August 4, 2020

Corporate innovation weekly: Real Madrid, construction AI, writing DNA

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

Maija Palmer

6 min read

Photo by Vienna Reyes on Unsplash

Artificial intelligence

Spotting product defects

Antares Vision, the Italian company that provides safety inspections for the food and drink, medical and cosmetics industries, invested €300,000 in Neurala, a Boston-based AI company. Neurala is developing neural network technology that can be applied to visual inspection.

Neurala worked on a project with NASA to automate planetary exploration, but the system, which requires less training data than traditional deep learning approaches, can also be used for more day-to-day uses, such as spotting product defects.

Antares Vision is clearly building up its automation capabilities in various areas — just two weeks ago it bought Convel, an Italian company specialised in automated inspection in the pharmaceuticals industry, for €15.7m.



Henkel becomes invincible

Henkel has acquired a 75% stake in Invincible Brands, a direct to consumer personal care company, with the three fast-growing brands HelloBody, Banana Beauty and Mermaid + Me.

In the year to June, the business generated around €100m in sales. The acquisition will strengthen Henkel’s footprint in D2C and may help their innovation capability overall, as the Invincible Founders, who have a strong track record in incubating new companies, are staying on board.


Spot the missing socket

Innogy Ventures was one of the backers of the $13m series A funding round for Buildots, a London and Tel Aviv-based startup that is bringing computer vision to construction sites.

A 360-degree camera, mounted on a hard hat, allows project managers to see how a construction project is progressing and how it compares with the architectural plans and schedule. The idea is it can spot a missing power outlet or sink before it becomes difficult and expensive to change it.


Super-powered solar panels

Zürcher Kantonalbank was one of the backers of the SFr5m series A funding round for Insolight, a Lausanne-based startup developing solar panels with world-record 29% efficiency (the normal range is 15–20%). The funding round, plus a €10m grant from the EU, will allow the company to start producing and selling the modules.

Financial services

Wealth management

With interest rates at rock-bottom levels, wealth management companies are seeing increasing interest, as wealthy people look for ways to keep their money productive.

Crif, the Italian credit bureau and business information provider, and B2B platform Gellify invested in the €1.5m funding round for Voices of Wealth, a marketplace connecting wealthy private clients with wealth managers and advisors. Gellify is one of the companies in the Sifted Innovation Consultancy Guide.

Another wealth management startup, Singapore’s StashAway raised a $16m series C funding round, with Burda Principal Investments, the growth capital arm of German media and tech company Hubert Burda Media, participating.


Prosus’ PayU led the $85m funding round for Remitly, which helps immigrants send home remittances electronically. The World Bank estimated that the remittance market would decrease 20% because of Covid-19, but Remitly, which is valued at $1.5bn, says it has seen customer growth increase 200% as immigrants turned to digital services rather than visiting physical stores to send money.

Supply chain

Deutsche Bank took a minority stake in Traxpay, a Frankfurt-based fintech offering supply-chain finance.



Writing DNA

M Ventures, the corporate venturing arm of Merck, took part in the $50m series B round extension for DNA Script, a French synthetic biology company. DNA Script has developed a DNA printer which could become a key engine for genomics research and personalised medicine. The company is also working on storing data in DNA.

Breaking down the Siilos

Philips Health Technology Venture Fund was part of the $10.5m series A funding round for Siilo, the Dutch collaboration platform for medical professionals. The Covid-19 pandemic has emphasised the need for doctors to talk to each other across silos as they try to understand a new disease.


Biometrics at work

Keyless, a London-based startup that makes biometric recognition systems for banks and other big companies, raised $2.2m from investors including Italia 500, the venture capital fund set up by Azimut Group. Keyless allows employees to stop using passwords and authenticate themselves using a smartphone camera.


Ecommerce enablers

Sorigué Group, the Spanish urban maintenance, landscaping and wastewater group, took part in the €1.2m seed funding round for Shopery, the Barcelona-based startup. The company provides a marketplace for small businesses that don’t have the expertise to go online on their own. A good business in corona times.

Another ecommerce enabler deal — albeit on a larger scale — was the $150m growth financing round for Pharmapacks, a US company that provides logistics and marketing for brands wanting to sell on online marketplaces like Amazon or Ebay. Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of Dettol and Durex, and healthcare company McKesson, took part in the round.


Real (Madrid) opportunity

Spanish football club Real Madrid announced plans to invest up into €9m in startups over the next thee years, in collaboration with FundingBox. Up to 30 companies are expected to partner with the football club, so the money will be spread pretty thin, but the name may open other doors. Startups working on ehealth, sports performance, fan engagement and audiovisual content should get in touch at



Device-as-a-service is another one to add to the long list of as-a-service propositions. Everphone, a Berlin startup, helps companies equip staff with smartphones and tablets handling repairs and returns. It is another business boosted by the pandemic as companies came under pressure to equip staff for home working. Telekom Innovation Pool, Deutsche Telekom’s investment arm, was one of the backers of the €34m series B funding round.

Who's hiring?

Senior manager innovation & insights, Harry's, London, UK
Head of innovation, Cadent Gas, England, UK
Innovation adoption director, Life Sciences Hub Wales, Cardiff, UK
Innovation manager — Dairy,  Nestlé, Crawley, UK
Innovation project manager, Souffl, Paris region, France
Innovation accelerator new ventures consultant, UN World Food Programme, Munich, Germany
Strategy consultant technology & innovation, EY, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Innovation project lead, Siemens Healthineers, Forchheim, Germany
Associate director, strategic business transformation, Johnson & Johnson, Leiden, Netherlands
Services innovation and development leader, Philips, Best, Netherlands

Marcell Vollmer, former chief innovation officer at Celonis, has moved to become partner and director at Boston Consulting Group.

Good reads

The 100 best workplaces for innovators

Fast Company compiles this list for the second time, judging 800+ businesses on their investment in tech and R&D and developing their staff. It is a pretty US-dominated list. Danish energy company Ørsted is the highest-ranked European company at number 19, thanks to a student mentorship programme. Italian app developer Bending Spoons comes in at #30 because employees set their own work schedules and Bayer comes in at #31 because it supports employees when they come up with new ideas for work problems.

Are millennials destroying wealth management?

The title is a bit needlessly provocative but this Fintech Times article makes some serious points. The crisis of 2008 destroyed most millennials’ belief in traditional financial services. Sure, millennials are characterised by not having a lot of assets — but when they do, they aren’t going to invest them with your grandfather’s wealth manager. One Deloitte survey found that 60% of millennials with an income of more than $75,000 would trust a robo-advisor over a human one.