A federal judge says yes, siding with U.S. cheese producers who say gruyère can be produced anywhere, not just in Switzerland and France.
Valentine Fabre and her ski-mountaineering partner, Hillary Gerardi, took on the Haute Route, traversing 66 miles of glaciers and passes in less than 27 hours. The challenge? Finding confidence.
The pod, known as Sarco, was conceived as a way for people to end their lives without involving a doctor. A plan to introduce it in Switzerland has raised alarm even among right-to-die advocates.
The latest zigzag in the pandemic has already curtailed travel, but its broader impact on growth and inflation isn’t likely to be known for several weeks.
The Swiss artist did it all — paintings and puppets, sculpture and tapestry — and was underestimated because of it. At MoMA she joins the major leagues.
The legislation, endorsed in a referendum, will also allow same-sex couples to use sperm banks and to adopt children for the first time.
It’s a story common to all sectors today: investors only want to see ‘uppy-righty’ charts in a pitch. However, edtech growth in the past 18 months has ramped up to such an extent that companies need to be presenting 3x+ growth in annual recurring revenue to even get noticed by their favored funds.
Some companies are able to blast this out of the park — like GoStudent, Ornikar and YouSchool — but others, arguably less suited to the conditions presented by the pandemic, have found it more difficult to present this kind of growth.
One of the most common themes Brighteye sees in young companies is an emphasis on international expansion for growth. To get some additional insight into this trend, we surveyed edtech firms on their expansion plans, priorities and pitfalls. We received 57 responses and supplemented it with interviews of leading companies and investors. Europe is home 49 of the surveyed companies, six are based in the U.S., and three in Asia.
Going international later in the journey or when more funding is available, possibly due to a VC round, seems to make facets of expansion more feasible. Higher budgets also enable entry to several markets nearly simultaneously.
The survey revealed a roughly even split of target customers across companies, institutions and consumers, as well as a good spread of home markets. The largest contingents were from the U.K. and France, with 13 and nine respondents respectively, followed by the U.S. with seven, Norway with five, and Spain, Finland, and Switzerland with four each. About 40% of these firms were yet to foray beyond their home country and the rest had gone international.
International expansion is an interesting and nuanced part of the growth path of an edtech firm. Unlike their neighbors in fintech, it’s assumed that edtech companies need to expand to a number of big markets in order to reach a scale that makes them attractive to VCs. This is less true than it was in early 2020, as digital education and work is now so commonplace that it’s possible to build a billion-dollar edtech in a single, larger European market.
But naturally, nearly every ambitious edtech founder realizes they need to expand overseas to grow at a pace that is attractive to investors. They have good reason to believe that, too: The complexities of selling to schools and universities, for example, are widely documented, so it might seem logical to take your chances and build market share internationally. It follows that some view expansion as a way of diversifying risk — e.g. we are growing nicely in market X, but what if the opportunity in Y is larger and our business begins to decline for some reason in market X?
International expansion sounds good, but what does it mean? We asked a number of organizations this question as part of the survey analysis. The responses were quite broad, and their breadth to an extent reflected their target customer groups and how those customers are reached. If the product is web-based and accessible anywhere, then it’s relatively easy for a company with a good product to reach customers in a large number of markets (50+). The firm can then build teams and wider infrastructure around that traction.
UK startup Oviva, which sells a digital support offering, including for Type 2 diabetes treatment, dispensing personalized diet and lifestyle advice via apps to allow more people to be able to access support, has closed $80 million in Series C funding — bringing its total raised to date to $115M.
The raise, which Oviva says will be used to scale up after a “fantastic year” of growth for the health tech business, is co-led by Sofina and Temasek, alongside existing investors AlbionVC, Earlybird, Eight Roads Ventures, F-Prime Capital, MTIP, plus several angels.
Underpinning that growth is the fact wealthy Western nations continue to see rising rates of obesity and other health conditions like Type 2 diabetes (which can be linked to poor diet and lack of exercise). While more attention is generally being paid to the notion of preventative — rather than reactive — healthcare, to manage the rising costs of service delivery.
Lifestyle management to help control weight and linked health conditions (like diabetes) is where Oviva comes in: It’s built a blended support offering that combines personalized care (provided by healthcare professionals) with digital tools for patients that help them do things like track what they’re eating, access support and chart their progress towards individual health goals.
It can point to 23 peer-reviewed publications to back up its approach — saying key results show an average of 6.8% weight loss at 6 months for those living with obesity; while, in its specialist programs, it says 53% of patients achieve remission of their type 2 diabetes at 12 months.
Oviva typically sells its digitally delivered support programs direct to health insurance companies (or publicly funded health services) — who then provide (or refer) the service to their customers/patients. Its programs are currently available in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and France — but expanding access is one of the goals for the Series C.
“We will expand to European markets where the health system reimburses the diet and lifestyle change we offer, especially those with specific pathways for digital reimbursement,” Oviva tells TechCrunch. “Encouragingly, more healthcare systems have been opening up specific routes for such digital reimbursement, e.g., Germany for DiGAs or Belgium just in the last months.”
So far, the startup has treated 200,000 people but the addressable market is clearly huge — not least as European populations age — with Oviva suggesting more than 300 million people live with “health challenges” that are either triggered by poor diet or can be optimised through personalised dietary changes. Moreover, it suggests, only “a small fraction” is currently being offered digital care.
To date, Oviva has built up 5,000+ partnerships with health systems, insurers and doctors as it looks to push for further scale by making its technology more accessible to a wider range of people. In the past year it says it’s “more than doubled” both people treated and revenue earned.
Its goal is for the Series C funding is to reach “millions” of people across Europe who need support because they’re suffering from poor health linked to diet and lifestyle.
As part of the scale up plan it will also be growing its team to 800 by the end of 2022, it adds.
On digital vs face-to-face care — setting aside the potential cost savings associated with digital delivery — it says studies show the “most striking outcome benefits” are around uptake and completion rates, noting: “We have consistently shown uptake rates above 70% and high completion rates of around 80%, even in groups considered harder to reach such as working age populations or minority ethnic groups. This compares to uptake and completion rates of less than 50% for most face-to-face services.”
Asked about competition, Oviva names Liva Healthcare and Second Nature as its closest competitors in the region.
“WW (formally Weight Watchers) also competes with a digital solution in some markets where they can access reimbursement,” it adds. “There are many others that try to access this group with new methods, but are not reimbursed or are wellness solutions. Noom competes as a solution for self-paying consumers in Europe, as many other apps. But, in our view, that is a separate market from the reimbursed medical one.”
As well as using the Series C funding to bolster its presence in existing markets and target and scale into new ones, Oviva says it may look to further grow the business via M&A opportunities.
“In expanding to new countries, we are open to both building new organisations from the ground up or acquiring existing businesses with a strong medical network where we see that our technology can be leveraged for better patient care and value creation,” it told us on that.
The Biden administration has formally accused China of the mass-hacking of Microsoft Exchange servers earlier this year, which prompted the FBI to intervene as concerns rose that the hacks could lead to widespread destruction.
The mass-hacking campaign targeted Microsoft Exchange email servers with four previously undiscovered vulnerabilities that allowed the hackers — which Microsoft already attributed to a China-backed group of hackers called Hafnium — to steal email mailboxes and address books from tens of thousands of organizations around the United States.
Microsoft released patches to fix the vulnerabilities, but the patches did not remove any backdoor code left behind by the hackers that might be used again for easy access to a hacked server. That prompted the FBI to secure a first-of-its-kind court order to effectively hack into the remaining hundreds of U.S.-based Exchange servers to remove the backdoor code. Computer incident response teams in countries around the world responded similarly by trying to notify organizations in their countries that were also affected by the attack.
In a statement out Monday, the Biden administration said the attack, launched by hackers backed by China’s Ministry of State Security, resulted in “significant remediation costs for its mostly private sector victims.”
“We have raised our concerns about both this incident and the [People’s Republic of China’s] broader malicious cyber activity with senior PRC Government officials, making clear that the PRC’s actions threaten security, confidence, and stability in cyberspace,” the statement read.
The National Security Agency also released details of the attacks to help network defenders identify potential routes of compromise. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied claims of state-backed or sponsored hacking.
The Biden administration also blamed China’s Ministry of State Security for contracting with criminal hackers to conduct unsanctioned operations, like ransomware attacks, “for their own personal profit.” The government said it was aware that China-backed hackers have demanded millions of dollars in ransom demands against hacked companies. Last year, the Justice Department charged two Chinese spies for their role in a global hacking campaign that saw prosecutors accuse the hackers of operating for personal gain.
Although the U.S. has publicly engaged the Kremlin to try to stop giving ransomware gangs safe harbor from operating from within Russia’s borders, the U.S. has not previously accused Beijing of launching or being involved with ransomware attacks.
“The PRC’s unwillingness to address criminal activity by contract hackers harms governments, businesses, and critical infrastructure operators through billions of dollars in lost intellectual property, proprietary information, ransom payments, and mitigation efforts,” said Monday’s statement.
The statement also said that the China-backed hackers engaged in extortion and cryptojacking, a way of forcing a computer to run code that uses its computing resources to mine cryptocurrency, for financial gain.
The Justice Department also announced fresh charges against four China-backed hackers working for the Ministry of State Security, which U.S. prosecutors said were engaged in efforts to steal intellectual property and infectious disease research into Ebola, HIV and AIDS, and MERS against victims based in the U.S., Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom by using a front company to hide their operations.
“The breadth and duration of China’s hacking campaigns, including these efforts targeting a dozen countries across sectors ranging from healthcare and biomedical research to aviation and defense, remind us that no country or industry is safe. Today’s international condemnation shows that the world wants fair rules, where countries invest in innovation, not theft,” said deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco.
Sinkholes that swallowed up houses. Streets disemboweled, their utility lines exposed. Cars carried away and deposited upside down. Homes emptied out, their contents mixed with mud.
Swiss Post, the former state-owned mail delivery firm which became a private limited company in 2013, diversifying into logistics, finance, transport and more (including dabbling in drone delivery) while retaining its role as Switzerland’s national postal service, has acquired a majority stake in Swiss-Hungarian startup Tresorit, an early European pioneer in end-to-end-encrypted cloud services.
Terms of the acquisition are not being disclosed. But Swiss Post’s income has been falling in recent years, as (snailmail) letter volumes continue to decline. And a 2019 missive warned its business needed to find new sources of income.
Tresorit, meanwhile, last raised back in 2018 — when it announced an €11.5M Series B round, with investors including 3TS Capital Partners and PortfoLion. Other backers of the startup include business angels and serial entrepreneurs like Márton Szőke, Balázs Fejes and Andreas Kemi. According to Crunchbase Tresorit had raised less than $18M over its decade+ run.
It looks like a measure of the rising store being put on data security that a veteran ‘household’ brand like Swiss Post sees strategic value in extending its suite of digital services with the help of a trusted startup in the e2e encryption space.
‘Zero access’ encryption was still pretty niche back when Tresorit got going over a decade ago but it’s essentially become the gold standard for trusted information security, with a variety of players now offering e2e encrypted services — to businesses and consumers.
Announcing the acquisition in a press release today, the pair said they will “collaborate to further develop privacy-friendly and secure digital services that enable people and businesses to easily exchange information while keeping their data secure and private”.
Tresorit will remain an independent company within Swiss Post Group, continuing to serve its global target regions of EU countries, the UK and the US, with the current management (founders), brand and service also slated to remain unchanged, per the announcement.
The 2011-founded startup sells what it brands as “ultra secure” cloud services — such as storage, file syncing and collaboration — targeted at business users (it has 10,000+ customers globally); all zipped up with a ‘zero access’ promise courtesy of a technical architecture that means Tresorit literally can’t decrypt customer data because it does not hold the encryption keys.
It said today that the acquisition will strengthen its business by supporting further expansion in core markets — including Germany, Austria and Switzerland. (The Swiss Post brand should obviously be a help there.)
The pair also said they see potential for Tresorit’s tech to expand Swiss Post’s existing digital product portfolio — which includes services like a “digital letter box” app (ePost) and an encrypted email offering. So it’s not starting from scratch here.
Commenting on the acquisition in a statement, Istvan Lam, co-founder and CEO of Tresorit, said: “From the very beginning, our mission has been to empower everyone to stay in control of their digital valuables. We are proud to have found a partner in Swiss Post who shares our values on security and privacy and makes us even stronger. We are convinced that this collaboration strengthens both companies and opens up new opportunities for us and our customers.”
Asked why the startup decided to sell at this point in its business development — rather than taking another path, such as an IPO and going public — Lam flagged Swiss Post’s ‘trusted’ brand and what he dubbed a “100% fit” on values and mission.
“Tresorit’s latest investment, our biggest funding round, happened in 2018. As usual with venture capital-backed companies, the lifecycle of this investment round is now beginning to come to an end,” he told TechCrunch.
“Going public via an IPO has also been on our roadmap and could have been a realistic scenario within the next 3-4 years. The reason we have decided to partner now with a strategic investor and collaborate with Swiss Post is that their core values and vision on data privacy is a 100% fit with our values and mission of protecting privacy. With the acquisition, we entered a long-term strategic partnership and are convinced that with Tresorit’s end-to-end encryption technology and the trusted brand of Swiss Post we will further develop services that help individuals and businesses exchange information securely and privately.”
“Tresorit has paved the way for true end-to-end encryption across the software industry over the past decade. With the acquisition of Tresorit, we are strategically expanding our competencies in digital data security and digital privacy, allowing us to further develop existing offers,” added Nicole Burth, a member of the Swiss Post Group executive board and head of communication services, in a supporting statement.
Switzerland remains a bit of a hub for pro-privacy startups and services, owing to a historical reputation for strong privacy laws.
However, as Republik reported earlier this year, state surveillance activity in the country has been stepping up — following a 2018 amendment to legislative powers that expanded intercept capabilities to cover digital comms.
Such encroachments are worrying but may arguably make e2e encryption even more important — as it can offer a technical barrier against state-sanctioned privacy intrusions.
At the same time, there is a risk that legislators perceive rising use of robust encryption as a threat to national security interests and their associated surveillance powers — meaning they could seek to counter the trend by passing even more expansive legislation that directly targets and or even outlaws the use of e2e encryption. (Australia has passed an anti-encryption law, for instance, while the UK cemented its mass surveillance capabilities back in 2016 — passing legislation which includes powers to compel companies to limit the use of encryption.)
At the European Union level, lawmakers have also recently been pushing an agenda of ‘lawful access’ to encrypted data — while simultaneously claiming to support the use of encryption on data security and privacy grounds. Quite how the EU will circle that square in legislative terms remains to be seen.
But there are also some more positive legal headwinds for European encryption startups like Tresorit: A ruling last summer by Europe’s top court dialled up the complexity of taking users’ personal data out of the region — certainly when people’s information is flowing to third countries like the US where it’s at risk from state agencies’ mass surveillance.
Asked if Tresorit has seen a rise in interest in the wake of the ‘Schrems II’ ruling, Lam told us: “We see the demand for European-based SaaS cloud services growing in the future. Being a European-based company has already been an important competitive advantage for us, especially among our business and enterprise customers.”
EU law in this area contains a quirk whereby the national security powers of Member States are not so clearly factored in vs third countries. And while Switzerland is not an EU Member it remains a closely associated country, being part of the bloc’s single market.
Nevertheless, questions over the sustainability of Switzerland’s EU data adequacy decision persist, given concerns that its growing domestic surveillance regime does not provide individuals with adequate redress remedies — and may therefore be violating their fundamental rights.
If Switzerland loses EU data adequacy it could impact the compliance requirements of digital services based in the country — albeit, again, e2e encryption could offer Swiss companies a technical solution to circumvent such legal uncertainty. So that still looks like good news for companies like Tresorit.
The referendum would have barred the use of the synthetic pesticides in farms and gardens.
Even with U.N.’s previous goals unmet, delegates tried to water down provisions regarding protections for vulnerable populations and patents for essential drugs.
End-to-end encrypted email provider ProtonMail has officially confirmed it’s passed 50 million users globally as it turns seven years old.
It’s a notable milestone for a services provider that intentionally does not have a data business — opting instead for a privacy pledge based on zero access architecture that means it has no way to decrypt the contents of ProtonMail users’ emails.
Although, to be clear, the 50M+ figure applies to total users of all its products (which includes a VPN offering), not just users of its e2e encrypted email. (It declined to break out email users vs other products when we asked.)
Commenting in a statement, Andy Yen, founder and CEO, said: “The conversation about privacy has shifted surprisingly quickly in the past seven years. Privacy has gone from being an afterthought, to the main focus of a lot of discussions about the future of the Internet. In the process, Proton has gone from a crowdfunded idea of a better Internet, to being at the forefront of the global privacy wave. Proton is an alternative to the surveillance capitalism model advanced by Silicon Valley’s tech giants, that allows us to put the needs of users and society first.”
ProtonMail, which was founded in 2014, has diversified into offering a suite of products — including the aforementioned VPN and a calendar offering (Proton Calendar). A cloud storage service, Proton Drive, is also slated for public release later this year.
For all these products it claims take the same ‘zero access’ hands off approach to user data. Albeit, it’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison to compare e2e encrypted email with an encrypted VPN service — since the issue with VPN services is that they can see activity (i.e. where the encrypted or otherwise packets are going) and that metadata can sum to a log of your Internet activity (even with e2e encryption of the packets themselves).
Proton claims it doesn’t track or record its VPN users’ web browsing. And given its wider privacy-dependent reputation that’s at least a more credible claim vs the average VPN service. Nonetheless, you do still have to trust Proton not to do that (or be forced to do that by, for e.g., law enforcement). It’s not the same technical ‘zero access’ guarantee as it can offer for its e2e encrypted email.
Proton does also offer a free VPN — which, as we’ve said before, can be a red flag for data logging risk — but the company specifies that users of the paid version subsidize free users. So, again, the claim is zero logging but you still need to make a judgement call on whether to trust that.
From Snowden to 50M+
Over ProtonMail’s seven year run privacy has certainly gained cache as a brand promise — which is why you can now see data-mining giants like Facebook making ludicrous claims about ‘pivoting’ their people-profiling surveillance empires to ‘privacy’. So, as ever, PR that’s larded with claims of ‘respect for privacy’ demands very close scrutiny.
And while it’s clearly absurd for an adtech giant like Facebook to try to cloak the fact that its business model relies on stripping away people’s privacy with claims to the contrary, in Proton’s case the privacy claim is very strong indeed — since the company was founded with the goal of being “immune to large scale spying”. Spying such as that carried out by the NSA.
ProtonMail’s founding idea was to build a system “that does not require trusting us”.
While usage of e2e encryption has grown enormously since 2013 — when disclosures by NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, revealed the extent of data gathering by government mass surveillance programs, which were shown (il)liberally tapping into Internet cables and mainstream digital services to grab people’s data without their knowledge or consent — growth that’s certainly been helped by consumer friendly services like ProtonMail making robust encryption far more accessible — there are worrying moves by lawmakers in a number of jurisdictions that clash with the core idea and threaten access to e2e encryption.
In the wake of the Snowden disclosures, ‘Five Eyes’ countries steadily amped up international political pressure on e2e encryption. Australia, for example, passed an anti-encryption law in 2018 — which grants police powers to issue ‘technical notices’ to force companies operating on its soil to help the government hack, implant malware, undermine encryption or insert backdoors at the behest of the government.
While, in 2016, the UK reaffirmed its surveillance regime — passing a law that gives the government powers to compel companies to remove or not implement e2e encryption. Under the Investigatory Powers Act, a statutory instrument called a Technical Capability Notice (TCN) can be served on comms services providers to compel decrypted access. (And as the ORG noted in April, there’s no way to track usage as the law gags providers from reporting anything at all about a TCN application, including that it even exists.)
More recently, UK ministers have kept up public pressure on e2e encryption — framing it as an existential threat to child protection. Simultaneously they are legislating — via an Online Safety Bill, out in draft earlier this month — to put a legally binding obligation on service providers to ‘prevent bad things from happening on the Internet’ (as the ORG neatly sums it up). And while still at the draft stage, private messaging services are in scope of that bill — putting the law on a potential collision course with messaging services that use e2e encryption.
The U.S., meanwhile, has declined to reform warrantless surveillance.
And if you think the EU is a safe space for e2e encryption, there are reasons to be concerned in continental Europe too.
EU lawmakers have recently made a push for what they describe as “lawful access” to encrypted data — without specifying exactly how that might be achieved, i.e. without breaking and/or backdooring e2e encryption and therefore undoing the digital security they also say is vital.
In a further worrying development, EU lawmakers have proposed automated scanning of encrypted communications services — aka a provision called ‘chatcontrol’ that’s ostensibly targeted at prosecuting those who share child exploitation content — which raises further questions over how such laws might intersect with ‘zero access’ services like ProtonMail.
The European Pirate Party has been sounding the alarm — and dubs the ‘chatcontrol’ proposal “the end of the privacy of digital correspondence” — warning that “securely encrypted communication is at risk”.
A plenary vote on the proposal is expected in the coming months — so where exactly the EU lands on that remains to be seen.
ProtonMail, meanwhile, is based in Switzerland which is not a member of the EU and has one of the stronger reputations for privacy laws globally. However the country also backed beefed-up surveillance powers in 2016 — extending the digital snooping capabilities of its own intelligence agencies.
It does also adopt some EU regulations — so, again, it’s not clear whether or not any pan-EU automated scanning of message content could end up being applied to services based in the country.
The threats to e2e encryption are certainly growing, even as usage of such properly private services keeps scaling.
Asked whether it has concerns, ProtonMail pointed out that the EU’s current temporary chatcontrol proposal is voluntary — meaning it would be up to the company in question to decide its own policy. Although it accepts there is “some support” in the Commission for the chatcontrol proposals to be made mandatory.
“It’s not clear at this time whether these proposals could impact Proton specifically [i.e. if they were to become mandatory],” the spokesman also told us. “The extent to which a Swiss company like Proton might be impacted by such efforts would have to be assessed based on the specific legal proposal. To our knowledge, none has been made for now.”
“We completely agree that steps have to be taken to combat the spread of illegal explicit material. However, our concern is that the forced scanning of communications would be an ineffective approach and would instead have the unintended effect of undermining many of the basic freedoms that the EU was established to protect,” he added. “Any form of automated content scanning is incompatible with end-to-end encryption and by definition undermines the right to privacy.”
So while Proton is rightly celebrating that a steady commitment to zero access infrastructure over the past seven years has helped its business grow to 50M+ users, there are reasons for all privacy-minded folk to be watchful of what the next years of political developments might mean for the privacy and security of all our data.
Pinterest is expanding further into the creator community with today’s launch of a video-first feature called “Idea Pins,” aimed at creators who want to tell their stories using video, music, creative editing tools and more. The feature feels a lot like Pinterest’s own take on TikTok, mixed with Stories, as the new Pins allow creators to record and edit creative videos with up to 20 pages of content, using tools like voiceover recording, background music, transitions and other interactive elements.
The company says Idea Pins evolved out of its tests with Story Pins, launched into beta in September 2020, after various stages of development beginning the year prior. At the time, Pinterest explained that Story Pins were different from the Stories you’d find on other social networks, like Snapchat or Instagram, because they focused on what people were doing — like trying new ideas or new products, not giving you snapshots of a creator’s personal life.
Another notable differentiator was that Story Pins weren’t ephemeral. That is, they didn’t disappear after a certain amount of time, but rather could be surfaced through search and other discovery mechanisms.
Over the past eight months since their debut, Pinterest has worked with Story Pin creators on the experience. That’s led to the new concept of the Idea Pin — essentially a rebranded Story Pin, which now offers a broader suite of editing tools than what was previously available.
Video is a key element in Idea Pins, as the Pins target the increased consumer demand for short-form video content of a creative nature — like what’s being delivered through TikTok, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts and elsewhere. The videos in the Pins can be up to 60 seconds on iOS, Android and web for each page, with up to 20 total pages per Pin.
Creators can edit their videos by adding their own voiceover or using a “ghost mode” transition tool to better showcase their before-and-afters by overlaying one part of a video on another. And they can save drafts of their work in progress.
But Idea Pins still include a number of features common to Stories, like adding stickers or tagging other creators with an @username, for instance. Pinterest says it will start with over 100 stickers featuring hand-drawn illustrations focused on top categories and behaviors it expects to see, like food-themed illustrations, stickers for before-and-afters, seasonal moments, and more.
Pinterest is also working with the royalty-free music database Epidemic Sound to offer a catalog of free tracks for use in Idea Pins.
And because many creators will use Idea Pins to inspire people to try a recipe or project of some sort, they can include “detail pages” where viewers can find the ingredient list or instructions, which is handy.
Pins are shared to Pinterest, where the company says they help the creator build an audience by being distributed in several places across its platform, including in some markets, by locating Pins for creators you follow right at the top of the home page.
Creators can also apply topic tags when publishing to ensure they’re surfaced when people are seeking that sort of content. Each Idea Pin can have up to 10 topic tags, which help to distribute the content in a targeted way to users via the home feed and search, the company says.
While Pins can help creators build an audience on Pinterest, they can use Idea Pins to grow their audience on other platforms, too. The company says it will offer export options that let people share their Pins across the web and social media. To do so, they download their Pin as a video which includes a Pinterest watermark and profile name — a trick learned from TikTok. This can then be reshared elsewhere.
Pinterest users, meanwhile, can save Idea Pins like any other Pin on the platform.
“We believe the best inspiration comes from people who are fueled by their passions and want to bring positivity and creativity into the world,” said Pinterest co-founder and Chief Design and Creative Officer Evan Sharp, in a statement about the launch. “On Pinterest, anyone can inspire. From creators to hobbyists to publishers, Pinterest is a place where anyone can publish great ideas and discover inspiring content. We have creators with extraordinary ideas on Pinterest, and with Idea Pins, creators are empowered to share their passions and inspire their audiences,” he added.
The new Idea Pin format is rolling out today to all creators (users with a business account) in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Pinterest says, during tests, it found that Idea Pins were more engaging than standard Pins, with 9x the average comment rate. The number of Idea Pins (previously known as Story Pins) has also grown by 4x since January, as more creators adopted the format.
To help creators track how well Pins are performing, Pinterest is expanding its Analytics feature to include a new Followers and Profile Visits-driven metric to show creators how their Idea Pins have driven deeper engagement with their account.
The company says the next step is to make Idea Pins more shoppable, which it’s doing now with tests of product tagging underway.
Pinterest has been increasing its investment in the creator community in recent months, with the launch of its first-ever Creator Fund last month, and this month’s test of livestreamed events with 21 creators. It’s also now testing creator and brand collaborations with a select number of creators, including Domonique Panton, Peter Som and GrossyPelosi, it says.
While Idea Pins seem like a natural pivot from Pinterest’s founding as an inspiration and idea board, it will face serious competition when it comes to wooing the professional creator community to its platform. Other big tech companies are outspending Pinterest, whose new Creator Fund of $500K falls short of the $1 million per day Snap paid creators or the $100 million fund for YouTube Shorts creators, TikTok’s $200 million fund or the deals Instagram has been making to lure Reels creators. These platforms, as well as a host of startups, are also giving creators a way to directly monetize their efforts through features like tips, donations, subscriptions and more.
What Pinterest may have in its favor, though, is its reach. The company claims 475 million users, which makes it a destination some creators may not want to overlook in their bid for growth, and later, e-commerce.
In his new role, the tennis champion and avowed chocolate lover, shares favorite places to hike, play tennis and eat in his home country.
A rare exhibition, at a museum in Switzerland, brings together works that, despite sharing a common cultural tradition, come from different worlds.
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.
Credit Suisse had admitted to helping American clients evade taxes in 2014 and was fined $2.6 billion, but it avoided even higher fines because of its vow that it had stopped the practice.
Growing pressure for accountability has convinced a few brands that it is time to reveal where they obtain some of their raw materials. Will more follow?
A group of wealthy friends and some specialty artisans turn out one over-the-top design each year.
In 2019, a fan traveled to the Swiss tennis star’s birthplace: “The fact that I was able to walk in Mr. Federer’s footsteps, and sit in a packed arena with 10,000 unmasked fans and watch him play feels like a dream to me now.”
They are frustrated with the industry’s reliance on outdated gender classifications and sexist marketing campaigns.
Universal jurisdiction, the idea that any nation’s courts can try people for atrocities committed anywhere, has gained as a tool of human rights lawyers battling impunity.
Investors from home and abroad continued to pump money into the Swiss property market last year, keeping demand and prices on the rise.
Crypto-currency pioneer and early Bitcoin thought-leader Diana Biggs has joined Swiss-based startup Valour, which lets investors easily buy digital assets through their bank or broker. The move is significant with the news that Tesla has bought $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin, thus massively boosting the mainstream markets for crypto assets. Biggs explored the potential for blockchain technology to help solve humanitarian challenges through her venture, Proof of Purpose, in 2017, and her TEDx speech on Blockchain Technology that year is considered by many in the blockchain space to be one of the best in the genre.
Valour, a Zug, Switzerland-based issuer of investment products, brought in Biggs, the former Private Banking Global Head of Innovation for HSBC, as CEO after recently launching Bitcoin Zero, a fee-free, digital asset ETP product, which trades on the NGM stock exchange.
Biggs, who has been in the Bitcoin space since 2013 told TechCrunch: “I have never seen this much attention to Bitcoin and other crypto-assets… The time for decentralized technologies has arrived, and their potential is increasingly realized by institutional investors.”
Johan Wattenström, the founder of Valour, said: “Diana is the perfect candidate to lead the company through this next phase of growth and expansion. With a wealth of experience in traditional finance, as well as fintech, and her vision for bringing digital assets into the mainstream, we feel very lucky to have her on board.” Wattenström created and listed the digital asset ETP on Nasdaq Nordic, in 2015.
Biggs is an Associate Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School and served as Head Tutor for their Blockchain Strategy Programme from 2018 to 2020. She is on the Board of the World Economic Forum’s Digital Leaders of Europe community and is a member of the Milken Institute’s Young Leaders Circle. Prior to joining Valour, Biggs was Global Head of Innovation for HSBC Private Banking, where she led on fintech partnerships and driving open innovation.
The days of flying celebrities around the world for gigantic events may be over, but brands are pivoting to more strategic uses of all that star power.
Mr. Steinmetz, a French-Israeli businessman, was convicted on charges of corrupting foreign public officials in a bid to reap iron ore resources in Guinea. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
A sunny holiday weekend drew a crush of skiers to Austria’s slopes, with crowded lift lines and parking lots making a mockery of social distancing rules.
Internet sleuths have been captivated by the photos, which were recently developed and document a couple’s trip to the Swiss-Italian border with a dachshund.
In a step hailed by rights advocates, a Swiss court has charged former rebel leader Alieu Kosiah with murder, rape, recruiting child soldiers and cannibalism.
A referendum on Sunday, if approved, would make Swiss companies liable for human rights violations and environmental damage by their subsidiaries abroad.
Many of the continent’s museums, theaters, concert halls and bookshops have been forced to close again, and now, people’s reactions have changed.
European entrepreneurs who want to launch startups could do worse than Switzerland.
In a report analyzing Europe’s general economic health, cost of doing business, business environment and labor force quality, analysts looked for highly educated populations, strong economies, healthy business environments and relatively low costs for conducting business. Switzerland ended up ranking third out of 31 European nations, according to Nimblefins. (Germany and the UK came out first and second, respectively).
According to official estimates, the number of new Swiss startups has skyrocketed by 700% since 1996. Zurich tends to take the lion’s share, as the city’s embrace of startups has jump-started development, although Geneva and Lausanne are also hotspots.
As well as traditional software engineering startups, Switzerland’s largest city boasts a startup culture that emphasizes life sciences, mechanical engineering and robotics. Compared to other European countries, Switzerland has a low regulatory burden and a well-educated, highly qualified workforce. Google’s largest R&D center outside of the United States is in Zurich.
But it’s also one of the more expensive places to start a business, due to its high cost of living, salary expectations and relatively small labor market. Native startups will need 25,000 Swiss Francs to open an LLC and 50,000 more to incorporate. While they can withdraw those funds from the business the next day, local founders must still secure decent backing to even begin the work.
This means Switzerland has gained a reputation as a place to startup — and a place to relocate, which is something quite different. It’s one reason why the region is home to many fintech businesses born elsewhere that need proximity to a large banking ecosystem, as well as the blockchain/crypto crowd, which have found a highly amenable regulatory environment in Zug, right next door to Zurich. Zurich/Zug’s “Crypto Valley” is a global blockchain hotspot and is home to, among others, the Ethereum Foundation.
Lawyers and accountants tend to err on the conservative side, leading to a low failure rate of businesses but less “moonshot innovation,” shall we say.
But in recent years, corporate docs are being drawn up in English to facilitate communication both inside Switzerland’s various language regions and foreign capital, and investment documentation is modeled after the U.S.
Ten years ago startups were unusual. Today, pitch competitions, incubators, accelerators, VCs and angel groups proliferate.
The country’s Federal Commission for Technology and Innovation (KTI) supports CTI-Startup and CTI-Invest, providing startups with investment and support. Venture Kick was launched in 2007 with the vision to double the number of spin-offs from Swiss universities and draws from a jury of more than 150 leading startup experts in Switzerland. It grants up to CHF 130,000 per company. Fundraising platforms such as Investiere have boosted the angel community support of early funding rounds.
Swiss companies, like almost all European companies, tend to raise lower early-stage rounds than U.S. ones. A CHF 1-2 million Series A or a CHF 5 million Series B investment is common. This has meant smaller exits, and thus less development for the ecosystem.
These are the investors we interviewed:
- Jasmin Heimann, partner, Ringier Digital Ventures
- Katrin Siebenbuerger Hacki, founder, Medows
- Philipp Stauffer, partner, FYRFLY Venture Partners
- Claude Donzé, partner, Tomahawk.VC
- Lucian Wagner, partner, Privilège Ventures
- Maximilian Spelmeyer, partner, SIX Fintech Ventures
- Olaf Hannemann, partner, CV VC AG
- Andreas Iten, partner, F10
- Michael Blank, partner, investiere
- Ninja Struye de Swielande, partner, Lakestar
Jasmin Heimann, partner, Ringier Digital Ventures
What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Consumer-facing startups with first revenues.
What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
AirConsole — a cloud-gaming platform where you don’t need a console and can play with all your friends and family.
Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I really wish that the business case for social and ecological startups will finally be proven (kind of like Oatly showed with the Blackstone investment). I also think that femtech is a hyped category but funding as well as renown exits are still missing.
What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
I am looking for easy, scalable solutions with a great team.
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?
I think the whole scooter/mobility space is super hyped but also super capital intensive so I think to compete in this market at this stage is hard. I also think that the whole edtech space is an important area of investment, but there are already quite a lot of players and it oftentimes requires cooperation with governments and schools, which makes it much more difficult to operate in. Lastly, I don’t get why people still start fitness startups as I feel like the market has reached its limits.
How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Switzerland makes — maximum — half of our investments. We are also interested in Germany and Austria as well as the Nordics.
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?
Zurich and Lausanne are for sure the most exciting cities, just because they host great engineering universities. Berne is still lagging behind but I am hoping to see some more startups emerging from there, especially in the medtech industry.
How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Overall, Switzerland is a great market for a startup to be in — although small, buying power is huge! So investors should always keep this in mind when thinking about coming to Switzerland. The startup scene is pretty small and well connected, so it helps to get access through somebody already familiar with the space. Unfortunately for us, typical B2C cases are rather scarce.
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 think it is hard to make any kind of predictions. But on the one hand, I could see this happening. On the other hand, I also think that the magic of cities is that there are serendipity moments where you can find your co-founder at a random networking dinner or come across an idea for a new venture while talking to a stranger. These moments will most likely be much harder to encounter now and in the next couple of months.
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?
I think travel is a big question mark still. The same goes for luxury goods, as people are more worried about the economic situation they are in. On the other hand, remote work has seen a surge in investments. Also sustainability will hopefully be put back on the agenda.
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 much. I think we allocated a bit more for the existing portfolio but otherwise we continue to look at and discuss the best cases. The biggest worries are the uncertainties about [what] the future might look like and the related planning. We tell them to first and foremost secure cash flow.
Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Totally! Some portfolio companies have really profited from the crisis, especially our subscription-based models that offer a variety of different options to spend time at home. The challenge now is to keep up the momentum after the lockdown.
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.
What gives me hope is to see that people find ways to still work together — the amount of online events, office hours, etc. is incredible. I see the pandemic also as a big opportunity to make changes in the way we worked and the way things were without ever questioning them.
Katrin Siebenbuerger Hacki, founder, Medows
Microsoft today announced its plans to launch a new data center region in Austria, its first in the country. With nearby Azure regions in Switzerland, Germany, France and a planned new region in northern Italy, this part of Europe now has its fair share of Azure coverage. Microsoft also noted that it plans to launch a new ‘Center of Digital Excellence’ to Austria to “to modernize Austria’s IT infrastructure, public governmental services and industry innovation.”
In total, Azure now features 65 cloud regions — though that number includes some that aren’t online yet. As its competitors like to point out, not all of them feature multiple availability zones yet, but the company plans to change that. Until then, the fact that there’s usually another nearby region can often make up for that.
Talking about availability zones, in addition to announcing this new data center region, Microsoft also today announced plans to expand its cloud in Brazil, with new availability zones to enable high-availability workloads launching in the existing Brazil South region in 2021. Currently, this region only supports Azure workloads but will add support for Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and Power Platform over the course of the next few months.
This announcement is part of a large commitment to building out its presence in Brazil. Microsoft is also partnering with the Ministry of Economy “to help job matching for up to 25 million workers and is offering free digital skilling with the capacity to train up to 5.5 million people” and to use its AI to protect the rainforest. That last part may sound a bit naive, but the specific plan here is to use AI to predict likely deforestation zones based on data from satellite images.
From sports tie-ins to online coverage, the Swiss industry has benefited from its marketing skill.
Bespoke options now exist in almost every price range.
Tidjane Thiam made Credit Suisse profitable again. But the Swiss rejected him as an outsider, and a sudden scandal took him down.
SOPHiA GENETICS, the shoutily and poorly capitalized named startup that’s combining machine learning tools for medical imaging and genetic sequencing to come up with a more holistic view of diseases for better patient care, has raised $110 million in new funding.
The Series F round for the company was led by aMoon an Israeli healthcare and life sciences investment fund, and HItachi Ventures, the investment arm of the Hitachi Group.
Financial services firms like Credit Suisse and the PIctet Group, along with previous investors including Swisscom Ventures, Endeavour Vision, Generation Investment Management, and Eurazeo Growth also participated in the financing.
The company’s technology uses multiple sources of medical data to come up with potentially novel insights about how diseases spread in the body and offer better ways to coordinate care among different . The Boston and Lausanne, Switzerland-based company’s tech is currently used by over 1,000 healthcare institutions and has analyzed 600,000 genomic profiles, according to a statement.
The goal, the company said, is better patient care.
According to a statement, the new funding will be used to expand the company’s footprint in the US and Asian markets.
It also appears that the company may be gearing up for a public offering. It’s added Didier Hirsch, the former chief financial officer of Agilent, to its board of directors and has created an audit committee (usually a stepping stone on the way to a dive into public market waters).
“We believe that SOPHIA’s decentralized model will play a pivotal role in empowering health organizations to offer better patient care,” said Dr. Tomer Berkovitz, Partner & CFO of aMoon, in a statement.
Fathers will be allowed 10 days of paid time off after voters endorsed a new law despite a conservative backlash that forced a referendum.
The fate of a law mandating two weeks of paid leave for fathers will be decided at the polls after a conservative backlash forced a referendum.
The survey, by Art Basel and UBS, analyzes the effect of the coronavirus on the world’s art dealers. Sales are down, but the wealthy are still buying.
The star of this short documentary calls himself ‘Catman.’
After a mother calmed her son’s pandemic fears, he went back to school happy. Now the family prepares for another anxiety-filled return to school.
Swiss computer vision startup, Advertima, has raised a €15 million Series A (~$17.5M) to build out a machine learning platform for physical retail stores to ‘upgrade’ the shopping experience via real-time shopper behavior analytics. The round is led by existing shareholder, Fortimo Group, a Swiss real estate company.
Fed by visual sensors, Advertima’s platform provides physical retail spaces with a real-time view of what’s going on in store — comprised of AI-powered behavioral and demographic analysis, as shoppers move through the space — with the aim of helping retailers better understand and respond dynamically to customers in store.
The startup calls this its “Human Data Layer” — noting that the tech can support features like smart inventory management and autonomous checkout.
Throw in digital signage (which it also offers) and its platform can be used to serve contextually relevant messaging intended for one or just a few pairs of nearby eyeballs — such as product offers for a particular gender or age bracket, or discounts for families — depending on who’s in proximity of the given digital eye.
Albeit ‘relevancy’ depends upon the calibre of the AI and the quality of the underlying training data. So certainly isn’t a given. Ads that seem to personally address you when you make eye contact, meanwhile, have been a sci-fi staple for years, of course. But the reality of ‘smart’ ads informed by AI analytics could very quickly stray into creepy territory.
An example message shown in a demo video on Advertima’s website isn’t great in this regard — as the system is shown IDing a stick woman and popping up a targeted message that reads: “Hello young woman. All alone?” (uhhh ). So retailers plugging such stuff into their stores need to be hyper sensitive to tone and context (and indeed take a robust approach to assessing how accurate the AI is, or isn’t).
Or, well, they could find shoppers fleeing in horror. (tl;dr no one likes to feel watched while they’re shopping. And if the AI misgenders a potential customer that could be a disaster.)
One flashy pledge from Advertima is that its approach to applying AI to guestimate who’s in the shop and what they’re doing is ‘privacy safe’ — with the startup noting there’s no facial recognition nor biometric detection involved in its system, for one thing.
It also specifies that the visual sensors required for the analytics to function do not store any image or video recordings. Instead it claims to “only process minimal anonymized data” — and only evaluate that in “aggregated form”.
“This means that the unintentional identification of a person is technically impossible,” is the top-line claim.
With long-standing data protection laws covering Europe, and EU lawmakers actively considering new rules to wrap around certain applications of artificial intelligence, there’s a legal incentive not to push such tech’s intrusiveness too far (at least for local use-cases). While Switzerland, which is not a Member of the EU (though it is part of the bloc’s single market), also has a reputation for strict domestic privacy laws — so this homegrown startup’s pitch at least reflects that context.
That said, its system appears to generate a “Person ID” (see below screengrab) — so we’ve asked how long it retains these individual-linked IDs for; and whether or not it links (or enables the linking of) the Person ID with any other data that might be gathered from the shopper, such as an email or a device ID. If the Person IDs are persistent it could enable a retailer to re-identify an individual via the Advertima visually tracked behavioral data — and then be in a position to plug these offline shopping behavior ‘insights’ into an identity-linked customer database or link it to an ad profile that’s maintained by a tracking giant or data broker for ad targeting purposes. All of which would be the opposite of ‘privacy safe’ — so we do have questions. We’ll update this report with any response from Advertima to this.
Advertima was founded back in 2016 and has so far forged partnerships with Switzerland’s largest retailer, Migros and the international grocer SPAR, to deploy its tech. It says the system is being used by 14 companies across eight countries at this stage.
It says the new funding will go on further developing its platform, and on scaling so the business can better address the global market for smart retail solutions. Although it’s competing in a space that includes Amazon’s cashierless tech so that’s one Goliath-sized big tech competitor to Advertima’s David.
In a press release announcing the Series A it notes it will be ploughing in €10M of its own revenue too — so touts a total spend of €25M over the next two years on building out its platform.
“We see a world where the physical and digital layers are merged to enhance our daily professional and private lives,” said Advertima Co-Founder and CEO, Iman Nahvi, commenting in a statement.
In a blog post announcing the Series A, he also talked up the autonomous store product — suggesting it will “change how people experience grocery shopping, cinemas, DIY stores, and a whole range of retailers”.
“Delivering smart inventory management, autonomous checkout, in-store analytics, and contextual content on smart digital screens will allow grocers and other retailers to maximize the efficiency of their stores, increase their revenues, and generate greater returns per square meter,” he wrote.
“Retailers can actualize an omnichannel strategy to orchestrate better experiences and relationships with their audience. Soon the standard for retailers will be holistically customer-centric: Cashierless checkouts, no lines, individualized experiences, and real-time product recognition for fast, easy, and fun shopping.”
Given that Amazon began licensing its ‘Just Walk Out’ cashierless tech to other retailers earlier this year, and various tech startups have sprung up to chase the potential of similar systems — such as AiFi, Grabango, Standard Cognition and Zippin — Advertima’s global growth ambitions are tempered by plenty of competition.
Physical retail has also taken a battering from the coronavirus pandemic. Although COVID-19 may, paradoxically, drive demand for cashierless tech — as a way to reduce the risk of viral exposure for staff and shoppers.
AI technology being applied to eliminate retail jobs does raise wider socioeconomic questions too, though.
Also commenting in a supporting statement, Fortimo Group founder Remo Bienz added: “It is clear that the rapid digitalisation of our society is going to have an impact on consumer habits, especially in the retail sector. Advertima is at the cutting-edge of technology in the retail space. As a long-standing shareholder, we know how visionary their technology is, but also how it has been successfully adopted by major, global organisations and already generated significant revenues. We’re excited to be part of Advertima’s journey.”
Swiss keyboard startup Typewise has bagged a $1 million seed round to build out a typo-busting, ‘privacy-safe’ next word prediction engine designed to run entirely offline. No cloud connectivity, no data mining risk is the basic idea.
They also intend the tech to work on text inputs made on any device, be it a smartphone or desktop, a wearable, VR — or something weirder that Elon Musk might want to plug into your brain in future.
For now they’ve got a smartphone keyboard app that’s had around 250,000 downloads — with some 65,000 active users at this point.
The seed funding breaks down into $700K from more than a dozen local business angels; and $340K via the Swiss government through a mechanism (called “Innosuisse projects“), akin to a research grant, which is paying for the startup to employ machine learning experts at Zurich’s ETH research university to build out the core AI.
The team soft launched a smartphone keyboard app late last year, which includes some additional tweaks (such as an optional honeycomb layout they tout as more efficient; and the ability to edit next word predictions so the keyboard quickly groks your slang) to get users to start feeding in data to build out their AI.
Their main focus is on developing an offline next word prediction engine which could be licensed for use anywhere users are texting, not just on a mobile device.
“The goal is to develop a world-leading text prediction engine that runs completely on-device,” says co-founder David Eberle. “The smartphone keyboard really is a first use case. It’s great to test and develop our algorithms in a real-life setting with tens of thousands of users. The larger play is to bring word/sentence completion to any application that involves text entry, on mobiles or desktop (or in future also wearables/VR/Brain-Computer Interfaces).
“Currently it’s pretty much only Google working on this (see Gmail’s auto completion feature). Applications such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, Telegram, or even SAP, Oracle, Salesforce would want such productivity increase – and at that level privacy/data security matters a lot. Ultimately we envision that every “human-machine interface” is, at least on the text-input level, powered by Typewise.”
You’d be forgiven for thinking all this sounds a bit retro, given the earlier boom in smartphone AI keyboards — such as SwiftKey (now owned by Microsoft).
The founders have also pushed specific elements of their current keyboard app — such as the distinctive honeycomb layout — before, going down a crowdfunding route back in 2015, when they were calling the concept Wrio. But they reckon it’s now time to go all in — hence relaunching the business as Typewise and shooting to build a licensing business for offline next word prediction.
“We’ll use the funds to develop advanced text predictions… first launching it in the keyboard app and then bringing it to the desktop to start building partnerships with relevant software vendors,” says Eberle, noting they’re working on various enhancements to the keyboard app and also plan to spend on marketing to try to hit 1M active users next year.
“We have more ‘innovative stuff’ [incoming] on the UX side as well, e.g. interacting with auto correction (so the user can easily intervene when it does something wrong — in many countries users just turn it off on all keyboards because it gets annoying), gamifying the general typing experience (big opportunity for kids/teenagers, also making them more aware of what and how they type), etc.”
The competitive landscape around smartphone keyboard tech, largely dominated by tech giants, has left room for indie plays, is the thinking. Nor is Typewise the only startup thinking that way (Fleksy has similar ambitions, for one). However gaining traction vs such giants — and over long established typing methods — is the tricky bit.
Android maker Google has ploughed resource into its Gboard AI keyboard — larding it with features. While, on iOS, Apple’s interface for switching to a third party keyboard is infamously frustrating and finicky; the opposite of a seamless experience. Plus the native keyboard offers next word prediction baked in — and Apple has plenty of privacy credit. So why would a user bother switching is the problem there.
Competing for smartphone users’ fingers as an indie certainly isn’t easy. Alternative keyboard layouts and input mechanism are always a very tough sell as they disrupt people’s muscle memory and hit mobile users hard in their comfort and productivity zone. Unless the user is patient and/or stubborn enough to stick with a frustratingly different experience they’ll soon ditch for the keyboard devil they know. (‘Qwerty’ is an ancient typewriter layout turned typing habit we English speakers just can’t kick.)
Given all that, Typewise’s retooled focus on offline next word prediction to do white label b2b licensing makes more sense — assuming they can pull off the core tech.
And, again, they’re competing at a data disadvantage on that front vs more established tech giant keyboard players, even as they argue that’s also a market opportunity.
“Google and Microsoft (thanks to the acquisition of SwiftKey) have a solid technology in place and have started to offer text predictions outside of the keyboard; many of their competitors, however, will want to embed a proprietary (difficult to build) or independent technology, especially if their value proposition is focused on privacy/confidentiality,” Eberle argues.
“Would Telegram want to use Google’s text predictions? Would SAP want that their clients’ data goes through Microsoft’s prediction algorithms? That’s where we see our right to win: world-class text predictions that run on-device (privacy) and are made in Switzerland (independent environment, no security back doors, etc).”
Early impressions of Typewise’s next word prediction smarts (gleaned by via checking out its iOS app) are pretty low key (ha!). But it’s v1 of the AI — and Eberle talks bullishly of having “world class” developers working on it.
“The collaboration with ETH just started a few weeks ago and thus there are no significant improvements yet visible in the live app,” he tells TechCrunch. “As the collaboration runs until the end of 2021 (with the opportunity of extension) the vast majority of innovation is still to come.”
He also tells us Typewise is working with ETH’s Prof. Thomas Hofmann (chair of the Data Analytic Lab, formerly at Google), as well as having has two PhDs in NLP/ML and one MSc in ML contributing to the effort.
“We get exclusive rights to the [ETH] technology; they don’t hold equity but they get paid by the Swiss government on our behalf,” Eberle also notes.
Typewise says its smartphone app supports more than 35 languages. But its next word prediction AI can only handle English, German, French, Italian and Spanish at this point. The startup says more are being added.
Some government agencies that use the software said they were surprised that Google may pick up the locations of certain app users. Others said they had unsuccessfully pushed Google to make a change.
Sophie Taeuber-Arp did it all: Installations, textiles, costumes, abstract art. Nearly 80 years after her death, an online gallery show commemorates her talent (and a major museum exhibition is coming).