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.

Fintech investors and founders to judge Startup Battlefield Africa

TechCrunch will soon be returning to Africa to hold its Startup Battlefield competition dedicated to the African continent.

The event, in Lagos, Nigeria, on December 11, will showcase the launch of 15 of the hottest startups in Africa onstage for the first time. We’ll also be joined by some of the leading investment firms in the region. The event is now sold out, but keep your eyes on TechCrunch for video of all the panels and the Battlefield competition.

Here are just some of the investors and founders who will be judging the startups competing for US$25,000.


Olugbenga Agboola, Flutterwave

Olugbenga Agboola is the CEO of Flutterwave, a payments technology company headquartered in San Francisco with operations and offices across Africa and Europe. Prior to co-founding Flutterwave, Olugbenga contributed to the development of fintech solutions at several tech companies and financial institutions such as PayPal and Standard Bank, among others. He is a serial entrepreneur with two successful exits under his belt. He is a software engineer with a Master’s Degree in Information Technology Security and Behavioral Engineering, as well as an MBA.

Barbara Iyayi, Element

Barbara Iyayi is the chief growth officer and managing director of Africa for Element, which deploys AI-powered mobile biometrics software to develop digital platforms globally. Barbara was part of the founding team of Atlas Mara, a London stock exchange-listed company, co-founded by Bob Diamond, ex-CEO of Barclays Bank, which was the first-ever entity to raise more than $1 billion to invest in, operate and manage financial institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. As the Regional Lead for M&A and Investments, she led investments into banks and developed the banking platform’s entry into seven countries in Africa. Notably, she led the acquisition and first-ever merger of two banks in Rwanda, to be the leading innovative retail bank — Banque Populaire du Rwanda — and led a $250 million equity investment in Union Bank of Nigeria.

Aaron Fu, MEST Africa

Aaron is an early-stage investor, entrepreneur and strategic advisor to both startups as they scale and corporates as they transform to gain agility for disruptive innovation. Over the last five years he has specifically focused on innovation in Africa, working with global brands and entrepreneurs across diverse industries, from financial services to health to mobile to agriculture.

As managing director at MEST, he is dedicated to training, investing in and incubating the next generation of global software entrepreneurs in Africa. He manages a portfolio of 30-plus startups spanning fintech, media, e-commerce and agritech. 

Sam Gichuru, Nailab

Sam Gichuru is founder and CEO of Nailab, one of Kenya’ s leading business incubators. His contribution in establishing the startup business ecosystem in Kenya, through Nailab, has been significant, and as a result was invited as a key speaker during the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, held in Nairobi and officiated by then U.S. President Barack Obama.

Sam has been instrumental in propagating the development of a strong and vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem, and it’s through this engagement that he was most recently selected by Jack Ma to lead, through Nailab, the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative, a $10 million Initiative that seeks to discover, spotlight and support 10 African entrepreneurs every year for the next 10 years.

Olufunbi Falayi, Savannah Fund


Olufunbi Falayi  is a partner at Passion Incubator, an early-stage technology incubator and accelerator that invests in early-stage startups. He co-led investment in 12 startups, including Riby, BeatDrone, AdsDirect, TradeBuza and Waracake. Olufunbi also a principal at Savannah Fund, driving investment in West Africa.

Argent, a smart crypto wallet app with a banking look, raises $4M from Euro VCs

One of the biggest problems for the mainstream adoption of crypto is the need for memorizing seed phrases, the inability to get your cryptocurrency back if something goes wrong, the list goes on. Until major issue like this are solved, crypto is going to remain a pretty elite game.

Argent is a project which recently won the prestigious inaugural user experience prize at Devcon4 by addressing many of these issues.

It’s a crypto wallet that lets you also port your ID around (much like a Google or Facebook Login) and solves the UX problem through clever smart contract architecture.. So you have a good old-fashioned and familiar Web 2.0 / centralized experience in a decentralized environment.

Argent has now raised a $4 million seed round from some of Europe’s leading investors, including Index Ventures, Creandum, firstminute, Hummingbird and Atomico Partner Mattias Ljungman.

As a native app on the Apple App and Google Play Stores, describes itself as the first smart wallet. The presentation and security is that of a modern banking apps, but Argent doesn’t hold or access a user’s funds. The smart wallet also provides access to decentralized applications, with the user staying in control of their data, identity and assets.

Argent CEO and co-founder, Itamar Lesuisse, commented: “The web is dominated by monopolies and middlemen. Cambridge Analytica and Equifax highlighted the damage this was doing to people. The emerging decentralized web offers a better way – with people controlling their data, assets, and identity. But it is still way too hard for most people to use, so adoption is slow. We founded Argent to fix this”.

Dr. Julien Niset, Chief Science Officer and co-founder, Argent, says, “The challenge we set ourselves was to offer the usability and security of great banking apps, but without the bank. We wanted the user, not us, to be in control. We’ve achieved this by building Argent on smart contracts, code embedded in the blockchain that cannot be tampered with. Our smart contracts let users, for the first time, recover their wallets without a paper backup, set daily transaction limits and block fraudulent transactions. This makes Argent safer and easier to use than other wallets”.

Consumers can use the smart wallet to access decentralized applications and no technical knowledge is required. To generate more adoption, Argent plans to make a developer kit available to third parties. It already has an integrated exchange and Argent says it is currently exploring more partnerships in finance, as well as gaming.

Two of Argent’s co-founders, Itamar Lesuisse (ex-Amazon, Visa and BCG) and Gerald Goldstein (PhD, nuclear physics), previously founded Peak, the world’s largest brain training app (50m downloads), and an Apple and Android App of the Year. The third co-founder, Julien Niset, has a PhD in quantum information, founded a quantum security startup and successfully sold the IP to the world’s leading quantum security company.

Bjarke Staun-Olsen, Creandum, says, “Having backed Itamar and Gerald’s previous startup, Peak, which successfully exited in 2016, we knew how strong their ability to execute in consumer mobile was. And as they were combining with Julien’s expertise in cryptography, we knew this was the right team to drive consumer adoption at scale”.

Ari Helgason, Index Ventures, says, “Argent has developed a critical piece of infrastructure that paves the way for mainstream adoption of blockchain applications. The team’s technology breakthrough allows users to overcome the tradeoff between security and ease of use that has characterized wallets until now.”

Engineer.ai raises $29.5M Series A for its AI+Humans software building platform

SF-based Engineer.ai launched in an invite-only manner two and a half years ago, bootstrapped by its founders. Its platform combines AI with crowdsourced teams of designers and developers to build bespoke digital products at – they say – twice the speed and less than a third of the cost of traditional software development.

Today it’s announced at Web Summit that its raised one of Europe’s largest Series A investments at $29.5 million, led by Lakestar and Jungle Ventures with participation from Softbank’s DeepCore. The round is among Europe’s largest A-rounds to date.

Engineer.ai’s “Builder” product breaks projects into small ‘building blocks’ of re-usable features that are customized by human engineers all over the world, making the process cheaper than the average process.

Sachin Dev Duggal, founder, said in a statement: “We created Engineer.ai so that everyone can build an idea without learning to code. This investment round validates our approach of making bespoke software effortless. The capital comes at a time of rapid growth and will propel the platform into the mainstream, allowing Builder to open the door for entire categories of companies that could not consider it before.”

Dev Duggal added: “At a certain level we compete with Gigster albeit we have really taken a very different approach (assembly line and buying excess capacity from over 100 Dev shops in 10 timezones) whereas they are a modern day consulting shop. This means we have massive scale with access to 32,000 devs and designers, we have over 500 building blocks that save our customers paying for features (code and designs) that we have already done. The dev shops thus also don’t compete with us as we buy capacity from them and will soon be offering them a way to partner on goto market.”

Amit Anand, Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Jungle Ventures said: “We’re believers in Engineer.ai’s total ecosystem; making Bespoke Software like the iPhone with aftercare and a marketplace for all recurring services.”

Launched in June 2018, Engineer.ai has been used to create products like BBC, DiditFor, Manscore, and ZikTruck.

Here are 25 of the most innovative new projects using tech to help refugees and NGOs

From humble beginnings as a simple Facebook group I posted in September 2015, Techfugees has come a long way. It was conceived as a vehicle to enthuse technologists about the plight of refugees by waking them up to the idea that their innovation, startup mentality and design-led thinking could potentially bring new, scalable new solutions to the plight of displaced people. Today, Techfugees is an international non-profit with its own CEO, Joséphine Goube and a team based between London and Paris. Not bad for a handful of posts on social media…

What’s fascinating about the project as it’s developed is that, at the time, it was considered quite radical, perhaps even odd, to bring tech people into the equation. But simply watching the footage of refugees clutching smartphones as they fled war-torn regions and natural disasters made the tech world realize it can be part of the solution to many of the seemingly intractable problems refugees face.

Techfugees has grown into a community of around 18,000 innovators all over the world, supporting by way of their own projects or companies, via social media and taking part in hundreds of dedicated events around the world. This includes more than 30 hackathons and an annual Global Summit, the second of which happened over the last two days in Paris. The Summit had over 500 participants, such as social entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, humanitarians, policymakers, researchers or impact investors, a large number of whom who have a refugee background. Speakers discussed and debate the different uses of technology for displaced people during the time of migration until arrival to their new host societies.

The impact of climate change will cause the migration of 143 million people by 2050

This year’s program looked at four main topics: Access to Rights and Information; Data Ethics; Social Inclusion; and Climate Migration. The last issue is now of even greater urgency in 2018. According to a study by the World Bank published earlier this year, the impact of climate change will cause the migration of 143 million people by 2050, bringing with it looming humanitarian challenges.

Just like at your typical tech startup conference, Techfugees has a similar programme: The Techfugees Global Challenges Competition. This showcases projects responding to the needs of displaced populations and building technological products or services for them, based on Techfugees’ 8 guiding principles and addressing one of Techfugees’ five focus area: access to rights and information, health, education, employment and social inclusion. The applications went through an international Jury of experts who selected the 25 finalists from hundreds of applications, from 52 countries across the world, which pitched their project in front of an international Jury and Summit attendees.

The 5 winners (described in their own words) were:

Integreat (Germany)

“Integreat is an information app and website tailored to the specific needs of both newcomers as the users of the app and municipal administrations as the content providers. It’s a mobile guide for newcomers. Multilingual. Offline. Free. Can we provide the people arriving in our city with all relevant information in their native language as quickly as possible? Even without internet access and without confusing red tape? The result is an app called Integreat which passes on all relevant information in multiple languages to the newcomers. It is a holistic service ecosystem for cities, districts and organizations for the integration of people with a flight or migration background.”

Shifra
Australia / USA
“Shifra is not only a life-saving mHealth intervention, it is also a research project which aims to explore the social, cultural and geographic barriers to quality healthcare access many refugees experience, as cited by the refugees themselves. The Shifra web app is designed to improve access to quality sexual and reproductive health care. It provides local, evidence-based health information in multiple languages for communities with varying levels of language and health literacy. Shifra also directs users to trusted clinics where they can access respectful and safe care. We work with local health networks to improve their existing services based on the self-identified health needs found in Shifra’s anonymous user trend data.”

Antura and the Letters
(Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt)
“Antura and the Letters is an engaging mobile game that helps Syrian children learn how to read in Arabic and improve their psychosocial well-being. Considering that most refugees have old smartphones and connectivity is always a challenge for them, the game runs on old devices (from 2010/2011), it’s very small to download (less than 80Mb on Android) and it does not require internet connection. Antura and the Letters is completely free and open source… and it has been designed in order to be easily adaptable to other languages! That’s exactly what we want to do next with the goal to reach and help as many children as possible around the world.”

TaQadam
(Lebanon)
“In the era of machine learning and artificial intelligence, the data workers and annotators are the new programmers. From robots, drones, self-driving cars or e-commerce, the markets need for vision technology for artificial intelligence is extraordinary. One of the major building blocks of such AI-powered recognition systems is image annotation delivered with a human input – data training. Today’s data is driving tomorrow’s AI products. To be competitive in AI, innovation depends on having data-edge often more than a technology-edge, but 80% of data engineers’ time is spent on sourcing and preparing quality image data for AI models. TaQadam optimizes image annotation for data-driven companies with visual AI and delivers on-demand, vertical-specific, high-quality image annotation. With an API and a cloud architecture, we ensure a simple and secure way to build image data set with a high accuracy and precision, while simplifying the process of sourcing human insights from dedicated and trained teams of TaQadam. TaQadam is a unique service on the market that brings a specialized on use case teams that are building AI together with the client. With gamification and mobile accessible work on TaQadam Android App, we transform the experience of annotation to fit the younger generations. We create work of the future: accessible, flexible, allowing fluidity, community building and fun.”

Refugees Are
(Worldwide)
“Refugees Are map the public opinion around refugees in the news by:
1- Extracting daily news related to refugees from GDELT (open source news dataset)
2- Extracting location from the article
3- Applying sentiment analysis to classify it as positive, negative or neutral article
4- Extracting topics related to refugees using LSA (Latent Semantic Analysis)
5- Extracting most common words occurring with refugees
6- Visualizing it in an easy way for the public to understand
7- Let the public help identify negative news around refugees”


And finally The Mohajer App won a special jury prize for its outstanding work assisting Afghan refugees in Iran in incredibly difficult circumstances:

The Mohajer App
Android / IOS
Iran, US, Canada and UK
“The Mohajer App was created with the support of Afghan communities inside Iran to address their needs. The app was completed with a group of paid and voluntary refugee-rights attorneys, advocates and technologists. Mohajer has two features: – The “Get Informed” section provides information for users concerning Iran’s immigration policy, the rights of Afghans in Iran, and resources that are available for concerns such as health, education, combatting from discrimination and more; the list continues to expand as users share their needs. The section also provides a list of support groups that our team has verified directly. The “Submit Report” feature enables users to share their everyday experiences as Afghans in Iran and support the larger community in addressing challenges by sharing information on events and experiences. The information on the app is also accessible offline, so as to support those without regular internet access.”

Here’s a run down of the rest of the 25 that pitched, in their own words:

Challenge #1 – Access to rights & information

TikkTalk (Norway)
“Tikk Talk is an open marketplace for interpretation services for everyone who is in need for interpretation assistance. So far the platform handles 80% of all assignments automatically, limiting the overhead costs which traditional agencies have. The platform also gives all parties full transparency which empowers them to make better decisions. Because of the tech, interpreters are in the forefront deciding on their wage and which assignments they would like to take. Before, Helse Førde (Hospital partner) switched to TikkTalk they only received 24% qualified interpreters now they receive 99% qualified interpreters.”

Refugee Info Bus
(United Kingdom, France, Greece)

“Refugee Info Bus’s mission is simple. Operating at the frontlines of Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis, we provide good quality multilingual legal information and free Wifi to refugees on the move in, or having just arrived, in Northern France and in Greece. Our first Refugee Info Bus began life as an old horsebox, purchased, stripped-out, cleaned-up, and converted into a mobile office and Wi-Fi hotspot for refugees and asylum seekers living in northern France. Within a year, we facilitated over 91,000 Wi-Fi logins and delivered more than 1,000 workshops to 50,000+ individuals on the UK and French asylum systems.”

Refugee.Info
(Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia

“In mid-2016, Refugee.Info pivoted to focus on social media to better serve the needs and preferences of users, which had drastically changed after borders closed in Europe in March of that year. Refugee.info hired local journalists to obtain and verify news and other up-to-date information about the context, as well as content professionals to optimize the information for social media, applying private sector content marketing principles to increase ROI. Now, refugees in Greece, Italy and the Balkans can message the page and receive a quick answer from a moderator who will work with the journalists and lawyers to provide accurate information, often sourced from their website or blog.”

Challenge #2 – Health

Connect 2 Drs
Mexico
The platform of Connect2Drs was initially built to strive the private sector as a target market, and it still is. However, with the injustice and lack of a good health insurance for mexicans – deported or refugees – people with disabilities and people who need medical attention at home with palliatives became their main goal.

Doctor-X
Jordan
“Doctor-X is a multi-language medical history mobile application and website with, for each refugee, a private account that the doctor can update when he does an operation on the refugee, in the language the doctor speaks. The program will make it available in 5 languages in case the refugee goes to a new country and needs medical help.”

Iryo
Jordan
“Until now, medical workers in camps used Excel spreadsheets to make notes about patients. On top of that, medical workforce turnover is high, bringing additional confusion and inconsistency to Excel records. Iryo enables accurate medical history recording. Because data storage is decentralized with a copy on a local server, a second one on the patients mobile phone and a third one in the Iryo cloud, even if a patient arrives at a new refugee camp where the Iryo system is already in place, the doctor there will be able to access the patient’s record.”

MedShr
UK/Worldwide
“MedShr has been developed to enable doctors and healthcare professionals to share and discuss clinical cases for peer-to-peer learning and medical education. It is a private, professional, verified network for clinical case discussion between medical professionals. No patient information is visible, all cases are anonymous and members can use the mobile app to get consent from patients to share images. Beyond that, all images and media are securely cloud stored with no images stored on the user’s device. Importantly, MedShr members are also able determine who can see and discuss their cases.”

Challenge #3 – Education

edSeed
(United States, Gaza, Lebanon)
“Edseed is about narrating stories of youth and bringing them closer to donors in the USA; participating in networking; and building a network for higher education of refugees to address policy issues, mentor students.”

Paper Airplanes
(United States / Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, KSA, Egypt, Iraq, Palestine)
“Paper Airplanes (PA) is a nonprofit that uses video conferencing technology to provide free, peer-to-peer language and professional skills instruction to young adults and teens affected by conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. PA works to support these individuals to pursue their educational and employment goals and ultimately rebuild their lives. PA teaches English and Turkish to youth and adults, journalism to citizen journalists, and beginners’ coding skills to women. By using virtual communication technology to provide live instruction, PA is able to reach internally displaced and refugee youth as well as underserved populations who may be otherwise difficult to reach, including those inside Syria (approximately 50% of our students), young women and girls, and individuals in rural areas across the MENA region. Additionally, PA supplies computer tablets for select Youth Exchange Program participant recipients and scholarships to defray the cost of the IELTS and TOEFL exams for qualified PA graduates.”

Power.Coders
(Switzerland)
“Powercoders’ solution is to offer intensive computer programming classes to refugees over a three month period and then place them in an IT internship. As a result of the comprehensive training and subsequent placement, within a little less than a year our refugee graduates are exponentially better positioned to find and keep an IT job in Switzerland, and many do just that. The program is fully customized to address the challenges and issues that refugees may face when trying to integrate professionally and the courses enjoy an almost 100% internship placement success rate and subsequent 80% integration rate.”

RefgueeEd.Hub
(Greece)
RefugeeEd.Hub is an open source online database that promotes promising practice in refugee education globally. RefugeeEd.Hub aims to raise the quality of education for refugees and displaced people by generating knowledge and fostering collaboration among global and local stakeholders working to provide education to refugees. RefugeeEd.Hub will support education innovators, multilateral institutions, global development actors, education funders and government and policymakers to inform practice on the ground.

Challenge #4 – Employment
Bitae Technologies
(United States, Jordan)

“Bitae Technologies aims to help global, mobile talent, like refugees and migrants, carry their skills and experience with them in a secure, verified digital CV, addressing the lack of access to formal education and employment faced by refugees and other vulnerable populations. Bitae transforms non-formal learning and achievements into opportunities for refugees. We provide a platform to track, store and verify refugees’ non-formal learning and skills, creating a “digital backpack” of classes, workshops, internships and skills that together, can help a refugee move forward with education and employment. Bitae leverages mobile and blockchain technology to ensure that governments, international organizations, NGOs, educational institutions and employers are able to document non-formal learning and skills in the most inclusive, secure and transparent way. The Digital Backpack focuses on four key functions: creating badges and verifying skills, requesting and sending references, skills matching and skills assessment. Using existing tools, the platform makes it possible to create blockchain-backed credential badges that can be stored and shared.”

Human in the loop
Bulgaria – 2017
“Human in the Loop is a social enterprise which employs and trains refugees to provide image annotation services to computer vision companies. It is a niche market that currently requires manual human input in order to train ML models to recognize images in a way that a human would, and Human in the Loop is part of a growing community of “impact sourcing” enterprises that is dedicated to providing employment to vulnerable groups in this sector. The opportunity they are seizing is that image annotation is a very accessible type of labor that does not require previous education or professional skills, but which can open the door to more advanced tech jobs and freelancing skills, which are especially useful for migrants. In this way, they are empowering refugees to earn a living in a dignified way and gain skills, and they are turning them in “digital nomads” who are able to make use of the opportunities that remote digital work provides to people who are on the move. Human in the Loop works as an outsourcing business with B2B sales. Their clients are companies from the computer vision, self-driving cars, drones, and satellite imager industry, which are training machine learning models.”

Rafiqi
(United Kingdom, Germany, Jordan)
“Rafiqi is a matching tool that leverages artificial intelligence to connect refugees in real-time and in a customized way to the opportunities that are the most suitable to his/her profile and that would lead to lifelong employment. Currently, there is no single platform where resettled refugees can access and filter the wide range of opportunities available to them, including jobs, trainings, mentorships and degrees, and where any organization (company/NGO/university) can seamlessly access and filter refugee talent. Refugees lack of knowledge of opportunities and of the right opportunities is resulting in them being unemployed or being overqualified for what they are actually doing. Despite the existence of some refugee to jobs matching programs supported by governments and NGOs in countries like Germany and the Netherlands, these matchings remain largely manual and limited in terms of intelligence. These matching efforts cannot scale well given the high number of refugees and the diversity of their profiles, as well as the diversity of opportunities available to them.”

Transformify Rebuild Lives Program
(Worldwide / EU, Iraq)
“The Rebuild Lives Program by Transformify exists to provide access to jobs and secure payment to displaced people as well as access to targeted eLearning to improve their skills by using recruitment CRM leveraging HR-tech, fintech and AI to connect refugees with employers and provide access to secure payment even if the refugees have no permanent address or a bank account.”

Challenge #5 – Social inclusion

PLACE
(France, Germany, United Kingdom)
“PLACE runs Innovation Labs for migrants and refugees in Europe. These labs transform the people from migrants and refugees into Innovators – creators of solutions for European societies. The labs are 1 to 3-day immersive experiences that apply design thinking methodology to enable Innovators to identify problems, understand their users, develop solutions and then rapidly test and prototype these solutions with a diverse community of local stakeholders. Beyond the Labs, the Innovators have the opportunity to develop their projects through the network of the PLACE collective – actors in the private, public and civil society that see the value of diversity in migrant-led innovation and who want to be a part of it. In addition to innovative solutions, the labs also produce a new leadership model for Europe. Innovators who demonstrate motivation and willingness to take on a role as a leader in migrant-led innovation are trained to be PLACE Catalysts. The Catalysts are trained in interculturality, sourcing, public speaking, networking and lab facilitation. They are then given the opportunity to apply these learnings as facilitators in Labs throughout Europe.”

Register of Pledges
(Ireland)
“The Register of Pledges project workstream are: Humanitarian Database of Pledges (Accommodation, Goods and Services) administered by Red Cross with back-office capabilities for pledge management and workflow and reporting capabilities; Open-source version of the technology is available on Github, a humanitarian data capture system with APIs and a translation interface; Evolve and open-source our Case Management System, to optimize Service User outcomes.”

SchoolX
(UK/Turkey)
“SchoolX envision a shared economy model with volunteer teachers which include university students, educated refugees, retired teachers and other local volunteers, who will teach refugee students. Due to the challenge of limited access to education that these displaced people face, our solution is to recruit teachers within the refugee community and local community, and connect them with refugee students who are eager to learn. The talents of these teachers are then harnessed to deliver rigorous and certified education to the students. Through this, volunteers, including refugee teachers, will also receive an allowance for their efforts as well. The solution, in a form of an online platform, will provide training packages that involve not only fundamental tenets of teaching, but also pedagogical and psycho-social training for the volunteers to prepare them to approach refugee children in the most appropriate and empowering manner, The online platform will also serve as a database which will be utilized to match teachers and students based on their needs, skills, availability, and geographical proximity in order to arrange flexible, face-to-face lessons.”

SPEAK
(Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany)
SPEAK is a crowdsourced language and culture exchange network, based on an Online2Offline model. All processes are managed online, through a platform developed in-house, while the learning and sharing experience happens offline, allowing participants to establish a close relationship with one another. This model ensures a greater efficiency and minimization of fixed costs, allowing SPEAK to be sustainable at scale while charging only a symbolic fee for its program. SPEAK empowers its participants by expanding their language and cultural skills, all the while becoming part of mutual support networks. Through a language and culture exchange, SPEAK connects migrants, refugees and locals living in the same city. In creating bridges between migrants and locals, members often help each other with job offers or renting their first house in a new city thanks to the power of SPEAK communities. These networks are home to a multicultural community, based on equality and where cultural heritage is validated. In other words, SPEAK’s networks nurture unity in diversity.
SPEAK’s volunteer Buddy system empowers anyone with the willingness to share their language and culture, allowing for an “everyone a changemaker” attitude, which encourages an even greater participation in local public life. he sustainability of the initiative relies on the community and willingness to promote SPEAK’s values of an integrated and inclusive society.”

New ‘Dark Ads’ pro-Brexit Facebook campaign may have reached over 10M people, say researchers

A major new campaign of disinformation around Brexit, designed to stir up U.K. ‘Leave’ voters, and distributed via Facebook, may have reached over 10 million people in the U.K., according to new research. The source of the campaign is so far unknown, and will be embarrassing to Facebook, which only this week claimed it was clamping down on “dark” political advertising on its platform.

Researchers for the U.K.-based digital agency 89up allege that Mainstream Network — which looks and reads like a “mainstream” news site but which has no contact details or reporter bylines — is serving hyper-targeted Facebook advertisements aimed at exhorting people in Leave-voting U.K. constituencies to tell their MP to “chuck Chequers.” Chequers is the name given to the U.K. Prime Ministers’s proposed deal with the EU regarding the U.K.’s departure from the EU next year.

89up says it estimates that Mainstream Network, which routinely puts out pro-Brexit “news,” could have spent more than £250,000 on pro-Brexit or anti-Chequers advertising on Facebook in less than a year. The agency calculates that with that level of advertising, the messaging would have been seen by 11 million people. TechCrunch has independently confirmed that Mainstream Network’s domain name was registered in November last year, and began publishing in February of this year.

In evidence given to Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee today, 89up says the website was running dozens of adverts targeted at Facebook users in specific constituencies, suggesting users “Click to tell your local MP to bin Chequers,” along with an image from the constituency, and an email function to drive people to send their MP an anti-Chequers message. This email function carbon-copied an [email protected] email address. This would be a breach of the U.K.’s data protection rules, as the website is not listed as a data controller, says 89up.

The news comes a day after Facebook announced a new clampdown on political advertisement on its platform, and will put further pressure on the social media giant to look again at how it deals with the so-called “dark advertising” its Custom Audiences campaign tools are often accused of spreading.

89up claims Mainstream Network website could be in breach of new GDPR rules because, while collecting users’ data, it does not have a published privacy policy, or contain any contact information whatsoever on the site or the campaigns it runs on Facebook.

The agency says that once users are taken to the respective localized landing pages from ads, they are asked to email their MP. When a user does this, its default email client opens up an email and puts its own email in the BCC field (see below). It is possible, therefore, that the user’s email address is being stored and later used for marketing purposes by Mainstream Network.

TechCrunch has reached out to Mainstream Network for comment on Twitter and email. A WhoIs look-up revealed no information about the owner of the site.

TechCrunch’s own research into the domain reveals that the domain owner has made every possible attempt to remain anonymous. Even before GDPR came in, the domain owners had paid to hide its ownership on GoDaddy, where it is registered. The site is using standard GoDaddy shared hosting to blend in with 400+ websites using the same IP address.

Commenting, Damian Collins MP, the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the U.K. House of Commons, said: “We do not know who is funding the Mainstream Network, or who is behind its operations, but we can see that they are directing a large scale advertising campaign on Facebook designed to get people to lobby their MP to oppose the Prime Ministers’s Brexit strategy. I have been sent a series of emails from constituents as a result of these adverts, in a deliberate attempt to alter the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.”

“The issue for parliamentarians is we have no idea who is targeting whom via political advertising on Facebook, who is paying for it, and what the purpose of that communication is. Facebook claimed this week that it was working to make political advertising on their platform more transparent, but once again we see potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds being spent to influence the political process and no one knows who is behind this.”

Mike Harris, CEO of 89up said: “A day after Facebook announced it will no longer be taking ‘dark ads’, we see once again evidence of the huge problem the platform is yet to face up to. Facebook has known since the EU referendum that highly targeted political advertising was being placed on its platform by anonymous groups, yet has failed to do anything about it. We have found evidence of yet another anonymous pro-Brexit campaign placing potentially a quarter of a million pounds worth of advertising, without anyone knowing or being able to find out who they are.”

Josh Feldberg, 89up researcher, said: “We have no idea who is funding this campaign. Only Facebook do. For all we know this could be funded by thousands of pounds of foreign money. This case just goes to show that despite Facebook’s claims they’re fighting fake news, anonymous groups are still out there trying to manipulate MPs and public opinion using the platform. It is possible there has been unlawful data collection. Facebook must tell the public who is behind this group.”

TechCrunch has reached out to both Facebook and Mainstream Network for comment prior to publication and will update this post if either respond to the allegations.

Unifonic, dubbed the Twilio of emerging markets, closes $21M Series A round

Those of you familiar with the incredible rise of Twilio, which came along to utterly disrupt the communications world, will be interested to hear that another player plans to do the same, but this time in the staid and tricky area of emerging markets.

Unifonic, which has been dubbed “the Twilio of emerging markets” has today closed a $21M Series A funding round led by Saudi Technology Ventures (STV), and the emerging market specialist fund Endeavor Catalyst, which is backed by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, among others. Other participants include RTF ELM, and Raed Ventures.

At $500M, STV is the largest VC fund in the region, and anchored by the Saudi Telecom Company (STC), the largest telecom company in the Middle East. Former Googler turned VC Abdulrahman Tarabzouni lead this round.

As far as we can tell, the is the largest Series A funding in the history of the Middle East technology sector. Appropriately, it shows the sheer growth in the region and comes on the heels of our recent and highly successful TechCrunch Startup Battlefield MENA in Beirut, as well as the Series C round announced by the “Uber for Doctors” in MENA Vezeeta’s Series C.

The capital will be used by Unifonic to scale the company across the MENA region and globally, and invest in the platform.

Unifonic is similar to Twilio in that it is a B2B cloud communications platform, a space that is sometimes called Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS).
With 100+ employees spread across nine regional offices, and over 5,000 B2B clients, many of whom are giants in the MENA region, such as Souq.com, Aramex, Al Jazeera, HSBC, Uber, FedEx, Carrefour and others, they are the MENA region’s clear No.1 in this arena.

Started by two brothers – Hassan and Ahmed Hamdan, they were funded 5 years ago by Endeavor since July 2013. They now regularly compete against their European counterpart, MessageBird, which recently raised $60M (led by Accel and Atomico), and their US benchmark, Twilio.

Hassan told me: “Unifonic’s competition in emerging markets are small players that operate in a single country not cross the region like Unifonic. The product suite is designed for both the non-tech-savvy with last-mile tools already built to plug and play, localized to telecom infrastructure, hosted on multiple clouds, geographically in the region, to increase reliability and minimize latency so transactions are processed in milliseconds.”

In a joint statement Reid Hoffman, Linkedin co-founder and chairman of Endeavor Catalyst and Linda Rottenberg, Endeavor’s Co-founder and CEO said: “Endeavor selects and connects the most promising global companies and entrepreneurs with experienced business advisors to help drive growth and economic development around the world. The founders of Unifonic were selected as high-impact Endeavor Entrepreneurs in 2013, and we are thrilled to announce the Endeavor Catalyst fund is now investing in Unifonic alongside STV as the company continues scaling up.”

Why should you care?

Well, this comes on the heels of the first tech wave in the MENA region (culminating in Amazon’s acquisition of e-commerce player Souq.com last year, and large funding rounds for ride-hailing leader, Careem), this funding represents that Middle East investors are now starting to bet on B2B. It’s also STV’s 3rd publicly announced investment, as they previously invested co-led Careem’s Series D in December 2016 and last month led Vezeeta’s Series B.

As I wrote last year, Middle East startups are growing fast, and that’s even before the flying taxis arrive.

European late-stage FinTech startups get a boost with new Corviglia fund

In a boost to late-stage funding for FinTech startups looking to scale-up without having to leave Europe, what claims to be the largest growth equity fund for Fintech in Europe launches today.

The Corviglia Capital Fund will be deployed from Luxembourg and has secured $250M as a first closing for its first three years of operations, with the aim being to raise a total of $500M.

The fund has been started by two former fund managers Petr Šmída and Cezary Smorszczewski, and is a geographically agnostic, long-term investor in late-stage fintech companies. It will make minority investments with tickets ranging from $10M to $50M.

Šmída said banking and financial services are being disrupted by FinTech startups, so they “decided to set up Corviglia Capital Fund to find those very entrepreneurs and invest in their growth.”

Šmída previously co-founded ENERN, an Eastern European/DACH venture capital firm which has invested in 20 tech companies via three different funds since its founding. Prior to that, he worked in banking. Smorszczewski has previously held senior positions at a number of major Polish banks.