April 21, 2020

Corporate innovation weekly: winners of the "low-touch" economy

Europe's biggest companies are investing in logistics, remote monitoring, storage, food delivery, virtual beauty and cybersecurity.

Maija Palmer

5 min read


Virtual beauty

L’Oreal and Founders Factory are launching their next accelerator programme and are looking for startups working on tech for good, new business models (like social selling) and virtual beauty.


Saving on storage

Next47, the investment arm of Siemens, led the $100m Series C round into VAST Data, a US-based startup that has come up with a cost-effective way to deliver flash storage. Customers are typically companies that deal in petabytes of data and have storage costs of upwards of $1m.

Financial Services

Bigger impact

ABN AMRO Ventures was one of the new investors taking part in the $10.5m Series A1 round for OpenInvest, a San Francisco-based tech-enabled asset manager that helps investors scale up their impact investing.


Tink talks

Mastercard held talks with Swedish fintech startup Tink late last year, it has emerged, giving an insight into the US payments company's ambitions in Europe. The talks came to nothing in the end, but Mastercard did buy Nets and Vocalink, and is probably not done shopping, as it shores up defences against new, card-free payment rivals.

Insurance roundtable

Four heads of innovation in the insurance industry — Tom Van den Brulle of Munich Re, Benedikt Kalteier of Generali Deutschland Versicherung, Julia Pühlhorn of Nurnberger Versicherung and Johannes Wagner of Versicherungskammer Bayern — discuss how Covid-19 is affecting the industry. Note: this is more about working from home than whether the industry will weather huge payouts.

Food and drink

Boxing clever

Gousto, the recipe-box company backed by Unilever, raised a £33m funding round from existing investors to help expand the service, which is seeing demand boom during the coronavirus pandemic. The company is planning to hire more than 400 people in the next month.

With restaurants shut and supermarkets difficult access for many, food box delivery services are growing rapidly — Gousto says revenues were 70% higher in the first quarter of Q1 than a year ago. The recipe box market was worth around $2.52bn globally in 2017 and is expected to grow to $9bn by 2025.


Remote monitoring

There is consolidation going on in the remote medical monitoring market. Bayer-backed Huma (formerly known as Medopad) bought two artificial intelligence startups, BioBeats, a digital mental health monitoring startup, and Tarilian Laser Technologies, which provides technology to monitor blood pressure remotely. (A great profile of BioBeats here.)

Huma is one of the companies seeing a strong increase in demand as a result of the pandemic. In March, the company created a version of its mobile phone-based monitoring platform specialised for tracking the symptoms of Covid-19 patients at home.

Though it recently raised a $25m Series B round led by Bayer last November, the company is now working on a new funding round that could rival the $550m raised by Babylon Health last year.


AI to help deliveries

FarEye, the Indian startup developing a predictive transport logistics platform, raised $25m from investors including Microsoft’s M12 and Honeywell Ventures. Previous investors include Deutsche Post.

All logistics companies are coming under strain during the pandemic — even Amazon had to impose caps on grocery deliveries. The FarEye system predicts spikes in demand and claims to be able to shave up to a third off delivery turnaround and transit times.


Slippery surface

Nelumbo, a US startup backed by Danish manufacturer Danfoss, raised $14m in an extension of its Series A round. The company, started in 2015, makes advanced surface materials that make air conditioning and heat exchange units work more efficiently.



Pandemic-proof esports

While football, tennis and even the Olympics are on hold because of Covid-19, Esports is proving itself to be one of the most pandemic-proof businesses in the world. So it is perhaps not surprising that BMW is deepening its involvement with the genre, partnering with five of the top teams for the League of Legends online fantasy game.

Good reads

Companies must change the way they handle IP

The response to coronavirus has already brought a huge amount of collaboration but how do you keep this going in the post-pandemic world? There is a lot in this paper from Industrial Marketing Management, but one of the most interesting observations is the need to change the way companies handle their intellectual property. Most companies don’t licence or use the majority of the patents they hold. This knowledge just sits, unused — why not share it to allow others to innovate on top of it and turn it to some benefit? Companies could divide their patents into three buckets: the crown jewels, which will still be safeguarded as normal; a middle group, which is selectively shared with clients and partners; and the long tail, which are made open to all.

Six types of businesses that will come out of the Covid-19 crisis well

Every consultancy is busy mapping out post-pandemic scenarios. McKinsey’s take outlines six types of companies businesses that should thrive in the wake of the coronavirus crisis:

  • Remote services providers. Right now that may mean mobile consultations with your doctor but is likely to spread much wider. Imagine washing machines, for example, built in such a way that a non-expert user could repair them with the help of a video consultation.
  • Collaboration platforms. Again, going beyond just the office Zoom call, these could become highly sophisticated places for professional collaboration, for example for lawyers or accountants.
  • Dynamic talent deployers. Companies and platforms that can mobilise and re-skill workers quickly, like redeploying laid-off cabin crew into food retailers desperate for staff.
  • High-touch digital retailers. Categories like real estate, where it was believed that nothing could beat the in-person experience are now quite happily moving online.
  • Data visionaries. With business-as-normal broken, companies are eager to hoover up information for non-conventional sources.
  • Resilient supply chain tools. The pandemic put supply chains under stress and highlighted the importance of tools that can help alternative sources and routes for goods.

10 shifts to expect in the "Low Touch" economy

Board of Innovation have outlined 10 shifts they expect in the medium-to-long term as we deal with the pandemic. These are ones that caught our eye:

  • People will demand proofs of health and hygiene
  • Legal battles over commercial breaches as companies go into distress
  • Home delivery for everything
  • Older people find new digital communities
  • Collapse of the "work identity"
  • The rise of the "certified immune consumer" as a marketing segment