Bristol-based startup, Immersive Labs raises $8m.

Founded in 2017 by former GCHQ researcher James Hadley, Immersive Labs are a startup based here in Bristol.  They are cybersecurity specialists; running online training sessions for industry, helping companies who wish to defend themselves against online attacks.  

The Immersive Labs platform is a SaaS product and uses real-time feeds of the latest attack techniques, hacker psychology and technological vulnerabilities to build cyber wargames for IT and security teams to learn from.

It has been announced this week that Immersive Labs have raised $8m (£6.2m) from Goldman Sachs and other investors.

The Goldman Sachs led investment comes just 6 months after the Wall Street firm announced its own plans to use Immersive’s product as a learning tool for their employees.  

Having successfully rolled out the product themselves, chief information security Officer at Goldman Sachs, Andy Ozment says the firm are “aware of the benefits it brings to large organisations”.  He goes on to say that the Immersive product has “helped…hone the skills of the people at the front line of our cyber defences and identify new talent throughout the organisation.”

Indeed, Hadley believes that large organisations are facing a dual cybersecurity talent problem; one which he believes his product can address.   

“Not only is the number of professionals seriously lagging but so is the pace at which their skills are developed. If you are able to recruit the right people in the first place, today’s attackers move so fast your team may quickly fall behind. Our goal is to reduce this gap.”

This ethos has not only impressed Goldman Sachs.  Immersive Labs can also boast BAE Systems, Sophos and Grant Thornton as clients.

We love it when a Bristol based Silicon Gorge startup gets a well-deserved capital injection, and we are excited to see what’s next for Immersive Labs.   One thing’s for sure, this gutsy company is going from strength to strength. Long may it continue!

Fiserv is buying First Data in a $22bn fintech mega deal!

Small scale consolidation amongst fintech startups is commonplace, cropping up regularly in the business pages throughout 2018.  Not quite so much of an everyday occurrence are those involving the fintech giants.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Fiserv announce this week that they are acquiring First Data.  In a deal worth a massive $22billion these two fintech sharks are coming together in order to help economies of scale protect themselves against future and current competition.

Despite this deal being a merger, it appears as though the Fiserv contingent will come out on top.  Fiserv CEO Jeffery Yabuki will become the CEO of the combined body, while First Data’s CEO, Frank Bisignano will be COO and President.

This will be an all-stock transaction, and after the close of the deal will see Fiserv shareholders in receipt of 57.5% of the combined entity.  First Data shareholders will own 42.5%.

The impressive collaboration has an ambitious 5-year plan!!

Over the next few years, they will be investing over $500 million on progressive tech in areas such as merchant solutions, digital services, risk management and payments.  Essentially, the merger will address the general trend which has spanned the last decade or so across the fintech space…the consolidation of different parts of the financial services ecosystem.  This is an area which has developed into one that can provide a one-stop-shop for customers…one that integrates more services overall.

These two heavyweights look to go one step further.  They will be combining their respective work into providing more integrated offerings.  Just one example the company gives is the merger of First Data’s digital merchant account enrollment capabilities with the digital banking solutions of Fiserv; one which has serviced thousands of financial institutions over the past 35 years.

Traditional banks have been usurped over time by punchy startups who are able to boast faster, more agile solutions based on cloud architecture, apps, AI and machine learning.  

First and foremost, this team-up is about creating a product that can better compete against the wider market.  However, it is also about saving money at the two companies themselves. It is estimated that Fiserv and First Data look to save around about $900 million in run-rate cost savings and in excess of $500 million in revenue synergies.

At the time of writing, it is thought that the deal will close in the second half of 2019.  A little while admittedly, but with two companies this large there is bound to be “i’s” to dot and “t’s” to cross.  

Digital Bank, Tandem eyes an IPO “within next 5 years”.

Do you have a 5-year plan?  Digital bank, Tandem do!

Unveiling their plan to ride the tsunami that is the fintech wave earlier this week, Tandem announce they intend to float on the stock market within the next five years.  Interest in fintech companies continue to grow, and as such an initial public offering would be timely and smart.

Tandem’s marketing and product director, Matthew Ford told the Press Association that an Initial Public Offering was a strategy that was “probably one [path] that aligns closest to our mission”.  They intend to build a “customer-centric business”, so it “makes perfect sense” to have the “public buy into that business” and help it grow further.

2018 was a good year for Tandem.  They officially introduced 6 new products, including a cash-back credit card and a variety of savings accounts.  Additionally, Tandem ended the year able to boast almost 500,000 customers; a figure well above their earlier target of 150,000.

Tandem are one of a number of digital banking products challenging the traditional high street model.  Monzo, Starling and Revolut also popped up in the wake of the financial crisis. Companies such as these are increasingly drawing in customers with both their agile software and competitive rates.

The fintech space is vibrant.  Investor interest in financial technology companies has boomed over the past year.  Indeed, digital bank Monzo recently achieved “unicorn” status, as its valuation hit more than $1bn.  

Of course, this level of valuation is also the aim of Tandem. In the same statement, Mr Ford said there was “clearly potential for multiple unicorn valuations in the digital banking space, as evidenced by recent capital raises”.  

Mr Ford is rightly proud of Tandem’s achievements over the last 12 months, remarking that “We have grown incredibly quickly. I don’t think there’s any bank in the UK that has rolled out six financial products in a year”.  

Last week Our Week in Digital reported that investment in fintech from venture capital reached a peak in 2018.  2019 and beyond looks set to be just as exciting! Watch this space!

Self-lacing trainers?  There’s an app for that!

The 1980s…when hoverboards and futuristic footwear were a mere dot on the tech horizon; ideological features of film rather than reality!  Fast forward 30 years? All this and more really has taken us Back to the Future!

Back in 2016, sports giant, Nike released the first wave of self tying footwear.  This week they chose live-streaming platform Twitch to launch their 2019 offering; Nike Adapt.  Incredibly, these are even more progressive than their predecessor and do not require a physical button to tie the laces.  

Instead, users are able to customise the fit through a smartphone app which can store fit preferences.  When stepping into the shoe, a custom motor and gear will sense the tension needed by the foot and adjust accordingly.  The app will store the data which the user can then share with Nike if they so wish.

Fundamentally, this is not designed to be a street shoe and has been designed with athletes in mind.  The company have chosen basketball players as the initial target user base.

Eric Avar is Nike’s creative director of innovation.  He explains the choice;

“During a normal basketball game, the athlete’s foot changes and the ability to quickly change your fit by loosening your shoe to increase blood flow and then tighten again for performance is a key element that we believe will improve the athlete’s experience.”

He goes on to remark, that the app will allow the athlete to input “different fit settings for different moments in the game, loosening it for a timeout and tightening before they re-enter the game”.

Wearable tech is just one component of the Internet of Things, designed to integrate seamlessly into our increasingly “connected” lifestyles.   Sports and wellness is a market seeing a huge transformation in this area, and this is the latest nod toward performance improvement.

Runners, for instance, need to make sure their shoes are well laced before going out for a run or a race in order to achieve optimum performance and to avoid injury.  

It looks like a trend that is set to go the distance!  Ben Wood, a mobile analyst from consultancy CCS Insight has documented the predicted growth in smart footwear, believing it to be a “logical place to embed technology”.   Of course, such insight benefits the user, but alongside this, the manufacturer can also use the data to improve the performance of their product and stay ahead of their own competition.  

The self-tying laces may or may not be necessary, but gimmick or otherwise, it’s undeniable that the tech behind the design could be revolutionary.

Interested?  The shoes are due for release in February and will set you back $350.

And Finally… Japan’s robot hotel fires half its workforce.

Robots are meant to make our lives more efficient, but it appears that this isn’t always the case! It was reported this week that Japanese Robot Hotel, “Henn-na” has been forced to lay off half its team of robotic employees after they created MORE work for their human peers.

The hotel employed a total of 243 robots but has been forced to cut this number in two after it came to light that they created more problems than they solved.

Spare a thought for poor Churi, one of the layoffs in question.  This doll shaped assistant was housed in each room, and was originally implemented to act as a city guide for guests.  She was installed to be able to answer simple questions such as “what time does the theme park open?”, but became unable to do so.  However, when guests asked her more recent competitors Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant, they were all able to answer these simple questions asked by guests.  

Other ill-fated ‘bots to receive their P45s included robot luggage carriers unable to access two-thirds of the hotel rooms and two ‘velociraptor’ robots positioned at check-in who were intended to photocopy guests passports!  It turns out they weren’t able to do so and had to rely on their human colleagues to complete their task.

Part of the problem was down to the fact that some of these robots had been in operation for years.  They had become outdated, and it was decided to be more efficient to retire than replace them.

It would appear that a fully automated hotel is still a little way off! A shame…Velociraptors at check-in sound like a winning formula to us!

About the author: As a founder of Ignite Digital Talent, I lead our brilliant team to ensure we deliver time and time again for our clients. I also stay closely networked with industry influencers to ensure we are well placed to understand the issues and challenges our clients face.

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