Facebook snaps-up Edinburgh startup Two Big Ears

iStock_000040126052_SmallTwo Big Ears, the University of Edinburgh spinout developing virtual reality audio tech, has been acquired by Facebook for an undisclosed sum.

Founded in 2013 by Abesh Thakur, and Varun Nair, the startup creates ‘technology and design that helps you to see through your ears’. In 2015, Two Big Ears played an integral role in creating a 360-degree virtual reality music video for Icelandic singer Björk.

“Our mission is to make VR audio succeed across all devices and platforms and continue to help creators make the best experiences for billions of people across the world” says CEO Thakur. “Thank you to our customers, partners and investors, including board members George Elliott and Neil Heywood, the University of Edinburgh, Scottish Enterprise and everybody who has been with us on this amazing journey. We look forward to advancing our mission – and continuing our work with you – from Facebook.”

Commenting on the progress of VR tech, Mark Zuckerberg has said: “Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together.”

SyndicateRoom completes £3.1m round

financingSyndicateRoom, the ‘investor-led equity crowdfunding platform’ has completed a £3.1m equity fundraising. The investment was led by angel Jonathan Milner, and received backing from Unicorn AIM VCT. A spokesperson for SyndicateRoom has revealed the funding will be used to help the platform expand across other equity markets, and hire more staff.

“We are building the most successful and efficient incremental distribution platform for companies to raise equity investment at all stages of their equity journey, from idea to IPO” says SyndicateRoom co-founder and CEO Goncalo de Vasconalos. 

“To have such strong demand from both retail and institutional investors is the strongest vote of confidence we could have regarding our expansion plans within crowdfunding and equity capital markets. I am hugely excited about the times ahead of SyndicateRoom and its potential to become a billion dollar business”.

Lead investor Jonathan Milner – co-founder of Abcam – enthused: “SyndicateRoom’s growth since it launched in 2013 has been absolutely phenomenal. A number of ingredients have combined to achieve this – from superb leadership and brilliant company culture, to investor demand and desire for growth from UK companies. The time is now for smart equity crowdfunding and SyndicateRoom”.

Belfast opens arms to tech startups

iStock_000005478668_SmallBelfast-based accelerator StartPlanetNI is looking for fast growing tech startups to join its new three month programme.

Beginning in September, the programme is offering 10 innovative companies £15k investment in exchange for a 6% equity stake. There will also be the opportunity for participants to receive a full £40k in follow-on funding after completing the programme.

The programme is open to young tech startups that have been trading for less than two years. Half of the spaces are reserved for Northern Irish companies; the rest are open to startups world wide.

“We know that for many international start-ups a UK foothold is important, as is access to the wider European market” says lead mentor of StartPlanetNI Bill Liao. “So we believe StartPlanetNI is well placed to attract some of the hottest new businesses to Belfast, who will in turn help build a stronger local start-up scene.”

The deadline for StartPlanet NI is 27th May. Apply here.

Sadiq Khan vows to be “most pro-business” mayor yet

Bar graph rising“From day one, my approach will be to form a true partnership with business” were the words of Sadiq Kahn, having beaten the Conservative’s Zac Goldsmith to become London mayor.

“I will take an active role in helping to break down the obstacles holding London’s firms back and affecting their competitiveness” he added. “As someone who helped to run and grow a business before becoming a MP, I know the challenges many in the business community face and the importance of politicians working closely with business”.

Khan, who has been Labour MP for Tooting since 2005, has also served as minister of state for transport. His three main commitments to businesses include: creating a Business Advisory Board to identify and remove growth challenges of companies, bringing in a Skills for Londoners scheme to help promote scaling, and working with local authorities to prevent business space losses.

Khan also vowed: “as major, I will work with all of these groups and many others to deliver the infrastructure and skills the capital needs, campaign for increased aviation capacity in London, and champion London at home and abroad”.

CFOs back Cameron’s bid to stay in EU

flag of European Union or Europe banner on rough pattern metal background

According to recent findings by Deloitte, CFOs are blaming business uncertainty on the euro crisis.

“A fog of uncertainty has descended on the corporate sector”, says Ian Stewart, Deloitte chief economist. “Perceptions of financial and economic uncertainty are back to levels last seen in early 2013 as the euro crisis abated”.

A Deloitte survey found that 83 per cent of CFOs now see the level of uncertainty facing their business as ‘above normal, high or very high’ – the worst reading for three years.

“This is due to there being a period of prolonged uncertainty about the tax regulatory, legal and trading relationships in the even of a Brexit” Steward added. “We’ve seen in the last ten years that this kind of uncertainty can be associated with a drying-up of liquidity, volatility in the financial markets, a decline in risk appetite and a decline in the value of assets”.

Of the 120 UK CFOs questioned by Deloitte, 75 per cent believed a Brexit would be detrimental for UK firms. Just 8 percent answered that a UK companies would benefit from leaving the EU.

RocketSpace announces first London campus

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RocketSpace, the San Francisco accelerator whose alumni include Uber, Blippar, and Spotify, has announced plans for a London tech campus.

The new campus, which will be designed specifically for fast-growing tech startups, will reportedly have capacity for up to 1,500 members.

“London’s tech community continues to rapidly expand and drive innovation”, says Duncan Logan. “Creating a physical presence here is critical to our expansion strategy and mission to build an ecosystem for innovation to thrive, across a global network of campuses. We are very excited about working with London’s tech entrepreneurs, who are creating some of the most disruptive technologies of the future”.

Kevin Hanley, RBS director of design, enthused about partnering with RocketSpace.

“RocketSpace will be housed in a building that we own in Angel. This will enable us to develop closer, deeper relationships with some of the startups; the companies we believe will be shaping the digital economy in the UK”.

RocketSpace is due to open its London campus in early 2017.

Innovate UK announces winners of IC Tomorrow Future of Retail Innovation competition

Shopping basket with sale discount boxes. 3d illustration isolated on white background

Innovate UK has announced five startups as winners of its IC Tomorrow Future of Retail Innovation competition. Each of the five has been awarded up to £35k to ‘tackle some of the issues faced by the retail industry’, as well as mentoring from industry professionals.

“Consumers increasingly want more from their shopping experience and digital solutions are a key way for the industry to give consumers what they want”, says Matt Sansam, Innovate UK’s lead technologist, digital economy and IC tomorrow programme manager. “Each of the five winners demonstrates how new innovative technologies can be used to deliver positive interactions between the consumer and the retail industry”.

The winners, and their industry mentors

The five winners and their partner organisations are as follows:

  • Thaw Technology Ltd partnering with Tesco and WRAP
  • Cephalometrics partnering with Digital Anthropology Lab, London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, London (UAL)
  • Action Artificial Intelligence partnering with Unilever
  • Rewarding Visits Ltd partnering with Barclays
  • Proxama partnering with Greater London Authority

The winners will work with their industry mentors to develop their prototypes, retaining total control over their intellectual property.

Scotland shaping up as global FinTech contender

Skyline of Edinburgh at sunset with HDR processing. Cityscape include Edinburgh Castle, Balmoral Hotel Clock Tower and the Scott monument.

According to chief executive of Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE) Graeme Jones, Scotland is well placed to be a ‘serious global contender is FinTech’.

“The speed of development in financial technology is truly breath-taking and the industry in Scotland is well placed to be a serious global contender” says Jones. “The financial services cluster in Scotland is second only to London in the UK in scale and diversity, providing a critical mass to build on with the new developments created by FinTech”.

“Many of our universities are at the cutting edge of these developments and producing highly skilled graduates, but it is important we work together and share our knowledge of this rapidly changing field. Working together we can identify the emerging areas of demand and get the right skills in place at the right time”, he added.

Last week, Scotland’s new representative body for the financial services industry met for the first time. The group was chaired by Royal Bank of Scotland Head of Design Louise Smith, and brought together over 30 industry professionals.

Azimo eyes Asian expansion with $15m raise


London-based digital money transfer platform Azimo has secured $15m investment in a round led by Japanese e-commerce company Ratuken. Existing investors eVentures, Frog Capital, Greycroft, Accion, and MCI also stumped up capital. The money will reportedly be used to aid expansion across Asia.

Azimo, created in 2012 to solve a ‘broken and often expensive money transfer industry’, already has offices in the Philippines and Thailand.

“Rakuten’s investment is fantastic news for both our customers and the Azimo team”, says Azimo CEO Michael Kent. “Our focus has always been to transform the way people send money around the world, and we’ve been lucky enough to receive lots of offers of funding on our journey.”

Managing partner of the Ratuken FinTech Fund, Oskar Mielczarek de la Miel, commented:

“Azimo has cemented itself as the European specialist in digital remittances and its global network is unrivalled in the industry. This is a testament to an outstanding team, led by Michael and Marta, who saw an opportunity four years ago to disrupt the $600 billion remittance industry”.

Tech for tots startup SAM Labs raises £3.2m

iStock_000076065345_SmallSam Labs, the creator of Internet of Things starter kits aimed at kids, has secured £3.2m in a fundraising led by Imperial Innovations Group. The Imperial College spinout, founded in 2011, last year raised £125k through a crowdfunding campaign.

“It’s amazing to have Imperial Innovations as our fist institutional investor” says Sam Labs CEO and founder. “Particularly given their excellent track record in science and engineering. Their scientific and creative approach are a huge source of inspiration for the construction kits we’ve built”.

Director of technology venture at Imperial Innovations Robert Bahns enthused:

“The SAM Labs wireless construction kits are encouraging young people to take an interest in technology and engineering, which is an issue we feel very passionately about. We have always championed UK innovation, particularly in STEM, and look forward to seeing how these products will enable young people to explore real ­world applications.”

SAM Labs asserts that over 1,000 educators have adopted the kits to explain concepts of coding, circuitry, and wireless connectivity to young children.