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OurCrowd: Things in Israel are Firing on All Cylinders

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Earlier this week, OurCrowd CEO and founder Jon Medved held a virtual press briefing commenting on both the marketplace in Israel and the performance of OurCrowd in a pretty hot investment environment.

Recently, it was reported that Israel has broken into the top 20 nations in regards to GDP per capita. This is an astounding feat. As covered by the Times of Israel, in Israel GDP per capita stood at $43,689 for 2020 ranking the country in 19th place. To put this in perspective, this is above Canada (20), New Zealand (21), and the UK (22). If you are interested, Luxemburg came in first place at a GDP per capita of $116,921. The US was in 5th at $63,416. A mere decade ago, Israel was in 32nd place. This rapid rise in economic prosperity has been fueled by the booming entrepreneurship and innovation sector – an area of the economy that demands access to capital as well as a policy that encourages startups and risk-taking.

In Q1 of 2021, Israeli tech startups captured a record $5.37 billion in investment – an 89% increase over Q4 of 2020 and 2X more than the same quarter year prior. For all of 2020, Israeli tech firms raised $10.178 billion and the country is on a trajectory to easily eclipse this amount.

For its part, OurCrowd has been ranked by Pitchbook as Israel’s most active venture investor. An innovator in online capital formation and a top securities crowdfunding platform, in many ways OurCrowd is emblematic of the success and economic growth that is being experienced in this small middle eastern nation.

During the press briefing, Medved said that things in Israel have been firing on all cylinders.

“And I think the country will continue at this pace.”

Medved said that last year was very strong and he did not think things could get better but that early data indicates that Israel could top $20 billion this year in VC funding for tech startups. It does help that Israel has been at the top of the list in getting their population vaccinated and turning the corner on the COVID-19 health crisis.

Medved said in Israel there is a wild pace of growth of unicorns – or early-stage firms valued at over $1 billion:

“It’s startup goes scale-up. The ecosystem here has become a well-oiled machine with entrepreneurs at the heart, and the flywheel around it including the venture capital funds and multinational investors, angel investors, the tech units of the IDF, the incubators, and accelerators – it’s quite an amazing story,” explained Medved. “Israel is really becoming a well-oiled machine.”

Direct foreign investment from Europe jumped by 63% in 2020 and more firms are looking to establish a foothold in the innovation-driven economy as the opportunity is apparent.

“But the big opportunity of course is with the Gulf, and what’s going on between Israel the UAE, and other new partners, which is leading to huge amounts of VC investment in the two countries,” Medved stated.

The Abraham Accords, established during the Trump Administration, saw multiple middle eastern countries normalize relationships with Israel. This shift in policy is creating economic opportunities for Israel as well as these Arab countries. The interest from Gulf countries is allowing Israel to penetrate markets they have never dreamed of, said Medved, adding that diplomatic normalization is key to continued growth and diversification for Israeli tech companies.

More specifically, OurCrowd now has six employees in the UAE and there are more joint ventures said to be in the works.

“This is one of the greatest developments for Israel and for Israeli high tech,” Medved said. “We can now reach South Asia, South East Asia and the broader Islamic world. People are going to need to get used to seeing not just Israel, but the Middle East lead.”

Overall, approximately 55% of OurCrowd’s portfolio companies are based in Israel with about 33% in the US and the rest spread around the world. It is more a question about opportunity than location.

In recent months OurCrowd has seen increased investment activity in certain sectors, like Foodtech and Agtech but Medved believes the key to long-term success is a broad, diversified portfolio. OurCrowd invests in companies from many industry sectors including Fintech, cybersecurity, Medtech, autonomous technology, and more. Sectors ebb and flow over time and it is better to hold a broad portfolio.

Medved said that a renewed interest in semiconductors and custom computer chips is also bringing more money to Israel’s tech sector.

“Now there is a chip war,” Medved said. Companies like Apple and Google are designing their own chips, and often relying on Israeli companies to make them, he explained.

For its part, OurCrowd backs both startups and later-stage ventures. Targeting smaller (accredited) investors in the US, OurCrowd reports approximately 100,000 investors on their platform. But there are a growing number of institutional investors that want access to the opportunities that OurCrowd is able to provide. Uniquely, OurCrowd participates in every securities offering it lists for outside investors – thus interests are aligned.

“Every company we put on the platform is a company we are putting money into, with skin in the game,” Medved said.

Medved noted that all markets rise and fall but as long as a venture investor is patient and diversified, returns can be strong.

“There are all these elements now that allow entrepreneurs to build stuff. Technology is just on a tear,” Medved stated.

To date, OurCrowd has facilitated $1.8 billion in committed capital and claims 46 exits since inception.

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Source: https://www.crowdfundinsider.com/2021/04/174761-ourcrowd-things-in-israel-are-firing-on-all-cylinders/

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Zopa Survey: Over 40% of UK Consumers would use Open Banking to Access Quick Loan Approvals, Improved Rates from Banks

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As new lending starts to overtake the repayment boom seen during the COVID-19 crisis, research from digital bank Zopa reveals that more than 40% of UK-based consumers would make use of Open Banking to “apply for credit if it improved their chances of getting an offer, gave them access to better rates, or made the application faster and hassle free.”

As mentioned in an update from Zopa:

“Despite that, 8 out of 10 consumers have never knowingly used Open Banking. This disconnect reveals a strong demand for the benefits that Open Banking can bring customers, despite a lack of awareness of its underlying proposition.”

The Open Banking ecosystem is already benefiting almost 4 million active users and is growing thanks to stable APIs, new consumer-facing apps, as well as the United Kingdom’s “forward-looking” or progressive regulations.

As noted in a blog post by Zopa:

“Adoption has mainly been driven by use of account aggregation services – by far the simplest and most popular use of Open Banking today. Aggregation has a positive impact on customers, with 50% stating that viewing all their banking products in one place makes them feel more secure.”

Research reveals that UK consumers presently use Open Banking to do all of the following:

  • To view all bank accounts in one place – 34%
  • To keep an eye on all savings and investments – 28%
  • To move money between bank accounts and savings – 27%

But Zopa’s latest research found that the launch of Open Banking to previously untapped customer requirements, such as gaining access to credit, might “rapidly accelerate this adoption, benefitting up to 40 million active users by 2025.”

The research further reveals that UK consumers would use Open Banking “to apply for credit” if it helped them with the following:

  • Simplify the application, making the application faster and hassle free – 44%
  • Unlock better rates, accessing better rates on financial products – 43%
  • Secure an offer, improving their chances of getting an offer from a lender – 40%

Zopa’s report on Open Banking “suggests that these benefits are often best delivered when fintechs work together to deliver customer value in a simple, easy to use way.”

As noted in the update:

“A good example is Zopa’s partnership with ClearScore, which used Open Banking to assess eligibility for Zopa’s credit card. This resulted in a 37% increase in the number of users eligible to apply for a Zopa credit card, improving financial inclusion for thousands of new customers who may have previously been declined due to thin files.”

Within a week of its introduction, over 43,000 ClearScore users “saw a Zopa offer which would not have been available to them based on credit report data alone.”

Tim Waterman, Chief Commercial Officer at Zopa, stated:

“We are pleased to be part of a group of fintechs at the forefront of innovation, bringing the benefits of Open Banking to millions of new customers. We already use Open Banking verification to ease application journeys and to power tools like Borrowing Power which help our customers improve their financial health.”

Waterman added:

“By using Open Banking to calculate credit eligibility for the first time, we are helping thousands more customers access our award-winning credit products in a way which they may not have been eligible to previously. We believe this further supports our vision to build the best place for money in the UK.”

The complete report is accessible here.

At present, Zopa serves around half a million clients. Since receiving its full banking license in June of last year, the Fintech firm has attracted over £600m in customer deposits for its fixed term savings accounts, “issued 130,000 of its British Bank Award-winning credit cards, and became a top 10 credit card issuer.” It’s presently approving 15,000 new credit cards each month.

Survey Methodology: Zopa “surveyed 2000 members of the general public through Censuswide between 13.05.21 – 17.05.21 and 27.08.21 – 31.08.21.”

According to ONS data set: Persons “by single year of age and sex for local authorities in the UK, mid-2020, there are currently 52,890,044 adults in the UK.”

TrueLayer predicts that by 2023, “60% of the UK adult population will have used open banking at least once would be: 31,734,026.” Based on this, by 2025, Zopa “estimate that 40 million consumers will have at least tried Open Banking.”

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Source: https://www.crowdfundinsider.com/2021/09/180547-zopa-survey-over-40-of-uk-consumers-would-use-open-banking-to-access-quick-loan-approvals-improved-rates-from-banks/

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Switzerland based Valyo, a Capital Market Platform, Issues a Digital Bail-in Bond

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Raiffeisen Switzerland, a cooperative of cooperatives (the union of independent Swiss Raiffeisen banks), has reportedly secured a CHF 165 million bail-in bond via Valyo’s capital market platform.

As noted by its management, Valyo aims to “open the door to the world of finance, across borders” so that people are able to find solutions in a simple, intuitive and efficient manner.

Valyo aims to serve as the “portal for smart intermediation of assets.” You may use their platform to “carry out the entire bond issuance process on [their] digital marketplace – from entry to repayment.”

This is notably the first bail-in bond that has been issued digitally in Switzerland. It also marks the very first time that Valyo has involved an established bank in the role of joint lead manager via the platform.

The bond has been provided with a 8-year term, and a call option after 7 years, as well as a coupon of 0.405%. The first trading day on the SIX Stock Exchange has been scheduled for September 24, 2021.

On the Valyo capital market platform, issuers and investors are able to come together directly and handle the issue online through the platform. This process includes the recording of transaction data, via book building, all the way to settlement and arranging for the listing of the bond.

Daniel Schwab, CEO at Valyo, stated:

“With the issuance of a bail-in bond, we were able to prove our innovation capabilities once again. In addition, it was possible for us to include a bank as a joint lead partner for the first time.”

As mentioned in the announcement, Fintech startup Valyo Ltd is the digital capital marketplace for the Swiss bond market. Valyo has “enabled the first fully digital execution of an issue on the Swiss bond market.”

Valyo “generates added value by combining personal and professional support with an efficient and fully digitalized issuing process.” Valyo Ltd was “founded in April 2019 with its headquarters in Baden and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Raiffeisen Switzerland.”

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Source: https://www.crowdfundinsider.com/2021/09/180551-switzerland-based-valyo-a-capital-market-platform-issues-a-digital-bail-in-bond/

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Why Ethereum Will Continue to Dominate DeFi

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Will a new competitor to Ethereum emerge, or will the acknowledged Web 2.0 winner dominate the DeFi space for years to come?

It’s an interesting question for several reasons. One is that the DeFi space is still early in its evolution. Sometimes early mover advantage cements market position but sometimes it doesn’t. It is entirely possible a completely new blockchain system is already being developed that somehow anticipates where the market is headed and addresses several unmet needs as it makes itself indispensable.

In the near- and medium-term, a growing number of industry figures believe Ethereum will maintain its dominant position. One person holding that view is Noelle Acheson, the head of Market Insights and Genesis, a digital prime brokerage. She was previously a managing director of research at CoinDesk.

As Ethereum is used more frequently, that has led to increases costs, and when costs go up, it’s natural to look for cheaper alternatives, which some term “Ethereum Killers”, Acheson said. Such platforms offer such benefits as higher throughput, faster settlements, and lower fees.

Perhaps they are not that different from Ethereum, Acheson suggested.

“While some of these, such as Solana and Avalanche, are seeing strong activity and soaring token prices, they are not so much Ethereum competitors as Ethereum complements,” she believes. “Each offers the user advantages such as speed and cost savings, and some are gaining significant traction with users. Solana, for example, has traded almost $39 million of NFTs over the past seven days, according to Solanalysis. The network has over $11 billion in value locked in smart contracts, more than double what it had a week ago, according to DeFi Llama.

However, none have the breadth of the Ethereum ecosystem. What’s more, recent developments hint that Ethereum will be able to maintain its lead as scaling solutions are rolled out.”

Acheson cited Arbitrum, a layer 2 solution as one example. It executes transactions off the main chain, thereby avoiding higher fees and slower settlements, but it periodically settles to benefit from Ethereum’s blockchain security.

“It launched less than two weeks ago, and already has over $1.5 billion-worth of value locked in smart contracts on the platform,” Acheson said of Arbitrum. “Other layer 2 solutions are gearing up to launch in the coming weeks.”

Acheson said dApps hold enormous potential and the industry will become stronger as more developers come in. It won’t however, follow a typical pattern of various competitors emerging to outdo each other.

“Blockchain is not, unlike other network technologies, about winner-takes-all, something the ‘Ethereum killer’ conversation overlooks,” Acheson suggested. “These are relatively agile platforms that evolve according to experience and demand. It’s probable that not all will thrive, but given the development of bridges and other connective functionalities, there does not need to be one dominant solution. 

“Smart contract networks can support each other, allowing the market to choose acceptable trade-offs, and leaving the deciding factor of success to the end users.”

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Source: https://www.crowdfundinsider.com/2021/09/180514-why-ethereum-will-continue-to-dominate-defi/

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Binance Hires Nils Andersen-Röed from Europol, Exchange Is Reportedly being Investigated for Insider Trading, Market Manipulation

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Digital assets firm Binance has expanded its Audit and Investigations team with the appointment of Nils Andersen-Röed from Europol where he served as a specialist on the Dark Web team.

As mentioned in the update from Binance, Nils will be tasked with focusing on conducting and leading internal and external investigations “with the purpose of identifying bad actors that attempt to commit crimes on Binance’s platforms and to protect users’ funds, as well as proactively supporting law enforcement agencies with their investigations.”

Nils’ appointment will aim to solidify an “already strong team of security specialists working hard to make sure Binance remains the most secure crypto ecosystem around,” the announcement from Binance noted.

Prior to his role at Europol, Nils had been working as the Project Leader of the Dark Web Unit of the Dutch National Police. He was also serving as the Project Leader of Operation Gravesac/Bayonet, “coordinating the takeover and takedown of the dark web marketplaces Hansa Market and Alphabay.”

As stated in the update:

“Together with colleagues around the world, Nils was instrumental in this global operation. During this action a huge amount of information regarding illicit trades was being gathered and shared with other law enforcement agencies which has led to many arrests around the globe and contributed greatly to cleaning up the crypto industry.”

Nils Andersen-Röed remarked:

“After many years working in law enforcement I am excited to tackle new challenges in the Binance Audit and Investigations team. Over the years I have learned that simply arresting criminals isn’t enough to combat crime, you also need to take a broader look at the whole ecosystem in which they are operating.”

He added that criminals and other bad actors will often try to misuse cryptocurrencies for illegal purposes, which can “have an impact on innocent participants of the whole industry.” He further noted that at Binance, he will be “in a position to keep the platforms and users safe from these bad actors while assisting law enforcement agencies around the world with their investigations and secure prosecutions.”

He continued:

“My goal is to make the cryptocurrency industry (and Binance specifically) a safer place. International collaboration between the industry and law enforcement agencies is key, criminals don’t care about borders. Increased collaboration between the public and private sector will also be beneficial when it comes to fighting crime and making this industry a safer place for everyone.”

According to recent report from Bloomberg, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is looking into whether Binance has exploited its clients.

US probes into Binance Holdings Ltd. have reportedly expanded, with law enforcement officials now examining potential insider trading and market manipulation. This development confirms that Binance is being carefully investigated by US authorities and other regulators globally.

As part of the investigation, US officials are trying to determine if Binance or any of its team members have made returns from taking (illegal) advantage of its clients, according to sources familiar with the matter (and cited by Bloomberg).

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Source: https://www.crowdfundinsider.com/2021/09/180559-binance-hires-nils-andersen-roed-from-europol-exchange-is-reportedly-being-investigated-for-insider-trading-market-manipulation/

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