Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

Balderton Capital, one of the so-called “big four” early-stage VC firms in London (the others being Accel, Atomico and Index), has raised a new $ 400 million fund to continue backing European tech startups at Series A.

Dealroom recently released a report that pegged Balderton as the most active Series A investor in Europe (between 2014-2018), and in many ways this new fund is a continuation, and business as usual for the firm. It is also roughly the same size as the VC’s last Series A fund, which it closed in 2017 at $ 375 million.

That’s not to be confused with Balderton’s other recently launched “secondary” fund, which is dedicated to buying equity stakes from early shareholders in European-founded “high-growth, scale-up” technology companies. The move essentially formalised the secondary share dealing that already happens — typically as part of a Series C or other later rounds — which often sees founders take some money off the table so they can improve their own financial situation and won’t be tempted to sell their company too soon, but also gives early investors a way out so they can begin the cycle all over again.

Meanwhile, Balderton says the new Series A fund is being launched against a backdrop of “unprecedented momentum” within the European tech ecosystem. The VC notes that the number of Series A rounds in Europe per year has quadrupled since 2012, with the total amount of VC funding going into European startups hitting record highs last year — from €11.5 billion in 2014 to a chunky €24.6 billion in 2018.

That, together with the sheer number of new funds that have launched over the last 12 months — and three I’m covering this week — leads me to wonder out loud if tech, and Europe in particular, has entered a bubble.

“I don’t think we are,” Balderton Partner Suranga Chandratillake tells me during a call, before acknowledging that it is often hard to know if you are in a bubble if you are actually in one. “If you look at the public markets, the valuations around tech companies, while they are high, I would argue that in many cases they are justifiable when you look at the profitability and the growth rate of those businesses, especially things like enterprise software. But I think it’s harder when you get into businesses where they are more one-off… [where] we don’t necessarily know exactly how to value those long term.”

On Europe specifically, Chandratillake points out that some European tech hubs are more heated than others and that sentiment can vary considerably per geography. “As you get to more and more the local level, of course, you can experience what feel like sort of comparative bubbles. So, you know, maybe London was expensive two years ago, and France is expensive right now at Series A or whatever, but I don’t think those things really matter in the long run, because ultimately they iron out as long as the employee valuations are sensible. And as an investor, you’re paying attention to that stuff when you’re going to make an investment.”

One rumour within London VC is there are firms that have felt pressured to do follow-on investments in portfolio companies they otherwise might not have during cooler times, for fear of signalling to the market not just that a company isn’t doing well but that the VC firm itself isn’t as founder-friendly as competing VCs. How does Balderton think about signaling?

“Signaling is a massive deal [in venture capital],” says Chandratillake. “And actually, this is an area where, you know, we think we have a fairly strong position, because for over 10 years now we have focused almost entirely on Series A… and we are very open about that.”

He says that unlike other Series A VCs that invest at Series B or Series C, too, and also quite often dabble in seed, companies backed by Balderton shouldn’t expect the firm to “lead or be a major part of your Series B.”

“Of course, we’ll help, we’re going to do some of our pro-rata or maybe all of our pro-rata to try and protect some of our ownership, all those sorts of rational things we do. But we’re not raising a fund which allows us to be a big investor in your Series B and your C and your D and so on. I think as long as you’re really open with entrepreneurs about that early, they totally get that and they understand why it works economically for us and why it’s a good thing.

“Then if you do that for a long enough period of time, as we have, and stick to that — so you don’t do weird things like, you know, say that, but then on the other hand with the most interesting company, you try to bully your way into more of a Series B or whatever, then the ecosystem overall starts to realise… then the signal problem goes away.”

With regards to future investments, Chandratillake says Balderton will continue to invest all over Europe across any sector where “information technology” is being leveraged and creating value.

In the fund prior to last, for example, fintech was a major focus, backing companies like Revolut and Nutmeg, but more recently the VC has been investing more in health tech, where computer science is helping life science solve problems faster or cheaper.

“I think that there will be more of that,” says Chandratillake. “There’s a lot more to be done in this health tech space, both at the patient level, but also actually a lot of really interesting things behind the scenes that will help health systems operate more efficiently and use technology in interesting ways. It’s a really interesting area for Europe, because we have, you know, within the continent, a plethora of different health systems — from almost fully private systems through to obviously entirely state single payer systems like the NHS. It’s a great place to experiment with different models. It’s also of course, as a continent, home to some of the most important pharmaceutical companies [in the world].”


TechCrunch

We’re still very much in the collaboration phase of autonomous driving, since it’s looking still quite a ways off from being anything consumers can use on the regular. That means there’s plenty of opportunity for things like the new “Autonomous Vehicle Computing Consortium” (AVCC) announced today to form. This industry group includes Arm, Bosch, Continental, GM, Toyota, Nvidia, NXP, and Denso, collecting top automakers along with some of the leading chipmakers and tier 1 suppliers in automotive today.

The group’s goal is to work together in order to “solve some of the most significant challenges to deploy self-driving vehicles at scale,” which pretty clearly translates into putting together the collective efforts of some of those who stand to gain most from autonomy becoming a commercially viable technology, in order to speed up said commercialization. While self-driving has been an area of intense investment and focus in the past few years, it still has a ways to go before these companies can start really reaping the rewards of their investments in terms of revenue-driving businesses.

So what will they actually do to achieve this goal? Step one will be setting up a set of recommended specs, essentially, outlining what size, temperature, power consumption and safety standards AV system architectures and computers should adhere to. The idea is that by arriving at some baseline standards, the group will be better able to move from prototyping, which is expensive and low-volume in terms of output, to manufacturing and deploying AVs at the scale where they’ll truly become a viable commercial enterprise.

There’s more to this industry collaboration than just figuring out the specs range for systems, however: Participating companies will “study common technical challenges,” as well, meaning they’ll be putting their heads together to overcome the major, fundamental tech challenges that still act as hurdles to be overcome in getting self-driving vehicles on the roads.

And of course, though the initial founding group includes only those companies listed above, this new group is also open to new members.


TechCrunch

German just hit a new milestone in the space where venture capital and the burgeoning Cannabis industry meet.

Berlin startup Demecan has completed a Series A financing round of 7 million euros to expand its production facility for medical cannabis and the wholesale trade in Germany. It’s become the only German company allowed to produce medical cannabis in Germany.

This is a watershed for the country and is the first investment in this sector for btov Partners, a private investor network. The other half of the funding came from a single, named German family office, which is understood to have its roots in the consumer goods sector. Only two other companies, two of them from Canada, were awarded the contract to produce medical cannabis in Germany in May 2019.

btov Partners manages assets of €420 million and has previously invested in tech startups such as Blacklane, Data Artisans, DeepL, Facebook, Foodspring, ORCAM, Raisin, SumUp, Volocopter and XING.

The green light from Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM), means Demecan will be able to produce at least 2,400 kilograms of dried cannabis flowers over the next four years. Demecan is also active as an importer and wholesaler of medical cannabis and can thus cover the entire value chain. Since the German government allowed cannabis to be prescribed for therapeutic purposes in 2017 demand has outstripped supply.

Jennifer Phan of btov Partners said in a statement: “Demecan operates in a very attractive market at the right time. Germany currently represents the third-largest market for medical cannabis in the world and is on a growth path. We believe that the company has a first-mover advantage in a highly regulated market environment, especially as it is the only German manufacturing and trading company in the European market”.

Dr. Constantin von der Groeben, co-founder of Demecan, added: “In recent years, we have intensively dealt with the market and reached an important milestone by winning the tender process. We are now focusing on further growth and the start of production in 2020.”


TechCrunch

President Donald Trump and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative have issued technology companies some temporary tariff relief.

Citing an unwillingness to hit consumers with higher prices on things like computers, mobile phones, laptops, video game consoles, computer monitors, clothes and shoes before the holidays, the President and his trade reps are holding off on slapping additional tariffs on those products coming from China.

The President could also have been motivated by growing concerns that the ongoing trade war could trigger a global recession and hurt his chances for re-election in 2020.

Whatever the reason, the news sparked a stock market rally on Tuesday with investors ignoring the rising prices that 10% tariffs on imports that don’t include consumer goods would cause.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 indices were both up 1.4% on the day, while the Nasdaq rose 1.9% — thanks in large part to a surge of Apple stock. The company’s stock rose $ 8.49 or over 4.2% to close at $ 208.97.

At the beginning of the month, President Trump said he would slap a 10% tariff on $ 300 billion worth of Chinese goods, which sent markets tumbling. An ensuing slight devaluation of the Chinese currency further pushed markets into a tailspin before they began to recover.

The news on Tuesday all but erased those earlier losses.

These market whipsaws between fear and trembling and irrational exuberance won’t end until the U.S. and China come to some sort of agreement in the trade war.

Earlier in the day, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer spoke with their Chinese counterparts Vice Premier Liu He and Commerce Minister Zhong Shan about the ongoing trade battle. The two Chinese officials issued a protest against the duties that were set to take effect in September. The two trade representatives have a called scheduled for another two weeks.


TechCrunch

The Trump administration has banned U.S. federal agencies from buying equipment and obtaining services from Huawei and two other companies as part of the government’s latest crackdown on Chinese technology amid national security fears.

Jacob Wood, a spokesperson for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, was quoted as saying that the administration will “fully comply” with the legislation passed by Congress as part of a defense spending bill passed last year.

CNBC first reported the spokesperson’s remarks.

The new rule will take effect in a week — August 13 — and will also take aim at Chinese tech giants ZTE, Hytera, and Hikvision, amid fears that the companies could spy for the Chinese government. The rule comes in a year before Congress’ mandated deadline of August 2020 for all federal contractors doing business with Huawei, ZTE, Hytera and Hikvision.

The government will grant waivers to contractors on a case-by-case basis so long as their work does not pose a national security threat.

Huawei has long claimed it does not nor can it spy for the Chinese government. Critics, including the government and many lawmakers, say the company’s technology, primarily networking equipment like 5G cell stations, could put Americans’ data at risk of Chinese surveillance or espionage. Huawei has vigorously denied the allegations, despite findings from the U.K. government that gave a damning assessment of the technology’s security.

The company first came to focus in 2012 following a House inquiry, which labeled the company a national security threat.

Spokespeople for Huawei and ZTE did not respond to requests for comment.


TechCrunch

There’s a double standard when it comes to the sexualities of men versus women, trans and gender non-conforming folks. Unbound and Dame Products, two sex tech startups, have teamed up to bring attention to the issue.

By launching a website, “Approved, Not Approved” and staging a protest outside Facebook’s NYC headquarters, the two startups hope to bring more awareness to the company’s advertising guidelines that seem to favor products that cater to cisgender men. The point of the digital campaign is to show how ads for sex toys and products geared toward men are more likely to be approved than those for women, trans or gender non-conforming people.

“For so long, advertisements have been how we continue to reinforce the status quo of what we view as societally desirable and validating,” Dame Products CEO Alexandra Fine told TechCrunch. “Since we’re in a category that’s often denied, we wanted to create an experience that illuminates the disparity.”

On Facebook, for example, it’s prohibitive to promote the sale or use of adult products or services except for ads that pertain to family planning and contraception. The policy also requires that ads for contraceptives cannot focus on sexual pleasure or sexual enhancement, and have to be targeted to people 18 years or older.

“They’re never going to view sexual pleasure as necessary — only functionality as necessary,” Fine said. “And since the functioning only matters for one sex, then we’re just encouraging shitty sex or at least one-sided sex. Healthy sex should be pleasurable sex. That’s really what I think is important.”

Facebook, however, clearly disagrees since it explicitly bans ads relating to sexual pleasure.

“We have had open lines of communication with both companies about our policies and are always taking feedback,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are working to further clarify our policies in this space in the near future.”

Unfortunately, there is no telling if and when Facebook and other platforms will change their advertising policies to enable companies like Dame Products and Unbound to reach potential customers through ads.

“I think a lot of us feel like we’ve been silenced by these platforms and they control so much,” Unbound CEO Polly Rodriguez told TechCrunch. “Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest — these are the channels startups live and die by. Not being able to advertise on them is a big deal because, in addition to the policies being biased and genders, it prevents those founders from being able to reach potential customers.”

Unbound CEO Polly Rodriguez. The startup was a finalist at TC Disrupt SF Startup Battlefield finalist in 2018.

In addition to missing out on potential customers, an inability to advertise can have a detrimental effect on a business in terms of raising venture funding.

“I think one of the most frustrating things is trying to raise a round and getting pushback around where you’ll spend the money,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just tough because it’s this vicious cycle where we could be growing at the same rate as a Him or a Roman. It’s definitely in the tens of millions of dollars in terms of foregone profits.”

In addition to the protest, Fine is suing New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority alleging it’s in violation of Dame’s First Amendment rights, the due process clause of the 14th Amendment and the state’s constitutional rights regarding freedom of speech. The lawsuit came in light of the MTA preventing Dame from running its ads on the subway.

Still, despite efforts to squash it, sex tech may finally be getting its moment in the sun. Earlier this month, the sex tech industry had a big win when the organizer of the Consumer Electronics Show finally decided to allow sex tech companies to exhibit and participate in its competition. That came after the Consumer Technology Association, the organizer of CES, royally messed up with sex tech company Lora DiCarlo last year. The CTA revoked an innovation award from the company, which is developing a hands-free device that uses biomimicry and robotics to help women achieve a blended orgasm by simultaneously stimulating the G-spot and the clitoris. In May, CTA re-awarded the company and apologized.

“It’s so rare you see a victory like that and it was because of the press,” Rodriguez said. “It was because it takes. It’s unfortunate these companies don’t do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. They do the right thing when enough people speak out about it.”


TechCrunch

Trading on China’s new Nasdaq-style stock market began today, with 25 tech companies listed on the Science and Technology Innovation Board, operated by the Shanghai Stock Market. Called the STAR Market, the board is an initiative by the government to encourage more Chinese tech companies to list domestically by addressing concerns about governance.

Traders cautioned that initial trading may be volatile as investors buy and trade stocks, however, and that warning was borne out today with trading by several companies paused after a surge of buying triggered their circuit breakers, or measures put into place that temporarily halt buying and selling to prevent stock crashes.

Plans for the STAR Market were announced in November as part of the Chinese government’s efforts to launch capital market reforms and make listing in mainland China more appealing to tech companies by easing profitability requirements. Some of the highest-profile Chinese tech IPOs, including Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi, JD.com and Pinduoduo, have taken place in New York City or Hong Kong, and the STAR Market may encourage more local stock debuts and investment—a goal that holds especially high stakes as China’s trade war with the U.S. continues.

But CNBC notes that the success of the STAR Market is far from a sure thing, since China has launched two other equity markets (the ChiNext in 009 and the New Third Board in 2013) that still receive far less attention than its two primary stock exchanges in Shanghai and Shenzhen.


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