Internxt gets $1M to be ‘the Coinbase of decentralized storage’

Valencia-based startup Internxt has been quietly working on an ambitious plan to make decentralized cloud storage massively accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

It’s just bagged $1M in seed funding led by Angels Capital, a European VC fund owned by Juan Roig (aka Spain’s richest grocer and second wealthiest billionaire), and Miami-based The Venture City. It had previously raised around half a million dollars via a token sale to help fund early development.

The seed funds will be put towards its next phase of growth — its month-to-month growth rate is 30% and it tells us it’s confident it can at least sustain that — including planning a big boost to headcount so it can accelerate product development.

The Spanish startup has spent most of its short life to date developing a decentralized infrastructure that it argues is both inherently more secure and more private than mainstream cloud-based apps (such as those offered by tech giants like Google).

This is because files are not only encrypted in a way that means it cannot access your data but information is also stored in a highly decentralized way, split into tiny shards which are then distributed across multiple storage locations, with users of the network contributing storage space (and being recompensed for providing that capacity with — you guessed it — crypto).

“It’s a distributed architecture, we’ve got servers all over the world,” explains founder and CEO Fran Villalba Segarra. “We leverage and use the space provided by professionals and individuals. So they connect to our infrastructure and start hosting data shards and we pay them for the data they host — which is also more affordable because we are not going through the traditional route of just renting out a data center and paying them for a fixed amount of space.

“It’s like the Airbnb model or Uber model. We’ve kind of democratized storage.”

Internxt clocked up three years of R&D, beginning in 2017, before launching its first cloud-based apps: Drive (file storage), a year ago — and now Photos (a Google Photos rival).

So far it’s attracting around a million active users without paying any attention to marketing, per Villalba Segarra.

Internxt Mail is the next product in its pipeline — to compete with Gmail and also ProtonMail, a pro-privacy alternative to Google’s freemium webmail client (and for more on why it believes it can offer an edge there read on).

Internxt Send (file transfer) is another product billed as coming soon.

“We’re working on a G-Suite alternative to make sure we’re at the level of Google when it comes to competing with them,” he adds.

The issue Internxt’s architecture is designed to solve is that files which are stored in just one place are vulnerable to being accessed by others. Whether that’s the storage provider itself (who may, like Google, have a privacy-hostile business model based on mining users’ data); or hackers/third parties who manage to break the provider’s security — and can thus grab and/or otherwise interfere with your files.

Security risks when networks are compromised can include ransomeware attacks — which have been on an uptick in recent years — whereby attackers that have penetrated a network and gained access to stored files then hold the information to ransom by walling off the rightful owner’s access (typically by applying their own layer of encryption and demanding payment to unlock the data).

The core conviction driving Internxt’s decentralization push is that files sitting whole on a server or hard drive are sitting ducks.

Its answer to that problem is an alternative file storage infrastructure that combines zero access encryption and decentralization — meaning files are sharded, distributed and mirrored across multiple storage locations, making them highly resilient against storage failures or indeed hack attacks and snooping.

The approach ameliorates cloud service provider-based privacy concerns because Internxt itself cannot access user data.

To make money its business model is simple, tiered subscriptions: With (currently) one plan covering all its existing and planned services — based on how much data you need. (It is also freemium, with the first 10GB being free.)

Internxt is by no means the first to see key user value in rethinking core Internet architecture.

Scotland’s MaidSafe has been trying to build an alternative decentralized Internet for well over a decade at this point — only starting alpha testing its alt network (aka, the Safe Network) back in 2016, after ten years of testing. Its long term mission to reinvent the Internet continues.

Another (slightly less veteran) competitor in the decentralized cloud storage space is Storj, which is targeting enterprise users. There’s also Filecoin and Sia — both also part of the newer wave of blockchain startups that sprung up after Bitcoin sparked entrepreneurial interest in cryptocurrencies and blockchain/decentralization.

How, then, is what Internxt’s doing different to these rival decentralized storage plays — all of which have been at this complex coal face for longer?

“We’re the only European based startup that’s doing this [except for MaidSafe, although it’s UK not EU based],” says Villalba Segarra, arguing that the European Union’s legal regime around data protection and privacy lends it an advantage vs U.S. competitors. “All the others, Storj, plus Sia, Filecoin… they’re all US-based companies as far as I’m aware.”

The other major differentiating factor he highlights is usability — arguing that the aforementioned competitors have been “built by developers for developers”. Whereas he says Internxt’s goal is be the equivalent of ‘Coinbase for decentralized storage’; aka, it wants to make a very complex technology highly accessible to non-technical Internet users.

“It’s a huge technology but in the blockchain space we see this all the time — where there’s huge potential but it’s very hard to use,” he tells TechCrunch. “That’s essentially what Coinbase is also trying to do — bringing blockchain to users, making it easier to use, easier to invest in cryptocurrency etc. So that’s what we’re trying to do at Internxt as well, bringing blockchain for cloud storage to the people. Making it easy to use with a very easy to use interface and so forth.

“It’s the only service in the distributed cloud space that’s actually usable — that’s kind of our main differentiating factor from Storj and all these other companies.”

“In terms of infrastructure it’s actually pretty similar to that of Sia or Storj,” he goes on — further likening Internxt’s ‘zero access’ encryption to Proton Drive’s architecture (aka, the file storage product from the makers of end-to-end encrypted email service ProtonMail) — which also relies on client side encryption to give users a robust technical guarantee that the service provider can’t snoop on your stuff. (So you don’t have to just trust the company not to violate your privacy.)

But while it’s also touting zero access encryption (it seems to be using off-the-shelf AES-256 encryption; it says it uses “military grade”, client-side, open source encryption that’s been audited by Spain’s S2 Grupo, a major local cybersecurity firm), Internxt takes the further step of decentralizing the encrypted bits of data too. And that means it can tout added security benefits, per Villalba Segarra.

“On top of that what we do is we fragment data and then distribute it around the world. So essentially what servers host are encrypted data shards — which is much more secure because if a hacker was ever to access one of these servers what they would find is encrypted data shards which are essentially useless. Not even we can access that data.

“So that adds a huge layer of security against hackers or third party [access] in terms of data. And then on top of that we build very nice interfaces with which the user is very used to using — pretty much similar to those of Google… and that also makes us very different from Storj and Sia.”

Storage space for Internxt users’ files is provided by users who are incentivized to offer up their unused capacity to host data shards with micropayments of crypto for doing so. This means capacity could be coming from an individual user connecting to Internxt with just their laptop — or a datacenter company with large amounts of unused storage capacity. (And Villalba Segarra notes that it has a number of data center companies, such as OVH, are connected to its network.)

“We don’t have any direct contracts [for storage provision]… Anyone can connect to our network — so datacenters with available storage space, if they want to make some money on that they can connect to our network. We don’t pay them as much as we would pay them if we went to them through the traditional route,” he says, likening this portion of the approach to how Airbnb has both hosts and guests (or Uber needs drivers and riders).

“We are the platform that connects both parties but we don’t host any data ourselves.”

Internxt uses a reputation system to manage storage providers — to ensure network uptime and quality of service — and also applies blockchain ‘proof of work’ challenges to node operators to make sure they’re actually storing the data they claim.

“Because of the decentralized nature of our architecture we really need to make sure that it hits a certain level of reliability,” he says. “So for that we use blockchain technology… When you’re storing data in your own data center it’s easier in terms of making sure it’s reliable but when you’re storing it in a decentralized architecture it brings a lot of benefits — such as more privacy or it’s also more affordable — but the downside is you need to make sure that for example they’re actually storing data.”

Payments to storage capacity providers are also made via blockchain tech — which Villalba Segarra says is the only way to scale and automate so many micropayments to ~10,000 node operators all over the world.

Discussing the issue of energy costs — given that ‘proof of work’ blockchain-based technologies are facing increased scrutiny over the energy consumption involved in carrying out the calculations — he suggests that Internxt’s decentralized architecture can be more energy efficient than traditional data centers because data shards are more likely to be located nearer to the requesting user — shrinking the energy required to retrieve packets vs always having to do so from a few centralized global locations.

“What we’ve seen in terms of energy consumption is that we’re actually much more energy efficient than a traditional cloud storage service. Why? Think about it, we mirror files and we store them all over the world… It’s actually impossible to access a file from Dropbox that is sent out from [a specific location]. Essentially when you access Dropbox or Google Drive and you download a file they’re going to be sending it out from their data center in Texas or wherever. So there’s a huge data transfer energy consumption there — and people don’t think about it,” he argues.

“Data center energy consumption is already 2%* of the whole world’s energy consumption if I’m not mistaken. So being able to use latency and being able to send your files from [somewhere near the user] — which is also going to be faster, which is all factored into our reputation system — so our algorithms are going to be sending you the files that are closer to you so that we save a lot of energy from that. So if you multiple that by millions of users and millions of terabytes that actually saves a lot of energy consumption and also costs for us.”

What about latency from the user’s point of view? Is there a noticeable lag when they try to upload or retrieve and access files stored on Internxt vs — for example — Google Drive?

Villalba Segarra says being able to store file fragments closer to the user also helps compensate for any lag. But he also confirms there is a bit of a speed difference vs mainstream cloud storage services.

“In terms of upload and download speed we’re pretty close to Google Drive and Dropbox,” he suggests. “Again these companies have been around for over ten years and their services are very well optimized and they’ve got a traditional cloud architecture which is also relatively simpler, easier to build and they’ve got thousands of [employees] so their services are obviously much better than our service in terms of speed and all that. But we’re getting really close to them and we’re working really fast towards bringing our speed [to that level] and also as many features as possible to our architecture and to our services.”

“Essentially how we see it is we’re at the level of Proton Drive or Tresorit in terms of usability,” he adds on the latency point. “And we’re getting really close to Google Drive. But an average user shouldn’t really see much of a difference and, as I said, we’re literally working as hard as possible to make our services as useable as those of Google. But we’re ages ahead of Storj, Sia, MaidSafe and so forth — that’s for sure.”

Internxt is doing all this complex networking with a team of just 20 people currently. But with the new seed funding tucked in its back pocket the plan now is to ramp up hiring over the next few months — so that it can accelerate product development, sustain its growth and keep pushing its competitive edge.

“By the time we do a Series A we should be around 100 people at Internxt,” says Villalba Segarra. “We are already preparing our Series A. We just closed our seed round but because of how fast we’re growing we are already being reached out to by a few other lead VC funds from the US and London.

“It will be a pretty big Series A. Potentially the biggest in Spain… We plan on growing until the Series A at at least a 30% month-to-month rate which is what we’ve been growing up until now.”

He also tells TechCrunch that the intention for the Series A is to do the funding at a $50M valuation.

“We were planning on doing it a year from now because we literally just closed our [seed] round but because of how many VCs are reaching out to us we may actually do it by the end of this year,” he says, adding: “But timeframe isn’t an issue for us. What matters most is being able to reach that minimum valuation.”

*Per the IEA, data centres and data transmission networks each accounted for around 1% of global electricity use in 2019

#angels-capital, #blockchain, #cloud-computing, #cloud-storage, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #dropbox, #encryption, #energy-consumption, #europe, #european-union, #fundings-exits, #gmail, #internxt, #privacy, #recent-funding, #spain, #startups, #storage, #tc, #the-venture-city, #valencia

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Yana’s mental health tool for Spanish speakers nears 5 million users

Andrea Campos has struggled with depression since she was 8 years old. Over the years, she’s tried all sorts of therapies — from behavioral to pharmacotherapy.

In 2017, when Campos was in her early 20s, she learned to program and created a system to help manage her mental health. It started as a personal project but as she talked to more people, Campos realized that many others might benefit from the system as well.

So, she then built an application to provide access to mental health tools to Spanish-speaking people and began testing it with a small group of people. At first, Campos herself was her own chatbot, texting with users who were tired of dealing with depression.

“During the month, I was pretending I was an app, and would send these people a list of activities they had to complete during the day, such as writing in a gratitude journal, and then asking them how those activities made them feel,” Campos recalls.

Her thinking was that sometimes with depression and anxiety comes “a lot of avoidance,” where people resist potential treatment out of fear.

The results from her small experiment were encouraging. So, Campos set out to conduct a bigger sample of experiments, and raised about $10,000 via crowdfunding campaign. With that money, she hired a developer to build a chatbot for her app, which was mostly being used via Facebook Messenger.

Then an earthquake hit Mexico City and that developer lost everything — including his home and computer — and had to relocate.

“I was left with nothing,” Campos says. But that developer introduced her to another, who disappeared with his payment, and again, left Campos, “with nothing.”

“I realized at the beginning of 2019, I was going to have to do this by myself,” Campos said. So she used a site that she described as a “Wix for chatbots,” and created one herself.

After experimenting with the app with a sample of 700 people, Campos was even more encouraged and raised an angel round of funding for Yana, the startup behind her app. (Yana is an acronym for “You Are Not Alone.”) By early 2020, with just three months of runway left, she pivoted to create an app with chatbot integration that wasn’t just limited to use via Facebook Messenger.

Campos ended up launching the app more broadly during the same week that her city in Mexico went into quarantine.

Image Credits: Yana

At first, she said, she saw “normal, steady growth.” But then on Oct. 10, 2020, Apple’s App Store highlighted Yana for International Mental Health Day, and the response was overwhelming.

“It was also my birthday so I was at a spa in a nearby town, relaxing, when I started hearing my cell phone go crazy,” Campos recalls. “Everything went nuts. I had to go back to Mexico City because our servers were exploding since they were not used to having that kind of volume.”

As a result of that exposure, Yana went from having around 80,000 users to reaching 1 million users two weeks later. Soon after that, Google highlighted the app as one of best for personal growth in 2020, and that too led to another spike in users. Today, Yana is about to hit the 5 million-user mark and is also announcing it has raised $1.5 million in funding led by Mexico’s ALLVP, which has also invested in the likes of Cornershop, Flink and Nuvocargo.

When the pandemic hit last year, six of Yana’s 9-person team decided to quarantine together in a “startup house” in Cancun to focus on building the company. Earlier this year, the company had raised $315,000 from investors such as 500 Startups, Magma and Hustle Fund. The company had pitched ALLVP, who was intrigued but wanted to wait until it could write a bigger check. 

That time is now, and Yana is now among the top three downloaded apps in Mexico and 12 countries including Spain, Chile, Ecuador and Venezuela.

With its new capital, Yana is planning to “move away from the depression/anxiety narrative,” according to Campos.

“We want to compete in the wellness space,” she told TechCrunch. “A lot of people were looking for us to deal with crises such as a breakup or a loss but then they didn’t always see a necessity to keep using Yana for longer than the crisis lasted.”

Some of those people would download the app again months later when hit with another crisis.

“We don’t want to be that app anymore,” Campos said. “We want to focus on whole wellness and mental health and transmit something that needs to be built every single day, just like we do with exercise.”

Moving forward, Yana aims to help people with their mental health not just during a crisis but with activities they can do on a daily basis, including a gratitude journal, a mood tracker and meditation — “things that prevent depression and anxiety,” Campos said.

“We want to be a vitamin for our soul, and keeping people mentally healthy on an ongoing basis,” she said. “We also want to include a community inside our application.”

ALLVP’s Federico Antoni is enthusiastic about the startup’s potential. He first met Campos when she was participating in an accelerator program in 2017 and then again recently.

The firm led Yana’s latest round because it “wanted to be on her team.”

“She [Campos] has turned into an amazing leader, and we realized her potential and strength,” he said. “Plus, Yana is an amazing product. When you download it, it’s almost like you can see a soul in there.”

#allvp, #app-store, #apps, #chatbot, #chile, #computing, #ecuador, #facebook, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #health, #itunes, #mental-health, #messenger, #mexico, #mexico-city, #operating-systems, #recent-funding, #social-media, #software, #spain, #startup, #startups, #tc, #venezuela, #venture-capital

0

Apple Maps upgrade brings more detailed maps, transit features, AR view and more

Among many updates coming to iOS 15, Apple Maps will receive a number of upgrades that will bring more detailed maps, improvements for transit riders, AR experiences and other changes to the platform. The improvements build on the new map Apple begin rolling out two years ago, which had focused on offering richer details, and — in response to user feedback and complaints — more accurate navigation.

Since then, Apple Maps has steadily improved.

The new map experience has since launched in the U.S., U.K., Ireland and Canada and will now make its way to Spain and Portugal, starting today. I will then arrive in Italy and Australia later this year, Apple announced during its keynote address during its Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday.

maps driving

Image Credits: Apple

In addition, Apple said iOS 15 Maps will include new details for commercial districts, marinas, buildings, and more. Plus, Apple has added things like elevation, new road colors and labels, as well as hundreds of custom designed landmarks — for example, for places like the Golden Gate Bridge.

Apple also built a new nighttime mode for Maps with a “moonlit glow,” it said.

 

For drivers, Apple added new road details to the map, so it can help drivers as they move throughout a city to better see and understand important things like turn lanes, medians, bus and taxi lanes, and other things. The changes are competitive with some of the updates Google has been making as of late to its own Google Maps platform, which brought street-level details in select cities. These allowed people — including those navigating on foot, in a wheelchair, on a bike, or on a scooter, for example — to better see things like sidewalks and intersections.

Apple is now catching up, saying it, too, will show features like crosswalks and bike lanes.

It will also render things like overlapping complex interchanges in 3D space, making it easier to see upcoming traffic conditions or what lane to take. These features will come to CarPlay later in the year.

Image Credits: Apple

For transit riders, meanwhile, Maps has made improvements to help users find nearby stations.

Users can now pin their favorite lines to the top, and even keep track on their Apple Watch so they don’t have to pull out their phone. The updated Maps app will automatically follow your transit route and notify you when it’s time to disembark, making the app more competitive to third-party apps often favored by transit takers, like Citymapper, for instance.

maps train stop

Image Credits: Apple

When you exit your station, you can also now hold up your iPhone to scan the buildings in the area and Maps will generate an accurate position, offering direction in augmented reality. This is similar to the Live View AR directions Google announced last year.

This feature is launching in select cities in 2021 with more to come in the year ahead, Apple said.

Image Credits: Apple

 

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

#apple, #apple-inc, #apple-maps, #apps, #australia, #canada, #computing, #google, #google-maps-platform, #google-maps, #ios, #iphone, #ireland, #italy, #itunes, #operating-systems, #portugal, #software, #spain, #transit, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wwdc-2021

0

A Wave of the Hand Sets Off Spain-Morocco Migrant Fight

Spanish officials say Morocco increasingly sees migrants as currency for financial and political gains after it let up to 12,000 flood into a Spanish enclave in North Africa over two days.

#ceuta-spain, #defense-and-military-forces, #demonstrations-protests-and-riots, #illegal-immigration, #international-relations, #middle-east-and-africa-migrant-crisis, #morocco, #politics-and-government, #spain

0

Josep Almudéver, 101, Dies; Last Known Veteran of International Brigades

He was one of many of the Brigades’ volunteers who viewed Spain’s Civil War as a broader fight against the advance of Fascism across Europe.

#almudever-josep-1919-2021, #deaths-obituaries, #franco-francisco, #international-brigades, #spain, #spanish-civil-war-1936-39

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The exit effect: 4 ways IPOs and acquisitions drive positive change across the global ecosystem

For many VCs, the exit is the endgame; you cash in and move on. But as we know, the startup world is evolving, and that means the impact of investment is no longer limited to how much money is made.

As investors, we’re looking further into what each investment means to human beings, at interlinking our mission with our money. And yet, one of the events that generates the most momentum for long-term impact — the successful exit of a portfolio company — is not being harnessed.

When leveraged properly, an exit can be the beginning of a firm’s true impact, especially when we’re talking about giving all founders equal opportunities and empowering the best ideas. The investment sphere is slowly shaking off its “America first” approach as foreign products take the world by storm and international businesses become the norm.

When leveraged properly, an exit can be the beginning of a firm’s true impact, especially when we’re talking about giving all founders equal opportunities and empowering the best ideas.

Investors will be driving forces in enabling the highest-potential companies to build products that countries everywhere will benefit from — no matter where they were conceived. The way they play the game can transform the industry into one in which a founder from across the ocean has as much of a chance to change the world as one from next door.

We know the basics of how to do this with cash: Investing in underrepresented founders is a necessary first step. But who’s talking about the power of exits to change the playing field for diverse founders? We must consider the psychological motivation of seeing a huge buyout on other entrepreneurs, what that startup’s ex-team members go on to build, and what the achievements of one citizen does for that nation’s reputation.

Last year, 41 venture-backed companies saw a billion-dollar exit, totaling over $100 billion, the highest numbers in a decade. We have an unprecedented amount of clout to do something with those power moves and four ways to turn them into a domino effect.

1. Competitor effect

When a foreign entrepreneur raises money from U.S. firms and sells to a U.S. company, other immigrants see that. Regardless of how groundbreaking their product idea might be, immigrant Americans will always be more wary of putting their eggs into the entrepreneurship basket, at least as long as 93% of all VC money continues to be controlled by white men.

This, despite research suggesting that immigrants contribute 40% more to innovation than local inventors.

What these foreign entrepreneurs most need is confidence, role models and success stories proving other people who look like them have made it, especially when those founders are making waves in the same industry as them.

So a big, well-publicized exit will create momentum in the industry for other foreign founders to give fuel to their venture and seek to take it to the next stage. Not only that, it will instill more self-assurance when it comes to fundraising, and investors will value that.

I was inspired to write this column after Returnly, a fintech founded by a fellow immigrant from Spain based in San Francisco — which, for full transparency, I invested in as an angel investor, and then for Series B and C via my fund — was acquired for $300 million by Affirm.

While there was undoubtedly a personal financial gain worth celebrating, the success of a foreign founder who persevered against the odds in such a competitive ecosystem as Silicon Valley, raised large rounds from U.S.-based investors, and was finally acquired by a U.S. company served as a moment of inspiration for other diverse founders around the world. We saw this in the amount of media attention it received in both business and mainstream press in Spain and the floods of connect requests and congratulations that followed on LinkedIn.

The impact of an exit is greater when it shows foreign entrepreneurs that there are globally minded organizations helping startups like theirs get equal access to funding. That means having VC firms that spotlight international entrepreneurship and foster global expert networks.

As investors, we can maximize the impact of our exits in the industry by highlighting the foreign origins of our founders in a big way when it comes to promoting the exit, including narrating the challenges and opportunities they encountered on their journey. We can use the victory to drive the point home to our fellow investors that diverse and international entrepreneurship is an undervalued gem. We can personally take the win to boost our brand as one that empowers foreign entrepreneurs in that niche, attracting more to seek funding with us in a positive reinforcement cycle.

2. Wealth effect

The windfall from a big exit puts all previous investors in a privileged position, and it’s unlikely that money will sit around for long. They’ll look to reinvest in other high-potential companies — probably ones that look a lot like the one that was just sold.

But in addition to those investors multiplying the positive impact in their own portfolio, they will rally other investors to behave in a similar way.

Each exit — good or bad — sets a precedent for that niche and that type of company. Other investors will follow suit if they sense that one of their peers is onto a cash cow. Because foreign and ethnic minority founders are still underrepresented in startup funding, it makes this field less competitive while harboring huge potential. VCs who have an eye out for unique opportunities will spot when an investor has made a hefty profit from an unconventional startup, especially if they continue to invest in others in that same field.

To help this along, angels and VCs who’ve been behind a recent exit and are reinvesting in similar founders should publicize those knock-on investments, explaining how their previous success motivated them to support similar ventures. They can also be vocal within their network about their decision to raise up certain entrepreneurs because they’ve seen it works.

Returnly’s founder recently offered to put some of his earnings back into our fund, enabling more foreign entrepreneurs like himself to access capital. If as investors we foster meaningful relationships with our funders and truly care about empowering diverse entrepreneurs, we’ll see more of that wealth circle back into our mission.

3. Team effect

The PayPal Mafia is a set of former PayPal executives and employees — such as Elon Musk, a South African, and Peter Thiel, a German American — who have gone on to seriously disrupt not one but multiple industries across tech. Among the companies they’ve founded are YouTube, LinkedIn, Yelp and Tesla, and they’ve even been named U.S. ambassadors. That’s just one company. Imagine what other diverse and driven teams can do with the influx of cash and inspiration that comes with a big exit. There will be a ripple effect of team members eager to start out on their own who feel empowered by the success of someone who believed in them.

Their ventures will be more likely to “pass it on” when it comes to giving equal opportunities to people regardless of origin and will generate more jobs for people with their mission. Take Thiel, who has to date backed over 40 companies in Europe alone.

As VCs, we can capitalize on this team effect by keeping our eye on any spinoff ventures that arise and supporting them when possible (with experience and contacts, if not with capital). But beyond this, you can also consider encouraging these people to join the investment sphere, maybe even within your firm. Many successful startup founders and executives go on to become investors — the PayPal Mafia has contributed to some of the most notorious funds out there today. The origin story of these former team members will make them more prone to supporting underrepresented founders they can get behind. In turn, new entrepreneurs will draw more value from their personal experiences.

4. Reputation effect

Although Returnly is headquartered in San Francisco, its founder is Spanish and many of its employees were based in Spain.

That means that the impact of Returnly’s exit will be felt on the other side of the Atlantic as well as among co-nationals in the United States. The same is true of other notable sales, like AlienVault, which was founded in Spain and had multiple offices there. AlienVault was acquired by U.S. telecommunications giant AT&T for $900 million. Or IPOs — earlier this month, the Spanish-origin payments company Flywire filed for an IPO that could value the company at $3 billion. One startup’s success boosts the reputation of its entire team, and with it other founders and talent with their same country of origin, background, education and drive.

It follows that investors and other stakeholders will be more inclined to back opportunities among founders from the same home country if it says something about the mission, expertise and culture they bring to their startup.

At the same time, growing startups will be more interested in hiring the talent of evidently successful teams. That doesn’t just mean hiring more foreign experts in the United States, but seeking to outsource farther afield. We’re already becoming far more comfortable with remote teams, and it’s more capital-efficient for one half of the team to be working while the other half sleeps. But founders will always gravitate more to countries where local talent and innovation is already seen to be thriving. Open up that conversation with your portfolio companies.

VCs have the power to change an industry forever, to connect startup ecosystems across continents and to see startups expand worldwide. But this is about staying relevant as an investor as much as it’s about ensuring this next stage in the startup world is a positive one.

Investors who don’t recognize that the future of startups is global and diverse in nature won’t be in sync with the best opportunities — and won’t be selected by the best founders. Rather than trying to play catchup, help build that ecosystem.

#angel-investor, #column, #diversity, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #private-equity, #spain, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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Spain Issued ‘Equality Stamps’ in Skin Tones. The Darker Ones Were Worth Less.

The campaign, marking the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, aimed to oppose “an unfair and painful reality that should not exist.” To many, it only made things worse.

#black-people, #discrimination, #spain, #stamps-postal

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Wayflyer raises $76M to provide ‘revenue-based’ financing to e-commerce merchants

Wayflyer, a revenue-based financing platform for e-commerce merchants, has raised $76 million in a Series A funding round led by Left Lane Capital.

“Partners” of DST Global, QED Investors, Speedinvest and Zinal Growth — the family office of Guillaume Pousaz (founder of Checkout.com) — also put money in the round. The raise comes just after Wayflyer raised $100 million in debt funding to support its cash advance product, and 14 months after the Dublin, Ireland-based startup launched its first product.

With an e-commerce boom fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wayflyer is the latest in a group of startups focused on the space that has attracted investor interest as of late. The company aims to help e-commerce merchants “unlock growth” by giving them access to working capital (from $10,000 up to $20 million) so they can improve cash flow and drive sales. For example, more cash can help these merchants do things like buy more inventory in bulk so they can meet customer demand and save money. 

In a nutshell, Wayflyer uses analytics and sends merchants cash to make inventory purchases or investments in their business. Those merchants then repay Wayflyer using a percentage of their revenue until the money is paid back (plus a fee charged for the cash advance). So essentially, the merchants are using their revenue to get financing, hence the term revenue-based financing. The advantage, Wayflyer says, is that companies make repayments as a percentage of their sales. So if they have a slow month, they will pay back less. So, there’s more flexibility involved than with other mechanisms such as traditional bank loans.

Co-founder Aidan Corbett believes that in a crowded space, Wayflyer’s use of big data gives it an edge over competitors.

Corbett and former VC Jack Pierse spun Wayflyer out of a marketing analytics company that Corbett had also started, called Conjura, in September 2019.

“Jack came to me and said, ‘You should stop using our marketing analytics engine to do these big enterprise SaaS solutions, and instead use them to underwrite e-commerce businesses for short-term finance,’ ” Corbett recalls.

And so he did.

“We just had our heads down and started repurposing the platform for it to be an underwriting platform,” Corbett said. It launched in April 2020, doing about $600,000 in advances at the time. In March of 2021, Wayflyer did about $36 million in advances.

“So, it’s been a pretty aggressive kind of growth,” Corbett said.

Over the past six months alone, the company has seen its business grow 290% as it has deployed over $150 million of funding across 10 markets with a focus on the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia. About 75% of its customers are U.S. based.

Wayflyer plans to use its new capital toward product development and global expansion with the goal of entering “multiple” new markets in the coming months. The company recently opened a sales office in Atlanta, and also has locations in the U.K., the Netherlands and Spain.

To Corbett, the company’s offering is more compelling than buy now, pay later solutions for consumers for example, in that it is funding the merchant directly and able to add services on top of that.

“There’s a lot more opportunity for companies like ourselves to differentiate because essentially, we focus on the merchants. And when we underwrite the merchant by getting data from the merchant, there’s a lot of additional services that you can put in on top,” Corbett explained. “Whereas with buy now, pay later, you get information on the consumer, and there’s not as much room to add additional services on top.”

For example, if a business requests an advance and either is not approved for one, or doesn’t choose to take it, Wayflyer’s analytics platform is free to anybody who signs up to help them optimize their marketing spend.

“This is a critical driver of value for e-commerce businesses. If you can’t acquire customers at a reasonable price, you’re not going to be around very long. And a lot of early-stage e-commerce businesses struggle with that,” Corbett said.

It also can pair up a merchant with a marketing analytics “specialist” to analyze its marketing performance or an inventory “specialist” to look at the current terms and price a business is getting from a supplier.

“Our focus from the very beginning is really supporting the merchants, not just providing them with working capital,” Corbett said.  

Another way the company claims to be different is in how it deploys funds. As mentioned above, merchants can pay the money back at varied terms, depending on how sales are going. The company makes money by charging a principal on advances, and then a “remittance rate” on revenues until the total amount is paid back.

“We tend to be more flexible than competition in this way,” Corbett said. “Also, some competitors will pay invoices on merchants’ behalf or give them a pre-charged card to use on advertising spend,” Corbett said. “We always give cash into a merchant’s account.” 

Wayflyer recently inked an agreement with Adobe Commerce, a partnership it said would provide a new channel to further amplify its growth with the goal of funding 8,000 e-commerce businesses in the first year of the partnership.

For his part, Left Lane Capital Partner Dan Ahrens said that his firm was impressed by Wayflyer’s “nuanced understanding of what will drive value for their clients.”

“The team’s focus, specialization, and deep analytical expertise within the e-commerce market also drives superior underwriting,” he told TechCrunch. “Their explosive growth has not come about by taking on undue risk. We are big believers that their underwriting will only improve with scale, and that Wayflyer will be able to compound its competitive advantages over time.”

As mentioned, this is an increasingly crowded space. Earlier this month, Settle announced it had raised $15 million in a Series A funding round led by Kleiner Perkins to give e-commerce and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies access to non-dilutive capital.

#adobe, #atlanta, #australia, #bank, #checkout-com, #distribution, #dst-global, #dublin, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #guillaume-pousaz, #ireland, #kleiner-perkins, #left-lane-capital, #merchant, #netherlands, #qed-investors, #recent-funding, #spain, #startup, #startups, #tc, #underwriting, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wayflyer

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Financing for students startup StudentFinance raises $5.3M seed from Giant and Armilar

Fintech startup StudentFinance — which allows educational institutions to offer success-based financing for students – has raised a $5.3 million (€4.5 million) seed round co-led by Giant Ventures and Armilar Venture Partners. It’s now raised $6.6m total, to date.

StudentFinance launched in Spain first, followed by Germany and Finland, with the UK planned this year. Existing investors Mustard Seed Maze and Seedcamp, along with Sabadell Venture Capital, also participated.

The startup, which launched at the beginning of 2020, provides the tech back end for institutions to offer flexible payment plans in the form of ISAs. It also provides data intelligence on the employment market to predict job demand.

It now has 35 education providers signed up managing over €5m worth of ISAs. It also works with upskilling platforms including Ironhack and Le Wagon. StudentFinance’s competitors include (in the USA) Blair, Leif, Vemo Education, Chancen (Germany-based) and EdAid (UK-based).

As for why StudentFinance stands out from those companies, Mariano Kostelec, co-founder & CEO of StudentFinance, said: “StudentFinance is the only platform in this space providing the full end-to-end, cross-border infrastructure to deliver ISAs for students whilst helping to plug the growing skills gap. Not only do we provide the infrastructure to support the ISA financing model, but we also provide data intelligence on the employment market and a career-as-a-service platform that focuses on placing students in the right job. We are creating an equilibrium between supply and demand.”

With an ISA, students only start paying back tuition once they are employed and earning above a minimum income threshold, with payments structured as a percentage of their earnings. This makes it a ‘success-based model’, says Student Finance, which shifts the risk away from the students. They are likely to be popular as workers need to resell with the onset of digitization and the pandemic’s effects.

The startup was founded in 2019 by Mariano Kostelec, Marta Palmeiro, Sergio Pereira and Miguel Santo Amaro. Kostelec and Santo Amaro previously built Uniplaces, which raised $30m as a student housing platform in Europe.

Cameron Mclain, Managing Partner of Giant Ventures, commented: “What StudentFinance has built empowers any educational institution to offer ISAs as an alternative to upfront tuition or student loans, broadening access to education and opportunity.”

Duarte Mineiro, Partner at Armilar Venture Partners, commented: “StudentFinance is a great opportunity to invest in because aside from its very compelling core purpose, this is a sound business where its economics are backed by a solid proprietary software technology.”

Sia Houchangnia, Partner at Seedcamp, commented: “The need for reskilling the workforce has never been as acute as it is today and we believe StudentFinance has an important role to play in tackling this societal challenge.”

Angel backers include investors, which includes: Victoria van Lennep (founder of Lendable); Martin Villig (founder of Bolt); Ed Vaizey (the UK’s longest-serving Culture & Digital Economy Minister); Firestartr (UK-based early-stage VC); Serge Chiaramonte (UK fintech investor); and more.

#armilar-venture-partners, #bolt, #corporate-finance, #economy, #ed-vaizey, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #finance, #finland, #germany, #giant-ventures, #money, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #sabadell-venture-capital, #seedcamp, #spain, #startup-company, #startups, #studentfinance, #tc, #uniplaces, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #venture-capital

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Covid Put My Father in a Coma. He Awoke to a Pandemic.

In this short film, the family of one of Spain’s earliest Covid-19 patients chronicles his battle.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #documentary-films-and-programs, #madrid-spain, #spain

0

8 investors and founders highlight Valencia’s potential as a fintech and cybersecurity hub

While Madrid and Barcelona tend to attract the buzz when it comes to tech startups in Spain, Valencia is slowly and surely making a name for itself as a growing tech ecosystem.

The country’s third-largest city, Valencia features great beaches, sunny weather all year, and affordable housing and healthcare. And with a population of only around a million people, it’s a little more manageable compared to its bigger cousins.

The city also topped the InterNations Expat City Ranking 2020 as one of the best cities for expats to settle in. What’s more, it produces plenty of talent — about 25,000 bachelor’s and masters degrees are issued in the city every year.

So to find out what the startup scene in Valencia looks like, we spoke with eight local investors, executives and founders. The city appears to be strong in areas such as travel, AI, cybersecurity, fintech, agritech, travel tech, biotech, sports tech, and VR. The blockchain/crytpo scene could do with some improvement, according to a few respondents.

The city’s investment scene is not particularly large and most investors focus on seed funding, but it’s growing as family-owned companies, and individual and institutional investors turn to tech. BIGBAN is a private nonprofit angel investor network based in Valencia, and incubators and accelerator programs continue to proliferate, supported by corporates and local government initiatives such as Startup Valencia.

Notable startups in the city include Streamloots, Voicemod, Jeff, Beroomers, Flywire and Blinkfire Analytics.

We surveyed:


Luz Adell, CFO/partner, Draper B1

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Key sectors include fintech, agritech and travel tech.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Streamloots, Criptan, Voicemod, Boatjump, Zeleros, WiTraC and Sales Layer.

What are the tech investors like in Valencia? What’s their focus?
The Valencia investor scene is growing. There are more family-owned companies, and individual and institutional investors, and they have also invested capital. We have some of the top incubators and accelerator programs in Spain. BIGBAN, a private nonprofit angel investor network based in Valencia, is building and developing one of the most dynamic and active investor communities in Spain.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
People will stay or move in to the city. Expats and digital nomads prefer moving to Valencia.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Startup Valencia, BIGBAN, Lanzadera, Plug and Play, GoHub, Angels Capital, Demium, Tbig Advisory, KM Zero, BioHub and Draper B1.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
Valencia is becoming a pole of attraction for companies and talent thanks to an ecosystem in continuous evolution, with a clear entrepreneurial mindset.

Jordi Díaz Maiquez, CEO, Play&go experience

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Tourism.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Zeleros.

What are the tech investors like in Valencia? What’s their focus?
Demium, and GoHub for deep tech.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
People will stay or move in.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
Much better than now.

Helena Ortiz Gil, CMO, Techer Team

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Virtual reality is strong and exciting. Blockchain could be improved.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Techer Team and some Lanzadera projects.

What is the investing scene like in Valencia? What’s the investors’ focus?
It could improve.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
Most people stayed back.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Lanzadera, Valencia Activa, Demium and GoHub.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
I hope it improves.

Patricia Pastor, director, GoHub

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Water, industry, smart city tech.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Fivecomm, Sales Layer, Quibim, Jeff and Voicemod.

What are the tech investors like in Valencia? What’s their focus?
GoHub for B2B in AI, 5G, cybersecurity and sustainability.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
We’ll see hundreds of remote workers.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
In the top 15.

Fernando Marzal, VP of New Business, Jeff

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Day-to-day services.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Flywire, Streamloots, Voicemod, Blinkfire and Demium.

What is the tech investment scene like in Valencia? What’s investors’ focus?
Seed investors.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
Stay. Valencia is one the better places to work thanks to weather, city size, beach, etc.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Startup Valencia Association.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
One of the main startup cities in Europe.

Enrique Penichet, founding partner, Draper B1

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Valencia’s tech ecosystem is strong on providing tech talent. There are a lot of people with capabilities in AI and cybersecurity. Because of this some corporate accelerators are growing strong here, mainly in fintech, such as Bankia Fintech.

We have a unicorn in fintech Flywire, and a foreign fintech scaleup, Creditas (from Brazil), has established their HQ here. We also have some good startups in fintech growing here such as Criptan, Colectual or The Logic Value.

Valencia has also been traditionally strong in video gaming. ESAT, a globally recognized academy located here, provides great talent, and mainly due to this, we have some successful startups such as Voicemod or Streamloots in the gaming industry. In fact, one of the major gaming events in Spain and Europe, Dreamhack, is held in Valencia.

Due to Lanzadera, together with Station F, one of the biggest accelerators in Europe is located in Valencia, and there are now startups growing in all verticals.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Flywire, Jeff, Streamloots, Voicemod, Criptan, Cronoshare, Quibim, Cuidum and Gokoan.

What are the tech investors like in Valencia? What’s their focus?
Most investors are business angels and early-stage investors. Draper B1, Angels Capital, Zriser, and Keith VC.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
Both things are happening, Valencia is a nice place to work, near the Mediterranean Sea. It was recognized by Bloomberg as the No. 1 city in the world to work. So, many people are coming here to work remotely. At the same time, some people are leaving to work from the countryside.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Accelerators and founders.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
A bunch of companies from Valencia have closed Series A rounds. Hopefully, in five years it will be commonplace to see some Series B or C or D happening. Right now, probably only Flywire has accomplished that.

Javier Moliner Urdiales, CEO, Howlanders

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
E-commerce, travel and Industry 4.0.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Howlanders, Jeff, Airhopping, Landbot and WiTraC.

What are the tech investors like in Valencia? What’s their focus?
Focus on seed. Already some years of experience, mainly BA, small VC or crowd.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
People will move in due to quality of life, low costs, the location and local government support.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Javier Megias and Juan Roig.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
Bigger, stronger, totally international community thanks to new arrivals (startups and remote workers), more national or international VCs managed locally from Valencia.

Jorge Soriano Lázaro, CEO, Criptan

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Cryptocurrencies, or using crypto.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Balio.

What are the tech investors like in Valencia? What’s their focus?
Draper B1.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
Yes, people are staying here. We were working remotely since the beginning.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Draper B1, Enrique Penichet and Signne.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
One of the most innovative in Europe.

#artificial-intelligence, #barcelona, #e-commerce, #ec-investor-survey, #europe, #finance, #investor-survey, #iot, #madrid, #spain, #startups, #station-f, #tc, #valencia, #venture-capital

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Spain Turns to Corruption Rehab for Officials Who Can’t Stop Stealing

Con artists and swindlers have long captured headlines in Spain. Now the country has a novel solution: A rehabilitation program aiming to “reinsert” corrupt officials back into society.

#bribery-and-kickbacks, #corruption-institutional, #frauds-and-swindling, #psychiatry-and-psychiatrists, #spain

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Direct-to-consumer orthodontic startup Impress raises $50M to scale across Europe

As the famous phrase goes, ‘software is eating the world’ and now software is eating dentistry. Or, perhaps more accurately, the arena of orthodontics — the specialty of dentistry that deals with things like braces — is slowly but surely being digitalized.

To whit, Impress, a Southern European player in direct-to-consumer orthodontics, has raised a $50 million Series A funding round led by CareCapital (a dental division of Hillhouse Capital in Asia), along with Nickleby capital, UNIQA Ventures, and investors including Michael Linse, Valentin Pitarque, Peter Schiff, Elliot Dornbusch, and others. All existing shareholders, such as TA Ventures and Bynd VC, also participated. 

Impress is an homage to the direct-to-consumer startups in this area in the US such as SmileDirect< and now plans to scale across Europe from its existing bases in Spain, Italy, Portugal, UK, and France.

The company was founded in 2019 in Barcelona by orthodontist Dr. Khaled Kasem and serial entrepreneurs Diliara and Vladimir Lupenko.

Speaking from Barclenoa, Lupenko told me that the idea was to “combine the best orthodontic tradition with the most innovative technology in the sector.”

As things stand, most of the time, consumers can usually only access cosmetic teeth alignment treatments or orthodontic medical treatments in conventional clinics. The new wave of clinics employs 3D scans and panoramic X-rays to check nerve and bone health.

Impress’s model is to offer these high-quality medical treatments directly to consumers, by developing its own chain of orthodontic clinics, which also put an emphasis on design and a ‘modern’ patient experience, it says.

As Diliara Lupenko says: “We didn’t copy what other companies in the space were doing and approached the market from a different angle from the get-go. We doubled down on the doctor-led digital model which brought us way better conversion rates and treatment quality even though on paper it looked complex in the beginning. It’s still very complex but we were able to crack it and scale exponentially.”

Impress now has 75 clinics in Spain, Italy, the UK, France, and Portugal which optimize costs and automate key parts of the value chain.

It now says it’s approaching €50m in annual run-rate and is projected to grow to €150m of revenue in 12 months. 

Andreas Nemeth, managing partner of UNIQA Ventures GmbH commented: “Impress’s customer-centric focus, as well as its demonstrated ability to blitzscale, attracted us to the business. Vladimir and his team leverage technology to create a seamless customer journey for invisible orthodontics and optimized their cost structure in a unique way using software.”

#andreas-nemeth, #asia, #barcelona, #dentistry, #dentists, #europe, #france, #hillhouse-capital, #italy, #managing-partner, #michael-linse, #orthodontist, #player, #portugal, #spain, #ta-ventures, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states

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ifeel, another well-being platform that blends self-care tools with 1-2-1 therapy, scores $6.6M

If the pandemic has been good for anything it’s been good for the therapy business and for startups targeting mental health, with VCs kept very busy signing checks. To wit, here’s another one: Madrid-based ifeel has bagged €5.5 million (~$6.6M) in Series A funding, led by Nauta Capital.

The startup was founded back in 2017 — initially as a consumer-focused therapy platform — but last year it pivoted to a hybrid business model, tapping into demand from businesses to offer staff emotional support during the public health crisis. So it’s available both to individuals via monthly subscription or as part of employer’s or insurance provider’s cover

It says that pandemic pivot has resulted in 1,000% growth in its b2b business.

Companies it’s signed up to offer its platform to their staff include AXA Partners, Glovo and Gympass.

“We have a total of 400K users on the platform (b2c and b2b),” says co-founder Amir Kaplan. “We have 100,000 eligible covered who have access to ifeel as a benefit (through our insurance and wellness partners or direct with ifeel).

“The 100K grew 10x from September 2020 and is the largest trend we are experiencing these days. Employees of 100 companies use ifeel on a weekly basis.”

ifeel’s platform delivers both live therapy sessions with licensed psychologists but also provides users with self-care tool such as daily mood trackers, recommended exercises and activities to expand the support available.

“By combining self-care and guided therapies, ifeel maximises engagement and retention of its users — with 90% reporting improved emotional and mental well-being after using ifeel,” it claims.

The startup is using AI technology in the self-care portion of its platform — to recommend “the most relevant” content or exercise to its users, per Kaplan. But he also says it’s looking at using the tech to assist the therapist practice by developing dedicated tools inside the platform.

ifeel has an international founding team, hailing from three countries (Israel, Italy and Mexico), and says its main markets so far are Spain, France, Brazil and Mexico. While its b2b and insurance network coverage extends to 20 countries and four languages (English, Spanish, French and Portuguese).

With so much competition in the mental health tools space — from mindfulness apps, to internet-delivered CBT programs, to therapy platforms — how does ifeel see itself standing out?

Kaplan suggests it has an advantage of being “global from day one”, and also flags a “strong technology integration focus” which he says has allowed it to plug into insurance companies and wellness players — to become a “main service provider”.

“Very early we partnered with global leading companies and we support them in many countries (compared to specific country players like in Germany and UK,” he tells TechCrunch. “The platform approach is different from ‘online therapy’ companies or ‘mindfulness apps’.

“We want our users to manage their emotional well being on our platform no matter the need. In this way we create millions of engagement events that are customized to the user’s needs and allow users over time to use different parts of our platform in different life situations.”

#brazil, #europe, #france, #fundings-exits, #germany, #health, #ifeel, #insurance, #israel, #italy, #madrid, #meditation, #mental-health, #mexico, #mindfulness, #nauta-capital, #online-therapy, #self-care, #spain, #therapist, #therapy, #united-kingdom

0

Isabel Díaz Ayuso Wins Madrid’s Regional Election

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, a conservative politician dubbed a “Trumpista” by her opponents, won the Madrid regional election by a landslide after she refused to shut down the capital’s bars and shops.

#ayuso-isabel-diaz, #content-type-personal-profile, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #elections, #madrid-spain, #politics-and-government, #popular-party-spain, #quarantines, #sanchez-perez-castejon-pedro-1972, #spain, #vox-spanish-political-party

0

Solar roof-tile and energy startup SunRoof closes €4.5M led by Inovo Venture Partners

SunRoof is a European startup that has come up with a clever idea. It has its own roof-tile technology which generates solar power. It then links up those houses, creating a sort of virtual power plant, allowing homeowners to sell surplus energy back to the grid.

It’s now closed a €4.5 million round (Seed extension) led by Inovo Venture Partners, with participation from SMOK Ventures (€2m of which came in the form of convertible notes). Other investors include LT Capital, EIT InnoEnergy, FD Growth Capital and KnowledgeHub. 

Sweden-based SunRoof’s approach is reminiscent of Tesla Energy, with its solar roof tiles, but whereas Tesla runs a closed energy ecosystem, SunRoof plans to work with multiple energy partners.

To achieve this virtual power company, SunRoof CEO and serial entrepreneur Lech Kaniuk (formerly of Delivery Hero, PizzaPortal, and iTaxi), acquired the renewable energy system, Redlogger, in 2020.

SunRoof’s platform consists of 2-in-1 solar roofs and façades that generate electricity without needing traditional photovoltaic modules. Instead, they use monocrystalline solar cells sandwiched between two large sheets of glass which measure 1.7 sq meters. Because the surface area is large and the connections fewer, the roofs are cheaper and faster to build. 

SunRoof give homeowners an energy app to manage the solar, based on Redlogger’s infrastructure

Tesla’s Autobidder is a trading platform that manages the energy from roofs but is a closed ecosystem. SunRoof, by contrast, works with multiple partners.

Kaniuk said: “SunRoof was founded to make the move to renewable energy not only easy, but highly cost-effective without ever having to sacrifice on features or design. We’ve already grown more than 500% year-on-year and will use the latest funding to double down on growth.” 

Michal Rokosz, Partner at Inovo Venture Partners, commented: “The market of solar energy is booming, estimated to reach $334 billion by 2026. Technology of integrated solar roofs is past the inflection point. It is an economical no-brainer for consumers to build new homes using solar solutions. With a more elegant and efficient substitute to a traditional hybrid of rooftops and solar panels, SunRoof clearly stands out and has a chance to be the brand for solar roofs, making clean-tech more appealing to a wider customer-base.”

The team includes co-founder Marek Zmysłowski (ex-(Jumia Travel and HotelOnline.co), former Google executive, Rafal Plutecki, and former Tesla Channel Sales Manager, Robert Bruchner.

There are rollout plans for Sweden, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and the US.

#automotive-industry, #co-founder, #delivery-hero, #electricity, #energy, #europe, #executive, #germany, #google, #italy, #partner, #poland, #renewable-energy, #smok-ventures, #solar-cell, #solar-energy, #spain, #sweden, #switzerland, #tc, #united-states

0

The Exxon of Green Power: A Spanish Company and Its Boss Set Sky-High Goals

Iberdrola is a leader in wind and solar power, thanks largely to a bet its C.E.O. made 20 years ago.

#electric-light-and-power, #europe, #galan-jose-ignacio-sanchez, #iberdrola-sa, #mergers-acquisitions-and-divestitures, #solar-energy, #spain, #wind-power

0

In Poland, an L.G.B.T.Q. Migration As Homophobia Deepens

An escalation in verbal attacks by the Polish government, with the support of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the threat of physical violence on the streets of many cities, has triggered an exodus of gay people.

#hate-crimes, #homosexuality-and-bisexuality, #kaczynski-jaroslaw, #poland, #same-sex-marriage-civil-unions-and-domestic-partnerships, #spain, #transgender-and-transsexuals

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A Nun and a Doctor, She’s One of Europe’s Longstanding Vaccine Skeptics

Sister Teresa Forcades, Spain’s most provocative Catholic nun, is at odds with governments, medical experts and even Pope Francis, who endorse the coronavirus vaccines. Pandemic denial groups are spreading her views.

#conspiracy-theories, #content-type-personal-profile, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-risks-and-safety-concerns, #forcades-teresa-1966, #nuns, #rumors-and-misinformation, #spain, #vaccination-and-immunization

0

Mariano Puig, Scion of a Spanish Fashion House, Dies at 93

Mr. Puig was instrumental in expanding his family’s company internationally and in acquiring famed brands.

#barcelona-spain, #deaths-obituaries, #family-business, #fashion-and-apparel, #perfumes-and-fragrances, #puig-sl, #puig-mariano-1927-2021, #rabanne-paco, #spain

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‘Bowl food’ startup Poke House closes $24M Series B led by Eulero Capital to expand in Europe

The FoodTech industry is effectively now going into fast food. Sweetgreen in the US is a ‘fast-casual’ restaurant chain that serves healthy “bowl food”. It’s raised $478.6M. A similar firm is Sweetfin. Both employ a lot of tech in their back-end to improve efficiencies.

Into this area has come European startup Poke House, which is effectively industrializing the production of “poke bowls” for food delivery platforms. Poke House specializes in bowl food that often includes marinated fish that’s cubed and layered up with sticky rice, pickles, noodles, etc.

The company has now raised €20 million ($24m) in a Series B funding round led by Eulero Capital, with the backing of FG2 Capital and reinvestment from Milan Investment Partners SGR. It using tech and data to optimize the production and delivery of its product via all the major food delivery platforms such as Uber East etc. The Italy-born food tech startup claims to have built a “€100M+ company” inside two years.

Founded by Matteo Pichi and Vittoria Zanetti, Poke House has opened 30+ stores in Italy, Portugal and Spain, and now has 400 employees. It’s claiming an expected turnover of €40M+ in 2021.

With the funding, the startup will start opening new stores in existing markets, enter France and start in expansion in the UK.

Poke House says it uses a lot of tech on its back-end, tracking every element of the supply chain to optimize the business. It also analyzes data from third-party delivery platforms (ie. Deliveroo, Glovo, UberEats) to deliver a sub-10 mins food preparation time, and a delivery time under 25 mins.

Matteo Pichi, Co-Founder of Poke House said: “The pandemic has challenged our food sector, and we see technology as the way forward to innovate and digitalize the traditional restaurant experience. We are seeing a shift in people’s desires in fast but healthy food. Poke bowls fit this new need and it promotes a more balanced, active and sustainable lifestyle with quick and healthy food options available nearby.”

Speaking to TechCrunch, Pichi added: “Our competitors are the fast-growing healthy concepts such as Sweetgreen or Sweetfin in the US. But in the same time, we think we are lucky because we really are one of the first brands built 100% from food delivery experts or former employees. Our next competitors are gonna be full native virtual brands extremely strong in data analysis and digital brand building. We use food delivery platforms as media platforms and we invest heavier than competitors in the channel.”

Gianfranco Burei, Founding Partner of Eulero Capital said: “Poke House business model rides some of the main trends in the food sector (food-tech, healthy food, delivery, customization) and has all the characteristics and talents to position the company among the top players at European level. We are thrilled to be a partner of Poke House in an innovative and forward-looking project, in line with our investment strategy which is based on the search for companies included in the macro-trends that will characterize the economic, technological and social evolution of the coming years.”

#co-founder, #companies, #deliveroo, #distribution, #europe, #food, #food-delivery, #food-tech, #france, #healthy-food, #italy, #online-food-ordering, #partner, #poke, #portugal, #spain, #supply-chain, #sweetgreen, #tc, #uber, #uber-eats, #united-kingdom, #united-states

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They’re Sacred Spaces for Spain’s Flamenco Scene. Many Won’t Survive Covid.

The intimate venues known as tablaos have mostly remained shuttered even as pandemic restrictions ease. That puts at risk a formative element of many flamenco performers’ careers.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-reopenings, #dancing, #flamenco-dance, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #spain

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Possible Caravaggio Is Withdrawn From Auction; Spain Announces Export Ban

The suggested starting bid for the painting was set at around $1,800, but if it is really the work of the Baroque master, it could be worth millions.

#ansorena-sa, #art, #auctions, #caravaggio, #museums, #prado-museum, #spain

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A Rapper, Hitting His 30s, Reinvents Himself as a Scion of Spanish Pop

C. Tangana was a provocative star of trap music. Now, his songs are played in supermarkets and praised by 50- and 60-somethings on YouTube.

#c-tangana-1990, #folk-music, #pop-and-rock-music, #rap-and-hip-hop, #spain

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When There’s One Covid Rule Book for Locals, and Another for Tourists

In Spain, residents have to stay put while visitors from abroad face fewer travel restrictions. The dichotomy underlines the trouble European nations face balancing public health and economic recovery.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #italy, #politics-and-government, #spain, #travel-and-vacations, #travel-warnings

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Google promises better 3D maps

Google is announcing a handful of major updates to Google Maps today that range from bringing its Live View AR directions indoors to adding weather data to its maps, but the most tantalizing news — which in typical Google fashion doesn’t have an ETA just yet — is that Google plans to bring a vastly improved 3D layer to Google maps.

Using photogrammetry, the same technology that also allows Microsoft’s Flight Simulator to render large swaths of the world in detail, Google is also building a model of the world for its Maps service.

“We’re going to continue to improve that technology that helps us fuse together the billions of aerials, StreetView and satellite images that we have to really help us move from that flat 2D map to a more accurate 3D model than we’ve ever had. And be able to do that more quickly. And to bring more detail to it than we’ve ever been able to do before,” Dane Glasgow, Google’s VP for Geo Product Experience, said in a press event ahead of today’s announcement. He noted that this 3D layer will allow the company to visualize all its data in new and interesting ways.

Image Credits: Google

How exactly this will play out in reality remains to be seen, but Glasgow showed off a new 3D route preview, for example, with all of the typically mapping data overlayed on top of the 3D map.

Glasgow also noted that this technology will allow Google to parse out small features like stoplights and building addresses, which in turn will result in better directions.

“We also think that the 3D imagery will allow us to visualize a lot of new information and data overlaid on top, you know, everything from helpful information like traffic or accidents, transit delays, crowdedness — there’s lots of potential here to bring new information,” he explained.

Image Credits: Google

As for the more immediate future, Google announced a handful of new features today that are all going to roll out in the coming months. Indoor Live View is the flashiest of these. Google’s existing AR Live View walking directions currently only work outdoors, but thanks to some advances in its technology to recognize where exactly you are (even without a good GPS signal), the company is now able to bring this indoors. This feature is already live in some malls in the U.S. in Chicago, Long Island, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, but in the coming months, it’ll come to select airports, malls and transit stations in Tokyo and Zurich as well (just in time for vaccines to arrive and travel to — maybe — rebound). Because Google is able to locate you by comparing the images around you to its database, it can also tell what floor you are on and hence guide you to your gate at the Zurich airport, for example (though in my experience, there are few places with better signage than airports…).

Also new are layers for weather data (but not weather radar) and air quality in Google Maps. The weather layer will be available globally on Android and iOS in the coming months, with the air quality layer only launching for Australia, India and the U.S. at first.

Image Credits: Google

Talking about air quality, Google Maps will also get a new eco-friendly routing option that lets you pick the driving route that produces the least CO2 (coming to Android and iOS later this year), and it will finally feature support for low emission zones, a feature of many a European City. Low emission zones on Google Maps will launch in June in Germany, France, Spain and the UK on Android and iOS. More countries will follow later.

And to bring this all together, Google will update its directions interface to show you all of the possible modes of transportations and routing options, prioritized based on your own preferences, as well as based on what’s popular in the city you are in (think he subway in NYC or bike-sharing in Portland).

Also new are more integrated options for curbside grocery pickups in partnership with Instacart and Albertsons, if that’s your thing.

And there you have it. As is so often the case with Google’s announcement, the most exciting new features the company showed off don’t have an ETA and may never launch, but until then you can hold yourself over by getting your weather forecasts on Google Maps.

#albertsons, #android, #artificial-intelligence, #australia, #chicago, #computing, #eta, #france, #germany, #google, #google-search, #google-maps, #gps, #india, #instacart, #los-angeles, #maps, #newark, #operating-systems, #portland, #san-francisco, #san-jose, #seattle, #software, #spain, #tokyo, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #zurich

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P.S.G. Robberies Cast Light on Soccer’s Security Problem

A string of robberies at the homes of soccer stars has cast a spotlight on the wealthy athlete’s newest luxury items: protection dogs, private guards and even panic rooms.

#di-maria-angel, #england, #english-premier-league, #high-net-worth-individuals, #italy, #paris-france, #paris-st-germain-fc-soccer-team, #robberies-and-thefts, #security-and-warning-systems, #service-dogs-and-other-animals, #soccer, #spain

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Europe Lifts Vaccine Suspension as Virus Surge Brings New Lockdowns

France, Germany and other countries resumed use of the AstraZeneca shots after concerns about side effects, but the pace of inoculation remained too slow to blunt the latest wave of infection.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #deaths-fatalities, #easter-and-holy-week, #europe, #italy, #lithuania, #paris-france, #poland, #politics-and-government, #spain, #united-states

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Bronze Age Tomb in Spain Hints Women Helped Govern

A tomb unearthed in Spain has prompted archaeologists to reconsider assumptions about women’s power in Bronze Age European societies.

#antiquity-journal, #archaeology-and-anthropology, #bronze-age, #jewels-and-jewelry, #research, #spain, #tombs-and-tombstones, #women-and-girls, #your-feed-science

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Spain agrees on labor reform that will recognize delivery platform riders as employees

Spain’s government has reached an agreement with trade unions and business associations over labor reforms that will see delivery platform couriers recognized as employees, it said today.

Once such a law is passed, the development could have major ramifications for platforms operating in the market — which include the likes of Deliveroo, Glovo and UberEats, to name a few.

“The Ministry of Labor and Social Economy, the trade union organizations CCOO and UGT and the business organizations CEOE and CEPYME have reached an agreement to establish the employment status of workers dedicated to the delivery or distribution of any consumer product or merchandise through platforms digital,” the ministry said in a statement (which we’ve translated from Spanish)

“The agreement recognizes the presumption of employment of workers who provide services through digital delivery platforms, in line with the Supreme Court ruling,” it added.

“The presumption of employment is recognized for workers who provide paid distribution services through companies that manage this work through algorithmic management of the service or working conditions, through a digital platform.”

 

Agreement on the reform means the government can now start to move forward with the legislative process after many months negotiating on exactly how to change labor laws.

The timing looks especially interesting as the European Union is also considering how to improve conditions for gig workers more broadly — so Spain’s plan to legislate, ahead of other EU countries, to recognize a subset of gig workers as employees could be influential in shaping wider regional policy.

Wider reforms in Spain aimed at supporting growth of digital business also come with a strong social inclusion component, with the government saying no one should be left behind in a drive to modernize.

The labor reform agreement follows a number of legal challenges in Spain in recent years over the classification of delivery riders. There have been varying outcomes in the courts but last year Spain’s Supreme Court ruled against homegrown delivery platform, Glovo, in a case relating to the employment classification of a courier — putting a stamp of finality on the matter as it also declined to refer questions to Europe’s top court.

Delivery platforms in the market have suggested the impact of the planned reform could result in thousands of couriers losing their source of income.

Up to 30,000 couriers are reported to provide services on delivery platforms in Spain.

There have also been accusations that platforms are being unfairly singled out as a politically easier target vs other more established industries which also rely on labor provided by ‘autónomos‘ (self-employed) workers.

However delivery startups have been less vocal about what a legal requirement to put couriers on the payroll would mean for their business model — or, indeed, their (ongoing) quest for profitability.

Responding to news of Spain’s labor reform agreement, Mark Tluszcz, CEO at Mangrove Capital Partners — who has been a long time critic of the gig platform business model — told TechCrunch: “We have long taken the view that gig platforms would have to go through significant structural changes driven by individual countries’ laws. Unless gig workers are recognized as employees, we risk creating a subclass of workers that don’t have adequate rights or social coverage. The pandemic has clearly illustrated the need to ensure all workers have protections and it is increasingly difficult for gig platforms to argue otherwise.”

Workers must see algorithmic workings

In an interesting additional component to the reform agreement announced today, the government said the incoming legislation will require that workers’ legal representatives are informed of the criteria powering any algorithms or AI systems that are used to manage them and which may affect their working conditions.

Its statement specifies that this includes algorithmic systems that are related to access to employment and for any rating systems that monitor performance or profile workers.

This component looks like it’s taking inspiration from a number of recent legal challenges in Europe which have focused on ride-hailing platforms’ algorithmic management and drives’ access to data the platforms hold on them.

James Farrer, a former Uber driver who successfully challenged the company’s employment classification in the UK — where the Supreme Court recently held that the challenging drivers are workers — and who is also involved in the more recent algorithm and data access challenges, has set up a not-for-profit with the aim of establishing a data trust for drivers for the purpose of collective bargaining.

Spain’s unions appear to be taking a similar tack by pushing for access to the algorithmic rules that are used to manage couriers as a tool to tackle the power asymmetry between platforms and workers.

A spokesperson for Uber sent us this statement in response to the Spanish government’s announcement:

“Over the past few weeks, thousands of couriers across the country have come together to stand against this proposed regulation that would deprive them from the independence they value most. At Uber, we are fully committed to raising the standard of work and giving independent workers more benefits while preserving flexibility and control. We want to work with all relevant parties across Spain to improve independent work, instead of eliminating it.”

Deliveroo also sent us this statement:

“This proposal goes against the interests of riders who value flexible work, restaurants who benefit from delivery services and customers who value on-demand delivery. Thousands of riders who took to the streets to protest their desire to remain self-employed have had their voices ignored.

Delivery platforms have put forward constructive proposals to enable riders to work flexibly with additional security and have warned that forced reclassification will lead to less work for riders, will hurt the restaurant sector and will restrict the areas where platforms can operate. Unfortunately these messages have also been overlooked.

Nothing has been finalised and we will continue to argue that the Government should provide riders with flexibility and security, which is what they want. We will continue to engage with the Spanish Government to seek alternative ways forward. We urge the Government to listen to riders and urgently think again.”

Glovo declined to make a statement at this time.

In recent weeks, Uber has been lobbying for deregulation for platform workers in Europe ahead of the EU’s consultation process on improving gig work — seeing the possibility of a pan-EU framework as an opportunity to reshape regional employment rules to better mesh with modern working patterns. However the move has led to criticism that it’s trying to lower EU standards.

 

#deliveroo, #delivery-platforms, #europe, #gig-work, #glovo, #policy, #spain, #ubereats

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The Pandemic’s Silver Lining? This Village May Have Been Saved by It.

Gósol, a tiny village on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, had spent years begging outsiders to come repopulate it. Since 2020, many have come to try the quiet life — and they even saved the school from closing.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #gosol-spain, #population, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #spain

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Spain’s ten-year plan to put startups in the economic driving seat

Spain is preparing to push forward with pro-startup legislation, having recently unveiled a big and bold transformation plan with the headline goal, by 2030, of turning the country into ‘Spain Entrepreneurial Nation’, as the slightly clumsy English translation has it.

Prime minister Pedro Sanchez took a turn on Web Summit’s stage in December to announce the introduction of the forthcoming Startup Act — and to trumpet a new role, a high commissioner, tasked with bringing off a nationwide entrepreneurial economic transformation by working with all the relevant government ministries.

The broad-brush goals for the strategy are to increase growth in startup investments; attract and retain talent; promote scalability; and inject innovation into the public sector so it can bolster and support Spain’s digital development.

The aforementioned Startup Act is the first piece of dedicated legislation for the sector — and is intended to simplify starting up in Spain, as well as bringing in tax concessions and incentives for foreign investments. So it will be something of a milestone.

Chat to local founders and there’s a litany of administrative, tax-based and fundraising pain-points they’ll quickly point to as frustrations. Wider issues seem more cultural; startups not thinking big enough, investors lacking the necessary appetite for risk, and even — among wider society — some latent suspicion of entrepreneurs. While Spain-based investors are champing at the bit for administrative reform and better stock options. Moving the needle on all that is the Spanish government’s self-appointed mission for the foreseeable future.

TechCrunch spoke to Francisco Polo, Spain’s high commissioner overseeing delivery of the entrepreneurial strategy, to get the inside track on the plan to grow the startup ecosystem and find out which bits entrepreneurs are likely to see in action first.

“The high commissioner for Spain entrepreneurial nation is a new body that’s within the presidency. So for the first time we have an institution that, from the presidency, is able to help coordinate the different ministries on one single thing: Creating the first national mission. In this case this nation mission has the goal to turn Spain into the entrepreneurial nation with the greatest social impact in history,” says Polo.

“What we do is that work of coordination with all the ministries. Basically we have a set of internal objectives. First is what we call impacts — different sets of measures that is contained in the Spain entrepreneurial nation strategy. We also work trying to get everyone together on this national mission so we work on different alliances.

“Finally, we are also very focused on helping let the people know that Spain has made a decision to become — by 2030 — this entrepreneurial nation that is going to leave no one behind. So that’s our job.”

Scaling up on the shoulders of giants

The southern European nation doesn’t attract the same level of startup investment as some of its near neighbors, including the UK, France and Germany. But in some ways Spain punches above its regional weight — with major cities like Barcelona and Madrid routinely ranked as highly attractive locations for founders, owing to relatively low costs and the pull of a Mediterranean lifestyle.

Spanish cities’ urban density, high levels of youth unemployment and a sociable culture that’s eagerly embraced digital chatter makes an attractive test-bed for consumer-facing app-based businesses — one that’s demonstrated disruptive potential over the past decade+, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis which hit the country hard.

Local startups that have gained global attention over this period — for velocity of growth and level of ambition, at the least — include the likes of Badi, Cabify, Glovo, Jobandtalent, Red Points, Sherpa.ai, TravelPerk, Typeform and Wallapop, to name a few.

Spain’s left-leaning coalition government is now looking to pick up the startup baton in earnest, to drive a broader pro-digital shift in the economy and production base — but in a way that’s socially inclusive. The shift will be based on “an ironclad principle that we leave no one behind”, said Sanchez in December.

For this reason the slate of policy measures Sanchez’s government has distilled as necessary to support and grow the ecosystem — following a long period of consultation with private and public stakeholders — pays close attention to social impact. Hence the parallel goal of tackling a variety of gaps (territorial, gender, socio-economic, generational and so on) that might otherwise be exacerbated by a more single-minded rush to accelerate the size of the digital sector.

“We are a new generation of young people in government. I think in our generation we don’t understand creating a new innovation system or a new industrial-economic system if we are not also talking about its social impact,” says Polo. “That’s why at the basis of the model we have also designed inclusion policies. So all this strategy is aimed at closing the gender gap, the territorial gap, the socio-economic gap and the generational gap. So at the end of the day, by 2030, we have created the entrepreneurial nation with the highest social impact in history.”

There’s money on the table too: Spain will be routing a portion of the ‘Next Generation EU‘ coronavirus recovery funding it receives from the pan-EU pot into this ‘entrepreneurial’ push.

“Specifically, for 2021, the budget assigned to the different goals of the strategy — we have more than €1.5BN for the main measures that we want to start setting up. And for the period 2023 it’s over €4.5BN dedicated to the rest of the measures. So basically between 2021 and 2023 we will be setting the basis/foundations of the Spain entrepreneurial nation,” says Polo.

Execution of the strategy will be down to the relevant ministries of government — who will be enacting projects and passing legislation, as needed — but Polo’s department is there to “guide and accompany” the various arms and branches of government on that journey; aka “to help make things happen” with a startup hat on.

The national strategy envisages entrepreneurship/startup innovation as the driving force at the top of a pyramid that sits atop existing sectors of the Spanish economy — “spearheading the innovative system that we want to generate”, as Polo puts it. “We are not only focusing on innovative entrepreneurship. We are also trying to create virtuous cycles between this ecosystem and the actual driving sectors of the Spanish economy — that’s why we listed a set of ten driving sectors that represent above 60% of the GDP. And this is of utmost importance.”

The listed sectors where the government wants to concentrate and foster support — so those same sectors can leverage gains through closer working with digital innovation are: Industry; Tourism and culture; Mobility; Health; Construction and materials; Energy and ecological transition; Banking and finance; Digitalization and telecommunications; Agri-food; and Biotechnology.

“We decided we needed to make the cut at some point and we decided that putting together 60% of the GDP in Spain was a clear direction of the sectors that we could be using in order to accelerate the change that we want to see,” says Polo. “Basically what we want to shift with this model is that the innovative entrepreneurship that has been quite enclosed in the past starts working with the different driving sectors that we have in the country because they can help each other solve their different issues.

“So first, for example, for investment — what if big companies start investing more and more than they are actually doing? We accelerate also that path — into innovative entrepreneurship system. That is going to help close that gap… What if startups and scale ups in Spain work together with our international companies in order to attract and retain that talent? That is going to put us as a country in a better position.

“To me the best example is about scaling up: Because what is better than scaling up on the shoulders of giants? We have already a big number of international of world class companies that are in different markets so what is better than being able to scale up with a company that is already there, that has the knowledge and that can help you mature as a scale up in a shorter period of time. So there are a lot of virtuous cycles that we can generate and that’s why we wanted to make also a broad appeal to the different driving sectors. Because we want to let the country know that everyone is called to make this a reality.”

Lime scooters outside El Retiro Park in Madrid (Image credits: Natasha Lomas/TechCrunch)

Digital divides

Digital can itself divide, of course, as has been writ large during a global pandemic in which the development of children excluded from attending school in person can hinge on whether or not they have Internet access and computer literacy.

So the principle of entrepreneurial growth being predicated upon social inclusion looks like an important one — even if pulling off major industrial transformations which will necessitate a degree of retraining and upskilling in order to bring workers of all ages along the same path is clearly not going to be easy.

But the ten-year timeframe for ‘Spain Entrepreneurial Nation’ looks like a recognition that inclusion requires time.

The long term plan is also intended to address a common criticism of Spain’s politics being too short-termist, per Polo. “In Spain particularly it’s been a regular criticism that politics always look in the small term so this is proof that this government is also addressing the short term issues but also is preparing Spain for the future,” he says, adding: “We really believe that [presenting a long term vision is] a good thing and it’s an answer to that social demand.”

The country has also — over the last decade or so — gained a bit of a reputation for successfully challenging digital developments over specific societal impacts in Europe’s courts. Such as, in 2010, when a Spanish citizen challenged Google’s refusal to delist outdated information about him from its index — which led, in 2014, to Europe’s top court backing what’s colloquially referred to as the ‘right to be forgotten’.

Uber’s regulation-dodging was also successfully challenged by Spanish taxi associations — leading to a 2017 ruling at the highest level in Europe that Uber is a transport service (and therefore subject to local urban transport rules; not just a technology platform as the ride-hailing giant had sought to claim).

Anti-Uber (and anti-Cabify) strikes have, meanwhile, been a quasi-regular (and sometimes violent) feature of Spain’s streets — as the taxi industry has protested at a perceived lack of enforcement of the law against app-based rivals who are not competing fairly, as it sees it.

And while gig platforms (even homegrown European ones) tend to try to shrug off such protests as protectionist (and/or ‘anti-innovation’), they have oftentimes found themselves losing challenges to the legality of their models — including most recently in the UK Supreme Court (which just slapped down Uber’s classification of drivers/riders as self employed — meaning it’s liable for a slew of costs for associated benefits).

All of which is to say that the muscular sense of injustice that segments of Spanish society have willingly — and even viscerally — demonstrated when they feel unfair impacts flowing from shiny new tech tools should not be dismissed; rather it looks like people here have their finger on the pulse of what’s really important to them.

That may also explain why the government is so keen to ensure no one in Spain feels left behind as it unboxes a major packet of startup-friendly policies.

Among a package of some 50 support measures, the entrepreneurial strategy makes a reference to “smart regulation” and floats the idea of sandboxing for testing products publicly (i.e. without needing to worry about regulatory compliance first).

The idea of opening up sandboxing is popular with local gig platform Glovo. “I really believe this is key; allowing innovation to test products/services without having to go through regulatory nightmares to test. This would really drive innovation,” co-founder Sacha Michaud tells us. “This is working well in financial services but could be applied across a wide range of tech areas.”

Attracting more investment to Spain and improving stock options so that local companies can better compete to attract talent are other key priorities for him.

Michaud says he’s fully supportive of the government’s entrepreneurial strategy and the Startup Act, while not expecting immediate results on account of what he expects will be a long legislative process.

He’s less happy about the government’s in-train plan to regulate gig platforms, though — arguing that last-mile delivery is being unfairly singled out there. This reform, which is being worked on by the Ministry of Labor, has been driven by a number of legal challenges to platforms’ employment classifications of gig workers in recent years — including a loss last year for Glovo in Spain’s Supreme Court.

“In Glovo’s case [the government] are specifically looking at regulating only riders, last-mile delivery platforms — yet still allowing over an estimated 500,000 autonomous workers in logistics, services and installations to continue,” says Michaud, dubbing this “very discriminatory; affecting literally a handful of tech companies and ‘protecting’ the status quo of the traditional IBEX35 Spanish companies”.

Asked about progress on the reform of the labor law Polo says only that work is continuing. “I don’t have more transparency on the work they are doing. I have probably the same information that you have and the conversations that we have with the different companies, also the gig companies that we keep an open dialogue with,” he says.

But when pressed on whether reforming regulations to take account of tech-driven changes to how people work is an important component of the wider entrepreneurial strategy he also emphasizes that the “ultimate goal” of the national transformation plan is “to generate more and better jobs”.

“We are always inclined to try to foster the companies that generate these better and increasing new jobs,” says Polo. “And I’m sure that the different gig companies that we have in Spain — I know that they understand this ultimate goal. They understand the benefits for the company and for the country of following this path and that they are willing to transform and evolve as the country is also evolving.”

At the time of writing Barcelona is also being rocked by street protests over the jailing of rapper, Pablo Hasél, over certain social media postings — including tweets criticising police brutality — judged, by Spanish courts, to have violated its criminal code around glorifying terrorism.

Spain’s laws in this area have long been denounced as draconian and disproportionate. Including by Amnesty International — which called Hasél’s imprisonment “an excessive and disproportionate restriction on his freedom of expression”. But Polo dismisses the idea that there’s any contradiction in Spain seeking to rebrand itself as a modernizing, pro-entrepreneur nation at the same time as Spain’s courts are putting people in prison over the contents of their tweets. (Hasél is not the only artist or citizen to fall foul of this law — which has also been infamously triggered by social media jokes).

“There’s no opposition of concepts at all,” Polo argues. “Spain is one of the most robust democracies in the world and that is something that is not us who are saying it — it’s the international rankings. And we have a rule of law. And in this case it’s a very clear case of someone who went across the limits that are established in legislation because the freedom of speech has limits of the rights of other people so it’s something that has nothing to do unfortunately with freedom of speech… The reason why Pablo Hasél is in jail is because he promoted terrorism.”

Pressed further on how ‘jail time for tweets’ might look to an international audience, he reiterates a recent government statement that they do intend to reform the penal code. “There are very specific things that, yes, we want to reform. Because times have advanced,” he says, adding: “We are a more mature country than the one we were in the 1980s. And there are specific things that we want to change in the penal code — but they have nothing to do with the recent events.”

Graffiti in a Barcelona street protesting against the imprisonment of rapper, Pablo Hasél, for crimes involving freedom of speech (Image credit: Natasha Lomas/TechCrunch)

Measures to change mindsets

On the broader issue of cultural challenge — aka: how to change a national mindset to be more entrepreneurial — Polo expresses confidence in his mission. He says it’s about making sure people see the big picture and their place in the vision of the future you’re presenting to them; so they see you’re actively working to bring them along for the ride.

“This is one of the things that I feel confident about. Particularly based on my background prior to being in politics. That is helping change mindsets,” he tells TechCrunch. “In the past I was able to help tonnes of people realize that they were capable of doing things that they thought they were never capable of doing. My understanding is that in order to generate those cultural changes you need to do one thing first: That is generating a vision for the future.

“That’s why we insist so much that by 2030 Spain is going to become an entrepreneurial nation with the greatest social impact in history and that we have a plan for that… Where we take the entrepreneurship and we help them spearhead this new innovation model. We leverage all the driving sectors of the economy so we are actually building on success; on the actual success of Spain as an international economy. And that there’s something for you in that plan. That’s why we are including in the strategy at the basis of the strategy the inclusion policies in order to close the gender gap, the territorial gap, the socio-economic gap, the generational gap.

“In order to change cultures you need align people into working together towards building something that is greater than themselves and I think that with the Spain entrepreneurial nation strategy we made that first step. And this is why — and this is a parenthesis — that’s why we say the [startup] law is as important as having this strategy.”

That startup law — due to be presented shortly in draft (aka as an anteproyecto de ley) for approval by the Council of Ministers, before going to parliament for a wider debate process (and potential amendments) — is the first piece of legislation aligned with the wider strategy. It also looks set to be one of its first deliverables.

Although it’s not clear how long it will be before Spain gets its shiny new startup law. (The country’s politics has lacked consensus for years; Sanchez’s ‘progressive coalition’ was only put together after he tried and failed to get a full majority for his Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) twice in a row.)

“That’s something that is difficult to say because there are laws that have a shorter and others that have a longer period of approval,” says Polo, on the timeframe for passing the legislation. “For us the important issue here is that the startup law has a full process — so it has a full agreement on every side of the hill so it becomes robust and stable legislation for the years to come.”

This “long awaited” regulation which the ecosystem has been calling for for “years”, per Polo, will address a number of different issues — from the first legal “definition” of startup (to reflect differentiation vs other types of companies); to measures to help startups retain and attract talent.

“We need to reform stock options so that they become a tool in order to compete internationally for talent,” he says, noting that the idea is to enable Spain to compete with regimes already offered by countries elsewhere in Europe, such as the UK, France and Germany.

“Also we need to reform VISAs in order to again retain and attract that talent,” he continues. “The president also talked about incentivizing investment and having a certain degree of tax breaks — and we understand that business angels need more incentives. So we have a more ordain and logical system of investment at the pre-seed and seed stage. And many other actions — it’s the Ministry of Economy that will end up with the final text that will be passed in the Council of Ministers in the coming weeks.”

Polo cautions that the law won’t instantly fix every gripe of founders and investors in Spain. Clearly it’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

“That’s why we have a strategy,” he emphasizes. “I understand the interest in the startup law but I always say that as important as the startup law is the Spain entrepreneurial nation strategy. Because it’s in there where we address the big problems that we have as a country when it comes to the ecosystem. And in there we have pointed out four big challenges that we have.

“First is investment. We need to accelerate the velocity of maturity of the investment in Spain… The numbers have been growing, year after year, and they look really good. So what we want to do is to help accelerate those numbers so we are able to run faster and close the gap that we have between us and our neighbours: Basically Germany and France. That they have 4x or 5x the number of investment that we have in Spain. We really want to be in ten years in a place where Spain could be leading the investment in innovative entrepreneurship in mainland Europe.

“Second challenge: Talent. We know that in order to build the entrepreneurial nation we need all the talent that we have. So we need to develop the internal talent but we also need to attract international talent and we need to retain that talent. So that’s why we were talking about the different tools that might be included in the startup law.

“The third challenge is scaling up. We in Spain have a lot of companies that assimilate success to selling. And that’s great — it’s totally legitimate. But what we need as a country is to have an increasing percentage of companies in the future that do not think about selling as a synonym of success; but they think about buying other startups around the world. Of growing. Of scaling up. So they started building today the big companies that in the future by 2030 they will generate thousands of good quality jobs in Spain which is the ultimate goal and the bottom line of the strategy.

“And the fourth goal: Turn the political administration into an entrepreneurial administration. Meaning that the political administration, it’s more agile. That we generate a positive benchmark. And that sometimes the public sector makes the investment that not even the riskier of venture capital funds can do. Because that’s the role of the public sector; to generate this kind of visions and to put the means in in order to achieve those. So among all the challenges that we have in the ecosystem it’s something we have put together in the strategy — that is going to addressed not only with one law but with 50 different measures that we included in the Spain entrepreneurial nation strategy.”

The wider entrepreneur strategy talks about nine priority actions to be developed in the next two years via certain projects — which Polo envisages being accelerated in the near term with the help of EU coronavirus recovery funds.

He highlights a couple of priority projects: One to create a network to link entrepreneurs and policymakers with the wider ecosystem, and another to connect incubators and accelerators to build out a national support network for founders — both of which have been inspired by approaches taken in other European countries.

“Among these projects we have one — Oficina Nacional de Emprendimiento — which is deeply inspired by La French Tech in France. So we want to generate a one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs, investors and the rest of the ecosystem to access all of opportunities of collaboration between the central government, regions and CP councils in order to improve entrepreneurship in their respective areas,” says Polo.

“We have other projects like Renace — which is an acronym for Red Nacional de Centros de Emprendimiento — and in there we’ve also been inspired by the network that Portugal has that are doing such exciting things. So what we want to do is help connect the different incubators and accelerators and venture builders that we have in Spain. So they’re at first connected and we add more value — but with one particular focus: The different gaps.

“With Renace in particular we want to help close the territorial gap. Because it’s going to be very interesting to be able to work with engineers in Cáceres for a company that is based in Barcelona. Or to work with a team of designers from the Basque country for a company that is setting up in Malaga. With Renace we can help integrate the country and really talk about an entrepreneurial nation and not just cities. So Spain has the potential to build that. And there are many others issues.”

France alone spends billions annually both on R&D and on direct support for the digital sector. And even with EU funding Spain can’t hope to match the level of ‘ecosystem’ spend of richer, northern European countries. But Polo says the plan is to make the most of what it has with the resources it can marshal — hence, with the Renace project, it’s about linking up existing incubators/accelerators (and adding “a new layer of value” such as via public-private partnerships).

“When you end up reading the Spain entrepreneurial strategy you realize it’s not a billionaire plan of money that you put on the table in order to start building this Spain entrepreneurial nation,” he says. “It’s instead it’s a very robust plan in order to create that vision and putting together the different pieces that we already have — the different assets that we have as a country to start working together intelligently so we can make the best of everything that we can.”

Polo also argues that Spain is already doing well on the startup cluster front — saying it stands alone with Germany in having more than one city ranked among the top ten ‘most entrepreneurial’ in Europe, per such listings. More recently, he says, Spain has risen further up these listicles — as more of its cities have popped up in the “global competition for innovative entrepreneurship”.

“Meaning that in different places of Spain there are many cities and regions that have the hunger to become a place that is helping entrepreneurs to create this kind of economy. And we can get many more,” he suggests, pointing to Renace‘s hoped for value from a social inclusion angle.

“With Renace what we want to do is generate this network and add more value — provide services, get into public-private partnership in order to add the value of the different places that we have in the country. So let’s say that a company in Barcelona can find tonnes of engineers in a city like Cáceres. The company in Barcelona becomes more competitive because the salaries in Cáceres — if you pay them the best salary in Cáceres they could be two-thirds of the salary in Barcelona. So the company in Barcelona becomes more competitive. But also the engineers in the city of Cáceres who want to stay in the region, who want to stay with their family or to have a life-project in Cáceres they can stay. So this is an example of how we can close the territorial gap and also become really integrated startup nation in the full term of nation.”

“The ultimate goal of the Spain entrepreneurial nation strategy is turning Spain into a country that is able to avoid the effects of different crises. And particularly the effects of that we saw in 2008 when the most vulnerable jobs were destroyed overnight — and they were counted by tens of thousands. That particularly struck the young people with unemployment rates that were above 55%. The immigrants and the people over 50. We don’t want that to happen again. So there’s been a very profound reflection on what needed to happen in Spain for that to change. And the conclusion was that we needed to change the productive basis of the country,” he continues.

“That’s why we are putting together a strategy that is going to help the innovative entrepreneurship sector spearhead these new models, this new economic model for Spain. That is going to be leveraging the different driving sectors of the economy — those ten sectors that we state in the strategy — and that as it could not be differently in a 21st century strategy, and particularly a strategy designed by a new generation of politicians and trying to respond to the ambitions of the new generations that is a strategy that is not including the social impact of this phenomenon. So that’s why we are also focused on putting together inclusion policies.”

Polo won’t be drawn into naming any especially promising startups he’s encountered on his travels around Spain — referring instead to the “tonnes of super innovative companies” he says he’s sure will soon be disrupting business as usual in Spain and (the government hopes) internationally — from battery charging companies to retail disruptors working on new ways to make clothes. (“Different kinds of innovations that people can’t imagine,” is his pithy shorthand.)

“What we are trying to do every time we have an opportunity is to also promote the knowledge of these companies — and also help Spanish people and also people abroad — to know that we have everything that we need in order to succeed as a nation and become that entrepreneurial nation with the greatest social impact in history,” he adds, acknowledging that a big part of his mission is “to tell the rest of the world that we are here”.

 

#digital-policy, #europe, #francisco-polo, #glovo, #policy, #spain, #startup-regulation, #startups, #tc

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