Commuters become crypto users, as DOVU signs loyalty deal with rail service

While blockchain emerged first as a platform for currency and value, its employment in the tokenization of data and information has become recognized as being of at least, if not more, underlying value. You could perhaps even use it to track movements on a grid associated with mobility. That was the underlying idea behind the launch a couple of years ago of DOVU, a London-based startup that aims to become “the global marketplace for transport data.” DOVU is backed by seed funding from InMotion Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s investment arm, and Creative England, a fund backed by the U.K. government.

Founder and CEO Irfon Watkins aims to use blockchain to provide trust for corporates or individuals in data sets for public and enterprise use. The DOVU system works by creating a distributed marketplace for transport data. That would mean vehicle hire, insurance companies, ridesharing and others could be connected to create a network of transport-related data resources.

This shared data becomes more valuable because it’s shared, not because it’s locked into one platform.

The startup will now begin work with FTSE 250-listed rail company Go-Ahead, to improve the experience for their rail customers.

Go-Ahead will use DOVU’s blockchain-powered reward platform to learn more about its customers and to incentivize changes in passenger behavior.

The rail firm currently runs more than a billion passenger journeys each year on their bus and rail services.

DOVU’s project will first be rolled out on Go-Ahead’s Thameslink and Southern Rail services.

Users will be able to “earn” cryptocurrency when they share their travel data; this then will help Go-Ahead better understand travel habits and better communicate with customers. But of course, when I say earn, I mean they will earn tokens as a sort of loyalty points.

It’s essentially a loyalty scheme running on a blockchain platform, where the token becomes the loyalty tracking device.

If data is “the oil of the new economy,” as the consultants like to call it, then it’s clear that transport users are poised to become the new oil miners.

After challenger banks comes the wave of anti-fraud startups

The sheer scale of global financial crime is not to be underestimated.

The U.K.’s National Crime Agency recently observed that it’s “in the hundreds of billions of pounds” annually, and that’s just in the U.K. In the U.S., domestic financial crime, excluding tax evasion, generates approximately $300 billion of proceeds each year for potential laundering. This is a conservative estimate.

So with the rise of startup banks, it only makes sense that the next phase of this fintech evolution will be detecting financial crime and fraud.

It’s, therefore, no surprise that Mimiro, which was previously known as ComplyAdvantage and was founded by the co-founder and former CEO of Marketinvoice, closed a $30 million (£22.8 million) funding round this week.

The raise was backed by Index Ventures and Balderton Capital . And guess where they previously laid their fintech cards? Yes, in the fintech/banking-style startup Revolut .

The trick with Mimiro is that it uses AI to analyze the risk of financial crime for banks, building a database of risk profiles for both companies and individuals.

Mimiro is not the only startup making hay in this hot space of fraud and identity. Onfido, which started off checking the credentials of Uber drivers, was recently selected by PensionBee to streamline its KYC processes and add more customers without manual intervention.

It’s even moved into the area of identity verification services for crypto platforms. Onfido has already secured $60 million worth of investment from the likes of Microsoft and Salesforce.

So it’s clear that in the age of greater liberalization of financial services, challenger banks and the rise of crypto platforms and services, tracking identity, fraud and financial crime is going to be an extremely hot space for startups, and the attendant venture capital, to tackle.

Knotel acquires Deskeo, Paris’s largest agile office space operator

Breathing down the neck of WeWork is Knotel, which in 2017 raised a Series A round of $25 million, then another round of $70m, and then another $5m in debt. It says it has one million square feet in New York versus WeWork’s four million.
It’s now pushing out internationally. Last year it acquired Ahoy!Berlin, a workspace operator in Berlin, Germany, after setting up an operation in London.
And today it has announced that it has acquired Deskeo, the largest office space rental operation in Paris, catapulting Knotel to become the biggest operator in the city. It is about 10 times bigger than WeWork in the city, according to Amol Sarva, co-founder and CEO of Knotel.
Sarva told me the company will rebrand as Knotel, with senior management staying on. Numbers for the deal have not been released.
Last year Knotel also acquired 42Floors, a commercial real estate search engine in the US to, according to Sarva, get “access to data and technology on over 10 billion square feet of office space.”
Knotel is building what it calls the Agile HQ platform, a way to rent office space for a few hours or a few months without getting stuck in a lease. It positions itself as different from WeWork in that companies are front and centre in the building rather than the brand of Knotel, unlike WeWork which pushes itself as the main brand.

Invoice finance platform MarketInvoice raises $33.5M from Barclays, Santander

London, with its huge FinTech hub, is continuing to attract investment and that is no better represented today than with the news that MarketInvoice, arguably Europe’s largest online invoice finance platform, has raised £26M ($33.5M) in a Series-B funding round led by Barclays and fintech fund Santander InnoVentures, alongside participation from European VC Northzone, which previously invested. In August last year Barlcays took a minority equity stake in the company and rolled out the service to its large SME client base.
Technology credit fund Viola Credit, which also participated, will additionally provide a debt facility of up to £30m to help scale the MarketInvoice business loans solution which is part of its core invoice finance solutions.
The funding will be used to deepen MarketInvoice’s market in the UK and launch what it called “cross-border fintech-bank partnerships” which it would be reasonable to conclude would include expanding into new markets.
Established in 2011, MarketInvoice has funded invoices and business loans to UK companies worth more than £2 billion, and they claim to be Europe’s largest online invoice finance platform.
Anil Stocker, Co-founder & CEO told me: “for us strategic partnerships, especially those where we can use new sources of data, are becoming increasingly important. Our mission is to help as many entrepreneurs as possible gain access to finance… Barclays realises it’s a good way of upgrading their offering to SMEs, and get more lending out to help these businesses. For us, by working with Barclays’ network and presence in the market, we’re able to educate more businesses on our funding solutions, something which would take much more time if we were to do it on our own.”
Ian Rand, CEO of Barclays Business Bank, said: “This investment demonstrates our commitment to the partnership we announced last summer which offers hundreds of thousands of our SME clients access to even more innovative forms of finance, boosting cash flow and competition in the market.” Manuel Silva Martínez, Managing Partner and Head of Investments at Santander InnoVentures commented: “MarketInvoice is helping UK businesses access much needed funding to keep their businesses and ideas thriving in a very competitive market.”

Stung by criticism, Facebook’s Sandberg outlines new plans to tackle misinformation

Stung by criticism of its widely reported role as a platform capable of spreading disinformation and being used by state actors to skew democratic elections, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg unveiled five new ways the company would be addressing these issues at the annual DLD conference in Munich, staged ahead of the World Economic Forum. She also announced that Facebook would fund a german university to investigate the eithics of AI, and a new partnership with Germany’s office for information and security.
Sandberg laid out Facebooks five-step plan to regain trust:
1. Investing in safety and security
2. Protections against election interference
3. Cracking down on fake accounts and misinformation
4. Making sure people can control the data they share about themselves
5. Increasing transparency

Public backlashes mounted last year after Facebook was accused of losing track of its users’ personal data, and allow the now defunct Cambridge Analytica agency to mount targetted advertising to millions of Facebook users without their explicit consent in the US elections.

On safety and security, she said Facebook now employed 30,000 people to check its platform for hate posts and misinformation, 5 times more than in 2017.
She admitted that in 2016 Facebook’s cybersecurity policies were centered around protecting users data from hacking and phishing. However, these were not adequate to deal with how state actors would try to a “sow disinformation and dissent into societies.”
Over the last year she said Facebook has removed thousand of individuals accounts and page designs to coordinate disinformation campaigns. She said they would be applying all these lessons learned to the EU parliamentary elections this year’s well as working more closely with governments.
Today, she said Facebook was announcing a new partnership with the German government’s office for information and security to help guide policymaking in Germany and across the EU ahead of its parliamentary elections this year.
Sandberg also revealed the sheer scale of the problem. She said Facebook was now cracking down on fake accounts and misinformation, blocking “more than one million Facebook accounts every day, often as they are created.” She did not elucidate further on which state actors were involved in this sustained assault on the social network.
She said Facebook was now working with fact checkers around the world and had tweaked its algorithm to show related articles allowing users to see both sides of a news story that is posted on the platform. It was also taking down posts which had the potential to create real-world violence, she said. However, she neglected to mention that Facebook also owns WhatsApp, which has been widely blamed for the spreading of false rumors leaking a spate of murders in India.
She cited independent studies from Stanford University and the Le Monde newspaper which have show that Facebook user engagement with unreliable sites has declined by half since 2015.
In a subtle attack on critics, she noted that in 2012 Facebook was often attacked because it was a “walled garden”, and that the platform had subsequently bent to demands to open up to allow third-party apps to build on the service, allowing greater sharing, such as for game-play. However, the company was “now in a “very different place”. “We did not a do a good job managing our platform,” she admitted, acknowledging that this data sharing had led to abuse by bad actors.
She said Facebook had now dramatically cut down on the information about users which apps can access, appointed independent data protection officers, bowed to GDPR rules in the EU and created similar users controls globally.
She said the company was also increasing transparency, allowing other organizations to hold them accountable. “We want you to be able to judge our progress,” she said.
Last year it published its first community standards enforcement report and Sandberg said this would now become an annual event, and given as much status as its annual financial results.
She repeated previous announcements that Facebook would be instituting new standards for advertising transparency, allowing people to see all the adverts a page is running and launching new tools ahead of EU elections in May.
She also announced a new partnership with the Technical University of Munich (TUM) to support the creation of an independent AI ethics research center.
The Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence, which is supported by an initial funding grant from Facebook of $7.5 million over five years, will help advance the growing field of ethical research on new technology and will explore fundamental issues affecting the use and impact of AI.

Lisbon finally gets a substantial VC fund in the shape of Indico Capital Partners

Lisbon, characterized occasionally by some tech scene observers as ‘the warm Berlin’, has been threatening to generate more startups in the last few years, not least because it will now have the enormous Web Summit conference there for the next 10 years, and because it’s a cheap and great place to live. But the startups appearing have not quite been as numerous as many would like.

It’s therefore fantastic to see a new VC fund appearing in the city, set up by three experienced stalwarts of the scene.

Indico Capital Partners VC has now completed its first closing of €41M out of the €46M of commitments from investors from eight different countries. The fund will be aimed at Iberian early stage startups (that means Spain and Portugal), but of course those in particularly those based out of Portugal.

The fund says it will invest typically between €150,000 and €5M per portfolio company over their lifetime – pre-seed to series A, plus follow-on rounds. They say the first Indico investments have already been concluded and will be announced soon.

It’s far and away the first sizable, independent and private early-stage, tech-focused fund to be based in Lisbon and will focus on investments in B2B SaaS, Artificial Intelligence, Fintech and Cybersecurity to Marketplaces and B2C Platforms.

The fund comprises of three partners: Managing General Partner, Stephan Morais (former head of the leading corporate VC Caixa Capital), General Partner Ricardo Torgal (also former Caixa Capital senior investor) and Venture Partner Cristina Fonseca (co-founder and shareholder of Talkdesk).

Collectively the team has in the past invested in Farfetch, Unbabel, Codacy and many other success stories originating from Portugal over the past 6 years, in addition to Talkdesk itself.

The EIF (European Investment Fund), is the cornerstone investor of Indico, and has been joined by 20 other institutional and individual investors such as the IFD (Instituição Financeira de Desenvolvimento) through the Portugal Tech facility, Draper Esprit (a major global quoted VC fund based in the UK), pension funds, education and research institutions, wealth managers, high net worth individuals and many local and international tech entrepreneurs.

The fund is supported by InnovFin Equity, with the financial backing of the European Union under Horizon 2020 Financial Instruments and the European Funds for Strategic Investments (EFSI) set up under the Investment Plan for Europe.

Stephan Morais, Managing General Partner, said: “This is a milestone for the Portuguese ecosystem, we will keep on supporting the most promising Portuguese, and increasingly Iberian, early-stage tech startups, but now with an independent stable investment platform backed by a diversified global LP base.”

Ricardo Torgal, General Partner added that “VC is not hype, it’s about building a balanced portfolio and being there for the companies to help them grow to the next stage”.

Cristina Fonseca, Venture Partner, commented that “I have been backing many companies over the past few years as an angel investor and mentor, so it was an obvious decision to join the best investment team in the market with a solid track record. Early stage tech is where my heart is and this is a local nurturing activity before it becomes globally investable and scalable.”

CherryHome raises $5.2M to apply AI to home care cameras, detecting behavior changes

A new startup using AI to look after elderly people at home has raised a new round of funding to apply its platform to detect changes in gait or behavior, falls or stumbles. In other words, it could start to predict changes in long-term health.

CherryHome, the home AI security system created by startup Cherry Labs, has raised $5.2 million in funding from GSR Ventures to drive the technology’s use for in-home senior care. CherryHome uses its proprietary computer vision algorithms to interpret camera data into virtual “skeletons.” These are used by the AI to understand and analyze home events and people’s behaviors, such as how someone might develop a limp over time, for instance.

The startup competes with Safely You, which sends alerts in response to very obvious falls; Nest and Lighthouse, which tend to only offer very basic AI over its imaging; and Amazon’s Ring, which only offers outdoor security.

With CherryHome, all information is processed locally, so the video doesn’t leave the house, while the senior citizen is replaced in the video with a virtual “stick-person” to preserve their privacy. This last aspect, in particular, is a really good idea.

With this new round of funding, CherryHome has signed pilot deals with TheraCare in-home care-giving service and TriCura, a tech ecosystem for care agencies. Both are based in the Bay Area.

Max Goncharov, CEO and co-founder of CherryHome says: “Understanding human behavior has a long list of applications, from home security to in-home senior care to the overall goal of making smart homes totally autonomous. But improving senior care is arguably one of the most important areas for technological improvement.” He says seniors currently make up 15 percent of the U.S. population, and by 2030, one in five Americans will be of retirement age. Several studies show the majority of those people wish to remain at home, as opposed to moving into an assisted-living facility.

Pimcore closes $3.5M for its open-source data platform to expand in the US

Pimcore, an open-source platform for data and customer experience management which has emerged out of Austria, has closed $3.5 million in a Series A funding led by German Auctus Capital Partners AG. The funding will be used for its US expansion.

Pimcore is aimed at any channel, device, or industry that wants to manage its digital data and customer experience. While there are several such companies on the market today, Pimcore claims to be an ‘out-of-the-box’ solution and the only open-source platform out there, thus competing with more proprietary products from SAP or Informatica which typically run on licensing business models.

CEO of Pimcore, Dietmar Rietsch says: “Our primary goal is to disrupt traditional licensing business models as open-source adoption skyrockets in enterprises. This funding round gives us the resources and tools to be able to stand up to legacy players like SAP and Oracle, and to really transform the customer experience and data management spaces, especially in the US.”

Pimcore recently acquired the US-based Pimcore Global Services and its whole outsourcing infrastructure in Delhi.

After being founded in 2013, it now has over 82,000 companies across 56 countries, including global enterprises such as Audi, Burger King, Continental and Intersport.

Goldex raises $1M for its marketplace app for ‘ethical’ physical gold trading

Goldex, a trading app that claims to power so-called “ethical pricing” for retail gold investments, says it has now raised more than £1 million ($1.25 million) in a pre-Series A round led by a group of angels and institutional investors.

Amongst those participating in the round are Prepaid Financial Services (a European payment card issuer); Gaël de Boissard, former Executive Board Member of Credit Suisse; Richard Balarkas, former president and CEO of Instinets; Nachi Muthu, former global head of IT trading technology at Credit Suisse; and Craig James, founder and CEO of Neopay.

Goldex was launched in late July this year. The company was founded by former City electronic trading pioneers from Credit Suisse and UBS, Sylvia Carrasco and Fernando Ripolles, who wanted to remove barriers to retail gold trading and address some of the questionable practices in the gold investment markets.

The U.K. app claims to discover the best price amongst all the gold dealers offering bids and offers within the Goldex platform. Sylvia Carrasco, CEO of Goldex, says the funding “has taken us a step closer to becoming the leading gold trading platform that is both ethical and fully transparent to consumers.”

Goldex is not alone in the space. Glint is a competitor, but it does not hold any physical gold — whereas Glint does — and Glint sets the price for buying and selling it.

Instead, Goldex routes all clients’ orders to the largest global peer-to-peer gold exchange in five international vaults (London, Zurich, New York, Toronto and Singapore). The company claims this ensures an average savings of 8-12 percent on the trades and attempts therefore to avoid price manipulation as well as improving transparency over charges.

Announcing the final batch of judges for Startup Battlefield Africa

Startup Battlefield Africa in Lagos, Nigeria, is coming up fast. As usual, we have a great lineup of panels that will include investors and founders discussing issues such as blockchain, raising venture capital on the continent and beyond and more.

And of course companies will compete in Startup Battlefield, our premier startup competition. Startup Battlefield consists of 15 teams competing in three preliminary rounds — five startups per round — which have only six minutes to pitch and present a live demo to a panel of expert technologists and VC investors. Five of the original 15 startups will be chosen to pitch a second time to a fresh set of judges. One startup will emerge the winner and receive a US$25,000 no-equity cash prize and win a trip for two to compete in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2019 (assuming the company still qualifies to compete at the time). The event is now sold out, but keep your eyes on TechCrunch for video of all the panels and the Battlefield competition.

And now to announce our next batch of judges who will be grilling the startups after their pitches. See you next week!


Jason Njoku, Iroko

Jason Njoku is the founder and CEO of Iroko, the home of Nollywood content. He has pioneered the African digital content market by bringing Nollywood (Nigerian cinema) to a global audience, and in the process has raised more than $40 million in investment from international VCs, including Tiger Global, Kinnevik, RISE Capital and Canal+.

In 2013, Njoku was crowned as the CNBC Africa West Africa Young Business Leader, and in 2014, he was recognized as one of Fast Company’s Top 1000 most Creative People in Business.

Dapo Olagunju, J.P. Morgan

Dapo Olagunju is head of West Africa at J.P. Morgan. In this capacity, he represents J.P. Morgan’s global platform to clients, regulators and other stakeholders in the region.

Prior to joining J.P. Morgan, he was a general manager at Access Bank Plc where he oversaw the financial markets division of the bank. He was a member of the bank’s Digital Council, which had overall responsibility for the bank’s digital strategy, approved partnership with fintech companies and monitored the implementation of digital initiatives. He was, at different times, a consultant on peacekeeping financing at the United Nations in New York and chief dealer at Investment Banking & Trust Company Limited (now Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, a member of the Standard Bank Group). He was also co-founder of 234Give.com — an online fundraising platform.

Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook

Konstantinos Papamiltiadis is the director of developer platforms and programs for Facebook, supporting the company’s product and platform strategy through partnerships with technology companies and programs for startups.

Prior to that he supervised product and engineering at Taptu (sold to Mediafed) a Cambridge, U.K.-based startup. Prior to Taptu, he led the Yahoo EMEA mobile product team. His team supervised the development and launch of mobile sites for Search, Mail and IM across Europe, as well as News, Sports and Finance for iPhone and Blackberry apps. Before joining Yahoo he was a product manager at Skype and Vodafone R&D.

Bosun Tijani, Co-Creation Hub

Bosun Tijani is the co-founder and CEO of Co-Creation Hub, a social innovation center based in Nigeria dedicated to accelerating the application of social capital and technology for economic prosperity. In pursuit of an active lifestyle, he also founded and serves as the CEO and founder of Truppr, an emerging fitness brand in Africa that connects users to fitness events across the world. In addition, he is a partner at Growth Capital, Nigeria’s first social innovation fund for high-potential, early-stage businesses.

He has more than 15 years of experience across public and private corporations, including Pera Innovation Network (U.K.), Hewlett Packard (EMEA) and International Trade Centre (UNCTAD/WTO), both in Geneva, Switzerland.