Only 3 days left: Get your 2-for-1 passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019

Holy sonderangebot, startup fans — yet another special offer you don’t want to miss! You’ve got just three days left to take advantage of our a 2-for-1 summer flash sale on passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019. Imagine scoring two Innovator, Founder or Investor passes for the price of one. That’s some mighty big ROI.

Don’t delay, because this deep 2-for-1 discount offer disappears August 23 at precisely 11:59 p.m. (CEST). Buy your 2-for-1 passes right here.

You’ll get the full Disrupt experience at half the price. Sweet! Come and hear some of the startup world’s most innovative thinkers, founders and investors. They’ll join TechCrunch editors on the Disrupt Main Stage and discuss crucial tech and investor topics affecting startups of every stripe.

Want to delve deeper into one topic or have the chance to ask follow-up questions in a smaller, more personal setting? Then be sure to attend the Q&A Sessions. These audience-interactive discussions — moderated by TC editors — feature subject-matter experts answering your burning questions related to Disrupt Berlin’s category tracks — Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, BioTech/HealthTech, Blockchain, FinTech, Gaming, Investor Topics, Media, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/eCommerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, SaaS, Space and Social Impact & Education.

The only way to benefit is to be there in person because we don’t record or stream these sessions — or allow media to attend (except for the moderating TC editors). Show up early, because seating is limited.

Networking is a major event at any Disrupt, and we’re making it easier than ever for you to find the right people — you know, the ones who align with your goals and can help you move forward. CrunchMatch — our free business-matching platform — cuts through the noise to help you zero in on the connections that matter most to you and your business.

We’ll notify all pass holders when CrunchMatch goes live. Then simply create a profile listing your specific criteria, goals and interests. CrunchMatch (powered by Brella) works a bit of algorithmic magic to find like-minded startuppers and will suggest matches and, subject to your approval, propose meeting times and send meeting requests.

You’ll be fully prepped and ready to explore the hundreds of early-stage startups in Startup Alley with a tool that helps you connect with just the right opportunities.

That’s only a taste of what Disrupt Berlin 2019 has to offer, and now you can get it — and a whole lot more — for a whole lot less. This special offer disappears on August 23 at 11:59 p.m. (CEST). Buy your 2-for-1 passes today. Sonderangebot!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Volocopter reveals its first commercial aircraft, the VoloCity air taxi

VoloCity takes off into nightIt’s a race to the skies in terms of which company actually deploys an on-demand air taxi service based around electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft – for its part, German startup Volocopter is taking another key step with the revelation of its first aircraft designed for actual commercial use, the VoloCity.

The VoloCity is the fourth-generation eVTOL vehicle that Volocopter has created, but the first three were created for testing and demonstration purposes, and have flown over 1,000 times in service of that goal. The VoloCity, an 18-rotor VTOL with a range of around 35 km (just under 22 miles) and a top speed of about 70 mph, is designed for transporting up to two people, including light luggage like backpacks, briefcases or purses.

VoloCity Top

Volocopter has paid close attention to safety and comfort with this design, meeting the safety standards set by the European Aviation Sfey Agency, and including a new stabilizer that hasn’t been a part of the test aircraft, in rod to provide more stability during flight.

Now, Voloctoper says it’s turning its attention to infrastructure and ecosystem development, which includes establishing its ‘VoloPorts’ for take-off and landing, as well as working with cities on air traffic control. The company says it’s meeting already with global operators that serve this purpose, including Fraport, which runs the Frankfurt International Airport.

As for when VoloCity moves from render to reality, Volocopter says that it’s targeting a first public test flight for Q4 of this year in Singapore, where it’ll also show off the prototype of first first VoloPort, pictured in concept images below.

[gallery ids="1871690,1871691"]

Hear THX’s new Deep Note right here

The THX Deep Note is changing and it can be heard here first. The iconic audio track has long proceeded movies certified by THX and features the now familiar crescendo that showcases the movie’s audio capability. This time around THX built the intro to feature 4k video as much as audio as it will be available to theaters that are THX Certified Cinema partners.

To make the trailer immersive online, THX utilized its THX Spatial Audio post-production mixing tools that enables online users to experience the multidimensional sound using headphones. It’s special. Don some headphones and turn up your volume before pressing play. THX says in a press release it “applied advanced objects and ambisonics-based engineering, essentially spherical harmonics, for full-sphere audio.” I’m not sure what that means, but the trailer sounds great.

The original THX Deep Note debuted at the premiere of Return of the Jedi in Los Angeles.

“Our aim with this piece is to extend the legacy that inspired us as young people in the movie theater,” said Ben Rosenblatt in a released statement, the trailer’s executive producer and co-founder of American Meme. “As a kid, I was blown away by the THX Deep Note trailer and would go back to the movie theater again and again just to see it, which inspired me to pursue the career I have in Hollywood today. We hope we’ve taken this a step beyond the originals to open up young minds and inspire an entirely new generation.”

Box introduces Box Shield with increased security controls and threat protection

Box has always had to balance the idea of sharing content broadly while protecting it as it moved through the world, but the more you share, the more likely something can go wrong, such as misconfigured shared links that surfaced earlier this year. In an effort to make the system more secure, the company announced Box Shield today in Beta, a set of tools to help employees sharing Box content better understand who they are sharing with, while helping the security team see when content is being misused.

Link sharing is a natural part of what companies do with Box, and as Chief Product- and Chief Strategy Officer Jeetu Patel says, you don’t want to change the way people use Box. Instead, he says it’s his job to make it easier to make it secure and that is the goal with today’s announcement.

“We’ve introduced Box Shield, which embeds these content controls and protects the content in a way that doesn’t compromise user experience, while ensuring safety for the administrator and the company, so their intellectual property is protected,” Patel explained.

He says this involves two components. The first is about raising user awareness and helping them understand what they’re sharing. In fact, sometimes companies use Box as a content management backend to distribute files like documentation on the internet on purpose. They want them to be indexed in Google. Other times, however, it’s through misuse of the file sharing component, and Box wants to fix that with this release by making it clear who they are sharing with and what that means.

They’ve updated the experience on the web and mobile products to make it much clearer through messaging and interface design what the sharing level they have chosen means. Of course, some users will ignore all these messages, so there is a second component to give administrators more control.

2. Box Shield Smart Access

Box Shield access controls. Photo: Box

This involves helping customers build guardrails into the product to prevent leakage of an entire category of documents that you would never want leaked like internal business plans, salary lists or financial documents, or even to granularly protect particular files or folders. “The second thing we’re trying to do is make sure that Box itself has some built-in security guardrails and boundary conditions that can help people reduce the risk around employee negligence or inadvertent disclosures, and then make sure that you have some very precision-based, granular security controls that can be applied to classifications that you’ve set on content,” he explained.

In addition, the company wants to help customers detect when employees are abusing content, perhaps sharing sensitive data like customers lists with a personal account, and flag these for the security team. This involves flagging anomalous downloads, suspicious sessions or unusual locations inside Box.

The tool can also work with existing security products already in place, so that whatever classification has been applied in Box travels with a file, and anomalies or misuse, can be captured by the company’s security apparatus before the file leaves the company’s boundaries.

While Patel acknowledges, there is no way to prevent user misuse or abuse in all cases, by implementing Box Shield, the company is attempting to provide customers with a set of tools to help them reduce the possibility of it going undetected. Box Shield is in private Beta today and will be released in the Fall.

Watch live as NASA astronauts spacewalk to install a new automated docking ring on the ISS

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan are setting out today to perform the installation of a new International Docking Adapter (IDA) on the International Space Station that will provide another way for futuer crew craft flown by commercial providers to bring astronauts to the orbital research platform.

This is the second IDA to be installed in the ISS, and the actual spacewalk itself is set to happen at 8:20 AM ET, with astronauts spending the time until then getting all suited up. This docking adapter came up on SpaceX’s CRS-18 resupply mission, which went up in July. The adapter will provide automated docking procedures for a number of future crew spacecraft, including Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and the SpaceX Crew Dragon, and it’s a standard that’s intended to be used with any other commercial craft to be developed with the aim of reaching the ISS in future, too.

The two IDAs and their use are a big part of NASA’s plan to commercialize the ISS and essentially open the platform for business, with the aim of gaining private sector support for both its use and the development of an eventual successor, since the existing ISS is actually quite a bit past its intended mission lifespan.

PayPal-backed money lender Tala raises $110M to enter India

Tala, a Santa Monica, California-headquartered startup that creates a credit profile to provide uncollateralized loans to millions of people in emerging markets, has raised $110 million in a new financing round to enter India’s burgeoning fintech space.

The Series D financing for the five year-old startup was led by RPS Ventures, with GGV Capital and previous investors IVP, Revolution Growth, Lowercase Capital, Data Collective VC, ThomVest Ventures, and PayPal also participating in the round.

The new round, which takes the startup’s total fundraising to $215 million, valued it above $500 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. Tala has also raised an additional $100 million in debt, including a $50 million facility led by Colchis in last one year.

Tala looks at a customer’s data on texts and calls, merchant transactions, overall app usage, and other behavioral data through its Android app to build their credit profile. Based on these pieces of information, it provides instant loans in the range of $10 to $500 to customers.

The loans are approved within minutes and disbursed via mobile payment platforms. The startup has lent over $1 billion to more than 4 million customers to date — up from issuing $300 million in loan to 1.3 million customers last year, Shivani Siroya, founder and CEO of Tala, told TechCrunch in an interview.

The startup, which employs more than 550 people, will use the new capital to enter India, Siroya, who built Tala after interviewing thousands of small and micro-businesses, said. In the run up to launch in India, Tala began a 12-month pilot program in the country last year to conduct user research and understand the market. It has also set up a technology hub in Bangalore, she said.

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Shivani Siroya (Tala CEO) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

“The opportunity is very massive in India, so we spent some time customizing our service for the local market,” she said.

According to World Bank, more than 2 billion people globally have limited access to financial services and working capital. For these people, many of whom live in India, securing a small size loan is extremely challenging as they don’t have a credit score.

In recent years, several major digital payment platforms in India including Paytm and MobiKwik have started to offer small loans to users. Traditional banks are still lagging to serve this segment, industry executives say.

Tala goes a step further and takes liability for any unpaid returns, Siroya said. More than 90% of Tala customers pay back their loan in 20 to 30 days and are recurring customers, she added.

The startup also forwards the positive credit history and rankings to the local credit bureaus to help people secure bigger and long-term loans in the future, she added.

Tala, which charges a one-time fee that is as low as 5% for each loan, relies on referrals, and some marketing through radio and television to acquire new customers. “But a lot of these users come because they heard about us from their friends,” Siryoa said.

As part of the new financing round, Kabir Misra, Founding General Partner of RPS Ventures, has joined Tata’s board of directors, the startup said.

Tata will also use a portion of its new fund to expand its footprint and team in its existing markets — East Africa, Mexico, and the Philippines — and also build new solutions.

Siroya said the startup has identified some more markets where it plans to enter next. She did not disclose the names, but said she is eyeing more countries in South Asia and Latin America.

Kobiton raises a $5.2M Series A round for its mobile testing platform

Kobiton, an Atlanta-based mobile testing platform that helps developers test their apps on real devices using the open-source Appium automation framework, today announced that it has raised a $5.2 million Series A round. The round was led by BIP Capital, with support from seed investors KMS Technology and Kinetic Ventures, as well as BetterCloud executive chairman Jon Hallett, former Infor COO Ken Walters and Kevin Lee, the CEO of Kobiton. Previously, the company raised $3 million in seed funding.

KMS Technology actually incubated Kobiton before it was spun out into its own company in 2016.

Current customers include Cap Gemini, Frontier Airlines, GreenSky, Office Depot and Q2.

One thing that sets Kobiton apart from other on-device testing services like Microsoft’s App Center Test Cloud, the AWS Device Farm and Google’s Firebase Test Lab is that it offers a cloud-based lab but also allows you to test set up your own private and local labs as needed. In total, Kobiton supports over 350 devices  and, of course, provides detailed logs for all tests, including full video, screenshots, system metrics and more.

Kobiton real device testing hero e1561475832995

“Our own survey of over 1500 organizations confirm the trends we’re seeing in the industry: First, companies have greatly advanced on the maturity testing model with more and more realization that extensive real-device testing is necessary to create flawless user experiences for all users on all devices,” Kobiton CEO Kevin Lee told me. “Second, organizations of all sizes have acknowledged that moving to automated testing is imperative to remain competitive in today’s fast-paced world. Time-to-market is becoming a critical measure of overall quality and the only way to get there is through extensive automated testing.”

Lee argues that until now, it too a lot of developer-level expertise to write the test scrips necessary to run automated tests. The Appium project has made this easier, but it’s not a trivial undertaking to set up tests with it either. He also argues that automated test scripts tend to be brittle. “They break when the underlying App changes, and worse, tend to break for the same App being tested on different device types,” he said.

Kobiton allows developers to create tests without having to write scripts by using tis “record and playback” feature. This still creates regular Appium code in the background, but developers don’t have to interact with it. Because that code is there, though, the company can then work its magic and add an abstraction layer (“Appium Anywhere”) that allows those tests to run on any device.

“What that means is that your test script will run the same on every device without requiring changes to your test script,” explains Lee. “Combined, these technologies will allow organizations to adopt mobile automation, at scale, in a cost effective and time efficient manner.”

Like most companies at this stage, Kobiton plans to use the new funding to expand its sales, marketing customer support and product development efforts. On the product side, a lot of that work will go into the “Record and Playback” tools.

Google, Mozilla team up to block Kazakhstan’s browser spying tactics

Google and Mozilla have taken the rare step of blocking an untrusted certificate issued by the Kazakhstan government, which critics say it forced its citizens to install as part of an effort to monitor their internet traffic.

The two browser makers said in a joint statement Wednesday it deployed “technical solutions” to block the government-issued certificate.

Citizens had been told to install the government-issued certificate on their computers and devices as part of a domestic surveillance program. In doing so it gave the government ‘root’ access to the network traffic on those devices, allowing the government to intercept and snoop on citizens’ internet browsing activities.

Researchers found that only a few sites were being monitored, like Facebook, Twitter, and Google.

Although the Kazakh government is said to have stopped what it called “system testing” and allowed citizens to delete the certificate, both Google and Mozilla said its measures would stop the data-intercepting certificate from working — even if it’s still installed.

“We don’t take actions like this lightly,” said Marshall Erwin, Mozilla’s senior director of trust and security. But Google browser chief Parisa Tabriz said the company would “never tolerate any attempt, by any organization — government or otherwise — to compromise Chrome users’ data.”

The block went into effect invisibly and no action is needed by users.

Kazakhstan has a population of 18 million. Researchers said that the Kazakh government’s efforts to intercept the country’s internet traffic only hit a “fraction” of the connections passing through the country’s largest internet provider.

The Central-Asian country currently ranks as one of the least free countries on the internet freedom score, based off data collected by watchdog Freedom House, trailing just behind Russia and Iran.

A spokesperson for the Kazakhstan consulate in New York did not respond to a request for comment.

African incubator MEST has a new MD and 11 fresh startup investments

Pan-African incubator MEST announced investments in 11 startups from its 2019 cohort that will each receive $100,000 in financing.

The $1.1 million backing for a graduating class is the largest to date for the Accra-based organization — which operates as a training program and seed fund for African innovators to build successful commercial tech companies.

By country presence and membership, MEST is one of Africa’s largest tech hubs, and has a new managing director — Ashwin Ravichandran — who succeeded Aaron Fu in July.

This year’s investment recipients come from four countries: Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa. The startups offer goods and services across diverse sectors, from agtech to fintech to beauty and entertainment (see full list below).

Ghanaian fintech startup Bezo Money will use the funding from MEST to launch its app aimed at formalizing and digitizing West Africa’s traditional savings groups, founder Mubarak Sumaila told TechCrunch on a call from MEST’s Accra offices.

MEST 2019 cohort graduate and investment recipient Zuri has created a platform to organize, review and connect beauty services and professionals to clients online. “The global beauty services industry is worth over $100 billion and the African market is worth over $30 billion,” said Zuri founder Onyinye Nnedolisa. The company will use its investment funds on product development and business development.

Zuri Mest Startup Africa

MEST takes equity in its portfolio startups, which have 18 months of incubation support from the organization, including the option to work out of MEST incubators in multiple African markets, MEST’s new MD Ashwin Ravichandran told TechCrunch.

On future focus, MEST is looking to expand to additional countries. It currently has incubator spaces in Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya and has a strong eye on setting up shop in Cote d’Ivoire, according to Ravichandran.

MEST will continue its entrepreneurial training programs, aimed at shaping founders who can launch companies, and maintain a strong focus on developing and investing in Africa’s early-stage startups.

MEST is funded primarily by Norwegian entrepreneur and philanthropist Jorn Lyseggen’s Meltwater Foundation. For several years, the incubator has discussed forming a full on VC fund.

That could be imminent. “We have all the pieces in place right now, I think Jorn’s just figuring out the last steps before announcing it,” said Ashwin. The VC fund would have more capital and go beyond MEST’s seed-stage investments to consider Series stage rounds to African startups.

Africa has seen a boom in tech hubs over the last decade that have become focal points for startup formation, digital skills building, events and IT activity.

A joint GSMA, Briter Bridges report tallied 618 tech hubs across the continent. Like MEST, many of the hubs got their start from grant funding, and there’s an ongoing conversation about viability and sustainability for these spaces going forward.

TechHubsinAfricain2019 Briter BridgesIncreasingly, some of the largest African hubs — such as MEST, Nigeria’s CcHub and Kenya’s iHub — have moved toward more fee-based services and investment activities to generate greater operating revenue. On whether this is a future model for Africa’s tech hubs, “Yes, it definitely is,” Ravichandran said.

Startups interested in joining MEST’s 2020 cohort, and potentially gaining investment upon graduation, can get recruitment updates online.

Here’s MEST’s list and description of the 11 ventures from its 2019 class that earned $100K seed rounds:

  • Massira: a social support network and healthcare service aggregator for women,
    launching in Ghana
  • BezoMoney: a digital savings platform for traditional savings groups, launching in Ghana
  • Farmula: a web and USSD platform to create a direct connection between farmers and businesses using an automated process to increase order efficiency, launching in Kenya
  • CoFundie: a platform for crowd-sourcing funds for the development of buildings using cost efficient and time-saving techniques, launching in Nigeria
  • Niqao: a financing platform that connects merchants and lenders to enable them to offer customers the option of paying in installments, launching in Ghana
  • Saada: a messaging and mobile money ticketing services for increasing digital sales and data collection, launching in Kenya
  • Nadia: a personalized automated health companion that provides quick medical attention and prescriptions, launching in Kenya
  • Kweza: a service that enables informal retailers to order products at the best price and receive deliveries directly to their stores, launching in South Africa
  • CoVibes: a platform that pairs verified studios and producers, allowing them to list their profiles and manage bookings while enabling artists to find and collaborate with them and each other, launching in Nigeria
  • Adi+Bolga: a platform using the power of technology and community to gather data and create conversations around the black skin and black skincare, launching in Ghana
  • Zuri: a platform that helps beauty professionals manage their customers and provides an easy way for people to find and book beauty services, launching in Nigeria

Xiaomi launches Mi A3 Android One smartphone with 48MP rear camera in India for $181

Google has found a committed partner for Android One in Xiaomi. The Chinese electronics giant today announced the launch of Mi A3, an Android One smartphone, in India as the company looks to expand its handset offering in its most important market.

The Mi A3, which is the third Android One handset from Xiaomi, features mid to high-end hardware modules at an affordable price point. It sports a 6.088-inch HD+ (1560X720 pixels) AMOLED display, a trio of 48MP, 8MP and 2MP camera sensors on the back to take detailed and sharp photos, and a 32MP selfie shooter.

The Mi A3 comes in two variants: one that bundles 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage that is priced at Rs 12,999 ($181). The second variant, which features 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage, is priced at Rs 15,999 ($223). Both of them are powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor.

A lot about Android One’s future is riding on the Mi A3, which was first unveiled by Xiaomi in Spain last month. Xiaomi said the Mi A1 and Mi A2 handsets that it launched in last two years remain the most popular Android One handsets. For Android One, phone vendors work closely with Google to get faster software updates and offer a “stock” Android experience without the bells and whistles that phone makers and carriers pre-install on their handsets.

xiaomi androidone

Xiaomi has tried to not cut any corners to appease users, Manu Jain, the India head and Xiaomi VP of Global operations, said at a media conference today. The Xiaomi Mi A3 handset houses a fairly large 4030mAh battery, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and supports external microSD card should you need more storage. It also has incorporated a fingerprint sensor into the display to allow users to quickly unlock the phone. You can check rest of the specs here.

For Xiaomi, India has emerged as its most important market. The company has been the top smartphone in India for eight straight quarters.