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Ten Technology Start-Ups To Watch

Innovation is becoming the cornerstone of business. These are 10 of the most promising technology companies in Cape Town.

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Entersekt

Entersekt is a global pioneer in transaction authentication for financial institutions. The system combines electronic certificate technology with encrypted cloud messaging and the convenience of mobile phones to give banks, and their customers, full protection from cyber criminals looking to steal users login details and passwords. Entersekts clients, who include Investec, Absa, Old Mutual, Nedbank and Capitec, have allegedly reported an elimination of online banking fraud since implementing the system. Over 12 million customers are protected by Entersekt’s security software which has authenticated more than 250 million transactions since being launched in 2010. The start-up has so far raised around $10 million and has been implemented in Swiss financial institutions with plans to expand to Nigeria, Britain, Netherlands and the United States.

iono.fm

Described as PVR for radio, iono.fm is an audio-on-demand platform that publishes content from radio stations, podcasts and audiobooks. Listeners create their unique playlists and download content for later use. The revenue model centers on short audio adverts and all the content is currently free but going forward they may charge for exclusive content and added functionality. Where traditional radio stations can only monetize their content once as it is streamed live, iono.fm can monetize the content multiple times with different advertisers as the audio is stored online for repeat use. The platform currently generates over a million page views and 800,000 downloads per month. In the second quarter this year, iono.fm saw a 400% increase in downloads. The company has been self-funded since 2008 but is now engaging with venture capital investment to expand operations to the rest of Africa, India, and South America.

 

wiGroup

wiGroup is a specialized point-of-sale integration platform that enables retailers of any size to tap into the mobile money market. Retailers that plug-in to the wiPlatform are able to accept any kind of current or future mobile payment, loyalty, reward or couponing application that exists on the platform. MTN Mobile Money, FlickPay and M-Pesa are some of the apps that have been integrated into the system which services over 50,000 till lanes across South Africa and has processed close to $250 million in mobile transactions. wiGroup’s clients include Pick n Pay, Shoprite, Vodacom and KFC, and the revenue model is based on transaction fees and monthly licensing subscriptions for apps that run on the platform. The company has a presence in Namibia and Mauritius, with plans to expand into Nigeria, Zambia and Britain in the near future.

CapeRay

CapeRay develops and manufactures advanced breast cancer screening equipment combining X-ray and ultrasound technology to enhance a clinician’s ability to detect cancer in women – especially those with dense breast tissue where conventional methods often miss a cancerous lesion. The technology is the first of its kind globally. The start-up spun away from the University of Cape Town around four years ago and has so far raised $2.26 million in funding pre-revenue. Clinical trials have been completed and an offering memorandum is now in front of 15 major multinational companies with CapeRay looking to raise an additional $10 million to begin rolling out the product in the United States, Europe and South Africa.

 

iKubu

iKubu specializes in developing computer vision and commercial radar systems. The small team of engineers have a deep understanding of embedded software solutions and electronic hardware with a strong focus on algorithm development. The start-up developed a 3D scanning system for automated baggage check-in that has been implemented in major airports, including Heathrow, Sydney and Singapore. The company has, up until now, been bootstrapped by the founders who are engaging with international investors to expand operations.

 

Nomanini

Nomanini develops and manufactures rugged mobile point-of-sale terminals to sell products such as airtime and electricity in emerging markets. The technology enables vendors in the informal sector to efficiently distribute prepaid vouchers and facilitate micro cash payments with plans in the works to enable additional transactions such as mobile money and insurance premium collections. Nomanini has partnerships in Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, Namibia, Guinea and Mozambique with active terminals processing over a million transactions in September with the company expecting to process a million payments per month by December. Nomanini has so far raised more than $2.3 million in funding and is engaging with venture capital players in foreign markets for further expansion.

 

8bit

8bit is a content recommendation platform that connects online publishers to a larger network of content producers driving traffic to members’ websites by showcasing their most popular content on other sites in the network. 8bit’s system automatically detects a site’s top content based on time, click rate and social media engagement and shares impressions across the network of publishers. It is currently in a closed invite only beta stage with South Africa’s leading independent publishers and has begun trialling with the country’s largest media houses. 8bit will officially launch at the upcoming Web Summit conference in Dublin in November after being named as one of Africa’s top 10 start-ups. In the upcoming months the company will be launching its paid promotions platform where publishers and advertisers can promote sponsored content not only on 8bit’s network but on traditional advertising exchanges. Since being founded earlier this year 8bit has raised around $135,000 in seed funding with plans to expand into Kenya, Nigeria and Denmark. 8bit processes over 20 million recommendations per month and in many instances, directs more traffic to publishers on its network than Google, Facebook and Twitter.

OrderCloud

OrderCloud integrates all the sales channels of a business, whether telephone, web or mobile, into a single online dashboard for simple and effective order management. The system automatically locates the closest outlet to the customer and links it with the necessary delivery services to process the order. Whether customers pay with credit, cash or mobile money, all your funds are instantly aggregated into a single account which distributes the lump sum to all the relevant parties in the supply chain. OrderCloud is being integrated into large franchises in South Africa though the start-up cannot say who at this point as the information is classified. The company is busy putting together a prominent board of directors and has so far raised $226,000 with plans to raise an additional $900,000 from local and international investors.

 

WhereIsMyTransport

This month, WhereIsMyTransport will be launching Africa’s first official multi-modal transport application for Cape Town. Commuters using the app are able to seamlessly plot their journey from point to point linking various modes of public transport such as Golden Arrow buses and Metrorail trains with minibus taxis to come online in the near future. The application generates valuable data regarding commuter traffic and congestion enabling cities to more efficiently develop their transport networks. The start-up, still in its infancy, is engaged in talks with investors in three foreign markets to develop similar applications for major metros. The long-term vision of the company will be to open up its application programming interface to allow other developers to build apps using their technology.

 

Ekaya

Ekaya has created an online marketplace where you can list, find and rent property from your phone or on the web. Landlords can vet and rate tenants, collect rent and freely advertise their property on the platform. Tenants applying for property pay an administrative fee of less than $10 for all necessary criminal and credit record checks, whereas property agents usually charge around $100. Also, instead of paying a fat deposit upfront, Ekaya offers an insurance scheme where tenants pay a smaller monthly fee that can be used to cover damages. Ekaya makes money by taking a small commission of the rent and is looking to expand its insurance, micro-loan and deposit components with added loyalty and reward features. Ekaya recently raised $126,000 in angel funding and has over 1,000 estate listings in Cape Town since the beta version went live about two weeks ago with the platform aiming to launch in Durban and Johannesburg in the next few months.

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Facebook Is Still Leaking Data More Than One Year After Cambridge Analytica

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Facebook said late Tuesday that roughly 100 developers may have improperly accessed user data, which includes the names and profile pictures of individuals in certain Facebook Groups.

The company explained in a blog post that developers primarily of social media management and video-streaming apps retained the ability to access Facebook Group member information longer than the company intended.

The company did not detail the type of data that was improperly accessed beyond names and photos, and it did not disclose the number of users affected by the leak.

Facebook restricted its developer APIs—which provide a way for apps to interface with Facebook data—in April 2018, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke the month before. The goal was to reduce the way in which developers could gather large swaths of data from Facebook users.

But the company’s sweeping changes have been relatively ineffective. More than a year after the company restricted API access, the company continues to announce newly discovered data leaks.

“Although we’ve seen no evidence of abuse, we will ask them to delete any member data they may have retained and we will conduct audits to confirm that it has been deleted,” Facebook said in a statement.

The social media giant says in its announcement that it reached out to 100 developer partners who may have improperly accessed user data and says that at least 11 developer partners accessed the user data within the last 60 days.

Facebook has been reviewing the ways that companies are able to collect information and personal data about its users since the New York Times reported that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data of millions of users. Facebook later said the firm connected to the Trump campaign may have improperly accessed data on 87 million users.

The Federal Trade Commission slapped Facebook with a $5 billion fine as a result of the breach. As part of the 20-year agreement both parties reached, Facebook now faces new guidelines for how it handles privacy leaks.

“The new framework under our agreement with the FTC means more accountability and transparency into how we build and maintain products,” Facebook’s director of platform partnerships, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, wrote in a Facebook post.

“As we work through this process we expect to find examples like the Groups API of where we can improve; rest assured we are committed to this work and supporting the people on our platform.”

Michael Nuñez

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How A BlackBerry Wiretap Helped Crack A Multimillion-Dollar Cocaine Cartel

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On August 18, 2017, four men travelling in a dual-engine speedboat carrying 1,590 pounds of cocaine were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard northwest of the Galapagos Islands.

The federal agents manning the channel chose to launch a helicopter to hover over the boat. With this aggressive move, the men began to jettison the bales of coke, each with their own GPS tracker so they could be picked up at a later date, according to the government’s narrative. They attempted to flee, and when they ignored the warning shots from the helicopter, the chopper fired rounds directly at the boat, disabling it.

After the bales were collected, the government realized they had just stopped a huge amount of cocaine from entering the U.S. In total, it carried a street value of $25 million. The four men, all Ecuadorians, were swiftly arrested and charged.

Though the cartel had set up a sophisticated, multilayered operation that sought to slip coke into the country and up to Ohio via land, air and sea, they had made a crucial error: They used BlackBerry phones. As the drug barons chatted about shifting cocaine and how to avoid the narcs over BlackBerry Messenger, a wiretap on a server in Texas was quietly collecting all their communications.

In a case that’s Narcos meets The Wire, federal agents have, since June 2017, been listening in on that server. And beyond that interception, Forbes can exclusively reveal it is yielding results. On Friday, an Ohio court is unsealing charges against one of the crew’s top brass: Francisco Golon-Valenzuela, 40.

Known as El Toro, Spanish for The Bull, the Guatemalan was extradited from Panama earlier this week and is appearing before a magistrate judge today. (Forbes hasn’t yet made contact with his counsel for a response but will update if comment is forthcoming.)

Described as one of various organizers and leaders of the unnamed cartel, El Toro is charged with conspiring to distribute at least 5 kilograms or more of cocaine on the high seas. As a result, he’s facing between 10 years and life in prison.

A key to BlackBerry 

For any organized crime operation, BlackBerry has always been a poor choice. No longer extant since being decommissioned in spring this year, BlackBerry Messenger did encrypt messages, but the Canadian manufacturer of the once-ubiquitous smartphone had the key. And all messages went through a BlackBerry-owned server. If law enforcement could legally compel BlackBerry to hand over that key, they would get all the plain-text messages previously garbled into gibberish with that key.

Compare this to genuine, end-to-end encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp or Signal; they create keys on the phone itself and the device owner controls them. To spy on those messages, governments either have to hack a target device or have physical access to the phone. Both are tricky to do, especially for investigations of multinational criminal outfits. Police can put a kind of tap on a WhatsApp server, known as a pen register.

This will tell them what numbers have called or messaged one another, and at what date and time, but won’t provide any message content. This makes those apps considerably more attractive to privacy-conscious folk than those where the developer holds the keys, though sometimes to the chagrin of law enforcement.

It’s unclear how or when the DEA got access to the BlackBerry server. A so-called Title III order was issued, granting them court approval to carry out the wiretap, though that remains under seal.

It proved vital to the investigation. “There would be no case without the without the Title III on BlackBerry Messenger,” said Dave DeVillers, who was recently nominated as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. “The defendants, the seizures, the conspiracy were all identified with the Title III.”

A spokesperson for BlackBerry said: “We do not speculate or comment upon individual matters of lawful access.” The company has, however, previously made its stance on encryption public: Unlike other major tech providers like Apple or Google, BlackBerry will hand over the keys if it’s served with a legitimate law enforcement request.

If the police did receive a key from BlackBerry, it wouldn’t be the first time. Back in 2016, it emerged that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had decrypted more than one million BlackBerry messages as part of a homicide investigation dating back to 2010.

As per reports from that time, it’s possible to use one of BlackBerry’s keys to unlock not just one device’s messages, but those on other phones too. Forbes asked the DOJ whether investigators would’ve been able to access other, innocent people’s BlackBerry messages as part of this wiretap, but hadn’t received a response at the time of publication.

Fishermen and spies

However those BlackBerry messages were intercepted, they helped illuminate a dark criminal conspiracy constructed of myriad parts. As revealed in today’s indictment, made known to Forbes ahead of publication, the gang employed “load coordinators.” Think of them as project managers, helping locate drivers for trucks and boats while finding people to invest in the cocaine.

Fishermen and other maritime workers were also allegedly recruited. They would help both in refueling the drug baron’s ships, but also helping transport the powder, prosecutors said.

Other individuals became ad hoc spies, sharing information on the activities and locations of police and military personnel trying to intercept shipments, according to the government’s allegations. Other coconspirators sheltered individuals who were at risk of extradition—not that it saved El Toro.

Forbes first became aware of the investigation in 2017, when a search warrant detailed various BlackBerry intercepts. In one, a pair of cartel employees discussed having to put some cocaine transports on hold because of a multinational maritime exercise—the Unitas Pacifico 2017—taking place in their shipment lanes, according to the warrant. BlackBerry wasn’t the only major tech provider to help on the case; That search warrant was for a Google account linked to one of the suspects, which investigators believe was used for further logistics.

The investigation has revealed that the 2017 seizure wasn’t the only time the cops had disrupted what was evidently a criminal enterprise worth hundreds of millions. In May 2016, long before the BlackBerry wiretap went up and the investigation into the cartel had begun in earnest, U.S. authorities intercepted 1,940 pounds of coke near the Guatemalan-Mexico border, worth another $30 million.

Despite such successes, DeVillers told Forbes the American government will never interdict its way to ending the drug trade. “We can only disrupt it,” he added. “And if we turn the tools used by the cartels to run their organization against them, we do just that.”

-Thomas Brewster; Forbes

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How Virtual Therapy Apps Are Trying To Disrupt The Mental Health Industry

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Millions of Americans deal with mental illness each year, and more than half of them go untreated. As the mental health industry has grown in recent years, so has the number of tech startups offering virtual therapy, which range from online and app-based chatbots to video therapy sessions and messaging. 

Still a nascent industry, with most startups in the early seed-stage funding round, these companies say they aim to increase access to qualified mental health care providers and reduce the social stigma that comes with seeking help. 

While the efficacy of virtual therapy, compared with traditional in-person therapy, is still being hotly debated, its popularity is undeniable. Its most recognizable pioneers, BetterHelp and TalkSpace, have enrolled nearly 700,000 and more than 1 million users respectively. And investors are taking notice.

Funding for mental health tech startups has boomed in the past few years, jumping from roughly $100 million in 2014 to more than $500 million in 2018, according to Pitchbook. In May of this year, the subscription-based online therapy platform Talkspace raised an additional $50 million, bringing its total funding to just under $110 million since its 2012 inception.

The ubiquity of smartphones, coupled with the lessening of the stigma associated with mental health treatment have played a large role in the growing demand for virtual therapy. Of the various services offered on the Talkspace platform, “clients by far want asynchronous text messaging,” says Neil Leibowitz, the company’s chief medical officer.

Users seem to prefer back-and-forth messaging that isn’t restricted to a narrow window of time over face-to-face interactions. At BetterHelp, founder Alon Matas notes that older users are more likely to go for phone and video therapy sessions, whereas younger users favor text messaging.

“Each generation is getting progressively more mobile-native,” says John Prendergass, an associate director at Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ healthcare investment group, “so I think we’re going to see people become increasingly more accustomed, or predisposed, to a higher level of comfort in seeking care online.”

The ease and convenience of virtual therapy is another draw, particularly for busy people or those who live in rural areas with limited access to therapy and a range of care options.

Alison Darcy, founder and CEO of Woebot, a free automated chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to provide therapeutic services without the direct involvement of humans, says that with Woebot and other similar services, there is no need to schedule appointments weeks in advance and users can receive real-time coaching at the moment they need it, unlike traditional therapy. The sense of anonymity online can also lead to more openness and transparency and attracts people who normally wouldn’t seek therapy.

Along with stigma, the cost of therapy has historically acted as a barrier to accessing quality mental-health care. Health insurance is often unlikely to cover therapy sessions. In most cities, sessions run about $75 to $150 each, and can go as high as $200 or more in places like New York City. Web therapists don’t have to bear the expense of brick-and-mortar offices, filing paperwork or marketing their services, and these savings can be passed on to clients. 

BetterHelp offers a $200-a-month membership that includes weekly live sessions with a therapist and unlimited messaging in between, while Talkspace’s cheapest monthly subscription at $260-a-month, offers unlimited text, video and audio messaging.

But virtual therapy, particularly text-based therapy, is not suitable for everyone. Nor is it likely to make traditional therapy obsolete. “Online therapy isn’t good for people who have severe mental and relational health issues, or any kind of psychosis, deep depression or violence,” says Christiana Awosan, a licensed marriage and family therapist. 

At her New York and New Jersey offices, she works predominantly with black clients, a population that she says prefers face-to-face meetings. “This community is wary of mental health in general because of structural discrimination,” Awosan says. “They pay attention to nonverbal cues and so they need to first build trust in-person.”  

Virtual therapy apps can still be beneficial for people with low-level anxiety, stress or insomnia, and they can also help users become aware of harmful behaviors and obtain a higher sense of well-being. 

Sean Luo, a psychiatrist whose consultancy work focuses on machine learning techniques in mental health technology, says: “This why some of these companies are getting very high valuations. There are a lot of commercialization possibilities.” He adds that from a mental health treatment perspective, a virtual therapy app “isn’t going to solve your problems, because people who are truly ill will by definition require a lot more.”

Relying on digital therapy platforms might also provide a false sense of security for users who actually need more serious mental-health care, and many of these apps are ill-equipped to deal with emergencies like suicide, drug overdoses or the medical consequences of psychiatric illness. “The level of intervention simply isn’t strong enough,” says Luo, “and so these aspects still need to be evaluated by a trained professional.

Ruth Umoh, Diversity and Inclusion Writer, Forbes Staff.

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