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UK tests ‘Space Tug’ capable of refiring its engine several times in orbit, and collecting space junk

By Mike Butcher

UK SpaceTech startup Skyrora is currently the only private company capable of launching rockets from UK soil. On Christmas Eve at its testing facility in Fife, Scotland, the team performed a third-stage static fire engine test onboard a new vehicle that will ultimately carry satellites to their final destination. But what’s more interesting is that the vehicle can refire it’s engine several times in orbit and conduct multiple missions in a single trip. This makes it “Space Tug” able to perform a number of maneuvers in space including the extraction of space junk or maintenance if are satellites already in orbit.

Skyrora went rough one of the early Space Camp accelerator programme from Seraphim Capital.

The Space Tug is the first “mission ready” vehicle of its kind to be developed in the UK and once in orbit it can navigate to any location under its own power, with the ability to make multiple stops etc.

The Space Tug is powered by a 3D-printed 3.5kN engine and the first stage of is launch is fueled using an eco-friendly fuel (Ecosene) made in part from waste plastics

Volodymyr Levykin, CEO Skyrora commented: “We have been deliberately quiet about this aspect of our Skyrora XL launch vehicle as we had huge technical challenges to get it to this stage and we wanted to ensure all tests had a satisfactory outcome, which they now have. With the current climate and a real shortage of good news, we feel it is the right time to share this with the world… We aim not only to conduct efficient launches from UK soil in the most environmentally friendly way, but then also to ensure that each single launch mission has the possibility of conducting the level of work that would have historically taken multiple launches.”

Sir Tim Peake, Astronaut, commented: “It’s fantastic that companies such as Skyrora are persisting in their ambition to make the UK a “launch state”. By driving forward and constantly investing into their engineering capabilities, the UK continues to benefit from these impressive milestones achieved. In undertaking a full fire test of their third stage, which fulfils the function of an Orbital Manoeuvring Vehicle capable of delivering satellites into precision orbits, Skyrora is one step closer to launch readiness. This vehicle will also be able to perform vital services such as satellite removal, refuelling and replacement and debris removal from orbit.”

BukuKas raises $10 million led by Sequoia Capital India to build a “end-to-end software stack” for Indonesian SMEs

By Catherine Shu

The backbone of Indonesia’s economy are small- to medium-sized businesses, which account for 60% of its gross domestic product. Many still rely on manual bookkeeping, but the impact of COVID-19 has driven small businesses to digitize more of their operations. BukuKas, one of several startups helping SMEs go online, announced today it has raised a $10 million Series A led by Sequoia Capital India.

BukuKas launched in December 2019 as a digital bookkeeping app, but is growing its range of services with the goal of creating an “end-to-end software stack” for small businesses. Eventually, it wants to launch a SME-focused digital bank.

The funding, which brings BukuKas’ total raised so far to $22 million, included participation from returning investors Saison Capital, January Capital, Founderbank Capital, Cambium Grove, Endeavor Catalyst and Amrish Rau.

As of November 2020, BukuKas had a registered user base of 3.5 million small merchants and retailers, and had crossed 1.8 million monthly active users. During that month, the platform also recorded $17.4 billion worth of transactions on an annualized basis, a figure corresponding to more than 1.5% of Indonesia’s $1.04 trillion GDP.

BukuKas was founded by chief executive officer Krishnan Menon and chief operating officer Lorenzo Peracchione, who met eight years ago while working at Lazada Indonesia.

Menon’s previous startup was Fabelio, an Indonesian online home furnishings store. Every two months, he would visit smaller small cities in Indonesia, like Jepara and Cirebon, to source furniture.

“One of the things that stood out was how different the Jakarta bubble is from the rest of Indonesia, all the way from the penetration of software to financial services,” he told TechCrunch. While talking to merchants and suppliers, Menon realized that “no one is building products with them as the center of the universe,” despite the fact that there are 56 million small businesses.

Peracchione said he and Mebon had been brainstorming startup ideas for a while. “When he told me about the idea of solving cash flow visibility to SMEs, it immediately struck me,” Peracchione said. “My dad used to be a SME owner himself and during my childhood I experience first hand the struggles and ups and downs connected to running a small business.”

The two decided to start with digital bookkeeping after speaking to 1,052 merchants because helping them keep track of their business performance would generate data that would in turn enable access to more financial services.

“Our vision expanded into providing an end-to-end software stack to digitize SMEs and help them across a wide range of activities as a prequel to building an SME-focused digital bank down the line,” Menon said.

In addition to digital ledger features, BukuKas also sends payment reminders to buyers through WhatsApp and automatically generates invoices, includes an an inventory management module and analyzes expenses to help businesses understand what is impacting their profit. The company plans to add digital payments this month. During the rest of 2021, it will also introduce more features to help businesses sell online, including tools for online store fronts, a promotions engine and social sharing.

“With COVID-19, SMEs are rushing to get digitized, but they lack the right mobile-first tools to sell online as well as to manage their business,” said Menon.

The app focuses on smaller Indonesian cities and towns, since about 73% of the merchants who use BukuKas are located outside of tier 1 cities like Jakarta. Its users represent wide range of sectors, including retailers, food vendors, grocery markets, mobile and phone credit providers, social commerce sellers, wholesalers and service providers. BukuKas acquired digital ledger app Catatan Keuangan Harian, which has 300,000 monthly active users, in September 2020 to expand its market share in Indonesia.

With its large number of SMEs, Indonesia is seen as a desirable market for companies helping the drive toward digitization. For example, India’s Khatabook, which was valued between $275 million to $300 million after its last round of funding in May 2020, recently launched BukuUang in Indonesia. Other startups in the same space include Y Combinator-backed BukuWarung, Moka and Jurnal, all of which offer tools to help SMEs bring more of their operations online.

Menon said BukuKas’ advantage is its team’s experience building businesses in Indonesia over the past seven years. For example, it launched a “Know Your Profits” module based on user feedback. It also offers a self-guided onboarding process, a simple user interface and an offline mode for users in areas with poor network connections.

“In general, individual features can be copied but we believe our ‘integrated end-to-end software stack approach,’ coupled with our obsessive focus on simplicity, deep understanding of our users and a superior level of service will be key in differentiating BukuKas from competing offerings,” he added.

BukuKas’ Series A will be used on user acquisition, its engineering and product teams in Jakarta and Bangalore and to introduce new services for merchants. The company may eventually expand into other Southeast Asia markets, but “in the short term consolidating and further expanding our leadership in the SME space in Indonesia is our top priority,” said Menon.

 

Ada Ventures closes first fund at $50M, investing in diverse founders tacking society’s problems

By Mike Butcher

A year ago this week Ada Ventures — a UK/Europe focused VC with an ‘impact twist’ aiming to invest in diverse founders tacking societal problems — launched on stage at Techcrunch Disrupt. (You can watch the video of that launch below).

Today Ada announces that it has closed its first fund at $50 million. Cornerstone LPs in the fund include Big Society Capital, an entity owned by the UK government, as well as the the British Business Bank.

Check Warner, a co-founding partner, said the raise was oversubscribed: “We weren’t even sure we’d be able to raise $30 million. And then to actually get to 38 million pounds then $50 million, which was over our initial hard cap of 35 is, is really, really big.” All of the fund was raised on video calls during the 2020 pandemic.

Geared as a ‘first-cheque’ seed fund, Ada is trying to tackle that thorny problem that to a large extent the VC industry itself created: the ‘mirroring’ that goes on when white male investors invest in other white men, thus ignoring huge swathes of society. Instead, it’s aiming to invest in the best talent in the UK and Europe, regardless of race, gender or background, with the specific aim of “creating the most diverse pipeline, and portfolio, on the continent”, while tackling issues including mental health, obesity, workers rights and affordable childcare.

It appears to be well on its way. In 2020, Ada invested in eight seed-stage companies tackling the above issues. Four of the eight companies have female CEOs. This brings the total portfolio size to 17, including the ‘pre-fund’ portfolio.

In terms of portfolio progress: Huboo Technologies raised a £14m Series A, which was led by Stride VC and Hearst Ventures; Bubble delivered tens of thousands of hours of free childcare to NHS staff; and Organise grew their members from 70,000 to more than 900,000, and campaigned for the government to provide support for the self-employed during COVID-19.

On Ada Lovelace Day this October, Ada launched its own Angel program, enabling five new Angel investors to write their first cheques. This is not dissimilar to similar Angel programs run by other VCs. It also has a network of 58 ‘Ada Scouts’ resulting in around 20% of deal flow, with two investments now made across the portfolio that were scout-sourced.

This is no ordinary scout network, however. Ada’s Scout community includes the leaders of Hustle Crew, a for-profit working to make the tech industry more inclusive, and Muslamic Makers, a community of Muslims in tech.

In 2021, Ada says it will continue to grow its network of Ada Scouts across the UK, with a focus on the LGBTQ+ community, disabled entrepreneurs, and regions outside of London.

And Scout network is not just ‘for show’, as Warner told me: “We have spoken to the Iranian Women’s Association and Islamic makers and all these groups that are underrepresented within tech and VC. And they bring us companies. And if we end up investing in these companies, we pay them both an upfront cash fee and also a carried interest share. So there are quite a few things that make it distinct from other scout programs. Many other scout programs just take existing investors like existing angels, and give them more capital and double up their investments. We’re actually enabling a whole new group of people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get access to VC. We involve them in our due diligence process, we get their insight into markets that we wouldn’t necessarily understand, like the Shariya finance market, for example. So there are quite a few things that we’re doing differently. And we now have 58 of these scouts, who drive between 10 and 20% of our deal flow on any given month.”

Warner continued: “When we launched we couldn’t have predicted the seismic changes and tragedy brought on by Covid-19, or the social dislocation precipitated by the killing of George Floyd. These events have provided the backdrop of the first year of deployment from Ada Ventures Fund I. In light of these events, the Ada Ventures strategy feels more poignant — and urgent — than it has perhaps ever been.”

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Warner and co-founder Matt Penneycard admitted the fund is not ‘labeled; as an ‘Impact fund’ but that it shares a similar orientation.

Penneycard said: “The difference, the difference is often in the eye of the beholder. In that, it’s the way the investor wants to bucket it. Some investors might see us as an impact fund if they want to, and that’s fine. Other investors see the massive financial arbitrage that you get with a fund like ours, just because you’re looking in very different places to other funds. So, you’ve got more coming in the top of the funnel, if you’ve got a decent process, you should get a better outcome. And so with some of our investors, that’s kind of one of the primary reasons they’re investing, they think we’re going to generate superior returns to other funds, because of where were are looking. It isn’t pure impact. It’s a real fund, it just happens to have the byproduct of quite deep, meaningful social impact.”

Reliance’s Jio Platforms says it will roll out 5G in second half of 2021

By Manish Singh

Reliance’s Jio Platforms, the largest telecom operator in India, plans to roll out a 5G network in the country in the second half of 2021, top executive Mukesh Ambani announced on Tuesday.

“India is today among the best digitally connected nations in the world. In order to maintain this lead, policy steps are needed to accelerate early rollout of 5G, and to make it affordable and available everywhere. I assure you that Jio will pioneer the 5G revolution in India in the second half of 2021,” said Ambani, who controls Jio Platforms’ parent firm Reliance Industries, at a trade conference.

The announcement comes as a surprise as India has yet to grant spectrum for 5G network to telecom networks in the country. At this moment, it is also unclear when India will begin auctioning the 5G spectrum.

Ambani, who is India’s richest man, said he was hopeful that the rollout of 5G network in India will enable the world’s second largest internet market to lead what he termed as the fourth industrial revolution. “Jio Platforms, with its family of over 20 start-up partners, has built world-class capabilities in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, big data, machine learning, internet of things, blockchain, etc,” he said.

The telecom operator, which has raised over $20 billion this year from a roster of high-profile investors including Facebook and Google, said the company is also hopeful that its bouquet of services in education, healthcare, financial services and new commerce categories “once proven in India, will be offered to the rest of the world to address global challenges.”

Gopal Vittal, the chief executive of Airtel (India’s second largest telecom operator), said the company was hopeful that India would have established a nation-wide 5G network in two to three years. He, however, did not share a timeline for when the rollout of 5G on his network would begin. (In a recent earnings call, Vittal had warned that the proposed price of the spectrum of 5G was “very, very expensive” — something that won’t support any kind of business model.)

During his speech, Ambani also urged industry players to rely on locally produced hardware and components. “As the digitalisation of the Indian economy and Indian society picks up speed, the demand for digital hardware will grow enormously. We cannot rely on large-scale imports in this area of critical national need.”

Airtel has previously said that it is open to the idea of collaborating with global firms for components. “Huawei, over the last 10 or 12 years, has become extremely good with their products to a point where I can safely today say their products at least in 3G, 4G that we have experienced is significantly superior to Ericsson and Nokia without a doubt. And I use all three of them,” said Sunil Mittal, the founder of Airtel, at a conference earlier this year. In the same panel, US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross had urged India and other allies of the US to avoid Huawei.

Vittal today also urged that India should adopt the global 5G standard. “There is sometimes talks that India must have its own 5G standard. This is an existential thread which could lock India out of the global ecosystem and slow down the pace of innovation. We could let down our citizens if you allow that to happen.”

On today’s panel, which was attended by Mittal as well as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ambani said stakeholders also need to think about ways to serve nearly 300 million people who are still on 2G networks in India. “Urgent policy steps are needed to ensure that these underprivileged people have an affordable smartphone, So that they too can benefit from Direct Benefit Transfer into their bank accounts, and actively participate in the Digital Economy,” he added.

Lemonade launches its renters insurance in France

By Romain Dillet

Lemonade is launching its renters insurance in France. This is the company’s third European launch after the Netherlands and Germany. Originally from the U.S., Lemonade is now a public company with a current market capitalization close to $4 billion.

Lemonade will compete directly with a local competitor called Luko. Both companies share a lot of similarities. But Luko has already attracted 100,000 customers and just raised $60 million.

https://techcrunch.com/2020/12/06/luko-raises-60-million-for-its-home-insurance-products/

Lemonade has optimized its insurance product in different ways. First, it’s supposed to be easier to sign up with Lemonade compared with a legacy insurance company. Second, the company wants to bring back trust by taking a flat fee for its operations.

Premiums are then pooled together and used to pay back claims. If there’s money left at the end of the year, customers can choose to donate to nonprofits. Lemonade is also a certified B-Corp.

But it’s worth noting that other insurance companies try to position themselves as socially responsible, such as MAIF. Insurtech companies aren’t reinventing the wheel on this front.

Third, Lemonade tries to pay you back as quickly as possible after you file a claim.

Chances are you don’t think that much about renters insurance. But it’s a lucrative industry. For instance, home insurance is a legal requirement in France. Due to tenant turnover, there are many opportunities to jump in and convince customers to switch to Lemonade when people move to a new place.

Let’s see how the fight between Lemonade and Luko plays out in France.

Luko raises $60 million for its home insurance products

By Romain Dillet

French startup Luko has raised a $60 million Series B funding round (€50 million). The round is led by EQT Ventures, with existing investors Accel, Founders Fund and Speedinvest also participating.

Some angel investors with a background in insurance and technology are also investing in the startup, such as Assaf Wand, the co-founder of Hippo Insurance.

Luko is selling home insurance products for both homeowners and renters. And the company has managed to attract 100,000 clients so far. Over the past year or so, the company has grown quite rapidly, jumping from 15,000 customers to 100,000.

In addition to a speedy on-boarding process, Luko has been refining its insurance product to make the experience better for the client. For instance, Luko doesn’t want to benefit from unused premiums.

Luko has a straightforward revenue model. It takes a 30% cut on monthly payments. Everything else is pooled together to pay compensation. This way, the startup isn’t always trying to generate bigger margins from premiums.

At the end of the year, you can choose to donate your portion of what’s left of the 70% share. Luko is also B-Corp certified.

This model is reminiscent of Lemonade, another insurtech company that recently went public and that should launch in France soon. Let’s see whether Luko can keep growing at the same pace with Lemonade entering the market.

In order to speed up repayments, Luko can send you money through Lydia, the leading peer-to-peer payment app in France. This way, you get your money back in just a few seconds.

With 85 employees, Luko plans to expand beyond its home country. It also wants to proactively protect homes by providing water meters to detect leaks, door sensors to detect when somebody is trying to get in, etc.

Image Credits: Luko

The UK approves the BioNTech/Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

By Natasha Lomas

The UK’s medicines regulator has approved the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 for emergency use, the companies said today.

The UK is the first country to approve the vaccine for widespread use — paving the way for some of the most “high risk” citizens, such as elderly care home residents, to get the jab before the end of the year.

The BBC reports that the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has said the vaccine is safe to be rolled out from next week.

The request for emergency authorization was submitted by BioNTech and Pfizer to the MHRA last month — as well as to regulators in Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan and the U.S., none of which have yet given the go ahead.

The UK approval is based on trial data, including a worldwide Phase 3 clinical study carried out by BioNTech/Pfizer  which demonstrated an efficacy rate for the vaccine of 95% and raised no serious safety concerns.

The vaccine was also shown to be effective both in participants who had not previously contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus and those who had — based on measuring efficacy seven days after the second dose.

Efficacy was also reported as consistent across age, gender, race and ethnicity demographics, with an observed efficacy in adults age 65 and over of more than 94%, they said.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson tweeted the news of the formal authorization this morning — writing that the vaccine will “begin to be made available across the UK from next week”.

It’s fantastic that @MHRAgovuk has formally authorised the @Pfizer/@BioNTech_Group vaccine for Covid-19. The vaccine will begin to be made available across the UK from next week. (1/2)

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 2, 2020

The UK has ordered 40M doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, or enough vaccine for 20M people (as it requires two doses), though it will take time for the country to receive all the doses ordered.

“The delivery of the 40 million doses will occur throughout 2020 and 2021, in stages, to ensure an equitable allocation of vaccines across the geographies with executed contracts,” the companies write in a press release.

“Now that the vaccine is authorized in the U.K., the companies will take immediate action to begin the delivery of vaccine doses. The first doses are expected to arrive in the U.K. in the coming days, with complete delivery fulfilment expected in 2021,” they added.

The UK’s National Health Service is gearing up for what NHS Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens, described as “the largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history”. Per the BBC, some 50 hospitals are on standby and vaccination centers in venues such as conference centres are being set up.

UK shrinks timetable for telcos to stop installing 5G kit from Huawei

By Natasha Lomas

The UK government has squeezed the timetable for domestic telcos to stop installing 5G kit from Chinese suppliers, per the BBC, which reports that the deadline for installation of kit from so-called ‘high risk’ vendors is now September.

It had already announced a ban on telcos buying kit from Huawei et al by the end of this year — acting on national security concerns attached to companies that fall under the jurisdiction of Chinese state surveillance laws. But, according to the BBC, ministers are concerned carriers could stockpile kit for near-term installation to create an optional buffer for themselves since it has allowed until 2027 for them to remove such kit from existing 5G networks. Maintaining already installed equipment will also still be allowed up til then.

A Telecommunications Security Bill which will allow the government to identify kit as a national security risk and ban its use in domestic networks is slated to be introduced to parliament tomorrow.

Digital secretary Oliver Dowden told the BBC he’s pushing for the “complete removal of high-risk vendors”.

In July the government said changes to the US sanction regime meant it could no longer manage the security risk attached to Chinese kit makers.

The move represented a major U-turn from the policy position announced in January — when the UK said it would allowed Chinese vendors to play a limited role in supplying domestic networks. However the plan faced vocal opposition from the government’s own back benches, as well as high profile pressure from the US — which has pushed allies to expel Huawei entirely.

Alongside policies to restrict the use of high risk 5G vendors the UK has said it will take steps to encourage newcomers to enter the market to tackle concerns that the resulting lack of suppliers introduces another security risk.

Publishing a supply chain diversification strategy for 5G today, Dowden warns that barring “high risk” vendors leaves the country “overly reliant on too few suppliers”.

“This 5G Diversification Strategy is a clear and ambitious plan to grow our telecoms supply chain while ensuring it is resilient to future trends and threats,” he writes. “It has three core strands: supporting incumbent suppliers; attracting new suppliers into the UK market; and accelerating the development and deployment of open-interface solutions.”

The government is putting an initial £250 million behind the 5G diversification plan to try to build momentum. behind increasing competition and interoperability.

“Achieving this long term vision depends on removing the barriers that prevent new market entrants from joining the supply chain, investing in R&D to support the accelerated development and deployment of interoperable deployment models, and international collaboration and policy coordination between national governments and industry,” it writes.

In the short to medium term the government says it will proritize support for existing suppliers — so the likely near term beneficiary of the strategy is Finland’s Nokia.

Though the government also says it will “seek to attract new suppliers to the UK market in order to start the process of diversification as soon as possible”.

“As part of our approach we will prioritise opportunities to build UK capability in key areas of the supply chain,” it writes, adding: “As we progress this activity we look forward to working with network operators in the UK, telecoms suppliers and international governments to achieve our shared goals of a more competitive and vibrant telecoms supply market.”

We’ve reached out to Huawei for comment on the new deadline for UK carriers to stop installing its 5G kit.

UK to set up ‘pro-competition’ regulator to put limits on big tech

By Natasha Lomas

The U.K. is moving ahead with a plan to regulate big tech, responding to competition concerns over a “winner-takes-all” dynamic in digital markets.

It will set up a new Digital Market Unit (DMU) to oversee a “pro-competition” regime for internet platforms — including those funded by online advertising, such as Facebook and Google — the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced today.

It’s moving at a clip — with the new unit slated to begin work in April. Although the necessary law to empower the new regulator to make interventions will take longer. The government said it will consult on the unit’s form and function in early 2021 — and legislate “as soon as parliamentary time allows.”

A core part of the plan is a new statutory code of conduct aimed at giving platform users more choice and third-party businesses more power over the intermediaries that host and monetize them.

The government suggests the code could require tech giants to allow users to opt out of behavioral advertising entirely — something Facebook’s platform, for example, does not currently allow.

It also wants the code to support the sustainability of the news industry by “rebalancing” the relationship between publishers and platform giants, as it puts it.

Concern over how to support quality public interest journalism in an era of ad-funded user-generated-content giants has been stepping up in recent years as online disinformation has been actively weaponized to attack democracies and try to influence votes.

“The new code will set clear expectations for platforms that have considerable market power — known as strategic market status — over what represents acceptable behaviour when interacting with competitors and users,” DCMS writes in a press release.

It suggests the DMU will have powers to “suspend, block and reverse decisions of tech giants, order them to take certain actions to achieve compliance with the code, and impose financial penalties for noncompliance,” although full details are set to be worked out next year.

Digital Markets Taskforce, which the government set up earlier this year to advise on the design of the competition measures, will inform the unit’s work, including how the regime will work in practice, per DCMS.

The taskforce will also come up with the methodology that’s used to determine which platforms/companies should be designated as having strategic market status.

On that front it’s all but certain Facebook and Google will gain the designation and be subject to the code and oversight by the DMU, although confirmation can only come from the unit itself once it’s up and running. But U.K. policymakers don’t appear to have been fooled by bogus big tech talking points of competition being “only a click away.”

The move to set up a U.K. regulator for big tech’s market power follows a competition market review chaired by former U.S. President Barack Obama’s chief economic advisor, professor Jason Furman, which reported last year. The expert panel recommended existing competition policy was fit for purpose but that new tools were needed for it to tackle market challenges flowing from platform power and online network effects.

Crucially, the Furman report advocated for a “broad church” interpretation of consumer welfare as the driver of competition interventions — encompassing factors such as choice, quality and innovation, not just price.

That’s key given big tech’s strategic application of free-at-the-point-of-use services as a tool for dominating markets by gaining massive marketshare that in turn gives it the power to set self-serving usage conditions for consumers and anti-competitive rules for third-party businesses — enabling it to entrench its hold on the digital attention sphere.

The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) also undertook a market study of the digital advertising sector — going on to report substantial concerns over the power of the adtech duopoly. Although in its final report it deferred competitive intervention in favor of waiting for the government to legislate.

Commenting on the announcement of the DMU in a statement, digital secretary Oliver Dowden said: “I’m unashamedly pro-tech and the services of digital platforms are positively transforming the economy — bringing huge benefits to businesses, consumers and society. But there is growing consensus in the U.K. and abroad that the concentration of power among a small number of tech companies is curtailing growth of the sector, reducing innovation and having negative impacts on the people and businesses that rely on them. It’s time to address that and unleash a new age of tech growth.”

Business secretary Alok Sharma added: “The dominance of just a few big tech companies is leading to less innovation, higher advertising prices and less choice and control for consumers. Our new, pro-competition regime for digital markets will ensure consumers have choice and mean smaller firms aren’t pushed out.”

The U.K.’s move to regulate big tech means there’s now broad consensus among European lawmakers that platform power must be curtailed — and that competition rules need proper resourcing to get the job done.

A similar digital market regime is due to be presented by EU lawmakers next month.

The European Commission has said the forthcoming ex ante pan-EU regulation — which it’s calling the Digital Markets Act — will identify platforms that hold significant market power, so-called internet gatekeepers, and apply a specific set of fairness and transparency rules and obligations on them with the aim of rebalancing competition. Plans to open algorithmic blackboxes to regulatory oversight is also in the cards at the EU level.

A second piece of proposed EU legislation, the Digital Services Act, is set to update rules for online businesses by setting clear rules and responsibilities on all players in specific areas such as hate speech and illegal content.

The U.K. is also working on a similar online safety-focused regime — proposing to regulate a range of harms in its Online Harms white paper last year though it has yet to come forward with draft legislation.

This summer the BBC reported that the government has not committed to introduce a draft bill next year either — suggesting its planned wider internet regulation regime may not be in place until 2023 or 2024.

It looks savvy for U.K. lawmakers to prioritize going after platform power since many of the problems that flow from harmful internet content are attached to the reach and amplification of a handful of tech giants.

A more competitive landscape for social media could encourage competition around the quality of the community experienced for users — meaning that, for example, smaller platforms that properly enforce hate speech rules and don’t torch user privacy could gain an edge.

Although rules to enable data portability and/or interoperability are likely to be crucial to kindling truly vibrant and innovative competition in markets that have already been captured by a handful of data-mining adtech giants.

Given the U.K.’s rush to address the market power of big tech, it’s interesting to recall how many times the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg snubbed the DCMS committee’s calls for him to give evidence over online disinformation and digital campaigning (including related to the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal) — not once but so many times we lost count.

It seems U.K. lawmakers kept a careful note of that.

 

Founders seeking their first check need a fundraising sales funnel

By Walter Thompson
Nathan Beckord Contributor
Nathan Beckord is CEO of Foundersuite.com, a software platform for raising capital and managing investors that has helped entrepreneurs raise over $2 billion since 2016. He is also the host of Foundersuite’s How I Raised It podcast.

Milana Lewis, CEO and co-founder of music tech startup Stem, started the fundraising process long before she actually asked any investors for money (dig the well before you’re thirsty — it’s the best way). She recommends that other founders do the same.

Ten years ago, Milana started working at United Talent Agency (UTA), one of the world’s leading talent agencies. When tasked with finding the best tools and technologies that UTA’s clients could use to self-distribute their work, she discovered a glaring gap.

“There were all these tools built for the distribution of content, monetization of content and audience development,” she says. “The last piece missing was the financial aspect.” The entertainment industry desperately needed a platform that would help artists manage the financial side of their business — and that’s how the idea for Stem was born.

Because UTA had its own investment branch, called UTA Ventures, Milana’s job also introduced her to some brilliant investors. Years later, when it was time to fundraise for Stem, those connections played a pretty big role.

In an episode of How I Raised It, Milana shared how Stem has landed some superstar investors and raised a little under $22 million.

1. Bring investors along for the ride — from the very start

Milana’s involvement with UTA Ventures exposed her to the investor experience and put her in the same room as people like Gary Vaynerchuk, Jonathon Triest from Ludlow Ventures, Anthony Saleh from Wndrco and Scooter Braun.

After meeting them the first time, she made sure to nurture those relationships, and she was “honest and vulnerable” about the fact that she wanted to be an entrepreneur one day.

“It’s amazing how much people will help and support you along in that journey,” Milana says. Investors “get excited about making early-stage investments because they want to identify that person before anyone else does.”

As her idea for Stem came together, she shared that with them, too. Over the course of a year, she provided regular updates on her vision, like how she was building out her team, and she also called them for occasional advice.

By the time she approached some of them for funding, she didn’t even need to present a full pitch. By then, they already knew enough about Stem, and about Milana as a businesswoman. Her pitch meeting with Gary Vaynerchuk — the first person to invest — ended up being just 15 minutes long.

“I brought people on my entrepreneurial journey in the beginning,” Milana says. “The biggest piece of advice I could give is to start raising a year before you start raising. Start building relationships and data points.”

2. Become best friends with systems and deadlines

For each round, Milana put together a lead list — a list of potential investors who she either met socially or through business. Each time, she wanted to have at least 100 names on this list.

Brexit’s data compliance burden could cost UK firms up to £1.6BN, says think tank

By Natasha Lomas

An analysis of the total cost to UK businesses if the country fails to gain an adequacy agreement from the European Commission once it leaves the bloc at the end of the year — creating barriers to inbound data flows from the EU — suggests the price in pure compliance terms could be between £1BN and £1.6BN.

The assessment of the economic impacts if the UK is deemed a third country under EU data rules has been carried out by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) think tank and UCL’s European Institute research hub — with the researchers  conducting interviews with over 60 legal professionals, data protection officers, business representatives, and academics, from the UK and EU.

They are estimating that the average compliance cost for an affected micro business will be £3,000; or £10,000 for a small business; £19,555 for a medium business; and £162,790 for a large business.

“This extra cost stems from the additional compliance obligations – such as setting up standard contractual clauses (SCCs) – on companies that want to continue transferring data from the EU to the UK,” they write in the report. “We believe our modelling is a relatively conservative estimate as it is underpinned by moderate assumptions about the firm-level cost and number of companies affected.”

An adequacy agreement refers to a status that can be conferred on a country outside the European Economic Area (as the UK will be once the Brexit transition is over) — if the EU’s executive deems the levels of data protection in the country are essentially equivalent to what’s provided by European law.

The UK has said it wants to gain an adequacy agreement with the EU as it works on implementing the 2016 referendum vote to leave the bloc. But there are doubts over its chances of obtaining the coveted status — not least because of surveillance powers enshrined in UK law since the 2013 Snowden disclosures (which revealed the extent of Western governments’ snooping on digital data flows).

Broad powers that sanction UK state agencies’ digital surveillance have faced a number of legal challenges under UK and EU law.

The government has also signalled an intention to ‘liberalize’ domestic data laws as it leaves the EU — writing in a national data strategy published in September that it wants to ensure data is not “inappropriately constrained” by regulations “so that it can be used to its full potential”.

But any moves to denude the UK’s data protection standards risk an ‘inadequate’ finding by the Commission.

Europe’s top court, meanwhile, has set a clear line that governments cannot use national security to bypass general principles of EU law, such as proportionality and respect for privacy.

Another major — and highly pertinent — ruling by the CJEU this summer invalidated an adequacy status the Commission had previously conferred on the US, striking down the EU-US Privacy Shield transatlantic data transfer mechanism. It does not bode well for the UK’s chances of adequacy.

The court also made it clear that the most used alternative for international transfers (a legal tool called Standard Contractual Clauses, aka SCCs) must face proactive scrutiny from EU regulators when data is flowing to third countries where citizens’ information could be at risk.

The thousands of companies that had been relying on Privacy Shield to rubberstamp their EU to US data flows are now scrambling for alternatives on a case by case basis — with vastly inflated legal risk, complexity and administration requirements.

The same may be true in very short order for scores of UK-based data controllers that want to continue being able to receive inbound data flows from users in the EU after the end of the Brexit transition.

Earlier this month the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) put out 38 pages of guidance for those trying to navigate new legal uncertainty around SCCs — in which it warned there may be situations where no supplementary measures will suffice to ensure adequate protection for a specific transfer.

The solution in such a case might require relocation of the data processing to a site within the EU, the EDPB said.

“Although the UK has high standards of data protection via the Data Protection Act 2018, which enacted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in UK law, an EU adequacy decision is not guaranteed,” the NEF/UCL report warns. “Potential EU concerns with UK national security, surveillance and human rights frameworks, as well as a future trade deal with the US, render adequacy uncertain. Furthermore, EUUK data flows are at the whim of the wider Brexit process and negotiations.”

Per their analysis, if the UK does not get an adequacy decision it will face an increased risk of GDPR fines due to increased compliance requirements.

The General Data Protection Regulation sanctions financial penalties for violations of the framework that can scale up to 4% of an entity’s global annual turnover or €20M, whichever is greater.

The report also predicts a reduction in EU-UK trade, especially digital trade; reduced investment (both domestic and international); and the relocation of business functions, infrastructure, and personnel outside the UK.

The researchers argue that more research is needed to support a wider macroeconomic assessment of the value of data flows and adequacy decisions — saying there’s a paucity of research on “the value of data flows and adequacy decisions in general” — before adding: “EU-UK data flows are a crucial enabler for thousands of businesses. These flows underpin core business operations and activities which add significant value. This is not just a digital tech sector issue – the whole economy relies on data flows.”

The report makes a number of recommendations — including urging the UK government to make “relevant data and modelling tools” available to support empirical research on the social and economic impacts of data protection, digital trade, and the value of data flows to help shape better public policy and debate.

It also calls for the government to set aside funds for struggling UK SMEs to help them with the costs of complying with Brexit’s legal data burden.

“Our report concludes that no adequacy decision has the potential to be a contributing factor which undermines the competitiveness of key UK services and digital technology sectors, which have performed extremely strongly in recent years. Although we do not want to exaggerate the impacts — and no adequacy decision is far from economic armageddon — this outcome would not be ideal,” they add.

You can read the full report here.

OneWeb emerges from bankruptcy, aims to begin launching satellites again on December 17

By Darrell Etherington

Broadband communication satellite company OneWeb has emerged from its Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection status, the company announced today. It’s now also officially owned by a consortium consisting of the UK government and India’s Bharti Global, and Neil Masterson is now installed as CEO, replacing outgoing chief executive Adrian Steckel, who will remain as a Board advisor.

OneWeb seems eager to get back to actively launching the satellites that will make up its 650-strong constellation – it has set December 17 as the target date for its next launch. The company has 74 satellite already on orbit across three prior launches, which occurred prior to its bankruptcy filing in March.

OneWeb’s acquisition by the combined UK government/Bharti Global tie-up was revealed in July, providing a path for the financially beleaguered company to get back to active status with $1 billion in equity funding. The UK-based company will continue to operate primarily from the UK via this new deal, and it’s being positioned as a key cornerstone in positioning the UK as a space sector leader and innovator.

The company also announced that its joint-venture manufacturing facility with Airbus has resumed operation in Florida, and will continue to produce new spacecraft for future launches. The plan is to launch additional satellites throughout next year and 2022, and then begin offering commercial service in select areas late in 2021, with a global service expansion intended for 2022.

India approves Reliance’s $3.4 billion deal with Future Group, brings new headache to Amazon

By Manish Singh

The Indian watchdog Competition Commission (CCI) of India said on Friday it has approved the $3.4 billion deal between the nation’s two largest retail giants, Future Group and Reliance Retail, posing a new headache for American e-commerce group Amazon, which had raised objections over the deal.

The CCI, the Indian antitrust body, said in a brief statement that it had approved the proposed acquisition of retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing businesses of Future Group, India’s second largest retail chain, by Reliance Retail, the largest chain — and one that is controlled by Asia’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani.

Reliance Retail and Future Group announced their proposed deal, worth $3.4 billion, in late August. Amazon, which owns a stake in one of Future Group’s holding companies, has raised objections over the deal, alleging the Indian firm has engaged in insider trading and violated contracts. Amazon has argued that its contract with Future Coupons, one of Future Group’s holding companies, prohibited the Indian group from selling its assets to a competing firm like Reliance Retail.

Late last month, a Singapore arbitration court issued an order to temporarily halt the deal between the two Indian retail giants, but it has been unclear ever since how much water that order holds in India. Shortly after the court issued the order, Future Group and Reliance Retail said they were working to complete their deal “without any delay.”

Friday’s announcement is crucial. Amazon, which has invested over $6.5 billion in its India business, had requested the CCI and SEBI, the regulator of the securities and commodity market in India, to consider Singapore International Arbitration Centre’s order and block the deal.

Future Group is currently fighting with Amazon in a court in Delhi, where a lawyer for the Indian firm has used bizarre language to charge the American firm. On several occasions, the lawyer has likened Amazon’s effort to block Future Group’s deal to the East India Company, the British trading house whose arrival in India kicked off nearly 200 years of colonial rule.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Future Retail has argued that its contract with Amazon is not valid in the deal with Reliance Retail, and that if the deal was approved tens of thousands of people will be out of their jobs.

The deal between India’s two largest retail chains was also seen an opportunity for the CCI to review the entire value chain — wholesale, logistics, warehousing and front-end retailing — of the retail industry. The clearance delivered today means that the antitrust body has concluded that the deal won’t have an adverse impact on competition in the relevant industry.

5 key innovations taking e-scooters to a half-billion rides in 2021

By Walter Thompson
Travis VanderZanden Contributor
Travis VanderZanden is the founder and CEO of Bird.

Four years ago, shared e-scooters didn’t exist. Today, they’re on track to surpass half a billion rides globally by 2021, far outpacing early growth in the carbon-heavy ride-hailing industry founded by Uber in 2009.

That’s a dramatic shift in urban transportation by any measure, and it prompts a simple but important question: How did we get here?

Understanding the key developments that helped advance micromobility over the past several years can give us valuable insights not only into where the industry is headed, but about how we can successfully shape it to meet the needs of hundreds of millions of current and future riders around the world.

From vehicle design and data to safety reporting and infrastructure, these five innovative moments have helped fuel the global growth of shared e-scooters and are helping lead cities into a healthier, more sustainable future.

#1: Shared scooters launched (fall 2017)

The very first fleet of Bird e-scooters was launched in Santa Monica, California in September of 2017. Up until this point, the micromobility industry consisted almost entirely of docked and dockless bike sharing systems that were averaging approximately 35 million trips across the United States every year — more than half of them in New York City alone.

After an encouraging start, shared e-scooter riders in the U.S. took nearly 39 million trips in 2018 and another 86 million the following year. A similar trajectory is being seen across the Atlantic, as nations such as Italy, England and the Ukraine join a rapidly expanding list of countries including Germany, France, Israel, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, Poland and others who have chosen to supplement their urban transportation networks with modern micromobility alternatives.

Shared scooters can now be found in over 200 cities on almost every continent around the world.

#2: First custom-designed shared scooters released (fall 2018)

The first e-scooter programs taught us two things very quickly: There’s high demand for this type of micromobility offering, and custom-designed vehicles are necessary to successfully meet that demand.

The fact is, shared scooters are ridden more frequently, handle more diverse road surfaces and endure more varied weather conditions than privately owned ones. That’s why Bird’s vehicle team unveiled the industry’s first custom-designed e-scooter, the Bird Zero, in October of 2018. Equipped with more battery life, better lighting, enhanced durability and more advanced GPS technology, this was the first in a series of comprehensive vehicle evolutions intended to increase safety, sustainability and lifespan — and it worked. Tens of thousands of these scooters are still in use today, and every month of continued service reduces their already low per-mile lifetime carbon emissions even further.

Subsequent custom vehicle designs, including the Bird One and Bird Two, have added onto this foundation, introducing industry-first features such as:

  • On-board diagnostic sensors capable of detecting over 200 faults.
  • Vehicle intelligence systems capable of running and reporting millions of autonomous fault checks per day.
  • IP67 or IP68 waterproofing on batteries.
  • 14,000 mile (22,500 km) battery life, resulting in more than 10 years of average everyday use.
  • Mechanical design independently tested to withstand more than 60,000 curbside impacts.

#3: Comprehensive industry safety report released (spring 2019)

Safety has rightly been the most important focus, and the most discussed aspect, of shared micromobility since its inception. It’s why Bird launched the industry’s earliest and most comprehensive free helmets for all riders campaign in January of 2018, along with a host of other safety initiatives.

In April of 2019, these programs culminated in a comprehensive e-scooter safety report. This was the first in-depth look at modern micromobility systems, using accident reports and other data to demonstrate that shared scooters have risks and vulnerabilities similar to bicycles. The report laid the groundwork for cooperative safety measures to be taken by both operators and cities to ensure that not only riders and pedestrians but all road users are protected.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve used the findings contained within the report, along with others that have since echoed its findings, to imagine and develop a series of product innovations that are helping set the standard for e-scooter safety across the industry. These include:

  • Shared micromobility’s first Helmet Selfie feature to promote helmet use.
  • Shared micromobility’s first Warm Up Mode feature to assist new riders.
  • The first and most accurate geofencing for e-scooters to create reduced-speed and no-riding zones.
  • Responsible data-sharing standards and practices to help cities build new infrastructure for bikes and scooters.

#4: Open Mobility Foundation created (summer 2019)

The last bullet above is particularly important. Cities have a crucial role to play in limiting the number of cars on the road and maximizing the amount of infrastructure available for bikes and scooters. It’s a proven strategy to improve the safety of all road users that depends heavily on one critical input: reliable, standardized data.

Since our first launch, Bird has been a strong proponent of responsible data sharing with cities. What was lacking, however, was a unified body to help guide and develop mobility data standards across the micromobility industry.

All of that changed in June of 2019, when cities like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco came together with companies like Bird and Microsoft and a consortium of nonprofit organizations called OASIS to form the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF). As chairperson and general manager of the LADOT Seleta Reynolds wrote in Forbes, the OMF platform “helps us achieve important city goals like increasing safety, equity, and health outcomes, while lowering emissions, and reducing congestion.”

These collaborative efforts to manage micromobility systems using open-source code and shared data standards might seem wonky, but they’ve had some very tangible real-world effects. In Atlanta, shared e-scooter data has been used to quadruple the city’s protected bike lanes by 2021. Santa Monica recently used scooter data to draft and pass an amendment that will add 19 new miles of separated micromobility infrastructure.

#5: UK, NY e-scooter programs approved (spring 2020)

This year’s decisions by the UK and the state of New York to legalize shared e-scooters and launch respective pilot programs may not be an innovation, but it’s a crucial development that will ensure the industry tops 500 million rides in 2021.

From an environmental and urban mobility perspective, London and New York are two of the most important cities in the world. Combined, they’re home to 17 million people and more than 10 million daily car trips. The introduction of e-scooters into these two densely packed and highly mobile cities will have a dramatic impact on daily commuter habits, particularly at a time when public transit ridership is still suffering due to COVID-19. That’s good news for cities, citizens and the environment.

The data that will be gained from such a high volume of micromobility rides won’t just help inform infrastructure improvements in New York and London. It will be added to a growing body of research that’s rapidly influencing micromobility technology and accelerating its adoption around the world.

Looking forward

So what can we learn from all of this? What will the first four years and 500 million rides of the shared e-scooter industry tell us about the future of micromobility?

First, we should expect its growth to continue. Adaptable, environmentally friendly solutions to car congestion and urban pollution were in high demand even before the global spread of the coronavirus in 2020. Now they’re proving themselves to be a necessity. Look for the relationships between cities and operators to strengthen and become more cooperative as scooters transition from a perceived recreational vehicle to an essential part of the urban transportation grid. This will include dramatic, data-informed improvements in protected infrastructure for both cyclists and scooter riders.

Second, we should anticipate that e-scooter technology will continue to develop around two key pillars: safety and sustainability. This applies as much to the form and functionality of the vehicles themselves as it does to the daily operations that manage them. Longer lifespan, improved battery performance, increased durability and enhanced diagnostics will be the benchmarks by which we measure this progress.

Finally, we should anticipate that, as the data from hundreds of millions of annual rides continues to accumulate, our understanding of urban mobility needs will become much clearer and more nuanced. Urban planning decisions will be able to be made based on street and hour-specific needs, identifying potentially dangerous areas and taking low-cost, high-impact actions to remedy them.

If current trends continue, and there’s every reason to believe that they will, the time it takes to add another half-billion e-scooter rides to the global total will very soon shrink from four years to less than one.

A Ransomware Attack Has Struck a Major US Hospital Chain

By Lily Hay Newman
“All computers are completely shut down,” one Universal Health Services employee told WIRED.
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