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4 networking resources from Brazil’s welcoming ecosystem for startups

CEO and President of Brave Software, Brendan Eich

The current CEO and President of Brave Software and former CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, was able to raise $35million in 30 seconds from his ICO for Brave, because of his incredible network of investors. As most innovators know, the networking effect is critical for startups to get the financing, mentoring, and visibility they need to succeed.

Sandhill’s parent company welcomes PortugalStartups.com to the family with new acquisition

December 7th 2017 – Espacio, Sandhill’s media Incubator and parent company today announces it has acquired PortugalStartups.com, a media publication dedicated to startup and entrepreneurial news in Portugal. Through the acquisition, Espacio aims to promote the publication’s growth and give a voice to the Portuguese tech scene, much like Techli for the Midwest startup scene.

Rafael Pires

PortugalStartups.com was founded in 2014 by Rafael PiresDaniela Monteiro and Inês Silva to introduce the Portuguese startup scene to the world. The independent publication is focused on featuring inspiring stories of up-and-coming entrepreneurs, interviews with exciting startups that are prospering in their markets, and provides insight into Portugal’s great conditions to establish new businesses.

Conrad Egusa

Conrad Egusa

The promoters of the publication have been startup ecosystem builders, responsible for non-profit and community programs driving education, acceleration, and growth for startups.

“We are thrilled to take PortugalStartups.com onboard and hope to continue the legacy that its founders, Rafael, Daniela and Inês, have created,” said Espacio CEO Conrad Egusa. The former VentureBeat writer and Global Mentor at 500 Startups, founded Espacio with Eddie Arrieta.

“We are happy to see PortugalStartups.com joining Espacio. It will bring an extra layer of capacity, expertise, and exposure that will take the Portuguese Startup Scene even further,” says Pires.

Eddie Arrieta

Eddie Arrieta

“We have noticed a promising increase in interesting ideas and technology in Portugal, reflected in the number of incubators and investors heading there,” says Egusa. “At Espacio we will work to make sure this is mirrored in the media coverage – something PortugalStartups.com was created to do – and something we will continue.”

Recovering from an economic crisis, Portugal has since been thriving in the world’s entrepreneurial scene. A renewed spirit of innovation has led to an eruption of startups, helped by the country’s impressive bilingual education system and local support network – such as Startup LisboaANJEBeta-iUPTECIPNStartup Braga and ScaleUp Porto, to name a few. Portugal has significantly simplified the process of building a business, which has incentivized entrepreneurs to launch their own enterprises and has attracted others to the country.

“As more eyes look to Portugal as an emerging strategic tech hub we are excited to continue this mission of sharing Portugal’s own inspiring stories of growth and exploration in the startup sector with the world,” said Egusa.

New app targets rising demand for U.S. visas

A recently launched app is looking to keep up with the increasing demand for U.S. visas by making the application process easier and more accessible.

After observing a 19% increase in U.S. visa applications between 2011 and 2012, the creators of SimpleVisa sought to develop an app that streamlines a traditionally time-consuming process. By using patent-pending photo technology, SimpleVisa allows users to scan their passports and receive a United States visa waiver within a few minutes.

“We thought about where the best entry point in this process would be to cut out as much of the time and effort involved as possible,” says founder Loris Mazloum, a French entrepreneur, “Because our users have cameras built into their devices already, the whole thing is reduced to one easy step that also eliminates the chance for manual error.”

The app currently works for any of the 38 countries on the United States’ visa waiver list, and plans to expand its services to United States citizens planning trips to countries with similarly friendly travel relationship

 

 

Hungary: A leader in Europe’s burgeoning tech scene

Hungary has become a leader in the European tech scene, ranking among the top 5 tech economies for VC investment in Europe.

With tech innovation now one of the top ten industries of the country, Hungarian firms are not only looking to spread their influence throughout Europe, but to overseas markets as well.

One of these companies is the Budapest-based startup accelerator, Traction Tribe, whose innovative hybrid approach and reputation for careful mentorship have distinguished its accelerator program on the European scene

“Hungary is quietly building one of the stronger tech economies in Europe,” said Antal Karolyi, Traction Tribe partner and head of growth, “There’s a long history of tech and science focus here.”

The next step for Hungary, says Karolyi, is to expand globally. Traction Tribe seeks to do so by providing European startups with access to and firsthand preparation for business opportunities in the U.S. tech market. Startups go through a 3-6 month accelerator mentorship, with early seed funding of up to $100,000, training from experts with on the ground knowledge of the U.S. investment economy, and the potential for further funding after completion.

“This isn’t about exporting our talent,” says Karolyi, “so much as exposing Hungary to the world and the world to Hungary.”

3 Projects Prove Privacy Is Not Dead

With all of the mobile apps, Web sites and free services clamoring for your personal data, whereabouts and preferences, it might seem as though privacy is at death’s door. Not so. Several projects underway aim to provide virtual lockboxes or screening technologies that can help people to reassert control over their digital lives.
 
In general, privacy-enhancing approaches to online data sharing require any company, app developer or government agency that wants to know more about you to ask permission for access to specific information. The rest of your data stay locked away.
 
Services such as Britain’s Mydex offer the ability to store, manage and share personal information in an encrypted central repository called a data store, which only the person who creates the store can fully access. Anyone wanting information contained within that personal data store—an insurance company or marketer, for example—must connect to Mydex’s network and agree to terms of use created by the person owning the data before Mydex will release it. Personal, based in Washington, D.C., offers a similar “data vault” service.
 
A system called the open personal data store (openPDS) platform, under development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, likewise consolidates information into a single location that can be stored on one’s computer or with a service provider (aka in the “cloud”). OpenPDS, however, deals specifically with metadata—which can describe a person’s location, phone use or Web searches, for example. The M.I.T. approach protects privacy by refusing to share any of that data directly. Instead, a mobile app, Web site or research firm looking for information protected by an openPDS must query the data store directly—to check, for instance, whether your shipping address has changed or to confirm your present location. OpenPDS responds specifically to that query with answers that the openPDS owner approves for release, according to a study published July 9 in PLOS ONE.
 
Simply anonymizing records by stripping out names and other identifying information is not enough protect one’s privacy, says Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, an M.I.T. graduate student in media arts and sciences and first author on the new paper. de Montjoye and colleagues at M.I.T. and the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium have demonstrated in past experiments that as few as four pieces of data from a person’s mobile phone checking in with the nearest cell tower is enough for them to identify the owner of that phone 95 percent of the time. The researchers are now testing openPDS with telecommunications companies in Italy and Denmark.
 
A service in the Netherlands called the Qiy Trust Framework offers a slightly different model for privacy protection. Since 2012 people that country have been able to create their own online portal for organizing and protecting the personal information they give to utility companies, government agencies and businesses. Unlike MyDex or openPDS, Qiy is not a data repository—any data that someone gives to, say, a wireless provider stays in the database of that entity. If such organizations participate in the Qiy program, individuals access their accounts with those agencies by logging into their own Qiy account. They gain protection because participating organizations are required to adhere to guidelines established by the nonprofit Qiy Foundation, including mandatory data encryption.
 
Such data centralization projects are likely to be received lukewarmly in the U.S., at least at the moment. Here, two trends conspire against them: stories about data stolen from supposedly secure corporate or government databases have become commonplace; and many consumers show little reluctance to hand over access to their phones’ address books and GPS trackers in exchange for free mobile apps.
 
Still, as the controversy over the U.S. National Security Agency’s data collection practices deepens and data breaches proliferate, greater demand for improved privacy tools is likely to emerge eventually. The New York State Attorney General’s officeissued a report on July 15, for example, saying that in 2013 alone 7.3 million records of New Yorkers were exposed in more than 900 data security breaches, thanks in part to the “retail mega-breaches” at Target and Living Social. Five of the 10 largest data thefts reported to that office have occurred since 2011.
 
The N.Y. Attorney General’s office recommends that, to protect themselves and their clients, companies and other organizations should cut down the amount of data they themselves collect and store. This advice is exactly the kind that could pave the way for new types of privacy protection technologies.

Poor Oversight Catches Up with High-Security Infectious Agent and Disease Labs

Twenty-one dead lab chickens piled up this spring at a government facility before its researchers could pinpoint why. The team had requested and received what was meant to be a relatively harmless strain of avian flu. Instead, the virus killed all the test birds during experiments. The samples, it turns out, were contaminated with the deadly H5N1 flu strain. Themishap raised concerns about safety procedures at the lab that provided the virus. The lab in question belonged to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The facility that received the virus was operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Even more concerning: the dead chickens event is just one in a string of worrisome recent incidents at government labs that work with potentially deadly microbes. Just yesterday federal officials revealed that 327 vials holding an array of decades-old pathogens were discovered in the same unsecured storage room where six vials of smallpox were discovered earlier this month on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md.

No one died or even got sick as a result of the H5N1 and other mistakes but “that does not change the fact that these were unacceptable events,” CDC Director Tom Frieden told Congress earlier that day. The microbes involved in other CDC incidents include anthrax, botulism and brucellosis. The CDC’s influenza and anthrax labs are shuttered at least for now, and the CDC has promised a far-reaching check on its 22 biosafety level (BSL-) 3 and BSL-4 laboratories before any future samples are shipped in or out. Such facilities handle serious or lethal disease and require special safeguards to ensure microbes do not escape or sicken employees. The biosafety levels increase with the sophistication of security measures taken and the relative danger of pathogens studied. (Read: Bio-Unsafety Level 3: Could the Next Lab Accident Result in a Pandemic?)

The larger question for infectious disease labs and officials now is how these events will alter high-level biosafety work at the more than approximately 1,500 top-level U.S.-funded and private labs across the country going forward. On July 11, when Frieden revealed the extent of recent incidents in a new report and public remarks, he said that his agency wants to reduce the number of laboratories that work with dangerous agents, the number of people who have access to those labs and the number of dangerous pathogens studied. There is no agreement yet on just how many labs would be affected.

In fact, there is no record of how many high-level BSL-designated labs even exist, Rep. Henry Waxman (D–Calif.) said at the July 16 hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. He was referring to BSL-3 and 4 levels, which deal with biological substances that can cause serious or fatal illness when inhaled.
 
Around the country the number of BSL-3 labs has increased rapidly in the past decade to nearly 1,500 in the U.S., according to 2013 estimates from the Government Accountability Office (pdf). CDC, itself, says it has 21 BSL-3 labs. (The agency also has one BSL-4 laboratory.) Other such facilities are located at university, state, local and private labs. “You have to walk a fine line between having too many labs that puts the likelihood of having accidents high versus too few that would mean research would go at a slow place,” says Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases doctor and biosecurity expert at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “We are working on very hard problems with these pathogens and not everything will come from one scientific center. There is an advantage to having a variety of centers, and that’s the nature of research.”

Whatever the total count of biosafety labs is, a better framework for their oversight is needed. “There is a continued lack of national standards for designing, constructing, commissioning and overseeing” these labs, testified Nancy Kingsbury, managing director of applied research and methods at the Government Accountability Office. One entity should be charged with coming up with such a plan, she said. The process to obtain the higher BSL designations, much like a security background check, is onerous. If a laboratory loses its BSL approval, it must reapply to regain it. Yet, no single agency has oversight over all these “high-containment” biolabs and there are no national standards for operation.

Meanwhile, some labs are taking matters into their own hands. One state lab in New York, where suspicious materials can be sent for analysis in the event of a bioterror attack, is considering instituting a voluntary moratorium of its own in response to last week’s news. Jill Taylor, director of the Wadsworth Center at the New York State Department of Health, says that her facility, which includes BSL-2 and BSL-3 labs, normally receives requests to send biological materials to universities, the CDC and other facilities. So, while CDC sorts out its next steps and federal labs do some soul-searching, perhaps her lab will, too, she says. “I think we will probably put a moratorium on our shipping of things,” Taylor says. “I want to see if the federal government makes changes to the regulations for shipping of reagents.” The facility would still send requested materials in the event of an emergency. The center’s research arm, however, which works with pathogens including tuberculosis, will not run aground from the CDC moratorium, Taylor says, because it can grow its own samples in the lab.
 
The federal incidents will have an impact on other labs in terms of lessons learned. “It’s important to do a freezer review once a year, at least,” says Scott Becker, executive director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, with a nod toward the recent discovery of long-forgotten smallpox vials at the National Institutes of Health complex. “I think it’s important to review your protocols and procedures for your techniques regularly and have a discussion inside your institution to just ask the question: Could this happen here?”
 
Back in Washington, D.C., House lawmakers at the subcommittee hearing blasted the CDC for its recent incidents. Rep. Tim Murphy (R–Pa.) said the anthrax incident raises “very serious questions” about CDC’s ability to protect the public. A culture of complacency puts the health of the American public at risk, he said. “It’s sloppy and inexcusable.” Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette (D) echoed the sentiments. The incidents reveal, “there’s a fundamental problem with the culture of identifying and reporting safety problems up the chain of command,” she said.
 
Lawmakers asked Frieden if the issues were a result of researchers becoming complacent about working with such dangerous substances. “You get inured to that danger,” when you work with such materials for years, Frieden said, but he was not yet ready to attribute the pattern of problems completely to that reality.
 
An inspection of CDC’s recent anthrax incident by the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspections Service raised further questions about the recent anthrax lapse. The service’s report found that some exposed staff were not examined for five days following notification of the exposure, and anthrax was left in an unlocked refrigerator with the key in the lock. Moreover, workers freely passed through the area. Inspectors had to track down missing tubes and plates of anthrax. Some of the Ziploc bags used to transfer materials were also deemed not adequately “durable.” The CDC moratorium, which hinges on a thorough review of its high-level laboratories, will continue “as long as it takes,” said Frieden, declining to offer a time line. “This is not a small thing,” he said. Laboratories with vital public health roles, such as those working with Ebola or drug-resistant tuberculosis, “will reopen quickly” he added.
 
The extent to which new restrictions will be placed on high-level laboratories is still an open question. “What I worry about is there are important research question at some of these labs that won’t get answered if it becomes too difficult to do research on some of these questions,” says Adalja, the expert at the University of Pittsburgh. “We don’t have antivirals or vaccines for SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). We don’t have a vaccine for effective treatment for Ebola.”

Google’s Cars Sniff Out Natural Gas Leaks to Deliver Cleaner Air

Of all the things to beleaking methane on Staten Island in New York City—corroded gas pipes, sewers, the Fresh Kills dump—who would have suspected the mail truck? But as I circled a Staten Island neighborhood in a specially equipped Google car, it was a parked mail truck that proved to be sending the biggest leak of methane skyward.

This specially outfitted Subaru has methane detection equipment threaded through its front grill and connected to a spectrometry machine in the trunk for near real-time analysis of incoming air samples. Other than that, it’s just another one of an undisclosed number of cars used by Google to take photos along streets that can be seen on its maps in Street View mode. I was tagging along with a driver who was using it as a demonstration of the new methane-detecting partnership between Google and the Environmental Defense Fund. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, which over decades, traps at least eight times more heat than carbon dioxide, driving global warming even faster.

Steve Hamburg, a forest ecologist turned chief scientist at the environmental group, found such natural gas vehicles to be the biggest surprise of the test runs of this partnership. Clearly, vehicles that run on natural gas can mess up the detection of leaks from underground. During the test drives “we saw a level going down the street day after day,” Hamburg recalled, before we headed out on our methane-detecting expedition to New York City’s fifth borough on a muggy summer day. “That was a bus,” he added, a bus that runs on natural gas and leaks some of it, like the New York City “Clean-Air” buses powered by compressed natural gas.

But New York City also has abundant methane leaks from old pipelines, as proved by the test runs during this pilot phase in Staten Island. The point of this partnership between Google Earth Outreach and EDF is to test whether a better map of methane leaks could be acquired by the Street View fleet, recognizable by the unmistakeable Google Maps paint job and towering pan-optic camera affixed to the roof making the car 7.1 meters tall. The idea is to add another tool for utilities to use in determining what repairs to undertake first, given limited budgets, by delivering an estimate of exactly how much gas is escaping from a given leak.

The test runs to date involved three Street View cars driving methane routes in three locations: Boston, Indianapolis and Staten Island. The results of those drives—roughly 15 million individual readings—have been released in the form of maps that show thousands of leaks. Boston and Staten Island both averaged one leak for every mile driven, thanks to older infrastructure. On the other hand, the Street View car drove roughly 200 miles for every leak detected in Indianapolis, where pipe upgrades have paid off. Even better, Indianapolis had no major leaks; Boston and Staten Island both had several red dots on their maps, indicating places where methane was leaking at a rate of more than 60,000 liters per day.

Although such relatively small methane emissions are not an immediate safety concern, they do have an outsized impact on climate change. Methane is less prevalent in the atmosphere than CO2, but traps more heat over its relatively short time of a few decades in the atmosphere before it breaks down into yet more CO2 that then traps yet more heat over its time in the atmosphere that can stretch for centuries or millennia. “We want to minimize losses,” Hamburg said. “We’re losing product, increasing climate change, and increasing air pollution.”

Historically, data like this was only known to utilities, or when it became significant enough to pose a safety danger and could be detected by sensitive equipment such as the human nose. “This is the democratization of environmental data,” Hamburg added. The data is not exactly surprising in its entirety. Indianapolis, which replaced its natural gas pipelines over the last several decades, has few leaks compared with a city like Boston with older infrastructure. More than 40 percent of Boston’s natural gas pipes are cast iron or uncoated steel pipes that corrode more easily, and more than half the pipes are 50 years old or more.

Leaks are most common in areas that predate the widespread use of natural gas. For example, my neighborhood in Brooklyn—Gowanus—has become a Superfund site thanks in part to facilities there in the 19th century that turned coal into so-called town gas. The town gas was used to fuel gas-fired lamps, but then that infrastructure was, in some cases, taken over to deliver natural gas to homes. “These pipes were put in the ground for a different type of gas, a different moisture content,” Hamburg explained. “It’s not surprising they need to be replaced by modern plastic pipes.”

Staten Island was chosen because of the challenge of detecting leaks in the presence of other sources of methane, like the Fresh Kills landfill, where feasting microbes turn decomposing garbage into methane. The normal atmosphere of Brooklyn and Staten Island seemed to hover around 2 parts-per-million of the methane molecule in the atmosphere, except when crossing the Verrazano Bridge over New York harbor, where readings drop even lower. Driving down the highway that cuts through Fresh Kills, methane readings spiked as high as 4.6 ppm, because of the methane seeping out from within the landfill. Yet driving the perimeter of the methane recovery plant on the outskirts of those sprawling midden mounds, readings never went above that background level of around 2 ppm. “I’m impressed,” Hamburg said.

Landfills, sewers and even cattle, when the wind is right, can cause spikes that can obscure leaks. Such spikes usually registered around 10 ppm but drivers saw spikes as high as 30 or even 50 ppm. To compensate for such other sources—including more and more ubiquitous natural gas-fueled vehicles thanks to the glut of cheap gas—the maps err on the side of being conservative. “When in doubt, don’t put it down,” Hamburg said. “We’d rather have a false negative than a false positive” so that there is no unnecessary expense in undertaking repairs. And many of these findings from drives in 2013 are likely already out of date as utilities constantly repair and maintain their natural gas infrastructure.

Driving slowly through city streets and neighborhoods, the Google Street View car is always an object of curiosity. On our test run, people stopped to gawk, snapped photos or waved. We traveled just about as slowly as the car from a local driving school, presumably without a professional driver behind the wheel. Though the cameras were turned off during this proof-of-concept phase, the idea is to one day use the Street View fleet—Google declined to specify how many cars are in that fleet or allow their driver to be quoted—to map city streets and methane emissions at the same time. “This is the first time using Street View cars for an environmental project,” said Karin Tuxen-Bettman, program manager for Google Earth Outreach who helped lead this partnership. “Environmental air quality affects everyone and we like those big problems, to see how Google can play a part in solving those.”

The same equipment can also be used to tackle other forms of air pollution, including the soot responsible for asthma and other lung ailments. “Methane is just the first one,” Tuxen-Bettman said, a point reaffirmed by EDF’s Hamburg.

This inaugural effort is part of EDF’s campaign, launched in 2012, to better understand the benefits and dangers of natural gas. It involves 90 institutions and corporations as well as more than 100 scientists, and includes research such as the best ways to measure concentrations in the atmosphere as well as detect leaks in natural gas infrastructure, from the original well drilled to the final user. The preliminary research suggests that methane leaks could be cut at an additional cost of roughly one cent per thousand cubic feet of natural gas produced and moved.

On my drive, the mail truck parked by the side of a suburban road in Staten Island delivers the largest spike I see—4.7 ppm, just surpassing New York City’s largest landfill from the highway. That spike disappears when the mail truck moves on. “That’s why it’s so important to drive roads at least twice,” Hamburg noted. “So even do a third pass to see if it’s infrastructure or a vehicle.”

The trick now is to drive all that road, sniffing out the worst leaks at a clip of 130 to 240 kilometers per day, mostly in circles. Thousands of kilometers of cast iron pipes are underneath the roads of New Jersey alone, just across the water from here. And all those roads are just waiting for someone to drive them, sniffing out leaking methane, delivering cleaner air and combating climate change. Or as Hamburg asked me: “When was the last time you did a joy ride in New York City?”