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AI-tool maker Seldon raises £7.1M Series A from AlbionVC and Cambridge Innovation Capital

Seldon is a U.K. startup that specializes in the rarified world of development tools to optimize machine learning. What does this mean? Well, dear reader, it means that the “AI” that companies are so fond of trumpeting does actually end up working.

It has now raised a £7.1 million Series A round co-led by AlbionVC and Cambridge Innovation Capital . The round also includes significant participation from existing investors Amadeus Capital Partners and Global Brain, with follow-on investment from other existing shareholders. The £7.1 million funding will be used to accelerate R&D and drive commercial expansion, take Seldon Deploy — a new enterprise solution — to market and double the size of the team over the next 18 months.

More accurately, Seldon is a cloud-agnostic machine learning (ML) deployment specialist which works in partnership with industry leaders such as Google, Red Hat, IBM and Amazon Web Services.

Key to its success is that its open-source project Seldon Core has more than 700,000 models deployed to date, drastically reducing friction for users deploying ML models. The startup says its customers are getting productivity gains of as much as 92% as a result of utilizing Seldon’s product portfolio.

Alex Housley, CEO and founder of Seldon speaking to TechCrunch explained that companies are using machine learning across thousands of use cases today, “but the model actually only generates real value when it’s actually running inside a real-world application.”

“So what we’ve seen emerge over these last few years are companies that specialize in specific parts of the machine learning pipeline, such as training version control features. And in our case we’re focusing on deployment. So what this means is that organizations can now build a fully bespoke AI platform that suits their needs, so they can gain a competitive advantage,” he said.

In addition, he said Seldon’s open-source model means that companies are not locked-in: “They want to avoid locking as well they want to use tools from various different vendors. So this kind of intersection between machine learning, DevOps and cloud-native tooling is really accelerating a lot of innovation across enterprise and also within startups and growth-stage companies.”

Nadine Torbey, an investor at AlbionVC, added: “Seldon is at the forefront of the next wave of tech innovation, and the leadership team are true visionaries. Seldon has been able to build an impressive open-source community and add immediate productivity value to some of the world’s leading companies.”

Vin Lingathoti, partner at Cambridge Innovation Capital, said: “Machine learning has rapidly shifted from a nice-to-have to a must-have for enterprises across all industries. Seldon’s open-source platform operationalizes ML model development and accelerates the time-to-market by eliminating the pain points involved in developing, deploying and monitoring machine learning models at scale.”

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Funded by Connect Ventures, Purple Dot plans to take on Klarna-style purchase debt

In recent times startups have appeared offering credit at an e-commerce basket checkout so that a customer can buy a product without needing to pay right away. Klarna or Clearpay are the two most notable in this field. But what if you flipped the model around so that consumers could buy the item at a lower price later on, and the retailer could reduce waste? This is the model of Purple Dot, which bills itself as a ‘worth-the-wait’ payment option for fashion brands.

It’s now raised a seed round of £1.35 million, led by Connect Ventures, with support from AI Seed, Moxxie Ventures, Andy Chung and Philipp Moehring from AngelList, Alex Roetter former SVP of Engineering at Twitter and the family office of Paul Forster, co-founder of Indeed.com.

Founded in August 2019 by senior Skyscanner employees Madeline Parra (CEO) and John Talbott (CTO), Purple Dot allows consumers to request a ‘worth-the-wait’ lower price. The advantage for retailers is that they can then decide whether or not to release a fashion product mid-season at a slightly reduced rate in order to secure the sale.

“Unlike Klarna, we don’t encourage consumers to buy stuff they can’t afford.”

The customers still pays upfront and then waits to have the item confirmed, receiving a full refund if not. The Purple Dot payment method sits alongside ‘buy now, pay later’ finance options.

This ‘worth-the-wait’ price does not usually fall below a 10-20% reduction from the recommended retail price, thus reducing losses from end-of-season discounting, where discounts are much deeper. The advantage for the consumer is that they don’t then rack up debt on their purchases.

The startup says it’s already in talks with a number of major UK and US high street brands but has already secured menswear retailer Spoke, which will also use the tech for ‘pre-ordering’. This means they can test out new styles, designs and fabrics in a limited manner, thus reducing waste (and therefore carbon emissions) when they commit to a new line of clothing.

Madeline Parra, CEO of Purple Dot, commented: “When shopping online today, customers can either pay the retail price or walk away. When they do walk away, the item goes through the discounting process, becomes unprofitable for the merchant and is resigned to landfill. This binary system isn’t working for anyone – the customer loses out on the item, because it may go out of stock in their size before they attempt to purchase it again, and the merchant loses the sale. Purple Dot tackles this problem head-on by providing a new way to shop, taking on unsustainable, unrelenting consumerism, poor pricing tactics and profit-crunching sales at the same time.”

Speaking to TechCrunch she also added that “Unlike Klarna, we don’t encourage consumers to buy stuff they can’t afford.”

Pietro Bezza, General Partner at Connect Ventures, commented:  “Purple Dot’s innovative proposition benefits retailers by creating a solution to their inventory problems. End of season ‘panic sales’ have long caused financial uncertainty for retailers and a negative impact on the environment in equal measure.”

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US charges Russian hackers blamed for Ukraine power outages and the NotPetya ransomware attack

Six Russian intelligence officers accused of launching some of the “world’s most destructive malware” — including an attack that took down the Ukraine power grid in December 2015 and the NotPetya global ransomware attack in 2017 — have been charged by the U.S. Justice Department.

Prosecutors said the group of hackers, who work for the Russian GRU, are behind the “most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group.”

“No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,” said John Demers, U.S. assistant attorney general for national security. “Today the department has charged these Russian officers with conducting the most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group, including unleashing the NotPetya malware. No nation will recapture greatness while behaving in this way.”

The six accused Russian intelligence officers. Image Credits: FBI/supplied

In charges laid out Monday, the hackers are accused of developing and launching attacks using the KillDisk and Industroyer (also known as Crash Override) to target and disrupt the power supply in Ukraine, which left hundreds of thousands of customers without electricity two days before Christmas. The prosecutors also said the hackers were behind the NotPetya attack, a ransomware attack that spread across the world in 2017, causing billions of dollars in damages.

The hackers are also said to have used Olympic Destroyer, designed to knock out internet connections during the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Prosecutors also blamed the six hackers for trying to disrupt the 2017 French elections by launching a “hack and leak” operation to discredit the then-presidential frontrunner, Emmanuel Macron, as well as launching targeted spearphishing attacks against the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the U.K.’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory, tasked with investigating the use of the Russian nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury, U.K. in 2018, and attacks against targets in Georgia, the former Soviet state.

The alleged hackers — Yuriy Sergeyevich Andrienko, 32; Sergey Vladimirovich Detistov, 35; Pavel Valeryevich Frolov, 28; Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, 29; Artem Valeryevich Ochichenko, 27; and Petr Nikolayevich Pliskin, 32 — are all charged with seven counts of conspiracy to hack, commit wire fraud and causing computer damage.

The accused are believed to be in Russia. But the indictment serves as a “name and shame” effort, frequently employed by Justice Department prosecutors in recent years where arrests or extraditions are not likely or possible.

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Bringing micromobility to Africa

When you look at maps of micromobility across the world, it appears there’s not a ton of activity throughout Africa. Well, that’s because there’s not, Gura Ride founder and CEO Tony Adesina said at TC Sessions: Mobility.

In Africa, there are “very few” micromobility operators, Adesina said. “Almost non-existent.”

That’s why launching bike and scooter share in Africa, and specifically Rwanda was strategic, he said. In Kigali, there are many bike lanes and cycling is quite popular in Rwanda, Adesina said. But bikeshare and scooters are “completely new to them.”

Gura Ride has been in operation for the last couple of years and says people are generally receptive to the idea. Still, it hasn’t attracted the same type of market activity as other places.

“Africa is quite unique,” Adesina said. “I don’t think it’s somewhere where you can bring an existing model, maybe that worked in the States or the UK and just dump in a country like South Africa or Rwanda. You have to understand the culture and the people you’re dealing with. It takes quite some time. You have to study the terrain and make sure the model you run in the U.S. or the U.K. can actually fit. Another thing is price. The buying power is not as heavy as you have in the States. So the numbers have to make sense and you have to make sure that the market you’re going into can meet your projected goals.”

That’s partly why Voi, which has gained a stronghold across Europe, has yet to launch in Africa. Voi CEO Fredrik Hjelm noted how the cost of supply and operations is pretty much the same wherever it operates, so in markets where there is less willingness among riders to pay higher costs, it makes it “very, very difficult to operate profitably,” he said.

Once Voi can bring down the costs of operations, it will be easier to launch in more markets and operate profitably there, Hjelm said.

“So there is definitely a time where we will be able to make markets with lower willingness to pay, such as Africa, profitable, when we go there,” he said.

What’s key to micromobility becoming more mainstream in Africa is infrastructure, Adesina said.

“I think the biggest issue [in Kigali] is that the roads are quite narrow, so how do you share the road so you don’t have a lot of hit and runs,” he said.

On the other hand, micromobility is thriving so much in Europe because of the infrastructure, Hjelm said. So, infrastructure can really make or break the industry.

“The infrastructure is better than anywhere else,” Hjlem said. “Culturally also, we’re much more used to bikes to mopeds to vespas to scooters — to all kinds of alternatives to cars. So I think that fundamentally, Europe is the world’s most attractive market.”

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