lobbied into the governance debate by self-interested platform giants, the AlgorithmWatch report brings both welcome nuance and solid suggestions on how to create effective governance structures for modern data giants.
On the layered access point, the report suggests the most granular access to platform data would be the most highly controlled, along the lines of a medical data model. “Granular access can also only be enabled within a closed virtual environment, controlled by an independent body — as is currently done by Findata [Finland’s medical data institution],” notes Ausloos.
Another governance structure discussed in the report — as a case study from which to draw learnings on how to incentivize transparency and thereby enable accountability — is the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR). This regulates pollutant emissions reporting across the EU, and results in emissions data being freely available to the public via a dedicated web-platform and as a standalone dataset.
“Credibility is achieved by assuring that the reported data is authentic, transparent and reliable and comparable, because of consistent reporting. Operators are advised to use the best available reporting techniques to achieve these standards of completeness, consistency and credibility,” the report says on the E-PRTR.
“Through this form of transparency, the E-PRTR aims to impose accountability on operators of industrial facilities in Europe towards to the public, NGOs, scientists, politicians, governments and supervisory authorities.”
While EU lawmakers have signalled an intent to place legally binding transparency requirements on platforms — at least in some less contentious areas, such as illegal hate speech, as a means of obtaining accountability on some specific content problems — they have simultaneously set out a sweeping plan to fire up Europe’s digital economy by boosting the reuse of (non-personal) data.
Leveraging industrial data to support R&D and innovation is a key plank of the Commission’s tech-fuelled policy priorities for the next five+ years, as part of an ambitious digital transformation agenda.
This suggests that any regional move to open up platform data is likely to go beyond accountability — given EU lawmakers are pushing for the broader goal of creating a foundational digital support structure to enable research through data reuse. So if privacy-respecting data sharing frameworks can be baked in, a platform governance structure that’s designed to enable regulated data exchange almost by default starts to look very possible within the European context.
“Enabling accountability is important, which we tackle in the pollution case study; but enabling research is at least as important,” argues Ausloos, who does postdoc research at the University of Amsterdam’s Institute for Information Law. “Especially considering these platforms constitute the infrastructure of modern society, we need data disclosure to understand society.”
“When we think about what transparency measures should look like for the DSA we don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” adds Mackenzie Nelson, project lead for AlgorithmWatch’s Governing Platforms Project, in a statement. “The report provides concrete recommendations for how the Commission can design frameworks that safeguard user privacy while still enabling critical research access to dominant platforms’ data.”
You can read the full report here.