The Week In Tech: WeWork’s ‘plans’ to raise, Elon’s high-speed rail plans and more

Hello and welcome to the Week in Tech, your weekly roundup of the top technology news stories from across the globe.

This week, we bring you the latest UK and international tech investment news, a warning from the NHS that social media is impacting mental health, and more.

PatSnap’s mammoth raise

A global data analytics firm closed its Series D round at a very respectable $38m. The funding pushed the company’s total raise beyond $100m.

PatSnap was founded in Singapore in 2007, but its HQ is now based in London, and it operates offices in China and America. The company uses machine learning to provide R&D data insights for companies in a range of sectors .  

Existing investors Shunwei Capital and Sequoia Capital led the round, which will enable the company to grow in different countries and industries. It aims to open a second North American office in Toronto.                                                 

Memrise eyes growth

It can be difficult to learn a language as an adult, without the brain elasticity that’s typically found in children.

Memrise’s app offers users the chance to learn one of 22 languages they have available. The EdTech company closed a $15.5m (£11.61m) Series B round this week. The funding, which was led by Octopus Ventures and Korelya Capital,  will be used to accelerate its growth, add new features to the app and develop its software.

The London-based company claim that more than 35 million adults worldwide use the app. 

Tropic bioscience smells the coffee

A BioTech firm from Oxford raised an impressive $10m to use gene-editing tech to feed people across the world.

Tropic Biosciences uses gene editing techniques, including CRISPR, to develop high-performing plant varieties; the aim is to accelerate breeding and to address some of the significant disease and supply chain issues that crops face by preventing the development of naturally occurring traits.

Tropic Biosciences currently produces specialised varieties of bananas and coffee, and hope to use this funding to secure regulatory approval for these plants and to start developing new ones.    

This round was led by AgriTech investor Pontifax AgTech and Five Seasons Ventures.

Eigen Technologies smashes fund raise

Goldman Sachs and Temasek led one of the UK’s largest Series A rounds this week, injecting £13m into a London-based AI company.

Eigen Technologies uses Natural Language Processing to automate the extraction and analysis of data found in financial and legal documents. Eigen’s technology can use risk-assessment to help make a decision on whether to bid on asset portfolios, for example.

The company was founded back in 2014, and this latest funding will be used to pursue R&D efforts and to grow its company across in London and New York headquarters, as well as in Asia and the Americas.

WeWork eye investment

WeWork, a company which provides office space to startups, is looking to raise funds from Softbank. If successful, the fundraise would lead to a valuation between $35bn and $40bn, making the company more valuable than Airbnb and SpaceX; and just coming in behind Uber.

SoftBank, already a major investor in WeWork, is in discussions to invest yet more into the company. The news came from Rajeev Misra, who runs SoftBank’s $100bn Vision Fund and is the chief executive officer of SoftBank Investment Advisors, atTuesday’s CogX conference, an event held as part of London Tech Week.

Other investments:

Startup Visa and multi-billion investment

The UK’s tech scene welcomed news that tech giants are going to invest a large chunk of money into Britain.

Theresa May said that Britain will see a private and government backed funding boost amounting to £2.3bn; a sum that could create 1,600 news tech jobs.

Cloud company Salesforce has pledged to invest £1.9bn over the next five years, and to open a new data centre in 2019 that could lead to 900 new jobs. UAE investor, Mubadala, is also launching a £300m European investment fund based in the UK, whilst NTT data are investing £41m to open a new office and Innovation Centre in London.

The government are also ploughing £2.5bn into the industry through the British Patient Capital Fund, and hope to secure a further £5bn of private investment in the coming years.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid also shared some welcome news about Visas. Launching in Spring 2019, a new “Start-up Visa” will allow tech founders to use a visa route which is usually only exclusively available to university graduates.

Read our full story for expert reaction to the news.

Tech giants called on to address mental illness ‘epidemic’

The NHS has called on tech giants such as Facebook and Google to take more responsibility for the role they play in mental illness amongst children.

NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens warned that the youth of Britain is facing a “double epidemic” of obesity and mental health issues, and the health service cannot be left to “pick up the pieces” on a problem that is “induced by many other actors across our economy.”

Speaking at a conference in Manchester this week, Stevens said: “It is obvious that there is more unmet need for young people’s mental health services than probably any other part of the health service. The conversation, though, around young people’s mental health has got to be wider than just about what the NHS can do.

“This is certainly about schools, but we also have to ask some pretty searching questions around the role technology companies, social media, and the impact that that is having on childhood,” he added.

The role that technology, social media and excessive screen time plays in people’s mental wellbeing is a topic that has been debated many times. Mark Zuckerberg has spoken about the topic before. In a Facebook post, the social media boss said the site was updating its algorithms to focus more on user content, saying: “We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being.”

WhatsApp trumps Facebook

Speaking of Facebook algorithms; a new study has suggested that fewer people are using Facebook to find news, and these new algorithms are partly to blame. At the same time, messaging apps such as Whatsapp – which is owned by Facebook – are gaining popularity.

These findings were published in the seventh addition of the annual Digital News Report, which said that the fall in numbers is related to data privacy concerns. Also, the changes to the algorithm make it less likely for news publishers to reach audiences.  

The research was conducted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, at the University of Oxford. It surveyed 74,000 people in 37 countries.

It found that younger people prefer to get their news from sites such as WhatsApp, Instagram, and Snapchat. The appeal comes from being able to discuss the news in a more private way rather than posting public comments.

Elon to build high speed rail

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has won a contract for his enterprise, The Boring Company, to build a high-speed rail link between downtown Chicago and O’Hare International Airport.

The electric underground transit system will cost The Boring Company $1bn and travel at around 150 miles per hour (240 km per hour). The announcement was formally made by Musk and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The Tesla owner says the link could be operational in about three years. According to Musk, the 17 mile long journey will take just 12 minutes, compared to the current 30-40 minute time.

The decision has been criticised by some, with Chicago politician Alderman Scott Waguespack saying: “Mayor Emanuel is prioritizing the interests of billionaires and big corporations ahead of the very real and immediate needs of Chicago’s taxpayers and neighborhoods.”