France, Germany push for EU funding for technology start-ups

France and Germany are pushing for an EU-wide initiative to fund innovation and research in tech start-up projects across the bloc so that Europe can compete more effectively against the likes of China and the United States.

Europe has long been seen as a laggard in developing new technologies compared with the United States, which has a strong venture capital industry funding Silicon Valley start-ups.

The more risk-averse culture in Europe has also been cited as an obstacle to creating a “European Google”, partly because failure can carry more stigma than it does across the Atlantic.

Berlin and Paris called for the European Innovation Council to fund “ambitious” tech start-ups in a paper presented to European Union leaders at the Balkan summit last week.

“A joint effort is also needed to further improve the venture capital environment and regulations to allow successful market transfer of breakthrough innovations, as well as the foundation and growth of disruptive deep technology companies in Europe,” the paper, seen by Reuters, said.

EU heavyweights France and Germany are pushing for reforms in various sectors before a summit of EU leaders in June and want Europe to be ahead in new digital technologies.

In the paper they say the aim is to create a network to bring breakthrough innovations in science to the marketplace and to open up the network to other interested EU countries.

France and Germany want national initiatives to be complemented by EU ones, which can have more added value for the establishment and the growth of tech start-ups, the paper said.

France has already promised to spend 1.5 billion euros ($1.75 billion) on artificial intelligence by 2022 to reverse a brain drain and catch up with dominant U.S. and Chinese tech giants.

Berlin and Paris want their project to focus on tech leaders in academia as well as entrepreneurs and to provide funding for high-risk tech projects.

By –Reuters

Rocket Internet targets $2.6 billion cash at fintech and AI

Germany’s Rocket Internet said on Tuesday it is looking at investing in areas such as financial technology and artificial intelligence with the 2.6 billion euro ($3 billion) it has amassed.

“We are looking for opportunities in the tech sector... There is no set timeframe,” the ecommerce investor’s chief executive Oliver Samwer told journalists after its main holdings saw more revenue growth and narrowed first quarter losses.

Rocket Internet, which had a shaky start after listing in 2014 as its start-ups made big losses, saw its share price jump last year after HelloFresh and Delivery Hero went public.

Delivery Hero, HelloFresh, Home24 and Global Fashion Group (GFG) have already reported quarterly figures, while Home24 announced plans earlier this month for an initial public offering.

Rocket’s stock dipped last week after disappointing figures from GFG and its shares were down another 0.4 percent following its quarterly results.

Kimpel said GFG, which runs fashion sites in Russia, Latin America and southeast Asia, was hit by the decline in the Russian rouble and Brazilian real, noting that sales rose 18 percent after stripping out the impact of currency fluctuations.

Rocket said its African ecommerce group Jumia, also a possible candidate for a listing, saw gross merchandise volume - the value of goods sold via the site - rise 71 percent to 151 million euros, adding it remained well funded.

However, Samwer added that he could imagine the loss-making firm might need to raise funds in the next 24 months.

Online home furnishings site Westwing saw sales rise 18 percent to 71 million and reported its second consecutive profitable quarter, with an adjusted earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortization margin of 1.7 percent..


Alibaba injects pharmacy assets into healthcare unit in $1.4 billion deal

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd will inject some of its online pharmacy business into a listed unit in a deal valued at HK$10.6 billion ($1.35 billion), the firm said in a statement on Tuesday.

Alibaba Health Information Technology Ltd will buy Ali JK Nutritional Products Holding Limited, which controls sales of medical devices, healthcare products, adult products and healthcare services on Alibaba’s Tmall platform.

The deal will see parent Alibaba receive newly issued shares in Ali Health, taking its economic interest in the firm to 56.2 percent from 48.1 percent currently. Alibaba will also have a 67.5 percent voting interest in Ali Health after the deal.

The deal should bolster business for Ali Health amid a broader push into a fast-growing healthcare technology market by other firms in China, such as Tencent Holdings-backed WeDoctor and recently listed Ping An Healthcare.

Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said in a statement that healthcare was a “strategically important” business area for the firm and that the deal would help turn Ali Health into the country’s “best healthcare ecosystem”.

Ali Health’s CEO added that the deal would help the firm expand by adding new categories to its offering.

Chinese healthcare spending is set to hit $1 trillion by 2020, up from $357 billion in 2011, according to consultancy McKinsey & Co, with technology firms increasingly looking to break into a growing private healthcare market.

The business unit being injected into Ali Health generated a gross merchandise volume of around 20.56 billion yuan ($3.21 billion) in the financial year to March 31 and had over 3,300 related merchants, Ali Health said in a statement.

Alibaba said the deal was subject to approval from Ali Health shareholders and the Hong Kong stock exchange.

From – Reuters

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 rumors are big, we're talking terabytes

Samsung confirmed the existence of a Galaxy Note 9 when Gray G. Lee, Head of the AI Centre Under Samsung Research told The Korea Herald "that the upcoming flagship smartphone model in the second half of the year would feature the advanced Bixby platform," following the brand's press conference to announce its vision for AI earlier this month.

Apart from knowing the Galaxy Note 9 and its stylus are on their way, very little has been confirmed. There are however a few rumors, one of which is making big headlines. And by big, we're talking 512GBs big, with the possibility of more via the microSD slot.

The "industry insider" who goes by the Twitter handle @UniverseIce told his followers that "If you are lucky, you will see 8GB RAM and 512GB ROM Galaxy Note 9".

That's a notable upgrade from the current options of 64/128/256GB accompanied by 6GB of RAM for last year's Galaxy Note 8.

Forbes picked up on the rumor from the "ever-mysterious yet consistently accurate" tipster and noted that "the Galaxy Note 9 will retain a microSD slot (compatible with up to 512GB) which means this could be the world's first mass-market 1TB-capable smartphone."

Meanwhile tech blog T3 claims that other expected features could "include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 CPU for the US and an Exynos 9810 in the UK. There should also be a microSD slot capable of taking 2TB cards."

Presuming some of it's true and there will be at least a capacity for 1TB, that would mean thousands of mp3s, photos and videos for users.

T3 also writes "Expect Samsung to launch the Galaxy Note 9 around late August or early September time", which could make sense as the Note 8 was released that time last year.

From –The Star

High speed rail to be dropped to cut debt, says Mahathir

Malaysia wants to scrap the Kuala Lumpur-to-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) but will consult with Singapore about the move, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday.

He said there could be a penalty of 500 million for cancelling the project, but he was unsure if this was in ringgit or Singapore dollars.

"It is a final decision (to scrap it) but it will take time because we have an agreement with Singapore. We have to manage it at the least cost possible," Tun Dr Mahathir said at a press conference, when asked about the project. He said he had not seen the agreement but was told "the compensation may be as much as 500 million".

The PakatanHarapan (PH) government which won the May 9 general election said it is reviewing all mega projects after discovering that the ousted BarisanNasional (BN) had racked up debts of RM1.1 trillion (S$371 billion).

Asked for a response, a spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Transport said: "Singapore has not yet received any official notification from Malaysia.

"We had agreed to proceed with the HSR project based on mutual benefits and obligations set out in the HSR bilateral agreement. We will wait for official communication from Malaysia."

One Malaysian official told The Straits Times that the HSR is "95 per cent dead" but implications of dumping the project could be prohibitive.

Inked by the previous NajibRazak administration, the 350km line is estimated to cost upwards of RM50 billion, and will slash the travelling time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes when completed in 2026.

Most of the line - 335km of it - will be in Malaysia, with the remaining 15km in Singapore.

A top Malaysian government source told The Straits Times that exact legal details of the project need to be examined by PH leaders, who moved into government offices only a week ago.

"Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali will be tasked to negotiate with Singaporean counterparts," the source said, referring to the role played by the previous administration's economic planning minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who was lead minister for the HSR.

Finance Ministry officers have scheduled meetings to find out the full extent of the HSR agreement inked with Singapore in December 2016, and it is likely that compensation will surge once major tenders are awarded.

Another rail project on the chopping block is the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) financed by a RM55 billion loan from China's Exim Bank, with a reported RM13 billion already drawn down. It is unclear at this stage how much can be recouped as the funds have gone directly to China Communications Construction, which was appointed the contractor without any open tender. However, Malaysia Rail Link, which owns the project, already has RM14.5 billion of government-guaranteed debt on its books.

Dr Mahathir told the Financial Times in an interview published yesterday: "We need to do away with some of the unnecessary projects, for example the high-speed rail, which is going to cost us RM110 billion and will not earn us a single cent. That will be dropped."

Datuk Seri Azmin told reporters on Sunday that "Letters of Acceptance for some parts of this project have not been issued... but if there is a contractual agreement then of course there will be financial implications".

He added: "That is why we must discuss with Singapore on how to review this project.”

From –Straits Times

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