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Spotify runs test in Australia, allowing users to skip ads at any time, potentially boosting targeting and revenues

If you want to test out a feature on a large, well-known, global, platform, there’s a very simple solution: Test it in Australia. At a population of 24 million and with a predominantly Western culture, it’s a large enough test bed and small enough market, so ideal for testing new features before (maybe) rolling them out globally. And that’s exactly what Spotify appears to be doing in testing out how it can tweak its advertising platform to take the fight to the likes of Pandora and other competitors. Advertising Age reports today that it’s running a test in Australia which will let listeners skip audio and video adverts at any time while the ad is playing. This is instead of having a preset time limit to listen to or watch the advert which can’t be skipped. They’ll be able to do this any time they want, as often as they want, and the new feature will also let them jump straight back into the music. The feature (well, it’s still a test feature after all) is called “Active Media.” In it, advertisers won’t have to pay for any ads that are skipped. It’s a high risk strategy because clearly Spotify may get less ad revenue in the short-term, while the algorithm is trained to serve ads that consumers will in fact listen to. But Australia’s smaller market means any lost revenue will be relatively small. AdAge quote Danielle Lee, global head of partner solutions at Spotify, saying the move is about tailoring the ads to users’ tastes, so similar to Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” feature, which does the same for music. It’s a smart move, since, by allowing users to spend longer on the ads they actually do like, Spotify will get better data on the ads which work best for that particular user, and thus sell better-targeted ads which, in turn, will have a higher premium.

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Lumen raises $7M and passes $1M on Indiegogo for its breath-measuring device for weight loss

Our body is continuously storing and consuming energy to keep us alive — but understanding which fuels are being used and why is the Holy Grail of things like weight loss and body hacking. Today’s weight-loss market is saturated with generic products because — guess what — trying to tailor-make a solution for an individual is usually hard and expensive. For a while now there’s been a technology around which can measure the metabolic gases found in your breath. The theory goes that if you can do that, everyone can work out what they should be eating and when. A few startups have tried, but nothing really took off. Now a new startup is having a crack and has secured significant funding to go for it. Lumen is a pocket-sized device that measures the gases in your breath and translates that reading via an app into advice that gives you daily personalized meal plans. As I said, this technology was tried by a startup called PATH Breath+Band, which had a similar device in 2016, but which didn’t take off. The difference with Lumen is that it’s raised a decent war chest, as well as blowing up on Indiegogo. It’s now raised a total of $7 million over the past four and a half years, from a host of investors. These include Disruptive VC, Oren Zeev, Red Swan Ventures, Resolute Ventures, Gigi Levy, Sir Ronald Cohen, Avishai Abrahami (Wix Founder) and RiverPark Funds. As part of that funding it’s also – in the last few days – raised more than $1 million on Indiegogo .

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MOV.AI raises $3M in seed funding to create an ‘Android for Robotics’

We all know what Android for smartphones is. A free, (almost) open source operating system for smartphones. But right now there is no equivalent of the “Android for robots.” Instead there are many, many proprietary systems. A new startup plans to address this problem in order for the robotics market to really take off, and for it to have a good slice fo the pie. MOV.AI plans to create an ecosystem where developers, integrators and manufacturers collaborate to develop the first industry-grade O/S for autonomous intelligent collaborative robots. This could potentially produce smarter robots on a large-scale for operation and production lines. It’s now raised $3M in seed funding in a round led by Israel-based Viola Ventures and SF-based NFX. MOV.AI describes itself as an ‘ROS compatible operating system’. That means it enables industry-grade deployment of fleets of autonomous robots. The idea is that this will decouple the hardware from the software (a problem in robot-land), and simpler R&D, thus making robot automation affordable for any player, large or small. This ROS will aim to cover easier mapping, robust and autonomous navigation, obstacle avoidance, cloud-based software-distribution, compliance with safety and cybersecurity’s best practices and modern end-user interface. The main target audiences of MOV.AI are manufacturers of material handling equipment, automation integrators, and other collaborative robot manufacturers

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Engineer.ai aims at build-an-app platforms by using AI for speed and cost

Engineer.ai has been up and running in private beta mode for two and a half years, totally boo-strapped by its founders. But today it launches with the claim to be the world’s first human-assisted AI for building custom digital products. It’s Builder platform claims to combine artificial intelligence 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. So were are talking the ability to build a smartphone app, say, very easily and quickly, choosing from recommended features or adding others. The AI then creates a “build card” which guarantees a maximum price and estimated delivery date. It then taps a library of existing components and manages crowdsourced global teams for aspects that might be unique. The platform can host the end product and carry on upgrading the product. “Builder redesigns how software is created, enabling everyone with an idea in their head to get an app in their hand,” says Engineer.ai co-founder Sachin Dev Duggal. “We’re disrupting traditional software development by removing the shroud of mystery around code design, giving transparency and control to the creators – the people with ideas. This is made possible by our proprietary artificial intelligence, which can price, spec, write, and create products faster and more efficiently.” Co-founded by serial entrepreneurs Sachin Dev Duggal and Saurabh Dhoot, the company, which has been bootstrapped on the proceeds of the sale of their previous startup, nivio . Virgin Unite, Richard Branson’s philanthropy arm, used it for its Campaign against the Death Penalty & Criminal Justice, for instance. At a certain level it competes with Gigster albeit they have really taken a very different approach (assembly line and buying excess capacity from over 65 Dev shops in 10 timezones) whereas Gigster is more like a modern day consulting shop.

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Oval Money app launches its investment products for millennials

Back in April Oval Money launched with the idea of combining expense tracking, saving, and investing into one app, while also adding a social element by enabling its community of users to share tips and suggestions to one another. The idea is to help users grow their savings in less time by teaching them to monitor spending habits and make saving virtually automatic. The company has raised €1.2M in funding, largely from Italian investors. The startup is launching a raft of investment products for socially-conscious savers. Beginning with three funds – supporting gender diversity in boardrooms, flexible working and the brands that millennials trust – the investments marketplace will be available to customers in the smartphone app this summer. The “Women at the Table” fund will allow investors to support companies that ensure that at least 20% of board members are women, while a “Belong but Work Remote” fund promotes the growing flexible jobs economy. “Generation Millennials” will track the leading consumer brands that millennials are into most. The three are the first of 20 cause-themed products to be released in the marketplace. Oval co-founder Benedetta Arese Lucini said: “Young people want to invest in the causes they care about. We’ve been listening to millennials for a long time, and these products will mean not only can we help people start to save towards their futures, but we can provide them with the opportunity to invest in companies which are really making a difference in the world.” Oval Money uses machine learning to review the individual spending habits of its users, and adjusts saving automatically. A beta-test of the marketplace begins today. By updating the app, Ovalers will be able to go through an initial set of questions about what type of investor they are and will be encouraged to share with friends

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WearableX’s ‘smart’ new Yoga pant is aimed at the guys

A lot has been said about the coming future of wearables, but, it turned out, not a heck of a lot took off. It seemed most of us were happy with ‘wearing’ a smartwatch and leaving it at that. In fact, Apple’s recent announcements around the Apple Watch show that ‘wearables’ are not really about just wearing something with electronics embedded, but really about health. Now, we know that the home fitness market and wellness market is not going anywhere. And yet we still have an obesity issue in the world. What if what we wore could help us with that, while we exercise? That’s the idea behind Wearable X , the New York-based startup which launched last year with the “Nadi X”. This is a collection of smart yoga apparel with woven-in technology. They claim this can identify the various yoga poses and provide users with real-time feedback via gentle vibrations. Nadi X comes with a companion iPhone app and device, called The Pulse. The Pulse is where the battery and Bluetooth module clips behind the upper left knee so as not to interfere with your yoga practice. The company is now launching a Kickstarter campaign for four new designs, including a menswear line and redesigned user-friendly app with enhanced features.

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Wearable X’s ‘smart’ new Yoga pant is aimed at the guys

A lot has been said about the coming future of wearables, but, it turned out, not a heck of a lot took off. It seemed most of us were happy with ‘wearing’ a smartwatch and leaving it at that. In fact, Apple’s recent announcements around the Apple Watch show that ‘wearables’ are not really about just wearing something with electronics embedded, but really about health. Now, we know that the home fitness market and wellness market is not going anywhere. And yet we still have an obesity issue in the world. What if what we wore could help us with that, while we exercise? That’s the idea behind Wearable X , the New York-based startup which launched last year with the “Nadi X”. This is a collection of smart yoga apparel with woven-in technology. They claim this can identify the various yoga poses and provide users with real-time feedback via gentle vibrations. Nadi X comes with a companion iPhone app and device, called The Pulse. The Pulse is where the battery and Bluetooth module clips behind the upper left knee so as not to interfere with your yoga practice. The company is now launching a Kickstarter campaign for four new designs, including a menswear line and redesigned user-friendly app with enhanced features. Founder & CEO Billie Whitehouse says: “With Nadi X you not only have convenience but haptics increase reaction time and make you feel more accountable not only through the instant reaction but also through the progress tracking. Our data is more sophisticated than most because we have 5 data points. Most only have one

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What does leaving the EU’s Digital Single Market mean for UK startups?

What does leaving the EU’s Digital Single Market (DMS) mean for UK startups? No-one actually knows. That’s why three UK VCs are backing an initiative to assess the impact of what leaving the DSM could mean for UK tech startups, if, as is predicted, the UK does leave the EU next year. The initiative is being led by LocalGlobe but also backed by Index Ventures and Atomico . You can fill out the short survey here . UK Prime Minister Theresa May previously announced the UK will be leaving the DSM when it formally leaves the EU next year, but, according to sources who spoke to TechCrunch, no industry consultation took place on this decision. The idea behind the DSM, launched in May 2015 and heavily backed by the UK Government at the time, was to tear down regulatory walls and move from 28 national ‘digital’ markets to a single one. The prediction was that this would contribute €415 billion per year to the EU’s economy and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. It’s been made one of the European Commission’s 10 political priorities and is made up of three policy pillars, as outlined below: 1. Improving access to digital goods and services The Digital Single Market strategy seeks to ensure better access for consumers and business to online goods and services across Europe, for example by removing barriers to cross-border e-commerce and access to online content while increasing consumer protection. 2. An environment where digital networks and services can prosper The Digital Single Market aims to create the right environment for digital networks and services by providing high-speed, secure and trustworthy infrastructures and services supported by the right regulatory conditions. Key concerns include cybersecurity, data protection/e-privacy, and the fairness and transparency of online platforms. 3. Digital as a driver for growth The Digital Single Market Strategy aims at maximising the growth potential of the European Digital Economy, so that every European can fully enjoy its benefits – notably by enhancing digital skills, which are essential for an inclusive digital society

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What does leaving the EU’s Digital Single Market mean for UK startups?

What does leaving the EU’s Digital Single Market (DMS) mean for UK startups? No-one actually knows. That’s why three UK VCs are backing an initiative to assess the impact of what leaving the DSM could mean for UK tech startups, if, as is predicted, the UK does leave the EU next year. The initiative is being led by LocalGlobe but also backed by Index Ventures and Atomico . You can fill out the short survey here . UK Prime Minister Theresa May previously announced the UK will be leaving the DSM when it formally leaves the EU next year, but, according to sources who spoke to TechCrunch, no industry consultation took place on this decision. The idea behind the DSM, launched in May 2015 and heavily backed by the UK Government at the time, was to tear down regulatory walls and move from 28 national ‘digital’ markets to a single one. The prediction was that this would contribute €415 billion per year to the EU’s economy and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. It’s been made one of the European Commission’s 10 political priorities and is made up of three policy pillars, as outlined below: 1. Improving access to digital goods and services The Digital Single Market strategy seeks to ensure better access for consumers and business to online goods and services across Europe, for example by removing barriers to cross-border e-commerce and access to online content while increasing consumer protection. 2

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Hotel management platform Mews closes €6m Series A

Before we automate hotels with AI and robots (which will almost certainly happen) the first wave of this revolution will be brought by the software that runs hotels with humans. Thus it is that Mews , the hotel property management platform, has closed a €6m Series A funding round. The round was led by Notion.vc Capital, with participation from HenQ and Thayer Ventures . The funding will be used to accelerate the business and open new offices around the world to support its global customer base. Mews’ platform automates check-ins and payments as also covering booking management and staff training. It’s designed to be an open platform allowing other tools and apps to connect through its API. So, think ‘Slack for hotels’, perhaps. Mews was founded in 2012 by entrepreneur and ex-hotelier Richard Valtr. Customers include Different Hotels, Machefert, Clink and Wombats, or 43,000 beds in 350 properties. Valtr said: “Mews’ mission is to help hotels and hostels automate their operations so they can focus on their guests. We want to build the nervous system for hotels that all apps and tools for both guests and hosts can be plugged into. Until recently hoteliers were forced to rely upon a closed one-stop-shop PMS offered up by incumbent players who have held a luddite attitude towards the hospitality industry for years.” Jos White, General Partner at Notion commented: “We think the hotel industry is at a tipping point in terms of the way it uses technology to better manage their operations and transform the guest experience.”

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Uizard raises funds for its AI that turns design mockups into source code

When you’re trying to build apps, there is a very tedious point where you have to stare at a wireframe and then laboriously turn it into code. Actually, the process itself is highly repetitive and ought to be much easier. The traditional software development from front-end design to front-end html/css development to working code is expensive, time-consuming, tedious and repetitive. But most approaches to solving this problem have been more complex than they need to be. What if you could just turn wireframes straight into code and then devote your time to the more complex aspects of a build? That’s the idea behind a Copenhagen-based startup called Uizard . Uizard’s computer vision and AI platform claims to be able to automatically turn design mockups — and this could be on the back of napkin — into source code that developers can plug into their backend code. It’s now raised an $800,000 pre-seed round led by New York-based LDV Capital with co-investors ByFounders, The Nordic Web Ventures, 7percent Ventures, New York Venture Partners, entrepreneur Peter Stern (co-founder of Datek) and Philipp Moehring and Andy Chung from AngelList . This fundraising will be used to grow the team and launch the beta product. The company received interest in June 2017 when they released their first research milestone dubbed “pix2code” and implementation on GitHub was the second-mosttrending project of June 2017 ahead of Facebook Prepack and Google TensorFlow.

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Tradeshift fires-up blockchain to address late payment problem

While the cryptocurrency world continues to swirl around in a daze of troughs and highs, startups are continuing to make use of the fundamental underlying strengths of blockchain technology. A new entrant in this race is Tradeshift, a leading players in supply-chain payments and marketplaces, which is today launching its new service which enables supports blockchain-based finance, or writing all transactions to a public ledger in order to create transparency and securing a record. While this doesn’t involve the use of currencies like actual Bitcoin or Ethereum, “having the transactions on a public ledger ensures full transparency and the ability for companies to prove that they have legit transactions,” says CEO and cofounder Christian Lanng. SO what this all means is that Tradeshift’s cloud platform will bring supply chain payments, supply chain finance, and blockchain-based early payments together into one unified end-to-end solution, called “Tradeshift Pay”. They are aiming at a $9 trillion problem, which is the capital trapped in “accounts receivable” as a result of old-fashioned payment practices and the disconnection between large business buyers and their suppliers. In other words, this could be a boon for small suppliers who find it hard to get paid when their invoices aren’t mapped to a ledger as strong as a blockchain. With this single unified wallet, buyers can use several payment options, including virtual card payments of invoices and purchase orders, dynamic discounting, supply chain finance through bank partners, or blockchain-based payments.

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WARD is an app for placing fantasy bets on esports games

Prediction markets, such as those that exist in the realm of fantasy sports, have taken off amongst consumers in the last few years. But fantasy sports have yet to make much of a play in one of the hottest areas online right now, namely esports. And it’s a big market. Fantasy esports have been thriving across international markets. In 2017, more than 360 million viewers watched League of Legends alone, significantly overtaking the Super Bowl viewership. By 2020, the esports industry is estimated to be worth more than $1.5 billion, with the target audience being 21-35 years old. But quite how to take advantage of this arena has been a conundrum. Now a new startup thinks it has the answer. What if you could create a live predictions market around esports as it happens? That’s the aim of WARD , a startup out of Berlin that has created a “pick and predict” real-time prediction smartphone game, where players can win real prizes. Billed as a fantasy esports game that provides a second-screen real-time experience for tournaments, WARD has now secured a $600,000 seed round. The backers are Impulse VC, SmartHub and a number of European angel investors. The seed investment will be used to build out the product, but also to expand in the lucrative markets of Asia and the U.S. So how does it work? Well, fans who watch a championship or a specific esports game can predict their version of in-game events in real-time.

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WARD is an app for placing fantasy predictions on esports games

Prediction markets, such as those that exist in the realm of fantasy sports, have taken off amongst consumers in the last few years. But fantasy sports have yet to make much of a play in one of the hottest areas online right now, namely esports. And it’s a big market. Fantasy esports have been thriving across international markets. In 2017, more than 360 million viewers watched League of Legends alone, significantly overtaking the Super Bowl viewership. By 2020, the esports industry is estimated to be worth more than $1.5 billion, with the target audience being 21-35 years old. But quite how to take advantage of this arena has been a conundrum. Now a new startup thinks it has the answer. What if you could create a live predictions market around esports as it happens? That’s the aim of WARD , a startup out of Berlin that has created a “pick and predict” real-time prediction smartphone game, where players can win real prizes. Billed as a fantasy esports game that provides a second-screen real-time experience for tournaments, WARD has now secured a $600,000 seed round. The backers are Impulse VC, SmartHub and a number of European angel investors. The seed investment will be used to build out the product, but also to expand in the lucrative markets of Asia and the U.S. So how does it work?

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Founders Embassy equity-free accelerator aims to unlock the Valley for internationals

Startups who are looking to get a deep-dive into Silicon Valley but don’t want to give away equity have not had many options to choose from in the past. There are several government-backed accelerators which simply house startups in facilities and arrange pitch nights. But many of those demos tend to sink without trace. What if you were hand-picked by a programme which simply charged you for a service? That’s the general idea behind Founders Embassy which is now releasing its first class of 8 founders joining them in SF this summer. Created by two women founders, the idea behind Founders Embassy is to democratize access to Silicon Valley for the most talented international startups that often lack the privilege of insider connections and resources. Believe me, I know so many international founders who I have met on my travels who would appreciate such a service. Founders Embassy was created by Andee Gardiner and Anastasia Crew. As an Irish citizen and the daughter of two immigrants, Gardiner is passionate about leveraging her startup knowledge, network, and creativity for international entrepreneurs entering the Valley ecosystem. Crew, a Russian native, arrived in the US 10 years ago and has previously developed programs and events for international startups, corporates, and non-profits. Gardeiner says: “Silicon Valley has an over-preference towards people who are local, who have insider knowledge and who have a specific pedigree (such as attending an Ivy League college). It has neglected foreign startups and immigrant founders with different backgrounds, which has prevented investors from being able to find the best startups from outside the country.

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