Leaked iPhone pics show glass back and headphone jack

The headphone jack could still have a future in an iPhone. These leaked pics show an iPhone SE 2 with a glass back and headphone jack. Like the current iPhone SE, the design seems to be a take on the classic iPhone 5. I dig it.

The leak also states the upcoming device sports wireless charging, which puts it inline with the iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

Rumors have long stated that Apple was working on an updated iPhone SE. The original was released in March 16 and updated a year later with improved specs. With a 4-inch screen, the iPhone SE is the smallest iPhone Apple offers and also the cheapest.

WWDC in early June is the next major Apple event and could play host for the launch of this phone. Last month, around the iPhone SE’s birthday, Apple held a special event in a Chicago school to launch an education-focused iPad. It’s logical that Apple pushed the launch of this new iPhone SE to WWDC to give the iPad event breathing room.

While Apple cut the headphone jack from its flagship devices, the SE looks to retain the connection. It makes sense. The low-cost iPhone is key for Apple in growing markets across the world where the last two models helped grow iOS’s market penetration. This is Apple’s low-cost offering and thus suggests Apple doesn’t expect buyers to also spring for its wireless earbuds.

If released at WWDC or later in the year, the iPhone SE looks to serve consumers who enjoy smaller phones with headphone jacks. That’s me.

Innovium Closes $77M in Series D Funding to Drive Commercial Volume…

San Jose, CA – April 25, 2018 – Innovium, Inc. a leading provider of networking solutions for data centers, announced $77 Million in Series D funding today. The new round, which brings Innovium's total financing since inception to over $160M included investment from venture capital firms Greylock Partners, Walden Everbright, Walden Riverwood Ventures, Paxion Capital, Capricorn Investment Group, Redline Capital, S-Cubed Capital and Qualcomm Ventures.

Nintendo’s annual profit rockets by 500% after selling 15M Switch consoles

Nintendo has announced impressive financial results thanks to strong sales its Switch console, and a new CEO for its business.

Operating profit rose by a huge 505 percent to reach 178 billion yen ($1.6 billion) over the last financial year. Revenue was also up by an impressive 116 percent to hit 1.06 trillion yen ($9.7 billion) over the period as Nintendo sold 15 million Switch units, vastly out-performing the initial target of 10 million set last year. (The firm later updated its forecast to match the 15 million.)

On the games front, Super Mario Odyssey was the biggest seller at 10 million copies, followed by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (nine million) and Splatoon 2 (six million.) The firm also revealed that it sold over five million of the SNES Classic Edition product, too.

Going forward, Nintendo is aiming to grow Switch sales to 20 million over the next year. Aside from continued games, it is banking on reaching new segments through Labo, its carboard-based product that literally brings games to life. The firm is already forecasting annual revenue of 1.2 trillion yen with an operating profit of 225 billion yen.

That period will see the firm helmed by Shuntaro Furukawa, an existing board member, who is stepping up into the president and CEO role to replace incumbent Tatsumi Kimishima. Kimishima, who is 68, stepped into the breach following the death of Satoru Iwata in 2015. Furukawa is far younger at 46. He joined the company in 1994, has worked in global marketing and was a board member with Pokemon Co.

Asia-based recruitment app GetLinks nabs investment led by Alibaba’s Hong Kong fund

GetLinks, a Thailand-based startup that offers a job finder app in six countries Southeast Asia and neighboring regions, has closed new funding led by Australia’s Seek group and Alibaba’s Hong Kong Entrepreneur fund.

The size of the investment was not disclosed. GetLinks previously raised $500,000 in 2016, and it later added $150,000 more to that round. GetLinks said Thailand’s SCG and a number of existing investors also took part in the round,

The deal seems highly strategic for the young company given those two lead investors. Publicly listed in Australia, Seek operates employment services in 19 countries, including popular Southeast Asia portals JobStreet and JobsDB. Its interest is centered around GetLink’s digital focus, which includes community events and a mobile app for job-seekers.

Alibaba started its Hong Kong fund, which has a total budget $130 million, in 2015. Its mandate is to support Hong Kong-based companies or ventures led by Hong Kong Chinese founders.

GetLinks doesn’t immediately seem spring to mind — its founder Djoann Fal is French and it was started in Thailand — but the company has an office (and entity) in Hong Kong, while co-founder and chairman Keenan Kwok is from Hong Kong.

The Alibaba fund — which is distinct from Alibaba Group and its e-commerce business — has typically invested in companies that can leverage its massive online retail footprint, but in GetLinks case the two companies are looking to pool their resources around the use of AI and machine learning in education.

GetLinks is planning to expand from recruitment into offering skills and talent training. That, plus is core business, are areas where Alibaba may help with its AI might. The Chinese firm launched a $15 billion initiative into emerging technology, including AI, last year and GetLinks could be one partner to help train its core AI tech and systems.

More generally, Alibaba is also working to build a footprint in Southeast Asia, and GetLinks fits into that focus. Alibaba owns e-commerce firm Lazada, has invested in Indonesia’s Tokopedia and — as we reported earlier this month — it is in talks to invest in Grab. In addition, its fintech affiliate Ant Financial has been busy striking deals across the region.

GetLinks claims to have 500,000 registered job seekers, with 3,000 companies on its platform.

AZB tops Legal Advisor League Tables for Private Equity Deals in Q1 2018

SAM, NDA take no.2 and no.3 slots; AZB tops by deal volume too, followed by JSA and KCO AZB & Partners topped the Venture Intelligence League Tables for Legal Advisors to Private Equity & Venture Capital deals in Q1 2018 advising deals worth $3.8 billion (across 21 deals) followed by Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas ($3 billion across 13 deals) and Nishith Desai Associates ($1.9 billion

Digital banking startup Revolut raises $250M at a valuation of $1.7B

Revolut, the London-based fintech that offers a digital banking account and sprawling set of other financial services, is disclosing that it has raised a whopping $250 million in Series C funding, less than three years since launching.

The new round, which gives the company a $1.7 billion post-money valuation — a five-fold increase in under a year, we’re told — was led by Hong Kong based DST Global, along with a group of new and existing investors that includes Index Ventures, and Ribbit Capital. In case you aren’t keeping up, it brings the total amount raised by Revolut to $340 million in less than 36 months.

To put this into context, TransferWise — London’s undisputed fintech darling and on some features a direct competitor to Revolut — recently announced $280 million in Series D investment, giving the company a reported post-money valuation of $1.6 billion. The difference? It took TransferWise seven years compared to Revolut’s three.

That’s testament to how much value investors are now placing on bank-disrupting fintech or perhaps signs of a fintech bubble. Or both. It is also worth remembering that these are private valuations with neither company yet to float on the public markets, even if TranserWise looks increasingly a candidate to do so.

Meanwhile, Revolut says the new round of funding and surge in valuation follows “incredible growth figures to date,” with the fintech now processing $1.8 billion through the platform each month and signing up between 6,000 and 8,000 new customers every day.

It claims nearly 2 million customers in total, of which 250,000 are daily active users, roughly 400,000 are weekly active users and 900,000 are monthly active users. The company says the target is 100 million customers in the next five years.

For a little more context, TransferWise has 3 million customers. I’m also told U.K. challenger bank Monzo now has 630,000 current account customers, of which 200,000 are daily active users, 360,000 are weekly active users and 500,000 are monthly active users. (In both Revolut and Monzo’s case, active users are defined as making at least one financial transaction.)

With the aim of persuading both consumers and businesses to ditch their traditional bank, Revolut offers most of the features you’d expect of a current account, including physical and virtual debit cards, direct debits and money transfer. Its “attack vector” (to borrow Monzo’s Tom Blomfield’s phrase) was originally low exchange fees when spending in a foreign currency, which undoubtedly fuelled much of the startup’s early growth and mindshare, but new features and products are being added at an increasingly fast pace.

Many of these are through partnerships with other fintech companies, and include travel insurance, phone insurance, credit, savings, and cryptocurrency. The latter looks like riding the hype cycle almost perfectly. Revolut is also applying for a European banking license, which would enable it to begin balance sheet lending, too.

To that end, Revolut says the Series C funding will be used to go beyond Europe and expand worldwide, starting with the U.S., Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia this year. The company also expects to increase its workforce from 350 to around 800 employees in 2018.

Early Go-Jek investor NSI Ventures goes independent and rebrands to Openspace

NSI Ventures, the Singapore-based VC firm affiliated with PE firm Northstar Group that invested early in ride-sharing unicorn Go-Jek, is going independent after it announced it has rebranded to Openspace Ventures.

NSI Ventures was started by Hian Goh, an entrepreneur who sold his startup Asia Food Channel in 2013, and finance exec Shane Chesson in 2014. The firm was initially conceived as the venture capital arm of Northstar, which manages some $2 billion in assets with a focus on Indonesia.

In a statement, Goh paid tribute to Northstar’s support but said that “the moment has come for us to bring Openspace Ventures to the next stage, as an independent, Southeast Asia-focused venture fund manager.”

Following its spin-out, Northstar Group co-founder and managing partner Patrick Walujo will become a senior advisor to the firm, providing “strategic advice” on investments in Indonesia.

Openspace is best known in Southeast Asia for its early investment in Go-Jek, the Indonesian ride-sharing company that is valued at over $4 billion and in the process of expanding across Southeast Asia. To date it has invested in 19 companies, including online fashion brand Love Bonito, roti bread maker Zimplistic, restaurant discovery service Chope, and digital insurance startup Axinan. It announced its second $125 million fund last December, a final close for which is expected this year.

The firm said that 12 of its 15 investment deals have since secured follow-on funding, with a total of $2.2 billion poured in. Much of that comes from Go-Jek, but even removing two recent rounds that total around $2 billion, leaves good numbers for the rest of its portfolio.

In fact, a recent report from investment tracker Prequin listed the firm as the third highest performing investment fund worldwide for those created between 2003-2015. That shows progress but the proof is in the pudding, and for VCs that means LP returns. Opensauce, like others in exit-starved Southeast Asia, is yet to have a liquidation event despite making promising progress.

Business solutions firm Africa’s Talking closes $8.6M round led by IFC

Business APIs in Africa are getting a boost from global venture capital thanks to a new $8.6 million round for Africa’s Talking—a Kenyan based enterprise software company.

The new financing was led by IFC Venture Capital, with participation from Orange Digital Ventures and the investor that’s upending most Silicon Valley mores, Social Capital, led by former Facebook exec Chamath Palihapitiya.

Capital from the round will be used to hire and build capacity at the company’s Nairobi headquarters; expand its presence in other geographies around Africa; and invest in research and development in IoT, analytics, payments, and cloud offerings, according to chief executive Samuel Gikandi.

The company will open a tech studio for “engineers and developers to collocate with Africa’s Talking for 12-18 months…to build new products and companies,” Gikandi said.

Africa’s Talking operates in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Tanzania and maintains a private cloud space in London through Rackspace. The company works with developers to create solution focused APIs across SMS, voice, payment, and airtime services.

“We’re helping software developers in Africa connect to local infrastructure,” said Gikandi. “We find companies that have local infrastructure, whether its mobile operators, banks, or data-centers, then we partner with them and build a platform that simplifies access to that local infrastructure and open it up to software developers.”

Africa’s Talking has a network of 20,000 software developers and 1000 clients  including fintech lending startup Talasolar power financier and retailer M-Kopa; and financial services giant Ecobank, according to Gikandi.

The company gets paid through mobile wallets, earning fees on a portion of the transactional business its solutions generate.

Founded in 2010, the Series A round represents the company’s first significant venture capital investment. “We’ve primarily bootstrapped the business and became profitable in 2012,” said Gikandi.

The private company does not release financials or confirm net revenues, but Gikandi said that the company’s profitability was a stipulation for investment from its new backers (unlike the requirements for startups coming from Silicon Valley).

As the company looks to expand geographically in the African continent, observers can likely expect Africa’s Talking services to begin cropping up in francophone countries, otherwise, why else would Orange Digital Ventures’ invest in the round, since Orange has a presence in over 20 French speaking African nations.

IFC Ventures will be an active investor, with Africa Regional Head Wale Ayeni joining the board.

“The caliber of the tech team was a reason [to invest],” says Ayeni. “They’ve been able to build a cloud based digital platform and produce a product that people are willing to pay for. It’s rare to see that kind of high caliber tech talent create something that can scale that rapidly…and we’re looking forward to what they’ll build in the future.”

Allegro.AI nabs $11M for a platform that helps businesses build computer vision-based services

Artificial intelligence and the application of it across nearly every aspect of our lives is shaping up to be one of the major step changes of our modern society. Today, a startup that wants to help other companies capitalise on AI’s advances is announcing funding and emerging from stealth mode.

Allegro.AI, which has built a deep learning platform that companies can use to build and train computer-vision-based technologies — from self-driving car systems through to security, medical and any other services that require a system to read and parse visual data — is today announcing that it has raised $11 million in funding, as it prepares for a full-scale launch of its commercial services later this year after running pilots and working with early users in a closed beta.

The round may not be huge by today’s startup standards, but the presence of strategic investors speaks to the interest that the startup has sparked and the gap in the market for what it is offering. It includes MizMaa Ventures — a Chinese fund that is focused on investing in Israeli startups, along with participation from Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH (RBVC), Samsung Catalyst Fund and Israeli fund Dynamic Loop Capital. Other investors (the $11 million actually covers more than one round) are not being disclosed.

Nir Bar-Lev, the CEO and cofounder (Moses Guttmann, another cofounder, is the company’s CTO), started Allegro.AI first as Seematics in 2016 after he left Google, where he had worked in various senior roles for over 10 years. It was partly that experience that led him to the idea that with the rise of AI, there would be an opportunity for companies that could build a platform to help other less AI-savvy companies build AI-based products.

“We’re addressing a gap in the industry,” he said in an interview. Although there are a number of services, for example Rekognition from Amazon’s AWS, which allow a developer to ping a database by way of an API to provide analytics and some identification of a video or image, these are relatively basic and couldn’t be used to build and “teach” full-scale navigation systems, for example.

“An ecosystem doesn’t exist for anything deep-learning based.” Every company that wants to build something would have to invest 80-90 percent of their total R&D resources on infrastructure, before getting to the many other apsects of building a product, he said, which might also include the hardware and applications themselves. “We’re providing this so that the companies don’t need to build it.”

Instead, the research scientists that will buy in the Allegro.AI platform — it’s not intended for non-technical users (not now at least) — can concentrate on overseeing projects and considering strategic applications and other aspects of the projects. He says that currently, its direct target customers are tech companies and others that rely heavily on tech, “but are not the Googles and Amazons of the world.”

Indeed, companies like Google, AWS, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook have all made major inroads into AI, and in one way or another each has a strong interest in enterprise services and may already be hosting a lot of data in their clouds. But Bar-Lev believes that companies ultimately will be wary to work with them on large-scale AI projects:

“A lot of the data that’s already on their cloud is data from before the AI revolution, before companies realized that the asset today is data,” he said. “If it’s there, it’s there and a lot of it is transactional and relational data.

“But what’s not there is all the signal-based data, all of the data coming from computer vision. That is not on these clouds. We haven’t spoken to a single automotive who is sharing that with these cloud providers. They are not even sharing it with their OEMs. I’ve worked at Google, and I know how companies are afraid of them. These companies are terrified of tech companies like Amazon and so on eating them up, so if they can now stop and control their assets they will do that.”

Customers have the option of working with Allegro either as a cloud or on-premise product, or a combination of the two, and this brings up the third reason that Allegro believes it has a strong opportunity. The quantity of data that is collected for image-based neural networks is massive, and in some regards it’s not practical to rely on cloud systems to process that. Allegro’s emphasis is on building computing at the edge to work with the data more efficiently, which is one of the reasons investors were also interested.

“AI and machine learning will transform the way we interact with all the devices in our lives, by enabling them to process what they’re seeing in real time,” said David Goldschmidt, VP and MD at Samsung Catalyst Fund, in a statement. “By advancing deep learning at the edge, Allegro.AI will help companies in a diverse range of fields—from robotics to mobility—develop devices that are more intelligent, robust, and responsive to their environment. We’re particularly excited about this investment because, like Samsung, Allegro.AI is committed not just to developing this foundational technology, but also to building the open, collaborative ecosystem that is necessary to bring it to consumers in a meaningful way.”

Allegro.AI is not the first company with hopes of providing AI and deep learning as a service to the enterprise world: Element.AI out of Canada is another startup that is being built on the premise that most companies know they will need to consider how to use AI in their businesses, but lack the in-house expertise or budget (or both) to do that. Until the wider field matures and AI know-how becomes something anyone can buy off-the-shelf, it’s going to present an interesting opportunity for the likes of Allegro and others to step in.