How to identify unicorn founders when they’re still early-stage

As an early-stage VC, you spend time with hundreds of fantastic startups, trying to identify potential winners by thinking about market size, business model and competition. Nevertheless, deep down you know that in the long run, it all comes down to the team and the founder(s).

When we look at the most successful companies in our portfolio, their amazing performance is in large part thanks to the founders. However, even after 20 years in the industry, I have to admit that analyzing the team is still the most challenging part of the job. How do you evaluate a young first-time entrepreneur of an early-stage company with little traction?

The best founders are humble and well aware of their weaknesses and limitations as well as the potential challenges for their startup.

At Creandum, in the past 18 years, we have been fortunate to work with some of Europe’s most successful startup founders such as Daniel Ek from Spotify, Sebastian Siemiatkowski from Klarna, Johannes Schildt from Kry, Jacob de Geer and Magnus Nilsson from iZettle, Emil Eifrem from Neo4J, Christian Hecker from Trade Republic and many more.

After a while, we realized that these incredible entrepreneurs all share some fundamental characteristics. They all have lots of energy, work hard, show patience, perseverance and resilience. But on top of that, all these unicorn founders share five key traits that, as an investor, you should look for when you back them at an early stage.

They know what they don’t know

Many people expect a typical startup founder to be very confident and have a strong sales mentality. While they should definitely live up to those expectations, the best founders are also humble and well aware of their weaknesses and limitations as well as the potential challenges for their startup.

They keep wanting to learn, improve and grow the business beyond what average people have the energy and drive to manage.

#column, #daniel-ek, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #entrepreneur, #europe, #funding, #johannes-schildt, #klarna, #paypal, #sebastian-siemiatkowski, #spotify, #startups, #sweden, #trade-republic, #venture-capital, #vivino

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In Sweden’s Far North, a Space Complex Takes Shape

The government is turning an old research base above the Arctic Circle into a state-of-the-art satellite launching center. The reindeer will not be happy.

#indigenous-people, #reindeer, #satellites, #space-and-astronomy, #sweden

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Oatly, a Maker of Oat Milk, Is About to Have Its IPO

Oatly, maker of dairy alternatives, could be worth $10 billion when it lists on the stock market this week. The share sale is a barometer of changing consumer preferences.

#blackstone-group-the, #china-resources-holdings, #dairy-products, #initial-public-offerings, #milk, #nestle-sa, #oatly-inc, #peas, #private-equity, #schwarzman-stephen-a, #sweden, #veganism

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Exeger takes $38M to ramp up production of its flexible solar cells for self-powered gadgets

Sweden’s Exeger, which for over a decade has been developing flexible solar cell technology (called Powerfoyle) that it touts as efficient enough to power gadgets solely with light, has taken in another tranche of funding to expand its manufacturing capabilities by opening a second factory in the country.

The $38 million raise is comprised of $20M in debt financing from Swedbank and Swedish Export Credit Corporation (SEK), with a loan amounting to $12M from Swedbank (partly underwritten by the Swedish Export Credit Agency (EKN) under the guarantee of investment credits for companies with innovations) and SEK issuing a loan amounting to $8M (partly underwritten by the pan-EU European Investment Fund (EIF)); along with $18M through a directed share issue to Ilija Batljan Invest AB.

The share issue of 937,500 shares has a transaction share price of $19.2 — which corresponds to a pre-money valuation of $860M for the solar cell maker.

Back in 2019 SoftBank also put $20M into Exeger, in two investments of $10M — entering a strategic partnership to accelerate the global rollout of its tech and further extending its various investments in solar energy.

The Swedish company has also previously received a loan from the Swedish Energy Agency, in 2014, to develop its solar cell tech. But this latest debt financing round is its first on commercial terms (albeit partly underwritten by EKN and EIF).

Exeger says its solar cell tech is the only one that can be printed in free-form and different colors, meaning it can “seamlessly enhance any product with endless power”, as its PR puts it.

So far two devices have integrated the Powerfoyle tech: A bike helmet with an integrated safety taillight (by POC), and a pair of wireless headphones (by Urbanista). Although neither has yet been commercially launched — but both are slated to go on sale next month.

Exeger says its planned second factory in Stockholm will allow it to increase its manufacturing capacity tenfold by 2023, helping it target a broader array of markets sooner and accelerating its goal of mass adoption of its tech.

Its main target markets for the novel solar cell technology currently include consumer electronics, smart home, smart workplace, and IoT.

More device partnerships are slated as coming this year.

Exeger’s Powerfoyle solar cell tell integrated into a pair of Urbanista headphones (Image credits: Exeger/Urbanista)

“We don’t label our rounds but take a more pragmatic view on fundraising,” said Giovanni Fili, founder and CEO. “Developing a new technology, a new energy source, as well as laying the foundation for a new industry takes time. Thus, a company like ours requires long-term strategic investors that all buy into the vision as well as the overall strategy. We have spent a lot of time and energy on this, and it has paid off. It has given the company the resources required, both time and money, to bring an invention to a commercial launch, which is where we are today.”

Fili added that it’s chosen to raise debt financing now “because we can”.

“The same answer as when asked why we build a new factory in Stockholm, Sweden, rather than abroad. We have always said that once commercial, we will start leveraging the balance sheet when securing funds for the next factory. Thanks to our long-standing relationship with Swedbank and SEK, as well as the great support of the Swedish government through EKN underwriting part of the loans, we were able to move this forward,” he said.

Discussing the forthcoming two debut gizmos, the POC Omne Eternal helmet and the Urbanista Los Angeles headphones — which will both go sale in June — Fili says interest in the self-powered products has “surpassed all our expectations”.

“Any product which integrates Powerfoyle is able to charge under all forms of light, whether from indoor lamps or natural outdoor light. The stronger the light, the faster it charges. The POC helmet, for example, doesn’t have a USB port to power the safety light because the ambient light will keep it charging, cycling or not,” he tells TechCrunch.

“The Urbanista Los Angeles wireless headphones have already garnered tremendous interest online. Users can spend one hour outdoors with the headphones and gain three hours of battery time. This means most users will never need to worry about charging. As long as you have our product in light, any light, it will constantly charge. That’s one of the key aspects of our technology, we have designed and engineered the solar cell to work wherever people need it to work.”

“This is the year of our commercial breakthrough,” he added in a statement. “The phenomenal response from the product releases with POC and Urbanista are clear indicators this is the perfect time to introduce self-powered products to
the world. We need mass scale production to realize our vision which is to touch the lives of a billion people by 2030, and that’s why the factory is being built now.”

 

#consumer-electronics, #energy, #europe, #european-investment-fund, #european-union, #exeger, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #greentech, #poc, #powerfoyle, #softbank, #solar-cell, #solar-energy, #stockholm, #sweden, #urbanista, #wireless-headphones

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Autonomous trucking startup Einride raises $110M ahead of expansion into US

Einride, the Swedish startup known for its unusual-looking electric and autonomous pods that are designed to carry freight, has raised $110 million to help fund its expansion in Europe and into the United States.

The Series B round, which far exceeds its previous raises of $10 million in 2020 and $25 million in 2019, included new investors Temasek, Soros Fund Management LLC, Northzone and Maersk Growth. The company said Thursday that existing investors EQT Ventures, Plum Alley, Norrsken VC, Ericsson and NordicNinja VC also participated in the round.

Einride has raised a total of $150 million to date. The company didn’t share its post-money valuation.

The company, founded in 2016 by Robert Falck, Linnéa Kornehed, and Filip Lilja, has two kinds of vehicles: connected, electric heavy trucks driven by humans and its driverless Pods.

The electric trucks do much the freight-shuttling work today for customers like Swedish food producer Oatly, Coca-Cola, Lidl and Electrolux. The company’s pitch is that its electric trucks reduce emissions for its customers by 94% compared to driving with diesel. Einride has also developed a digital platform for carriers that handles planning, scheduling and routing as well as invoices and billing.

Einride electric truck

Image Credits: Screenshot/Einride

The company is perhaps best known for its Einride Pod — once called the T-Pod —  a self-driving truck that doesn’t have a cab and can be controlled remotely. The first-generation vehicle has been tested on public roads in Sweden and even carried freight in a pilot program for Oatly. In October, the unveiled a line of next-generation pod freight-carrying vehicles that depending on its level of autonomy will begin shipping to customers as early as this year.

Einride will be using this significant injection of capital to fulfill current customer contracts, double its 100-person workforce by the end of the year  and expand in Europe and into the United States, according to CEO Robert Falck.

Einride will have operations up and running in the U.S. before the end of the year and are looking to set up a headquarters in Austin, Texas, and additional offices in New York and Silicon Valley, Falck said in an email. Global agreements are in place with brands such as Oatly, which includes U.S. operations, with more to be announced soon, he added.

einride_next-gen pod

Image Credits: Einride

As Einride continues to scale its human-powered electric trucking operation, it is also working on the long-term goal of rolling out commercial driverless Pods. Einride has said its new Pods will be available with differing levels of autonomy and functionality based on its internal Autonomous Electric Transport (AET) classification system, which ranges from levels 1 to 5.

Its AET 1 Pod is for closed facilities with predetermined routes that are best suited for fully-autonomous operation. The constraints expand from there with Pods at AET 2 designed for closed facility operation with an added capability to traverse public roads over short distances between destinations. Einride has said that these first two level of Pods will begin shipping to customers starting in 2021.

Level 3 allows for operation on backroads and less busy main roads between facilities, at a maximum operating speed of 28 mph. At Level 4, under Einride’s system, the Pod will operate autonomously on freeways and other major roads at up to 52 mph. Einride has said that Levels 3 and 4 will ship to customers in 2022 and 2023.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #einride, #electric-vehicles, #sweden, #tc, #transportation

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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

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A Fresh Look at the ‘Organic Music’ of Moki and Don Cherry

Starting in the late 1960s, the textile artist and the trumpeter taught classes, held concerts and made work in a Swedish schoolhouse. This period is the focus of a new celebration by Blank Forms.

#art, #blank-forms-brooklyn-ny-gallery, #cherry-don-trumpeter, #cherry-moki, #content-type-personal-profile, #jazz, #sweden

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Kry closes $312M Series D after use of its telehealth tools grows 100% yoy

Swedish digital health startup Kry, which offers a telehealth service (and software tools) to connect clinicians with patients for remote consultations, last raised just before the pandemic hit in Western Europe, netting a €140M Series C in January 2020.

Today it’s announcing an oversubscribed sequel: The Series D raise clocks in at $312M (€262M) and will be used to keep stepping on the growth gas in the region.

Investors in this latest round for the 2015-founded startup are a mix of old and new backers: The Series D is led by CPP Investments (aka, the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board) and Fidelity Management & Research LLC, with participation from existing investors including The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, as well as European-based VC firms Index Ventures, Accel, Creandum and Project A.

The need for people to socially distance during the coronavirus pandemic has given obvious uplift to the telehealth category, accelerating the rate of adoption of digital health tools that enable remote consultations by both patients and clinicians. Kry quickly stepped in to offer a free service for doctors to conduct web-based consultations last year, saying at the time that it felt a huge responsibility to help.

That agility in a time of public health crisis has clearly paid off. Kry’s year-over-year growth in 2020 was 100% — meaning that the ~1.6M digital doctors appointments it had served up a year ago now exceed 3M. Some 6,000 clinicians are also now using its telehealth platform and software tools. (It doesn’t break out registered patient numbers).

Yet co-founder and CEO, Johannes Schildt, says that, in some ways, it’s been a rather quiet 12 months for healthcare demand.

Sure the pandemic has driven specific demand, related to COVID-19 — including around testing for the disease (a service Kry offers in some of its markets) — but he says national lockdowns and coronavirus concerns have also dampened some of the usual demand for healthcare. So he’s confident that the 100% growth rate Kry has seen amid the COVID-19 public health crisis is just a taster of what’s to come — as healthcare provision shifts toward more digital delivery.

“Obviously we have been on the right side of a global pandemic. And if you look back the mega trend was obviously there long before the pandemic but the pandemic has accelerated the trend and it has served us and the industry well in terms of anchoring what we do. It’s now very well anchored across the globe — that telemedicine and digital healthcare is a crucial part of the healthcare systems moving forward,” Schildt tells TechCrunch.

“Demand has been increasing during the year, most obviously, but if you look at the broader picture of healthcare delivery — in most European markets — you actually have healthcare usage at an all time low. Because a lot of people are not as sick anymore given that you have tight restrictions. So it’s this rather strange dynamic. If you look at healthcare usage in general it’s actually at an all time low. But telemedicine is on an upward trend and we are operating on higher volumes… than we did before. And that is great, and we have been hiring a lot of great clinicians and been shipping a lot of great tools for clinicians to make the shift to digital.”

The free version of Kry’s tools for clinicians generated “big uplift” for the business, per Schildt, but he’s more excited about the wider service delivery shifts that are happening as the pandemic has accelerated uptake of digital health tools.

“For me the biggest thing has been that [telemedicine is] now very well established, it’s well anchored… There is still a different level of maturity between different European markets. Even [at the time of Kry’s Series C round last year] telemedicine was maybe not something that was a given — for us it’s always been of course; for me it’s always been crystal clear that this is the way of the future; it’s a necessity, you need to shift a lot of the healthcare delivery to digital. We just need to get there.”

The shift to digital is a necessary one, Schildt argues, in order to widen access to (inevitably) limited healthcare resources vs ever growing demand (current pandemic lockdown dampeners excepted). This is why Kry’s focus has always been on solving inefficiencies in healthcare delivery.

It seeks to do that in a variety of ways — including by offering support tools for clinicians working in public healthcare systems (for example, more than 60% of all the GPs in the UK market, where most healthcare is delivered via the taxpayer-funded NHS, is using Kry’s tools, per Schildt); as well as (in a few markets) running a full healthcare service itself where it combines telemedicine with a network of physical clinics where users can go when they need to be examined in person by a clinician. It also has partnerships with private healthcare providers in Europe.

In short, Kry is agnostic about how it helps deliver healthcare. That philosophy extends to the tech side — meaning video consultations are just one component of its telemedicine business which offers remote consultations for a range of medical issues, including infections, skin conditions, stomach problems and psychological disorders. (Obviously not every issue can be treated remotely but at the primary care level there are plenty of doctor-patient visits that don’t need to take place in person.)

Kry’s product roadmap — which is getting an investment boost with this new funding — involves expanding its patient-facing app to offer more digitally delivered treatments, such as Internet Cognitive Based Therapy (ICBT) and mental health self-assessment tools. It also plans to invest in digital healthcare tools to support chronic healthcare conditions — whether by developing more digital treatments itself (either by digitizing existing, proven treatments or coming up with novel approaches), and/or expanding its capabilities via acquisitions and strategic partnerships, according to Schildt.

Over the past five+ years, a growing number of startups have been digitizing proven treatment programs, such as for disorders like insomnia and anxiety, or musculoskeletal and chronic conditions that might otherwise require accessing a physiotherapist in person. Options for partners for Kry to work with on expanding its platform are certainly plentiful — although it’s developed the ICBT programs in house so isn’t afraid to tackle the digital treatment side itself.

“Given that we are in the fourth round of this massive change and transition in healthcare it makes a lot of sense for us to continue to invest in great tools for clinicians to deliver high quality care at great efficiency and deepening the experience from the patient side so we can continue to help even more people,” says Schildt.

“A lot of what we do we do is through video and text but that’s just one part of it. Now we’re investing a lot in our mental health plans and doing ICBT treatment plans. We’re going deeper into chronic treatments. We have great tools for clinicians to deliver high quality care at scale. Both digitally and physically because our platform supports both of it. And we have put a lot of effort during this year to link together our digital healthcare delivery with our physical healthcare delivery that we sometimes run ourselves and we sometimes do in partnerships. So the video itself is just one piece of the puzzle. And for us it’s always been about making sure we saw this from the end consumer’s perspective, from the patient’s perspective.”

“I’m a patient myself and still a lot of what we do is driven by my own frustration on how inefficient the system is structured in some areas,” he adds. “You do have a lot of great clinicians out there but there’s truly a lack of patient focus and in a lot of European markets there’s a clear access problem. And that has always been our starting point — how can we make sure that we solve this in a better way for the patients? And then obviously that involves us both building strong tools and front ends for patients so they can easily access care and manage their health, be pro-active about their health. It also involves us building great tools for clinicians that they can operate and work within — and there we’re putting way more effort as well.

“A lot of clinicians are using our tools to deliver digital care — not only clinicians that we run ourselves but ones we’re partnering with. So we do a lot of it in partnerships. And then also, given that we are a European provider, it involves us partnering with both public and private payers to make sure that the end consumer can actually access care.”

Another batch of startups in the digital healthcare delivery space talk a big game about ‘democratizing’ access to healthcare with the help of AI-fuelled triage or even diagnosis chatbots — with the idea that these tools can replace at least some of the work done by human doctors. The loudest on that front is probably Babylon Health.

Kry, by contrast, has avoided flashy AI hype, even though its tools do frequently incorporate machine learning technology, per Schildt. It also doesn’t offer a diagnosis chatbot. The reason for its different emphasis comes back to the choice of problem to focus on: Inefficiencies in healthcare delivery — with Schildt arguing that decision-making by doctors isn’t anywhere near the top of the list of service pain-points in the sector.

“We’re obviously using what would be considered AI or machine learning tools in all products that we’re building. I think sometimes personally I’m a bit annoyed at companies screaming and shouting about the technology itself and less about what problem you are solving with it,” he tells us. “On the decision-support [front], we don’t have the same sort of chatbot system that some other companies do, no. It’s obviously something that we could build really effortlessly. But I think — for me — it’s always about asking yourself what is the problem that you’re solving for? For the patient. And to be honest I don’t find it very useful.

“In many cases, especially in primary care, you have two categories. You have patients that already know why they need help, because you have a urinary tract infection; you had it before. You have an eye infection. You have a rash —  you know that it’s a rash, you need to see someone, you need to get help. Or you’re worried about your symptoms and you’re not really sure what it is — and you need comfort. And I think we’re not there yet where a chatbot would give you that sort of comfort, if this is something severe or not. You still want to talk to a human being. So I think it’s of limited use.

“Then on the decision side of it — sort of making sure that clinicians are making better decisions — we are obviously doing decision support for our clinicians. But if it’s one thing clinicians are really good at it’s actually making decisions. And if you look into the inefficiencies in healthcare the decision-making process is not the inefficiency. The matching side is an inefficiency side.”

He gives the example of how much the Swedish healthcare system spends on translators (circa €200M) as a “huge inefficiency” that could be reduced simply — by smarter matching of multilingual clinicians to patients.

“Most of our doctors are bilingual but they’re not there at the same time as the patient. So on the matching side you have a lot of inefficiency — and that’s where we have spent time on, for example. How can we sort that, how can we make sure that a patient that is seeking help with us ends up with the right level of care? If that is someone that speaks your native language so you can actually understand each other. Is this something that could be fully treated by a nurse? Or should it be directly to a psychologist?”

“With all technology it’s always about how do we use technology to solve a real problem, it’s less about the technology itself,” he adds.

Another ‘inefficiency’ that can affect healthcare provision in Europe relates to a problematic incentive to try to shrink costs (and, if it’s private healthcare, maximize an insurer’s profits) by making it harder for patients to access primary medical care — whether through complicated claims processes or by offering a bare minimum of information and support to access services (or indeed limiting appointment availability), making patients do the legwork of tracking down a relevant professional for their particular complaint and obtaining a coveted slot to see them.

It’s a maddening dynamic in a sector that should be focused on making as many people as healthy as they possibly can be in order that they avoid as much disease as possible — obviously as that outcome is better for the patients themselves. But also given the costs involved in treating really sick people (medical and societal). A wide range of chronic conditions, from type 2 diabetes to lower back pain, can be particularly costly to treat and yet may be entirely preventable with the right interventions.

Schildt sees a key role for digital healthcare tools to drive a much needed shift toward the kind of preventative healthcare that would be better all round, for both patients and for healthcare costs.

“That annoys me a lot,” he says. “That’s sometimes how healthcare systems are structured because it’s just costly for them to deliver healthcare so they try to make it as hard as possible for people to access healthcare — which is an absurdity and also one of the reasons why you now have increasing costs in healthcare systems in general, it’s exactly that. Because you have a lack of access in the first point of contact, with primary care. And what happens is you do have a spillover effect to secondary care.

“We see that in the data in all European markets. You have people ending up in emergency rooms that should have been treated in primary care but they can’t access primary care because there’s no access — you don’t know how to get in there, it’s long waiting times, it’s just triaged to different levels without getting any help and you have people with urinary tract infections ending up in emergency rooms. It’s super costly… when you have healthcare systems trying to fend people off. That’s not the right way doing it. You have to — and I think we will be able to play a crucial role in that in the coming ten years — push the whole system into being more preventative and proactive and access is a key part of that.

“We want to make it very, very simple for the patients — that they should be able to reach out to us and we will direct you to the right level of care.”

With so much still to do tackling the challenges of healthcare delivery in Europe, Kry isn’t in a hurry to expand its services geographically. Its main markets are Sweden, Norway, France, Germany and the UK, where it operates a healthcare service itself (not necessarily nationwide), though it notes that it offers a video consultation service to 30 regional markets.

“Right now we are very European focused,” says Schildt, when asked whether it has any plans for a U.S. launch. “I would never say that we would never go outside of Europe but for here and now we are extremely focused on Europe, we know those markets very, very well. We know how to manoeuvre in the European systems.

“It’s a very different payer infrastructure in Europe vs the US and then it’s also so that focus is always king and Europe is the mega market. Healthcare is 10% of the GDP in all European markets, we don’t have to go outside of Europe to build a very big business. But for the time being I think it makes a lot of sense for us to stay focused.”

 

#accel, #artificial-intelligence, #canadian-pension-plan-investment-board, #covid-19, #digital-health, #digital-healthcare, #europe, #fundings-exits, #germany, #health, #healthcare, #johannes-schildt, #kry, #machine-learning, #machine-learning-technology, #national-health-service, #nhs, #sweden, #tc, #telehealth, #telemedicine

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Sweden, Dressed in Summer

We’ve shown you Sweden in snow. Now see it in bloom.

#forests-and-forestry, #photography, #sweden, #travel-and-vacations, #wilderness-areas

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‘Snabba Cash’ Depicts a Sweden Flowing with Money and Blood

Netflix’s gender-flipped update of Jens Lapidus’s Stockholm Noir Trilogy probes the hustle for riches among drug dealers and tech billionaires alike.

#ahmad-evin, #espinosa-daniel, #kinnaman-joel, #lapidus-jens, #snabba-cash-tv-program, #soderlund-oskar, #sweden, #television

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House Hunting in Sweden: A Sauna-Topped Water Tower Near Stockholm

After a slump in 2017 and 2018, Sweden’s housing prices are soaring again thanks to growing consumer confidence and evolving demand for larger homes.

#real-estate-and-housing-residential, #stockholm-sweden, #sweden

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How China’s Outrage Machine Kicked Up a Storm Over H&M

The Communist Party’s youth wing and official news outlets used grabby memes and hashtags to start a tsunami of nationalist fury over Xinjiang cotton.

#beijing-china, #blogs-and-blogging-internet, #china, #communist-youth-league-china, #embargoes-and-sanctions, #hm-hennesmauritz-ab, #politics-and-government, #propaganda, #slavery-historical, #social-media, #sweden, #uniqlo, #xinjiang-china

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A Swedish Design Duo’s Eclectic 18th-Century Apartment

In a country house on the Baltic coast, Nina Norgren and Bengt Thornefors, the founders of the textile and furniture brand Magniberg, have made a home entirely their own.

#content-type-personal-profile, #furniture, #interior-design-and-furnishings, #magniberg-textile-co, #norgren-nina, #sweden, #textiles, #thornefors-bengt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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8 investors discuss Stockholm’s maturing startup ecosystem

In the realm of European startup ecosystems, Sweden — largely Stockholm — ranks very close to the behemoths of London, Paris and Berlin. And with 10 million people, the nation certainly punches above its weight, having produced unicorns such as Spotify and Klarna, to name only two.

As a result, the eight investors we surveyed are characteristically bullish about the future, despite a pandemic strategy that became more restrictive in the second half of last year.

Sweden’s initially laissez-faire approach to controlling COVID-19 might have helped its tech ecosystem ride out the uncertainty. “Sweden is more open and is ahead of the pandemic curve, so more people are coming here than the other way around,” said Jacob Key, founding partner with Luminar Ventures.

Several people we spoke to said they saw green shoots regarding revenue growth and retention in their portfolio companies as founders adapted to the pandemic. Areas that are benefitting include digital health and remote work for obvious reasons, but given Sweden’s strength in fintech and gaming, those sectors are both well positioned to thrive.

As consumers become more desirous of sustainability, responsible shopping, green travel and plant-based food alternatives “will likely contribute to a surge in companies in this space,” said Sofia Dolfe of Index Ventures.

Oversaturated areas are media/adtech and wellness/fitness apps.

Some of the trends these investors are excited about include deep tech, AI, machine learning, healthcare/medtech, industrial IoT, energy storage and energy-efficient power generation, robotics, intelligent production and additive manufacturing.

“I think there is a lot of interesting stuff coming out of Stockholm and accelerating with all recent success stories,” said VNV Global’s Bjorn von Sivers.

Here’s who we spoke to:


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Jacob Key, founding partner, Luminar Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
AI automation, democratization, SMB SaaS.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Hiberworld.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Real-time sustainability health trackers for both consumers and businesses.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Super dedicated and talented team going after major problems.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Adtech companies, consumer lending companies, e-commerce retail, niche problems.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
100% in the broader Swedish ecosystem.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Gaming, fintech, applied AI, security, e-health. Mindler, Insurello, Hiberworld, Greenely, Normative, Marcus Janback, Tanmoy Bari.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Strong momentum, more and more serial founders and experienced founders, strong broader ecosystem, product and tech-led founders with a global view.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Sweden is more open and is ahead of the pandemic curve so more people coming here than the other way around.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel, mobility, nice-to-have SaaS, recruiting. They should focus on work, event, travel 2.0 security, sustainability, e-health and entertainment.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Not really. Focus on resourceful execution, digital-first sales, extend runway. Biggest worry is a much cooler investment climate.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
E-health, gaming, remote work, fintech.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Founders seem even more dedicated, digital transformation happens much faster.

Bjorn von Sivers, partner, VNV Global

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Business models with strong network effects. Mobility and micromobility services, Digital health, online marketplaces.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
SWVL, Babylon Health, Voi Technology.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Startups addressing climate change, either indirect or direct. I think it will grow immensely over the coming years.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Business models with strong network effects.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
VNV Global has a global mandate. Approximately 10% of the portfolio is Sweden/Stockholm based.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Any consumer service coming out of Stockholm eco system. In the portfolio I would highlight Voi Technology and Fredrik Hjelm (micromobility) and Grace Health founded by Estelle Westling and Thérèse Mannheimer that is building a digital health clinic for women in emerging markets.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
I think there is a lot of interesting stuff coming out of Stockholm and accelerating with all recent success stories. Spotify, iZettle, etc.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
It will probably increase a bit, but not significantly.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
International travel still has a lot of uncertainty and low visibility. Digital health and micromobility is defiantly seeing unprecedented demand.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Not really impacted our strategy. I would say founders think a lot about the funding climate and how to best plan in this lower visibility environment.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, all across the portfolio.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The fast recovery in our mobility businesses, which essentially saw activity drop significantly in late March/early April and has rebounded strongly since May

Ashley Lundström, partner, EQT Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
I’m personally excited about investing in teams solving important problems — the ones that affect disadvantaged populations, society at large, the environment, etc. And the exciting part is that we’re seeing more and more of this — especially from serial entrepreneurs who have built companies, maybe even had good exits and now want to dedicate their skills to meaningful journeys.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
It actually hasn’t been announced yet as we literally closed a few days ago and it’s one that our AI platform Motherbrain pointed us to. It’s one of those companies that when you hear about what they’re building you just say, “Oh of course, that’s a no-brainer.” It’s a great example of a product-led company seeing strong organic growth from a global user base and we’re chomping at the bit to start working together. Prior to this, my latest most exciting investment is Anyfin. Anyfin is a prime example of the potential of Stockholm’s second generation teams, coming out of the Swedish unicorns iZettle, Klarna and Spotify. They’re a fintech building financial wellness products for users who need it the most. They’ve started with targeting interest rates head-on via a refinancing product and are launching more products and markets with the Series B funding raising they secured this spring.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
I’m keen to see teams who combine market experience with startup experience. All too often teams are either one or the other and I’d love to see a team come together where one co-founder says, “I know this problem inside-out because I’ve lived it” and another co-founder who says, “I know how to build and bring ideas to life.” This combo would be really powerful. Over and above that, I’m generally focused on investing in teams solving problems that are shared by huge bases — either consumers or the long tail of B2B. One must in my book is that the product has to be consumer grade. This is obvious for consumer (although not always a given), but it’s something that we’ve become religious about in B2B too.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
We’re in the business of exceptions so I find it hard to rule out a category altogether due to competition. That being said, there are always sectors where it’s tricky to envision a winner-takes-all or winner-takes-most, for structural reasons, such as some types of recruiting or staffing, D2Cs or digital health services.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Our strategy is to be local with locals and we invest broadly across Europe and, in specific cases, in the U.S. So, while personally my time’s spent somewhat weighted toward the Nordics, more than 50% of the companies I work with are outside the Nordic countries. Motherbrain has helped us flatten geographies further, discovering great startups regardless of where they’re located, and we regularly invest in great teams outside our local ecosystems.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
There’s a lot of talent for consumer products coming out of the Nordics — particularly fintech in Stockholm (Tink, Anyfin, Brite), gaming in Finland (Small Giant Games, Reworks, Traplight), and a range of products out of Copenhagen including edtech and health tech (Eduflow, Corti). The great engineering talent we have in this region is also producing incredibly strong tech teams — particularly in Finland, such as Varjo, Speechly and Robocorp. We’re even starting to see some interesting activity in quantum computing (e.g., IQM) in the region. There are also some moonshot companies coming out of the Nordics that we’re excited about long term, such as Solein, Einride, Heart Aerospace and Northvolt.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
The Nordic countries continue to punch above their weight and I am confident that this trend will continue — meaning the investment opportunities will be many. As the ecosystems mature, the quality will continue to improve, which also speaks to this trend over time. Historically, downturns have produced strong tech companies, so I wouldn’t be surprised if investors are keeping a close eye on the region to make sure they get the chance to back some of the most seasoned entrepreneurs who will most certainly be looking for ways to make the most of the current climate.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I believe we’ll see more remote teams, absolutely. However, I still think the hubs will be strong and important pieces of the ecosystem and I don’t think we’ll see these cities shrinking by material numbers. Though if people leave the most expensive cities, who could blame them? I do, however, think we’ll see a more sharp trend of teams that were fairly local in the past, expanding to new geographies. And what may happen is that in itself will reveal new talent pools, which over the long term could create more hubs.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Tech is in a great position overall because businesses are generally either working on digitization, which is seeing acceleration out of COVID-19 … so tech falls clearly on the right side of that line, or green field modern or even futuristic ideas. Of the latter, of course, some of these ideas are nice-to-haves, which struggle when consumers are facing tough financial situations, but plenty are services that we believe we’ll see working out long term. Of course anything physical, where the team isn’t able to adapt the product quickly, like events or exercise services, will face temporary dips, but if these companies were originally betting on long-term trends, we believe that they’ll still be in good positions going forward.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID-19 hasn’t affected our strategy, but it has helped us keep our eye on the ball in terms of making sure we stick to our strategy and stay mindful of our own runway — funds have that too! The advice to our founders has been the following: (1) Extend the runway so you keep your options open, and then (2) be as aggressive as you possibly can. We’re encouraging teams to act quickly — both in terms of making internal decisions and in getting products to market to test them out. Our founders’ biggest worries are uncertainties around how long “this” will all last — and our advice here is that they should operate as they always do and not wait for things to change, rather be ultrarelevant in the market you’re in.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes! We’ve got a couple companies who are really well positioned — particularly Wolt (food delivery) and the mobile games companies we’ve backed (Popcore, Reworks, Traplight, etc.). The current climate is especially favorable for these types of companies, and we’ve got great founders at the wheels who have been able to take advantage of the opportunities presented and who have seen tremendous growth as a result.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The efforts by the public sector, including healthcare providers, to accelerate digitization has been refreshing. Sectors who have all too often had plenty of excuses for being slow and conservative have suddenly made big leaps — and they’re proud of themselves for having done so! This gives me hope that there will be new or renewed appetites even as things go back to normal.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
The Nordic countries have many great examples of digital tools used by the general public to conduct their everyday lives digitally. I would encourage founders and business leaders to look to these examples and see if there are opportunities to build for other geographies. Scandinavian trendsetting isn’t just for fashion and interior design!

Ted Persson, partner, EQT Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
My main passion lies in backing ambitious teams solving real problems with real technology. So, pretty deep tech sometimes — the anti-thesis of “yet another B2B SaaS company solving almost the same problem in almost the same way.” I’m also interested in product and design-centric teams using superior UX to democratize something that previously was limited to a privileged few. Currently, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about and doing research into the future of the creative industries, marketing, product design, etc.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
This spring, I’ve led or been involved in four investments across quantum computing, group collaboration and two in the design and development tooling space. None of these have been announced yet though. The last announced investments were Sonantic and Frontify — both very cool companies.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Edtech is certainly one.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
As we’re looking for outliers, it’s hard to generalize. But I get more excited about companies tying to solve hard problems rather than just piecing together a few APIs (which anyone can do).

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
I personally don’t have a geographical focus and enjoy working with our teams across Europe and the world, but since I live in Sweden, my network is slightly stronger here. Our proprietary AI platform Motherbrain also ensures we find rapidly growing or under-the-radar startups outside of our local ecosystems and networks.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
We’re pretty good at gaming, entertainment, music and fintech in the Nordics. It’s also easier to find really great designers here than in other parts of Europe.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Yes, for sure. It’s too early to tell, but a couple of portfolio companies have given up on their physical offices and a lot of startup people I know are working from across the country. I for sure think this will lead to a more international climate.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
A lot has been written about this already and, just like every other investor, we’ve spent a fair share of the spring mapping this out. All in all, tech is in a good position.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
There’s been no change in our strategy. There was some initial confusion for obvious reasons and we took a short break to make sure our portfolio was in a good position to endure. Now, we’re back to normal and have made our first investments where we haven’t met the teams physically.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, certainly in a couple of areas, such as food delivery, gaming, remote working and collaboration.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
When people around myself, parents, older relatives, all of a sudden embrace digital tools and ways of working fully.

Sofia Dolfe, principal, Index Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
I love products that give people a strong feeling of community, of belonging to a group of like-minded people, and a sense of being invested in its success. Users are so passionate about the product that they can’t stop themselves from recommending it to their friends, and their affinity with the brand grows over time. Search for these types of businesses often leads me to consumer businesses and marketplaces that are customer-centric and bring communities together.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I am interested to hear about new takes on education in a post-COVID world in which people may be more open to challenge the traditional ways of learning.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
I am looking for founders who are inspiring storytellers. So much of building a business is about getting everyone to come along for the ride, from the senior execs joining you, to the customers taking a chance on a young yet unproven business, to investors taking a leap of faith and sharing in your ambition. Founders who are great storytellers, are hungry and dream big from the get-go, and have the humility to know what they don’t know, will be in my view those who have the best chance at making it big.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Stockholm has historically been at the forefront of both fintech and gaming, and I do think these sectors are well positioned to thrive. Financial services will continue to be transformed, and the modern banking infrastructure in the Nordics makes this an attractive place to start a fintech business. As for gaming, the region has a strong track record and a high concentration of both studios and developer talent, making it a particularly fertile ground for breakout successes. A newer, fast-growing theme in the region is conscious consumption. Stockholm has a long history of eco-friendliness, and the maturity of CSR, responsible shopping, green travel and plant-based food alternatives will likely contribute to a surge in companies in this space. I’m excited to meet with founders who care deeply about this endeavor.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Stockholm has proven itself to be a strong tech hub, and it has many of the necessary ingredients for continued successes. For one, founders think big and global from the start. Sweden has a population of 10 million, and founders creating category-defining companies know that they must enter other markets to dominate. The scale of companies such as King, Spotify and iZettle has also shown that success is within reach and cultivated a sense of courage among aspiring entrepreneurs. Sometimes the world risks underestimating the Swedes because they tend to be understated but as the track record of Sweden shows, they overdeliver.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
A few weeks ago I saw a handwritten note in the entrance of an apartment building in Stockholm. One of the residents was offering to purchase groceries, medication and other essential items to those unwell or at risk in the building. I’m hopeful that in times of difficulty, we are reminded of the importance of our local communities, of taking responsibility for others, and of how valuable a simple act of kindness can be to building relationships.

Staffan Helgesson, partner, Creandum

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Transformation of old and large industries such as transportation, construction, real estate, etc. Digital health — we will need to transform current health industry.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Mavenoid. Automating tech support globally. Ex-Palantir founders.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Insurance markets have not yet seen the wave of startups that the general fintech industry has seen.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Crazy ambitious entrepreneurs with their eyes set on disrupting a global market.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Many consumer verticals are tough to penetrate given big tech and related oligopoly. But every time I say that new phenomenal companies emerge. Such as Creandum’s portfolio company Kahoot that just listed in Oslo for $1.5 billion.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Creandum invests all across EU. No set targets — we just want to find the best entrepreneurs.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
If picking one industry we’re very excited about digital health with Stockholm-based Firstvet and Kry/Livi. (telemedicine for humans and pet owners).

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Stockholm/Nordics is a very sophisticated ecosystem that consistently keep producing global winners on a regular basis.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Great companies will increasingly be built anywhere and we as an industry need to adapt. Those venture firms adapting best and fastest will be the winners going forward. I foresee a second green wave, like in the 70s, where people will move out from cities and/or have a dual-home setup.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and entertainment obviously. But even in these industries there will be winners going forward if they can ride the wave of digitizing (for example, tickets and events).

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
It’s all about access to long-term capital and track record. Creandum’s strategy has not changed at all.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, especially in digital health.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Closing a fully remote investment. Company called Meditopia — in Turkey of all places :-).

Tanya Horowitz, partner, Butterfly Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Deep tech, AI, machine learning, healthcare/medtech, industrial IoT and related cloud services and communication solutions, Energy storage and energy-efficient power generation, robotics, intelligent production, and additive manufacturing.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Uute Scientific has created a natural product containing a specific mixture of microbes, which can be applied to various consumer products. These products decrease the probability of getting immune-mediated diseases, like asthma or Type 1 diabetes and consequently improve quality of life.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
In the region (Nordics), would like to see more in energy storage, power generation and energy/carbon reduction technologies. Food tech and agtech are an area to look toward given the world’s increasing population. Edtech due to the COVID crisis.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
We are looking for a strong team with unique tech aimed toward a global market.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Media/adtech unless truly unique seem to be oversaturated; also wellness/fitness apps, etc.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Finland 40%-50%, Sweden 30%+, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Baltics remaining 20%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Industries: Health/medical.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
I think in Finland and the entire Nordics there is ample opportunities to invest in stellar teams and technologies that have a global market. The talent pool and support of the startup ecosystems are top notch.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I do not see startup hubs losing people in the Nordics. I do however see founders coming from geographies outside major cities.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Obvious is retail, restaurants, service industry. Also education (edtech) should be an area to really look into. Online entertainment (OTT), logistics (food, goods delivery), etc.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
It has only affected it slightly, we were lucky that we were almost at the end of our investment period and our portfolio of companies are set for this current fund vintage. We are the leading seed-stage deep tech investor in the Nordics and therefore most of our companies have fared OK.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, some of our portfolio has benefited from the pandemic, while others suffered with customers initially but seem to be recovered now.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
We are raising Butterfly Ventures Fund IV and started before the pandemic hit. While this has slowed us down slightly, our anchor and other LPs are rock solid and we as a team are committed to getting the first close done ASAP to capitalize with that dry powder in early 2021. While my heart goes out to those who have not been so lucky, personally we have been blessed to not have had direct tragedies related to the pandemic … and my son is happy and healthy and that alone gives me hope everyday.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Global LPs should really explore Europe more, especially the Nordics!

Sanna Westman, principal, Creandum

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Well, we typically say that if you invest in trends you’re late to the party … but of course there are some macro movements that are exciting and we monitor closely. For me personally digital health is one of those areas, it’s not new but constantly developing and has of course been further accelerated the past year. Another area that is really interesting are products that help you be a better leader/manager/company. I’m not sure how to productize this but there’s a huge opportunity in amplifying leadership. We’ve seen success with companies giving the individual user superpowers (no-code tools, productivity tools, etc.) but how about helping people scaling themselves and their teams? Remote work has a lot of benefits, but puts new challenges on managers. I also believe we’ll see more quality companies battling climate change in different ways.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
SafetyWing — on the intersection of social security and remote work.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
There’s plenty more to do within B2B commerce: marketplaces, e-commerce enablers, new ways of financing, etc. Sure there are companies, but no way near as many (good) ones as it should be.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
A short time to “Wow.” Solutions that can give the user an instant value and then continue to add to that value they more they use the product

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Mobility and delivery in general is quite crowded. Also open-banking payment solutions has seen a huge surge.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
The Nordics is along with DACH one of the key focus markets for Creandum, though there’s no set allocation for any certain geography. We strive to back the best companies regardless of where they’re located.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Compared to other hubs there is a very high product focus in general, and given that Sweden is a small market the mindset is also international from day one. I think that makes more of a difference than a certain vertical. In terms of exciting companies Kive and Depict are worth keeping eyes on for the very early stages. For the more mature startups Kry and Firstvet are doing great as early enablers of digital health.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Increasingly competitive but also a lot of strong talent.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Even before the pandemic very few startups in Stockholm had 100% of their workforce in one location anyway, a hybrid setup was and continue to be very common.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
As the fund invests with a very long time horizon, +10 years, the short-term impact is not a key concern but of course we think about the long-term effects on e.g., business travel. We tend to look for the opportunities more than the drawbacks though, and there will be opportunities for new companies in industries that have been heavily impacted. It might actually prove to be good timing to disrupt.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Initially we were cautious around runway and worked closely with the portfolio to make sure they could survive for a longer time should revenues decline and funding not be available. Summing up 2020 though, we were fortunate to look back on a year where many companies had overperformed and were able to raise significant up rounds. Great companies are created in all times and were committed to find the best seed and Series A companies.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Definitely. We’ve seen several examples of V-shaped recovery, with revenues bumping back above pre-COVID levels and continuing on that trajectory.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The hustle and optimism among entrepreneurs we meet. The “impossible is nothing” attitude is really inspiring.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally?
I’d say some of the active “stay in the background” angels/mentors that are supporting a new generation such as Joachim Hedenius (Kry, CTO) or Johan Crona. And Susanna Campbell/Cristina Stenbeck who have been very active in their joint investments, often finding opportunities the VCs miss.

#covid-19, #creandum, #ec-europe, #ec-investor-surveys, #eqt-ventures, #europe, #index-ventures, #sweden, #tc

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Sweden’s data watchdog slaps police for unlawful use of Clearview AI

Sweden’s data protection authority, the IMY, has fined the local police authority €250,000 ($300k+) for unlawful use of the controversial facial recognition software, Clearview AI, in breach of the country’s Criminal Data Act.

As part of the enforcement the police must conduct further training and education of staff in order to avoid any future processing of personal data in breach of data protection rules and regulations.

The authority has also been ordered to inform people whose personal data was sent to Clearview — when confidentiality rules allow it to do so, per the IMY.

Its investigation found that the police had used the facial recognition tool on a number of occasions and that several employees had used it without prior authorization.

Earlier this month Canadian privacy authorities found Clearview had breached local laws when it collected photos of people to plug into its facial recognition database without their knowledge or permission.

“IMY concludes that the Police has not fulfilled its obligations as a data controller on a number of accounts with regards to the use of Clearview AI. The Police has failed to implement sufficient organisational measures to ensure and be able to demonstrate that the processing of personal data in this case has been carried out in compliance with the Criminal Data Act. When using Clearview AI the Police has unlawfully processed biometric data for facial recognition as well as having failed to conduct a data protection impact assessment which this case of processing would require,” the Swedish data protection authority writes in a press release.

The IMY’s full decision can be found here (in Swedish).

“There are clearly defined rules and regulations on how the Police Authority may process personal data, especially for law enforcement purposes. It is the responsibility of the Police to ensure that employees are aware of those rules,” added Elena Mazzotti Pallard, legal advisor at IMY, in a statement.

The fine (SEK2.5M in local currency) was decided on the basis of an overall assessment, per the IMY, though it falls quite a way short of the maximum possible under Swedish law for the violations in question — which the watchdog notes would be SEK10M. (The authority’s decision notes that not knowing the rules or having inadequate procedures in place are not a reason to reduce a penalty fee so it’s not entirely clear why the police avoided a bigger fine.)

The data authority said it was not possible to determine what had happened to the data of the people whose photos the police authority had sent to Clearview — such as whether the company still stored the information. So it has also ordered the police to take steps to ensure Clearview deletes the data.

The IMY said it investigated the police’s use of the controversial technology following reports in local media.

Just over a year ago, US-based Clearview AI was revealed by the New York Times to have amassed a database of billions of photos of people’s faces — including by scraping public social media postings and harvesting people’s sensitive biometric data without individuals’ knowledge or consent.

European Union data protection law puts a high bar on the processing of special category data, such as biometrics.

Ad hoc use by police of a commercial facial recognition database — with seemingly zero attention paid to local data protection law — evidently does not meet that bar.

Last month it emerged that the Hamburg data protection authority had instigating proceedings against Clearview following a complaint by a German resident over consentless processing of his biometric data.

The Hamburg authority cited Article 9 (1) of the GDPR, which prohibits the processing of biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying a natural person, unless the individual has given explicit consent (or for a number of other narrow exceptions which it said had not been met) — thereby finding Clearview’s processing unlawful.

However the German authority only made a narrow order for the deletion of the individual complainant’s mathematical hash values (which represent the biometric profile).

It did not order deletion of the photos themselves. It also did not issue a pan-EU order banning the collection of any European resident’s photos as it could have done and as European privacy campaign group, noyb, had been pushing for.

noyb is encouraging all EU residents to use forms on Clearview AI’s website to ask the company for a copy of their data and ask it to delete any data it has on them, as well as to object to being included in its database. It also recommends that individuals who finds Clearview holds their data submit a complaint against the company with their local DPA.

European Union lawmakers are in the process of drawing up a risk-based framework to regulate applications of artificial intelligence — with draft legislation expected to be put forward this year although the Commission intends it to work in concert with data protections already baked into the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Earlier this month the controversial facial recognition company was ruled illegal by Canadian privacy authorities — who warned they would “pursue other actions” if the company does not follow recommendations that include stopping the collection of Canadians’ data and deleting all previously collected images.

Clearview said it had stopped providing its tech to Canadian customers last summer.

It is also facing a class action lawsuit in the U.S. citing Illinois’ biometric protection laws.

Last summer the UK and Australian data protection watchdogs announced a joint investigation into Clearview’s personal data handling practices. That probe is ongoing.

 

#artificial-intelligence, #clearview-ai, #eu-data-protection-law, #europe, #facial-recognition, #gdpr, #privacy, #sweden, #tc

0

Vivino raises $155 million for wine recommendation and marketplace app

If you’re at all interested in wine, chances are you’ve turned to Vivino at least a few times for recommendations. The app and the company behind it have been helping people enjoy better wine since 2010, and now the startup has raised $155 million with its Series D round – a sum over twice as large as all of its previous funding to date. Spurred by rapid growth that has seen its user base grow from 29 million in 2018, to 50 million currently, Vivino wants to use the large cash injection to significantly boost its core tech and personalized recommendation engine, while also expanding its presence in key growth markets globally.

Vivino is an interesting company for many reasons, but chief among them might be just how similar its vision today is to the one it started out with. Founder and CEO Heini Zachariassen told me in an interview that the app has been remarkably immune to the pivot – something as natural as breathing in the fast-flowing startup world.

“I can look at my slide, from when I pitched this 10 years ago,” he told me. “It says, ‘Hey, you scan a bottle of wine, then you can buy it.’ That just makes a lot of sense to anybody, so it really hasn’t changed much.”

“It’s been very, very difficult to build much – much harder to build than building that slide,” he joked. But it’s always been the same – we always knew that was going to be the model.”

That core value proposition is what leads to a lot of Vivino’s initial downloads and subsequent usage. The scenario is likely familiar: You’re sitting in a restaurant and browsing the wine menu, or staring at a crowded shelf in a wine store. For myself, I think I likely searched for something like ‘wine recommendation app’ and found Vivino via the App Store, installed it and was snapping photos of labels or menus within minutes. The recommendations provided somewhere to start, and since then the app has grown more personalized as I’ve provided input about my tastes.

Image Credits: Vivino

Vivino’s marketplace component means you can often buy the wines you find and enjoy directly from the app, via partnerships the company fosters and maintains with merchants large and small around the world. Zachariassen explained that they strive to maintain high standards when it comes to these partners, since the experience a user has with them is largely a reflection on Vivino itself because the app provides the means for the purchase.

Building more relationships with more merchants in more geographies is one part of their expansion goal for addressing their primary growth markets, but the company is also going to put a lot more capital behind improving and extending its recommendation engine. A lot of the building blocks are in place to make big improvements there, not least of which is the wine database that Vivino spent a decade building essentially from zero.

“Stage one of the hurdles we faced, even before we got commercial, was really building the data,” Zachariassen told me. “There is no aggregated data anywhere. So we’ve basically built this data totally from scratch. So it means taking a picture of bottle of wine, then having people just entering info every single day to fill it. We have 1.5 billion pictures of wine labels right now, so building that mass of data in a good and structured way really is 10 years of work.”

He adds that wine is a particularly long-tail marketplace, with highly individual tastes and very little indication in the company’s history that that’s likely to change in any significant way. Vivino’s marketplace approach, which is highly local on both the supply and the demand side, is particularly well-suited to addressing the sector’s needs, and Zachariassen believes Vivino has only really begun to scratch the surface on that thus far. I asked him why now was the right time to take on this sizeable round, given they’ve been very modest with prior funding amounts.

Vivino wine app in San Francisco. Photo Copyright Nader Khouri 2018.

“I think we we’ve reached sort of a critical mass,” he said. “We saw last year massive growth, and actually reaching […] like a quarter of a billion dollars in sales, and we’ve really seen that the unit economics are healthy for us. At the same time, unlike other marketplaces – you know, the order of things when you have a marketplace might be if you’re like Uber, is that you go into market, you spend money, do marketing, a lot of money to build up the demand, and then you build the supply on top. We’re a little bit different in the way that demand is already there, because we have 50 million users around the world. So we just follow our demand.”

“But the hardest thing about that is that we’re now a 200 person company that sells wine in 17 countries,” he continued. “Which means we’re relatively thin in all these markets. So so one of the big things here, is actually to go much deeper in each market and say, okay, we now know it works here, let’s put more resources in every single market.”

Zachariassen also added that the company spends very little on marketing to date, so it’s going to begin spending more on that to extend its organic growth. Finally, it wants to really build out product engineering, since he says that while users love the existing app, they really “want to do so much more with it.”

Vivino has worked to modernize a product category that has long relied on local expertise and individual storehouses of highly-specific information, with an approach that provides all the benefits of a connected and global marketplace, while retaining regional and particular appeal at the granola level of the individual user. Now, the company is read to tap the rest of the massive submerged demand it has identified, and this fresh fundings would help it do just that.

The $155 million series D round was led by Sweden’s Kinnevik, and also includes participation by Sprints Capital, GP BullHound, and existing investor Creandum which led its Series A. This brings the company’s total funding to $221 million to date.

#app-store, #apps, #ceo, #computing, #creandum, #europe, #funding, #gp-bullhound, #kinnevik, #recent-funding, #series-c, #software, #sprints-capital, #startups, #sweden, #tc, #uber, #vivino, #wine

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A Movie Festival for One, on a Tiny Nordic Island

Sweden’s Goteborg Film Festival has taken social distancing to the extreme, offering one attendee a week on a barren island, with only the competition films for company.

#festivals, #gothenburg-sweden, #movies, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #sweden

0

How Roblox’s creator accelerator helps the gaming giant build new platform opportunities

As Roblox eyes what could be a historic debut on public markets in the coming months, investors who have valued the company at $29.5 billion are certainly eyeing the gaming company’s dedicated and youthful user base, but it’s the 7 million active creators and developers on the Roblox platform that they are likely most impressed by. 

Since 2015, Roblox has been running an accelerator program focused on enabling the next generation of game developers to be successful on its platform. Over the years, the program has expanded from one annual class to now three, each with now around 40 developers participating. That means over 100 developers per year are working directly with Roblox to gain mentorship, education, and funding opportunities to get their games off the ground.  

As the company’s efforts on this front have grown more formalized, Roblox in 2018 hired a former Accelerator alumni Christian Hunter, a Roblox gamer since age 10 and game developer since 13, to run the program full-time. Having been through the experience himself, Hunter brought to the program an understanding of how the Accelerator could improve, based on a developer’s own perspective. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic threw the company’s plans to run the program into disarray. Instead of being able to invite developers to spend three months participating in classes hosted at Roblox’s San Mateo office, the company had to revamp the program for remote participation. 

As it turned out, developers who were used to playing and building games taking place in virtual worlds quickly adjusted to the new online experience. 

“Before COVID, everyone was together. It was easier to talk to people. [Developers] could just walk up to someone that was on our product or engineering team if they were running into issues,” explains Roblox Senior Product Manager Rebecca Crose. “But obviously, with COVID-19, we had to switch and think differently.”  

The remote program, though differently structured, offered several benefits. Developers could join the program’s Discord server to talk to both current participants and previous classes, and reach out and ask questions. They could also participate in the Roblox company Slack to ask the team questions, and there were more playtests being scheduled to gain reactions and feedback from Roblox employees.

Meanwhile, to get to know one another when they couldn’t meet in person, developers would have game nights where they’d play each other’s games or others that were popular on Roblox, and bond within the virtual environment instead of in face-to-face meetings and classes. 

The actual Accelerator content, however, remained fairly consistent during the remote experience. Participants had weekly leaders standup, talks on topics like game design and production, and weekly feedback sessions where they asked Roblox engineers questions. 

But by its nature, a remote Accelerator broadend who could attend. Instead of limiting the program to only those who could travel to San Mateo and stay for three months, the program was opened up to a more global and diverse audience. This drove increased demand, too. 

The 2020 program saw Roblox receiving the largest number of applications ever — 5 times the usual number.

As a result, the class included participants from five countries: The Philippines, South Korea, Sweden, Canada, and the U.S. 

The developers at IndieBox Studios saw the program as a chance to double down on their game development side hustles. The young friends spread across the UK and Kentucky spent their time during the accelerator scaling up their photorealistic title called Tank Warfare.

“We’ve actually never once met in real life, like we’ve been friends for going on what nine years now,” Michael Southern tells TechCrunch. “We met on Roblox.”

IndieBox is representative of many of Roblox’s early developer teams, younger gamers that have spent more than a decade learning the ins and outs of the evolving Roblox gaming platform.

“We all joined Roblox way back in 2008,” IndieBox’s Frank Garrison says. “But we only started developing on the platform in 2019. And for us, the decision to choose Roblox was more down to like, well it’s what we know, why not give it a bash?” 

The demographics of the accelerator have been shifting in other ways as the developer base grows more diverse.

“I would say, in the beginning, it was mostly young males. But as we’ve watched the program evolve, we’ve been getting so many new interesting teams,” notes Program Manager Christian Hunter. 

The 2020 program had more women participants than ever, for example, with 12 in a class of 50. And one team was all women. 

The age of participants, who are typically in the 18 to 22 year-old range, also evolved. 

“We’ve seen a lot more older folks,” Hunter says. “With [the COVID-19 pandemic], we actually saw our first 50-year old in the program. We’ve never had anyone older than, I’d say, 24. And in 2020, we had 12 individuals over the age of 30,” he notes. 

Two of the teams were also a combination of a kid and a parent. 

Shannon Clemens learned about the Roblox platform from her son Nathan, learning to code and bringing her husband Jeff in to form a studio called Simple Games. Nathan’s two sisters help the studio part time, as well as his friend Adrian Holgate.

“Seeing [my son’s] experience on Roblox getting involved with the platform, I thought it would be neat to learn how to make our own games,” Shannon Clemens told TechCrunch.

Their title Gods of Glory has received more than 13.5 million visits from Roblox players since launching in September.

“Our whole family is kind of creatively bent towards having fun with games and coming up with things like that,” Jeff Clemens tells us. “Why would we not try this? So, that’s when we applied to the program and said, ‘well, we’ll try and see if we get accepted,’ and we did and it’s been awesome.”

In addition to the changes facilitated by a remote environment, Roblox notes there were other perks enabled by remote learning. For one thing, the developers didn’t have to wake up so early to benefit from the experience.  

“With it being remote, the developers were working their hours,” says Crose. “As a developer, we tend to work later and stay up at night. Having them come in at 9 AM sharp was very difficult. It was hard for them because they’re just like…a zombie. So we definitely saw that by letting them work their own hours, [there is] less burnout and they increase their productivity,” she says. 

Though the COVID-19 crisis may eventually end as the world gets vaccinated, the learnings from the Accelerator and the remote advantages it offers will continue. Developers from the program hope that the growth seen on gaming platforms like Roblox continues as well.

“The pandemic has been great for most game studios,” developer Gustav Linde tells TechCrunch. “Obviously, it’s a very weird time, but the timing was good for us.”

The Gang Stockholm, a Swedish game development studio co-founded by Linde, has been building branded experiences for clients exclusively on the Roblox platform. The team of 12 has used the accelerator to slow down development deadlines and dig into some unique areas of the platform.  

“If you look at Steam and the App Store and Google Play, those markets are extremely crowded, and Roblox is a very exciting platform for developers right now.” said Linde. “Roblox is also getting a lot of attention and a lot of big brands are interested in entering the platform.”

Roblox says that going forward, future Accelerator programs will feature a remote element inspired by the COVID experience. The company plans to continue to make its program globally available, with the limitation for now, of English-speaking participants. But it’s looking to expand to reach non-English speakers with future programs.

The fall 2020 Accelerator class graduated in December 2020, and the next Spring class will start in February 2021. The applications are being reviewed now with a decision to be finalized soon. The next class will have some 40 participants, as is now usual, and Roblox will again aim to diversify the group of participants.

#app-store, #canada, #computing, #game-developer, #gaming, #kentucky, #online-games, #philippines, #product-manager, #roblox, #software, #south-korea, #sweden, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #video-gaming

0

Calling Swedish VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

TechCrunch is embarking on a major project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe, and their cities.

Our survey of VCs in Stockholm, and Sweden generally, will capture how the country is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic.

The deadline is the end of this week.

We’d like to know how Sweden’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. More than one partner is welcome to fill out the survey. (Please note, if you have filled the survey out already, there is no need to do it again).

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you can add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions include: Which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

This survey is part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors.

https://techcrunch.com/extra-crunch/investor-surveys/

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

You are not in Sweden, but would like to take part? That’s fine! Any European VC investor can STILL fill out the survey, as we probably will be putting a call out to your country next anyway! And we will use the data for future surveys on vertical topics.

The survey is covering almost every country on in the Union for the Mediterranean, so just look for your country and city on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com

(Please note: Filling out the survey is not a guarantee of inclusion in the final published piece).

#corporate-finance, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #finance, #london, #money, #private-equity, #startup-company, #stockholm, #sweden, #tc, #venture-capital

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Covid-19 Kept Tourists Away. Why Did These Seabirds Miss Them?

When travel restrictions stopped bird-watchers from visiting a Swedish island, hidden ecosystem dynamics were revealed.

#animal-behavior, #birds, #conservation-of-resources, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #research, #shutdowns-institutional, #sweden, #travel-and-vacations, #wildlife-sanctuaries-and-nature-reserves, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

0

Rocket Lab completes its first rocket launch of 2021 and 18th mission overall

Rocket Lab has launched its 18th mission, and the first of 2021, as of 8:26 PM NZT (2:30 AM EST). The ‘Another One Leaves The Crust’ mission took off from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, and flew a single communications microsatellite on behalf of client OHB Group, a satellite manufacturer based in Europe with facilities in Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic.

Rocket Lab’s launches often feature payloads from more than one customer on the same Electron launch vehicle, but this dedicated payload launch is an example of how the flexibility of its smaller rocket can serve customers even for single small satellite missions. The rocket successfully delivered its payload as intended shortly following take-off.

While Rocket Lab has been developing and testing a booster stage recovery process to help it re-use part of its launch vehicles on subsequent flights, this particular mission did not include a recovery attempt. The company has had significant success with that development process however, and recovered its first booster last year. Sometime this year, it’s expected to attempt a recovery that includes a mid-air catch of the returning first stage via helicopter.

#aerospace, #booster, #czech-republic, #electron, #europe, #germany, #new-zealand, #rocket-lab, #space, #spaceflight, #sweden, #tc

0

Minna Technologies, a subscription management tool for banking customers, raises $18.8M

With the proliferation of subscription services, combined with our lives becoming almost 100% digital, there’s a rising need to be able to manage these services. But most banks don’t have much of an answer. Step in Minna Technologies, which sells in its subscription management services into banking apps.

It’s now raised $18.8 million (€15.5m / £14m) in Series B fundraising from Element Ventures, MiddleGame Ventures, Nineyards Equity and Visa, to expand its open banking technology to banks globally.

Founded in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2016, Minna enables customers to manage subscription services via their existing bank’s app. Using Minna, customers can terminate subscriptions just from their banking app, automatically, cutting the data and financial ties between the merchant and customer. The platform can also notify customers when a free trial is about to end and facilitates utilities switching allowing them to find better deals. So far, Minna has partnerships with Lloyds Banking Group, Swedbank and ING.

Minna’s technology reduces the burden on a bank’s call centers, plus banks can also benefit financially from Minna’s role in facilitating utility switching, raising the prospect of banks becoming marketplaces.

The appearance of Minna suggests that the first wave of neo-banks is about to be accompanied by a second wave of overlayed services such as this. The average European is spending £301 (€333) a month on 11 subscriptions, which is predicted to increase to £459 (€508) a month on 17 subscriptions by 2025. IDC predicts that by 2050, 50% of the world’s largest enterprises will focus the majority of their businesses on digitally enhanced products, services, and experiences. Subscriptions are even coming from car makers such as Volvo.

Joakim Sjöblom, CEO and co-founder of Minna Technologies, said: “Over the past four years the subscription economy has exploded from Spotify and Netflix to even iPhones and cars. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to keep track of the payments and harder for banks to handle inquiries to shut them down. Minna’s tech improves the procedure for banks by simplifying the process, as well as providing an in-demand digital product that consumers are starting to expect from their financial institutions.”

Sjöblom told me that by largely working with incumbent banks, Minna is providing them with a way to fight back against challenger banks.

Pascal Bouvier, Managing Partner, MiddleGame Ventures said: “We strongly believe in a vision where banks develop their checking account offerings into “connected and intelligent” platforms and where retail clients are able to interact in many more ways than in the recent past.”

#bank, #banking, #economy, #europe, #finance, #ing, #managing-partner, #middlegame-ventures, #netflix, #open-banking, #spotify, #subscription-services, #sweden, #tc, #up, #visa, #volvo

0

Wintry Scenes From a Swedish Wonderland

With his foreign assignments canceled for the year, a photographer refocuses on his homeland — and finds plenty to admire.

#aurora-borealis, #indigenous-people, #lapland, #photography, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #reindeer, #snowmobiles, #sweden, #travel-and-vacations, #wilderness-areas

0

How Can I Make a Home After Moving Again?

“Create constancy and continuity for your family,” writes our advice columnist.

#art, #bowie-david, #ginzburg-natalia, #immigration-and-emigration, #language-and-languages, #moving-and-moving-industry, #suh-do-ho, #sweden

0

In Sweden, Coronavirus Infections and Calls for a Lockdown Are Rising

The country has been keeping restaurants and bars open, trying not to let the pandemic disrupt life. But the second wave is forcing authorities to reconsider their approach.

#disease-rates, #politics-and-government, #shutdowns-institutional, #stockholm-sweden, #sweden

0

Improving sound for hardware giants, Sweden’s Dirac finds its niche in China

The rise of U.S.-China tensions has accelerated the bifurcation of global technology, with the two superpowers each working on their own tech systems. While the rift might be discouraging cross-border investment and business expansion between the rivals, the countries that are in-between — like those in Southeast Asia and Europe — are still finding opportunities.

Sweden’s Dirac is such an example. The 15-year-old firm has been licensing sound optimization technology to mobile, home entertainment, AR/VR, automotive, and other businesses where sounds are critical. The geopolitical complications “have not impacted” the company at all, its founder and chief executive Mathias Johansson told TechCrunch in an interview.

Based in the university city Uppsala of Sweden, Dirac has deep ties to China, offering solutions to the country’s smartphone leaders from Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi, to Africa-focused Transsion. More than 50% of its revenue come from China today.

Dirac’s interest in China stems in part from the founder’s early fascination with the country. When Johansson visited China for the first time through his PhD program two decades ago, he was impressed by the “rapid evolution” in the tech industry there.

“The audio industry put a lot of manufacturing in China first, but then more and more on development and design. We realized this is a market that’s absolutely key for the entire consumer electronics ecosystem,” Johansson said.

The entrepreneur had since been traveling to Asia, especially Japan and China where electronics were flourishing. In 2010, he hired Dirac’s first China manager Tony Ye, who previously worked for Swedish software firm IAR Systems in Shanghai. At the time, the revolutionary iPhone 4 was making waves across the world, but Johansson and his team were also bullish about China.

“We thought that China is going to be the leader in smartphones eventually. We thought that with Android and with Arm processors [China] is going to be a very different market. So we really went in there and focused on the market. And we thought that [Chinese] would be more hungry, more interested in trying out new things, simply because they were newcomers just like we were pioneers,” the founder said.

“It turned out to be the right bet.”

Though the Chinese government has been advocating for technological autonomy, the national efforts are prioritizing strategic areas like 5G and AI. In smaller and less politically charged fields, imported technologies are still seeing demand. These solutions are often cutting-edge and built upon years of research and development, but they are too niched for big corporations to invest the money and time. That is true for certain video enhancement solutions (see TechCrunch’s profile of Imint, also an Uppsala-based company), or advanced sound optimization in the case of Dirac.

Johansson began researching the audio technology behind Dirac some 20 years ago during university, which made it harder for latecomers to catch up, the founder asserted. Dirac fixes audio like how glasses correct vision. Its team would first send out a test signal through the target speaker system, records it with a microphone, generates a digital fingerprint of audio, and measures the acoustic information. It then makes an exact “mirror universe” of the distortions created by the system, sends pre-distorted audio back to the speakers and the users will eventually get the distortion-free version of the sound.

The research and development cycle at Dirac is long, but working with Chinese companies has forced the Swedish firm to adapt.

“It challenged us to come up with new, more efficient ways of doing the same thing and to keep that innovation pace ahead of the competitor, whether it’s domestic Chinese, or the U.S., or wherever,” the founder admitted.

Dirac maintains its cashflow by licensing its intellectual property to clients and charges royalty fees per unit of device shipped. It also operates a B2B2C model, whereby the end-user can upgrade the sound system of a device, say, a speaker, by paying a fee, which is then divided between Dirac and its client, i.e. the device maker. Its latest big-name customer is the Chinese electric carmaker BYD, a deal that the company sees as an important step in furthering its automotive ambitions.

“Traditional carmakers are being challenged and the whole ecosystem is changing,” Johansson observed. “With software upgrades, cars are becoming something very different. They’re becoming much more like mobile phones and much more software-centric. The whole entertainment aspect and the audio experience in cars are becoming almost the most important part of the car because the noise is so low, the car is so quiet and you’re maybe driving a self-driving car. The audio experience you will get from cars will be outstanding in a couple of years.”

#asia, #automotive, #china, #consumer-electronics, #dirac, #europe, #hardware, #huawei, #manufacturing, #oppo, #self-driving-car, #speaker, #sweden, #transsion, #xiaomi

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Making a Home in the Swedish Hinterlands

For some hardy souls, living far outside Sweden’s city centers is where it’s at.

#real-estate-and-housing-residential, #rural-areas, #seasons-and-months, #sweden

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Mink and the Coronavirus: What We Know

Mink are the only animal known to both catch the virus from people and transmit it to them.

#agriculture-and-farming, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #denmark, #italy, #minks-animals, #netherlands, #spain, #sweden, #united-states, #vaccination-and-immunization, #world-health-organization, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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In the Arctic, Reindeer Are Sustenance and a Sacred Presence

For the Indigenous communities who herd the animals, safeguarding dying culinary traditions isn’t merely about eating but about protecting a longstanding way of life.

#agriculture-and-farming, #arctic-regions, #cooking-and-cookbooks, #finland, #food, #indigenous-people, #meat, #norway, #reindeer, #samis-ethnic-group, #sweden

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Hej! Amazon opens Amazon.se in Sweden to expand in Europe

Amazon is the biggest online retailer in Europe, and today it took the next step in making that effort more localized. The company has launched a dedicated portal for Sweden at Amazon.se — giving Swedish shoppers, third-party merchants, and itself, a local URL — and a local logistics system, and a local marketing push — for buying and selling goods and services online.

Sweden, as the world’s 10th biggest economy by GDP, is a key market for Amazon and its growth strategy.

But the news comes at a time when large tech companies, and Amazon in particular, continue to be scrutinized in Europe over issues of competition and tax payments — or more specifically, the lack of tax payments. On the former, the European Commission earlier this year opened an investigation into antitrust practices of the company. And on the latter point, Amazon is currently contesting a €250 million tax bill from the EU that goes back several years to when the company was much smaller, but potentially has wider implications for how Amazon is taxed today.

Amazon said that the local storefront will launch with 150 million+ products in 30 categories — examples of the popular Swedish brands that it will feature include Electrolux, Lagerhaus, OBH Nordica, Ellos, BRIO, Bonnierförlagen and Ifö — and it will provide free delivery on eligible orders above SEK229 ($26) that are fulfilled by Amazon.

It becomes Amazon’s 17th local portal, alongside Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Amazon had already been doing a lot of retail business in Sweden.

It has long had a system in Europe where shoppers from individual countries where it didn’t offer direct operations were redirected to those closest to them. Amazon URLs localized to Denmark, Norway, Finland, Switzerland and Poland, for example, all default to Amazon’s German site (Amazon.de) but see the text and some specialized content presented in each respective language. (And this is also where Amazon.se pointed until today.)

But this latest move is about doubling down on the potential of the country, both as a place to tap merchants and shoppers, and compete potentially more aggressively against homegrown merchants like Ikea and H&M.

“We are thrilled to launch Amazon.se and to be able to offer Swedish customers a selection of more than 150 million products, including tens of thousands of products from local Swedish businesses,” said Alex Ootes, Vice President, European Expansion for Amazon, in a statement  “Today is only the start of Amazon.se. We will continue to work hard to earn the trust of Swedish customers by growing our product range, ensuring low prices, and providing a convenient and trusted shopping experience.”

Considering that Sweden is the 10th-biggest economy in terms of GDP, it’s perhaps a surprise that it took so long. Amazon, however, has been known for taking a slow approach to global rollouts of certain products (the Kindle, for example, took years to break out of its home market of the US).

All that is not to say that Amazon hasn’t been operating other direct businesses in the country. It has an extensive set up in Sweden for its AWS cloud business, and just earlier this month it turned on its first European wind farm to produce clean energy, which was built in Sweden to power its Swedish AWS data centers.

For local merchants, it will give them another more direct online marketplace to sell goods to local customers who already know their brands, but have until now getting most of their business through Amazon in other countries.

“The opportunities on Amazon are enormous. Amazon has grown to become our most important channel for exports, and within the first months of working with Amazon we were cash flow positive,” said Pierre Magnusson, head of e-commerce at N!CK’S, a Swedish healthy snack business, in a statement. “N!CK’S continues to grow and has become one of the best-selling brands within our category, and we are still seeing 50% year-on-year growth in the EU Amazon stores alone.”

Elisabet Sandström, CEO of Miss Mary of Sweden AB, a manufacturer of high quality lingerie, added: “Amazon is an important channel for our expansion in Europe and the US, and we now look forward to selling through the Swedish Store when Amazon opens in our home country. Our sales on Amazon have increased steadily by over 50% per year, and Amazon is our fastest growing channel. Germany is currently Miss Mary’s largest customer base, and when we entered Amazon.de we noticed an immediate sales increase. We now appreciate the opportunity to reach new Swedish customers and make them happy.”

#amazon, #ecommerce, #europe, #sweden

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Herd Immunity? Or ‘Mass Murder’?

A proposal to let people with low risk of infection live without constraint could lead to a million or more preventable deaths.

#centers-for-disease-control-and-prevention, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-risks-and-safety-concerns, #institute-for-health-metrics-and-evaluation, #medicine-and-health, #shutdowns-institutional, #sweden, #trump-donald-j, #united-states

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Ikea Will Buy Back Some Used Furniture

The program, part of the company’s larger efforts to combat climate change, will be available in 27 countries, but not the United States.

#black-friday-and-cyber-monday-shopping, #furniture, #great-britain, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #ikea, #shopping-and-retail, #sweden

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‘We Were Bulletproof’: As Child Soldiers Grow Up, Legacy of War Lingers

Twin leaders of Myanmar’s God’s Army were once thought to have magical powers. Now adults, they are contending with the trauma of exile, alcohol and loss.

#auckland-new-zealand, #defense-and-military-forces, #foreign-workers, #gods-army, #htoo-johnny, #htoo-luther, #immigration-and-emigration, #karen-national-union, #myanmar, #refugees-and-displaced-persons, #sweden, #thailand

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Pandemic Exposes Holes in Sweden’s Generous Social Welfare State

Decades of budget-cutting and market reforms laid the ground for a wave of death in Swedish nursing homes.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #elder-care, #labor-and-jobs, #nursing-homes, #politics-and-government, #sweden, #taxation, #wages-and-salaries

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Life, and the Battle for Her Seat

In a two-part special, we reflect on the achievements of an American legal giant and examine the fight to replace her on the Supreme Court.

#deaths-obituaries, #ginsburg-ruth-bader, #greenhouse-linda, #supreme-court-us, #sweden, #women-and-girls, #womens-rights

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The Age of Electric Cars Is Dawning Ahead of Schedule

Battery prices are dropping faster than expected. Analysts are moving up projections of when an electric vehicle won’t need government incentives to be cheaper than a gasoline model.

#automobiles, #baden-wurttemberg-germany, #batteries, #bayerische-motorenwerke-ag, #carnegie-mellon-university, #electric-and-hybrid-vehicles, #energy-department, #environmental-protection-agency, #european-union, #factories-and-manufacturing, #ford-henry, #frankfurt-germany, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #hyundai-motor-co, #karlsruhe-institute-of-technology, #kelley-blue-book-co, #lucid-motors-inc, #musk-elon, #renault-sa, #sweden, #tesla-motors-inc, #volkswagen-ag, #wood-mackenzie-ltd

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France and Sweden Confirm Novichok Poisoning of Navalny, Backing Germany

The evidence that Moscow attempted to murder Russia’s most visible opposition politician hardens. But for now, Germany and its allies are still struggling to respond.

#assassinations-and-attempted-assassinations, #charite-universitatsmedizin-berlin-germany, #france, #international-relations, #merkel-angela, #navalny-aleksei-a, #poisoning-and-poisons, #putin-vladimir-v, #russia, #sweden

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Trump advisor reportedly wants to let COVID-19 spread, repeat Sweden’s mistakes

A serious man in a business suit sits with his hands folded in his lap.

Enlarge / Member of the coronavirus task force Scott Atlas listens to US President Donald Trump during a briefing at the White House August 10, 2020, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI )

A new advisor to President Donald Trump is reportedly advocating that the pandemic coronavirus spread largely unrestrained so that the United States can reach “herd immunity”—an idea that infectious disease experts call “absolutely absurd,” “simply wrong,” and a strategy that actually amounts to the absence of a strategy, which could leave hundreds of thousands of more Americans dead.

Still, according to reporting by The Washington Post, the idea is being pushed by Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist from Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution, who began advising Trump in August. In his short tenure so far, Professor Atlas has repeatedly made statements contrary to scientific evidence, such as saying that children do not spread the virus.

Officials say Atlas was recruited to the advisory role counter the advice of Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, and Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. One senior administration official said Atlas, who has no background in infectious diseases, sees himself as the “anti-Dr. Fauci.”

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#covid-19, #herd-immunity, #immunity, #infectious-disease, #public-health, #science, #scott-atlas, #sweden, #trump, #who

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