There were several important developments in the startup space during the day on Monday. Here are the top stories that made headlines in the startup universe:
Unacademy announces $10.5 mn ESOPs buyback
Edtech startup Unacademy has announced its largest ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) buyback plan worth $10.5 million for its team members and educators.
Co-founder Roman Saini tweeted that it was the third and largest buyback by the online learning firm. He also thanked the employees for believing in its “vision of democratising education”.
“We are announcing Teacher Stock Options (TSOPs) for all Unacademy Educators. Unacademy Educators will be eligible for fully vested Stock Grants on completion of 3, 4 and 5 years with Unacademy,” co-founder and CEO Gaurav Munjal tweeted.
“On Day One (which is today) we already have more than 300 Educators eligible for the Grant which they will get immediately. Over the next few years we will give Grants of over $40M to our Educators. We are who we are because of our Educators and we want our Educators to grow and create wealth as Unacademy grows!” Munjal added.
On July 29, the company had said it was planning to give stock options to educators on its platform to motivate them and retain quality talent.
Americans may ride OLA E-scooter before Elon Musk’s cars come to India
The unveiling of Ola Electric’s S1 and S1 Pro scooters has not just created a buzz in the Indian market, but enthusiasts across the world over are taking a keen interest in the ride-hailing firm’s foray into the EV space.
The company claimed that bookings have poured in from over 1,000 cities and the company plans to start delivering to all locations simultaneously.
As Ola electric scooter gains popularity, an American entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa has expressed interest in buying one. US-based entrepreneur Wadhwa called the S1 and S1 Pro scooters--'The Tesla of Scooters'.
“Ola S1 is a 70-plus mph electric scooter that's priced like a bicycle. I would love to get one here in Silicon Valley,” Wadhwa tweeted and tagged Ola Electric CEO Bhavish Aggarwal.
Aggarwal responded with a confirmation that the Ola scooters will in fact be shipped to the US early next year.
"Yes soon! We will be shipping to the US by early next year," he wrote on the microblogging site."
Former chief executive officer of MyGov India, the government's citizen-centric online platform, chimed in and predicted that Ola scooters would be available in the US before Tesla’s entry into the Indian market.
"I think Ola will available in the US before Tesla will be available in India," he tweeted.
At present, Italian motor vehicle manufacturer Piaggio is selling electric scooters in the US market. However, Piaggio's Vespa Elettrica is priced at around $7,500.
Based on the price in India, Ola Electric’s basic model S1 might be priced at just $1350 and the S1 Pro would likely cost the American customer up to $1,800.
Bitcoin back above $50,000
Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, has climbed a three-and-a-half-month high to trade above $50,000 in what seems to be a broader revival from the rout in May.
Bitcoin scaled $50,940 late Friday and was changing hands at $51,775, 4 percent higher, at the time of writing. It had surged to $50,000 on August 23 as well, only to undergo profit booking and retract. This is the highest it has scaled since May when it plunged from an all-time high of $65,000. This week, the coin is up over 8 percent.
Ether, the number two coin, also supported the rally and hit $4,000 for the first time since May.
The crypto market has seen a surge in interest owing to a fresh wave of bullishness after the US jobs growth report was released Friday. The report fueled speculations that the lacklustre jobs data might delay Federal Reserve’s decision to taper bond purchases. Fed has been buying treasuries worth $120 billion a month since the coronavirus outbreak.
Bitcoin’s break above $50,000 comes a day before El Salvador’s plan to make the token a legal currency. Earlier in June, the South American country had approved the law will formally adopt bitcoin as a legal currency on September 7.
T-Hub on-boards 9 new partners to help startup
Startup ecosystem builder T-Hub on Monday announced that it has partnered with nine new companies that will be helping startups grow during the on-going pandemic.
These service providers include Paytm, RBL Bank, Miro, Cometchat, NYBACS, ABSOL, Oscar Global, Umashankar and Associates, and Flexibees.
Through this partnership, T-Hub will be providing a platform for these providers to showcase their offerings and forge connections with the startup ecosystem, the company said in a statement.
The new partners will be providing T-Hub startups with an array of services to improve their efficiency and adapt to changes brought on by the post-pandemic era. The partnership benefits are open to all the startups associated with T-Hub and its various programmes, the firm claimed.
These nine companies have been added to T-Hub’s existing group of 66 service providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), DigitalOcean and Google Cloud that benefit the startups from 20 unique categories.
Fisdom ties up with UCO Bank to offer wealth management solutions
Wealth-tech startup Fisdom has partnered with public sector lender UCO Bank, in a bid to offer wealth management products and services through the bank’s mBanking — Plus App — to its thirty million customers.
This partnership is aimed at augmenting the bank’s customer value proposition by making high-quality wealth management services accessible, affordable and digital, the company said in a statement.
The collaboration between Fisdom and Uco Bank will focus on enabling large-scale facilitation and distribution of all mutual fund schemes through the bank’s network of over 3,000 branches and all digital platforms, the lender said.
The startup caters to investors looking to invest in financial products including mutual funds, insurance, pension funds, digital gold, and helps them make informed decisions. Its clients include Indian Bank, Google Pay, and SBM Bank.
PayU had acquired a minority stake in Fisdom after pumping $5 million into the platform in December, 2020.
ShopClues founder Radhika Ghai launches ‘Kindlife’: Report
ShopClues co-founder Radhika Ghai has launched a second venture named ‘Kindlife’, according to Entrackr. Kindlife is a marketplace for organic products across several categories.
This comes less than two years after Ghai’s previous venture ShopClues, an online marketplace, was acquired by Singapore’s e-commerce firm Qoo10 in October 2019.
As per reports, Ghai has incorporated three new entities namely: Alphacama, Deltacama and Zetacama. Kindlife’s website has mentioned Alphacama as the parent entity for the brand.
Switzerland wants to be a haven for Indian startups, not ‘black money’
Switzerland is looking to bolster its appeal as a preferred location for Indian startups through a number of globally competitive measures, even as it battles perception as a haven for alleged black money.
The alpine nation, famous for its banks that are allegedly used to park ill-gotten wealth, is high on technology in various sectors, experts said. Startups then can be instrumental in charting the country's future economic growth trajectory.
According to a statement from the Swiss government, the Federal Council has asked the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research to examine the country’s startup ecosystem. While this ecosystem is generally in good shape, there is room for improvement in a number of areas, including technology transfer, internationalisation, access to skilled labour and financing.
The Federal Council has now tasked the EAER and the Federal Department of Justice and Police to examine further measures in these areas in greater detail.
The findings are expected to be presented in June 2022.
With India becoming a global hub of entrepreneurs seeking to tap the startup route, industry experts said that Switzerland can emerge as a major destination for Indians looking to set up their enterprises in a global financial centre.
Several investment bankers and international law firms also said they are being approached by potential startup founders from India to examine Switzerland's potential as a startup location, following the recent measures announced by the Swiss government.
Himanshu, founder and chief executive officer of IDDI Investments' parent firm ‘Switzerland For You SA’, said that the Swiss government's decision can go a long way in promoting the Swiss economy in a sustainable way.
GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY & STARTUP NEWS
Binance removes Singapore products on main platform after regulator's warning
Binance, one of the world's largest cryptocurrency exchanges, said it will restrict its services in Singapore, Reuters reported. The comes a day after the city state's central bank said it should stop offering payment services.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore became the latest regulator to take aim at Binance, warning last week that its global platform, Binance.com, could be breaking the law by providing payment services to Singapore residents without an appropriate licence.
Binance.com will stop offering Singapore dollar payment options and Singapore dollar trading pairs from September 10 and the app will be removed from the Singapore iOS and Google Play stores, it said in a post on its website.
The restrictions only apply to Binance's global platform and not its Singapore platform, which Changpeng Zhao, the company's chief executive has urged users to switch to.
In recent months, regulators in Britain, Italy, and Hong Kong have said Binance units are not authorised to carry out some activities in their markets, while Malaysia's financial regulator reprimanded the exchange for operating illegally in the country.
Bloomberg also reported earlier this year that Binance was under investigation by the US Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service.
Facebook apologises after AI puts ‘primates’ label on video of Black men: NYT
Facebook has issued an apology on behalf of its artificial intelligence software that asked users watching a video featuring Black men if they wanted to see more "videos about primates."
The social media giant has since disabled the topic recommendation feature and says it's investigating the cause of the error, but the video had been online for more than a year.
A Facebook spokesperson told The New York Times, that the automated prompt was an "unacceptable error" and apologized to anyone who came across the offensive suggestion.
The video, uploaded by the Daily Mail on June 27, 2020, documented an encounter between a white man and a group of Black men who were celebrating a birthday. The clip captures the white man allegedly calling 911 to report that he is "being harassed by a bunch of Black men," before cutting to an unrelated video that showed police officers arresting a Black tenant at his own home.
Former Facebook employee Darci Groves tweeted about the error on Thursday after a friend clued her in on the misidentification. She shared a screenshot of the video that captured Facebook's "Keep seeing videos about Primates?" message.
"This ‘keep seeing' prompt is unacceptable, Facebook and despite the video being more than a year old, a friend got this prompt yesterday. Friends at Facebook, please escalate. This is egregious,” Groves wrote.
This is not Facebook's first time in the spotlight for major technical errors. Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping's name appeared as "Mr. S***hole" on its platform when translated from Burmese to English. The translation hiccup seemed to be Facebook-specific, and didn't occur on Google, Reuters had reported.
However, in 2015, Google's image recognition software classified photos of Black people as "gorillas." Google apologized and removed the labels of gorilla, chimp, chimpanzee and monkey -- words that remained censored over two years later, Wired reported.
After criticism, Apple says it will delay child safety updates
Apple said it would take more time to collect feedback and improve proposed child safety features after the criticism of the system on privacy and other grounds both inside and outside the company, Reuters reported.
The iPhone maker’s promise last month to check US customer phones and computers for child sex abuse images sparked a global backlash from a wide range of rights groups, with employees also criticising the plan internally.
Critics argued the feature could be exploited by repressive governments looking to find other material for censorship or arrests and would also be impossible for outside researchers to determine whether Apple was only checking a small set of on-device content.
Apple countered that it would allow security researchers to verify its claims, but the company on Friday said it would take more time to make changes to the system.
"Based on feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers and others, we have decided to take additional time over coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features," the company said in a statement on Friday.
Amazon to proactively remove more content that violates rules from cloud service: Report
Amazon has decided to take a more proactive approach to determine what types of content violate its cloud service policies and enforce their removal, sources told Reuters.
The move is likely to renew debate about how much power tech companies should have to restrict free speech.
Over the coming months, Amazon will hire a small group of people for its Amazon Web Services (AWS) division to develop expertise and work with outside researchers to monitor for future threats, a source familiar with the matter said.
It could turn Amazon, the leading cloud service provider world-wide, into one of the world’s most powerful arbiters of content allowed on the internet, experts say.
A day after publication of this story, an AWS spokesperson told Reuters that the news agency’s reporting “is wrong,” and added “AWS Trust & Safety has no plans to change its policies or processes, and the team has always existed.”
Amazon made headlines in the Washington Post last week for shutting down a website hosted on AWS that featured propaganda from Islamic State that celebrated the suicide bombing that killed an estimated 170 Afghans and 13 US troops in Kabul last Thursday. They did so after the news organisation contacted Amazon, according to the Post.
The proactive approach to content comes after Amazon kicked social media app Parler off its cloud service shortly after the January 6 Capitol riots in Washington DC for permitting content promoting violence.
Xi Jinping says it will set up a stock exchange in Beijing for SMEs
China’s President Xi Jinping has said that the country would set up a stock exchange in its capital, Beijing, to serve small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), according to Reuters.
Mainland China’s two major stock exchanges are in the financial hub of Shanghai and in the southern city of Shenzhen, on the mainland’s border with Hong Kong.
In a video address at the opening of the China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS), Xi said China would continue to support the innovation-driven development of SMEs.
This would be done “by deepening the reform of the New Third Board and setting up the Beijing stock exchange as the primary platform serving innovation-oriented SMEs,” he added.
Reuters reported in March that China was considering establishing a bourse to attract overseas-listed companies and bolster the global status of its onshore share markets, citing sources with knowledge of the matter.
The sources said then that upgrading Beijing’s existing equity exchange for small and mid-sized firms, known as the New Third Board, was among the options being discussed.
China’s securities regulator said setting up a Beijing stock exchange would help deepen financial supply-side structural reforms and improve capital market systems.
In a statement issued shortly after Xi’s remarks, the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) said its leadership was “excited” at the prospect, would study the president’s proposal in depth and resolutely implement it. “Small and medium-sized enterprises can do great things,” the CSRC added.
In other comments in his speech to mark the opening of CIFTIS, a trade fair in Beijing, Xi said China would “create more possibilities for cooperation by scaling up support for the growth of the services sector in Belt and Road countries.”
The Belt and Road Initiative is Xi’s signature trade and infrastructure scheme.
China will support Beijing and other localities in “piloting the alignment of domestic rules with the ones in high-standard international free trade agreements, and in building demonstration zones of digital trade,” the president added.
First Published: IST