August 12, 2020

Corporate innovation weekly: Chinese craft beer, clean beauty, lossmaking mobility

This is what some of Europe's largest corporations got up to in innovation in the past week.

Maija Palmer

5 min read

Photo by Kristine Lo


Saie what?

Unilever joined forces with Gwyneth Paltrow in investing in the seed funding round for “clean” makeup brand Saie, which launches in November. The brand was started by blogger Laney Crowell, who formerly worked at Estée Lauder.


Back to (online) school offers

TIM Ventures, Telecom Italia’s investment arm, and Azimut Group’s Italia 500 backed the €6.4m fundraising for WeSchool, a Milan-based digital schools platform provider. During lockdown the company was enabling lessons for over 1m students.

Pearson Ventures was one of the backers of the $31m series B funding round for Springboard, a Bengaluru and California-based startup that offers online courses in areas like artificial intelligence, data science, user experience and business analytics.



BP and Shell’s low-carbon plans

Shell Ventures took part in the $29m series B fundraising for Palmetto, a South Carolina startup that helps homeowners connect with providers of solar panels and home energy storage.

BP said it would cut its oil and gas production by 40% and invest $5bn a year in low-carbon technology, a 10-fold increase from current levels. BP is the first of the big energy companies to law out its low-carbon investment goal so specifically.

Battery gigafactory

Schneider Electric and property developer Groupe Idec are backing French start-up Verkor, which exited stealth mode and unveiled ambitious plans to build a European battery gigafactory.

Food and drink

Craft pijiu

AB InBev is trying to get Chinese people to drink more craft beer, with the relaunch of its Boxing Cat brand. China has been slow to appreciate the delights of craft beer, seeing it as expensive and “heavy” in taste. Craft beer accounts for just 1% of beer sales in China, vs 14% globally. It remains to be seen if a cartoon cat wearing red boxing gloves can change drinking habits.


Engineered T-cells

Novartis Venture Fund backed the $20m seed funding round for GentiBio, a Boston/Israeli startup focused on using engineered T-cells to fight autoimmune and allergic diseases.

IPO for protein-munching therapies

Kymera Therapeutics, a startup backed by a string of big pharma names, including Sanofi, Pfizer, Merck, Amgen, Eli Lilly and Vertex, is planning a $100m IPO on Nasdaq. The US startup, which raised $102m from investors back in March, develops treatments that use the body’s own natural mechanisms to get rid of damaged proteins to treat immune-inflammatory diseases. Kymera has also signed a deal with Sanofi potentially worth more than $2bn.

Financial services

Digital payments

Poste Italiane’s payments business PostePay took part in the $35m funding round for Volante Technologies. The two companies are partnering to help PostePay modernise its payment services and develop new products such as QR-code payments.


Transport data

Engie and Deutsche Telekom-backed StreetLight Data, a US AI startup that collects mobility insights from smartphones, raised $15m in a series D funding round.  It comes at the same time as a similar company, Israel’s Zencity, raised $13.5m from investors including Microsoft’s M12.

As Covid-19 changes the way people move around cities (off buses and onto bikes, for example) cities are becoming increasingly interested in getting highly accurate transport data. Also, as one of this week’s Good Reads tells us, this sector would benefit from more analysis, as alternative mobility services are failing to make money so far.

Affordable AI-assisted driving?

Siemens Digital Industries Software is collaborating with RoboK, a VC-backed University of Cambridge spinout, which is developing a new computer vision technique that could help make advanced driver assistance systems cheap enough to put into lower-priced cars.


BMW and AI

Wondering how carmakers are using AI? This is a detailed look at the ways BMW is making use of the technology in its plants, from predictive maintenance to being able to spot microscopic imperfections in the paintwork.


Royalty management

SAP has acquired a minority stake in Vistex, a company that creates rights and royalty management software that runs on top of SAP’s core systems.

Who's hiring?

Digital innovation manager, FrieslandCampina, Amersfoort, Netherlands
Innovation officer, Engie Services Nederland, Utrecht, Netherlands
Innovation activation specialist, Johnson & Johnson Company, Beerse, Belgium
Senior analyst innovation management, Deutsche Bahn, Berlin, Germany
Lab and innovation manager, SA3i, Thiais, France
Innovation manager, Alstom, Bologna, Italy
Design lead growth & innovation, Design Council, London, UK
Head of disrupt innovation, Europe/key projects, Diageo, London, UK

Good reads

The problem with mobility-as-a-service...

...Is, frankly, that it is struggling to make money, according to this article in Bloomberg CityLab. Policymakers love the idea of car-free cities, but urban residents, even in “favourable” cities like Antwerp and Helsinki seem less keen on the idea. No wonder Daimler opted to sell off its Portland-based urban mobility division Moovel, which it had bought in 2015.

And no-one is making money from electric vehicles either

Dyson quietly shelved a $1bn EV project because there was no business case for it. Tesla has never made a profit. This article in Wheels estimates it costs twice as much to create a hybrid plug-in version of an internal combustion engine car. Still, if battery prices could come down to below the $100 level (predicted for 2024) things could change, and Volkswagen is predicted to be the first carmaker that could make its EV line profitable.

How Barça went digital

A fascinating interview with Dídac Lee, the head of digital at FC Barcelona, on how the football club has embraced new technologies, from hyper-localising its mobile content to blockchain-based fan tokens and Barça’s version of Netflix. Along the way, there have been a lot of unsuccessful experiments too.