Manipulating an Indian politician’s tweets is worryingly easy to do

Here’s a concerning story from India, where the upcoming election is putting the use of social media in the spotlight. While the Indian government is putting Facebook, Google and other companies under pressure to prevent their digital platforms from being used for election manipulation, a journalist has demonstrated just how easy it is to control […]

Here’s a concerning story from India, where the upcoming election is putting the use of social media in the spotlight.

While the Indian government is putting Facebook, Google and other companies under pressure to prevent their digital platforms from being used for election manipulation, a journalist has demonstrated just how easy it is to control the social media messages that published by government ministers.

Pon Radhakrishnan, India’s minister of state for finance and shipping, published a series of puzzling tweets today after Pratik Sinha, a co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, accessed a Google document of prepared statements and tinkered with the content.

Among the statements tweeted out, Radhakrishnan said Prime Minister Modi’s government had failed the middle classes and not made development on improving the country’s general welfare. Sinha’s edits also led to the official BJP Assam Pradesh account proclaiming that the Prime Minister had destroyed all villages and made women slaves to cooking.

These are the opposite of the partisan messages that the accounts intended to send.

The messages were held in an unlocked Google document that contained a range of tweets compiled for the Twitter accounts. Sinha managed to access the document and doctor the messages into improbable statements — which he has done before — in order to show the shocking lack of security and processes behind the social media content.

Sinha said he made the edits “to demonstrate how dangerous this is from the security standpoint for this country.”

“I had fun but it could have disastrous consequences,” he told TechCrunch in a phone interview. “This is a massive security issue from the point of view of a democracy.”

Sinha said he was able to access the document — which was not restricted or locked to prevent changes — through a WhatsApp group that is run by members of the party. Declining to give specifics, he said he had managed to infiltrate the group and thus gain access to a flow of party and government information and, even more surprisingly, get right into the documents and edit them.

What’s equally as stunning is that, even with the message twisted 180 degrees, their content didn’t raise an alarm. The tweets were still loaded and published without any realization. It was only after Sinha went public with the results that Radhakrishnan and BJP Assam Pradesh account begin to delete them.

The Indian government is rightly grilling Facebook and Google to prevent its platform being abused around the election, as evidence suggested happened in the U.S. Presidential election and the U.K’s Brexit vote, but members of the government themselves should reflect on the security of their own systems, too. It would be too easy for these poor systems to be exploited.

Two former members of Google’s skunkworks division have launched a biomanufacturing company

Biomanufacturing technologies — taking modified versions of existing organisms and bending them to the will of humans — has moved from the world of science fiction to becoming a new reality. Across the startup landscape companies are launching to make synthetic spider silk, or make leather substitutes, or meat substitutes, or novel chemicals and pharmaceuticals. […]

Biomanufacturing technologies — taking modified versions of existing organisms and bending them to the will of humans — has moved from the world of science fiction to becoming a new reality.

Across the startup landscape companies are launching to make synthetic spider silk, or make leather substitutes, or meat substitutes, or novel chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

What all of these companies have in common is that they need to be able to rapidly experiment with different organisms and processes for cultivating them to make their visions work at a commercial scale — and that’s where Culture Biosciences comes in.

The company was founded by two Chapel Hill, N.C. natives and Duke alums Matthew Ball and Will Patrick. The two met in college at Duke and worked together in Google’s famous skunkworks division (then known as Google X).

Will Patrick, co-founder, Culture Biosciences

After leaving Google, Patrick, the company’s chief executive, wound up at MIT’s Media Lab where he was exposed to the work that companies like Gingko Bioworks was doing around biomanufacturing and became convinced that it would be transformational by human society.

“I was becoming incredibly inspired by all of that,” says Patrick. “What I was noticing was that the problem and the bottleneck in the industry was moving from industrial design to scale-up.”

The solution to that bottleneck rested in making the fermentation process more precise and more controlled, Patrick thought.

Think of biomanufacturing as a process similar to brewing beer. Organisms are sitting in a soup of goo, eating some things and excreting other things and all of that needs to be controlled. It’s one thing to be able to control the growth and extraction of goo in a test tube, quite another to do it at the scale of a hundred-gallon sized tanks.

“There are these really challenging aspects of operating bioreactors, sampling, and testing and getting data,” said Patrick . “We have been able to create this infrastructure that we can scale out.”

The company has built its own hardware — including customized robotics, sensors, and networks for its bioreactors, which, at 250 milliliters, are roughly the size of coke cans.

“That was the problem we were solving with Culture Biosciences,” says Patrick. “We do cloud fermentation.” 

The company, which just raised $5.5 million from investors including Refactor Capital, and Verily, the life sciences division of Google parent company, Alphabet, already has 50 bioreactors and is going to be scaling up to 100 really rapidly.

“What we’re helping [customers] with is making their R&D much more high throughput,” says Patrick.

Those customers include companies like Geltor, the manufacturer of a collagen replacement; Modern Meadow, the company that’s looking to make a leather replacement; and Pivot Bio, which makes supplements for agriculture to replace chemical fertilizers.

Verily and Refactor aren’t the only two investors to be impressed by Culture’s technology. Section 32, the investment shop founded by Google Ventures’ former chief executive Bill Maris, Y Combinator, BoxGroup, Shana Fisher from Third Kind Venture Capital, and Data Collective are also investors in the company.

Culture Biosciences actually shares office space with Verily, working from that company’s shared office space in South San Francisco, which was built to house startup companies in the life sciences space.

With Culture, the biomanufacturing industry and the investors who are supporting it seem to be learning one of the critical lessons from the last wave of big bets on biology — in biofuels.

That first wave in the 2000s there were lots of lessons that were learned.” says Patrick. “You have to think with the end in mind. What can those systems actually deliver from a technical perspective? Replicate those large scale environments as much as you can in your small scale lab… Not having to compete with oil really helps.”

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Bots are cheap and effective. One startup trolls them into going away

Bots are ruining the internet. When they’re not pummeling a website with usernames and passwords from a long list of stolen credentials, they’re scraping the price of hotels or train tickets and odds from betting sites to get the best data. Or, they’re just trying to knock a website offline for hours at a time. […]

Bots are ruining the internet.

When they’re not pummeling a website with usernames and passwords from a long list of stolen credentials, they’re scraping the price of hotels or train tickets and odds from betting sites to get the best data. Or, they’re just trying to knock a website offline for hours at a time. There’s an entire underground economy where bots are the primary tools used in automating fraudulent purchases, scraping content and launching cyberattacks. Bots are costing legitimate businesses money by stealing data, but also hogging system resources and costly bandwidth.

Clearly, the existing approach of playing bot Whac-A-Mole isn’t working.

“Until now you just had to suck it up as a cost of doing business,” said Johnny Xmas, director of field engineering at Kasada, an anti-bot startup that strikes at the heart of the bot economy itself by frustrating bots with complex tasks.

Their system is simple enough. Bots, said Xmas, are the “white noise” of the internet. Once a bot is started, they keep going until they’re told to stop or their job is done. Kasada tricks bots into thinking that their job is never done. By serving up a small but difficult math puzzle before the site even loads, it tricks the bot into spending its time solving the puzzle and not scraping the site as it thinks it’s doing.

Weeks earlier, Xmas tweeted a photo of Kasada’s proprietary platform Polyform. A single bot made close to four million requests to a website in a single day. Instead of loading the target website, Kasada pushed its randomly generated JavaScript code that loads silently in the browser to the bot instead. For more than 24 hours, the bot was sinking all of the cloud processing resources into trying to solve an impossible math challenge.

“This guy’s [cloud] bill is going to be nuts,” he tweeted.

The company’s aim isn’t to defeat the bot, but the reason for starting it in the first place, said Sam Crowther, Kasada’s co-founder, in a call with TechCrunch. “We cost them money, making their projects not fiscally viable,” he said.

Here’s how it works. Each time someone — or something — visits a website, Kasada accurately fingerprints the requester, using several methods to determine if it’s a bot or not. If not, the site loads as if nothing happened, taking only a few milliseconds off the load time. If it’s a bot, Kasada throws the bot the puzzle, keeping it busy. The bot thinks the website has loaded and doesn’t trigger any warnings on the back-end, all while busy plunging its resources into trying to understand and solve the math problem. “You don’t want to alert the person behind the bot, or they’ll just keep trying,” said Crowther. That’s when the bot starts churning more and more of its resources, and eventually topping out. “The human launches the bot and walks away,” he said. “Often the account maxes out and runs out of money long before the human comes back.” Even if the bot is automatically adding more resources, it won’t ever solve the puzzle. All while the processor usage is spiking, the bots don’t have the resources to target other sites — whether it’s a paying customer or not, said Crowther.

“We’re cleaning up the internet,” said Xmas. “We want to disenfranchise bots from operating to begin.”

Bot authors take weeks or even months to develop code that will target specific kinds of sites hoping for a big eventual payoff, Crowther explained. Retail outlets, hotels, major financial institutions, and realty listings — all revenue-making customers in the company’s portfolio — are at risk of bots that, if successful, could reap a huge reward.

“One bot targeted a betting company we protected, grabbing odds so that the most cost-effective bets are being placed at the micro-level — like stock trading,” said Xmas. “They’ll put months into a bot that’ll defeat every bot detection system.”

But already the team is finding some bot owners meeting their match.

In one case, Crowther and Xmas — both based in the company’s Chicago office — said they had one company, which they declined to name, was the target of account fraud and scraping. The company came in and stopped the automated logins and scraping of identity documents — preventing a wider attack hitting some 30,000 consumers from identity theft.

“One case we had a betting site where 95 percent of the traffic was bots,” said Xmas. “Think of that. You’re paying for tons of servers, tons of bandwidth because you think you’re doing a ton of business — and you’re making a lot of money so it seems rational,” he said. “Then you find out that 95 percent of that was trash.”

“At first we thought, ‘oh shit, what did we break?’,” he said. “It turns out we broke an insane botnet.”

The two recalled how one suspected bot operator was so frustrated by the company’s anti-bot countermeasures, he sent an abusive note to the company.

“The guy who was running some bots figured out it was us who was stopping them,” said Xmas. “And he went to our website, hit the contact us button, and wrote a very angry letter.” Crowther said that the company caught the bot controller’s IP address because he submitted the “not very nice email” through its contact form. “We found one that he was located that was in Sydney,” where one of the company’s offices is located. Xmas joked that he told Crowther, knowing who the bot operator was, to “send him a t-shirt.”

Or, better yet, Xmas said, “take that angry email, blow it up, and make it the wallpaper in our Sydney office.”

Bots are cheap and effective. One startup trolls them into going away

Bots are ruining the internet. When they’re not pummeling a website with usernames and passwords from a long list of stolen credentials, they’re scraping the price of hotels or train tickets and odds from betting sites to get the best data. Or, they’re just trying to knock a website offline for hours at a time. […]

Bots are ruining the internet.

When they’re not pummeling a website with usernames and passwords from a long list of stolen credentials, they’re scraping the price of hotels or train tickets and odds from betting sites to get the best data. Or, they’re just trying to knock a website offline for hours at a time. There’s an entire underground economy where bots are the primary tools used in automating fraudulent purchases, scraping content and launching cyberattacks. Bots are costing legitimate businesses money by stealing data, but also hogging system resources and costly bandwidth.

Clearly, the existing approach of playing bot Whac-A-Mole isn’t working.

“Until now you just had to suck it up as a cost of doing business,” said Johnny Xmas, director of field engineering at Kasada, an anti-bot startup that strikes at the heart of the bot economy itself by frustrating bots with complex tasks.

Their system is simple enough. Bots, said Xmas, are the “white noise” of the internet. Once a bot is started, they keep going until they’re told to stop or their job is done. Kasada tricks bots into thinking that their job is never done. By serving up a small but difficult math puzzle before the site even loads, it tricks the bot into spending its time solving the puzzle and not scraping the site as it thinks it’s doing.

Weeks earlier, Xmas tweeted a photo of Kasada’s proprietary platform Polyform. A single bot made close to four million requests to a website in a single day. Instead of loading the target website, Kasada pushed its randomly generated JavaScript code that loads silently in the browser to the bot instead. For more than 24 hours, the bot was sinking all of the cloud processing resources into trying to solve an impossible math challenge.

“This guy’s [cloud] bill is going to be nuts,” he tweeted.

The company’s aim isn’t to defeat the bot, but the reason for starting it in the first place, said Sam Crowther, Kasada’s co-founder, in a call with TechCrunch. “We cost them money, making their projects not fiscally viable,” he said.

Here’s how it works. Each time someone — or something — visits a website, Kasada accurately fingerprints the requester, using several methods to determine if it’s a bot or not. If not, the site loads as if nothing happened, taking only a few milliseconds off the load time. If it’s a bot, Kasada throws the bot the puzzle, keeping it busy. The bot thinks the website has loaded and doesn’t trigger any warnings on the back-end, all while busy plunging its resources into trying to understand and solve the math problem. “You don’t want to alert the person behind the bot, or they’ll just keep trying,” said Crowther. That’s when the bot starts churning more and more of its resources, and eventually topping out. “The human launches the bot and walks away,” he said. “Often the account maxes out and runs out of money long before the human comes back.” Even if the bot is automatically adding more resources, it won’t ever solve the puzzle. All while the processor usage is spiking, the bots don’t have the resources to target other sites — whether it’s a paying customer or not, said Crowther.

“We’re cleaning up the internet,” said Xmas. “We want to disenfranchise bots from operating to begin.”

Bot authors take weeks or even months to develop code that will target specific kinds of sites hoping for a big eventual payoff, Crowther explained. Retail outlets, hotels, major financial institutions, and realty listings — all revenue-making customers in the company’s portfolio — are at risk of bots that, if successful, could reap a huge reward.

“One bot targeted a betting company we protected, grabbing odds so that the most cost-effective bets are being placed at the micro-level — like stock trading,” said Xmas. “They’ll put months into a bot that’ll defeat every bot detection system.”

But already the team is finding some bot owners meeting their match.

In one case, Crowther and Xmas — both based in the company’s Chicago office — said they had one company, which they declined to name, was the target of account fraud and scraping. The company came in and stopped the automated logins and scraping of identity documents — preventing a wider attack hitting some 30,000 consumers from identity theft.

“One case we had a betting site where 95 percent of the traffic was bots,” said Xmas. “Think of that. You’re paying for tons of servers, tons of bandwidth because you think you’re doing a ton of business — and you’re making a lot of money so it seems rational,” he said. “Then you find out that 95 percent of that was trash.”

“At first we thought, ‘oh shit, what did we break?’,” he said. “It turns out we broke an insane botnet.”

The two recalled how one suspected bot operator was so frustrated by the company’s anti-bot countermeasures, he sent an abusive note to the company.

“The guy who was running some bots figured out it was us who was stopping them,” said Xmas. “And he went to our website, hit the contact us button, and wrote a very angry letter.” Crowther said that the company caught the bot controller’s IP address because he submitted the “not very nice email” through its contact form. “We found one that he was located that was in Sydney,” where one of the company’s offices is located. Xmas joked that he told Crowther, knowing who the bot operator was, to “send him a t-shirt.”

Or, better yet, Xmas said, “take that angry email, blow it up, and make it the wallpaper in our Sydney office.”

Ousted Flipkart founder Binny Bansal aims to help 10,000 Indian founders with new venture

Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal’s next act is aimed at helping the next generation of startup founders in India. Bansal has already etched his name into India’s startup history after U.S. retail giant Walmart paid $16 billion to take a majority stake in its e-commerce business to expand its rivalry with Amazon. Things turned sour, however, […]

Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal’s next act is aimed at helping the next generation of startup founders in India.

Bansal has already etched his name into India’s startup history after U.S. retail giant Walmart paid $16 billion to take a majority stake in its e-commerce business to expand its rivalry with Amazon. Things turned sour, however, when he resigned months after the deal’s completion due to an investigation into “serious personal misconduct.”

In 2019, 37-year-old Bansal is focused on his newest endeavor, xto10x Technologies, a startup consultancy that he founded with former colleague Saikiran Krishnamurthy. The goal is to help startup founders on a larger scale than the executive could ever do on his own.

“Person to person, I can help 10 startups but the ambition is to help 10,000 early and mid-stage entrepreneurs, not 10,” Bansal told Bloomberg in an interview.

Bansal, who started Flipkart in 2007 with Sachin Bansal (no relation) and still retains a four percent share, told Bloomberg that India-based founders are bereft of quality consultancy and software services to handle growth and company building.

“Today, software is built for large enterprises and not small startups,” he told the publication. “Think of it as solving for startups what Amazon Web Services has done for computing, helping enterprises go from zero to a thousand servers overnight with no hassle.”

“Instead of making a thousand mistakes, if we can help other startups make a hundred or even few hundred, that would be worth it,” Bansal added.

Bansal served as Flipkart’s CEO from 2007 to 2016 before becoming CEO of the Flipkart Group. He declined to go into specifics of the complaint against him at Flipkart — which reports suggest came about from a consensual relationship with a female employee — and, of the breakdown of his relationship with Sachin Bansal, he said he’s moved on to new things.

It isn’t just xto10x Technologies that is keeping him busy. Bansal is involved in investment firm 021 Capital where he is the lead backer following a $50 million injection. Neither role at the two companies involves day-to-day operations, Bloomberg reported, but, still, Bansal is seeding his money and experience to shape the Indian startup ecosystem.

Aiming to change the way people take medicine, Lyndra Therapeutics raises $55 million

A little over two years after Lyndra Therapeutics Inc. first unveiled its technology for time-delayed drug delivery through a simple pill, the company has raised $55 million to continue developing the technology for public consumption. By creating a new kind of ultra long-acting drug delivery mechanism in pills, the company claims it can remove the […]

A little over two years after Lyndra Therapeutics Inc. first unveiled its technology for time-delayed drug delivery through a simple pill, the company has raised $55 million to continue developing the technology for public consumption.

By creating a new kind of ultra long-acting drug delivery mechanism in pills, the company claims it can remove the need for patients to follow strict guidelines for taking their medication.

Following doctors’ prescriptions for medication is a problem in emerging markets and among elderly patients and the new technology has implications for treating pretty much everything.

Developed in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology laboratory of Dr. Robert Langer, Lyndra was co-founded by Langer and Amy Schulman, a former lawyer for the pharmaceutical industry and a partner recruited to run the LS Polaris Innovation fund established by Polaris Partners in 2014 to invest in healthcare companies.

Polaris led the company’s most recent round of financing, which also included new investors like the Chinese private equity giant HOPU Investments, Gilead Sciences, Invus, Orient Life and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (which initially provided funding for Dr. Langer’s research out of MIT).

Lyndra has raised the money as it continues along the path toward developing a pill to treat schizophrenia. Phase II trials for the pill, which are required before it can be approved by U.S. regulators are expected to begin next year. The company said it will also be developing other drug candidates that are developed internally and through partnerships to market over the coming years.

“Lyndra’s long-acting therapies have the potential to address a diversity of disease states,” said Robert Langer, co-founder and Board Member of Lyndra Therapeutics. “The ability to move from daily to weekly administration of an oral drug is groundbreaking. I believe Lyndra’s long-acting oral pill will be truly transformative.”

For investors like the Gates Foundation it was the company’s early work around anti-malarial drugs and HIV that likely attracted attention.

When the company first unveiled its technology back in 2016 publications like The Guardian hailed it as a breakthrough in drug delivery.

The technology depends in part on the novel structure of the pill itself. Encapsulated within a digestible pill is a star-shaped structure that has six arms folded in on itself. As stomach acid dissolves the casing for the pill the arms unfold and release their payload over time. As the star unfolds it expands in size so it can remain in the stomach rather than being pushed down the digestive tract. Eventually the arms break off and the remaining pieces of the pil are naturally expelled — like undigested food.

“People around the world depend on medications that require taking a pill every single day or even multiple times a day,” said Amy Schulman, a co-founder of Lyndra and its CEO, when the technology was first unveiled. “That approximately 50% of patients in the developed world do not take their medicines as prescribed, a statistic that is even more challenging in the developing world, has a demonstrable effect on healthcare outcomes and a cost estimates to the US healthcare system alone of over $100 billion annually. Lyndra’s long acting technology should make a real dent in this protracted problem and help change the lives of millions of patients who feel tethered to the daily pill.”

Entrepreneur First eyes further Asia growth to build its global network of founders

British startup venture builder Entrepreneur First is eying additional expansion in Asia, where its operation is now as large as it is in Europe, as it expands its reach in 2019. But, despite serving a varied mixture of markets, the company said its founders are a fairly unified breed. The Entrepreneur First program is billed […]

British startup venture builder Entrepreneur First is eying additional expansion in Asia, where its operation is now as large as it is in Europe, as it expands its reach in 2019. But, despite serving a varied mixture of markets, the company said its founders are a fairly unified breed.

The Entrepreneur First program is billed as a “talent investor.” It matches prospective founders and, through an accelerator program, it encourages them to start and build companies which it backs with financing. The organization started out in London in 2011, and today it is also present in Paris and Berlin in Europe and, in Asia, Singapore, Hong Kong and (soon) Bangalore. To date, it says it has graduated over 1,200 founders who have created more than 200 companies, estimated at a cumulative $1.5 billion on paper.

Those six cities cover a spread of unique cultures — both in general life and startup ecosystems — but, despite that, co-founder Matthew Clifford believes there’s actually many commonalities between among its global founder base.

“It’s really striking to me how little adjustment of the model has been necessary to make it work in each location,” Clifford — who started EF with Alice Bentinck — told TechCrunch in an interview. “The outliers in each country have more in common with each other and their fellow compatriots… we’re uncovering this global community of outliers.”

Despite the common traits, EF’s Asia expansion has added a new dimension to the program after it announced a tie-in with HAX, one of the world’s best-known hardware-focused accelerator programs, that will see the duo co-invest in hardware startups via a new joint program.

“We saw early that hardware was a much more viable part of the market in Asia than it is traditionally seen in Europe [and] needed a partner to accelerate the talent,” Clifford said.

Already, the first four beneficiaries of that partnership have been announced — AIMS, BOPSIN, Neptune Robotics and SEPPURE — each of which graduated the first EF cohort in Hong Kong, its fourth in Asia so far. Going forward, Clifford expects that around three to five startups from each batch will move from EF into the joint initiative with HAX. The program covers Asia first but it is slated to expand to EF’s European sites “soon.”

Entrepreneur First held its first investor day in Hong Kong this month

Another impending expansion is EF’s first foray into India via Bangalore which starts this month, and there could be other new launches in 2019.

“We’ll continue to grow by adding sites but we are not in a rush,” Clifford said. “The most important thing is retraining quality of talent. It may be six months until we add another site in Asia but there’s no shortage of places we think it will work.

“We operate a single global fund,” he added. “We’re a talent investor and we believe there are strong network effects in that. The people who back us are really betting on the model… [that it’s] an asset class with great returns.

While it appears that its global expansion drive is a little more gradual than what was previously envisaged — backer and board member Reid Hoffman told TechCrunch in 2016 that he could imagine it in 50 cities — Clifford said EF isn’t raising more capital presently. That previous investment coupled with management fees is enough fuel in the tank, he said. The organization also operates a follow-on fund but it has one major exit to date, Pony Technology, the AI startup bought by Twitter for a reported $150 million.

Still, with hundreds of companies in the world with EF on the cap table, Clifford said he is bullish that his organization can target an international-minded breed of entrepreneur worldwide. The impact he sees is one that will work regardless of any local constraints placed on them.

“With our global network of capital, we always want capital, not talent, to be the limiting factor. Our goal is to make being ‘an EF company’ more relevant to your identity as a startup regardless of your location,” he told TechCrunch

Entrepreneur First eyes further Asia growth to build its global network of founders

British startup venture builder Entrepreneur First is eying additional expansion in Asia, where its operation is now as large as it is in Europe, as it expands its reach in 2019. But, despite serving a varied mixture of markets, the company said its founders are a fairly unified breed. The Entrepreneur First program is billed […]

British startup venture builder Entrepreneur First is eying additional expansion in Asia, where its operation is now as large as it is in Europe, as it expands its reach in 2019. But, despite serving a varied mixture of markets, the company said its founders are a fairly unified breed.

The Entrepreneur First program is billed as a “talent investor.” It matches prospective founders and, through an accelerator program, it encourages them to start and build companies which it backs with financing. The organization started out in London in 2011, and today it is also present in Paris and Berlin in Europe and, in Asia, Singapore, Hong Kong and (soon) Bangalore. To date, it says it has graduated over 1,200 founders who have created more than 200 companies, estimated at a cumulative $1.5 billion on paper.

Those six cities cover a spread of unique cultures — both in general life and startup ecosystems — but, despite that, co-founder Matthew Clifford believes there’s actually many commonalities between among its global founder base.

“It’s really striking to me how little adjustment of the model has been necessary to make it work in each location,” Clifford — who started EF with Alice Bentinck — told TechCrunch in an interview. “The outliers in each country have more in common with each other and their fellow compatriots… we’re uncovering this global community of outliers.”

Despite the common traits, EF’s Asia expansion has added a new dimension to the program after it announced a tie-in with HAX, one of the world’s best-known hardware-focused accelerator programs, that will see the duo co-invest in hardware startups via a new joint program.

“We saw early that hardware was a much more viable part of the market in Asia than it is traditionally seen in Europe [and] needed a partner to accelerate the talent,” Clifford said.

Already, the first four beneficiaries of that partnership have been announced — AIMS, BOPSIN, Neptune Robotics and SEPPURE — each of which graduated the first EF cohort in Hong Kong, its fourth in Asia so far. Going forward, Clifford expects that around three to five startups from each batch will move from EF into the joint initiative with HAX. The program covers Asia first but it is slated to expand to EF’s European sites “soon.”

Entrepreneur First held its first investor day in Hong Kong this month

Another impending expansion is EF’s first foray into India via Bangalore which starts this month, and there could be other new launches in 2019.

“We’ll continue to grow by adding sites but we are not in a rush,” Clifford said. “The most important thing is retraining quality of talent. It may be six months until we add another site in Asia but there’s no shortage of places we think it will work.

“We operate a single global fund,” he added. “We’re a talent investor and we believe there are strong network effects in that. The people who back us are really betting on the model… [that it’s] an asset class with great returns.

While it appears that its global expansion drive is a little more gradual than what was previously envisaged — backer and board member Reid Hoffman told TechCrunch in 2016 that he could imagine it in 50 cities — Clifford said EF isn’t raising more capital presently. That previous investment coupled with management fees is enough fuel in the tank, he said. The organization also operates a follow-on fund but it has one major exit to date, Pony Technology, the AI startup bought by Twitter for a reported $150 million.

Still, with hundreds of companies in the world with EF on the cap table, Clifford said he is bullish that his organization can target an international-minded breed of entrepreneur worldwide. The impact he sees is one that will work regardless of any local constraints placed on them.

“With our global network of capital, we always want capital, not talent, to be the limiting factor. Our goal is to make being ‘an EF company’ more relevant to your identity as a startup regardless of your location,” he told TechCrunch

Entrepreneur First eyes further Asia growth to build its global network of founders

British startup venture builder Entrepreneur First is eying additional expansion in Asia, where its operation is now as large as it is in Europe, as it expands its reach in 2019. But, despite serving a varied mixture of markets, the company said its founders are a fairly unified breed. The Entrepreneur First program is billed […]

British startup venture builder Entrepreneur First is eying additional expansion in Asia, where its operation is now as large as it is in Europe, as it expands its reach in 2019. But, despite serving a varied mixture of markets, the company said its founders are a fairly unified breed.

The Entrepreneur First program is billed as a “talent investor.” It matches prospective founders and, through an accelerator program, it encourages them to start and build companies which it backs with financing. The organization started out in London in 2011, and today it is also present in Paris and Berlin in Europe and, in Asia, Singapore, Hong Kong and (soon) Bangalore. To date, it says it has graduated over 1,200 founders who have created more than 200 companies, estimated at a cumulative $1.5 billion on paper.

Those six cities cover a spread of unique cultures — both in general life and startup ecosystems — but, despite that, co-founder Matthew Clifford believes there’s actually many commonalities between among its global founder base.

“It’s really striking to me how little adjustment of the model has been necessary to make it work in each location,” Clifford — who started EF with Alice Bentinck — told TechCrunch in an interview. “The outliers in each country have more in common with each other and their fellow compatriots… we’re uncovering this global community of outliers.”

Despite the common traits, EF’s Asia expansion has added a new dimension to the program after it announced a tie-in with HAX, one of the world’s best-known hardware-focused accelerator programs, that will see the duo co-invest in hardware startups via a new joint program.

“We saw early that hardware was a much more viable part of the market in Asia than it is traditionally seen in Europe [and] needed a partner to accelerate the talent,” Clifford said.

Already, the first four beneficiaries of that partnership have been announced — AIMS, BOPSIN, Neptune Robotics and SEPPURE — each of which graduated the first EF cohort in Hong Kong, its fourth in Asia so far. Going forward, Clifford expects that around three to five startups from each batch will move from EF into the joint initiative with HAX. The program covers Asia first but it is slated to expand to EF’s European sites “soon.”

Entrepreneur First held its first investor day in Hong Kong this month

Another impending expansion is EF’s first foray into India via Bangalore which starts this month, and there could be other new launches in 2019.

“We’ll continue to grow by adding sites but we are not in a rush,” Clifford said. “The most important thing is retraining quality of talent. It may be six months until we add another site in Asia but there’s no shortage of places we think it will work.

“We operate a single global fund,” he added. “We’re a talent investor and we believe there are strong network effects in that. The people who back us are really betting on the model… [that it’s] an asset class with great returns.

While it appears that its global expansion drive is a little more gradual than what was previously envisaged — backer and board member Reid Hoffman told TechCrunch in 2016 that he could imagine it in 50 cities — Clifford said EF isn’t raising more capital presently. That previous investment coupled with management fees is enough fuel in the tank, he said. The organization also operates a follow-on fund but it has one major exit to date, Pony Technology, the AI startup bought by Twitter for a reported $150 million.

Still, with hundreds of companies in the world with EF on the cap table, Clifford said he is bullish that his organization can target an international-minded breed of entrepreneur worldwide. The impact he sees is one that will work regardless of any local constraints placed on them.

“With our global network of capital, we always want capital, not talent, to be the limiting factor. Our goal is to make being ‘an EF company’ more relevant to your identity as a startup regardless of your location,” he told TechCrunch

Go-Jek makes first close of $2 billion round at $9.5 billion valuation

Southeast Asia-based ride-sharing firm Go-Jek is making progress with its plan to raise up to $2 billion in fresh capital to fund its battle with close rival Grab . Indonesia-headquartered Go-Jek has closed an initial chunk of that round after a collection of existing investors, including Google, Tencent and JD.com, agreed to invest around $920 million […]

Southeast Asia-based ride-sharing firm Go-Jek is making progress with its plan to raise up to $2 billion in fresh capital to fund its battle with close rival Grab .

Indonesia-headquartered Go-Jek has closed an initial chunk of that round after a collection of existing investors, including Google, Tencent and JD.com, agreed to invest around $920 million towards it, three sources with knowledge of the investment told TechCrunch.

The deal, which we understand could be announced as soon as next week, will value Go-Jek’s business at around $9.5 billion, one source told TechCrunch. With existing investors on board, the company is now actively soliciting checks from other backers to take it to its target. The capital is likely to go towards deepening its presence in new markets and furthering its fintech push.

A Go-Jek representative declined to respond when contacted by TechCrunch for comment on its fundraising efforts.

This incoming round excluded, Go-Jek has raised more than $2 billion from investors to date, including a $1.4 billion round that closed last year and valued its business at $5 billion.

Founded in 2015, Go-Jek began in motorbike taxis before expanding to four-wheels, service on demand and fintech. It decided to go after a $2 billion raise last year — having seen Grab gobble up Uber’s local business in Southeast Asia — but it has taken some time to make progress. That’s partially down to an effort to ‘clean the cap table’ by buying out some early investors and longer-serving or former staff with equity, two sources told TechCrunch.

Likewise, there has also been discussion around including the acquisition of JD.com’s local JD.id business, valued at over $1 billion, in the deal. As far as we know, a resolution hasn’t been found despite lengthy talks.

An acquisition of JD.id would not only see JD.com’s influence deepen with Go-Jek, but it would give the ride-railing startup a strong position in Indonesia’s e-commerce space, which includes three other unicorns: Alibaba-owned Lazada, Tokopedia — which is backed by Alibaba and SoftBank’s Vision Fund — and Bukalapak, which also recently raised money for growth.

There is some doubt, however. Speaking to Reuters this week, co-founder Kevin Aluwi denied Go-Jek has plans to enter e-commerce.

Fundraising for Southeast Asia’s ride-sharing companies went up a few notches last year after Uber decided to exit the region through a deal with Grab, which saw the U.S. firm pick up a potentially-lucrative 27.5 percent stake in Singapore-based Grab.

Grab raised a $2 billion Series H round, anchored by a $1 billion injection from Toyota, but the company plans to increase that fundraising effort to as much as $5 billion, as we reported at the tail end of last year.

Why all the huge checks? At stake is a dominant position within a fast-growing online market.

Ride-hailing in Southeast Asia is poised to grow from an $8 billion annual business in 2018 to $31 billion by 2025, according to a report from Google and Temasek. Indonesia alone is tipped to account for nearly half of that figure.

The report from Google and Temasek forecasts major growth for ride-hailing in Southeast Asia

With a cumulative population of more than 620 million people and increasing internet access, Southeast Asia has emerged from the shadows of China and India to become an attractive market for startups and tech companies. Chinese giants like Tencent and Alibaba have stepped up investment areas in recent years, with e-commerce, fintech and other ‘ground zero’ infrastructure services among their targets as the region begins to turn digital in the same way China has.

That’s where Grab and Go-Jek get interesting because, beyond simply catering to transportation, both companies have expanded to offer services on-demand, like e-groceries, as well as payments and financial services such as loans, remittance and insurance. The goal is to become the region’s one-stop ‘super app’ like WeChat, Alipay and Meituan in China.

So far, Go-Jek has fanned out beyond ride-hailing to offer fintech and other services in Indonesia, but it is still getting to grips with the regional play. It expanded to Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore last year while the Philippines is a work in progress following a setback after it was denied an operating permit earlier this month.

Already, though, it is making plans for the Philippines after it acquired Coins.ph, a fintech startup that is likely to be the base for a local push into payments and financial services. The deal was officially undisclosed, but sources told TechCrunch that Go-Jek has paid around $72 million — that potentially makes it the company’s largest acquisition to date. That shows how serious Go-Jek is both about its expansion efforts and its fintech business.

Go-Jek CEO Nadiem Makarim worked at McKinsey for three years before starting the companyn[Photographer: Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg]

In the here and now, Go-Jek claims more than 125 million downloads in Indonesia, over a million drivers and some 300,000 food merchants. It claims to process 100 million transactions per month, while Aluwi told Reuters that total transactions on its platforms crossed $12.5 billion last year. That doesn’t mean net income, however, since the company takes only a slice of customer’s ride-sharing fares and payment volumes.

Grab, meanwhile, operates in eight markets in Southeast Asia. It claims over 130 million downloads and more than 2.5 billion completed rides to date. Grab is assumed to not yet be profitable but it has said that it made $1 billion in revenue in 2018. It projects that the figure will double this year.

The company has raised around $6.8 billion from investors, according to data from Crunchbase, and Grab was last valued at $11 billion.