April 14, 2020

Corporate innovation weekly: Audio fingerprints, telemedicine and the power of being weird

Remote mental health services, train technology, Spanish energy startups — this is what Europe's largest companies have been investing in this week.

Maija Palmer

4 min read

Photo by form PxHere


Support for Spanish energy startups

Spanish energy companies Enagás, Red Eléctrica, CLH, Iberdrola, BP, EIT InnoEnergy and Acciona have created the Positive Energy + initiative, to work with startups to help alleviate the economic and social impact of Covid-19. Each company will fund and support at least one startup or scaleup project. The deadline for startups to apply is April 19 and they are looking for projects that can begin immediately. Other Spanish corporations can join the project if they are interested.


Audio fingerprints

Sabadell Venture Capital took part in the €1.25m funding round for Spanish adtech startup Fluzo. The company has an “audio fingerprinting” technology that allows smartphones to identify any TV, radio or online video content that is playing in the background for users.


Mental healthcare boom

Schibsted Growth took part in the €8m funding round for Mindler, a Swedish startup that helps people book video appointments with verified psychologists. Mindler says it has seen a steep increase in demand for mental health services during the Covid-19 outbreak (Sifted has also been observing this trend across several countries). Mindler plans to use the money to expand the service to other European countries — it is currently only available in Sweden and the Netherlands.


Super-sized IPO for Keros

Keros Therapeutics, the US pharmaceuticals company backed by Israel’s Medison Pharma and Partners Innovation Fund in the US, managed to raise $96m in its Nasdaq initial public offering, more money than planned. Keros is developing drugs that regulate red blood cell and platelet growth, helping repair muscle and bones.

Healthcare IPOs have been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise largely shuttered market. In the first quarter, 24 IPOs raised $6.8bn, according to Renaissance Capital, and healthcare listings made up about half of that total.


TytoCare, a home diagnostics and telemedicine consultation startup, raised $50m in a new funding round from investors including Qualcomm Ventures. The Israeli company has seen surging demand during the Covid-19 outbreak, with every hospital in Israel using the company’s telehealth technology to remotely examine quarantined and isolated patients infected with Covid-19. Digital doctor apps of all kinds are seeing demand go through the roof during the pandemic.

Cancer research

French biopharma Servier has bought Danish cancer biotech Symphogen, part of an ambition by Servier to become a recognised player in oncology. Servier bought Shire’s oncology business in 2018 for $2.4bn.



Unilever has joined Ventilator Challenge UK consortium, the group that is producing 10,000 extra ventilators for use in UK hospitals. Unilever is lending the group some of its technical staff, helping with supply chain software and also providing hand sanitiser for the production sites.


Train technology

Spanish train company Renfe announced the four startups chosen (out of 440 that applied)  for the third batch of its TrenLab accelerator (developed by Wayra Spain). The companies are Addvance (3D printing spare parts), Alteria (sensors for predictive maintenance), Sigmarail (geolocation of assets) and Motion Tag (technology to model track how passengers move).


Medical privacy

Privitar, a UK data privacy startup that counts the NHS as one of its clients, raised a $80m Series C funding round with participation from ABN Amro Ventures, Salesforce Ventures and Warburg Pincus. Privitar’s technology can help anonymise data and track if it is being distributed without authorisation.

Privacy technology is likely to gain prominence in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, as people’s health data may be increasing tracked and monitored, and large data sets will need to be analysed to understand the progression of the disease.

Good reads:

Are weird people more creative?

If you are looking for creative ideas, go for rejects and weirdos, this article in The Atlantic argues. It has been long known that some of the world’s preeminent creative people, from John Lennon to Frida Kahlo, were considered oddballs from their childhood. Recent research by Johns Hopkins business school shows that rejecting someone from a group activity unleashes a greater degree of creativity. Worth thinking about when considering the composition of your innovation team.

Coronavirus survival guide for businesses

The Economist makes gloomy predictions about the downturn businesses will face after Covid-19. In the last recession businesses faced a median drop of 15% in sales during the worst quarter and 10% of businesses defaulted. This time it is likely to be worse. The article suggests three ways to adapt: adopt new technologies faster, reconfigure supply chains that have been disrupted by the crisis and invest in increasing resilience.


How crisis innovation can help your organisation

Here's another piece, this time from Hype, looking for the silver linings to a situation we never wanted to be in. A crisis does unleash creativity, though. The first US fighter jet was built under desperate time pressure in 1943, in a "skunk works" run out of an old circus tent. Toyota invented its "lean manufacturing" amid the austerity of post-Second World War Japan. The problem is that under normal circumstances humans are rather lazy thinkers, more inclined to plug in an old idea than to take a risk on something new. A crisis forces us out of old thinking. There's a five-point guide here for how to use the crisis to your advantage. Many of these techniques — scenario planning, bricolage — will be familiar.