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10 European tech start-ups pioneering in their sectors

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These start-ups and early-stage companies from around Europe – including two in Ireland – are scaling new heights in their sectors.

Despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic over the last year, Europe’s tech sector has continued to grow and we have seen a surge in deals in 2021.

Awash with talent and innovation, the continent has also been leading the way in the tech unicorn boom this year, with 65 of the 170 cities globally to have at least one unicorn.

Here, we narrow in on 10 promising European tech start-ups that have the potential to drive change in their sectors, including two based in Ireland.

Polymateria

Polymateria is a British biotech start-up that aims to end the global plastic pollution problem. Using a process called biotransformation, the company’s scientists have created a proprietary additive that can break down conventional plastic packaging safely if they escape into the environment. Its formulation is time-controlled, which means that the biotransformation process starts only after the product’s life cycle has ended.

It was founded by Jonathan Sieff and Lee Davy-Martin in 2016 and is headquartered in London. Its CEO Niall Dunne, a former student of Dublin’s Belvedere College, was featured in the World Economic forum’s list of young global leaders in 2012.

Carbios

This France-based chemical technology early-stage company takes a different approach to solving the plastic pollution pandemic. Using special enzymes developed by Carbios scientists, it is able to deconstruct any type of Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, plastic waste into its most basic components. This can then be reused to produce new PET plastics of comparable quality.

The Euronext Paris-listed company was founded in 2011 and is headed by CEO Jean-Claude Lumaret. Headquartered in Saint-beauzire, France, Carbios raised €114m in a capital increase in May led by L’Oréal’s venture arm Bold, Michelin Ventures and Copernicus Wealth Management.

Enapter

Enapter is a renewable energy company that aims to provide an affordable alternative to fossil fuels by decentralising the production of green hydrogen and speed up the process. The company says its patented anion exchange membrane (AEM) electrolyser makes water electrolysis cheaper and universal. The software-integrated AEM electrolysers can be produced at scale like computer chips and solar panels.

Based in Crespina, Italy, the start-up was founded in 2017 by Vaitea Cowan and Jan-Justus Schmidt. Cowan and Schmidt have both been featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30 Energy 2020 list. In June, Enapter received €9.3m in funding from the North Rhine-Westphalia Ministry of Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitalisation and Energy to develop its electrolyser mass-production system.

Hydrogenious

This green energy company aims to make the handling and distribution of hydrogen easy and efficient. Using its proprietary liquid organic hydrogen carrier (LOHC) technology with benzyl toluene as the carrier medium, Hydrogenious allows for the distribution process more flexible and reliable, reducing the overall carbon footprint.

Founded by Daniel Teichmann and his PhD colleagues at Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany, the idea to start Hydrogenious sprung when they decided their research in LOHC was ready for the market. Since its inception in 2013, the early-stage company has won major investors such as AP-Ventures, Royal Vopak, Mitsubishi Corporation, Covestro, Winkelmann Group and Hyundai Motor Company. It has a presence in Europe and the US, and is now eyeing the Chinese market.

Powell Software

Powell is a cloud-based digital work platform that aims to capitalise on the ‘future of work’ by improving the employee experience of those working from home or remotely. Its software provides companies with services such as business communication, employee engagement and collaboration. Powell’s suite of tools is targeted towards a broad range of audiences including HR, sales teams, communications teams, IT and small businesses.

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Co-founded in 2015 by CEO Cyril de Queral and headquartered in Viroflay, France, the start-up says it has around 400 clients and more than 1.5m users worldwide. After its inception in Paris, Powell was taken to the US market in 2016 and had set up offices in London, Cologne and South Africa by 2019. Last year, it raised $16m in a Series A funding round led by US-based Level Equity and France-based Cap Horn.

Riaktr

Riaktr is a data analytics company that specialises in software for telecom companies to make better, data-driven decisions. Using the power of artificial intelligence and advanced analytics in its product Smart Capex, the early-stage company is able to help telecom operators determine the optimal network roll-out plan for its customers. Another product, Smart S&D, is a recommendation engine that helps telecom commercial teams to boost sales.

Founded in 2009 by CEO Sébastien Leempoel, the company started off using just Microsoft Excel files for its services. It soon shifted to customised software that eventually capitalised on the power of AI and big data. Its first office was set-up in Johannesburg when it was founded, but today it is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.

Ceretai

Ceretai is a software company that helps media companies analyse and monitor diversity in their content. Its Diversity Dashboard platform allows them to keep track of gender representation, age distribution and other measures of portrayal. With customised diversity reports and workshops for executives, Ceretai automates the process of diversity monitoring, making it time and cost-effective.

The start-up was found by CEO Matilda Kong and chief product officer Lisa Hamberg in 2018. Along with head of insights Angnis Schmidt-May, the three form Ceretai’s all-female executive team. The company is headquartered in Stockholm and has an office in Hamburg, Germany. Partners and clients of Ceretai include the BBC, Forbes, and German TV show Tagesschau, among others.

Century

This UK-based edtech company uses the power of artificial intelligence to create learning tools and content for school, colleges and other educational environments. With a team of teachers, neuroscientists and learning technologists, Century curates personalised learning paths for every student on the platform and delivers real-time data on the learners. The company aims to make high-quality education more accessible.

Founded by CEO Priya Lakhani in 2013, this early-stage company is headquartered in London. In November 2019, Century was named the overall winner of the Spectator Economic Disruptor of the Year Awards. Lakhani was also featured in Inclusive Boards UK list of 100 most influential BAME leaders in tech in the same year.

Evervault

Evervault is an infosec start-up that was founded by 20-year-old Dubliner Shane Curran in 2018. The company has built a data-privacy interface that developers can use when creating software. Its tools for secure cloud hardware across both web and mobile applications aims to take privacy away from compliance and make it a product feature.

A former BT Young Scientist winner, Curran’s encryption-as-a-service start-up raised $16m in Series A funding in May last year, led by Index Ventures. Previous investors Sequoia Capital, Kleiner Perkins and Frontline also joined the round, in addition to a number of angel investors. According to LinkedIn, Evervault has offices in Dublin and San Francisco.

Tines

This Dublin-based cybersecurity start-up creates software for automating mundane security-related tasks that normally eat up time and resources for analysts and engineers, allowing for greater focus on more critical tasks. Its platform is designed for non-technical employees with click-and-drag functions and is used by customers such as internet company Box and restaurant reservation company OpenTable.

Tines was founded in 2018 by Eoin Hinchy and Thomas Kinsella, who both previously worked in security roles at eBay and DocuSign. In April, the start-up raised $26m in fresh funds, valuing the company at $300m. The Series B round was led by Addition, with participation from CrowdStrike’s Falcon Fund, Silicon Valley CISO Investments, Accel and Blossom Capital.

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Elon Musk denies he sexually harassed attendant on private jet in 2016 | Elon Musk

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Elon Musk has denied claims in a news report that he sexually harassed a flight attendant on a private jet in 2016, calling the accusations “utterly untrue”.

SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Musk, paid the female attendant $250,000 (£200,000) in a severance settlement after a sexual misconduct claim against the world’s richest person, according to the news website Business Insider.

The attendant was a cabin crew member who was contracted to work for SpaceX’s corporate jet fleet. She accused Musk of exposing his erect penis to her, rubbing her leg without consent and offered to buy her a horse if she performed an erotic massage, according to interviews and documents obtained by Business Insider.

Musk, who is worth $212bn and is also CEO of the electric carmaker Tesla, told his 94.1 million Twitter followers that the allegations were “utterly untrue”. The Guardian has not been able to verify the Business Insider account. SpaceX has been approached for comment.

Shares of the electric carmaker skidded more than 10% on Friday amid concerns that the alleged sexual misconduct and Musk’s previous political comments could threaten to damage Tesla’s brand and sales. The share drop knocked about $66bn off Tesla’s market value and put the stock at its lowest since last August.

And, for the record, those wild accusations are utterly untrue

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 20, 2022

The alleged incident took place in 2016 and the settlement was agreed in 2018. According to a declaration prepared in support of the claim, the attendant said that after taking the job she was encouraged to train as a masseuse so she could give Musk massages. It was during one of those massages, onboard Musk’s Gulfstream jet, that she was propositioned by the SpaceX chief executive.

The attendant, who Insider does not name, told her friend that she was asked to go to Musk’s cabin during a flight to London to give a “full body massage”. Upon entering the room, she found Musk was “completely naked except for a sheet covering the lower half of his body”. The declaration says that during the massage Musk “exposed his genitals” and “touched her and offered to buy her a horse if she would ‘do more’, referring to the performance of sex acts”. The attendant, a horse rider, declined and continued with the massage without any sexual activity.

In an interview with Business Insider about the allegations, the attendant’s friend said Musk’s penis was erect when he propositioned her.

According to the declaration, after the incident the attendant felt she was being marginalised in her job. She felt “she was being pushed out and punished for refusing to prostitute herself”, says the declaration.

The attacks against me should be viewed through a political lens – this is their standard (despicable) playbook – but nothing will deter me from fighting for a good future and your right to free speech

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 20, 2022

The attendant hired a lawyer in 2018 and sent the allegations to SpaceX’s HR department. The complaint was resolved after a session with a mediator attended by Musk, according to Insider. In November of that year, Musk, SpaceX and the attendant entered into a severance agreement that involved a $250,000 payment in exchange for a pledge not to sue over the claims.

Responding to Insider’s story, Musk told the news site that there was “a lot more to this story”. He wrote: “If I were inclined to engage in sexual harassment, this is unlikely to be the first time in my entire 30-year career that it comes to light,” adding that the story was a “politically motivated hit piece”.

Without referring directly to the article, Musk tweeted on Friday that attacks against him should be “viewed through a political lens” and that he would continue to fight for “your right to free speech”. Musk said on Wednesday that he would vote Republican instead of Democratic, predicting a “dirty tricks campaign against me” would follow.

Musk has agreed to buy Twitter, the social media company with 229 million users, for $44bn but has said the deal is “on hold” until he receives further details of the number of fake and spam accounts on the platform.

Reuters contributed to this report



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China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian R&D orgs • The Register

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Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

Check Point Research also noted that around the same time that they observed the Twisted Panda attacks, another Chinese advanced persistent threat (APT) group Mustang Panda was observed exploiting the invasion of Ukraine to target Russian organizations.

In fact, Twisted Panda may have connections to Mustang Panda or another Beijing-backed spy ring called Stone Panda, aka APT10, according to the security researchers.

In addition to the timing of the attacks, other tools and techniques used in the new campaign overlap with China-based APT groups, they wrote. Because of this, the researchers attributed the new cyberspying operation “with high confidence to a Chinese threat actor.”

During the the course of the research, the security shop also uncovered a similar loader that contained that looked like an easier variant of the same backdoor. And based on this, the researchers say they expect Twisted Panda has been active since June 2021.

Phishing for defense R&D

The new campaign started on March 23 with phishing emails sent to defense research institutes in Russia. All of them had the same subject: “List of [target institute name] persons under US sanctions for invading Ukraine”, a malicious document attached, and contained a link to an attacker-controlled site designed to look like the Health Ministry of Russia.

An email went out to an organization in Minsk, Belarus, on the same day with the subject: “US Spread of Deadly Pathogens in Belarus”. 

Additionally, all of the attached documents looked like official Russian Ministry of Health documents with the official emblem and title.

Downloading the malicious document drops a sophisticated loader that not only hides its functionality, but also avoids detection of suspicious API calls by dynamically resolving them with name hashing. 

By using DLL sideloading, which Check Point noted is “a favorite evasion technique used by multiple Chinese actors,” the malware evades anit-virus tools. The researchers cited PlugX malware, used by Mustang Panda, and a more recent APT10 global espionage campaign that used the VLC player for side-loading.

In this case of the Twisted Panda campaign, “the actual running process is valid and signed by Microsoft,” according to the analysis.

According to the security researchers, the loader contains two shellcodes. The first one runs the persistence and cleanup script. And the second is a multi-layer loader. “The goal is to consecutively decrypt the other three fileless loader layers and eventually load the main payload in memory,” Check Point Research explained.

New Spinner backdoor detected

The main payload is a previously undocumented Spinner backdoor, which uses two types of obfuscations. And while the backdoor is new, the researchers noted that the obfuscation methods have been used together in earlier samples attributed to Stone Panda and Mustang Panda. These are control-flow flattening, which makes the code flow non-linear, and opaque predicates, which ultimately causes the binary to perform needless calculations. 

“Both methods make it difficult to analyze the payload, but together, they make the analysis painful, time-consuming, and tedious,” the security shop said.

The Spinner backdoor’s main purpose is to run additional payloads sent from a command-and-control server, although the researchers say they didn’t intercept any of these other payloads. However, “we believe that selected victims likely received the full backdoor with additional capabilities,” they noted.

Tied to China’s five-year plan?

The victims — research institutes that focus on developing electronic warfare systems, military-specialized onboard radio-electronic equipment, avionics systems for civil aviation, and medical equipment and control systems for energy, transportation, and engineering industries — also tie the Twisted Panda campaign to China’s five-year plan, which aims to expand the country’s scientific and technical capabilities. 

And, as the FBI has warned [PDF], the Chinese government isn’t above using cyberespionage and IP theft to accomplish these goals.

As Check Point Research concluded: “Together with the previous reports of Chinese APT groups conducting their espionage operations against the Russian defense and governmental sector, the Twisted Panda campaign described in this research might serve as more evidence of the use of espionage in a systematic and long-term effort to achieve Chinese strategic objectives in technological superiority and military power.” ®

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How to scale your B2B marketing across Europe

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Katie Mannion of unicorn start-up Pleo explains some dos and don’ts for businesses looking to boost their brand.

Alongside a strong vision, and an even stronger team to implement it, successful B2B marketing is integral to company growth.

But how do businesses achieve it, especially across numerous regions?

Prime positioning

Future Human

Building a strong B2B marketing operation is like building a house. If the foundations aren’t strong enough, the walls will crack and the message you work so hard to convey will be ignored or misinterpreted.

With strong positioning, you can avoid cracks in your marketing. Focusing on your brand positioning and the pillars built around this can make a huge difference and give your strategy the direction it needs.

So what makes a strong positioning? The best I’ve seen are clear, ownable and memorable.

Try to avoid overcomplicating your message. If potential customers can’t understand what you’re trying to say, they’ll look elsewhere.

Understanding how your messaging will be received in different countries or regions is really important, too. For various reasons and cultural differences, your message will land differently in the UK versus Ireland, or Germany versus France.

The positioning you take needs to be aligned to the market that your brand is going to own. It’s what makes you unique and why you should be chosen above the competition.

Test your messaging and campaigns with different audiences and prospects to know if you’re going in the right direction, and never be afraid to tear up what you perceive to be a great idea if the feedback and data says so.

Bold moves

For many start-ups or SMEs, it’s hard to compete with businesses with large budgets and access to dedicated marketing agencies. In order to cut through the noise, you need to focus on marketing activities that will get you noticed.

Building a meaningful brand takes time and money and many young companies don’t have either of these resources in abundance. The solution? Build a brand that stands out in its messaging and creates a platform for unique and eye-catching ideas.

Sometimes going big and bold is your only opportunity to ‘earn’ attention (as opposed to paying substantial amounts for it). My favourite example of this includes the ‘We’re OK Hun’ campaign from Hun Wines during the 2020 lockdown in London. They had an opportunity to buy cheap ad space in prime areas such as Oxford Circus to create a stir with this clever viral campaign.

Do more than build it

Lots of brands seem to think: ‘build and they will come’. In B2B marketing nothing could be further from this.

What happens when you’ve launched your product, the doors are open for business and the customers don’t come?

What are you going to do to build around the launch? Have you briefed your sales team? Devised a PR plan? Forged partnerships? Worked on creative content and events to support?

To move the needle, marketers need to be making moves across multiple channels and pull a number of levers synchronously and strategically. Focus on the activities you can build around business announcements or product launches to really elevate the comms around your brand.

Invest in your tools

The less manual work you have to do the better. A huge consideration as a marketer is your martech stack.

It is important that you build a marketing tech stack that can be with you for the long haul. Be sure to pick tools that don’t just help you scale, but still serve their purpose when you have scaled.

Replacing a critical tool you’ve outgrown can slow your company’s growth momentum. New systems can take months or even years to integrate fully, and the bigger you are, the more expensive they are to introduce.

Align your teams

Marketing and sales departments often set their strategies and goals separately from each other. But when they aren’t aligned, both teams suffer.

Ultimately, it’s crucial that your head of marketing and head of sales are on the same page and reaching for the same goals together. Sales and marketing alignment starts with sharing the same objectives and KPIs. This means setting common goals for both departments to work towards together.

Carefully planned campaigns will bring salespeople’s intimate knowledge of your customers into the company’s core. These insights will also help build better products for the future.

The bottom line is that nurturing your relationship with sales across the business is key for marketing efficiency and revenue growth of the business.

Broaden your perspective

Diversity of people inspires a diversity of thought. Diversity of thought fosters a creative environment that allows ideas to flourish.

I don’t always hire on B2B experience but, rather, a passion for storytelling, creativity and bringing a brand to life through various activities.

When you work in marketing there is a real opportunity to lead meaningful change in how your brand is perceived by the world. To do this effectively, you need a team of different perspectives which is unified in its ambition to do things differently.

Take it step by step

Marketing can be overwhelming. Focus on small incremental changes that make a huge difference over time.

Automate the tasks you find yourself short on time to complete.

Clearly define your niche and category and stick to it.

Involve your customers, always.

Keep a positive and open relationship between sales and marketing to scale your B2B marketing the best way possible.

By Katie Mannion

Katie Mannion is the senior marketing manager at Pleo, a workplace spend management platform. An experienced B2B marketer, she helps drive strategy, teams and creativity for the fintech unicorn.

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