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Penta, the German challenger bank account for SMEs, raises €7M Series A

Penta , the German fintech startup that offers a digital bank account targeting SMEs , has raised €7 million in Series A funding. Backing the company once again is Inception Capital, with total funding now at €10 million since Penta was founded in May 2016. Launched in Germany in December , and powered by Banking-as-a-Platform solarisBank (rather than holding a banking license of its own), Penta is designed to meet the banking needs of small to medium-sized businesses, including startups. The premise is that SMEs are currently underserved by incumbent banks, including account opening being cumbersome and much more difficult than it should be and exorbitant fees charged for making payments or international money exchange. Penta is also bringing some much-need innovation and features to the German business banking market. One of those is multi-card support to make it easier to manage company expenses. Dubbed ‘Team Access,’ the recently launched feature lets business owners issue multiple MasterCards to employees who need to make purchases on a company’s behalf. Each card is linked to a business’ Penta account but can have custom rules and permissions per card/employee, in terms of how much money can be spent and where. More broadly, the feature is designed to cut down the time and cost of expense management for SMEs. Notably, I’m told that the Berlin-based challenger bank, which has already grown to a team of 40 and plans to get to 100 over the next year, is seeing 68 percent of new customers switching from their existing business bank account, with the remaining 40 percent newly incorporated businesses. That suggest many German businesses aren’t satisfied with the banking status quo, even if they’ve already crossed the account opening hurdle. Specifically, I understand that multi-card support has been one of the main draw, the kind of feature that older banks with legacy software often struggle to deliver

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Entrepreneur First, the company builder backed by Greylock, lands in Bangalore

Entrepreneur First (EF), the London-HQ’d company builder that invests in individuals “pre-team, pre-idea” to enable them to found new startups, is scaling up rapidly, as it promised to so. Already running programs in Paris , Berlin, London, Singapore , and Hong Kong, the so-called talent-first investor is setting up shop in Bangalore, India. Although referred to as the “Silicon Valley of India,” Bangalore fits the EF bill quite well in terms of being a tech hub with latent potential, especially when measured by the small number of truly international startups it has produced. What’s also interesting — and something EF co-founder Matt Clifford noted on a brief call with me on Friday — is that India has long-been a source for tech talent generally but this has often been an export industry, spanning prominent leaders of major U.S. tech companies, right down to traditional development outsourcing. “It’s out chance to help reverse the brain drain,” is one way that Clifford framed it. With that said, EF also notes that, according to Startup Genome, Bangalore’s startup ecosystem is valued at $19 billion, with an estimated 1,800-2,300 active tech startups. “The past decade has seen it shift from a purely skill-based factory model to a more startup mindset. There is a genuine interest in tech and an ability to attract highly skilled tech workers,” says the company builder. To that end, EF will invest around $55,000 in each of the companies developed during its bi-annual Bangalore program, while also providing cohort members a monthly stipend of $2,500 as they develop their startup ideas in the first three months.

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Want to reduce fraud? Make a better password, dummy!

Researchers at Indiana University have confirmed that stringent password policies – aside from being really annoying – actually work. The research , led by Ph.D. student Jacob Abbott, IU CIO Daniel Calarco, and professor L. Jean Camp. They published their findings in a paper entitled “Factors Influencing Password Reuse: A Case Study.” “Our paper shows that passphrase requirements such as a 15-character minimum length deter the vast majority of IU users (99.98 percent) from reusing passwords or passphrases on other sites,” said Abbott. “Other universities with fewer password requirements had reuse rates potentially as high as 40 percent.” To investigate the impact of policy on password reuse, the study analyzed password policies from 22 different U.S. universities, including their home institution, IU. Next, they extracted sets of emails and passwords from two large data sets that were published online and contained over 1.3 billion email addresses and password combinations. Based on email addresses belonging to a university’s domain, passwords were compiled and compared against a university’s official password policy. The findings were clear: Stringent password rules significantly lower a university’s risk of personal data breaches. In short, requiring longer passwords and creating a truly stringent password policy reduced fraud and password reuse by almost 99%. Further, the researchers found that preventing users from adding their name or username inside passwords its also pretty helpful

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Zyl is now a nostalgia-powered photo app

AI-powered photo management app Zyl is going back to the drawing board with a streamlined, more efficient redesign. The app is now focused on one thing only — resurfacing your old memories. Taking photos on a smartphone is now a daily habit. But what about looking back at photos you took one year, three years or even eight years ago? It can pile up quite quickly. Zyl thinks there’s emotional value in those long-forgotten photos. Before this update, Zyl helped you delete duplicates, create smart photo albums based on multiple criteria and collaborate on photo albums. In other words, it was a utility app. But when the company started talking with some of their users, they realized that one feature stood out and had more value than the rest. Applying those AI-powered models to your photo library is a great way to find interesting photos. But nobody was really looking at them. When you open the app, you get a view of your camera roll with your last photos at the bottom. There’s also a big green button at the bottom. When you tap on it, Zyl creates a satisfying animation and unveils an important photo.

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The real-life Emery and Evan from “Fresh off the Boat” launch Batu Capital for cannabis, crypto and big data startups

Brothers Evan and Emery Huang, founders of Batu Capital Restaurateur and raconteur Eddie Huang is the best known of the three “Fresh off the Boat” brothers (it was his memoir that inspired the ABC sitcom), but his younger brothers Emery and Evan remain relatively mysterious even to its most loyal viewers. Though the two’s namesake characters are also prominently featured on the show, their real-life counterparts have kept a much lower public profile, making sporadic appearances on Eddie’s social media. Emery and Evan, however, have been busy investing in real estate and recently branched into tech startups. Though their multi-family investment office Batu Capital just launched this year, it reached a big milestone this week when one of their first investments, MJ Freeway , an enterprise software developer for the cannabis industry, entered into a merger agreement with MTech that will make it part of a Nasdaq-listed holding company. The fictionalized versions of Evan and Emery Huang, portrayed on “Fresh off the Boat” by Ian Chen and Forrest Wheeler. (Photo by Vivian Zink/ABC via Getty Images) In an interview, the two brothers told TechCrunch about moving into the tech sector and the startups they want to fund in the United States, China and Southeast Asia. Batu Capital is focused on finding companies in the cannabis, blockchain and crypto sectors, as well as big data. In addition to MJ Freeway, which provides enterprise resource planning and compliance tracking software for the cannabis businesses, its portfolio also includes Vidy , a startup building a new approach to video ads on Ethereum, and Sora Ventures , a crypto-backed blockchain and digital currency venture fund. Batu Capital invests in seed or Series A stage companies or Series C and pre-IPO and its typical check size will be about $500,000 to $2 million. Though Batu isn’t a single family office, instead raising capital from a network of limited partners for each investment, its creation was motivated by Emery and Evan’s desire to protect their family’s assets after several generations of political and social upheaval. “Long story short, our family has made and lost fortunes more than five times within the past two generations and quite frankly I’ll be damned if we let it happen again in me and Evan’s lifetime,” Emery says.

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Readdle’s Denys Zhadanov to talk about bootstrapping at Disrupt Berlin

Readdle might not be a familiar name, but chances are you’ve been using some of their mobile apps. The Ukrainian company is a bootstrapped success story with 100 million downloads, 135 employees and a profitable business. That’s why I’m excited to announce that Readdle Vice President Denys Zhadanov is coming to TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin to talk about this remarkable journey. Readdle is behind some of the most popular productivity apps on iOS, such as Spark, PDF Expert, Calendars 5, Scanner Pro and Documents. When you browse the top charts in the App Store, there’s always a Readdle app here and there. The App Store has been around for ten years and has created a major shift in the tech industry. Many companies wouldn’t be around without the App Store and the Play Store, such as Uber, Snap, Facebook’s WhatsApp and Instagram. But the App Store isn’t just about social apps and big venture capital funding rounds. Readdle was there from day one and launched its first app back in 2008. They’ve been growing steadily, launched dozens of paid productivity apps, shut down some of them and iterated on the most successful ones. Readdle’s biggest bet right now is Spark

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Lime wants to block Scoot and Skip from deploying electric scooters in SF next week

Lime is doing the most right now.  In light of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency denying Lime a permit to operate electric scooters in the city, Lime is gearing up to request a temporary restraining order. “Lime believes that after selecting two other less experienced electric scooter companies and comparatively weaker applications in a process that was riddled with bias, the SFMTA should revisit the decision and employ a fair selection process,” the company wrote in a press release. Those two “less experienced” electric scooter companies Lime’s referring to are Skip, which currently operates via an official permit in Washington, D.C., and Scoot, which has successfully and legally operated shared electric mopeds in the city for several years. Following the SFMTA’s decision, Lime sent an appeal requesting the agency reevaluate its application. At the time, the SFMTA said it was “confident” it picked the right companies. Now, since the SFMTA still plans to enable both Scoot and Skip to deploy their respective scooters on Monday, Lime says it “believes that it has no choice but to seek emergency relief in the court.” Ahead of the decision in Santa Monica, Lime, along with Bird, protested recommendations for the city to not grant Lime a permit. Though, the city did end up granting Lime a permit. Lime, however, is not the only company that has appealed the decision in San Francisco. Earlier this week, Lyft reportedly petitioned SF Mayor London Breed, asking her to reconsider the SFMTA’s decision to only grant two permits for electric scooters. “It’s unfortunate Lime has chosen this course,” John Coté, communications director for City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement. “The SFMTA’s permitting process for the pilot program was thoughtful, fair and transparent

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Coord, a Sidewalk Labs spin-out, raises $5 million to help mobility services better integrate into cities

Coord, the mobility data startup that spun out of Alphabet-owned Sidewalk Labs, has raised a $5 million Series A round led by Alliance Ventures, with participation from Trucks, Urban.Us and DB Digital Ventures. The plan with the funding is to continue to enhance Coord’s APIs and geographic coverage, as well as “build a bridge between the private and public sectors,” Coord co-founder and CEO Stephen Smyth wrote on Medium . Coord offers a few products for its customers, which includes companies like Zipcar, Mozio and Google’s Maps product. There’s the Tolls API, which keeps tabs on toll roads, bridges and tunnels to determine the costs of trips; the Curbs API that is designed to help drivers easily figure out the parking and passenger loading rules (think ride-hailing drivers) in the area, meter prices and so forth; as well as a Routing API that uses real-time information to surface the best multi-modal routes. And as bike-sharing and scooter-sharing continue to expand across the world, Coord also offers a Shared Vehicle API to enable its customers to integrate the real-time availability, prices and locations of both bikes and scooters. “Our goal is to help the public and private sectors speak the same language when it comes to urban transportation,” Smyth wrote. “While many private companies are not well integrated into existing transportation systems of today, we believe that end users will ultimately demand interoperability across all of the systems in a city. To that end, we are driving standardization of transportation-related data across cities.” Coord will get you there one way or another with its new APIs

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Walmart is working with Eko to create interactive content

Walmart and Eko announced a partnership this morning to create a joint venture for interactive content called W*E Interactive Ventures. The best example of the interactivity that Eko enables is probably “That Moment When,” a comedy web series that the startup created last year in partnership with Sony.  In a series of short videos, you take on the role of Jill, a young-ish woman struggling to get her life together — the viewer decides what Jill says and also plays mini-games to help her achieve her goals. According to the announcement, W*E content will include a variety of formats like cookings shows and interactive toy catalogues. Eko CEO Yoni Bloch said they aren’t announcing any specific shows yet, but they will be “free and distributed everywhere,” and will be united by an aim to make the viewer “be the hero, be a part of the decision-making in the story.” The plan is to start releasing this content sometime next year. Walmart might not seem like the most obvious partner on something like this, but the company has been expanding into digital media with efforts like Vudu (it just announced a partnership with MGM ) and, more recently, Walmart eBooks . Bloch said the deal also includes a Walmart investment of undisclosed size into Eko. Apparently the joint venture will work primarily as “the funding vehicle” for this new content, with Walmart staying out of the creative decisions. “Walmart has been an incredible partner, allowing us to have creative control, which we are passing on to the creators,” Bloch said. Tribeca Productions co-founder Jane Rosenthal will serve as strategic advisor to W&E Interactive Ventures, and Eko Chief Media Officer Nancy Tellem will be on the board. “Our partnership with Eko will help us accelerate efforts to deepen relationships with customers and connect with new audiences in innovative ways and is one part of an overall entertainment ecosystem we’re building,” said Scott McCall, senior vice president for entertainment, toys and seasonal at Walmart U.S, in the announcement.

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Microsoft acquires Lobe, a drag-and-drop AI tool

Microsoft today announced that is has acquired Lobe , a startup that lets you build machine learning models with the help of a simple drag-and-drop interface. Microsoft plans to use Lobe, which only launched into beta earlier this year, to build upon its own efforts to make building AI models easier, though, for the time being, Lobe will operate as before. “As part of Microsoft, Lobe will be able to leverage world-class AI research, global infrastructure, and decades of experience building developer tools,” the team writes . “We plan to continue developing Lobe as a standalone service, supporting open source standards and multiple platforms.” Lobe was co-founded by Mike Matas , who previously worked on the iPhone and iPad, as well as Facebook’s Paper and Instant Articles products. The other co-founders are Adam Menges and Markus Beissinger. In addition to Lobe, Microsoft also recently bought Bonsai.ai , a deep reinforcement learning platform, and Semantic Machines , a conversational AI platform. Last year, it acquired Disrupt Battlefield participant Maluuba . It’s no secret that machine learning talent is hard to come by, so it’s no surprise that all of the major tech firms are acquiring as much talent and technology as they can. “In many ways though, we’re only just beginning to tap into the full potential AI can provide,” Microsoft’s EVP and CTO Kevin Scott writes in today’s announcement. “This in large part is because AI development and building deep learning models are slow and complex processes even for experienced data scientists and developers. To date, many people have been at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing AI, and we’re committed to changing that.” It’s worth noting that Lobe’s approach complements Microsoft’s existing Azure ML Studio platform , which also offers a drag-and-drop interface for building machine learning models, though with a more utilitarian design than the slick interface that the Lobe team built. Both Lobe and Azure ML Studio aim to make machine learning easy to use for anybody, without having to know the ins and outs of TensorFlow, Keras or PyTorch. Those approaches always come with some limitations, but just like low-code tools, they do serve a purpose and work well enough for many use cases.

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Hacera creates directory to make blockchain projects more searchable

In the 1990s when the web was young, companies like Yahoo, created directories of web pages to help make them more discoverable. Hacera wants to bring that same idea to blockchain, and today it announced the launch of the Hacera Network Registry . CEO Jonathan Levi says that blockchains being established today risk being isolated because people simply can’t find them. If you have a project like the IBM -Maersk supply chain blockchain announced last month , how does an interested party like a supplier or customs authority find it and ask to participate? Up until the creation of this registry, there was no easy way to search for projects. Early participants include heavy hitters like Microsoft, Hitachi, Huawei, IBM, SAP and Oracle, who are linking to projects being created on their platforms. The registry supports projects based on major digital ledger communities including Hyperledger, Quorum, Cosmos, Ethereum and Corda. The Hacera Network Registry is built on Hyperledger Fabric , and the code is open source. (Levi was Risk Manager for Hyperledger Fabric 1.0.) Hacera Network Registry page While early sponsors of the project include IBM and Hyperledger Fabric, Levi stressed the network is open to all. Blockchain projects can create information pages, not unlike a personal LinkedIn page, and Hacera verifies the data before adding it to the registry. There are currently more than 20 permissioned networks in the registry, and Hacera is hoping this is just the beginning. Jerry Cuomo, VP of blockchain technologies at IBM, says for blockchain to grow it will require a way to register, lookup, join and transact across a variety of blockchain solutions. “As the number of blockchain consortiums, networks and applications continues to grow we need a means to list them and make them known to the world, in order to unleash the power of blockchain,” Cuomo told TechCrunch. Hacera is solving that problem. This is exactly the kind of underlying infrastructure that the blockchain requires to expand as a technology.

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Discover Sono Motors’ vision of the electric car at Disrupt Berlin

New car makers have been popping up left and right. But instead of creating yet another Tesla-like company, German company Sono Motors is working on something completely new — a solar-powered car. That’s why I’m excited to announce that the company’s co-founder and CEO Laurin Hahn will join us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin . Sono Motors has been working for years on its first car — the Sion. The company now has a handful of prototypes on the road and is refining its manufacturing process to ship those cars to customers who preordered. The company is focusing on compact cars at first with the Sion. The car looks more like a Volkswagen Golf than a Mercedes E-Class. And it makes a ton of sense given that a solar car isn’t your average car. People in the automotive industry will tell you that cars remain parked for 90 percent or 95 percent of the time. While it’s hard to find the exact figure, it’s true that you don’t go on a road trip every day.

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This tech (scarily) lets video change reality

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have created a method to turn one video into the style of another. While this might be a little unclear at first, take a look at the video below. In it, the researchers have taken an entire clip from John Oliver and made it look like Stephen Colbert said it. Further, they were able to mimic the motion of a flower opening with another flower. In short, they can make anyone (or anything) look like they are doing something they never did. “I think there are a lot of stories to be told,” said CMU Ph.D. student Aayush Bansal. He and the team created the tool to make it easier to shoot complex films, perhaps by replacing the motion in simple, well-lit scenes and copying it into an entirely different style or environment. “It’s a tool for the artist that gives them an initial model that they can then improve,” he said. The system uses something called generative adversarial networks (GANs) to move one style of image onto another without much matching data.

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Simple Feast raises $12M from Balderton and 14W to expand its weekly meat-free meal-box deliveries

The vast majority of environmental experts say that avoiding meat and dairy is the single most important, and most impactful action, you can take to reduce your personal impact on Earth. Why? Because of the sheer amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere from the process of meat production. Many would agree it’s also pretty good for your health. But when most of us have been brought up with animal protein in the middle of our plates, it often feels pretty hard to achieve. At the same time, fast food delivery has been taking off, but we’re still eating the same thing: meat. So a Danish startup has come along to try to solve this. Simple Feast delivers sustainable food to people’s homes in biodegradable boxes, and it’s now raised a $12 million Series A funding round led by Balderton Capital in London, with participation from 14W in New York. Existing investors Sweet Capital and ByFounders are also re-investing the round. Simple Feast offers what it describes as ready-to-eat plant-based food that is “sustainably produced, organic, and delivered straight to the doorstep” in biodegradable boxes every week. The meal solution delivers weekly boxes with three prepared plant-based and 100 percent organic meals ready to serve in 10 minutes. In this respect it’s not unlike other startups, such as HelloFresh, with the main difference being that all the food is plant-based.

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Ubiquity6 CEO Anjney Midha is coming to Disrupt SF 2018

2018 has been the year that AR promises came face-to-face with reality. While Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore sparked a ravenous response from developers that had grown worried about VR’s near-term market and the fate of AR headsets from Microsoft and Magic Leap, little seemed to resonate deeply with consumers. That realization is part of the reason AR startups working on backend services and more base level development pipelines have seen so much success. Onstage at Disrupt SF 2018, we’ll be chatting with Anjney Midha, the CEO of an AR startup called Ubiquity6 . The startup was founded just a year ago but has already raised more than $37 million to solve some of the hardest augmented reality problems that companies like Google and Apple are working hard to solve, as well. Its backers include Google’s Gradient Ventures, First Round, Benchmark and KPCB, where Midha previously ran a small fund. The company is tackling problems like multiplayer interactions and world mapping as well as issues key to more immersive gameplay like making sure that virtual objects stay tied to physical markers in-between gaming sessions. Ultimately, the company’s work is aiming to promote the Ubiquity6 app to be a hub for AR experiences that will have a development backbone that enables much deeper AR interactions for users. Ubiquity6 is ambitious about the scale of their AR capabilities. While so many companies are focusing their efforts on how to capture AR interactions taking place in the living room, Ubiquity6 is actively working to map entire cities so it can deliver massive AR experiences that can turn heads (or at least phones). We’re looking forward to chatting with Midha and hearing about how his startup is planning to compete with some of the world’s biggest tech companies in building out a digital reality that’s projected onto our own.

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