Deeptech, AI warm up the tech talk at Slush 2023; and other top tech, startup stories

Hi, this is Pranav Mukul in Helsinki. The cold and frigid temperatures of the Finnish capital, with chilling winds coming in from the Arctic, are enough to make one real feel the severe winter. But at Slush 2023 – an annual startup and technology ecosystem event featuring founders and investors from all over the world – deeptech and artificial intelligence startups provided much-needed heat, not only to the environment but also to the European tech ecosystem.

PICTURE 1

Entrance of the Slush 2023 event at Messukeskus Expo and Convention Centre in Helsinki, Finland

The event saw over 13,000 participants, including 5,000 startup founders and operators, in addition to around 3,000 investors managing a combined total of $3 trillion in assets. These included executives from technology companies such as OpenAI, Doordash, Stripe, Duolingo, Mistral AI, Monzo, and venture capital firms such as Sequoia Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Accel, Thrive Capital, Spark Capital, Atomico and others.

Indian unicorn Lenskart made an appearance with its cofounder and CEO Peyush Bansal having a discussion with SoftBank Investment Advisers’ Sumer Juneja.

bansal-juneja

From left: SoftBank’s Sumer Juneja in conversation with Lenskart’s Peyush Bansal at Slush 2023

Also Read: Lenskart is planning to open 300-400 stores in Southeast Asia

Over the last two days, ETtech spoke to over a dozen executives and investors on the sidelines of the event to delve into how the startup and technology community in Europe has shaken things up in the ongoing winter – both seasonal and in terms of funding.

According to early-stage venture capital firm Atomico, which has backed startups such as Stripe, Klarna and Skype, total capital invested into European tech startups is estimated to plummet to $45 billion in 2023, 55% lower than 2021, when investment volumes crossed $100 billion for the first time in the region. It is also lower than the $82 billion in investments that the region saw in 2022.

“The reality for startup founders looks drastically different from what it did a few years ago. Suddenly, building enduring companies is more important than explosive growth. Now perhaps more than ever, startups need to be built on first principles, and founders should prepare themselves for the long-haul,” Eerika Savolainen, CEO of Slush, said.

Those at the event – looking to network, partner and in some cases, even raise funds – did not disagree, but said this was the time to build.

AI takes the cake

“What you’re seeing in terms of the fall in funding is caused by the inflated valuations that later-stage companies got during the cheap money scenario…and that’s not something specific to Europe but has been seen across the world,” a Munich-based investment banker visiting Slush said.

“To set some context here, investors have also moved focus away from high-cash-guzzling, hyper-growth-generating consumer companies to those that are really building frontier technologies in deeptech areas such as quantum computing, chip design, semiconductors, and new energy and sustainability spaces…something that Europe has a proven track record of building,” he added.

Atomico partner Tom Wehmeier said the focus on climate, healthcare and sustainability was also evident from funding patterns. “European talent wants to solve humanity’s toughest challenges…sustainability, climate, health are the top themes for job movers this year…we also see capital following talent in the same direction. This year, startups operating in the carbon and energy sector captured 27% of all capital invested. This made it the single-largest sector in absolute funding levels overtaking usual suspects like fintech and software,” Wehmeier said.

Artificial intelligence, though, was the top theme for early-stage investors, he added.

In June this year, Paris-based Mistral AI raised around $113 million in seed funding – making it the largest capital raise at that stage. The round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, and saw participation from investors based in France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and the UK. These include Redpoint, Index Ventures, JCDecaux Holding, Rodolphe Saadé, Motier Ventures, La Famiglia, Headline, Exor Ventures, Sofina, First Minute Capital and LocalGlobe.

PICTURE 3.

From left: Arthur Mensch, cofounder and CEO, Mistral AI; Paul Murphy, partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners

A Finland-based venture investor backing companies in the deeptech and AI spaces said that what sets Europe apart is the availability of talent. “There’s a large pool of engineers across Europe, including in Nordic countries like Finland and Estonia, who are currently working for US-based companies on the ground in Europe. It is inevitable that as capital starts flowing in…and the larger companies take mentorship roles, these people will start spinning out into forming new companies,” she said.

(The correspondent was in Helsinki on the invite of Business Finland)


AI in focus

Jeff Dean

Jeff Dean, chief scientist, Google DeepMind and Google Research

ETtech Exclusive | Generative AI models not always factual, issue needs to be worked on, fixed: Google’s Jeff Dean
Jeff Dean spearheads Alphabet Inc’s recently merged artificial intelligence (AI) units- DeepMind and Google Brain- as its chief scientist. In an interview with ETtech he spoke about playing catch-up in the artificial general intelligence (AGI) race, its chatbot Bard’s launch, impending release of Google’s Gemini — a ChatGPT competitor — as well as strategies to combat misinformation fuelled by AI tools. Read the full interview here.

The Jeff Dean Factbox

Social media firms need time to tackle deepfake content: executives | Social media and internet intermediaries, including the likes of Google and Meta, are likely to take more time to develop tools to accurately detect and take down deep fake and synthetic content that is present on their platforms, senior executives at these companies told ET.


Other Top Stories Of The Week

Byjus

Byju Raveendran, cofounder, Think & Learn

For more capital, Byju’s must pass a tough test: Top shareholders at Byju’s have demanded the company meet certain conditions before they consider any future capital infusion into the beleaguered edtech firm that is battling a deepening fund crunch, people in the know of the matter said. These investors have asked the company to file its audited financials for the year ended March 31, 2023, at the earliest.

Exclusive: Amazon India set for top-deck reshuffle | Amazon has started the process of what is seen as a significant top-level restructuring of its India management team under vice president and country head Manish Tiwary, people aware of the matter told ET. The changes come at a time when Noor Patel, one of the most senior executives at Amazon India heading category management, is moving to the US, as the local team has been informed internally, the sources said.

Amazon India marketplace financials

Appario Retail FY23 revenue falls 8%: Appario Retail–the largest seller on Amazon India–has reported an 8% drop in revenue for FY23 at Rs 14,604.2 crore, reflecting a slowdown on Amazon’s ecommerce marketplace in the country.

Appario Retail financials

HCL likely to set up $400 million OSAT facility in Karnataka: The HCL Group is moving closer to setting up an Outsourced Semiconductor Assembly and Test (OSAT) facility — also termed as a chip packaging unit — in Karnataka, multiple people aware of the developments told ET.

VCs double check corporate governance as lapses rise: A series of serious corporate governance lapses across well-funded startups in India has already turned investors wary of writing big cheques when the sector is also facing a funding winter.

Indian electric two-wheeler makers tapping international markets: Legacy two-wheeler maker TVS Motor-backed Ultraviolette, which makes the performance electric bike F77, is set to enter European markets like Spain, Germany, Italy, and France.

Dealshare president of retail, founder Medda in race for CEO post: Dealshare founder Sourjyendu Medda and president of its retail business Kamaldeep Singh are vying for the chief executive’s post at the hyperlocal ecommerce unicorn, amid a major restructuring led by investors, said people in the know.

Tale of woe

Swiggy loss for first half FY23 narrows to $208 million: Prosus | Prosus, the largest shareholder in Swiggy, said the Indian food-delivery major’s loss narrowed 35% from a year ago to $208 million for the half year ended September 30. The Amsterdam-based unit of South African conglomerate Naspers holds a 32.7% share in Swiggy.

Swiggy s performance

Fema breach: ED flags failure to submit papers, delays by Byju’s: The Directorate of Enforcement (ED) has alleged a slew of violations under the foreign exchange law, including failure to submit crucial documents in time as well as realise export proceeds, by Byju’s parent Think & Learn, apart from holding founder Byju Raveendran responsible.


Fintech Corner

Nalin Negi, interim CEO & CFO, BharatPe

Nalin Negi, interim CEO & CFO, BharatPe

BharatPe co-creating with Unity Bank: interim CEO Nalin Negi: Fintech firm BharatPe is working towards co-creating products with Unity Small Finance Bank, in which it holds a 49% stake

BharatPe in numbers

With credit cards on UPI, NPCI eyes share of big-ticket spends: With RuPay credit cards enabled on Unified Payments Interface (UPI), National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) wants larger-ticket merchant payments also to move to its retail payment network.

Growth in RuPay card transactions

P2P companies log revenue jump, thanks to biz partnerships: Peer-to-peer lending, which has mostly remained confined to the margins of the financial services sector, has reported strong growth in the last financial year.

Getting in shape Stronger financials

PhonePe is set to launch consumer lending by January 2024: Digital payments major PhonePe is set to launch consumer lending on its platform by January 2024, two people aware of the discussions told ET, requesting anonymity.

PayU India H1 FY24 income rises to $211 million: Prosus, the Dutch-listed arm of South African technology investor Naspers, on Wednesday said that its fintech subsidiary PayU India, recorded total revenues of $211 million from its core payments business, for the first six months of FY24, clocking a 15% increase over the same period last year.

PayU India performance

Also read | Expect PayU India to be IPO-ready by H2 2024: Prosus interim CEO

Indians to gain big from domestic US visa renewal pilot: The launch of a pilot programme enabling domestic renewals of US work visas and eliminating the need to travel to home countries for renewals will enable Indian technology professionals to substantially reduce costs and streamline the visa renewal process.

Tata Electronics to expand its iPhone unit in Hosur: Tata Group’s Tata Electronics is looking to expand its existing iPhone-casing unit in Hosur to up to two times the size of the current plant, multiple sources in the know of the development told ET.

Ecommerce companies sold 23% more this Black Friday: The Indian ecommerce ecosystem is estimated to have posted about 23% increase in sales over the Black Friday weekend compared to last year’s Black Friday weekend.


ETtech Deals Digest: Funding crunch continues

funding

As 2023’s penultimate month comes to an end, the funding winter for Indian startups shows no signs of abating. New-age tech companies raised a total of $409 million in November across 63 rounds, according to data from market research firm Tracxn.

Overall funding trend for Indian startups

Overall funding for the month was down 40% in terms of value compared to a year earlier, when startups raked in $682 million from 136 rounds.

Sequentially, funding activity was down 28%, with $568 million being raised in October across 93 rounds.

Top funding rounds during