Here is BMW’s new electric motorcycle concept

BMW has a long history of building motorcycles, but it hasn’t done all that well in the electric motorcycle department. Clearly, though, this is something the company is thinking hard about and today, at its inaugural NextGen event, the company showed its newest electric concept bike, the BMW Motorrad Vision DC Roadster.

As usual, there’s no guarantee that this concept will ever come to market. Indeed, it’s likely that it won’t, but it will provide the inspiration for what will eventually go into production.

Going electric is a hard move to make for a company and that has been associated with its 2-cylinder boxer engine for ages. If it wants to produce a successful electric motorcycle, then it needs to be able to offer buyers not just performance (something they get by default with an electric engine and the torque it produces), but also something that retains the brand image buyers associate with BMW motorcycles.

Edgar Heinrich, the Head of Design for BMW Motorrad, argues that the Vision DC Roadster does just that. “The boxer engine is the heart of BMW Motorrad – an absolute stalwart of its character,” he said. “But BMW Motorrad stands for visionary zero-emissions vehicle concepts, too. In view of this, one question that arises is: what would happen if we were to replace the boxer engine with an electric motor and the required battery? The Vision Bike shows how we’re able to retain the identity and iconic appearance of BMW Motorrad in distinctive form while at the same time presenting an exciting new type of riding pleasure.”

Where a typical BMW motorbike would usually have its engine, the Vision roadster has a battery pack with coolers. Throughout the concept, the company’s designers used familiar design elements fro previous generations of the brand’s motorcycles.

In addition to the motorcycle, BMW also today showed off a new concept vehicle, the BMW Vision M Next, a new electrified sports car. The idea here is to provide a counterpart to the existing iNEXT concept that focuses more on performance than ease of use.

“Where the BMW Vision iNEXT illustrated how autonomous driving is set to transform life on board our vehicles, the BMW Vision M NEXT demonstrates how state-of-the-art technology can also make the experience of driving yourself purer and more emotionally engaging,” said Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design. “In both models, the focus is firmly on the people inside. Design and technology make the ‘EASE’ and ‘BOOST’ experiences more natural and more intense.”

In line with this idea, the new concept vehicle promises to be able to go from 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) in three seconds and offer a range of about 62 miles (which isn’t all that much). To get access to more power, drivers can also hit a BOOST+ button.

With the M Next, BMW is also showing off some new user interface designs. The interface now adapts to the speed you are driving at, for example, and will automatically give you less information as you drive faster, in order to let you focus as you head down the autobahn at 120 mph.

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Norrsken opens East Africa startup fund and hub in Kigali

Startups in East Africa have a new source for investment and mentorship.

Sweden’s Norrsken Foundation—a coworking space and investment fund based in Stockholmopened its tech fund and entrepreneurship hub in Rwanda today to support ventures across the region.

Norrsken’s Kigali center is located on the former École Belge campus and will begin with seed investments of $25K to $100K for early stage startups in all sectors starting this year, Norrsken CEO Erik Engellau-Nilsson told TechCrunch.

The fund size is still being determined and Norrsken Kigali will extend the fund to larger series-stage investments from $100K to $1 million in the future.

Norrsken’s Fredrika Wessman is the head of Africa expansion and the organization is in the process of hiring a local director for its new Kigali operation.

The Swedish foundation’s move into Rwanda is strongly connected to the organization’s focus on the power of tech entrepreneurs to solve problems and generate capacity.

“We believe the single most important thing we can do here is help people get wealthy, because if that happens more investors will start to look at this region and see there’s business opportunities and bring more capital,” said Engellau-Nilsson.

“The aim is to build the biggest hub for entrepreneurship in East Africa.”

Startups that receive Norrsken funding from its Kigali center will receive mentorship and support of the overall Norrsken organization and network. “That includes unicorn founders, leading tech founders, and developers. We also look to expand that network to local accelerators and incubators,” said Engellau-Nilsson.

The Kigali center is Norrsken’s first launch outside of Sweden and the organization looks to open in 25 markets globally over the next decade.

Norrsken was formed in 2016 by Niklas Adalberth, the founder of Swedish payments solutions unicorn Klarna. Engellau-Nilsson was an exec with Adalberth at Klarna from 2013 to 2017, and both aimed to do more to support impact-driven, early stage ventures.

“We wanted to use our experience and tech to solve real problems instead of finding another way to do things like deliver burrito’s faster,” said Engellau-Nilsson.

Over 340 entrepreneurs and 120 companies currently work out of Norrsken’s Stockholm location. The organization’s fund has invested in 17 ventures, including three Africa focused startups—agtech company Wefarm, digital publisher Kognity, and weather forecasting firm Ignitia.

Norrsken chose Rwanda as the base for its East African  for the country’s progress over the last decade on infrastructure, increasing internet penetration, and improving its business environment. In 2019, Rwanda ranked higher than any African country on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business list, 29th, before Spain.

Though the country has a relatively small population (12 million) and tech scene, the government of Rwanda has prioritized tech events and development in the country. This includes becoming a leader on  drone delivery and regulatory systems, working most notably with San Francisco based UAV startup Zipline.

Of the East African countries from which Norrksen will source investments, Kenya stands out as one of the continent’s top hubs for tech startup formation, VC, and exits.

As for how ventures can reach out to pitch to Norrsken’s new fund, “If there are entrepreneurs who want to reach out to us, we’re ready to go,” said Engellau-Nilsson. Norrsken posted an informational and contact link for its Rwanda hub today.

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Colombian point-of-sale lender ADDI nabs $12.5 million from Andreessen Horowitz

Andreessen Horowitz <3 Latin American startups.

Latin America is the only region outside of the U.S. where the venture firm is routinely investing capital and it has just made another commitment, doubling down on its early stage support for the point-of-sale lending startup, ADDI.

ADDI picked up $12.5 million in new financing in April of this year as the company looks to expand its lending services online.

For an American audience, the closest corollary to what ADDI is up to is likely Affirm, the point-of-sale lender that’s raised a ton of cash and come in for some (valid) criticism for its basic business model.

Like Affirm, ADDI lets its borrowers apply for credit at the moment of purchase. The company likens its service to the layaway and credit plans that already exist in Colombia — but involve pretty onerous requirements to use. Company co-founder Santiago Suarez and Andreessen Horowitz general partner Angela Strange both commented on how, in some cases, Colombian shoppers have to have three people vouch for a borrower before a store will issue credit or agree to a layaway plan.

The difference between an ADDI loan — or any loan — and layaway is that an installment payment plan doesn’t charge interest (and even with the fees that installment plans do charge, they are often still cheaper than taking out a loan).

But financial products are coming for consumers in Latin America whether those buyers like it or not — and for the most part, it seems they do like it.

Historically, only the wealthiest clientele in Latin America received anything resembling the kinds of financial products that are more widely available in the United States, according to Strange. And the investment in ADDI is just part of her firm’s thesis in trying to make more services more broadly available in a region where a technological transformation is creating unprecedented opportunities for challengers.

That assessment is what drew Santiago Suarez back to Latin America only two years ago. A former executive at Lending Club who previously had worked as the head of New Product Development and Emerging Services at J.P. Morgan, Suarez saw the tremendous growth happening in Latin America and returned to Colombia to see if he could bring some much needed services to his home country.

Suarez partnered with his childhood friend, Elmer Ortega, who was working as the chief technology officer of the local hedge fund where he had previously been employed as a derivatives trader before learning how to code.

Together the two men, who had known each other since they were five-years-old, set out to transform how credit was offered in retail shops. It’s an industry that Suarez had known well since his parents had owned stores.

“In the U.S. there are all of these gaps that fintech companies are filling,” says Suarez. “But the gapes in Latin America are bigger.”

Suarez and Ortega incorporated the company in September 2018, around the same time they raised $2.3 million from the regional investment firm, Monashees, Andreessen, and Village Global . They then raised another $1.5 million in an internal round of financing before closing the most recent funding.

The company offers loans at annual percentage rates ranging from19.99% to 28.90%. The company started with a digital solution for brick and mortar retailers because 90% of retail in Colombia still happens offline. 

Although it’s in its early days, the company has already originated 10,000 borrowers and typically loans out roughly $500 since it launched on February 22, according to Suarez. He declined to comment on the company’s default rate on loans.

Now with 40 employees on staff, the company is looking to bring its lending tool to more e-commerce and physical retailers, according to Suarez. And despite the threat of cyclical political turmoil, Suarez says there’s no better time to be investing in Colombia. 

“It’s the most stable country outside of Chile… Way more stable than Brazil, way more stable than Argentina and way more stable than Mexico,” Suarez says. “What we’re looking at is more than cyclical instability… those things go beyond that.. Nubank was able to build a multibillion business in the worst political and economic crisis in Brazil’s history. I think Colombia is an incredibly attractive space with a deep talent pool.”

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Oppo and Xiaomi tease under-screen selfie cameras for smartphones

The next innovation in mobile is peeking its head for all to see today after Chinese companies Oppo and Xiaomi both showed off under-screen cameras.

Apple’s notch set the ball rolling as a new way to pack a front-facing camera without compromising on the screen size, but it is already feeling date. The industry has since given us smartphone cameras that pop out, flip up and slide out, while the hole-punch condenses the notch further still, but the next stage is going under the screen for full invisibility.

The benefits are obvious. There’s no compromise on the front screen, which is now 100 percent screen, and removing moving parts means no concern for potential damage — but can it be done well enough?

Oppo VP Brian Shen teased his company’s early effort on Weibo. The video, which was later shared by Oppo’s Twitter account, doesn’t have a lot of detail but it does show a hidden camera that takes a photo of the ceiling.

We don’t get a chance to delve into the quality of the image and it isn’t clear what device it was taken on, but already Shen claims the technology is showing promise.

“At this stage, it’s difficult for under-display cameras to match the same results as normal cameras, there’s bound to be some loss in optical quality. But, no new technology jumps to perfection right away,” he said, according to Engadget.

You’d imagine that a number of Chinese smartphone makers are hard at work bringing this design to reality. Proof of that comes from Xiaomi’s very hasty response, which saw the company posts its own under-screen camera teaser right after Oppo’s.

This one comes courtesy of Xiaomi co-founder Bin Lin, and it also originated on Weibo before it made its way to Twitter.

The Xiaoki video appears to show a prototype Mi 9 with the hidden camera compared with a regular model. As with the Oppo tease, we don’t know when this technology will reach consumers but these tactical leaks certainly show that the wheels are in motion.

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These Johns Hopkins students are slashing breast cancer biopsy costs

Over 2 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. And while the diagnosis doesn’t have to be a death sentence for women in countries like the United States, in developing countries three times as many women die from the disease.

Breast cancer survival rates range from 80% or over in North America, Sweden and Japan to around 60% in middle-income countries and below 40% in low-income countries, according to data provided the World Health Organization.

And the WHO blames these low survival rates in less developed countries on the lack of early detection programs, which result in a higher proporation of women presenting with late-stage disease. The problem is exacerbated by a lack of adequate diagnostic technologies and treatment facilities, according to the WHO.

A group of Johns Hopkins University undergraduates believe they have found a solution. The four women, none of whom are over 21-years-old, have developed a new, low-cost, disposable core needle biopsy technology for physicians and nurses that could dramatically reduce cost and waste, thereby increasing the availability of screening technologies in emerging markets.

They’ve taken the technology they developed at Johns Hopkins University and created a new startup called Ithemba, which means “hope” in Swahili, to commercialize their device. While the company is still in its early days, the women recently won the undergraduate Lemelson-MIT Student Prize competition, and has received $60,000 in non-dilutive grant funding and a $10,000 prize associated with the Lemelson award.

Students at Johns Hopkins had been working through the problem of developing low-cost diagnostic tools for breast cancer for the past three years, spurred on by Dr. Susan Harvey, the head of Johns Hopkins Section of Breast Imaging.

While Dr. Harvey presented the problem, and several students tried to tackle it, Ithemba’s co-founders — the biomedical engineering undergrads Laura Hinson, Madeline Lee, Sophia Triantis, and Valerie Zawicki — were the first to bring a solution to market.

Ithemba co-founders Laura Hinson, Madeline Lee, Valerie Zawicki and Sophia Triantis

The 21-year-old Zawicki, who grew up in Long Beach, Calif., has a personal connection to the work the team is doing. When she was just five years old her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the cost of treatment and toll it took on the family forced the family to separate. “My sister moved in with my grandparents,” Zawicki says, while her mother underwent treatment. “When I came to college I was looking for a way to make an impact in the healthcare space and was really inspired by the care my mom received.”

The same is true for Zawicki’s co-founder, Triantis.

“We have an opportunity to  solve problems that really need solving,” says Triantis, a 20-year-old undergraduate. “Breast cancer has affected so many people close to me… It is the most common cancer among women [and] the fact that women in low resource settings do not have the same standard of diagnostic care really inspired me to work on a solution.”

What the four women have made is a version of a core-needled biopsy that has a lower risk of contamination than the reusable devices that are currently on the market and is cheaper than the expensive disposable needles that are the only other option, the founders say.

We’ve designed a novel, disposable portion that attaches to the reusable device and the disposable portion has an ability to trap contaminants that would come back through the needle into the device,” says Triantis. “What we’ve created is a way to trap that and have that full portion be disposable and making the device as easy to clean as possible… with a bleach wipe.”

Ithemba’s low-cost reusable core-needle biopsy device

The company is currently in the process of doing benchtop tests on the device, and will look to file a 510K to be certified as a Class 2 medical device. Already a clinic in South Africa and a hospital in Peru are on board as early customers for the new biopsy tool.

At the heart of the new tool is a mechanism which prevents blood from being drawn back into a needle. The team argues it makes reusable needles much less susceptible to contamination and can replace the disposable needles that are too expensive for many emerging market clinics and hospitals.

Zawicki had been working on the problem for a while when Hinson, Lee, and Triantis joined up. “I joined the team when the problem was presented,” says Zawicki. “The project began with this problem that was pitched three years ago, but the four of us are really those that have brought this to life in terms of a device.”

Crucially for the team, Johns Hopkins was fully supportive of the women taking their intellectual property and owning it themselves. “We received written approval from the tech transfer office to file independently,” says Zawicki. “That is really unique.” 

Coupled with the Lemelson award, Ithemba sees a clear path to ownership of the intellectual property and is filing patents on its device.

Zawicki says that it could be anywhere from three to five years before the device makes it on to the market, but there’s the potential for partnerships with big companies in the biopsy space that could accelerate that time to market.

“Once we get that process solidified and finalize our design we will wrap up our benchtop testing so we can move toward clinical trials by next summer, in 2020,” Zawicki says.

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