June 16, 2020

Corporate innovation weekly: single cell analysis, luxury travel

These are the new ideas and startups that Europe's biggest companies are investing in as they rebuild after Covid-19.

Maija Palmer

6 min read


Power lines

Spanish energy company Iberdrola is launching a startup challenge, looking for companies with smart solutions for minimising the ecological impact of power lines. Specifically, it is looking for ways to stop birds electrocuting themselves on power lines and for better ways to manage vegetation. The deadline for submitting proposals is July 13.

Chinese energy transition

Air Liquide’s venture capital investment branch ALIAD has invested in China for the first time, putting money into the Cathay Smart Energy Fund, a venture capital fund dedicated to the energy transition in China.

Financial services

Fat Marcus

Not all fintechs created by big banks struggle. Goldman Sachs has had to temporarily close its UK online savings account Marcus to new users because it had become too successful. Cash-rich British households are stuffing so much money into it during the coronavirus outbreak that the service is coming close to breaching regulatory limits.


Insurance innovation

Covid-19 is expected to cost the global insurance industry $203bn. To survive, insurers will need to innovate rapidly, which is why three industry leaders are betting there will be demand for a new specialist consultancy in this space.

Sabine VanderLinden (known for launching the Startupbootcamp InsurTech accelerator), Minh Q Tran (founder of AXA Seed Factory and former general partner of AXA Strategic Ventures’ $500m fund) and Dan White (managing partner at Ninety Consulting) have come together to found Alchemy Crew, which will help insurance companies run and de-risk innovation projects.

Simplifying SME lending

Steinbeis, the engineering and research company, was one of the backers of the SFr 8m funding round for Teylor AG. The startup offers banks a software-as-a-service package to automate their SME lending.

Digital documents

A consortium including JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Barclays and Linklaters invested $27m in a minority stake in H4, a London-based startup that helps companies digitise documents.

Managing corporate accounts

Nordic bank Nordea and France’s Crédit Agricole invested in the €10m Series A funding round for ING-backed Cobase, the Dutch startup that makes software that allows corporations to manage bank accounts at multiple different banks all in the same place.

Freelance tax

Sabadell Venture Capital was one of the investors in Declarando’s €2.2m funding round. The Spanish startup helps freelancers prepare their tax returns.

Wasted data science models

Rabobank’s Startup & Scale-Up Team invested in Dutch Analytics, whose Xenia software makes it easier for companies to run data science models.

Developing clever models to fight fraud or optimise customer orders is only half the battle — putting them to use is often the bigger problem, and apparently most data science models are never deployed.


Precision oncology

Zürcher Kantonalbank took part in the additional SFr 4.7m funding for Tolremo Therapeutics, a biotech company developing precision cancer treatments. Tolremo also nabbed Reinhard Ambros, former head of Novartis Venture Fund, to be its chairman.

Digital doctor software

Uniqa Ventures, the investment arm of insurance group Uniqa, was one of the investors in the €5m seed funding round for Doctorly, a Berlin-based startup making practice management software for doctors.


Single-cell analysis

Scailyte, a Lucerne-based startup that develops artificial intelligence that can analyse single-cell data for medical research, raised €2.4m in seed funding from investors including Swisscom Ventures and Zürcher Kantonalbank.

Analysing data from single cells could allow researchers to detect certain diseases more accurately, but the process is currently very slow, taking weeks or even months. Scailyte is hoping to cut this down to a few hours.

Novo Nordisk on a roll

Denmark’s Novo Nordisk is acquiring AstraZeneca spinout company Corvidia Therapeutics for $725m. Corvidia makes treatments for heart and kidney disorders.

Meanwhile, the company’s investment arm, Novo Holdings, led the $85m Series C round into Checkmate Pharmaceutics, which is developing immunotherapy treatments for melanoma and lung cancer.

Novo Holding has also hired Søren Thinggaard Hansen, a former Industriens Pension senior manager, to set up a private equity programme.

Novo Nordisk has had a surge of activity in venturing recently, possibly because the company’s leading cash cow, the insulin product Novolog, has expired and the company is looking for ways to diversify.

The sound of another biotech IPO

Akouos, the hearing loss gene therapy biotech, whose backers include Novartis, is planning to join the biotech listing bonanza with a $100m initial public offering.

Food and drink

Making wholesalers more eco-friendly

Pandobac, a French startup that makes reusable crates for transporting fresh produce, raised €1.2m from BNP Paribas Développement, the French bank’s investment arm focused on SMEs.


Factory power

ABB Technology Ventures and Rockwell Automation were among the investors in the $17.8m Series B round for Atom Power, a US startup that is making digital circuit breakers that make it easier to control the power supply to factories, data centres and electric vehicle charging networks.


Green logistics

Madrid-founded startup Ontruck has raised €17m in a round led by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative — an energy industry investment company whose members include BP, Total, Shell and Eni — to expand and improve its efficiency-saving logistics technology.


Brands online

SEB Alliance, Group SEB’s investment arm, continued a run of investments (CASTALIE last week) by taking part in the €21m Series C round for Alkemics, a Paris-based platform that lets brands collaborate and launch products with retailers.

Alkemics works with some of Europe’s biggest retailers, including E.Leclerc, Intermarché, Casino, Tesco and Ocado, to help them connect with brands like Nestlé and to launch and manage product listings online.

Fraud prevention

AXA Venture partners took part in d the $123m funding round for NS8, the US startup that makes software to prevent fraud at online platforms such as Shopify.


Luxury trips

Sabadell Venture Capital took part in the €1.2m fundraising for Essentialist, a Spanish members-only personalised travel planning company. The high-end luxury segment is the part of the travel industry expected to recover first after Covid-19.

Who’s hiring?

Stryber, the corporate venture builder based in the DACH region is expanding to the UK. Julian Ritter will lead the UK practice and plans to build up the team over the next three to six months.  

RB is looking for a global digital innovation manager, based in Slough, UK

NHSX is looking for a director of innovation delivery, based in London, UK

AstraZeneca is looking for a digital innovations lead, based in Södertälje, Sweden

Nestlé is looking for an innovation manager to join its global tech hub in Milan, Italy

Good reads:

How to make sure your innovation programmes are creating value

Now everyone wants to be an intrapreneur, running a cool innovation lab or a pitch competition. And this is NOT a good thing, this Forbes article argues. There are too many random innovation projects at companies, all competing for resources. Instead, companies should focus on just two types of innovation:

  1. Ones that create economic value.
  2. Ones that change company culture. 

Forget the rest.

Facebook is creating a VC arm

Axios revealed that Facebook was hiring a head of investment for a multi-million dollar fund. Frankly it is surprising that the social media behemoth hadn’t done this earlier because: 

  1. Most of the other big tech companies, including Microsoft, Google, Qualcomm and Intel,  have venture arms.  
  2. Facebook has a $50bn cash pile. You only need about $100m to make a decent start in CVC. This is pocket change. 
  3. Facebook is under growing pressure to identify the Next Big Thing but buying up-and-coming rivals like WhatsApp and Instagram is harder now because of regulatory scrutiny. 

Which fintechs are thriving and which ones are just surviving post-Covid?

An interesting analysis by AltFi. In short, banking and lending fintechs are having a tough time, while payments, trading and insurance are seeing a boost. The picture for banking infrastructure is mixed.