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Flutterwave and Ventures Platform CEOs will join us at Startup Battlefield Africa

Startup Battlefield is returning to Africa this December. TechCrunch will be hitting Lagos, Nigeria, bringing with it our Battlefield competition and a day’s worth of panel discussions, focused on topics facing the city’s startup scene. Iyin “E” Aboyeji We’ve already announced a pair of speakers for the event and and are excited to add a couple more to the list, bringing with them expertise on topics like VC funding and blockchain technology. Iyin “E” Aboyeji is the Founder and CEO of Flutterwave, a payment solution designed to transfer funds between Africa and abroad. The Lagos-based startup serves as a payment gateway for a number of high profile companies including Uber, TransferWise, booking.com and tuition platform, Flywire. In July of this year, Flutterwave rasied a $10 million Series A led by Greycroft Partners and Green Visor Capital. Other investors include Y Combinator, Omidyar Network, Social Capital, CRE Venture Capital and HOF Capital. Aboyeji will join us to discuss the potential of blockchain tech in Africa’s burgeoning startup scenes. Kola Aina Kola Aina is the CEO and founder of Ventures Platform, a Lagos-based VC firm focused on Africa. VP is among the largest accelerator/seed stage funders in the space with an eye toward solving local issues. In addition to serving as a Partner at the fund, Aina is also a mentor at World Bank Group and Google’s Launchpad Accelerator. We’ve got plenty more speakers to announce in the coming weeks. You can grab your tickets to the event here.

N26 is launching its bank in the UK

Nearly a year after German fintech startup N26 announced that it would launch its service in the U.K., the company is launching in the U.K. N26 is already quite popular in the Eurozone, with more than 1.5 million customers. In this new market, it will face tough competition from existing players, such as Revolut, Monzo, Starling and many others. N26 is going to roll out its product in multiple phases. Some lucky few will be able to open an account right away. The startup will then go through its waiting list — 50,000 people already left their email addresses to express interest. After that, anybody will be able to download the app and sign up. This might sound like a convoluted process, but N26 expects a full public launch in just a few weeks. So it should be quite quick if everything goes as planned. So what can you expect exactly? British customers will get all the basic N26 stuff with one killer feature — U.K. account numbers and sort codes. This way, customers will be able to receive payments and share banking information with their utility providers just like they would with a regular Barclays or Lloyds account. When you open an N26 account, you get a true bank account and a MasterCard. Basic accounts are free, and N26 has a proper banking license — your deposits up to €100,000 are guaranteed by the European deposit guarantee scheme. You can then send and receive money and pay with your card. Sending money to other N26 users is instantaneous (they call it MoneyBeam). N26 recently launched Spaces, a new feature that lets you create sub accounts and put some money aside. It’s still limited, but the company plans to add more features. Your MasterCard works like any other challenger bank. Every time you use it, you receive a push notification. You can set payment and withdrawal limits, lock your card if you lose it and reset your PIN code. N26 will also bring Black and Metal plans to the U.K. How does it compare to Revolut? Let’s be honest, the…

Hear about the keys to local investing at Startup Battlefield Africa with Omobola Johnson and Lexi Novitske

Omobola Johnson (Image: Flickr/World Economic Forum under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 TechCrunch Startup Battlefield is returning to Africa in December, this time in Lagos, Nigeria. We will have a day-long program full of our flagship Battlefield competition highlighting the best startups that Africa has to offer. Not only that, we’ll have panel discussions designed to explore the continent’s rapidly developing technological infrastructure on the continent. To wit, I’m excited to announce the first two speakers who will don our stage with direct knowledge about investing Silicon Valley money in the local ecosystem. Omobola Johnson is a senior partner at TLcom Capital and the former minister of communication technology for Nigeria. Her vast knowledge about the startup investing landscape comes from her 25-year tenure at Accenture where she served as the managing director. As ICT minister, she focused on the execution of the National Broadband Plan, as well as promoting government interest in local venture capital through the development of a fund and a network of startup incubators. And at Accenture, she advised numerous startups in various industries on how to become competitive and help to strengthen the tech landscape. Lexi Novitske Lexi Novitske is the principal investment officer for Singularity Investments where she is responsible for managing investments in the firm’s Africa portfolio. Novitske moved to Africa from the United States, having identified a unique approach to providing African startups with the capital necessary to thrive. Big surprise: It’s not just about writing a check and hoping for returns. It’s about understanding the complexities of the environment, modifying Western attitudes about business and working hard with your companies to ensure the best outcomes. Johnson and Novitske are just the beginning of what we have to offer at Battlefield Africa technology. Stay tuned for more announcements of great speakers and get your tickets before they sell out.

And the winner of Startup Battlefield at Disrupt SF 2018 is… Forethought

At the very beginning, there were 21 startups. After three days of incredibly fierce competition, we now have a winner. Startups participating in the Startup Battlefield have all been hand-picked to participate in our highly competitive startup competition. They all presented in front of multiple groups of VCs and tech leaders serving as judges for a chance to win $100,000 and the coveted Disrupt Cup. After hours of deliberations, TechCrunch editors pored over the judges’ notes and narrowed the list down to five finalists: CB Therapeutics, Forethought, Mira, Origami Labs and Unbound. These startups made their way to the finale to demo in front of our final panel of judges, which included: Cyan Banister (Founders Fund), Roelof Botha (Sequoia Capital), Jeff Clavier (Uncork Capital), Kirsten Green (Forerunner Ventures), Aileen Lee (Cowboy Ventures) and Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch). And now, meet the Startup Battlefield winner of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018. Winner: Forethought Forethought has a modern vision for enterprise search that uses AI to surface the content that matters most in the context of work. Its first use case involves customer service, but it has a broader ambition to work across the enterprise. Read more about Forethought in our separate post. Runner-Up: Unbound Unbound makes fashion-forward vibrators, and their latest is the Palma. The new device masquerades as a ring, offers multiple speeds, and is completely waterproof. And the team plans to add accelerometer features. Read more about Unbound in our separate post.

Vtrus launches drones to inspect and protect your warehouses and factories

Knowing what’s going on in your warehouses and facilities is of course critical to many industries, but regular inspections take time, money, and personnel. Why not use drones? Vtrus uses computer vision to let a compact drone not just safely navigate indoor environments but create detailed 3D maps of them for inspectors and workers to consult, autonomously and in real time. Vtrus showed off its hardware platform — currently a prototype — and its proprietary SLAM (simultaneous location and mapping) software at TechCrunch Disrupt SF as a Startup Battlefield Wildcard company. There are already some drone-based services for the likes of security and exterior imaging, but Vtrus CTO Jonathan Lenoff told me that those are only practical because they operate with a large margin for error. If you’re searching for open doors or intruders beyond the fence, it doesn’t matter if you’re at 25 feet up or 26. But inside a warehouse or production line every inch counts and imaging has to be carried out at a much finer scale. As a result, dangerous and tedious inspections, such as checking the wiring on lighting or looking for rust under an elevated walkway, have to be done by people. Vtrus wouldn’t put those people out of work, but it might take them out of danger. The drone, called the ABI Zero for now, is equipped with a suite of sensors, from ordinary RGB cameras to 360 ones and a structured-light depth sensor. As soon as it takes off, it begins mapping its environment in great detail: it takes in 300,000 depth points 30 times per second, combining that with its other cameras to produce a detailed map of its surroundings. It uses this information to get around, of course, but the data is also streamed over wi-fi in real time to the base station and Vtrus’s own cloud service, through which operators and inspectors can access it. The SLAM technique they use was developed in-house; CEO Renato Moreno built and sold a company (to Facebook/Oculus) using some of the principles, but improvements to imaging and processing power have made it possible…

Wingly is carpooling for private planes

Don’t call Wingly the “Uber of the Sky” — Wingly co-fonder Emeric de Waziers would like to nip that little misinterpretation in the bud as the French startup looks to expand into the U.S. If anything, the startup’s mission is more akin to carpooling for small aircrafts, helping pilots fill up empty seats in small passenger planes. The distinction is an important one, with regard to the company’s ability to operate. After all, allowing private pilots to turn a profit changes the math significantly, both with regard to specific licenses and the company’s ability to operate inside different countries. Ninety-five percent of pilots who use the service don’t have a commercial license. “What often happens with hobby pilots is they set a budget for the year. They’re going to fly as many times as they can with this money. If they can fly four times cheaper, they can fly four times more. We have many pilots posting what we call ‘flexible flights,’ saying, ‘hey, I’m available for a roundtrip from San Francisco to Tahoe.’ The passenger says they’re interested and they book the flight.” Founded in July 2015, the company faced regulatory challenges early on in its native France. It was enough to cause Wingly to relocate operations, setting up shop in Germany in February of the following year. That launch was a sort of a proof of concept for the novel flight booking app. It was successful enough to convince Wingly to take on its home country again, pushing back against French regulatory bodies. These days, it operates in Germany, France and the UK, with those markets composing 45, 30 and 20 percent of the company’s business, respectively (with the other five percent belonging to various parts of Europe). Wingly’s flight matching service currently hosts around 2,000 passengers a month, with each flight averaging about 1.8 passengers. It’s not a huge number, but, then, these aren’t huge planes, with the prop and twin-engine crafts sporting between two and six seats each. Profitability for Wingly means pushing into high volume numbers, but the current pace has been successful enough for…

Kinta AI uses artificial intelligence to make factories more efficient

Kinta AI aims to make manufacturers smarter about how they deploy their equipment and other factory resources. The company, which is presenting today at TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield in San Francisco, was founded by a team with plenty of experience in finance, tech and AI. CEO Steven Glinert has held management and AI roles at fintech startups, CTO Rob Donnelly is studying the intersection of machine learning and economics as a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford and VP of Engineering Ben Zax has worked at both Facebook and Google. Glinert told me that when factory owners are making production decisions, they’re usually relying on “dumb software” to decide which machines should be used when, which can result in machines being deployed at the wrong time or in the wrong sequence, or sitting idle when they shouldn’t be. As a result, he said that scheduling errors account for 45 percent of late manufacturing orders. So Kinta AI tries to solve this problem with artificial intelligence, specifically reinforcement learning. Glinert said the company will run “millions and millions of factory simulations,” where the system gains “a statistical understanding of how your factory works and learning what actions you do to get what result” — and it can then use those simulations to choose the best schedule. “We run through, not every possible scenario, but we try to go through some of those,” he said. Glinert added that Kinta AI works with its customers to understand the nuances of each factory. He also compared the technology to Google’s AlphaGo AI and OpenAI’s Dota 2 neural networks — except that instead of using AI to play Go or Dota 2, Gilnert said Kinta AI is utilizing it “to do these detailed production planning decisions that are being made on the factory floor.” “Not all factories are that dissimilar from each other,” he said — similar to how “if you learned how to play Go, you can easily teach that neural net how to play chess or other game of that type.” And Kinta AI already has some customers, including chemical manufacturer BASF and a medical device…

Mira launches a device for more accurate fertility testing in the home

Mira, launching today at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018, is a new device that aims to help women who are struggling to conceive. The Mira Fertility system offers personalized cycle prediction by measuring fertility hormone concentrations in urine samples, telling women which days they’re fertile. The system is more advanced and accurate than the existing home test kits, the company claims, which can be hard to read and aren’t personalized to the individual. The company behind Mira, Quanovate, was founded in late 2015 by a group of scientists, engineers, OBGYN doctors, and business execs to solve the problem of the unavailability of advanced home health testing. “I have a lot of friends who, like me, [prioritized] their career advancement and higher education, and they tended to delay their maternal age,” explains Mira co-founder and CEO Sylvia Kang. “But there’s no education for them about when to try for a baby, and they have no awareness about their fertility health,” she says. Kang received an MBA at Cornell Johnson, went to Columbia for an MS in Biomedical engineering and received at PhD in Biophysics from University of Pittsburgh, before working as a Business Director at Corning where she was responsible for $100 million in global P&L, which she left to start Mira. She says that women’s hormones are changing daily, and everyone’s profiles differ due to their lifestyle, stress levels and other factors. The only way to accurately track fertile days, then, is through continuous testing – something that’s been difficult to do at home. To solve this problem, the team worked to develop the Mira system, which includes a small home analyzer, urine test strips, and an accompanying mobile application. The home analyzer miniaturizes lab equipment for home use, and brings down the cost. To use the system, the woman places the test strip into the device which then uses immunofluorescence technology to read the results. Currently, the device tests for the presence of luteinizing hormone (LH), which is an indicator of ovulation. However, the company has already has plans to update the device so it can test for other hormones in the near future. (It’s FDA-cleared…

Kadho debuts Kidsense A.I., offline speech-recognition tech that understand kids

Kadho, a company building automatic speech recognition technology to help children communicate with voice-powered devices, is officially exiting stealth today at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 where it’s launching its new technology, Kidsense Edge voice A.I. The company claims its technology can better decode kids’ speech as it was built using speech data from 150,000 children’s voices. The COPPA-compliant solution, which is initially targeting the voice-enabled devices and voice-enabled toys market, is already being used by paying customers. As anyone with an Echo smart speaker or Google Home can tell you, today’s devices often struggle to understand children’s voices. That’s because current automatic speech recognition technology has been built for adults and was trained on adult voice data. Kidsense.ai, meanwhile, was built for kids using voices of children from different age groups and speaking different languages. By doing so, it believes it can outperform the big players in the market like Google, Samsung, Baidu, Amazon, and Microsoft, when it comes to understanding children’s speech, the company says. The company behind the Kidsense AI technology, Kadho, has been around since 2014, and was originally founded by PhDs with backgrounds in A.I. and neuroscience, Kaveh Azartash (CEO) and Dhonam Pemba (Chief Scientist). Chief Revenue Officer, Jock Thompson, is a third co-founder today. Initially, the company’s focus was on building conversational-based language learning applications for kids. “But the biggest pain point that we encountered…was that the devices that we were using or apps on – either mobile phones, tablets, robotics, or smart speakers  – they’re not built to understand kids,” explains Azartash. He means the speech recognition technology wasn’t built on kids’ data. “They’re not designed to communicate or understand kids.” The team realized there was a bigger problem to solve. Teaching kids new language using conversational techniques couldn’t work until devices could actually understand the kids. The company shifted to focus instead on speech recognition technology, using a data set of kids voices (which it did with parents’ consent, we’re told), to build Kidsense. The initial product was a server-based solution called Kidsense cloud AI in late 2017. But more recently, it’s been working on…

Origami Labs shows off its voice-powered smart ring

Origami Labs wants to bring voice assistants right to your ear without requiring you to wear a device like a Bluetooth headset or Apple AirPods. Instead, the startup is using a ring on your finger combined with bone conduction technology to allow you to use your smartphone’s built-in assistant – whether that’s Google Assistant or Siri – in an all-new way. Origami Labs’ device is the Orii, a smart ring that works with an app on your phone, allowing you to physically touch your finger to your ear to either speak to or listen to your voice assistant. This involves the use of bone conduction technology, which allows you to hear sounds through the vibration of bones in your face, bypassing the outer and middle ears to stimulate the inner ear directly. That means you can use Orii to do things like listen to your text messages, send a WhatsApp message to a friend, take a phone call, get information like the time or weather, use reminders, or anything else that Siri or Google Assistant could do. The ring alerts you with a vibration, then you listen (or speak to its microphone) by raising your finger to your ear. The company presented its device on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 today, after winning a “wildcard” spot that allowed it to enter the Startup Battlefield competition. The Hong Kong-based startup was founded by Marcus Leung-Shea and Kevin Wong in 2015. Wong’s father is visually impaired, which makes using a smartphone more difficult. “That’s where we got started – just to create a device that helps visually impaired people,” Marcus explains. “But through building the product and launching a Kickstarter, it became clear that this screen-free way of interacting with technology is something that actually a lot of people are looking for. It taps into this sense that we’re spending too much time looking at our devices,” he says. With other Bluetooth devices, like AirPods, there’s a limit to how long they can be worn comfortably. Plus, there’s the aesthetics to consider – not everyone wants to be seen wearing their…

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