Juniper Networks invest $2.5 million in enterprise accelerator, Alchemist.

Alchemist is a venture-backed business incubator focused on accelerating startups whose revenue comes from enterprise.  The accelerator backs teams with distinctive technical founders and provides startup capital investments of around $60k.  

To date, Alchemist Accelerator can boast backing from some of the biggest names in venture capital. Silicon Valley giants Draper Fisher Juvetson, Khosla Ventures, and US Venture Partners to name but a few.  Not only that, but their strategic corporate investor list is somewhat of a who’s who too; Cisco, Salesforce.com and SAP Ventures have all ploughed money into the scheme which seeds approximately 40 monetising ventures each year.

This week it has been announced that the latter list can add another weighty name to its number.  Alchemist have announced that Juniper Networks,  a networking and cybersecurity solutions business have led a further $2.5 million round ahead of Alchemist’s 20th demo day.  Juniper have led the round with Siemans Venture capital unit, Next47.

Alchemist were launched in 2017 and provides participants with a host of support networks; all designed to bolster their entrepreneurial opportunities.  The lucky teams receive 6 months of mentorship and a $36,000 investment.

According to numbers provided by the accelerator, 115 Alchemist portfolio companies have gone on to raise $556 million across several VC deals.  The Alchemist alumni have some noteworthy graduates! Rigetti Computing, LaunchDarkly and drone startup Matternet have all benefited from Alchemist’s support.  

Ignite Digital HQ is based at the heart of Bristol’s tech and digital quarter, known locally as the Enterprise Zone.  To be found here is The Engine Shed.  This is a supportive, inclusive community of tech and digital startup businesses; all driven by their entrepreneurial and ambitious spirit.   Behind many of these young businesses is an incubator, “Set-Squared”; Silicon Gorge’s answer to Alchemist.  We have seen first hand what such an investment of time, knowledge and money can do for those just setting out on their business journey.   The success stories that can be attributed to both schemes act as significant proof that collaboration, innovation and community are weighty facilitators of prosperity and growth.  Funding rounds such as this one led by Juniper, and Alchemist’s resulting investments will go a long way in predicting who will be the ‘ones to watch’ over the coming years.

We’ll be watching the class of 2019 with interest!

Microsoft launch coding programming language for visually impaired children.

STEM education and promoting diversity in tech are two areas which we are passionate about here at Ignite Digital HQ.  We were delighted to read this week that Microsoft are flexing their considerable muscle, and doing both!

Microsoft have been working on a physical coding language to support the education of visually impaired children between the ages of 7-11.  

‘Code Jumper’ allows blind or sight restricted children to learn coding by attaching a string of physical blocks together.  Each ‘block’ is brightly coloured and about the size of a baseball, with different sizes for different commands. Children can build a program by connecting them together.

‘Code Jumper’ began life as Project Torino, which Microsoft originally developed in its research labs a couple of years ago.  Since then, Microsoft have been working in collaboration with the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) to tweak its system.  It is now handing its work off to the APH so students can gain access to it.

We ought to see the launch of ‘Code Jumper’ across Australia, Canada, India, the UK, and the US this year, with a more ambitious plan to roll it out across the globe over the next 5 years.

Facebook backs Institute for Ethics in AI with $7.5 million.

Facebook and ethics.  Not a natural coupling according to recent reports. However this week it has been announced that the social media giants are investing $7.5 million to remedy this.

It was announced on Monday that Facebook will donate $7.5 million for the creation of The Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence which is due to open in February.  

Broadly speaking, the research centre is being established to explore issues such as transparency and accountability in medical treatment and human rights within human-AI interaction.  Looking at the scope of the centre in finer detail, it will cover a wide range of research topics; medical and health, business, manufacturing, media, policy-making, and the web-economy to name but a few.  Like other research institutions before it, the Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence will work to share its research. As such it will be an invaluable resource for the benefit of the wider AI community.

Over the next 5 years, Facebook will release the money for the institute which will be based at the Technical University of Munich (TUM).  The German university has established themselves as leaders in AI, robotics and machine learning over recent years. They also launched a school of robotics and machine intelligence in 2017.  In February last year, they signed a long term partnership with Google.

Facebook’s ambitions for the centre were released in a statement issued by COO Sheryl Sandberg at the Digital Life Design conference.  In the same announcement, she added that Facebook have also given $300 million to local news initiatives.

Facebook certainly appear to be on a mission to create some positive noise around some of the issues that have plagued them throughout 2018.

Whether this is a strategic PR exercise or a genuine desire to get involved in what looks set to be THE emerging trend of the year, the result will be a world-class learning opportunity for the next generation of tech talent.  

Google fined record figure by French data protection watchdog.

French data protection watchdog, CNIL have fined Google a record €50 (£44) million for failing to provide users with transparent and understandable information on its data use policies.

This is the first time the company has been fined in accordance with the new terms laid out in the pan-European general data protection regulation.   Under the new law, the maximum penalty for large companies is 4% of annual turnover.  Therefore, in theory, Google have got off lightly. Potentially, they could have been fined almost $4billion.   

The fine was issued due to CNIL’s belief that by splitting information across a number of help pages, settings screens and multiple documents, Google had made it too laborious for users to access information.  Specifically regarding the usage and storage of their data.

This opaque user journey meant that many users found themselves being unable to exercise their opt-out privileges of data processing for personalisation of ads.

In addition, the CNIL found that even when user consent was collected, it did not meet the standards under GDPR.  This requires consent to be both “specific” and “unambiguous”.

Although Google have not issued an apology as such, they have released a statement to say that they are “deeply committed to meeting those expectations and the consent requirements of the GDPR”, and that they are using the decision to review their “next steps”.

In response, the CNIL have justified this landmark fine by remarking that the breaches were “continuous”, and “still occurring”, before adding that “the economic model of the company is partly based on ads personalisation”, and that it was therefore “its utmost responsibility to comply” with GDPR.

This notable case has followed just one month after Italy’s competition regulator issued a €10 million fine to Facebook.  It was believed that they had misled their own users over data practices.

It was only a matter of time before a Silicon Valley big hitter was made an example of over GDPR.  Frankly, we are surprised it’s taken this long!

And finally…

Aibo – Sony’s connected Robot Dog.

In a real-life take on the Darling’s watchful Newfoundland, Nana, Sony have released a robotic AI dog, Aibo.  Man’s best friend just got a little smarter!

The pet will be fitted with cameras, internet capability and artificial intelligence; all designed to facilitate the remote ‘care’ of the elderly or even children.

The owner will receive progress reports via a smartphone app developed in partnership with home security firm, Secom.

The footlong puppy comes complete with flapping ears, LED eyes and can be programmed to roam around the house at specified times on the lookout for its human charges.

Speaking from Tokyo, Sony project chief Izumi Kawanishi told reporters;

“You will be able to check how family members are doing or what children are doing when they get home”.

Not only does Japan embrace new and innovative tech, but they are also faced with a rapidly ageing population.  As such the nation are a natural launchpad for such a product. Indeed, in the past, Japan has enabled far more far fetched products as they disrupt the IoT space.  Rice cookers, electric pots and other household devices have all been mobilised to keep an eye on elderly people living alone.  They have been able to transmit data to families living far away on how often the appliances have been used.  If they have not been used for a while, this could be a red flag.

Any parent will tell you that childcare does not come cheap, and Aibo is no exception! A single dog will set you back nearly $3,000 (£1,500) for a three-year package but does include the necessary software services such as data storage.

A couple of weeks ago, we featured stories and products that had caught our attention from the Vegas CES conference.  Reports from the exhibition certainly suggested that robot “pets” who could monitor the elderly where among the highlights.  

They certainly have the novelty factor, but it remains to be seen how many families will trust these robotic creatures to ACTUALLY do the job for which they were intended.  

What do you think?  Would you entrust the care of your vulnerable dependents to a robotic dog??  Better that than a rice cooker, we suppose!

Leave your comments below!!

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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