August 18, 2020

Corporate innovation weekly: scales for your heart

This is how Europe's largest corporations have been innovating in the last week, including vertical farming, fungal drugs and VR

Maija Palmer

5 min read

Photo by form PxHere


Vertical farming

Leaps by Bayer, the impact investment arm of pharmaceutical company Bayer, and Singapore’s Temasek invested in the $30m initial funding round for Unfold, the Californian vertical farming startup. The deal will involve Unfold getting access to some of Bayer’s seed genetics, to enable it to develop vegetable varieties suited for vertical farming.

Vertical farming, where food is grown indoors, very close to where it will be consumed, and using much less land and water, is growing in popularity. Crops grown this way will typically need fewer pesticides, presenting a challenge for chemicals companies like Bayer, so hedging bets by finding ways to invest in the trend seems prudent.


Online skills

Burda Principal Investments took part in the $66m series D funding round for Skillshare, the online learning platform, which has seen strong growth in usage during the Covid crisis.



French sun

Credit Agricole invested in the €25m funding round for Technique Solaire, a French startup producing solar energy and biomethane in France and India. 

Financial services

Holvi exits UK

BBVA’s Holvi, which provides banking for freelancers and small businesses, announced that it was leaving the UK just six months after entering the market. Holvi cited Brexit and Covid-related uncertainty as the reasons for its change of plan, but many are wondering if it is just that the UK’s saturated market is tough to break into.

Food and drink

Pea-based drinks

Nestlé has already been developing a series of plant-based dairy alternatives from the usual rice, oat, soya and almond, but now pea-based drinks will join the product portfolio.


New fungal drug

Novo Holdings took part in the $60.8m funding round for F2G, a startup developing a new class of drugs to fight fungal infections. If this is successful it would be a major step forward, as it has been 20 years since the last new anti-fungal drug was added to doctors’ arsenals.

Scales for your heart

Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund led the $11.2m series A funding round for Bodyport, a US startup developing home-use scales that could detect early signs of cardiovascular disease. A user would simply stand on the scales for 20 seconds and technology similar to that used in the Apple Watch would record the heart’s electrical function — picking up any abnormalities that could be passed onto medical professionals.


VR for car designers

Volvo Cars Tech Fund was one of the investors in the €45.9m series C funding round for Varjo, the Finnish VR company. VR for consumer entertainment has been a shaky business so far, but VR for business is much more solid.

Some of Varjo’s biggest clients are in the automotive sector, with carmakers using the headsets to allow designers to completely redesign the interiors of the car virtually before going to the expense of actually doing it. Boeing also uses the technology to train astronauts for its NASA Starliner programme.

Cheaper truck insurance

Munich Re led the $16m series A funding round for Heavy Duty Vehicle Insurance, a startup attempting to solve the problem of rising insurance costs for truck drivers. Among other things, mobile phone-related distracted driving incidents are increasing insurance premiums in the industry. HDVI is offering insurance coupled with tech such as computer vision and electronic logging devices to help keep premiums down — and it is a stepping stone to automated trucking in the future.


5G handsets

Nokia, Google and Qualcomm invested $230m in HDM Global, the Finnish company that makes Nokia-branded mobile handsets under licence (yes, since 2016 you’ve been able to buy Nokia handsets again, including throwbacks like the 3310). It’s been a small niche market, but with Huawei’s 5G plans in disarray, now seems like a good moment for Nokia to push ahead with affordable 5G handsets.

Who's hiring?

Innovation executive, London & Partners, London, UK
Senior manager, Innovation & Insights, Harry’s, London, UK
Product launch manager, AlphaSights, London, UK
Global digital & innovation specialist, Reinsurance industry, London, UK
Innovation director, EMEA region, Westinghouse Electric Company, Mannheim, Germany
Passionate commercial experts to drive change with global impact, H&M, Stockholm, Sweden
Head of EMEA external manufacturing, Kraft Heinz, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Head of accelerator, EIT Digital, Brussels, Belgium


Good Reads

Can corporate venturing cover-up for the funding gap of European digital startups?

It is well known that the US (and increasingly Asia) does more VC investing than Europe. But could big companies like Unilever, Deutsche Telekom, BP, Bayer and others, who have busily got involved with CVC in recent years, be able to make up the difference? 

Not yet, says Jacques Bughin in this interesting LinkedIn post. Corporate venturing is still much smaller than VC, and it tends to be IT companies that do this best — Europe is not as plentifully supplied with those. Plus, European companies aren’t good at putting their IP to good use in the first place — companies in the region are sitting on many more dormant patents than US and Asian counterparts — raising some fundamental questions about their ability to create a vibrant innovation market. 

How to prepare the ground for your digital transformation

When people see transformational events, such as the Civil Rights March on Washington in 1963, they often neglect to look at the groundwork that led up to that moment, writes Greg Satell in Digital Tonto. The wow moment of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was the culmination of years of preparatory work. 

It is the same with digital transformation. So many of these initiatives fail because the groundwork isn’t done. You need: 

  1. A keystone vision for change
  2. A clear statement of values 
  3. A network of small groups throughout the organisation, united by a common purpose