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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.

Azimo eyes Asian expansion with $15m raise

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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”.

UK outpaces Germany in FinTech investment

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According to a recent report by KMPG, UK FinTech investment ‘outpaced that of Germany by 398% in 2015’.

The Pulse of FinTech, 2015 in Review: Global Analysis of FinTech Venture Funding, identified large fundraisings by Funding Circle, WorldRemit, and Atom Bank  and partially responsible for the UK’s high FinTech investment total.

“It’s a challenging but exciting time” expressed the report “It’s hard to imagine how FinTech will evolve next year. Geographic diversification has led to FinTech hubs rising in numerous locations – London, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Singapore, and Hong Kong to name a few”.

“Embracing FinTech is not simply about looking to Silicon Valley. Different geographies are putting their own spin on FinTech, creating new sub-sectors almost every day.”

European VC investment into FinTech reached $1.5bn, according to the report, with Index Ventures and Balderton Capital the most active investors. The report also hallmarked insurance-tech as a space rife for disruption, and one likely to grow rapidly in the coming year.

Onefinestay acquired, as competition between AccorHotels and Airbnb heats up

iStock_000081910463_SmallOnefinestay, the accommodation startup that offers a similar service to Airbnb, has been acquired by French company AccorHotels for £117m.

AccorHotels has committed to ploughing £50m into onefinestay, which focusses on high-end luxury homes. International expansion has been hallmarked as a long-term goal.

“Our new partner, AccorHotels, is a global leader in hospitality. They have an unrivalled luxury portfolio, and a heartfelt servicecuture”, says Greg Marsh, co-founder and CEO of Onefinestay.

“Like us, they are deeply convinced about the scale of the opportunity and will be investing heavily in onefinestay’s growth and expansion. Our plan is to launch onefinestay in more than 40 new markets over the next five years. onefinestay will become a globally recognised byword for exceptional experiences, and service”.

Sébastien Bazin, AccorHotels chairman and CEO, also enthused:

“onefinestay has successfully captured a sweet spot: a combination of needs that neither traditional hotels nor new actors of the sharing economy can meet”.

The acquisition comes after onefinestay completed a $40m round in June last year, with backing from Intel Capital, Quadrant Capital Advisors, and hospitality giants Hyatt Hotel.

3D mapper eeGeo secures $5m investment

Earth planet globe. Side of the Europe and Africa. The Earth texture of this image furnished by NASA. (http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view_rec.php?id=2430)

Dundee-based EeGeo, the 3D mapping and visualisation company, has completed a $5m round led by Nestol Technologies. Launched to the public in 2015, the company boats high-profile clients including Cisco and NTT DoCoMo.

“We have seen an increase in customers and partners wanting to implement our mapping technology as part of their business offerings, in order to better engage with their end-users, maximise efficiency and create additional revenue streams” says Ian Hetherington, eeGeo CEO and founder.

“This strategic funding will put us in a position to serve a much larger market, whilst delivering new features and making our solution widely available”.

NetSol CEO, Najeeb Ghauri, commented on the investment: “This is an opportunity to partner with a transformative company and grow a new revenue stream by collaborating on edge’s disruptive product roadmap”.

“At NetSol we have an immense pool of talented software engineers working on developing cutting edge solutions for our industry vertical. This partnership was born out of a shared confidence that this same talent pool could accelerate edge’s product vision. We look forward to closely working with eeGeo as they continue to grow their business”.

Innovate UK stumps-up £180k for sharing economy startups

iStock_000039435680_SmallInnovate UK has teamed up with Airbnb and Nesta to give startups in the sharing economy space a chance to win a substantial cash injection and mentoring from industry professionals.

The government’s innovation arm is offering up to 6 SMEs a chance to win £30,000 to develop their sharing economy product. The six areas open for entry are: trust, travel and tourism, construction, DIY, and innovation and data analysis.

Aside from the cash award, startups will get the opportunity to collaborate with industry partners to help bring their product to market. Competition partners include: Nesta, Kingfisher, Airbnb, Crossrail, Peterborough City Council, Cranfield University, and the Sharing Economy UK body.

“The sharing economy is starting to impact many different sectors, but there is still much more than can be done to make the most of this opportunity” says Matt Sansam, Digital economy and programme manager for IC tomorrow. “This competition seeks innovative start-ups to help disrupt existing business models and to push the boundaries of the sharing economy even further”.

“With the support of our challenge partners, we want to help these companies get their ideas off the ground and into the market”.

Entries for the project close on Tuesday 12 April. Find out more here.

EU ‘good for business’, say UK tech entrepreneurs

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

According to TechUK’s latest report, UK tech entrepreneurs believe EU membership is ‘good for business’.  The findings show a significant majority of 70% are anti-Brexit, while just 15% are pro. A further 15% are undecided. The survey, which polled 277 UK tech SME owners between February 23 and March 7 this year, was released earlier today.

Anti-Brexit business owners felt enduring EU membership would make the UK more attractive to investors, facilitate better trade relationships with the EU, and enable the UK to be more competitive globally. The same party felt leaving would create uncertainty.

Those in the pro-Brexit camp voted in lieu of what they felt were regulatory burdens placed on the UK by the EU, as well as insufficient UK influence on EU rulings.

“Most of these companies, large and small, have customers and or suppliers across the EU”, says Julian David, TechUK CEO. “They are saying they will still have to comply with EU rules, whatever the UK decides on 23rd June. A British exit would mean the UK giving up control over how those rules are set. That could put UK business at a real disadvantage”.

Microsoft alumnus raises £3m with Polecat

financingJames Lawn, Microsoft UK’s ex-head of innovation, has secured £3m investment for his risk intelligence company Polecat. 

The deal, backed by US private equity firm Grassy Creek Ventures, is allegedly a move to allow the start-up to grow presence in the US.

“With so much technology flowing out of North America, we’re proud to be a UK tech exporter, attracting US investment to bring British technology back across the Atlantic” says Lawn, co-founder and CEO of Polecat.

“Grassy Creek Ventures will enable us to innovate more quickly and to direct more of the technology sector’s sharpest minds to the task of finding hidden meaning in the world of big data”, enthused Lawn.

He added: “the UK has amazing heritage and breadth of skills in high-end data science. Working with initiatives such as the Alan Turing Institute we are focused on making the country a global leader in this field and ensuring we capitalise on the opportunities this presents it the UK and US”.

Polecat was founded in 2007, and lists high-profile clients including KPMG, Shell, and the NHS.

Government paves road ahead for driverless cars

3824779905_04e793711a_oThe UK government is encouraging the development of driverless car technology, with a new £20m fund.

In a statement released earlier this week, the government announced eight projects which have been awarded a share of the fund. The projects range from solutions for visually-impaired drivers, to simulation trials for autonomous pods.

The shortlisted projects are the first to draw down funding from the government’s £100m Intelligent Mobility Fund, outlined by Chancellor Osborne in 2015’s Spring budget.

“Our cars of the future will be equipped with technologies that will make getting from A to B safer, fast, and cleaner”, said Business secretary Sajid Javid. “They will alert drivers of accidents ahead and be able to receive information from their surroundings about hazards, increasing the safety of drivers, passengers and pedestrians”.

He enthused “Britain is a world-leader in research and development in such innovative technologies which improve lives and create opportunity for all. that is why this government has protected the £6bn science budget and is providing up to £20m for these projects”.

For more information on the Intelligent Mobility Fund, and each of the eight projects, click here.

Creative England launches support programme for creative and digital SMEs

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Ed Vaizey MP, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, has announced the launch of Creative Nation – a new programme for UK creative,and digital businesses.

Revealed today at Creative England Live’s Catalyst event, staged at Google’s London headquarters, Creative Nation will work to encourage industry-wide innovation.

“The government is already helping to create the right environment for UK businesses to grow,” says Vaizey, “so I am delighted to launch the new Creative Nation programme bringing large organisations and smaller companies together.”

“It will encourage big businesses from across the UK to explore the boundless possibilities for growth and innovation that the UK’s many small, but exceptionally talented, creative business can offer.”

Caroline Norbury MBE, CEO at Creative England, says: “Creative England invests in and works with hundreds of small creative businesses all over the country and I’ve been continually impressed and inspired by people I’ve met who are using cutting-edge technology, creativity and innovation to address a whole array of diverse market need – in everything from healthcare to retail, insurance, education and hospitality”.

Creative England is expected to open for submissions from creative and digital SMEs later this year.