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May 26, 2014

European #VentureCapital: Innovation by fiat #EIF @TheEconomist

Nearly 40% of all the funds pumped into European VC last year came from state-backed sources, up from just 14% in 2007 (see chart). The EIF alone ploughed €600m ($800m) into VC funds last year, out of a Europe-wide total of €4 billion. 

European venture capital

Innovation by fiat

Well-meaning governments are killing the continent’s startups with kindness

IN A suburban office on the road to Luxembourg airport, a small group of civil servants is busy picking the next generation of European venture capitalists. Every year, hundreds of would-be financiers set out their stalls at the European Investment Fund (EIF), a body financed by the European Union, hoping they will be given money to create the next Facebook.
Europe has never been able to muster nearly the same quantity or quality of venture capital (VC) as Silicon Valley. That is frustrating to its politicians, who see venture capitalists as job-creating innovation machines, and love them nearly as much as they loathe other financial types. But investors who put up such capital in other parts of the world, such as pension funds, banks and billionaires, are not especially eager to funnel money to startups battling to thrive in Europe’s often hostile business environment. By and large, the politicians’ solution has not been to make the environment friendlier to business, thus increasing entrepreneurs’ chances of luring private-sector backing. Instead, they have replaced the reticent financiers with state-funded bureaucrats.
Nearly 40% of all the funds pumped into European VC last year came from state-backed sources, up from just 14% in 2007 (see chart). The EIF alone ploughed €600m ($800m) into VC funds last year, out of a Europe-wide total of €4 billion. On top of this, nearly every country has its own pet programme to back chosen venture capitalists.
Despite taxpayers’ generosity, few think Europe’s VC industry has much chance of attracting American levels of capital from private investors, given its feeble record. Venture capital in Europe has delivered returns of just 2.1% a year since 1990, according to Thomson Reuters, making it perhaps the worst investment class outside Japan (American VC managed around 13%). The 2008 crash, which came just as investors were getting over the fortunes they lost in the internet bubble, sapped what little interest remained.
The public cash slushing around VC-land may in fact be repelling private money. Investors turn to VC hoping to attain vast riches by nurturing the next Google or WhatsApp; they are loth to invest alongside governments whose interests lie only partly in turning a profit. State money comes with strings attached, be it an encouragement for venture capitalists (or the companies they finance) to create jobs in particular countries or to focus on certain favoured sectors. This is anathema to private investors, who fear their money would be used to pursue political goals. “I understand why governments invest in venture capital, but they are spoiling it for the rest of us,” says an endowment-fund boss.
Several studies of public VC schemes have found that for every dollar the public sector puts in, the private sector pulls one out. The EIF says it worries about this, so it only matches funds that VC firms attract from private backers. “We are driven by a need and a wish to address market gaps,” says John Holloway, a high-up there.
Some think that the handouts from taxpayers are also impairing the quality of European venture capitalists’ investments. The EIF alone has sunk more than €3.8 billion into 260 venture funds, but provides no data on how its investments have fared. Ho-hum entrepreneurs whose firms only launch because of government backing (and dud firms that would have folded long ago without it) drive down average returns. Meanwhile, funds relying on private capital have to pay more to outbid government-backed rivals.
European funds have poor returns in part because they sell companies too early, missing out on bumper returns that come from placing longer-lasting bets. Government money spurs such conservatism: it is better for a fund to “bank” a good deal and guarantee access to later dollops of government cash than to roll the dice again. Such thinking horrifies private investors.
Several European startups have successfully launched initial public offerings recently, including King.com, which makes an addictive game called Candy Crush Saga, and Criteo, an advertising-technology firm. But both had been backed by American as well as European money, and have listed their shares in America. They may soon be joined by Spotify, a trendy music service that has been European VC’s poster child. Many bright Europeans continue to flock to California before they even start their businesses.
It is not that Europe has no need for innovative startups and the jobs they bring—just the opposite. But entrepreneurs say there are better ways of boosting their chances than dollops of taxpayers’ cash. “We have labour laws designed for workers in large corporations, they don’t work for startups,” says Niklas Zennstrom, a founder of Skype who now runs an (EIF-backed) venture fund. Tax laws in several EU countries make it hard to pay staff with stock options, a standard carrot for American startups. Rules about procurement often favour established firms. More broadly, Europe’s staid business culture is too slow to forgive failure, in contrast to America where setbacks are celebrated as a necessary staging point to success.
Josh Lerner of Harvard Business School compares doling out public-sector cash, EIF-style, to serving a main dish before the table is set. Governments the world over have long backed innovation, for example through public funding of universities. Silicon Valley thrived in part due to bloated defence spending from the 1940s onwards. But that is altogether different from Europe’s approach of picking the firms that pick the winners. Better to make entrepreneurialism pay than to subsidise it.
European venture capital: Innovation by fiat | The Economist




April 25, 2014

The #SuperHeroes #RealEstate edition Heroic Homes: 35 Hideouts You Wish Were Real

I guess I'd be happy with the Avengers Mansion on 5th Avenue in NYC...

Or the BatCave



Heroic Homes: 35 Hideouts You Wish Were Real





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Check it out on The MasterTech Blog

April 24, 2014

#France: #Uber, #SnapCar And Others Won’t Be Able To Use #Geolocation @TechCrunch

They just don't get it!!! There's no way France will ever advance if they keep falling prey to all these stupid interest groups that have no other aim than to protect their little turfs. 

Uber, SnapCar And Others Won’t Be Able To Use Geolocation In France

Thomas Thévenoud had an impossible job — he was the French deputy in charge of finding an agreement between urban transportation startups and taxi unions in France. He just announced his report to those companies, and it will become a law in the coming weeks. But some of the 30 points are highly controversial. For example, Uber, Chauffeur-Privé, LeCab and others won’t be able to use your phone’s GPS in France.
“The report is quite explosive. He has locked the use of geolocation for the urban transportation companies and is proposing to allow it only for the taxis,” SnapCar co-founder Dave Ashton told me in a phone interview. “From a technical standpoint, it’s pretty incredible because we invented the use of geolocation for the drivers and clients. It’s completely ridiculous.”
Other points won’t please taxi drivers. “The taxi drivers will strike immediately. That’s certain,” Ashton said. In France, when you call a taxi, the driver starts the taxi meter immediately. Thévenoud wants to cap this amount, or even end it. When you call an Uber, your ride doesn’t start until you’re actually in the car.
Every taxi driver will also need to have a credit card machine. This will make it much more difficult for cab drivers to avoid paying taxes on their rides. When you order a cab to go to the airport, it will be a fixed price like in New York and many other cities.
Thévenoud wants taxi drivers to systematically use geolocation. In short, the French government is taking Uber’s innovation and giving it exclusively to taxi drivers. The government could also ban ride-sharing services, such as UberPOPHeetch and Djump.
Taxi drivers asked for much more aggressive rules against urban transportation companies. According to them, in order to protect taxis, LeCab, Uber and others should have to wait at least 30 minutes before letting a customer in the car, and a ride should cost at least $80 (€60). None of that is in Thévenoud’s report.
As a reminder, cab drivers have complained against urban transportation startups for months. They claim that allowing these new companies is unfair competition.
In December, the government announced and immediately passed the 15-minute law for Uber, Chauffeur-Privé and others. Drivers had to wait 15 minutes between the time a customer hailed them and they let them in the car. Most startups didn’t even try to comply with the rule, and it was recently suspended by the Conseil d’État. In other words, it was too harsh.
Yet, taxi driver unions said that they would regularly go on strike to protest that decision. That’s why Thévenoud was appointed to find a “fair and durable solution that will benefit everyone while taking into account the different needs in terms of urban transportation.”
In the meantime, the government has stopped issuing new driver licenses for urban transportation companies. These licenses should become more expensive in the near future as well. While today’s report is a first step, I don’t think it will end the conflict between taxi drivers and urban transportation companies anytime soon.
Photo credit: Maxime Bonzi under the CC BY 2.0 license



Uber, SnapCar And Others Won’t Be Able To Use Geolocation In France | TechCrunch


April 01, 2014

Infinite Creativity — An exerpt from @Biz Stone's new book:



This
excerpt from my book, THiNGS A LITTLE BIRD TOLD ME, is a story of an
apprenticeship turned friendship that taught me a powerful lesson.

Infinite Creativity — The Biz Stone Collection — Medium



March 21, 2014

‘The Technology Is Out There,’ but Satellites Don’t Track Jets @NYTimes

We can watch MTV on the plane, but we still don't know where the MH370 plane is!!

‘The Technology Is Out There,’ but Satellites Don’t Track Jets

Airlines routinely use satellites to provide Wi-Fi for passengers. But for years they have failed to use a similar technology for a far more basic task: tracking planes and their black-box flight recorders.
Long before Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished on March 8, the global airline industry had sophisticated tools in hand to follow planes in real time and stream data from their flight recorders. But for a variety of reasons, mostly involving cost and how infrequently planes crash, neither the airlines nor their regulators adopted them.
One of the haunting questions about Flight 370 — how authorities could lose track of a Boeing 777 jetliner in age when an iPhone can be located in moments — persisted on Thursday as Australian officials said satellite cameras had spotted objects floating in the southern Indian Ocean that might be parts of the missing airliner.
Authorities counseled caution about the sighting, however, and the first Royal Australian Air Force plane to fly over the estimated location of the objects returned to base without spotting anything that fit the description — a reminder of how baffling the hunt for the missing jetliner has been.
The idea of tracking airplanes in flight or using deployable black boxes that can broadcast their location via satellites has been around for many years and gained attention after an Air France jet crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009; it took investigators two years to locate the black boxes, two miles underwater. But the disappearance of the Malaysian plane and improvements in satellite technology could provide a new impetus to track planes more closely, experts said.
“The technology is out there, but it’s just a question of political will to recognize this is important,” said Mark Rosenker, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and a retired Air Force major general. “What hasn’t improved is that we still have to wait to recover those boxes to begin accident investigations. Precious days are wasted.”
Military airplanes and helicopters used in offshore exploration have flight-data recorders that can eject with a parachute in a crash. They emit a satellite signal that immediately transmits the aircraft’s identity and location. But adding an ejection system on a commercial jet would require expensive redesign.
As the hunt for the Malaysian jet turns to the Indian Ocean, investigators will seek to recover the plane’s flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. Generally referred to as the black box, these systems are in fact painted bright orange so they can be spotted easily. They record hundreds of flight parameters for 25 hours, as well as up to two hours of pilot communications and cockpit sounds.
Graphic | Areas of Search for Malaysian Jet Satellite imagery captured near the Australian search areas shows objects that officials said could be related to the missing Malaysian plane.
They are built to survive crashes, withstand fires with temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for more than an hour, and survive in water depths of 20,000 feet for 30 days. They are equipped with beacons that transmit ultrasonic pulses every second the moment they come in contact with water.
But while the technology has proved invaluable in countless accidents, the flight recorders must first be recovered to be of any use.
“It is shocking to find ourselves in the same situation of not being able to locate an airplane,” said Robert Soulas, who lost his daughter and son-in-law in the Air France crash.
The pace of change has been slow. In February 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration said that underwater beacons manufactured after 2015 would be required to have a battery that lasted 90 days once it started beeping, instead of 30 days. The International Civil Aviation Organization, which sets global airline rules, has also mandated that wide-body airplanes should be outfitted with low-frequency beacons by 2018 to give their underwater signal greater range.
This handout from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority shows the satellite images of the two objects that officials say could possibly be related to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority
But regulators have not pressed for any requirements to upgrade flight recorders with versions that transmit real-time data via satellite.
The F.A.A. has argued that given the tens of thousands of flights in the air at any given time, live streaming of all the black-box information would pose too many technical challenges and hog limited satellite bandwidth. The costs to airlines of transmitting large volumes of data would also be prohibitively expensive and difficult to justify.
“Remember that this is an episodic event, so there is not a large current and present danger of it happening all over the world,” said Michael Boyd, an industry consultant. “Besides, it would be billions of dollars and a huge amount of infrastructure to collect the data.”
Krishna Kavi, a professor of computer science at the University of North Texas, who outlined the contours of a similar, live-streaming system more than a decade ago, said that costs could be contained by just transmitting limited amounts of information in regular operations.
Richard Hayden, the director at FLYHT Aerospace Solutions, which provides such streaming services from airplane black boxes, said airlines would need to stream more data only in an unusual situation, for instance, if an engine overheats or a plane deviates from its flight path. In that case, the cost of transmission might vary between $5 to $10 a minute when needed, he said.
Modern airplanes like the Boeing 777 are full of sophisticated devices to communicate with air traffic controllers and broadcast their position, including two transponders, several VHF radios, a satellite phone and text and data-link systems. One of them, the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, handles textlike transmissions over radio or satellite links.
But those systems can be vulnerable to tampering by outsiders or can just be turned off by pilots, or anyone else knowledgeable with airplane operations. Industry officials say pilots need to be able to turn off any transmission system in case it starts a fire.
Similar concerns emerged after the 9/11 attacks, when terrorists turned off transponders that broadcast a plane’s identification number and other information, hiding the planes’ identities from civilian controllers. Once an airplane is outside radar range, usually 200 miles from the coast, American airlines insist on getting communications from pilots at least once an hour to track their aircraft. Without these updates, a plane might fly hundreds of miles beyond its last point of communications before anyone was even aware it was missing.
These shortcomings could come to an end thanks to a long-planned transition from radar to satellite-based systems that are expected to greatly increase tracking accuracy by the end of the decade.
This shift is all the more critical as a new generation of airplanes can fly longer distances over water and traffic grows rapidly throughout Asia and the Pacific.
But in the meantime, Robert W. Mann, an aviation consultant in Port Washington, N.Y., said rescue operations could be considerably accelerated if airplanes were required to automatically send basic flight information via satellite — such as position, altitude, speed and direction — at much shorter intervals.
Such a system could also be designed to keep transmitting as long as an airplane was airborne or generated power.
Over the last several years, airlines have been installing satellite-based Wi-Fi systems for passenger entertainment that could also be used to facilitate data-streaming, Mr. Mann said.
“It’s ironic that we have this technology so passengers can pay to watch reruns of ‘Charlie’s Angels,’ but that we still have to make the safety case for their use,” he said.


‘The Technology Is Out There,’ but Satellites Don’t Track Jets - NYTimes.com

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