August 25, 2020

Corporate innovation weekly: medical magnets and 3D printed houses

This is how Europe's biggest companies innovated in the past week, including medical magnets, 3D printed houses and superfast payments.

Maija Palmer

4 min read

Photo by Dan-Cristian Pădureț on Unsplash


3D printed houses

Bjarke Ingels Group was among the investors in the $35m Series A funding round for Icon, a startup developing 3D-printed houses, focusing particularly on vulnerable families in countries like Haiti and El Salvador. Icon’s giant Vulcan printing arm extrudes layers of concrete in a pattern controlled from a tablet. It’s hypnotic to watch.

Financial services


Element Insurance, the German white-label provider of insurtech services, raised an additional €10m for its Series A funding round, bringing the total to €39m. Sony Financial Ventures and Finleap, the Berlin-based fintech company builder backed by Chinese insurer Ping An, were among the backers.

Gig economy finances

Cabify, the Spanish ridesharing service, was one of the backers of the $12m Series A funding round for Lana Fintech, which is hoping to become the single payment wallet for gig economy workers in Latin America.


Super-fast payments

Nationwide Building Society and Lloyds Banking Group were among the strategic investors in the $33m Series C funding round for Form3, which helps banks and fintechs speed up payments through its cloud-based platform. Lloyds and Nationwide are implementing the technology for their customers as part of the deal.


Magnets — the next big thing in healthcare?

Johnson & Johnson and a number of other investors, including The Kennedy Trust, backed the $16.4m Series A funding round for GI Windows, a US startup developing self-assembling surgical magnets that can create an intestinal bypass without the need for surgery.

Meanwhile, Zurcher Kantonalbank was one of the backers of the SFr 5.1m (€4.74m) funding round for Hemotune, a Swiss startup developing a blood purification system using nanoengineered magnetic beads.

The beads are 300 times smaller than red blood cells and engineered to bind to certain disease-causing agents. When blood is run through a dialysis-like machine, the disease particles are pulled out. The Hemotune team believe this could be used as a treatment for sepsis, for which there are few effective treatments so far. They are also investigating treatments for Covid-19.

Cancer detection

Novo Growth, part of Novo Holdings, led the $70m Series C funding round for Mission Bio, a US startup developing technology that can detect DNA and protein changes in single cells. It has applications for cancer research as it can potentially shed light on what causes tumours to start growing.

Drug trials via telemedicine

Novartis, Amgen, Sanofi, PPD and Google’s VC arm all backed the $40m funding round for Science 37, a Californian startup that helps pharma companies carry out drug trials remotely.  The company saw a surge of interest during the Covid-19 pandemic, when drug companies were looking for alternative, low-contact ways to conduct trials.


Managing minerals

BASF Venture Capital led a funding round (amount unspecified) for, a UK startup that provides software to help mining companies manage their operations more efficiently.

Real estate

Digital property sales

Barclays led the £2.7m seed funding round for Offr, the UK-based proptech platform that digitises the process of buying and selling properties. Launched just 10 months ago, Offr was part of the Barclays London Accelerator, and has seen demand take off fast because of the pressures of Covid-19 on real-estate agents.

Who's hiring?

Innovation activation specialist, Johnson & Johnson, Antwerp, Belgium
Innovation & tech lead, The Factory, EY, Antwerp, Belgium
Director, Business innovation consulting, Zühlke Group, Hamburg, Germany
Associate director innovation, ProSiebenSat.1 Digital, Munich, Germany
Innovation manager, Schneider Electric, Thiais, France
Design lead growth & innovation, Design Council, London, UK
Senior innovation managers & innovation marketing managers, Diageo, London, UK
VP of innovation, Depop, London, UK
Innovation researcher, H&M, Stockholm, Sweden

Good reads

Is the pre-accelerator the way to boost your corporate innovation strategy?

The concept has been around for a while — wrote about them back in 2015 — but the pre-accelerator is being touted now as a corporate innovation tool. Pre-accelerators are for very early-stage startups, the ones that aren’t ready yet for a regular accelerator and don’t even have a minimum viable product. The idea is that corporates would help them develop an MVP, understand product-market fit and in return get an ideas funnel and a pipeline for potential future investments.


An idea worth discussion — but isn’t this just a fancy name for an incubator?

How to innovate like Disney

Duncan Wardle, the former vice president of innovation and creativity at The Walt Disney Company, explains the “What If” method he used when coming up with concepts like the RFID Magic Bands which have (to some extent) eliminated queueing at Disney theme parks.

The strategy is about breaking the “sacred rules” of your company or industry. According to Wardle, all really disruptive companies ask the “what if” question:

Spotify: What if I didn’t have to own my music collection?
Uber: What if every car could be a cab?

And so on. Wardle takes you through the process of identifying which rule you should break in your business and how. Worth a read even if you disagree with the RFID Magic Bands concept.