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).

IBM’s PAIRS Geoscope helps developers wrangle geospatial data


IBM today announced PAIRS Geoscope, a new experimental cloud-based service that makes it easier for developers to work with large amounts of geospatial data from across a wide variety of sources. The service handles ingesting, integrating and managing the data and allows developers to focus on their queries.

Indeed, it’s the part of the service that handles the data ingesting and indexing that sets PAIRS Geoscope apart from other big data analytics services. It can take in anything from geotagged IoT data from sensors to weather data, census data, aerial imagery and even tweets or news data from the Google-backed GDELT Project.

If you are interested in how IBM does this, you’re in luck, because the team recently published a paper that goes into more detail about how this integration engine works. From the developer’s perspective, though, the most important feature here is that PAIRS converts all the data into common formats and units and automatically aligns all the spatial data.

IBM says that it built this service on a “highly-scalable, cloud-based repository especially crafted for the complexities of geospatial-temporal information.” And while there is a REST API that developers can use to access the service, there also is a web-based interface that makes it easy to select different layers, manipulate them and combine them to generate new queries.

If you would like to give PAIRS Geoscope a try yourself, just head over to the project’s homepage and give it a shot. Currently, it looks like using any of the public data sets in the service’s repository is free and the service will walk you through the process, making this one of the easiest tools to play with this kind of data.

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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 StickyADS.tv, 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

Coinbase addresses Ripple rumors, says it has made no decision on adding new coins


Coinbase just threw a bit of cold water on Ripple enthusiasts eager to see their coin hit the popular mainstream exchange. 

Rumors that Ripple’s XRP would be next in line after Bitcoin Cash reached a fever pitch this week among coin hype types, with some reading between the lines of a Tuesday segment of CNBC’s Fast Money that’s set to feature Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse and Coinbase President Asiff Hirji in what appears to be a panel discussion on cryptocurrency trends.

Speculation based on the Fast Money segment drove XRP up to $1.07, up about 6{36b96a1f853ebc4400789db5a6750c1e4fd7f7ac668ceaf8c757e025080de237} from weekly averages. Ripple’s XRP remains the only coin in the top five by market cap that isn’t available on Coinbase, though given XRP’s centralized nature and very different aims when compared to other cryptocurrency projects, its absence isn’t that surprising. Still, there is plenty of trading interest and those things don’t preclude Coinbase from adding XRP in the future were it to choose to do so.

Responding to the rumors, Coinbase tweeted “Our January 4th, 2018 statement continues to stand: we have made no decision to add additional assets to either GDAX or Coinbase. Any statement to the contrary is untrue and not authorized by the company.” Following the statement, XRP slid back modestly toward its previous averages. 

The company also linked to a January 5 blog post on its criteria for adding new assets. That post states that “Coinbase will announce the addition of new assets only via our blog post or other official channels.” The company likely isn’t eager to repeat the chaos around the introduction of Bitcoin Cash. Support for Coinbase’s newest asset was announced officially well ahead of time, but the rollout itself was marred by massive premiums, a trading freeze and an internal insider trading investigation.

Disclosure: The author holds a small position in some cryptocurrencies. Regrettably, it is not enough for a Lambo.

Featured Image: Chesnot / Contributor/Getty Images

‘Post-reality’ video of CG imagery projected on a dancing man at high framerates


Not sure what there is to add to the headline, really. Well, I guess I should probably explain a bit.

Back in 2016 (on my birthday in fact) researchers from the University of Tokyo posted an interesting video showing a projector and motion tracking system working together to project an image onto moving, deforming surfaces like a flapping piece of paper or dancing person’s shirt.

Panasonic one-upped this with a more impressive display the next year, but the original lab has clapped back with a new video (spotted by New Atlas) that combines the awkwardness of academia with the awkwardness of dancing alone in the dark. And a quote from “The Matrix.”

Really though, it’s quite cool. Check out the hardware:

This dynamic projection mapping system, which they call DynaFlash v2, operates at 947 frames per second, using a depth-detection system running at the same rate to determine exactly where the image needs to be.

Not only does this let an image follow a person’s movement and orientation, but deformations in the material, such as stretching or the natural contortions of the body when moving.

The extreme accuracy of this process makes for strange possibilities. As Ishikawa Watanabe, the leader of the lab, puts it:

The capacity of the dynamic projection mapping linking these components is not limited to fusing colorful unrealistic texture to reality. It can freely reproduce gloss and unevenness of non-existing materials by adaptively controlling the projected image based on the three-dimensional structure and motion of the applicable surface.

Perhaps it’s easier to show you:

Creepy, right? It’s using rendering techniques most often seen in games to produce the illusion that there’s light shining on non-existent tubes on the dancer’s body. The illusion is remarkably convincing.

It’s quite a different approach to augmented reality, and while I can’t see it in many living rooms, it’s clearly too cool to go unused — expect this to show up in a few cool demos from tech companies and performance artists or musicians. I can’t wait to see what Watanabe comes up with next.