Media monitor Meltwater acquires social analytics player Sysomos

Meltwater, best known for coming from the media-monitoring space, has been on a tear recently, acquiring startups in the social media monitoring space and increasingly in AI. It’s now acquired Sysomos, considered one of the leaders in social analytics and engagement, and a competitor to Brandwatch, which is also well known in this area. The terms of the deal were undisclosed but Sysomos was known to have raised at least a Seed round.

Sysomos is best known for enables organizations to analyze social media, news and other ‘human-generated’ content in one platform.

“By joining the Meltwater team, our clients benefit from the leadership and global scale of one
of the world’s first SaaS companies,” said Peter Heffring in statement, the former Sysomos CEO who will run Meltwater’s Social Analytics division. “In order to enhance the search and analytics experience in the Sysomos Platform, we will leverage the AI models and information extracted from the unstructured web by Meltwater. This will give our clients the context needed to collect more meaningful insights across their earned and owned social channels.”

“All the social analytics companies look at social data in isolation, limiting the insights for brands and businesses,” said Jorn Lyseggen, founder and CEO of Meltwater. “With our acquisition of Sysomos, we can bring together news and social media under one company, giving social data context while adding social engagement to our news and media monitoring offering.”

He said Sysomos would continue to run as a standalone firm. Other Meltwater acquisitons have tended to be incorporated into the main company. Sysomos will become part of the Social Analytics division.

Lyft’s Raj Kapoor joins the TechCrunch Tel Aviv conference on mobility, June 7

The TechCrunch Tel Aviv conference on mobility is in June and we’re excited to announce that Raj Kapoor, the Chief Strategy Officer for Lyft, will be joining as a speaker.

TechCrunch Tel Aviv will focus on mobility and all that it implies, such as autonomous vehicles, drones, you name it.

As well as being the Chief Strategy Officer, he is also the Head of Business for Lyft’s self-driving division. And he also serves as a board advisor for ClassPass, and a Venture Advisor at Mayfield Fund.

Prior to Lyft, Kapoor was a co-founder and CEO of both Snapfish (acquired by HP in 2005) and Fitmob (acquired by ClassPass in 2015), as well as a managing director at Mayfield Fund. Raj holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering and Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

The event will be on June 7, 2018, at the Tel Aviv Convention Center. Israel is one of the world’s fastest growing and most impressive startup ecosystems, and we simply can’t resist coming back. Buy tickets here!

Fantasy sports platforms could have a big future in blockchain

With the number of fantasy sports players in North America heading past 60 million, and the industry said to be worth more than $7 billion, fantasy sports games are clearly on the rise. On the web, the two biggest players are FanDuel and DraftKings, which between them control 90 percent of the market. But translating that kind of business into a blockchain world could have even more potential, turning the reward system into a cryptocurrency nirvana.

This is the aim of two blockchain-based startups, No Limit Fantasy Sports and MyDFS. Both have differing models, but both are aiming at the incumbents, which are probably unable to grow much further, and especially after their merger was rejected by regulators.

Now, MyDFS plans to take the fight to the next level, with a $2 million cash injection from investor Frank Fu, managing director at Chinese technology company Meitu, the Chinese photo-sharing platform with 456 million users. He’ll also join as a board advisor to the company.

Fu says the union of gaming and blockchain is inevitable because “blockchain guarantees safe storage of all in-game digital assets” and “smart contracts exclude third parties from the payment process and make transactions fast and safe” by removing the need for a financial intermediary for transactions.

The view is that potential for payment fraud in fantasy sports means the sector is ripe for blockchain technology, which can record every transaction.

MyDFS CEO Viktor Mangazeev believes tokenization and blockchain will make fantasy sports far more “transparent and user-friendly” and will allow players to invest not just in the games, teams and players, but also other players, by earning a share of their winnings. So, in theory, you could hitch your prospects to the best players because of the use of in-game cryptocurrency.

It looks as if blockchain is going to gradually lead to more startups arriving in this arena. Distributed ledger technology could mean a large reduction in transfer times and fees, while affording a more transparent fantasy economy.

Smart contracts could also mean users get their prizes literally as soon as they’ve won games, instead of having to wait for other sites to verify the games. And finally, the use of cryptocurrency (MyDFS uses Ethereum, while No Limit Fantasy Sports uses their own coin called NoLimitCoin) should be able to avoid regulatory issues, at least for now, because the “betting” is not based on fiat currency. That means these sites could reach more global audiences faster.

That said, we will have to wait and see what happens next in terms of regulation and whether these platforms will, in fact, have global appeal after all.

TPH raises a Seed round to ride the vintage clothing wave

A report by US reseller ThredUP estimates that second-hand fashion will soon overtake “fast fashion”, with an expected market worth of $41 billion USD by 2022. According to the site, in 2017 resale equated to six percent of the fashion market, with fast fashion at nine percent. By 2027 however, it’s projected to sit at 11 percent for resale and 10 percent for fast fashion. Why? Because there is a huge glut of clothes in the market, that’s why. You people are just not buying all the clothes that are being made. The trend is starting to affect big retailers. H&M has $4.3 billion worth of unsold clothing.

This is not only an environmental disaster, it’s also a huge turn-off for millenials who are cutting against the waste in the fashion industry and also looking for unique looks that go against the manufactured ‘trends’ in fast fashion.

The biggest sites in this resale space include Vestiaire and Vinted, among others. But mostly they concentrate on person-to-person sales. A new startup hopes to bring small second-hand shops into the space and has now raised a seed round to power its vision.

TPH.co connects local vintage shops with vintage fashion lovers. Vintage shops subscribe to the platform to load op their garments. TPH stands for The Pasta Haters, the idea being that people want to find original pieces, instead of bland ‘pasta fashion’.

It’s now raised $250,000 from London-based Seedcamp, Wave Ventures, STING and The Nordic Web Ventures. TPH says it has been gaining traction not just among fashion-loving customers but among stores as well.

The site is the brainchild of Lisa Gautier, who was previously with Outfittery (Curated shopping for men) and FYNDIQ (Bargain superstore) and was recently joined by cofounder Maki Kobayashi. Gautier says: “At TPH.co we’re reshaping the way you consume fashion, keeping your closet unique and environmentally friendly. The fact that we attracted investors from four different countries perfectly reflects and supports the international ambition and opportunity for TPH.”

Seedcamp’s Carlos Eduardo Espinal, comments, “We were hugely impressed from the moment we met Lisa by the global market potential for TPH, the promising early traction the business has experienced to date, and the social impact of the business.”

Anton Backman from Wave Ventures says: “Cool, trendy and ecological, not to mention global from day one. TPH and Lisa are tapping a huge underserved niche of vintage lovers that is growing year by year.”

Bancor takes on Crypto exchanges with wallet that converts across tokens

With the number for cryptocurrencies passing 1,000, and the craze continuing, things are getting pretty wild out there to say the least. And these cryopto asssets can vary from the tokens issued by some no-name startup all the way up to Ether and the venerable Bitcoin. The trouble is, converting those coins into other currencies which you might actually use, or perhaps into the more fiat-friendly Bitcoin and Ether, has been hard. Users have to use exchanges to convert their cryptocurrencies via exchanges where prices can fluctuate wildly. Since cryptocurrency is the main “application” for blockchain technologies right now, that would mean wallets where they are held effectively becoming a new type of ‘browser’.

This is the thinking behind the launch today of Bancor’s wallet. Bancor was already an open-source protocol for automated token conversions, and had raised approximately $153 million in in ICO last year. It’s new wallet will offer built-in conversion between 75 cryptocurrencies, with more being added each day. This means users will not need to send their cryptocurrencies to exchanges if they wish to acquire other forms of crypto-assets and can instead convert cryptocurrencies directly inside the Bancor Wallet. The wallet is not a native smartphone app, but is optimised for mobile use.

Problems at the major crypto exchanges have been mounting, putting many off joining the crypto world. So it’s likely that many Crypto holders will be tempted by the relative stability of in-wallet conversion, even if they can’t play the arbitrage game so easily.

Instead of converting the currencies by matching buyers and sellers as an exchange does, Bancor’s in-wallet conversions are made against smart contracts. In theory, this gives users transparent and efficient pricing without the spreads and fees associated with exchanges. Users are always in control of their keys and Bancor neither holds nor has access to users funds.

In addition, the Bancor Wallet allows users to purchase tokens with any major credit or debit card and instantly convert them to any token in the Bancor Network, including heavily-traded coins like Ether and EOS.

Galia Benartzi, co-founder of Bancor said in statement: “In the new Internet of value, where anyone can create a currency, digital wallets are becoming the browsers which allow users to navigate the emerging world of decentralized apps. To be useful, users need seamless and secure interfaces to blockchain-based products as well as on-demand conversion between the tokens that power them.

“Money is changing, and digital wallets must be as dynamic as the currencies they hold. Imagine if your coffee shop loyalty points were accepted at any cash register in the world, or your airline miles could buy cellular minutes with the click of a button… Bancor’s new wallet aims to deliver on that promise by offering continuous access to crypto tokens and instant convertibility between virtual assets, unlocking enormous purchasing power for consumers,” she added.

Bancor Wallet users can open accounts using an email address, Telegram, WeChat, or Facebook Messenger .

The Bancor Wallet will only likely to get uptake if it can continue to add integration with tokens and maintain a live status and instant conversions. If it can do that then it may well attract users away from many buggy and controversial exchanges.

As UK fires-up private space industry, Space Camp Accelerator launches

The UK government recently passed the Space Industry Bill, covering the basics like spaceflight licensing, insurance requirements and safety commitments. It didn’t make much of a splash when it was announced, but it’s a huge move for the UK as it laid the regulatory groundwork that will be needed to create an operational spaceport, potentially by 2020. Some £10 million has been earmarked to build the spaceports and complementary projects, and the UK is also set to create the world’s first fully commercial astronaut training ground, with construction expected to start later this year.

A new UK spaceport would actually make it the first such port in Europe, since the European Space Agency’s (ESA) is located in the not-very-European-location of French Guiana in South America.

The UK is already in a good position. Government figures suggest that a quarter of all telecoms satellites are “substantially built” in the UK. It hopes now to expand that to make the UK a “one-stop shop” for the private space industry. A big component of this will be, as the bill said, the opportunities afforded by “using satellite data and machine learning technology to support the rollout of charging points for electric vehicles,” for example.

This is creating a rich new environment for startups, entrepreneurs and, crucially, investors. The cost of building and launching a satellite has fallen from more than $100 million to less than $1 million in recent years. This makes it a new reality for startups and makes the spacetech sector increasingly attractive to venture capital investors.

Thus, today, Seraphim Capital today is launching “Space Camp Accelerator”. This is the UK’s first dedicated accelerator programme for startups in the spacetech industry. Space Camp’s aim will be to “help the best spacetech startups secure funding, achieve scale, and foster close working relationships with industry leaders.” It’s being backed by both the UK and European space agencies, as well as by corporate partners including Rolls Royce, alongside Seraphim Space Fund partners including Airbus, Surrey Satellite Technology, SES, and Telespazio.

Six startups will be selected to join the programme, with a focus on identifying the best data- and satellite-led businesses that are either addressing the biggest challenges facing corporates in the space industry or creating value for industries on earth, from transportation to agriculture to urban planning. The nine-week programme will run twice annually, with the first cohort beginning on 8 May 2018 and the second following in September.

Seraphim Capital manages the £70 million Seraphim Space Fund, which invests exclusively in spacetech.

In a statement, Mark Boggett, CEO at Seraphim Capital, said: “Space is a $350 billion industry that underpins many elements of our everyday lives. $2.5 billion was invested in spacetech startups by VCs globally in 2017, but those startups still need greater access to industry-specific advice and support. We’re turning the accelerator concept on its head: investability is a prerequisite for the startups we invite to be part of Space Camp Accelerator, not the endgame of their involvement as it might be for other programmes.”

Dentons, the global law firm, will host the programme at its offices in London, and will provide the cohort with facilities around the world as appropriate.

James Bruegger, co-founder of Space Camp and partner in the Seraphim Space Fund said: “Space is a multi-billion dollar industry and one of the fastest growing areas of tech investment. The sector’s profile has never been higher, thanks in no small part to Elon Musk reaching for Mars. However, what really impacts those of us here on the ground is the largely hidden way in which data from satellites is really driving the lifeblood of the digital economy. Apps like Uber, Deliveroo, and City Mapper – that many of us rely on in our everyday lives – are all ultimately powered by such data.”

The potentially is pretty cool. The next Elon Musk might well build the next billion dollar space-tech startup right in London. The UK is already widely recognised for having one of the most vibrant space-tech ecosystems. The future looks bright for UK spacetech.

AI game trainer Gosu.ai raises $1.9M to give gamers a virtual assistant

If you play hardcore and competitive games, you want to win, so it would be useful to have someone leaning over your shoulder giving you tips on how to play better. Someone who knows all your moves and behaviors, for instance.

That’s the thinking behind Gosu.ai, which has developed an AI assistant to help gamers play smarter and improve their skills. It’s now raised a $1.9M funding round led by Runa Capital, with participation from Ventech and existing investor, Sistema_VC. Previously, the startup was backed by Gagarin Capital, a new Silicon Valley-based early-stage VC firm focusing on AI investments, which invested in Prisma and MSQRD, which exited to Facebook and Google, respectively.

Gosu.ai provides tools and guidance for users to improve their skills in competitive games. It analyzes their matches and makes personal recommendations. It also helps players prep, suggesting gear sets, starting items and offering ideas on how to take on a particular opponent. The platform currently works with Dota 2, with plans to support CS:GO and PUBG in the near future.

The company was founded by Alisa Chumachenko (pictured), who was the creator and former CEO of Game Insight, a big gaming world player. She says: “There are 2 billion gamers in the world now and 600 million of them play hardcore games, such as MOBAs, Shooters and MMOs. We can help those players reach their full potential with our AI assistants.”

Gosu.ai’s main competitors are Mobalytics, Dojomadness and Moremmr. But the main difference is that these competitors make analytics of raw statistics, and find the generalized weak spots in comparison with other players, giving general recommendations. Gosu.ai analyzes the specific actions of each player, down to the movement of their mouse, to cater direct recommendations for the player. So it’s more like a virtual assistant than a training platform.

In addition, Gosu works in the B2B field, as well, by offering gaming companies a variety of AI tools, for example a predictive analytics.

Everledger’s Kemp and Omise’s Hasegawa join TC Blockchain

Blockchain technology and the decentralizing effects of distributed ledgers have enormous amounts of potential and may mean the Internet will never be the same again. The fact that one could eventually run vast applications without any servers is equally transformational. But it’s still very much a wild west out there in terms of ascertaining who is working on ‘the real deal’.

The blockchain world is currently weighed down with the expectations of dubious crypto-currency speculators and sky-high ICOs and hacks that are interfering with a frank conversation about the future.

Which is why TechCrunch has decided to throw its hat into the ring and try to bring together the leading players in the space for a frank discussion and inquiry into this next phase in Zug, Switzerland, this July.

At TC Sessions: Blockchain 2018, TechCrunch’s editors will bring together top figures in the blockchain technology world to discuss how and where blockchain technology is going to disrupt the status quo.

We’re delighted to announce that Jun Hasegawa, CEO / Founder of Omise, a multinational payments company currently present in Thailand (HQ), Japan, Singapore and Indonesia that has raised over $50M in funding.

In 2015, his desire to push the boundaries led Omise to become the very first financial services company to join the Ethereum community. In 2017, after over a year of research and development, this culminated in the launch of OmiseGO, the crowd-funded blockchain division tasked with creating the OMG network. This is an Ethereum-based public blockchain with the ambitious vision of enabling financial service equity by radically decentralizing value transfer and exchange.

Prior to founding payments Omise, Jun was involved in founding a series of tech companies in Japan mainly in the fields of e-commerce, lifelog and mobile payments and is currently based in Bangkok.

We’ll also be joined by one of the leading proponents of blockchain tech to track the provenance of real-world objects.

Leanne Kemp, is Founder & CEO of Everledger – a digital, global ledger that tracks and protects items of value.

Using her knowledge of emerging technologies, business, jewelry and insurance, Everledger is aiming at a new kind of global transparency for luxury, constructing a digital verification system that assists in the reduction of fraud, black markets, and trafficking.

Everledger was recently named Best Blockchain Company at the Financial Tech Awards 2016, Best Newcomer at the Asia Insurance Technology Awards 2016, Innovator of the Year at the Penrose Awards, and Best B2B Start-up at the Digital Top 50 Awards.

TC Sessions: Blockchain 2018 is being built on the hugely successful Disrupt San Francisco 2017 event, which included discussions on blockchain startups, cryptocurrency and ICOs with guests such as Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin .

But why is it in Zug, Switzerland?

Well, Zug has become known as “Crypto Valley” because of the numerous blockchain companies that have moved there to capitalize on the canton’s forward-thinking approach to regulation and favorable tax approach for cutting-edge projects.

As well as the above speakers we’ll also be joined by Brian Behlendorf, the executive director of the Hyperledger project, an open source, collaborative effort advancing blockchain technologies in areas like marketplaces, data-sharing networks, micro-currencies and decentralized digital communities.

At the event we’ll be covering how decentralization will impact the internet and web services today; how big businesses and enterprises are moving forward to tap the potential of the blockchain; what the future of financing through crypto and ICOs might look like; and the important technological breakthroughs and challenges facing blockchain.

More speakers are due to be announced in the coming weeks and months, but you can already buy a ticket here.

If you’re interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at this event, contact us here.

EdTech is having a renaissance, powered by the emerging world

So-called ‘EdTech’ has seen many false dawns over the years. After being lauded as the teaching platforms of the future, most MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course platforms) have not quite lived up to the superlatives made for them, and the sector has had trouble coming up with more innovative ideas for a while.

But that appears to be changing if a new wave of startups is any indication. In Dubai this weekend I was invited to judge a number of education startups which are really trying to move the need on EdTech, and in particular on a sector with almost unlimited potential. That is, education platforms aimed at the emerging world, where the hunger for scalable education is almost incalculable.

Consider this: Ethopia, now a far more stable country that it once was, contains more people under 25 than almost anywhere else, and it has a population of over 100 million people. And consider the potential for EdTech to transform countries like India, for instance. This is going to be a very interesting market in the future, as well as being an urgent issue. According to UNESCO, 264 million children do not have access to schooling, while at least 600 million more are “in school but not learning”. These are children who are not achieving even basic skills in maths and reading, which the World Bank calls a “learning crisis”.

A taste of what is to be found in this sector was showcased today at the “Next Billion Edtech Prize,” launched at the Global Education & Skills Forum (think: Davos/WEF for Education) by the Varkey Foundation to recognize the most innovative technology startups destined to have a radical impact on education in low income and emerging world countries.

The overall winner in the competition was Chatterbox, an online language school powered by refugees

This web platform harnesses the wasted talent of unemployed professionals who are refugees, offering them work as online and in-person language tutors. Based in the UK, where there is a language skills shortage estimated to cost the economy £48bn every year, Chatterbox has now signed up several UK universities and major non-profits and corporations to use its services. Having raised a seed round from impact-fund Bethnal Green Ventures, it’s now looking for further funding to expand.

Co-founder and CEO Mursal Hedayat was three years old when she arrived in the UK as a refugee from Afghanistan with her mother, a civil engineer who spoke English and three other languages fluently. “I watched her become unemployed in the UK for more than a decade. Refugees with degrees and valuable skills still face shockingly high levels of underemployment. An idea like Chatterbox has never been more urgently needed,” she says. (Indeed, the conference later heard from Al Gore who quoted research that showed millions of people will become refugees due to climate change in the next few decades).

Chatterbox’s fellow finalists for the $25,000 prize on offer were equally interesting.

Dot Learn was almost literally the same as ‘Silicon Valley’s PiedPiper. It makes online video e-learning far more accessible on slow connections for users in low-income countries, especially because it compresses educational video so making it cheaper to access. Its technology reduces the file-size of learning videos, requiring 1/100th of the bandwidth to watch. At current data prices in Kenya and Nigeria, this means a student or learner can access 5 hrs of online learning for about the cost of sending a single text message ($0.014). The startup was a notable finalist during TechCrunch’s Battlefield Africa.

TeachMeNow is a gig-economy platform for teachers. This marketplace connects teachers, experts, and mentors to students. The technology combines scheduling, payments and live virtual sessions that can connect on any device allows tens of thousands of teachers to create their own online businesses, with some earning over $100,000 last year. In addition, schools and companies including Microsoft use TeachMeNow software to create their own-branded online learning communities.

Sunny Varkey, Founder of the Varkey Foundation and the Next Billion Prize says he launched the prize because “over a billion young people – a number growing every day – are being denied what should be the birthright of every single child. The prize will highlight technology’s potential to tackle the problems that have proven too difficult for successive generations of politicians to solve.”

Other notable finalists included Learning Machine. This using the blockchain as a secure anchor of trust makes verifying the authenticity of a document instantaneously, specifically education documents like university degrees. They are now working to put all the educational records of Malta online.

Localized is a new platform for college students and aspiring professionals in emerging economies to find career guidance, role models and expertise from global professionals who share language and roots (think Slack meets Quora for college students in emerging markets, drawing on diaspora expertise).

The Biz Nation is an EdTech startup focused on empowering youth with technology skills, soft skills, entrepreneurship and financial intelligence through a methodology that improves user’s learning about creating a business.

Day One Ventures launches fund which wraps VC and PR into one

 There is a clutch of new VC funds launched in the US every year, and but when you look at the stats around new funds started by women they are pretty dismal. A cursory glance at the figures from last year reveals that out of 153 funds founded in the US last year, only four were founded by women, and only two have gone on to raise money. Furthermore, women account for only seven percent of… Read More