NLPCloud.io helps devs add language processing smarts to their apps

While visual ‘no code‘ tools are helping businesses get more out of computing without the need for armies of in-house techies to configure software on behalf of other staff, access to the most powerful tech tools — at the ‘deep tech’ AI coal face — still requires some expert help (and/or costly in-house expertise).

This is where bootstrapping French startup, NLPCloud.io, is plying a trade in MLOps/AIOps — or ‘compute platform as a service’ (being as it runs the queries on its own servers) — with a focus on natural language processing (NLP), as its name suggests.

Developments in artificial intelligence have, in recent years, led to impressive advances in the field of NLP — a technology that can help businesses scale their capacity to intelligently grapple with all sorts of communications by automating tasks like Named Entity Recognition, sentiment-analysis, text classification, summarization, question answering, and Part-Of-Speech tagging, freeing up (human) staff to focus on more complex/nuanced work. (Although it’s worth emphasizing that the bulk of NLP research has focused on the English language — meaning that’s where this tech is most mature; so associated AI advances are not universally distributed.)

Production ready (pre-trained) NLP models for English are readily available ‘out of the box’. There are also dedicated open source frameworks offering help with training models. But businesses wanting to tap into NLP still need to have the DevOps resource and chops to implement NLP models.

NLPCloud.io is catering to businesses that don’t feel up to the implementation challenge themselves — offering “production-ready NLP API” with the promise of “no DevOps required”.

Its API is based on Hugging Face and spaCy open-source models. Customers can either choose to use ready-to-use pre-trained models (it selects the “best” open source models; it does not build its own); or they can upload custom models developed internally by their own data scientists — which it says is a point of differentiation vs SaaS services such as Google Natural Language (which uses Google’s ML models) or Amazon Comprehend and Monkey Learn.

NLPCloud.io says it wants to democratize NLP by helping developers and data scientists deliver these projects “in no time and at a fair price”. (It has a tiered pricing model based on requests per minute, which starts at $39pm and ranges up to $1,199pm, at the enterprise end, for one custom model running on a GPU. It does also offer a free tier so users can test models at low request velocity without incurring a charge.)

“The idea came from the fact that, as a software engineer, I saw many AI projects fail because of the deployment to production phase,” says sole founder and CTO Julien Salinas. “Companies often focus on building accurate and fast AI models but today more and more excellent open-source models are available and are doing an excellent job… so the toughest challenge now is being able to efficiently use these models in production. It takes AI skills, DevOps skills, programming skill… which is why it’s a challenge for so many companies, and which is why I decided to launch NLPCloud.io.”

The platform launched in January 2021 and now has around 500 users, including 30 who are paying for the service. While the startup, which is based in Grenoble, in the French Alps, is a team of three for now, plus a couple of independent contractors. (Salinas says he plans to hire five people by the end of the year.)

“Most of our users are tech startups but we also start having a couple of bigger companies,” he tells TechCrunch. “The biggest demand I’m seeing is both from software engineers and data scientists. Sometimes it’s from teams who have data science skills but don’t have DevOps skills (or don’t want to spend time on this). Sometimes it’s from tech teams who want to leverage NLP out-of-the-box without hiring a whole data science team.”

“We have very diverse customers, from solo startup founders to bigger companies like BBVA, Mintel, Senuto… in all sorts of sectors (banking, public relations, market research),” he adds.

Use cases of its customers include lead generation from unstructured text (such as web pages), via named entities extraction; and sorting support tickets based on urgency by conducting sentiment analysis.

Content marketers are also using its platform for headline generation (via summarization). While text classification capabilities are being used for economic intelligence and financial data extraction, per Salinas.

He says his own experience as a CTO and software engineer working on NLP projects at a number of tech companies led him to spot an opportunity in the challenge of AI implementation.

“I realized that it was quite easy to build acceptable NLP models thanks to great open-source frameworks like spaCy and Hugging Face Transformers but then I found it quite hard to use these models in production,” he explains. “It takes programming skills in order to develop an API, strong DevOps skills in order to build a robust and fast infrastructure to serve NLP models (AI models in general consume a lot of resources), and also data science skills of course.

“I tried to look for ready-to-use cloud solutions in order to save weeks of work but I couldn’t find anything satisfactory. My intuition was that such a platform would help tech teams save a lot of time, sometimes months of work for the teams who don’t have strong DevOps profiles.”

“NLP has been around for decades but until recently it took whole teams of data scientists to build acceptable NLP models. For a couple of years, we’ve made amazing progress in terms of accuracy and speed of the NLP models. More and more experts who have been working in the NLP field for decades agree that NLP is becoming a ‘commodity’,” he goes on. “Frameworks like spaCy make it extremely simple for developers to leverage NLP models without having advanced data science knowledge. And Hugging Face’s open-source repository for NLP models is also a great step in this direction.

“But having these models run in production is still hard, and maybe even harder than before as these brand new models are very demanding in terms of resources.”

The models NLPCloud.io offers are picked for performance — where “best” means it has “the best compromise between accuracy and speed”. Salinas also says they are paying mind to context, given NLP can be used for diverse user cases — hence proposing number of models so as to be able to adapt to a given use.

“Initially we started with models dedicated to entities extraction only but most of our first customers also asked for other use cases too, so we started adding other models,” he notes, adding that they will continue to add more models from the two chosen frameworks — “in order to cover more use cases, and more languages”.

SpaCy and Hugging Face, meanwhile, were chosen to be the source for the models offered via its API based on their track record as companies, the NLP libraries they offer and their focus on production-ready framework — with the combination allowing NLPCloud.io to offer a selection of models that are fast and accurate, working within the bounds of respective trade-offs, according to Salinas.

“SpaCy is developed by a solid company in Germany called Explosion.ai. This library has become one of the most used NLP libraries among companies who want to leverage NLP in production ‘for real’ (as opposed to academic research only). The reason is that it is very fast, has great accuracy in most scenarios, and is an opinionated” framework which makes it very simple to use by non-data scientists (the tradeoff is that it gives less customization possibilities),” he says.

Hugging Face is an even more solid company that recently raised $40M for a good reason: They created a disruptive NLP library called ‘transformers’ that improves a lot the accuracy of NLP models (the tradeoff is that it is very resource intensive though). It gives the opportunity to cover more use cases like sentiment analysis, classification, summarization… In addition to that, they created an open-source repository where it is easy to select the best model you need for your use case.”

While AI is advancing at a clip within certain tracks — such as NLP for English — there are still caveats and potential pitfalls attached to automating language processing and analysis, with the risk of getting stuff wrong or worse. AI models trained on human-generated data have, for example, been shown reflecting embedded biases and prejudices of the people who produced the underlying data.

Salinas agrees NLP can sometimes face “concerning bias issues”, such as racism and misogyny. But he expresses confidence in the models they’ve selected.

“Most of the time it seems [bias in NLP] is due to the underlying data used to trained the models. It shows we should be more careful about the origin of this data,” he says. “In my opinion the best solution in order to mitigate this is that the community of NLP users should actively report something inappropriate when using a specific model so that this model can be paused and fixed.”

“Even if we doubt that such a bias exists in the models we’re proposing, we do encourage our users to report such problems to us so we can take measures,” he adds.

 

IBM brings its Quantum System One to the Cleveland Clinic

IBM has installed a couple of its own Quantum System One machines across the world in recent years, but today it announced its first private-sector U.S. deployment thanks to a new ten-year partnership with the Cleveland Clinic. This not only marks IBM’s first U.S. install of one of its quantum computers outside of its own facilities, but also the first time a healthcare institute purchases and houses a quantum computer. And thanks to this deal, Cleveland will also get access to IBM’s upcoming next-gen 1,000+ qubit quantum system.

We’re still in the very early days of commercializing quantum computing and for most current users, having access to a system over the cloud is sufficient for the experiments they are running. But increasingly, we are seeing research institutes and even some commercial users who are looking to install on-premises quantum computers to have full access to a dedicated machine.

This new deal is part of a larger partnership between IBM and the Cleveland Clinic, which also involves IBM’s hybrid cloud portfolio for high-performance computing and its AI tools. The partnership also forms the foundation of Cleveland Clinic’s new Center for Pathogen Research & Human Health, which is supported by $500 million in investments from the State of Ohio, Jobs Ohio and Cleveland Clinic.

“What we’re announcing here is the first — I’m going to call them private sector or nonprofit — but still, it’s the first sort of non-government organization that is going to have not only fully dedicated systems, but what is really, really remarkable is our commitment for the decades,” Dario Gil, IBM’s SVP and Director of IBM Research, told me. “In a way, they are partnering with us for the entire roadmap. So it’s not only taking receipt and getting access to a fleet of quantum computers and the next-generation quantum computer for next year. They’re also the first ones who are signing up and says, ‘I want the first 1,000+ qubit system.”

He noted that it takes a very forward-looking organization to invest heavily in quantum computing today. It’s one thing for a nation-state to start working with this nascent technology, given the potential it has in a wide variety of fields, but it’s another for a non-profit to make a similar bet. “The level of ambition is really, really high on their end because they’re thinking about the future,” Gil said of the Cleveland Clinic’s leadership.

Gil noted that as part of the overall deal, Cleveland Clinic’s researchers will also get access to IBM’s entire quantum portfolio in the cloud. IBM will maintain and support the on-premises quantum computer and they will remain IBM-owned machines, similar to its deals with government research labs in Japan and Germany, he explained.

“Maintaining it and supporting it is really critical,” Gil said about why that’s the case. “And they need us and our expertise to be able to do that. And also, you know, we do it because it’s like one of the most sensitive technologies that we have in IBM. So we are exquisitely focused on maintaining the security and safety for the machines.”

As part of the overall deal, IBM and Cleveland Clinic will also work on building skills among Cleveland Clinic’s researchers in quantum computing, but also AI and high-performance computing.

“Through this innovative collaboration, we have a unique opportunity to bring the future to life,” said Tom Mihaljevic, M.D., President and CEO of Cleveland Clinic. “These new computing technologies will revolutionize discovery in the life sciences and ultimately improve people’s lives. The Discovery Accelerator will enable our renowned teams to build a forward-looking digital infrastructure and transform medicine, while training the workforce of the future and growing our economy.”

Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt receives a $14 billion order from VW

Northvolt, the Swedish battery manufacturer which raised $1 billion in financing from investors led by Goldman Sachs and Volkswagen back in 2019, has signed a massive $14 billion battery order with VW for the next 10 years.

The big buy clears up some questions about where Volkswagen will be getting the batteries for its huge push into electric vehicles, which will see the automaker reach production capacity of 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2025.

The deal will not only see Northvolt become the strategic lead supplier for battery cells for Volkswagen Group in Europe, but will also involve the German automaker increasing its equity ownership of Northvolt.

As part of the partnership agreement, Northvolt’s gigafactory in Sweden will be expanded and Northvolt agreed to sell its joint venture share in Salzgitter, Germany to Volkswagen as the car maker looks to build up its battery manufacturing efforts across Europe, the companies said.

The agreement between Northvolt and VW brings the Swedish battery maker’s total contracts to $27 billion in the two years since it raised its big $1 billion cash haul.

“Volkswagen is a key investor, customer and partner on the journey ahead and we will continue to work hard with the goal of providing them with the greenest battery on the planet as they rapidly expand their fleet of electric vehicles,” said Peter Carlsson, the co-founder and chief executive of Northvolt, in a statement.

Northvolt’s other partners and customers include ABB, BMW Group, Scania, Siemens, Vattenfall, and Vestas. Together these firms comprise some of the largest manufacturers in Europe.

Back in 2019, the company said that its cell manufacturing capacity could hit 16 Gigawatt hours and that it had sold its capacity to the tune of $13 billion through 2030. That means that the Volkswagen deal will eat up a significant portion of expanded product lines.

Founded Carlsson, a former executive at Tesla, Northvolt’s battery business was intended to leapfrog the European Union into direct competition with Asia’s largest battery manufacturers — Samsung, LG Chem, and CATL.

Back when the company first announced its $1 billion investment round, Carlsson had said that Northvolt would need to build up to150 gigawatt hours of capacity to hit targets for. 2030 electric vehicle sales.

The plant in Sweden is expected to hit at least 32 gigawatt hours of production thanks, in part to backing by the Swedish pension fund firms AMF and Folksam and IKEA-linked IMAS Foundation, in addition to the big financial partners Volkswagen and Goldman Sachs.

Northvolt has had a busy few months. Earlier in March the company announced the acquisition of the Silicon Valley-based startup company Cuberg.

That acquisition gave Northvolt a foothold in the U.S. and established the company’s advanced technology center.

The acquisition also gives Northvolt a window into the newest battery chemistry that’s being touted as a savior for the industry — lithium metal batteries.

Cuberg spun out of Stanford University back in 2015 to commercialize what the company called its next-generation battery combining a liquid electrolyte with a lithium metal anode. The company’s customers include Boeing, BETA Technologies, Ampaire, and VoltAero and it was backed by Boeing HorizonX Ventures, Activate.org, the California Energy Commission, the Department of Energy and the TomKat Center at Stanford.

Cuberg’s cells deliver 70 percent increased range and capacity versus comparable lithium ion cells designed for electric aviation applications. The two companies hope that they can apply the technology to Northvolt’s automotive and industrial product portfolio with the ambition to industrialize cells in 2025 that exceed 1,000 Wh/L, while meeting the full spectrum of automotive customer requirements, according to a statement.

“The Cuberg team has shown exceptional ability to develop world-class technology, proven results and an outstanding customer base in a lean and efficient organization,” said Peter Carlsson, CEO and Co-Founder, Northvolt in a statement. “Combining these strengths with the capabilities and technology of Northvolt allows us to make significant improvements in both performance and safety while driving down cost even further for next-generation battery cells. This is critical for accelerating the shift to fully electric vehicles and responding to the needs of the leading automotive companies within a relevant time frame.”

 

SpaceX launches 60 new Starlink satellites just one week after the last batch

SpaceX now has 60 more Starlink satellites in orbit – it launched its latest full complement of the internet broadband spacecraft early this morning from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Just last Thursday, SpaceX launched its last batch of 60, and this past week it also confirmed that it’s expanding its beta of the Starlink internet service to additional markets around the world, including Germany and New Zealand.

This is the 21st Starlink launch overall, and the sixth this year, with as many as three more launches tentatively planned for later this month, weather and schedule permitting. The simple reason it’s pursuing such an aggressive launch pace is that the more satellites it adds to its constellation in low-Earth orbit, the more customers it can sign up and serve. Starlink is currently in beta, but it’s now open to anyone to sign up depending on geography, with SpaceX taking a deposit and offering a rough timeline on projected availability.

So far, Starlink service is open to people in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Germany and New Zealand, but the plan is to achieve “near global coverage of the populated world” by the end of this year. Adding satellites to the constellation not only helps expand geographic reach, but also improves network performance. SpaceX says that currently, the beta should provide speeds ranging from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, with latency falling between 20ms to 40ms, but that both of those metrics should improve over the coming months as more spacecraft join the network, and as SpaceX rolls out additional ground stations.

Already, there are anecdotal reports that Starlink’s service bests the competition in rural and hard-to-reach areas where ground infrastructure for alternative services like cellular internet, or legacy satellite from geosynchronous spacecraft-based networks have been disappointing.

This launch also included a successful controlled landing of the booster used to propel the Falcon 9 rocket that carried the Starlink satellites to orbit. SpaceX landed the first stage, which flew previously on five missions, including SpaceX’s first human spaceflight mission, back at its autonomous drone landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Apple to invest $1.2 billion in silicon design center in Germany

Apple has announced that it plans to increase its corporate spendings in Germany. In particular, the company wants to set up a new facility in Munich, Germany. Called the European Silicon Design Center, the team will focus on 5G and potentially future wireless technologies.

The company said that Munich is already its largest engineering hub in Europe. There are already 1,500 engineers working there. In particular, Apple has been putting together its own team of engineers working on power management chips.

Overall, half of Apple’s engineers working on power management are located in Germany. Since then, Apple’s teams in the country have expanded beyond power management to work on other chip designs.

Now, Apple plans to invest $1.2 billion (€1 billion) over the next three years on a new building and new R&D investments. While Apple is partnering with Qualcomm for the 5G modems in the iPhone 12 lineup, the company has also acquired most of Intel’s smartphone modem business.

In addition to in-house chip development, Apple’s teams also work on integrating third-party hardware with its devices, such as the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch.

The company is also using this announcement to remind everyone that it is investing a lot of money in Germany as a whole. Apple works with many German providers, such as DELO, Infineon and Varta. Overall, Apple has spent $17.8 billion (€15 billion) with 700 German companies over the past five years

Here’s a rendering of the new building in Munich’s Karlstrasse. It should open in late 2022:

Image Credits: Apple

German InsureTech platform Hepster raises $10M Series A led by Element Ventures

Hepster, an insurtech platform from Germany, has raised $10 million in a Series A funding led by Element Ventures. Also participating was Seventure Partners, MBMV, and GPS Ventures, as well as previous investors. The funds will be used to broaden the Hepster insurance ecosystem and scale up its network, with an emphasis on automation.

The German insurance market is famously slow at adopting new practices, and Hepster is part of a new wave of insurtech startups in the country taking advantage of this. It allows businesses to build insurance policies from scratch, matched specifically to the needs of their individual service or industry. E-commerce players, for instance, can then embed these insurance products into the e-commerce journey.

Its products are therefore better suited to the new sector of, for example, shared e-bike schemes and peer-to-peer rental platforms, which are rarely covered by traditional brokers in Germany. However, it also caters to traditional, established industries as well.

It now has more than 700 partners, including European bike retailers and rental companies Greenstorm Mobility and Baron Mobility, as well as Berlin-based cargo bike provider Citkar and Munich e-bike startup SUSHI.

Christian Range, Hepster co-founder and CEO, said in a statement: “Hepster is now a key player within the European insurance market. Our state-of-the-art technology with our API-driven ecosystem, as well as our highly service-oriented approach, sets us apart.” 

In interview, he told me: “Germany is the toughest market with the most regulations, the most laws. We have a saying in Germany if you can make it in Germany, you can make it everywhere. Also, it’s a big market in terms of selling insurance products because Germans really like insurance in every regard. So there is huge market potential in Germany I think.”

Michael McFadgen, partner at Element Ventures, said: “As new industries and business models emerge, companies need much more flexible insurance propositions than what is currently being offered by traditional brokers. Hepster is the breakout company in the space, and their focus on embedded insurance will pay dividends in years to come.”

Amsterdam’s Crisp, an online-only supermarket, raises €30M Series B led by Target Global

Crisp, an Amsterdam-based, online-only supermarket focused on fresh produce, has raised €30 million in a Series B financing led by leading Target Global and joined by Keen Venture Partners and the co-founders of Adyen and Takeaway.com. Crisp has now raised a total of €42.5 million to date. It plans to use the money to expand in the Netherlands, and eventually across Europe.

Crisp says its USP is seasonal products sourced directly from 600+ small and high-quality producers at an affordable price in the Netherlands. Customers order through a smartphone app and deliveries are the next day within a 1-hour time slot. It also uses a 100% electric fleet serving big cities and suburbs, and its model is to have zero food waste.

The European grocery market is currently worth €2 trillion, but access to customers for high-quality, smaller producers is still tricky and blocked by incumbents. Crisp is taking advantage of consumers moving online, and wanting fresher food.

Tom Peeters, CEO and co-founder of Crisp, told my via online interview that “the differentiation on our model is that we offer quality and convenience. So, fish is super fresh fruits and produce is super fresh, etc. We basically stay away from the standard supermarket proposition that everything is always there, and you manage long shelf life. We’d rather build a very short chain sourcing directly at the source and bringing it in a very convenient way to you.”

He said it’s not a 15 minute delivery but the next day in order to ensure freshness. “The typical customer is a young family. An average order is 45 products and rather than offering all the brands, we on-boarded the long-tail of food producers in our digital marketplace, so we sourced from over 600 sources of food.”

He said: “Food in Holland is 40 billion euros, in Germany it is 200 billion. I think Europe combined it’s over two or 3 trillion. So that means basically we don’t need to spread thin over many countries in order to build a healthy business, not just healthy products, so we make money on every customer order.”

Founded in 2018, by serial entrepreneurs Tom Peeters, Michiel Roodenburg and Eric Klaassen Crisp claims to be now one of the fastest-growing supermarkets in the Netherlands, with a seven-fold in sales in 2020 and more than 85% of sales coming from repeat customers, it says.

Bao-Y van Cong, Investment Director at Target Global, headquartered in Berlin, said: “Crisp is building a world-class technology platform that is of value to both consumers and producers. The way we buy our food has not changed a lot since the 1950’s, creating inefficiencies in quality, affordability, and convenience. Crisp reflects the changing relationship that consumers today have with food: The European market for grocery shopping is starting to move online fast, super-accelerated by the pandemic. At the same time, we see a massive surge in demand for fresh and transparently sourced food.”

SpaceTech startup ConstellR, that can monitor land surface temperatures, raises €1M pre-seed round

ConstellR, a SpaceTech startup with a technology that can monitors land surface temperatures from space, has raised a €1m pre-seed round led by FTTF, with the participation of strategic investor OHB Venture Capital, Baden-Württemberg’s state bank L-Bank and an undisclosed investor. The first system is due to go into orbit in December 2021. The company was a finalist for Hottest Ag/FoodTech Startup at the prestigious Europas Awards 2020.

The Freiburg, Germany-based startup monitors the land via a constellation of 30 CubeSats with thermal infrared payloads. The data generated is used by farmers to reduce water and fertilizer usage, and could help them reduce existing monitoring costs by 97%, says the company. ConstellR has a patent-pending miniaturization architecture with ‘free-form optics’ and claims to be able to make it much cheaper to monitor the infrared part of the spectrum than traditional satellite systems.

Dr. Max Gulde, CEO, ConstellR, said: “Our mission is to monitor every single field on the planet every single day of the year and provide precision farming companies with highly accurate temperature data to safeguard the world’s food supply. With our strong financial and technology partners on board, I am looking forward to a time of quantum leaps in our constellation development to change agriculture on the global planetary scale.”

Tobias Schwind, Managing Partner at FTTF, Fraunhofer’s Technology Transfer Fund, said: “ConstellR’s unique technology and business case as well as its passionate team convinced us to make this exciting pre-seed investment.”

Emerging as an Eastern powerhouse, Earlybird Digital East Fund launches new $242M fund

Earlybird Digital East Fund — a fund associated with Germany’s Earlybird VC, but operating separately — has launched a €200m ($242m) successor fund. The fund’s focus will remain the same as before: a Seed and Series-A fund focusing on what’s known as ‘Emerging Europe’, in other words, countries stretching from the Baltics to Central and Eastern Europe, and Turkey. The firm has also promoted Mehmet Atici, who’s been with the firm for eight years, to Partner. The new fund has made four investments so far: FintechOS, Payhawk, Picus, and Binalyze.

The back-story to DEF is a fascinating tale of what happened to Europe in the last 15 years, as tech took off and Europeans returned from Silicon Valley.

Following his exit from SelectMinds (where he was the Founder & CEO) in 2005, Cem Sertoglu moved back to Turkey. Although he says he “accidentally became the first angel investor” there, he was clearly the right man, in the right place, at the right time. He told me: “I was very lucky and ended up writing the first checks in some of the first large outcomes in Turkey.”

In 2013, Sertoglu partnered with Evren Ucok (the first angel in Peak Games and Trendyol), and Roland Manger (Earlybird). Dan Lupu, a Romanian investor who had covered the region for Intel Capital, joined them, and together they raised the ‘Earlybird Digital East Fund I’ set at $150m fund in 2014, focusing on CEE and Turkey. This was and is an area where there can be high-quality ventures to be found, but very little in the way of VC. 

Thereafter, between 2014 and 2019, the fund invested in UiPath, Hazelcast, and Obilet. UiPath has become a global leader in the area known as ‘Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Hazelcast is a low latency data processing platform startup with Turkish roots. Obilet is a marketplace focused for the massive Turkish intercity bus travel market. DEF has also exited Vivense, Dolap, and EMbonds and in more recent times the fund has exited Vivense, the “Wayfair of Turkey” to Actera, the top local PE fund.

The team had spectacular early success. Peak Games, Trendyol, YemekSepeti and GittiGidiyor are the four largest Turkish tech exits to date. Digital East Fund was an investor in all of them. Peak games exited for $1.8 billion in cash to Zynga only last year.

As of Q4 2020, the fund’s metrics are:
Investment Multiple: 24.9x
Gross IRR: 104.4%
Net IRR: 84.1%

So in VC terms, they have done pretty well.

I interviewed Sertoglu to unpack the story of Earlybird Digital East Fund.

He told me DEF has achieved a 17 times investment multiple on a $150 million fund. He thinks “this might be the biggest European VC fund performance in history, and it’s not coming from Berlin, it’s not coming from London, but it’s coming from Eastern Europe. We have been told by some of our LPs that they think we’re the top 2014 vintage VC fund in the world, nobody’s seen stronger numbers than this.”

“Peak Games turned out to be a phenomenal story. When you look at how tough it’s been for Turkey, macroeconomically. The fact that a single company with 100 people essentially sold for $1.8 billion in cash, was just… it was staggering for the local market here.”

DEF’s emergence from Turkey, together with its relationship with a fund in Berlin, was not the most obvious path for the VC fund.

“One thing we realized early one was that we could invest with our own capital and syndicating to our friends, but for follow-on funding, we’d always have to go global. And that made us feel vulnerable. It made us feel we were always dependent on others’ comprehension of the opportunity that we were facing. So that’s when the first fund idea came out this was,” said Sertoglu.

“We felt that there was this unusual dislocation between opportunity and capital in Eastern Europe. Our first fund was $150 million funds – I mean, a very quaint size compared to Western markets. But we became the largest fund in the region, and decided to focus on this series A gap where we felt that there was this big opportunity, because of the way we think series A is still very much a local play.”

“Being a local player that understands the region would be an advantage, so this was proven to be true. We could essentially see pretty much everything in Eastern Europe for the last eight years. And we caught the biggest one, fortunately, which was UiPath. I think very few funds around the world can say that they see the majority if not all of the opportunities that fall into their mandate,” he said.

“We have this dual strategy of backing local champions as well as contenders for global markets as well. 20 years ago you had to be in Silicon Valley. Now, Transferwise comes out of Estonia, UiPath comes out of Romania. And that was even before the pandemic.”

Sertoglu concluded: “So we now have fresh capital, coming on the heels of a very successful first fund, which we’re keen to deploy. We’re calling all the opportunities, seeing very ambitious, strong teams coming out of the region. And we have 200 million euros to focus on these types of opportunities in the region.”

Amazon says government demands for user data spiked by 800% in 2020

New transparency figures released by Amazon show the company responded to a record number of government data demands in the last six months of 2020.

The new figures land in the company’s bi-annual transparency report published to Amazon’s website over the weekend.

Amazon said it processed 27,664 government demands for user data in the last six months of 2020, up from 3,222 data demands in the first six months of the year, an increase of close to 800%. That user data includes shopping searches and data from its Echo, Fire, and Ring devices.

The new report presents the data differently from previous transparency disclosures. Amazon now breaks down the top requesting countries. U.S. authorities historically made up the bulk of the overall data demands Amazon receives, but this latest report shows Germany with 42% of all requests, followed by Spain with 18%, and Italy and the U.S. with 11% share each.

But the report also removes the breakdown by legal process, and now only differentiates between the requests it gets for user’s content and for non-content. Amazon said it handed over user content data in 52 cases.

For its Amazon Web Services cloud business, which it reports separately, Amazon said it processed 523 data demands, with 75% of all requests made by U.S. authorities, and Amazon turned over user’s content in 15 cases.

An Amazon spokesperson would not say what led to the sharp rise in data demands. (Amazon seldom comments on its transparency reports.)

Amazon’s transparency report is one of the lightest reads of all the tech giants at just three pages in length, and spends most of the report explaining how it responds to each legal demand than on the data itself. The company, known for its notorious secrecy, became the last of the major tech giants to push out a transparency report in 2015. Where most tech companies added data to their transparency reports, like takedown notices and account removals, Amazon bucked the trend by removing data from its reports, despite the company’s growing reach into millions of homes.

The Financial Times reported this weekend that Ring, the video doorbell and home security startup acquired by Amazon for $1 billion, now has 2,000 law enforcement partners across the United States, allowing police departments to access homeowners’ doorbell camera footage.