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Novalis closes €25m fund to invest in medtech and biotech start-ups

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The Belgian venture capital investor has closed its second fund, the Novalis Biotech Acceleration Fund.

Venture capital firm Novalis, which seeds biotechnology and life sciences companies, will invest its latest €25m fund in medtech and biotech start-ups developing healthcare technologies.

Start-ups to benefit from the funding include those working in the areas of genomics, bioinformatics, drug research, manufacturing tools, diagnostics and personalised medicines.

Both new and returning investors have participated in the fundraising. The second fund investor base includes institutional investors, such as Participatie Maatschappij Vlaanderen (PMV), family offices and high-net-worth-individuals.

Novalis’s first fund was founded in September 2018 and totalled €4m, which was deployed into eight companies, mostly in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Jan Alexander, head of fund investments at PMV added: “With their first fund, Novalis has proven that they can create value with their hands-on entrepreneurial style and deep technological knowledge. We are convinced that, with the Novalis Biotech Acceleration Fund, they will continue to support innovation and valorisation of technology in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the Flemish region.”

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The company typically invests early and focuses on capital-light ideas, where small investments can create significant value using software, IP, tools and other enabling technologies that can transform healthcare.

Novalis’s co-founder, Jan Van den Berghe, said: “Our success from fund one has been rewarded with the commitment from investors to significantly increase the size of the biotech acceleration fund and provide the flexibility for larger individual investments when needed.”

The company’s other co-founder Wim Van Criekinge commented: “Now more than ever there is huge interest in the ability for innovative technology to help provide a response to our growing healthcare needs. We believe the enabling technologies we identify and support early in their development will meet these growing needs.”

Novalis said it will continue leveraging its strong network in the Benelux region and plans to further extend its investments across Western Europe and the US.

For the moment, investments from the company’s second fund will be split between early-stage incubation projects and later stage acceleration projects.

Kjell Mortier, fund manager of Novalis’s second fund said that the investment strategy would endeavour to provide “hands-on support” and the “strong scientific and business foundations needed to enable start-up companies grow and succeed.”

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Netflix employees join wave of tech activism with walkout over Chappelle controversy | Netflix

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Employees at Netflix halted work on Wednesday and staged a protest outside the company’s Los Gatos, California, headquarters to condemn the streaming platform’s handling of complaints against Dave Chappelle’s new special.

The actions – which hundreds participated in – are the latest in a string of highly visible organizing efforts in the tech sector, as workers increasingly take their grievances about company policies and decisions public.

“Three years ago, a worker walkout at a major tech company would have been unthinkable,” said Veena Dubal, a labor law professor at the University of California, Hastings. “White-collar workers across the world now understand their labor power, and their ability to change the unethical practices of their employer by withholding their labor.”

On Monday, the transgender employee resources group behind the walkout released a list of specific demands of Netflix, including more funding for trans creators, recruiting more diverse employees and flagging anti-trans content on the platform.

Tensions at Netflix started in early October, when Netflix leaders doubled down on their support for the comedian Dave Chappelle following criticism from viewers, the queer media watchdog Glaad as well as some employees that Chappelle’s new show contained jokes that were anti-trans.

As internal criticism grew, Netflix leaders continued to defend the special. Reed Hastings, the co-chief executive, reportedly said on an internal message board: “I do believe that our commitment to artistic expression and pleasing our members is the right long-term choice for Netflix, and that we are on the right side, but only time will tell.”

Ted Sarandos, the other co-CEO, claimed in an email obtained by Variety: “While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.” He added: “Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse – or enjoy shocking standup comedy – without it causing them to harm others.”

The Sarandos memo in particular fueled the walkout, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “The memo was very disrespectful,” a staffer told the outlet on the condition of anonymity. “It didn’t invite a robust conversation about this hard topic, and that’s normally how things go.”

Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix.
Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix. Photograph: Vickie Flores/EPA

Meanwhile, Netflix temporarily suspended Terra Field, a trans employee, who had tweeted that Chappelle “attacks the trans community, and the very validity of transness” and tied such comments to real-world violence. The company said Field was suspended because she had attended a meeting she was not invited to, but it later conceded she had “no ill intent”.

Netflix fired another trans worker who had been involved in organizing the walkout on allegations of leaking internal documents to the press.

“We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company,” a Netflix spokesperson told the Guardian about that decision last week.

The employee on Tuesday identified themself as B Pagels-Minor in an interview with the New York Times and denied “leaking sensitive information to the press”.

Social media event pages for the walkout have advertised a rally outside the Netflix headquarters in Los Angeles featuring public figures and speakers.

Staffers participating in the virtual walkout have vowed to halt work and focus on efforts to support the trans community.

‘A wave of worker walkouts’

In this week alone, there are protests at Netflix, the grocery delivery platform Instacart and at Facebook by its content moderators. Uber drivers globally went on strike in 2019. Hundreds of Amazon workers walked out to protest against the company’s climate policies in 2019.

Walkouts have become an increasingly common tactic among tech employees. “We are seeing a wave of them,” said Jess Kutch, executive director of the Solidarity Fund, which raises money to support employees engaged in workplace organizing – including at Netflix.

Google employees were among the first to deploy the strategy on a large scale in 2018, when more than 20,000 workers around the world walked out over the news that the company had given a $90m severance package to an executive who was forced to step down over sexual misconduct allegations (which he has denied).

The incensed workers decried a culture of silence about sexual harassment and systemic racism and demanded Google make concrete changes to address such issues within the company. In particular, they targeted Google’s use of forced arbitration – a practice common in the tech industry in which workers settle legal disputes in a private forum, making it almost impossible for workers to sue their bosses in court and keep repeat offenders from being publicly recognized.

Google employees stage a walkout in Mountain View, California, in 2018.
Google employees stage a walkout in Mountain View, California, in 2018. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

The November 2018 action changed the way workers in the tech industry organize, experts said. “Workers are observing their peers to see what is effective in moving decision makers, and replicating that in their own companies,” Kutch said.

Kutch noted tech employees studied other protest movements to determine the most effective forms of action, learning, for example, to release specific demands tied to their walkouts. “There is a degree of depth, commitment and planning that was not present even just a few years ago,” she said.

Organizers have particularly taken aim at the tools tech companies had long used to keep dissent internal. Faced with employee pressure, companies such as Google, Airbnb, Facebook and eBay were compelled to end forced arbitration practices.

Employees have also fought companies’ use of non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, which were initially meant to protect trade secrets, but later allowed companies to keep accusations of wrongdoing from becoming public.

Last month, California passed a law that makes it illegal for firms to prevent employees from speaking out about such issues through the use of NDAs.

Organizing gained another boost when the Black Lives Matter movement and protests laid bare some of the huge inequities in tech and revealed the power of protest to change them.

“Workers woke up at that moment to the fact that if employers are able to discriminate against any one part of the workforce, it hurts everyone,” said Anastasia Christman, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.

“There have been isolated examples of this kind of thing for years, but employees are increasingly using the leverage of their labor to stand up for diversity and equity,” she added.

The price of whistleblowing

For some employees, the price of speaking out has been steep. Leaked memos showed that in early 2020, Amazon discussed smearing a warehouse worker who spoke out against the company’s Covid-19 practices and was later fired. (Amazon said the employee was fired for putting other employees at risk of Covid-19.) In September 2021, Amazon reached a settlement with two other employees who said they had been fired over their climate activism within the company.

Other whistleblowers have narrated how their lives were upended by speaking out against major tech companies. The worker behind the walkouts at Google, Claire Stapleton, left the company after 12 years of working there, due to perceived retaliation for her role in organizing.

Netflix told the Guardian in an email that it “respect[s] the decision of any employee who chooses to walk out” and recognizes “we have much more work to do both within Netflix and in our content”.

“We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused,” the spokesperson said.

In a public blogpost, Field outlined much of the vitriol she has sustained for speaking out about the special. She said she did not necessarily want the show removed from the platform, but wanted accountability from Netflix to its workers and viewers.

“We’ve spent years building out the company’s policies and benefits so that it would be a great place for trans people to work,” she wrote. “A place can’t be a great place to work if someone has to betray their community to do so.”

Netflix CEO Sarandos told the Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday that he handled the situation poorly, but that he remains supportive of Chappelle’s work. He said that his previous memos “lacked humanity”, and did not acknowledge that “a group of our employees were in pain”, but said that his stance “hadn’t changed”.

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Raspberry Pi 4 in price rise first, chip shortage blamed • The Register

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The price of a 2GB Raspberry Pi 4 single-board computer is going up $10, and its supply is expected to be capped at seven million devices this year due to the ongoing global chip shortage.

Demand for components is outstripping manufacturing capacity at the moment; pre-pandemic, assembly lines were being red-lined as cloud giants and others snapped up parts fresh out of the fabs, and the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak really threw a spanner in the works, so to speak, exacerbating the situation.

Everything from cars to smartphones have felt the effects of supply constraints, and Raspberry Pis, too, it appears. Stock is especially tight for the Raspberry Pi Zero and the 2GB Raspberry Pi 4 models, we’re told. As the semiconductor crunch shows no signs of letting up, the Raspberry Pi project is going to bump up the price for one particular model.

The 2GB Raspberry Pi 4 will now once again set you back $45, an increase of $10 from its previous retail price. It used to be $45, then was brought down to $35 early last year when the 1GB model was discontinued. Now it’s back up again. This is the first time the project has hiked its prices, the trading arm of the Raspberry Pi Foundation said.

Don’t worry, however, the bump is said to be temporary and the module will eventually return to its original price of $35, company CEO Eben Upton announced on Wednesday.

The 4GB Raspberry Pi 4 and 8GB Raspberry Pi 4 versions will remain at $55 and $75, respectively. For those relying on a supply of $35 2GB boards, the project will bring back those 1GB Raspberry Pi 4 modules, priced $35.

“This provides a degree of choice: less memory at the same price; or the same memory at a higher price,” said Upton. 2GB for $45 or 1GB for $35. A choice, but not one people might expect.

“As many of you know,” he continued, “global supply chains are in a state of flux as we (hopefully) emerge from the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. In our own industry, semiconductors are in high demand, and in short supply: the upsurge of demand for electronic products for home working and entertainment during the pandemic has descended into panic buying, as companies try to secure the components that they need to build their products … At Raspberry Pi, we are not immune to this.”

The project is expected to make around seven million of its computer boards total this year, maintaining the same level of production as last year as the pandemic took hold of the world. This is unlikely to increase much next year either, Upton said. Judging from his explanation, this figure is lower than hoped: “Despite significantly increased demand, we’ll only end up making around seven million units in 2021.”

Pis containing 40nm chips will feel the chip crunch the hardest over the next year, meaning there will be limited supplies of devices older than the current generation of Raspberry Pi 4, Raspberry Pi 400, or Compute Module 4.

“In allocating our limited stocks of 40nm silicon, we will prioritise Compute Module 3, Compute Module 3+, and Raspberry Pi 3B, and deprioritise Raspberry Pi 3B+ … Our guidance to industrial and embedded users of Raspberry Pi 3B+ who wish to optimise availability in 2022 is to begin migrating your designs to the 1GB variant of Raspberry Pi 4,” Upton said.

The biz expects to be able to make enough systems using 28nm silicon – namely the Raspberry Pi 4 and Compute Module 4 – over the next 12 months to hold their price… bar the aforementioned 2GB model.

“These changes in pricing are not here to stay. As global supply chain issues moderate, we’ll keep revisiting this issue, and we want to get pricing back to where it was as fast as we can,” Upton concluded. ®

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Irish fintech Swoop secures £2.5m from major UK bank firm’s bailout fund

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UK headquartered Swoop was one of three finance companies to have received funding from RBS, which has previously given the start-up £5m in 2019.

Irish start-up Swoop Finance has received £2.5m from a fund established by banking giant RBS.

In 2019, it was awarded £5m by the banking firm, which accepted a £45bn bailout from the UK government at the height of the financial crisis in 2018. The bailout programme came with the condition that RBS would set up a £775m fund to boost competition in the region’s finance sector.

Swoop is one of three companies to have benefitted from that fund, with the others being UK finance companies Codat and Cashplus. The three start-ups will receive a combined £12.5m in grants from RBS.

Codat and Cashplus will both receive £5m from the fund.

Swoop was founded in 2017 by former KPMG chartered accountant and corporate financier Andrea Reynolds along with Ciarán Burke. Reynolds spoke at Silicon Republic’s Future Human event last year about the process of launching Swoop. She said she founded it after she spotted a gap in the market for a virtual “finance buddy” aimed at SMEs seeking financial advisers and lenders.

Today, Swoop is headquartered in the UK and it employs around 60 people. It recently launched in Canada, adding to its existing locations in Dublin, London and Sydney.

The fintech’s backers include Enterprise Ireland and Velocity. It has raised around €1.6m so far. Speaking last year, Reynolds said the pandemic’s digitisation of the finance industry – and most other industries – had benefitted the company.

She added that the ongoing changes in the industry would hopefully “democratise finance” and “open up opportunities” to companies seeking funding no matter where they are located.

“The future is that you won’t need to know who the lender is,” Reynolds said.

“All decisions will be made through your data and you’ll get those decisions instantly. So you could have a lender in Barcelona lending to a business in Ballyjamesduff, for example. It won’t matter where you are. It’s what your profile is and does it match to their algorithm.

“This means it’ll open up opportunities. It’ll democratise finance further because businesses, regardless of where they’re located, will not be disadvantaged. Everybody will have this at their fingertips,” she added.

Reynolds said she had seen “a 30pc increase in businesses moving online” during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Swoop also recently announced its partnership with UK automated cashflow and credit management company Itsettled.

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