Banking platform solarisBank closes €56.6M Series B from BBVA, Visa, Lakestar, and others

SolarisBank, the Berlin-based “banking platform” co-founded by fintech company builder Finleap, appears to be on quite a roll.

The company, which now claims nearly 60 corporate clients who offer various financial services powered by solarisBank, has closed €56.6 million in Series B funding in a round that includes a number of new strategic and financial investors.

Notably, they include Spanish banking giant BBVA — which only yesterday upped its investment in the U.K. challenger bank Atom — Visa, Lakestar, and ABN AMRO’s Digital Impact Fund (DIF). In addition, previous investors Arvato Financial Solutions, and SBI Group have increased their commitment, while I understand the Series B includes a small amount of secondary funding as a number of existing shareholders exit.

I’ve also learned that solarisBank’s Series B keeps Finleap as the leading shareholder, holding about 30 per cent. BBVA is now the second largest investor with all other investors below 10 per cent (incidentally, the co-founders of solarisBank, Finleap not included, are minority shareholders).

Founded in March 2016, solarisBank offers a Banking-as-a-Platform and holds a full banking license, meaning it provides both the technology and the banking rails needed to offer various banking and financial products, including the required regulatory mandate. In this sense, it’s a B2B2C play, letting other fintech startups and companies, or any corporate wanting to get into financial services, access the tools to do so, and, arguably, at a much lower cost and risk profile than going it alone and building from scratch.

Others in the BaaS space include the U.K.’s Railsbank directly, and to a lesser extent something liker challenger bank Starling which, aside from its own consumer current account, is building quite a compelling payment product, including serving other fintech startups.

To that end, solarisBank says it is active in seven countries, and expects to increase its customer base to over 100 corporate clients by the end of the year. The range of products the solarisBank platform can power is quite far reaching, having been designed as a series of modules. They broadly fall into three categories.

“Digital banking & cards,” which clients can use as a backbone to build retail or SME banking offerings (Penta is one such as example). “We have also gained interest from traditional banks to build a new digital subsidiary with us or retail or online companies, which would like to offer their customers an own bank account or payment card,” solarisBank CEO Dr. Roland Folz tells me. That has echoes of Amazon’s reported plans to offer a branded bank account.

Another is “Payments and E-Money,” which enables companies to offer gift cards, vouchers, P2P payments or cross-border payments via solarisBank’s fully digital Payment APIs. As an example, fashioncheque is offering a gift card that can be used to purchase fashion at various retailers.

Lastly, “Lending & Deposits” lets companies integrate consumer loans or SME loans directly into their own offerings. This is being used by online platforms, such as marketplaces for used cars as well as comparison portals, to introduce a credit product under their own brand (e.g. solarisBank’s recent partnership with smava).

Paris-based VC firm Ventech is raising a new fund

Ventech has been around for 20 years, which is the equivalent of 80 years in tech time. And the VC firm is still going strong as it just announced the initial closing of a new fund. The firm has raised $170 million (€140 million) and wants to reach the $250 million hard cap (€200 million) within a few months.

And Ventech isn’t going to reinvent the wheel. The firm plans to do more of the same with seed and Series A investments in Europe. As the name suggest, Ventech is looking for tech investments in general. You can expect investments that range between €0.5 million and €15 million ($18.6 million).

Recent notable investments include, Vestiaire Collective and Webedia. Over the past 20 years, the firm has handled 120 investments, which led to 60 exits including 15 IPOs. That’s quite a good ratio.

Ventech Capital V represents the fifth European fund for the firm. Ventech has also raised multiple funds in China.

Behind the scene, Ventech relies exclusively on European institutional investors and family offices. You won’t find any big industrial company in the list of limited partners.

Ventech Europe has partners in Paris, Munich and Helsinki. If you’re creating a startup in one of those areas, chances are they want to hear from you. Many portfolio companies have opened offices in the U.S., so the firm knows how to enter the U.S. market too.

Featured Image: Richie Chan/Shutterstock

This autonomous 3D scanner figures out where it needs to look

If you need to make a 3D model of an object, there are plenty of ways to do so, but most of them are only automated to the extent that they know how to spin in circles around that object and put together a mesh. This new system from Fraunhofer does it more intelligently, getting a basic idea of the object to be scanned and planning out what motions will let it do so efficiently and comprehensively.

It takes what can be a time-consuming step out of the process in which a scan is complete and the user has to inspect it, find where it falls short (an overhanging part occluding another, for instance, or an area of greater complexity that requires closer scrutiny) and customize a new scan to make up for these lacks. Alternatively, the scanner might already have to have a 3D model loaded in order to recognize what it’s looking at and know where to focus.

Fraunhofer’s project, led by Pedro Santos at the Institute for Computer Graphics Research, aims to get it right the first time by having the system evaluate its own imagery as it goes and plan its next move.

“The special thing about our system is that it scans components autonomously and in real time,” he said in a news release. It’s able to “measure any component, irrespective of its design — and you don’t have to teach it.”

This could help in creating one-off duplicates of parts the system has never seen before, like a custom-made lamp or container, or a replacement for a vintage car’s door or engine.

If you happen to be in Hanover in April, drop by Hannover Messe and try it out for yourself.

Featured Image: Fraunhofer

Oxford University spin-out Bodle scores £6M Series A for its low-powered ‘reflective’ display tech

The battery life of wearables, IoT devices, and smartphones remains one of the tech industry’s biggest challenges and often a significant barrier to mainstream adoption. (I, for one, can’t think of anything more tedious than having to charge a watch every night). There are various ways to tackle this problem, from better power management software and more efficient chips, to incremental advances in battery life. But actually, considering that the biggest drain on battery life is usually a power hungry screen, why not tackle the problem at source?

Enter Bodle Technologies, a startup spun out of Oxford University, that is developing a new type of ‘reflective’ display technology that promises to use a lot less power. In fact, in some states the screen tech may require almost no power at all.

To help scale the nascent company and get to the prototype stage, Bodle has raised £6 million in Series A funding. Leading the round is Parkwalk Advisors, with participation from Woodford Patient Capital Trust, and returning backers Oxford Sciences Innovation and the Oxford Technology and Innovations EIS Fund (OTIF).

The company has previously received investment from the University of Oxford Innovation Fund, which is also managed by Parkwalk Advisors and was set up with the explicit aim to help commercialise viable IP developed by students and faculty at Oxford.

To that end, Bodle says its reflective display technology could have applications that include wearables, Internet-of-Things (IoT) displays and eReaders. In addition, should its development continue on the current trajectory, the technology could turn static printed materials, such as posters and packaging, into low-cost dynamic displays.

Here’s how the startup explains the “solid-state reflective display” (SRD) tech, which was invented by Professor Harish Bhaskaran and postdoctoral researcher Dr Peiman Hosseini at Oxford University’s Department of Materials:

Capable of use in both flexible and on-glass displays, the technology’s pixels simply reflect light, drastically reducing the power required to project an image and eliminating power requirements for a static image altogether. Colour in the image comes from a structural interference effect, whilst switching the refractive index of an ultrathin layer of phase change material generates the dynamic colour display. The materials are capable of a high enough refresh rate to deliver video. The technology has the additional benefits of being paper-thin, cost- effective, with strong performance in outdoor conditions and easier on the eyes compared to LCD and OLED-style screens.

The key aspect of a solid-state reflective display is that it isn’t back-lit. Instead, it’s a solid state screen that uses other sources of light (be it sun, electric room lighting, etc) to illuminate the screen. As it stands, the Bodle team are confident of a high enough resolution to display a HD video, while the main advantage is power usage: if you don’t need to backlight the screen, your battery lasts longer, meanwhile the drain from mains is minimal.

The bigger sell — and Bodle is still some way off to a commercial product — is that by drastically reducing the cost and power required, you can have screens of all shapes and sizes just about anywhere.

So, for example, it might be possible to put an SRD film over a mirror or a window to create a smart window/mirror. Applications for real-world display advertising are even more obvious. Or perhaps SRD could be used to add a second screen to a smartphone or its case that lets you use certain functions of your phone, such as reading (an idea that has been tried before with eInk technology).

N26 partners with Younited Credit to launch credit offering in France

German startup N26 is now live in 17 European countries, but many features first launched in Germany and never made their way to other markets. The startup is slowly expanding core features to other key markets. That’s why the company is partnering with Younited Credit to launch consumer credit in France.

It works pretty much like the existing credit feature in Germany. In the app, you swipe to the credit tab and answer a few questions about yourself. You’ll tell how much money you need, if you’re single or married, if you’re a homeowner, etc.

A bit later, the app will give you a clear quote telling you how much money you’re borrowing, how much you’ll end up paying in total, the effective or nominal interest rate and your monthly payments.

You can also adjust your credit line by adjusting the length of the repayment process or the amount you’re willing to pay back every month. N26 doesn’t try to hide anything from you.

If you’re not familiar with Younited Credit, the company is a leading crowdlending platform in Europe. The startup has recently raised nearly $50 million in its latest founding round.

On Younited Credit’s website, consumers can borrow anything between €1,000 and €40,000 for 24 to 72 months without talking to an actual bank. N26 users access the same product without any restriction.

The platform matches those credit lines with other users willing to lend money, as well as companies, pension funds, insurance companies, etc. And Younited Credit thinks it can build an efficient credit rating system from scratch.

N26 users won’t have to sign up to Younited Credit to borrow some money. Everything happens in the N26 app using Younited Credit’s API. And I’m sure N26 also takes a small cut on each transaction.

N26 recently partnered with Auxmoney in Germany to offer credit to more customers. It’s another credit marketplace, and it shows that N26 is willing to partner with multiple companies in the same space if it makes sense. N26 wants to build a thorough financial hub so that you’ll end up buying new all sorts of financial products through the N26 app.

Featured Image: Dennis Skley/Flickr UNDER A CC BY-ND 2.0 LICENSE