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Posts Tagged ‘Cape Town’

South Africa Passes Secrecy Bill, Makes Whistleblowing a Dangerous Act

November 22nd, 2011 11:12 admin View Comments

Censorship

New submitter Hermanas writes with the story that South Africa’s parliament has passed a Protection of Information Bill which could land whistle blowers and journalists who print classified information in jail for up to 25 years. From the Telegraph: “On the morning of the vote, a joint editorial in the country’s largest newspapers heralded [a South African] ‘day of reckoning for democracy.’ ‘The spreading culture of self-enrichment, either corrupt, or merely inappropriate, makes scrutiny fuelled by whistle blowers who have the public interest at heart more essential than ever since 1994,’ the front page editorial said. As MPs voted on the bill in Cape Town’s parliament, protesters dressed all in black gathered at the gates of the historic building where they were addressed by editors and freedom of information activists.”

Source: South Africa Passes Secrecy Bill, Makes Whistleblowing a Dangerous Act

It’s Official! Oil And Gas Giant Total Now Owns $1.3 Billion Controlling Stake In SunPower

June 15th, 2011 06:48 admin View Comments

Total, the fossil fuels giant, just gave itself a renewable energy makeover by finishing up its $1.3 billion purchase of a majority stake in SunPower, the San Jose, Calif.-based designer and manufacturer of solar panels and systems.

SunPower sells its solar technology and services to customers of about any size, including at the residential, business, government and utility level.

Let’s put the scope of the Total-SunPower deal in perspective. According to research by the Cleantech Group and Deloitte, for all of 2010, venture investments in cleantech companies of any stripe worldwide totaled $7.7 billion across 715 deals, and the solar segment attracted 24 percent of those dollars. Worldwide venture investments in solar companies for 2010 totaled $1.83 billion across 117 deals. In 2009, venture investments in solar companies totaled $1.34 billion.

[Ed's note: Cleantech VC money has never looked so Monopoly! The traditional oil and gas purse, on the other hand, looks bottomless.]

In a press statement about the SunPower acquisition, Total touched on its previous involvement in solar:

“Through its joint venture affiliates Tenesol and Photovoltech, Total has built expertise along the photovoltaic solar power chain to make this technology more reliable, efficient and competitive. Tenesol is a French solar panel manufacturer with an industrial footprint in Toulouse (France) and Cape Town (South Africa). Total is also a large minority shareholder in [U.S.-based solar technology businesses] Konarka and AE Polysilicon.”

The company is expected by industry insiders to reorganize its entire business, globally, around its latest acquisition.

With traditional energy companies like Total buying up solar at this level, and huge amounts of competition from Chinese solar manufacturers and developers, do U.S. startups and newly public companies in solar have a chance to survive without ceding control?

Cleantech Group chief executive Shareez Haji believes,

“We will see a number of winners in solar. In the U.S., category leaders like Brightsource and MiaSole will thrive as independent companies, while a number of others will struggle on their own and be acquired.

I do not see the SunPower acquisition as a sign of weakness, at all. They sold for a big premium and gained access to a huge new balance sheet, including a $1 billion debt facility that Total did through the equity deal.”

Making the case that worldwide demand will remain strong enough to support new entrants in solar (yes, even American ones) a report today from the International Energy Association (IEA) forecasts that “by 2050, solar photovoltaics will provide 11 percent of global electricity production.” That amount of solar power represents a potential reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by about 2.3 gigatons, equivalent to reducing emissions from electricity use from 253 million homes per year, nearly the combined populations of Russia and Japan the report said.

Source: It’s Official! Oil And Gas Giant Total Now Owns $1.3 Billion Controlling Stake In SunPower

Visa Acquires Mobile Financial Services Company Fundamo For $110M In Cash

June 9th, 2011 06:27 admin View Comments

Visa this morning announced that it has agreed to acquire Fundamo, a specialist mobile financial services provider to network operators and financial institutions in developing economies, for $110 million in cash.

In a separate announcement, the giant payments technology company said it has entered into a new, long-term commercial agreement with Monitise, a provider of mobile money solutions for financial institutions in more developed regions.

Here’s how the duo of agreements was pitched:

The combination of acquiring Fundamo and expanding the relationship with Monitise will enable Visa to deliver best-in-class mobile financial services and payments capabilities to consumers across the full spectrum of uses, geographies and mobile environments from basic services on simple handsets to more advanced services for smart phone owners.

Fundamo’s platform enables the delivery of mobile financial services to unbanked and under-banked consumers around the world, including person-to-person payments, airtime top-up, bill payment and branchless banking services.

The combined Visa Fundamo platform will add enhanced functionality and new services to existing mobile financial services subscribers for globally accepted payments solutions.

Privately-held, Cape Town, South Africa-based Fundamo says it boasts more than 50 active mobile financial services deployments across more than 40 countries, including 27 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Fundamo’s deployments currently have a base of more than five million registered subscribers and the potential to reach more than 180 million consumers with mobile financial services.

Fundamo CEO Hannes van Rensburg and the executive team will continue to manage current and future Fundamo implementations as members of Visa’s mobile product organization.

Monitise and Visa, meanwhile, say they will debut a mobile banking solution in the U.S. for clients of Visa DPS, the company’s debit and prepaid processing platform.

Source: Visa Acquires Mobile Financial Services Company Fundamo For $110M In Cash

Silicon South Africa: Google Launches Incubator For African Startups

April 8th, 2011 04:53 admin View Comments

Google has announced that it will be launching a startup incubator in Cape Town, South Africa, called Umbono. The incubator aims to support the local tech ecosystem in South Africa by offering local startups access to seed capital, Google mentorship, and angel investors.

Umbono will focus on web and mobile-based startups building solutions to local problems, which also have regional appeal, in an effort to help them “transform their ideas into companies”, according to Google SA country manager Luke Mckend. Fittingly, “umbono” happens to be the very Zulu word for “vision” or “idea”.

The South African incubator will be structured as a 6-month program, in which 5 startups chosen by Umbono’s panel of angel investors and Google representatives will receive a seed investment of $25K to $50K. The teams will also have access to Umbono’s free office space, bandwidth, and a mentorship network of Google experts, ready to advise the startups on issues from “product design and commercialization to legal incorporation and valuation”, Google said of Umbono in its announcement.

Local bandwidth is expensive in Cape Town — so this will likely be very attractive to young tech startups in South Africa. Not to mention the added bonus of $25K.

Umbono’s home city of Cape Town, located on the southwestern shore of South Africa, has for years been attempting to position itself as a hub of innovation and technology in subsaharan Africa. The Cape IT Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing information and communications technology in South Africa, has been lobbying Google (and others) to locate their incubators in Cape Town for some time.

Along with Cape IT, Cape Town is home to Silicon Cape, a similar initiative aimed at fostering tech entrepreneurship in South Africa, as well as veteran incubators, like the highly-regarded, 10-year-old Bandwidth Barn.

South Africa has also produced its fair share of successful (and well-funded) startups, like Yola, a website creator that has raised $25 million, MXit, an instant messaging app with over 27 million subscribers, and Twangoo, Twangoo, a group buying club, which was acquired by Groupon earlier this year — to name a few. And now the country’s startup ecosystem adds another notch to its belt by luring Google’s business development talent to its shores.

When I asked Umbono spokeswoman Julie Taylor about why Google chose South Africa and whether or not it has plans for incubators elsewhere in Africa, she told me that, at this point, Umbono is a pilot project. The incubator will test the African waters, and if the model proves to be viable — and beneficial –Google will look to expand into other emerging markets.

“South Africa is recognized as one of the innovation leaders on the continent, particularly with tech startups,” she said, “so we are enthusiastic about the possibilities here”.

Source: Silicon South Africa: Google Launches Incubator For African Startups

Grounded Ship Leaking Oil—& Potentially Rats—Threatens Engangered Penguins

March 23rd, 2011 03:27 admin View Comments

What’s the News: After running aground last week on a remote island off the coast of South Africa, a freighter has leaked over 800 tons of fuel oil, coating an estimated 20,000 already-endangered penguins. “The scene at Nightingale [Island] is dreadful as there is an oil slick around the entire island,†said Tristan Conservation Officer Trevor Glass said in a statement. But even worse, authorities fear that the rats from the soybean-toting ship will swim to the island and destroy the bird population.

What’s the Context:

  • The MS Oliva was traveling from Brazil to Singapore when it ran aground last Wednesday for unknown reasons, breaking up on Saturday and pouring some of its 1,500 tons of heavy oil into the surrounding waters.
  • There are over 200,000 Northern Rockhopper Penguins (nearly half the world’s population of this species) on the Tristan Da Cunha archipelago, which includes Nightingale Island. This cleanup job is especially difficult because these islands lie 1,700 miles from the closest land, South Africa, making it much more difficult to launch a significant response—not good for birds who’re already listed on the international endangered list.
  • The biggest danger to the penguins would be if if any rats make it from the ship to the island, as they can feast on baby birds unhindered. Like the birds from William Stolzenburg’s Rat Island—a gripping account of the challenges in ridding rats from infested islands—these remote birds “evolved in a world devoid of land-bound mammals,” and so are pretty much defenseless against rats.
  • 80beats has covered oil spills in the past, including last year’s BP spill and its effects on wildlife.
  • In that spill, the pelican was the oil-covered bird species that symbolized environmental disaster.

The Future Holds: Though a salvage tug left Cape Town, South Africa, last Thursday, the earliest it will arrive to help remove fuel is this Wednesday. With little to salvage, authorities say that cleanup is now the main task at hand. As Jay Holcomb, the director emeritus of the International Bird Rescue Research Center, told the New York Times, “Many of the birds have been oiled for over a week, which limits their chances of survival.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Arjan Haverkamp

Source: Grounded Ship Leaking Oil—& Potentially Rats—Threatens Engangered Penguins

Yola Inks Distribution Deals with HP and AOL for its Easy-to-Build Sites

December 22nd, 2010 12:59 admin View Comments

Last time I was in Cape Town, I was hanging out with Vinny Lingham, founder of Yola, a service that allows small businesses to create a site in about five minutes. He was incredibly spazzy about some big deal he was about to close that would have a material effect on the company, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was. That’s OK I think I found out anyway.

It’s HP, according to these screenshots below, and that’s a whale. HP sells two computers per second or more than 60 million computers a year, according to HP Executive Vice President Todd Bradley.

I asked Lingham about the screenshots, and he said he couldn’t comment aside from confirming he had a “relationship” with HP and that it’s not limited to the US. He wouldn’t confirm which countries but did say that Yola will soon be available with seven payment currencies and in six additional languages: Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian and German.

HP’s sweet spot is not-so-tech-savvy small businesses, and now they’ve got a Yola install icon on their desktops. I hear that Yola beat out large competitors like Intuit’s Homestead to win the deal, not to mention other startup competitors.

While digging, I also heard that Yola has signed a distribution deal with AOL to be part of AOL’s Product Central along with other third party software providers like McAfee. (It’s not on the site now, because I’m told it kicks off in 2011.) Lingham confirmed that deal too, but wouldn’t give me any more details about it.

Yola’s market is a hard one to reach but a surprisingly juicy one. Believe it or not, nearly half of small businesses still don’t have a Web site. At some point that will change; the big question is how long it takes. Small businesses are notoriously late technology adopters. For more than decade Intuit’s biggest competitor for products like QuickBooks has been pen-and-paper and basic Excel files. That’s why distribution deals by brands small businesses trust are the only real option to build a larget company, aside from amassing a huge feet-on-the-street sales force. Considering Intuit is one of the most trusted small business software brands on the planet it’s surprising and impressive that Yola beat them out for the HP deal.

It’s possible that the wave of Groupon-like coupon sites and services like Foursquare could push Web-holdouts online faster in the next year. And unlike Yola’s Israeli competitor Wix, Lingham bet on HTML-5 over Flash– a crucial differentiator in the iPad/iPhone world. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a venture round for Yola in 2011 too.

Source: Yola Inks Distribution Deals with HP and AOL for its Easy-to-Build Sites

Singapore: Why Innovate in Utopia?

October 28th, 2010 10:21 admin View Comments

SINGAPORE– On the eve of my trip to Indonesia last May, I was having dinner in Cape Town with someone from an investment firm that has been killing it in Asia. When I told him Indonesia was my first trip to Southeast Asia he almost spit out his Springbok, saying “My God! You are starting with the hardest one first!”

On the eve of this trip to Singapore, I was having coffee in San Francisco with a venture capitalist who has been killing it in the Valley, after four years of living in Southeast Asia. He gave the same observation a decidedly Valley twist: “You are going to be bored to death in Singapore.”

Bored is hardly the word I’d use– it’s hard to be bored when you are running from meeting to meeting, not to mention eating some of the most awesome food known to man. But Singapore is most definitely an Asia with training wheels. And that’s the Singapore blessing when it comes to globalization, but it may be its curse when it comes to entrepreneurship.

Singapore is easy, clean and staunchly non-corrupt at a country level. The trees are immaculately groomed. Any 7/11 can give you a week of Blackberry service for less than $20 and double as full-on tech support if something goes wrong. You think of a cab, and it’s there, clean and cheap. When I landed in Singapore on Sunday, there was a white haze over the sky– that looked almost like a dome. Combine that with the clean streets and lush foliage and my jetlag-hazed drive from the airport to the hotel looked like I was in the episode of Battestar Gallactica where Starbuck and Apollo grab some faux rays on Cloud 9. People here call it “an experiment” and a “startup country.”  But James Chan, of the incubator/ venture fund Neotany Labs co-founded by Joi Ito and Reid Hoffman, says what they really mean: “It’s utopia.” (More from Chan in Friday’s Ask a VC.)

Of course there’s a reason few people call it utopia. You don’t have to be a science fiction junkie to know utopia always has a catch, and obnoxious American reporter that I am, I’ve been looking for it since I arrived. So far– from what I can gather– people aren’t murdered when they reach the age of 30, homeless people aren’t repurposed into crackers, or encouraged to have meaningless sex as long as they don’t procreate and stay drugged up on Soma. But Singapore has one big challenge: How to create a country of entrepreneurial problem solvers and hackers when there’s no chaos, total practicality and a culture of obediently going-with-the-flow.

People call Singapore a police state because of its heavy authoritarian reach, punishment by caning, one of the highest rates of capital punishment in the world, and– you know– the whole ban on gum, to which people here get defensive and say “That’s totally overstated! You can chew gum, it’s just that no one is allowed to sell it.” (So, you get it from….?)

But that’s not really apt. Unlike a lot of authoritarian regimes, Singapore is ruled by practicality not some force-fed morality. When the population was growing too fast it instituted a “two is enough” campaign. When people reacted by having fewer than two children per household the government mandated that local TV stations devote their final hour of programming to romantic soaps to get people in the mood. I’m not sure if that story is really true or apocryphal, but its certainly believed by a wide swath of people here I’ve asked.

An even better example, which may also be apocryphal: The government wanted to encourage the development of a more vibrant artistic culture, and a study revealed that societies with more open gay and lesbian populations had more artistic achievements. So Singapore’s Prime Minister went on TV and expressed support for “our gay brothers”– nevermind homosexuality had been illegal before. Locals have told me Singapore has one of the more accepting cultures of homosexuality in Asia today.

For the last few years, the government is trying mightily to spur high-growth entrepreneurship. Unlike, the US, which is punishing immigrants and proposing laws to restrict angel investing, Singapore is doing all the sensible, practical things. The red carpet is rolled out for skilled immigrants, who now make up some 40% of the population. After years of investing hundreds of millions directly in entrepreneurs, Singapore is now taking a lead from how Israel created its venture capital ecosystem. It partners with venture firms, allowing them to make the best investment decisions and given them up to 6-to-1 matching funds. In other words, a firm invests $15 million and the government will invest $85 million for a convertible note. Under other programs the government will pay 50% of small companies R&D costs, ensuring they are focused on building something differentiated.

Billions are spent in government-run R&D labs that produce crazily disruptive innovations and “science fair projects” that capitalist, short-term thinking VCs in the US would never fund. Government programs send kids to the United States where they can work with startups, see behind the glamor, and hopefully catch the entrepreneur bug. They’re trying to augment an already rigorous education program that focuses on math and science to include more exercises on reasoning and problem-solving. Looking at the highly-practical policy free of moralistic, protectionist grandstanding, you can see why Singapore– a tiny nation of just five million people with comparatively few natural resources relative to its neighbors– has so outperformed on a per capital economic basis, with a stunning 18% growth rate.

Practical as ever, most Singaporeans I’ve met with this week have told me up until now, it’s excelled at being a global hub, but it hasn’t excelled when it comes to local high-growth entrepreneurship. Can it legislate its way there? It’s unclear. If any place can it’s likely Singapore. I mean, if local stories are true it helped legislate who people have sex with and how frequently they do it.

But my gut says that chaos and problem solving go hand-in-hand. When things are too comfortable, why take risk?Disproportionately immigrants make better entrepreneurs than trust fund kids. Small companies are the ones who actually innovate more than large, publicly-held market incumbents, who like to buy innovators or just throw the word around. (OK, Google, you and your flying cars get a pass…for now.) Countries in chaos tend to have greater needs– and great market holes to exploit.

It’s hard to find any corner of chaos in Singapore. The system is engineered with one outcome, Chan says: “Making people good economic units for society.” Is there room for a high-beta version of good economic units of society– one that could succeed disproportionately or fail disproportionately in a culture so tied to obediance? The big “what’s-wrong-with-youth-today?” scandal of late has been kids getting out of school and taking all the tables up at Starbucks with their endless studying. Lily Chan, CEO of the National University of Singapore’s Enterprise program, thinks it’ll take generations for Singapore to truly develop a culture of entrepreneurship– and she blames the parents. In a place replete with accountant and banker jobs, where buying a house is more expensive than most places in the United States the pressure not to waste your time building something speculative is high. There’s also another problem: One employer has optimized the system to find and make lucrative offers to the smartest kids in the system– that’s right, the Government. People who could have made the country’s top entrepreneurs instead make comfortable salaries trying to craft policy to encourage people to be entrepreneurs.

But just because an ecosystem isn’t poised to give rise to a disruptive potentially $1 billion dollar company doesn’t mean it’s not innovating and doesn’t mean the Valley doesn’t need to pay attention. I’ll detail how Singapore is accomplishing both of those in future posts.

Source: Singapore: Why Innovate in Utopia?

Silicon South Africa: Google Launches Incubator For African Startups

November 29th, 2001 11:00 admin View Comments

Google has announced that it will be launching a startup incubator in Cape Town, South Africa, called Umbono. The incubator aims to support the local tech ecosystem in South Africa by offering local startups access to seed capital, Google mentorship, and angel investors.

Umbono will focus on web and mobile-based startups building solutions to local problems, which also have regional appeal, in an effort to help them “transform their ideas into companies”, according to Google SA country manager Luke Mckend. Fittingly, “umbono” happens to be the very Zulu word for “vision” or “idea”.

The South African incubator will be structured as a 6-month program, in which 5 startups chosen by Umbono’s panel of angel investors and Google representatives will receive a seed investment of $25K to $50K. The teams will also have access to Umbono’s free office space, bandwidth, and a mentorship network of Google experts, ready to advise the startups on issues from “product design and commercialization to legal incorporation and valuation”, Google said of Umbono in its announcement.

Local bandwidth is expensive in Cape Town — so this will likely be very attractive to young tech startups in South Africa. Not to mention the added bonus of $25K.

Umbono’s home city of Cape Town, located on the southwestern shore of South Africa, has for years been attempting to position itself as a hub of innovation and technology in subsaharan Africa. The Cape IT Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing information and communications technology in South Africa, has been lobbying Google (and others) to locate their incubators in Cape Town for some time.

Along with Cape IT, Cape Town is home to Silicon Cape, a similar initiative aimed at fostering tech entrepreneurship in South Africa, as well as veteran incubators, like the highly-regarded, 10-year-old Bandwidth Barn.

South Africa has also produced its fair share of successful (and well-funded) startups, like Yola, a website creator that has raised $25 million, MXit, an instant messaging app with over 27 million subscribers, and Twangoo, Twangoo, a group buying club, which was acquired by Groupon earlier this year — to name a few. And now the country’s startup ecosystem adds another notch to its belt by luring Google’s business development talent to its shores.

When I asked Umbono spokeswoman Julie Taylor about why Google chose South Africa and whether or not it has plans for incubators elsewhere in Africa, she told me that, at this point, Umbono is a pilot project. The incubator will test the African waters, and if the model proves to be viable — and beneficial –Google will look to expand into other emerging markets.

“South Africa is recognized as one of the innovation leaders on the continent, particularly with tech startups,” she said, “so we are enthusiastic about the possibilities here”.

Source: Silicon South Africa: Google Launches Incubator For African Startups

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