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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

IQ Capital is raising £125M to invest in deep tech startups in the UK

The rapid pace of technology innovation and applications in recent decades — you could argue that just about every kind of business is a “tech” business these days — has spawned a sea of tech startups and larger businesses that are focused on serving that market, and equally demanding consumers, on a daily basis. Today, a venture capital firm in the UK is announcing a fund aimed at helping to grow the technologies that will underpin a lot of those daily applications.

Cambridge-based IQ Capital is raising £125 million ($165 million) that it will use specifically to back UK startups that are building “deep tech” — the layer of research and development, and potentially commercialised technology, that is considered foundational to how a lot of technology will work in the years and decades to come. So far, some £92 million has been secured, and partner Kerry Baldwin said that the rest is coming “without question” — pointing to strong demand.

There was a time when it was more challenging to raise money for very early stage companies working at the cusp of new technologies, even more so in smaller tech ecosystems like the UK’s. As Ed Stacey, another partner in the firm acknowledges, there is often a very high risk of failure at even more stages of the process, with the tech in some cases not even fully developed, let alone rolled out to see what kind of commercial interest there might be in the product.

However, there has been a clear shift in the last several years.

There a lot more money floating around in tech these days — so much so that it’s created a stronger demand for projects to invest in. (Another consequence of that is that when you do get a promising startup, funds are potentially giving them hundreds of millions and causing other disruptions in how they grow and exit, which is another story…)

And while there are definitely a lot of startups out there in the world today, a lot of them are what you might describe as “me too”, or at least making something that is easily replicated by another startup, making the returns and the wins harder to find among them.

A new focus that we are seeing on “deep tech” is a consequence of both of those trends.

“The low-hanging fruit has been discovered… Shallow tech is a solved problem,” Stacey said, in reference to areas like the basics of e-commerce services and mobile apps. “These are easy to build with open source components, for example. It’s shallow when it can be copied very quickly.”

In contrast, deep tech is “by definition is something that can’t easily be copied,” he continued. “The underlying algorithm is deep, with computational complexity.”

But the challenges run deep in deep tech: not only might a product or technology never come together, or find a customer, but it might face problems scaling if it does take off. IQ Capital’s focus on deep tech is coupled with the company trying to  determine which ideas will scale, not just work or find a customer. As we see more deep tech companies emerging and growing, I’m guessing scalability will become an ever more prominent factor in deciding whether a startup gets backing.

IQ Capital’s investments to date span areas like security (Privitar), marketing tech (Grapeshot, which was acquired by Oracle earlier this year), AI (such as speech recognition API developer Speechmatics) and biotechnology (Fluidic Analytics, which measures protein concentrations), all areas that will be the focus of this fund, along with IoT and other emerging technologies and gaps in the current market.

IQ Capital is not the only fund starting to focus on deep tech, nor is its portfolio the only range of startups focusing on this (Allegro.AI and deep-learning chipmaker Hailo are others, to name just two).

LPs in this latest fund include family offices, wealth managers, tech entrepreneurs and CEOs from IQ’s previous investments, as well as British Business Investments, the commercial arm of the British Business Bank, the firm said.

Source: TechCrunch

Twitter puts a tighter squeeze on spambots

Twitter has announced a range of actions intended to bolster efforts to fight spam and “malicious automation” (aka bad bots) on its platform — including increased security measures around account verification and sign-up; running a historical audit to catch spammers who signed up when its systems were more lax; and taking a more proactive approach to identifying spam activity to reduce its ability to make an impact.

It says the new steps build on previously announced measures to fight abuse and trolls, and new policies on hateful conduct and violent extremism.

The company has also recently been publicly seeking new technology and staff to fight spam and abuse.

All of which is attempting to turn around Twitter’s reputation for being awful at tackling abuse.

“Our focus is increasingly on proactively identifying problematic accounts and behavior rather than waiting until we receive a report,” Twitter’s Yoel Roth and Del Harvey write in the latest blog update. “We focus on developing machine learning tools that identify and take action on networks of spammy or automated accounts automatically. This lets us tackle attempts to manipulate conversations on Twitter at scale, across languages and time zones, without relying on reactive reports.”

“Platform manipulation and spam are challenges we continue to face and which continue to evolve, and we’re striving to be more transparent with you about our work,” they add, after giving a progress update on the performance of its anti-spambot systems, saying they picked up more than 9.9M “potentially spammy or automated accounts” per week in May, up from 6.4M in December 2017 and 3.2M in September.

Among the welcome — if VERY long overdue — changes is an incoming requirement for new accounts to confirm either an email address or phone number when they sign up, in order to make it harder for people to register spam accounts.

“This is an important change to defend against people who try to take advantage of our openness,” they write. “We will be working closely with our Trust & Safety Council and other expert NGOs to ensure this change does not hurt someone in a high-risk environment where anonymity is important. Look for this to roll out later this year.”

The company has also been wading into its own inglorious legacy of spam failure by conducting historical audits of some legacy sign-up systems to try to clear bad actors off the platform.

Well, better late than never as they say.

Twitter says it’s already identified “a large number” of suspected spam accounts as a result of investigating misuse of an old part of its signup flow — saying these are “primarily follow spammers”, i.e. spambots who automatically or bulk followed verified or other high-profile accounts at the point of sign up.

And it says it will be challenging these accounts to prove its ‘spammer’ classification wrong.

As a result of this it warns that some users may see a drop in their follow counts.

“When we challenge an account, follows originating from that account are hidden until the account owner passes that challenge. This does not mean accounts appearing to lose followers did anything wrong; they were the targets of spam that we are now cleaning up,” it writes. “We’ve recently been taking more steps to clean up spam and automated activity and close the loopholes they’d exploited, and are working to be more transparent about these kinds of actions.”

“Our goal is to ensure that every account created on Twitter has passed some simple, automatic security checks designed to prevent automated signups. The new protections we’ve developed as a result of this audit have already helped us prevent more than 50,000 spammy signups per day,” it adds.

As part of this shift in approach to reduce the visibility and power of spambots by impacting their ability to bogusly influence genuine users, Twitter has also tweaked how it displays follower and like counts across its platform — saying it’s now updating account metrics in “near-real time”.

So it warns users they may notice their accounts metrics changing more regularly.

“But we think this is an important shift in how we display Tweet and account information to ensure that malicious actors aren’t able to artificially boost an account’s credibility permanently by inflating metrics like the number of followers,” it adds — noting also that it’s taking additional steps to reduce spammer visibility which it will have more to say about “in the coming weeks”.

Another change Twitter is flagging up now is an expansion of its malicious behavior detection systems. On this it says it’s automating some processes where it sees suspicious account activity — such as “exceptionally high-volume tweeting with the same hashtag, or using the same @handle without a reply from the account you’re mentioning”.

And while that’s clearly great news for anyone who hates high volume spam — and the damage spamming can very evidently do — it’s also a crying shame it’s taken Twitter this long to take these kinds of obvious problems seriously.

Better late than never is pretty cold comfort when you consider the ugly social divisions that malicious entities have fueled by being so freely able to misappropriate the amplification power of social media. Because tech CEOs were essentially asleep at the wheel — and deaf to the warnings being sounded about their tools for years.

There’s clearly a human cost to platforms prioritizing growth at the expense of wider societal responsibilities, as Facebook has also been realizing of late.

And while both these companies may be trying to clean house now they have no quick fixes for mending rips in the social fabric which were exacerbated as a consequence of the at-scale spreading of fake news and worse enabled by their own platforms.

Though, in March, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey put out a call for ideas to help it capture, measure and evaluate healthy interactions on its platform and the health of public conversations generally — saying: “Ultimately we want to have a measurement of how it affects the broader society and public health, but also individual health, as well.”

So a differently stripped, more civically minded Twitter is seeking to emerge from the bushes.

Twitter users who fall foul of its new automated malicious behavior checks can expect to have to pass some sort of ‘no, actually I am human’ test — which it says will “vary in intensity”, giving examples such as a simple reCAPTCHA process, at the lowest friction end, or a slightly more arduous password reset request.

“More complex cases are automatically passed to our team for review,” it adds.

There’s also an appeals process for users who believe they have been incorrectly IDed by one of the automated spam detection systems — letting them request a case review.

Another welcome if tardy addition: Twitter has added support for stronger two-factor authentication as Twitter users will now be able to use a USB security key (using the U2F open authentication standard) for login verification when signing into Twitter.

It urges users to enable 2FA if they haven’t already, and regularly review third party apps attached to their account to revoke access they no longer wish to grant.

The company finishes by saying it will continue to invest “across the board” to try to tackle spam and malicious automated activity, including by “leveraging machine learning technology and partnerships with third parties” — saying: “These issues are felt around the world, from elections to emergency events and high-profile public conversations. As we have stated in recent announcements, the public health of the conversation on Twitter is a critical metric by which we will measure our success in these areas.”

The results of a Request for Proposals for public health metrics research which Twitter called for earlier this year will be announced soon, it adds.

Source: TechCrunch

Lego and Volvo's futuristic autonomous loader has a tiny drone friend – CNET

This Lego Technic model is also a prototype heavy loader. But don’t expect to see it on a real-life building site any time soon.
Source: CNET

Disrupt Berlin 2-for-1 Innovator passes available today only

Did you miss out on our 2-for-1 Innovator passes to TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2018 on November 29-30? If so, you’ve caught a lucky break, because we’re bringing it back for a flash sale. You have until June 28 at midnight CET time — exactly 24 hours — to score two Innovator passes for the price of one: €695 + VAT. Buy them here and buy them quickly, because they’ll be gone in a, well, flash.

Don’t miss your opportunity to experience a Disrupt event in Berlin, an international hub and home to Europe’s most vibrant startup scenes. You’ll experience two programming-packed days that include world-class speakers ranging from titans of the tech and the venture capital industries to some of tech’s most promising rising stars.

Take in Startup Battlefield — the leading startup pitch competition — to see which of Europe’s best early-stage startups will reign supreme and take home the $50,000 prize.

Explore the very latest tech products, platforms and talent on display in Startup Alley, our exhibition floor and home to more than 400 early-stage startups. You won’t find a better place to network, find a new job, meet collaborators or maybe even catch the eye of an investor.

Last year at Disrupt Berlin 2017, Luke Heron, CEO of TestCard.com, had two main goals in attending Disrupt: networking and finding investors. The company exhibited in Startup Alley and used CrunchMatch, our free business-matchmaking platform, to set up seven investor meetings. All told, he walked away a happy CEO.

“I’m a serial proselytizer when it comes to TechCrunch events. If you’re a startup or an entrepreneur, attending Disrupt is a no-brainer,” said Heron.

Innovator pass holders can use the Disrupt Mobile App to connect with attendees, including media outlets, and you get access to the full media list. You also get to attend our TC After Party for cocktails and networking in a much more relaxed setting. After the conference, you’ll receive access to our library of exclusive event video content.

Disrupt Berlin takes place on November 29-30 at Arena Berlin. You have 24 hours to take advantage of this flash sale. Get a move on and buy your 2-4-1 Innovator passes for €695 before the sale ends.

Source: TechCrunch

Japan's AI-powered CCTV cameras catch shoplifters in the act – CNET

They analyse your “suspicious” body language and alert shopkeepers through an app.
Source: CNET

Baidu and Ford China team up to bring AI and connectivity to the driving experience

China’s Baidu continues to make inroads in the automotive space after it inked an agreement with Ford China that will see the two companies work together to make the driving experience smarter in China.

The two companies have collaborated before, most notably by jointly investing $150 million into LiDAR sensors startup Velodyne, and this China initiative will bring help technologies like connectivity, artificial intelligence and digital marketing into the car.

That will include a new in-vehicle system and services that are based on Baidu’s DuerOS Ai platform, which in turn is part of Baidu’s Apollo platform aka ‘the Android for cars’; it counts Ford as a founding member. Some of the more notable features of Duer in the car include voice recognition, natural language understanding and image recognition.

In addition, the duo will establish “a joint connectivity lab to investigate innovation opportunities across their automotive and mobility businesses in China.” In particular, that will focus on cloud-based services which include AI and potential integrations with Transportation Mobility Cloud (TMC) which is being developed by Ford subsidiary Autonomic.

Source: TechCrunch

FirstVet swipes $6M to expand its pet advice telehealth service

Pet services can be serious startup business. Witness the likes of dog walking startups Rover and Wag, for example. At the same time digital health is a major area of interest for entrepreneurs, thanks to reliable demand meeting tech’s disruptive potential.

Well, Sweden’s FirstVet is dabbling in both — offering remote video consultations and advice for pet owners wondering if they should worry about their furry friend’s latest bout of coughing/sneezing/vomiting, or whether that chocolate bar the dog snarfed when you weren’t looking is a cause for real concern.

As the name suggests, the niche FirstVet is looking to carve out is a pretty specific one — focused on first layer pet owner concerns which essential boil down to asking a qualified professional whether you really need to take Fido to the vet or not. So it’s main competitor is probably Google search.

“We are a supplement to physical clinics rather than a substitute to them,” says CEO and co-founder David Prien. “The most common problems we help pet owners with are gastrointestinal questions, wounds, skin/fur/ears. Our main objective is to be the natural first point of contact for pet owners.”

True to his word, a note on FirstVet’s website warns prospective customers: “If your pet is acutely ill or severely wounded you should always seek veterinary care immediately.”

“We really don’t want to be the party that pet owners turn to in real emergency cases and always refer them directly to physical vet clinics, we always make the medical journals available for both the clinic receiving the referral and pet owner directly after each consultation,” adds Prien.

The startup launched in 2016, and now claims around 60,000 registered users in its home market of Sweden — saying it’s answered close to 4,500 calls in the month of June after slightly over a year on the market. Business has been growing 25 per cent month over month, it adds.

Prien says the price point for the service is set at about 30-40% of the starting fee for a physical vet visit in the market.

Which is still 30-40% more expensing than Googling symptoms — i.e. assuming you’re happy to ignore the risk of the free info you found online being entirely bogus.

While FirstVet intended to offer a b2c service, its route to market has been via partnerships with insurance companies who offer the service to their customers as a way to potentially reduce the risk of more major pet insurance payouts, or as a touchpoint for reaching pet owners who don’t have insurance cover and thus could be persuaded to sign up.

“What happened was that we quickly found that it made sense to collaborate with the insurance companies since it saves money for both them and the end customer,” says Prien. “The service is very popular amongst un-insured pet owners as well, and the share of uninsured pets using the service corresponds with the insurance penetration for each market so far.”

“We have collaborations in place with all eight active insurance companies in Sweden (where the insurance penetration is about 80%),” he adds.”And are currently launching new collaborations with three Finnish insurance companies as we speak.”

FirstVet is announcing a €5.1 million (~6M) Series A today, led by Creandum with participation from existing angel investors — which is says include experts in the telemedicine space.

The funding will be used for business growth and additional market expansion in Europe, with Norway and Denmark slated as “coming soon”. It says its plan is to launch into all the Nordic countries — along with “key European markets” that have high rates of pet insurance.

“Our aim to launch in at least one central European market during 2018,” adds Prien.

Asked whether it’s taking a cut of vet visit fees for any referrals, he says not in its home region. Though his response to this question leaves a bit of wiggle room in markets where veterinary services have not been so consolidated.

“In the Nordics it’s very important for us to be independent from the big clinical actors, as they have consolidated the markets very quickly and driven the price levels. This way we can always refer the pet owner to the right veterinarian without having any other incentive than giving the right advice at the right time to all pet owners,” he tells TechCrunch.

FirstVet could face a competitive squeeze from on-demand vet startups which are operating in some European markets — such as the likes of UK startup PawSquad — which can send a qualified veterinarian to check out your pet at home. And does also offer its own 24/7 remote vet consultation option, including via video or text chats.

But Prien suggests FirstVet’s model offers pet owners the advantage of impartial advice — since it’s not incentivized to generate a physical vet visit in cases where this can be avoided. Whereas home visit services might want to encourage visits to to grab a bigger fee.

“To have a truly independent source to turn to, no matter the time or place/if you’re insured or not, really provides great value for pet owners,” he argues. “Given that the market is fully privatized, we strongly believe that it is important not to make this type of service ‘dependent on the incentive of actually generating a physical vet visit when it potentially could be avoided (as many pet owners perceive vet visits as quite stressful, time consuming and expensive).”

While it’s still early days for FirstVet, and it’s focusing on market expansion, Prien says it is also looking into ways to expand the services it can offer pet owners by creating DIY tests which they could carry out to help with remote diagnostics.

“We’re currently in the very beginning of developing self-tests for pet owners to conduct from home together with a partner as well, that indicate super interesting results,” he adds.

Source: TechCrunch

Ram's new ProMaster and ProMaster City are fugly but functional – Roadshow

Work vans might not be sexy but they’re important and the new ProMaster siblings should be good ones.
Source: CNET

Google rebrands its ad lineup, with AdWords becoming Google Ads

Google’s complex lineup of ad products is getting rebranded.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, the senior vice president who leads Google’s ad efforts, explained the rebrand at a press event this morning, where he said the company has been getting “consistent feedback” over the past few years that the plethora of ad products and brands — assembled largely through acquisitions — could make it be confusing for advertisers.

“This is a primarily a name change, but it is indicative of where we have been directing the product” for the past few years, Ramaswamy said. He also said the rebrand points to “where we want the product to go.”

Moving forward, Google’s ad products will be divided up into three major brands. First, what’s now known as AdWords will become Google Ads, which Ramaswamy said will serve as “the front door for advertisers to buy on all Google surfaces,” whether that’s search, display ads, YouTube videos, app ads in Google Play, location listings in Google Maps or elsewhere.

In this case, it’s not just a name change. Google is also launching something it calls Smart Campaigns, which will become the default mode for advertisers. It allows those advertisers to identify the actions (whether it’s phone calls, store visits or purchases) that they’re prioritizing, then Google Ads will use machine learning to optimize the images, text and targeting to drive more of those actions.

The second brand is the Google Marketing Platform, which combines DoubleClick Digital Marketing and Google Analytics 360, the company’s analytics tools for marketers. Under that umbrella, Google is also announcing a new product called Display & Video 360, which combines features from DoubleClick Bid Manager, Campaign Manager, Studio and Audience Center.

Managing Director for Platforms Dan Taylor said the Google Marketing Platform is responding to a growing need for collaboration — for example, he said Adidas used the platform to bring its brand and performance marketing teams together with the measurement team.

Google Marketing Platform

The Marketing Platform includes a new Integrations Center where marketers can view all the ways they can different ways they can connect their Google tools. (And while the focus here is on integration within Google’s platform, Taylor said the company remains committed to interoperability with outside ad exchanges and measurement providers.)

The third brand is Google Ad Manager, a platform that combines Google’s monetization tools for publishers, namely DoubleClick Ad Exchange and DoubleClick for Publishers. In this case, Jonathan Bellack, director of product management for publisher platforms, said there’s already been a “three-year journey” of merging the two products as the programmatic ad-buying becomes used across more types of advertising.

“These categories have just been breaking down for a while — all of our publishers already log into one user interface,” Bellack said. So the only thing that’s really changing is “the logo.”

One result of all this consolidation, and one that Ramaswamy described as “bittersweet,” is that the DoubleClick brand is going away. On the other hand, while they weren’t the focus of today’s announcement, the AdSense and Admob brands will continue.

The rebrand is expected to start rolling out in July. Ramaswamy and Taylor both emphasized that no product migration or training will be required.

“The look and feel is going to change a little bit, but the core functionality is not changing,” Taylor said.

Source: TechCrunch

Botched restoration turns 16th-century Spanish statue into Nic Cage – CNET

A Spanish statue of St. George undergoes a disastrous restoration, and now it looks like Nic Cage or Woody from Toy Story.
Source: CNET