Cyprus Bank Workers to Protest Looming Job Cuts

(NICOSIA, Cyprus) — Bank employees in Cyprus will walk off the job for two hours and march toward parliament to protest against looming job and benefit cuts being taken as part of an international bailout. Hundreds of employees from across the country are expected to be bussed in for Thursday’s demonstration. Bank workers’ union ETYK says employee pension funds aren’t fully protected from a grab on large deposits in Cyprus’ two largest lenders, which was a condition of the country’s 10 billion euro ($12.83 billion) bailout. The union also expressed fears of widespread layoffs as the rescue package that Cyprus agreed with its euro partners and the IMF demanded that the bloated banking sector, flush with billions in foreign deposits, shrink drastically. MORE: Eurozone Unemployment at Record 12 Percent

Fancy Some Three-Dimensional Wellness? Recipe Kit Service HelloFresh Partners With Weight Loss App Noom

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Arguably, eating healthily takes both motivation and time. And in what’s being billed as “a world first, three-dimensional wellness experience” (presumably with a straight face), the recipe kit subscription service HelloFresh is partnering with weight loss coaching app Noom to tackle the problem from both ends.

Available first in the U.S. but eventually rolling out in other parts of the world, users of Noom will be able to subscribe to weight loss meal plans designed and delivered by HelloFresh, consisting of the recipe, step-by-step instructions and all the required fresh ingredients, promising a healthy meal that can be cooked in under 30 minutes.

Priced at $69 plus tax per-week for six two-portion meals, the HelloFresh offering shows up in the Noom app (available for Android), although the customer relationship — subscriptions and payments — are solely managed by Noom, with HelloFresh powering the offline elements of recipe design, ingredient sourcing and product delivery. To the end-user, it’s almost entirely branded as a Noom feature, with the only giveaway being a “powered by the award-winning HelloFresh team” tagline. As we’d expect, the partnership does, however, include a revenue share element with HelloFresh.

To that end, Noom currently claims 6.7 million users of its app worldwide — it isn’t breaking out numbers for the U.S. specifically, where the HelloFresh partnership will initially debut — so there’s quite a lot of potential for up-selling the new HelloFresh-powered recipe kit subscription. The integration goes a little deeper, too. Along with what is essentially a white label version of HelloFresh inside of the Noom app, each recipe kit delivered comes with a unique QR code that can be scanned so that key nutritional information is logged and updated in a user’s personal Noom weight loss plan. Thus, the three-dimensionalness is complete.

New York-based Noom is backed by Kleiner Perkins, Qualcomm Ventures, Harbor Pacific Capital, and M8 Capital. It claims to be the leading weight loss app on Android, providing features such as the ability to track daily food intake via simple food categories — green, yellow, red — therefore omitting the need to count calories. In addition, users can track their motion with the app’s built-in pedometer and are given daily tasks to get them taking in some exercise. So it’s part quantified-self and part good old-fashioned nagging.

HelloFresh, headquartered in Berlin, Germany and incubated out of the Samwer brothers’ startup factory Rocket Internet, competes with the likes of Blue Apron and Fresh Dish in the U.S., and is also available in Germany, Netherlands, UK, France, and Australia. It recently raised a new $10 million funding round from Vorwerk Ventures, along with original backers Rocket Internet, Holtzbrinck Ventures and Kinnevik.

Eurozone Unemployment at Record 12 Percent

(LONDON) — Unemployment across the 17 European Union countries that use the euro has struck 12 percent for the first time since the currency was launched in 1999, official figures showed Tuesday. Eurostat, the E.U.’s statistics office, said the rate in February was unchanged at the record high after January’s figure was revised up to 12 percent from 11.9 percent. (MORE: Europe’s Crisis Measures Are Working…Sort Of) Over the month, a net 33,000 people in the eurozone joined the ranks of the unemployed. Spain and Greece continued to suffer from unemployment rates above 26 percent, and many other countries were seeing their numbers swell to uncomfortable levels. It’s not all doom and gloom. Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has an unemployment rate of only 5.4 percent. That’s even better than the U.S. rate of 7.7 percent. The February figures came before the recent Cyprus crisis, which has reignited concerns over the future of the euro. Under the terms of its bailout, big depositors in the country’s two top banks are facing hefty losses. Following Cyprus’ protracted and chaotic bailout discussions, which saw the country’s banks close for the best part of two week, unemployment on the east Mediterranean island nation is expected to ratchet higher over the months ahead as the economy contracts sharply. Many economists are forecasting that the Cypriot economy will shrink by 10 percent this year alone and see unemployment rise up to Greek and Spanish levels. In February, Cyprus’ unemployment stood at 14 percent. Prior to the Cypriot crisis, there were signs that Europe’s debt crisis had calmed. Stock and bond markets had risen for nearly months, boosting confidence in countries’ ability to finance themselves. But while markets have improved, the eurozone economy has sunk back into recession. A closely-watched survey released Tuesday indicated that the recession likely continued in the first quarter. The monthly purchasing managers’ index for the manufacturing sector — a gauge of business activity published by financial information company Markit — fell to a 3-month low. Though the PMI was not as bad

DuoFertility Is A Fertility Monitoring Sensor-Plus-Service That Helps Childless Couples Get Pregnant

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UK startup DuoFertility is tackling a really tough problem: infertility. The company has built a sensor-plus-service business to predict the most fertile days of women who are having difficulty conceiving to improve the chances of conception — hence its tagline: “assisted natural conception”. There is no invasive technology involved, just a lot of number crunching.

The startup’s approach sits somewhere in the middle of the competition in this space. It argues its technology is more sophisticated than more basic over-the-counter physical products such as home urine tests or body-basal-thermometers (which are also cheaper than DuoFertility’s offering), as the data captured by its wearable sensor is more accurate. Data is also sent back to DuoFertility staff for monitoring and reviewing – so it’s being looked at by specialist staff using bespoke algorithms rather than generalised models.

On the other hand, the product is cheaper than a cycle of artificial insemination — and much cheaper than IVF. It’s also nowhere near as invasive as either of those alternatives. DuoFertility costs £495 with unlimited support vs around £800 for a cycle of artificial insemination (including drugs and tests) and around £4,5000 for a cycle of IVF, says CEO and co-founder Shamus Husheer.

“It is this combination of both automated analysis and expert review of this data that sets us apart from anything else out there, and probably to a large extent explains why our pregnancy rates are so high for patients who are well past buying something off the shelf at the pharmacy,” he says

“The really surprising thing is that, for only a relatively small increment in cost over the [more basic, competitor] at-home devices, DuoFertility gives a vastly higher pregnancy rate than artificial insemination, and even matches or exceeds that of IVF.”

Success is a little difficult to measure, however, as a variety of factors have to be considered – as Husheer explains: “Although 80% of normally fertile women will get pregnant within their first year of trying to conceive, infertile couples (those who have been trying for more than two years) have only about a 12% chance of getting pregnant over a year. Therefore simply saying x% of patients will get pregnant is meaningless (or worse, misleading) – this does not however prevent some less scrupulous clinics and products from doing exactly this.

“Therefore we publish our success rate data only on these ‘difficult cases’ of infertile patients, and specifically those who have qualified for or already been through IVF. We then break this data down by both female age and time trying for a baby, which are the most important factors in determining success rate. A peer-reviewed scientific paper on exactly this was published at the end of 2011, demonstrating a pregnancy rate that was higher than that from a cycle of IVF for every age group under 45 (the rates themselves ranging from over 40% to less than 15%).”

The Technology

So what exactly does DuoFertility’s technology do? The product consists of a wearable sensor, worn inside an adhesive patch so it remains attached day and night, which logs the woman’s “body temperature and movement thousands of times a day and night to calculate deep sleep core temperature”, plus a reader unit which receives the data from the sensor via a modified version of RFID. The reader calculates likely future fertility — based on “all of the information it has seen about you to date” (users can enter “a range of different parameters on the reader, from menstruation to ovulation pain to illness”).

The reader connects to a PC via USB to display past and near future fertility charts. Additional data can then be added by the user, such as medical or home test results and notes for DuoFertility’s staff to read. And all the data is automatically transferred to DuoFertility’s servers in Cambridge, U.K. for analysis and expert review.

“We use all of the data for each individual woman, and all of the thousands of others that we’re monitoring, to work out exactly which algorithms work for the woman most similar to this one,” says Husheer. “That allows us to dramatically improve the prediction of fertility, but also allows us to identify a range of underlying issues that may be preventing conception. There are of course many cases where the data does not perfectly fit any existing model, and so these cases are escalated to human fertility experts for review and, if necessary, a discussion with the patient or their doctor.”

DuoFertility aims to identify the 42-78 hour monthly window when couples should be trying to conceive — and says that by continually monitoring women it can pick up on signs that a particular cycle is similar or different to a previous cycle, as well as compare a cycle to similar cycles in its database.

“Basically, there is zero point in providing a prediction of ovulation down to the minute, if in fact it is five days wrong. Far better to give couples a realistic assessment of when they are likely to be fertile, and update this as we get more data. This means that for some couples ‘the goalposts move’ – they can quite literally see our algorithms updating the prediction when they connect to our servers. And if we recalculate something at our server, and they haven’t connected recently so might miss the newly calculated critical moment – we send an email or give them a call. That call has resulted in more than one baby,” adds Husheer.

Of course not every couple will be able to get pregnant — even after using the product for a long time — so customer relationship management is a “pretty critical” component of the business. Raising false hope is certainly not part of DuoFertility’s business model, says Husheer — although he notes that for couples who can’t afford IVF, continuing to use DuoFertility despite poor “absolute chances” may be their best hope. ”We find that being absolutely crystal clear about this often makes for a difficult but ultimately necessary and productive conversation with the couple,” he says. The startup also offers refunds to new users if it believes it won’t be able to help them, and reviews users after four to five months (and regularly after that) to ensure continued use still makes sense for them.

Starting up

The idea for Duofertility was conceived during Husheer’s PhD research at Cambridge University. The link is indirect, since his research was actually building instruments for particle accelerators. “I realised that several of the instrumental techniques we used could be applied to human physiology, and specifically to monitoring fertility,” he tells TechCrunch. 

Husheer (pictured right, with fellow co-founder Oriane Chausiaux) and a group of fellow graduate students – “scientists and medics”, some with PhDs in infertility – then got together and entered a university business plan competition in 2006, going on to win £20,000. The money funded a prototype and the filing of the first patent. “By mid 2007 we had brilliant data and several local Angel investors telling us to hurry up and graduate so that they could fund the project,” says Husheer. “Just 18 months and less than £1 million later, DuoFertility had been through design, development, trials, medical approvals and sold to the first customer.”

The first DuoFertility was bought in May 2009, although Husheer says the first pregnancy was “actually somewhat before that” — during early trials. “Sales really stepped up when DuoFertility was stocked by the largest UK pharmacy chain, Boots, in 2011 as the result of our participating in a reality-TV show hunting for innovative new products for the major retailers,” he adds.

Further funding came via the competition route, after DuoFertility won Qualcomm’s European QPrize in 2011. That in turn led to attention from Qualcomm’s venture capital arm. Husheer says the company has now raised a little over £2 million in funding from three Angel investor groups and from Qualcomm Ventures.

Growing In The U.S.

DuoFertility’s next big step will be raising its profile in the U.S. — by targeting key national medical conferences such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in May, and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in October to properly enter the market. Husheer notes the company “recently achieved FDA clearance”, and although U.S. users can buy the device via DuoFertility’s website and be supported in using it, he says the business needs to spend time introducing the product to the medical community to make doctors aware of it and ensure they are happy to recommend it.

“We have a small team on the ground in the U.S., calling on doctors in New York and California to introduce the product and make sure that DuoFertility fits into the way that they practice medicine. Over the next few months we will be hiring several more commercially focused people, both for activities directed at the medical community and the consumer — so any [TechCrunch] readers with experience in bringing similar technologies to market in the US should drop me a line,” says Husheer.

“From a regulatory perspective we are clear to sell anywhere in the E.U. or U.S., and in several countries that accept their medical clearances (e.g. South Africa and many Arab states). As a company selling on the Internet it will be no surprise that we have patients in almost all of these places – in fact we now have babies on every continent except Antarctica. That said, our primary focus is the U.K. and U.S.,” he adds.

Part of the issue with the U.S. market is that, for legal reasons, DuoFertility is not allowed to provide medical advice to the patient directly — but must work through the patient’s doctor. “This means their doctor is preferably included ‘in the loop’ from the beginning, however if the patient just uses DuoFertility without a doctor we can refer to a doctor we work with in their city if they need one,” Husheer adds.

DuoFertility has more than 30 staff at present, working shifts to ensure U.S. timezones are covered. The number of staff is likely to rise over the next year — especially if the company  replicates its U.K. fertility centre on U.S. soil so that American couples can be monitored by staff in the same timezone.

The company broke even in 2011 but has been ploughing investment into ramping up for the U.S. market so, overall, the business has not been profitable recently but Husheer says that’s all part of its growth plans: “Our investors seem to be very happy with this strategy, as everyone can see that the US will be the major market for us.”

Lowest Cost Raspberry Pi Microcomputer Now On Sale In The U.S. – $25 Model A Suited For Battery/Solar Powered Projects

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The Raspberry Pi microcomputer prides itself on being affordable, with its tiny $35 price-tag for the original Model B Pi. But now its lowest cost board — the $25 Model A — has gone on sale in the U.S. The Raspberry Pi Foundation confirmed to TechCrunch that Model A can now be purchased in the U.S. via reseller Allied Electronics (which currently appears to have 70 units in stock).

What does $25 buy you? Enough processing power to use it to run a home media centre if you so desire, according to the Foundation. But the Model A was conceived with lower power consumption projects in mind, perhaps battery or solar powered, as Model A consumes around a third less power than Model B. It also has half the RAM of the second revision Model B, plus only one USB port and no Ethernet connection — to keep costs down.

Model A sales kicked off in Europe in early February, with Asia coming on stream last week. Eben Upton, Raspberry Pi founder, said today that sales of the Model A Pi have been amounting to “a few thousand a week” thus far.

“We burned through the first 20,000 units quite quickly, and are building a few thousand a week at the moment, but we don’t have good visibility of sell through yet,” he told TechCrunch when asked about early sales data, adding: “I’d expect us to dip in and out of availability for the next month or so until we reach a steady state.”

The Foundation passed  one million Model B sales in January, less than a year after it launched the Pi in March 2012. The microcomputer was conceived as a tool to get kids learning to code – but has also proved popular with the maker community to power all manner of DIY gizmos and gadgets.

Why Derivatives May Be the Biggest Risk for the Global Economy

Four years after the U.S. recession ended, the global economy is still beset by problems. The present danger comes from Cyprus – where the sea foam once gave birth to the goddess Aphrodite but now only creates froth in panicky financial markets. The proposed bailout plan for troubled Cypriot banks would impose losses of up to 40% on the largest depositors. And that, in turn, could undermine confidence in the banks of other troubled euro zone countries. Cyprus is only the latest challenge for global financial stability, however. In the U.S., deteriorating urban finances – from Detroit to Stockton, Calif. – threaten municipal bond holders, public-sector workers, and taxpayers. In addition, a rise in long-term interest rates seems inevitable sooner or later, either because of inflation or because the Federal Reserve backs away from its easy-money policies. Higher interest rates would mean big losses for bond investors, and also for government-sponsored entities, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that hold mortgage-backed assets. The greatest risk of all, however, may be one of the least visible – namely, the expanding, shadowy market for derivatives. These highly sophisticated investments have contributed to financial disasters from the 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers to J.P. Morgan’s 2012 trading losses in London, which totaled more than $6 billion. (MORE: The $600 Billion the IRS Can’t Collect) Basically, derivatives are financial contracts with values that are derived from the behavior of something else – interest rates, stock indexes, mortgages, commodities, or even the weather. Just as homebuyers make only a down payment when they buy a house with a mortgage, derivatives traders put down only a small amount of cash. Moreover, one derivative can be used to offset or serve as collateral for another. The result is that a massive edifice of derivatives can be supported by a relatively small amount of real money. Some derivatives, such as typical stock options, trade on exchanges. But many are simply private contracts between banks or other sophisticated investors. As a result, it’s hard to know the total

Click & Grow Turns To Kickstarter To Seed Its 2nd Gen “Smart Herb Garden”

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Another established hardware startup is turning to Kickstarter to help fund its next wares. This time it’s the turn of Click & Grow, maker of the smart garden that lets you grow a plant indoors with little or no intervention. After selling over 50,000 units of its first device, the Palo Alto, U.S. registered company with an R&D lab in Estonia, is launching a crowdfunding campaign to get its second generation product — the Smart Herb Garden — off the ground.

Hoping to raise a minimum of $75,000, the money will be used to turn a functioning prototype into something production-ready, with a shipping date loosely pegged for September. The Smart Herb Garden builds on Click & Grow’s first product, but with several improvements following feedback from customers; namely that people want to grow more than one plant at a time and that the amount of natural light available in a person’s home is often not enough for healthy plant growth. The new improved version features a built-in LED light, as well as a change in the plant pot part of the design to make it easy to grow three different plants simultaneously, with the same ‘smart’ technology taking care of the heavy lifting. It also plugs into a power socket rather than relying on four AA batteries, while the new design negates the need for a pump or sensor.

The aim of Click & Grow’s smart garden system is to automatically provide the correct water and nutrient balance needed for indoor plants to grow. The company claims that 3 years of R&D has gone into the Smart Herb Garden, of which the core technology is the growth medium, a nanotech material engineered to “supply plant roots with the right amount of oxygen, water and nutrients at any time”. This is supported by the newly incorporated LED light. In practice, you simply insert the supplied cartridges and fill the reservoir with water. Then power the thing on and — bingo — in a matter of weeks you should see green shoots of awesomeness. If plants are your thing, of course.

“Very few can afford to launch a new product and fail”

The Smart Herb Garden starter kit will come with cartridges for basil, thyme and lemon balm. Refills will be available for various herbs, lettuce, mini tomato, chili pepper, and even strawberries, apparently.

Once it finally reaches market, the Smart Herb Garden is expected to retail for $79 but Kickstarter backers can bag it for $39 for a white model, or at the top tier, $1,000 for a “next generation interactive model”, though the latter is short on details.

As for why a VC-funded startup would choose to go down the crowdfunding route — Click & Grow has raised over €1.5 million from backers WNB and Primo Holding — founder Mattias Lepp tells TechCrunch that “for makers of novel hardware, Kickstarter is the best place to sense check your ideas before you start assembly lines”.

It’s hoped Kickstarter will enable the company to validate the market for its new product and get feedback on prices and colour options, dimensions, and the plants that people want to grow. “So I’d say it’s first and foremost a market insights platform,” he says. “And of course, the money also helps at our stage.”

For hardware companies like Click & Grow who have already had some success and raised funding, it’s not that they can’t afford to start manufacturing a new product, it’s that “very few can afford to launch a new product and fail”, says Lepp.

Samsung Received The Most Mobile Patents In 2012, Now Leads The World Overall

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Samsung lost out big to Apple last year in a mobile patent blowout in the U.S., but it’s been slowly building up an arsenal of patents that potentially will keep it from falling into the same situation again. Samsung, also currently the world’s biggest mobile company, received the most mobile patents in 2012, and it now holds the most mobile patents of any company worldwide, according to the latest patent report out from mobile analyst Chetan Sharma, which lays out a thicket of companies scrambling to put a legal seal on their intellectual property in the fast-moving world of wireless communications.

For his study, Sharma looked at more than 7 million mobile patents awarded in the U.S. and Europe, the two biggest markets for patents globally at the moment. He found that the U.S. has stolen a march over its old world counterpart since 1996. The U.S. accounts for nearly three-quarters (72%) of all mobile patents across the two regions.

Within the wider world of technology patents, mobile in particular is on the rise. In the U.S., Sharma believes that by the end of this year mobile patents will account for 25% of all patents granted, compared to just 5% in 2001. In Europe, mobile patents will be 10% of the whole patent pool.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Not only is mobile in a rapid period of development at the moment — the growth of smartphone and tablet usage is fuelling a massive market for services, hardware features, networking innovations and more. But in addition to that, mobile patent litigation has, for better or worse, proven to be lucrative for those who win — either by way of licensing fees (one example: the cut that Microsoft gets on Android devices) or court victories (the $1 billion Apple/Samsung case perhaps being the most notable example, even if it is still getting contested).

On the European side, the fact that the proportion is lower could be due to fewer companies in the region putting as much emphasis on R&D as in the U.S., but also it is a comment about the wider shifts in gravity that we see in the tech world. On that note, it’s also interesting to note that 2011 was the first year that China outstripped the U.S. in patent growth — 22% that year compared to 3.3% for the U.S. and 3.8% worldwide — although it is still far behind the U.S., Europe and Japan in terms of actual patents. “The numbers of foreign filings are now in the majority for both the applications filed as well as the patents granted,” Sharma notes.

Sharma notes that Samsung’s rise to the top has bumped Nokia from its traditional position as biggest mobile patent holder. Others that are still making the top-10 include Sony, Microsoft, RIM, LG, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Panasonic, Alcatel-Lucent, and Nokia. The full ranking for mobile patents granted in 2012 is as follows:

Among mobile operators AT&T, NTT Docomo and Sprint took the top-three slots — but their numbers were too low to get them to compete against vendors.

Part of Samsung’s prominence in patents, meanwhile, is down to fact that it covers a wide range of business pieces, similar to Nokia in its heyday. It led not only in device patents, but also infrastructure and platform — the one category where Apple also made it into the top-10:

For a look at what may be coming on the horizon, Sharma also looks at patent applications. He notes that patent applications grew by some 61% in 2012 compared to the same period 10 years ago. Taking into account granted and pending patents, IBM stands out ahead of the group, with Microsoft and Samsung closing in.