We are seeing more startups that have expanded or

THE SAILOR'S LOG
Aug 05, 2020

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We are seeing more startups that have expanded or emerged bolstered by the Covid-19 crisis, because they were quick to pivot or were already offering solutions meant to tackle underlying gaps in their sector. Or both. Last-mile logistics in Spain is a prime example. While the overall sector was rocked by an unprecedented surge in demand for home delivery that many players struggled to meet (as a result of more online shopping, especially for groceries), the tech startups ended up faring well, if not, a lot better. Deloitte expects “a significant portion” of such increased demand to “remain structural,” noting that Covid-19 has brought forward by “three years” the “urgent need to encourage changes in freight distribution and transportation models.”

In Indonesia, visual recognition tech startup GetGo was doing well with its cashierless kiosks in co-working spaces and corporate buildings until office closures and WFH made their product redundant. GetGo quickly pivoted to a visual search engine for online fashion shopping. Customers just need to upload images of the outfit they are searching for and GetGo’s AI finds the closest match available on the e-commerce site. Portuguese IT hiring platform Landing.Jobs now sees it could become a global hub for IT talent, as remote working looks set to stay – it’s adding IT career management and skills training to its scope. The €2m funding the startup managed to raise in March, despite the pandemic starting to really hurt in Europe, will give it ammunition for the expansion. Finally, in China, we take a look at some of the recent medtech advances that startups have come up with, from exoskeletons to AI diagnostic imaging.

View from the Edge

By LEE HAN SHIH

Many have the impression that history only looks at the past while tech only at the future, and the two are hardly related. Well, they can’t be more wrong.

Both history and tech deal with changes. And both deal with human beings. Given that human nature has remained constant since recorded history, the patterns of historical development can often be seen in that of tech development as well.

In 1934 the British historian, Arnold Toynbee, reflecting on the ruins of the Acropolis in Athens, published the first of his 12-volume A Study of History that traced the decline and fall of civilizations. Though the premise of this mammoth piece of work has often been questioned, one of his assertions still rings true today.

Toynbee argued that civilizations tumble when their centers grow soft and complacent, while the people on the edges become powerful and aggressive enough to usurp the place of their master.

In the tech world, this is an old story. IBM was upended by Microsoft when Big Blue thought anything smaller than a mainframe had no future. Yahoo was not only upended by Google, it also gave Google the knife to do the job – it considered search as unimportant and outsourced it to the then tiny Google.

Compared with China, however, the BM/Microsoft, Yahoo/Google fights appear very peaceful.

The 1.5bn Chinese only had their first, and extremely limited, taste of the Internet in 1994. In the ensuing 26 years, there were numerous ferocious no-prisoner-taken battles for supremacy. This resulted in the Big Three – BAT, or Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent – dominating the digital world for more than a decade. Today, Baidu is being unseated by both Huawei and Ant Financial (a unit of Alibaba). There are quips that BAT is now ATM – Alibaba, Tencent and Mayi (the Chinese word for ant).

Unlike in the US, where a single company traditionally has dominated a tech sector – Google for search, Facebook for social media, etc. – the Chinese tend to go in a swarm where they spot weakness.

This is where history again repeats itself. For some 3,500 years, China went through more than a dozen of major dynasties and numerous minor ones, and almost every of them ended up being pulled down by a usurper who emerged victorious among many other contenders. In China, this is known as “a bunch of wolves going after a tiger.”

The latest “wolves” that have become tigers are Beijing’s Bytedance – with 1.8bn active users in its Tik Tok/Douyin video-sharing platform; and Pinduoduo, with half a billion active users in its interactive e-commerce platform. Both spotted gaps in Tencent’s WeChat social media platform and Alibaba’s e-commerce platform, and pounced.

Today, the near-billion Chinese living in the so-called third-, fourth-tier cities and the rural areas are almost fully connected. Many of them who used to flock to the bigger cities for jobs now choose to start their business at home, many via the Internet. No doubt the BAT, ATM, Bytedance and Pinduoduo are closely watching that space for potential wolves that will one day challenge their tiger status.

Lee Han Shih is Founder of the Potato Productions group, the parent company of CompassList. He sees things from the edge and tries to stay ahead of the curve. He has been a teacher, a civil servant and a journalist. Now he's trying to prove startups can do good and still make money.
SPAIN & PORTUGAL

Digitization and the Green Economy are the twin pillars of the European Union’s €740bn recovery plan to tackle the continent’s worst recession since the Great Depression. This in turn will help accelerate the growth of IoT infrastructure in the bloc, the backbone of green-related sectors such as smart mobility, sustainable farming, renewable energy and air quality monitoring. It’s therefore timely that FIWARE Accelerator, a program supporting EU startups that create smart solutions using FIWARE’s open source IoT technology, has relaunched with a new segment connecting the startups with investors. Our exclusive interview with FIWARE Accelerator has the details. Covid-19 has also sent shockwaves through the last-mile sector, as players found themselves scrambling to meet an unprecedented explosion in demand for online shopping and home deliveries. Startups, being quick to adapt and with technology as their core, were the first to offer more efficient delivery systems. And their businesses have surged as a result. Our Big Picture story has the lowdown on how Spanish last-mile startups did it, and how they see the sector changed forever.

FIWARE Accelerator: More open source ecosystem than accelerator
The European open source initiative to boost smart infrastructures and solutions is calling for new participants to join its unique acceleration ecosystem  
Last-mile delivery disrupted post-Covid: How Spanish startups can show a better way forward
As the recent jump in online retail and home deliveries looks set to stay, startups are playing a key role in reshaping the Spanish last-mile logistics scene to meet new challenges
Pushed by Covid-19, Landing.Jobs repositions itself as IT talent ecosystem
The Portuguese tech jobs portal is pivoting into global talent hub with Future.Works, providing AI-driven recruitment services, training and career management for IT professionals
Data integration platform Onna accelerates growth with Covid-19 boost
Corporates use up to 80 different apps in their workflows. Slack- and Dropbox-backed Onna is a central platform integrating all that fragmented data, giving companies greater control 
China

Since the Chinese government kicked off its national health system reform in 2009, medtech has always been among the top sectors favored by investors. For startups in the field, their products can bring hope to struggling patients, for instance, enabling the disabled to walk again or even giving those suffering from heart failure a functioning artificial heart. But they also face a major hurdle when converting their technological deliverables into market products, because the regulators are especially cautious when reviewing the safety of such medical devices. Meanwhile, AI-based medical assistants are already deployed in more hospitals, which helps address the problem of unevenly distributed medical resources in the big country – one of the key challenges faced by the current health system. One such medical assistant, BioMind, has a diagnostic imaging system that outperforms human doctors in the diagnosis of brain tumors.  

In this issue, we also feature Kuaishou, a short video platform that has built its fame by providing a place for grassroots to shine. With 300m daily active users, Kuaishou has begun to seek other alternative revenue sources, now placing its bet on livestreaming e-commerce.

China’s medical exoskeleton startups take on a promising but challenging market
It was not until 2018 that the first China-made lower limb exoskeleton got regulatory clearance at home, around the same time the first Chinese rehabilitation robot got US FDA approval
CH Biomedical: Pioneering world's smallest maglev artificial heart for humans
Suzhou-based startup has created a maglev “artificial heart” that helps patients to recover quickly, return to normal life and even go skiing
BioMind: AI medical diagnostics with over 90% accuracy for 100 diseases
BioMind helps doctors save lives by providing more accurate diagnosis of life-threatening diseases like Covid-19 and brain tumors
Kuaishou: Grabbing a share of China's near-trillion-RMB livestreaming e-commerce market
With 300m daily users, the short video app for the grassroots has partnered JD.com to offer discounts to convert users into online shoppers
Indonesia

Indonesia’s struggle with Covid-19 is still far from over. While more patients have recovered from the disease, the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths continue to rise. The government’s decision to resume social and business activities (including reopening resort island Bali to domestic tourists) have led to mixed results: while more people are outside and patronizing businesses, controlling the spread of Covid-19 has also become more difficult.

In startup news, we look at GetGo, which is making a visual search engine for fashion shopping. When demand for their cashierless kiosks evaporated with most offices closed because of Covid-19, GetGo’s co-founders quickly pivoted by using their visual recognition tech to create this new product. We also take a close look at MSMB, an agritech startup pushing data-driven agriculture to more farms in Indonesia. Finally, we look at Evermos, a startup at the intersection of two growing e-commerce trends: social commerce, or selling through social media and chat services, and the Muslim goods and services market.

GetGo pivots from cashierless kiosks to B2B e-commerce with a visual search engine
Covid-19 changed GetGo’s fortunes, but quick thinking and networking created a new opportunity
MSMB: From university research to agritech ecosystem
The Indonesian startup is moving beyond sensors to build technologies for livestock tracking and fish farming
Evermos is Indonesia's version of social commerce – and it's Sharia-compliant, too
Evermos targets the resale market, encouraging students and housewives to earn extra income by promoting products on their social media and WhatsApp networks