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As investors and founders mature, Vienna emerges as a European startup hub

According to Austrian Startup Monitor, entrepreneurs have founded more than 2,200 startups in Austria since 2008, with the number of tech companies growing 12% per year since then, significantly faster than the 3% growth rate for traditional companies.

Home to roughly 50% of Austria’s startups, Vienna has a plethora of VC, corporate and university investors. Top VCs include 3TS Capital Partners, AC & Friends, Cudos Capital, FSP Ventures, Hansmen Group, i4g Investment, i5invest, LilO Ventures, next.march, primeCROWD, Speedinvest and Venionaire Capital, among others.

The local ecosystem benefits from several initiatives, including the Social Impact Awards, Vienna Startup Awards, Design Week, Climate KIC Stage, Innovation Incubation Center and INiTS Accelerator. The well-run Pioneers Festival contributed massively to the ecosystem for several years after a certain TechCrunch editor-at-large gave the organizers an excuse to expand on a simple TechCrunch meetup. But the festival was shuttered last year after its sale to a local accelerator meant that the event itself ran out of steam. Perhaps it was just as well, given this year’s pandemic.

State support for startups is also there. The Austrian government created a comprehensive startup program in 2016 to make the country more attractive to startups setting up there.

Standout exits include fitness app maker Runtastic, acquired by Adidas for $240 million in 2015, as well as listings marketplace Shpock, which was acquired by Norwegian publishing conglomerate Schibsted in 2015. Other notable startups originally from Vienna include mySugr, wikifolio, kompany and Codeship.

There have been jitters on the way, however. The Austrian Private Equity and Venture Capital Organization’s 2019 report found that Austria’s startups saw €237.6 million invested in 2018, but, this number fell 8.2% to €218 million in 2019; the number of deals exceeding €500,000 also dipped by 8.7%. Foreign funding also slowed in 2019 after a few years of a bull run — between 40% and 63% of deals sized €0.25-€1.99 million were significantly funded by foreign investors in 2018.

Despite the decline, local investors have started to pick up the slack, boosting the number of funding rounds over €5 million to 12 deals in 2019 from 11 in 2018. In both years, all but one of those deals drew a substantial part of the funding round from foreign investors.

We expect more to emerge from Vienna’s tech scene in the future. The Pioneers Festival (RIP) proved that Vienna is a fascinating bridge between Western European capital and entrepreneurial culture, and East European entrepreneurs and talent, which it will no doubt continue to benefit from in years to come. But — just as will happen with Lisbon this year and the loss of Web Summit — the loss of a major conference in Vienna to shine a light on the city and ecosystem, combined with the pandemic, may have cooling effects for the next couple of years.


Notable Vienna startups:

  • Newsadoo: Uses artificial intelligence to personalize news.
  • Cashpresso: Links customers, merchants and banks to offer consumer financing options.
  • Jobrocker: An online job search portal that connects applicants’ CVs with job openings.
  • Storyblok: A headless content management system.
  • Byrd: First-mile shipping service that allows customers to ship items hassle-free.
  • Music Traveler: A marketplace that centralizes spaces with musical instruments and equipment.
  • PAYUCA: Provides flexible access to parking spaces in private office and residential buildings.
  • Refurbed: Fast-growing marketplace for refurbished electronics, across the German-speaking world.
  • Presono: A web platform for creating, managing and showing presentations in companies.
  • Blockpit: Develops software for portfolio tracking, tax calculation and compliance reporting of transactions for cryptocurrencies and crypto assets.
  • Robo Wunderkind: A robot for kids to build and program.
  • Medicus: Converts health data with their cryptic numbers and medical language into an easy-to-understand visual experience.
  • Cybershoes: VR accessory that allows you to walk through your favorite VR games.

Here’s who we interviewed:

Eva Arh, principal, Capital 300

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
B2B software, robotics, no/low-code automation, AI-enabled vertical solutions, e-health, companies enabling others to hire and engage talent remotely.

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

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Companies that enable others to manage and automate billing even further (e.g., per API call), next-gen video conferencing, solutions guiding women through menopause, providing solutions that help companies to offer mental health services to distributed teams, bringing cloud kitchens to the next level (not running central kitchens).

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
As always, ambitious, smart, hard-working teams eager to build a category leader in a huge market.

What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Concerned about solutions that leverage behavioral data to influence people for the sake of optimizing profit, overload of sales and marketing tech, overload of chatbot providers. [It is] hard to compete with players that have benefited from huge network effects such as food delivery.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We focus on German-speaking areas and Central Eastern Europe. Opportunistically we would also invest outside of the region, still in Europe.

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?
Austria — no specific industry focus within software. However, well-positioned in the biotech space, CEE — given the strong presence of IT outsourcing companies, the region is well-positioned to build solutions in the business-process automation, dev tool space. Storyblok (our portfolio). Others to watch: Anyline, Adverity, Bitpanda, PlanRadar, Refurbed.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Regarding Vienna — we are seeing the first generation of entrepreneurs building global companies. Their and their team experience will be at utmost value creating a new wave of tech companies that compete on a global level.

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, we already see this — exciting companies coming out of small cities in Poland, Germany, etc. and companies going remote.

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?
Telemedicine, online education has been accelerated. We see a shift that otherwise would have taken years, especially in the relatively conservative German-speaking area. As mentioned previously, mental health solutions, hiring and employing remotely are some of the opportunities highlighted by COVID-19. Companies that are heavily exposed are those that have been serving the long tail of companies, small merchants, and local businesses that were closed down or experienced much less traffic in past months and hence are extremely sensitive around their cost base, discontinuing services that are not 110% essential.

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?
We have always been very selective and focused, partnering up three to four times a year. We continue at the same pace. The companies that perform well despite COVID-19 are still in a strong position for attracting external capital. Of course, we help our portfolio to secure a runway and have a discussion how/whether the situation has impacted their offering/GTM. Some companies have to rethink their value proposition, some rethink their target groups either to make up for slower sales cycles or on the other hand to leverage and benefit from the current situation.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, we see that Lokalise is growing heavily with the current customer base as their customers expand to new markets, likely to make up for slower revenue growth in their existing markets. We see that Nethone (fraud prevention) is able to double down on e-commerce. Online fraud and online transactions are skyrocketing as people spend much more time online. (On the other hand, their airline customers of course show a different 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.
It is inspiring to see how founders go through the current situation, act instead of reacting, especially in those countries where there is less government support incentives in place. Personally, I am also happy to see that people use the work from home time to rethink and introduce healthier habits.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
As the world has gone online and the location matters much less, there is an opportunity to distribute the created value and wealth more evenly — be it a company founded in a “non-tech-hub” location or be it talent hired remotely.

Walmart co-leads $500M investment in Chinese online grocery service Dada-JD Daojia

Walmart sold its China-based e-commerce business in 2016, but the U.S. retail giant is very much involved in the Chinese internet market through a partnership with e-commerce firm JD.com. Alibaba’s most serious rival, JD scooped up Walmart’s Yihaodian business and offered its own online retail platform to help enable Walmart to products in China, both on and offline.

Now that relationship is developing further after Walmart and JD jointly invested $500 million into Dada-JD Daojia, an online-to-offline grocery business which is part owned by JD, according to a CNBC report.

Unlike most grocery delivery services, though, Dada-JD Daojia stands apart because it includes a crowdsourced element.

The business was formed following a merger between JD Daojia, JD’s platform for order from supermarkets online which has 20 million monthly users, and Daojia, which uses crowdsourcing to fulfill deliveries and counts 10 million daily deliveries. JD Daojia claims over 100,000 retail stores and its signature is one-hour deliveries for a range of products, which include fruit, vegetables and groceries.

Walmart is already part of the service — it has 200 stores across 30 Chinese cities on the Dada-JD Daojia service; as well as five online stores on the core JD.com platform — and now it is getting into the business itself via this investment.

JD.com said the deal is part of its ‘Borderless Retail’ strategy, which includes staff-less stores and retail outlets that mix e-commerce with physical sales.

“The future of global retail is boundaryless. There will be no separation between online and offline shopping, only greater convenience, quality and selection to consumers. JD was an early investor in Dada-JD Daojia, and continues its support, because we believe that its innovations will be an important part of realizing that vision,” said Jianwen Liao, Chief Strategy Officer of JD.com, in a statement.

Alibaba, of course, has a similar hybrid strategy with its Hema stores and food delivery service Ele.me, all of which links up with its Taobao and T-Mall online shopping platforms. The company recently scored a major coup when it landed a tie-in with Starbucks, which is looking to rediscover growth in China through an alliance that will see Ele.me deliver coffee to customers and make use of Hema stores.

Away from the new retail experience, JD.com has been doing more to expand its overseas presence lately.

The company landed a $550 million investment from Google this summer which will see the duo team up to offer JD.com products for sale on the Google Shopping platform across the world. Separately, JD.com has voiced intention to expand into Europe, starting in Germany, and that’s where the Google deal and a relationship with Walmart could be hugely helpful.

Another strategic JD investor is Tencent, and that relationship has helped the e-commerce firm sell direct to customers through Tencent’s WeChat app, which is China’s most popular messaging service. Tencent and JD have co-invested in a range of companies in China, such as discount marketplace Vipshop and retail group Better Life. Their collaboration has also extended to Southeast Asia, where they are both investors in ride-hailing unicorn Go-Jek, which is aiming to rival Grab, the startup that bought out Uber’s local business.

3D printed guns are now legal… What’s next?

Jon Stokes
Contributor

Jon Stokes is one of the founders of Ars Technica, an author, and a former Wired editor. He currently hacks ruby at Collective Idea, and runs AllOutdoor.com.

On Tuesday, July 10, the DOJ announced a landmark settlement with Austin-based Defense Distributed, a controversial startup led by a young, charismatic anarchist whom Wired once named one of the 15 most dangerous people in the world.

Hyper-loquacious and media-savvy, Cody Wilson is fond of telling any reporter who’ll listen that Defense Distributed’s main product, a gun fabricator called the Ghost Gunner, represents the endgame for gun control, not just in the US but everywhere in the world. With nothing but the Ghost Gunner, an internet connection, and some raw materials, anyone, anywhere can make an unmarked, untraceable gun in their home or garage. Even if Wilson is wrong that the gun control wars are effectively over (and I believe he is), Tuesday’s ruling has fundamentally changed them.

At about the time the settlement announcement was going out over the wires, I was pulling into the parking lot of LMT Defense in Milan, IL.

LMT Defense, formerly known as Lewis Machine & Tool, is as much the opposite of Defense Distributed as its quiet, publicity-shy founder, Karl Lewis, is the opposite of Cody Wilson. But LMT Defense’s story can be usefully placed alongside that of Defense Distributed, because together they can reveal much about the past, present, and future of the tools and technologies that we humans use for the age-old practice of making war.

The legacy machine

Karl Lewis got started in gunmaking back in the 1970’s at Springfield Armory in Geneseo, IL, just a few exits up I-80 from the current LMT Defense headquarters. Lewis, who has a high school education but who now knows as much about the engineering behind firearms manufacturing as almost anyone alive, was working on the Springfield Armory shop floor when he hit upon a better way to make a critical and failure-prone part of the AR-15, the bolt. He first took his idea to Springfield Armory management, but they took a pass, so he rented out a small corner in a local auto repair ship in Milan, bought some equipment, and began making the bolts, himself.

Lewis worked in his rented space on nights and weekends, bringing the newly fabricated bolts home for heat treatment in his kitchen oven. Not long after he made his first batch, he landed a small contract with the US military to supply some of the bolts for the M4 carbine. On the back of this initial success with M4 bolts, Lewis Machine & Tool expanded its offerings to include complete guns. Over the course of the next three decades, LMT grew into one of the world’s top makers of AR-15-pattern rifles for the world’s militaries, and it’s now in a very small club of gunmakers, alongside a few old-world arms powerhouses like Germany’s Heckler & Koch and Belgium’s FN Herstal, that supplies rifles to US SOCOM’s most elite units.

The offices of LMT Defense, in Milan, Ill. (Image courtesy Jon Stokes)

LMT’s gun business is built on high-profile relationships, hard-to-win government contracts, and deep, almost monk-like know-how. The company lives or dies by the skill of its machinists and by the stuff of process engineering — tolerances and measurements and paper trails. Political connections are also key, as the largest weapons contracts require congressional approval and months of waiting for political winds to blow in this or that direction, as countries to fall in and out of favor with each other, and paperwork that was delayed due to a political spat over some unrelated point of trade or security finally gets put through so that funds can be transfered and production can begin.

Selling these guns is as old-school a process as making them is. Success in LMT’s world isn’t about media buys and PR hits, but about dinners in foreign capitals, range sessions with the world’s top special forces units, booths at trade shows most of us have never heard of, and secret delegations of high-ranking officials to a machine shop in a small town surrounded by corn fields on the western border of Illinois.

The civilian gun market, with all of its politics- and event-driven gyrations of supply and demand, is woven into this stable core of the global military small arms market the way vines weave through a trellis. Innovations in gunmaking flow in both directions, though nowadays they more often flow from the civilian market into the military and law enforcement markets than vice versa. For the most part, civilians buy guns that come off the same production lines that feed the government and law enforcement markets.

All of this is how small arms get made and sold in the present world, and anyone who lived through the heyday of IBM and Oracle, before the PC, the cloud, and the smartphone tore through and upended everything, will recognize every detail of the above picture, down to the clean-cut guys in polos with the company logo and fat purchase orders bearing signatures and stamps and big numbers.

The author with LMT Defense hardware.

Guns, drugs, and a million Karl Lewises

This is the part of the story where I build on the IBM PC analogy I hinted at above, and tell you that Defense Distributed’s Ghost Gunner, along with its inevitable clones and successors, will kill dinosaurs like LMT Defense the way the PC and the cloud laid waste to the mainframe and microcomputer businesses of yesteryear.

Except this isn’t what will happen.

Defense Distributed isn’t going to destroy gun control, and it’s certainly not going to decimate the gun industry. All of the legacy gun industry apparatus described above will still be there in the decades to come, mainly because governments will still buy their arms from established makers like LMT. But surrounding the government and civilian arms markets will be a brand new, homebrew, underground gun market where enthusiasts swap files on the dark web and test new firearms in their back yards.

The homebrew gun revolution won’t create a million untraceable guns so much as it’ll create a hundreds of thousands of Karl Lewises — solitary geniuses who had a good idea, prototyped it, began making it and selling it in small batches, and ended up supplying a global arms market with new technology and products.

In this respect, the future of guns looks a lot like the present of drugs. The dark web hasn’t hurt Big Pharma, much less destroyed it. Rather, it has expanded the reach of hobbyist drugmakers and small labs, and enabled a shadow world of pharmaceutical R&D that feeds transnational black and gray markets for everything from penis enlargement pills to synthetic opioids.

Gun control efforts in this new reality will initially focus more on ammunition. Background checks for ammo purchases will move to more states, as policy makers try to limit civilian access to weapons in a world where controlling the guns themselves is impossible.

Ammunition has long been the crack in the rampart that Wilson is building. Bullets and casings are easy to fabricate and will always be easy to obtain or manufacture in bulk, but powder and primers are another story. Gunpowder and primers are the explosive chemical components of modern ammo, and they are difficult and dangerous to make at home. So gun controllers will seize on this and attempt to pivot to “bullet control” in the near-term.

Ammunition control is unlikely to work, mainly because rounds of ammunition are fungible, and there are untold billions of rounds already in civilian hands.

In addition to controls on ammunition, some governments will also make an effort at trying to force the manufacturers of 3D printers and desktop milling machines (the Ghost Gunner is the latter) to refuse to print files for gun parts.

This will be impossible to enforce, for two reasons. First, it will be hard for these machines to reliably tell what’s a gun-related file and what isn’t, especially if distributors of these files keep changing them to defeat any sort of detection. But the bigger problem will be that open-source firmware will quickly become available for the most popular printing and milling machines, so that determined users can “jailbreak” them and use them however they like. This already happens with products like routers and even cars, so it will definitely happen with home fabrication machines should the need arise.

Ammo control and fabrication device restrictions having failed, governments will over the longer term employ a two-pronged approach that consists of possession permits and digital censorship.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images: Jeremy Saltzer / EyeEm

First, governments will look to gun control schemes that treat guns like controlled substances (i.e. drugs and alchohol). The focus will shift to vetting and permits for simple possession, much like the gun owner licensing scheme I outlined in Politico. We’ll give up on trying to trace guns and ammunition, and focus more on authorizing people to possess guns, and on catching and prosecuting unauthorized possession. You’ll get the firearm equivalent of a marijuana card from the state, and then it won’t matter if you bought your gun from an authorized dealer or made it yourself at home.

The second component of future gun control regimes will be online suppression, of the type that’s already taking place on most major tech platforms across the developed world. I don’t think DefCad.com is long for the open web, and it will ultimately have as hard a time staying online as extremist sites like stormfront.org.

Gun CAD files will join child porn and pirated movies on the list of content it’s nearly impossible to find on big tech platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube. If you want to trade these files, you’ll find yourself on sites with really intrusive advertising, where you worry a lot about viruses. Or, you’ll end up on the dark web, where you may end up paying for a hot new gun design with a cryptocurrency. This may be an ancap dream, but won’t be mainstream or user-friendly in any respect.

As for what comes after that, this is the same question as the question of what comes next for politically disfavored speech online. The gun control wars have now become a subset of the online free speech wars, so whatever happens with online speech in places like the US, UK, or China will happen with guns.

How to covertly toss an apartment, Stasi style

In 1984, the Stasi — East Germany’s notorious secret police — searched the flat of an auditor to determine if he’d leaked files that put the country in a bad light to Stern, a West German magazine, published in Hamburg. They recorded the clandestine search for posterity, and used it as the basis for a training video explaining to other secret police operatives how to search a dissident’s home without alerting them that they were under suspicion. (via Grugq)

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WTF is Apple doing with a secret, car-focused office in Berlin?

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Hey Apple: WTF is going on in Germany?

The Cupertino company might be up to something on the down low in Deutschland, according to Business Insider‘s Sam Shead. The reporter investigated rumors of a secret Apple office focused on automotive development in Berlin, following an initial leak last year that Apple was snatching up German engineering talent in the wake of Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia.  

It took almost half a year, but Shead’s tenacity appears to have paid off. He claims to have found the office smack dab in the middle of Berlin, in a nondescript building overlooking the city’s famous Gendarmenmarkt square area. Read more…

More about Apple, Autonomous Cars, Germany, Secret, and Berlin

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Bavarian intelligence agency says Scientologists secretly took over one of the world's top art galleries

Bavaria’s Verfassungsschutz — “Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution” — says that the Haus der Kunst, one of the world’s top contemporary art galleries, was infiltrated by Scientologists who rose through the ranks, illegally discriminated against non-Scientologists when hiring, and waged psychological warfare against staff who were not members of the cult.
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Europe is trolling the hell out of Trump one hilarious video at a time

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It all started when a Dutch satirical show produced a cheeky tourism ad introducing the U.S. President to the “tiny country” and asking Trump (in his own voice) if he would make ‘The Netherlands Second?’ 

He’s already putting America first, as we all know.

Now other European countries are following suit and producing a range of parody videos. Here’s a selection: 

Switzerland

Switzerland was the first to respond with a “Switzerland Second” video made by the satirical TV show Deville Late Night’s on SRF channel:

“We’re not flat, like for example the Netherlands. They are so flat. Total disaster.” Read more…

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You know who else invested in infrastructure? Autobahn spending was key to Hitler's consolidation of power

In Highway to Hitler, Nico Voigtländer (UCLA) and Hans‐Joachim Voth (University of Zurich)’s 2014 paper analyzing the impact of the massive infrastructure investment in creating the Autobahn, the authors conclude that the major spending project was key to Hitler’s consolidation of power.
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How people rebuilt after the horrific firebombing of Dresden

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1945

The destroyed city as seen from city hall.

Image: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

Over two days and nights in February 1945, American and British bombers dropped 2,400 tons of high explosives and 1,500 tons of incendiary bombs on the German city of Dresden.

The barrage turned the cultural jewel of Saxony into a hellish inferno. A firestorm raged across the city, generating hurricane-force winds and temperatures near 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Civilians sheltering in basements suffocated as the city above them was consumed by flame.

When the fires were finally extinguished, an estimated 25,000 people had died and the baroque city center had been reduced to rubble. Read more…

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