A Braintree Technologies Sdn. drone flies during a pesticide aerial spraying demonstration above a palm plantation in Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia (Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg)  

Startup Street: Drones Against Deforestation, Pregnancy Care Startup Win U.S. Scholarships

This week on Startup Street, we have the winners of ‘impact challenge’ of Silicon Valley based Singularity University in India, who will get a 10-week long incubation programme. Oyo’s new business entry is event planning. And why Facebook has acquired a London-based artificial intelligence startup. Here’s what went on:

Meet The Winners Of Global Impact Challenge 2018

A startup using drones and blockchain to counter illegal deforestation and another that developed a pregnancy monitoring tool will now get mentoring and full scholarship at Silicon Valley-based think tank Singularity University.

Kerala’s Ajna and Delhi-based Brun Health were selected as the winners of the Global Impact Challenge 2018 that was jointly organised with the Kerala Startup Mission, the state government’s agency for entrepreneurial development. The two startups will now fly off to attend the Singularity University’s 10-week long incubation programme.

Ajna and Brun were selected from among 25 finalists who had pitched their ideas, attempting to mix innovation with a social impact. The week-long competition was aimed at identifying inspiring startups trying to find solutions addressing global challenges in learning, healthcare and environment sectors.

“The basic difference between the startup of before and now is that today they look at a problem and then come up with a solution,” said Shrikan Sinha, chief executive at information technology industry body NASSCOM, who was a speaker at the event. He praised the Kerala Startup Mission for its selection of finalists, saying that none of the ideas pitched were “Me-toos” of other startups.

Co-founded earlier this year by Nikhil Mohan, Nathan Wadhwani, Jikku Jose and Jipin Matthew, Ajna has solutions to stave off illegal logging that leads to deforestation. It wants to monitor tree cover by scanning forest areas using autonomous drones and then keeping records on a blockchain to mitigate illegal logging. The startup is still in its development phase.

Brun Health, on the other hand, is developing a medical device to provide accessible and affordable solutions for monitoring pregnancies. It targets primary health centres and maternity clinics and aims to deploy 1,500 devices by 2019. It is supported by AIIMS, IIT-Delhi, Stanford University and India’s biotechnology department.

EasyKrishi (Karnataka), SunEmison Solar (Chhattisgarh), and SignNEXT Assistive Technology LLP (Kerala) were declared the top three performers behind the winners. They were awarded certificates and a cash prize of Rs 50,000 each.

Oyo Will Also Take Care Of Your Parties Now

People dance on the floor at the disco bar La Conga, where some members of the FOL military base spend their spare time, in Manta, Ecuador (Photographer: Jorge Vinueza/Bloomberg News.)  
People dance on the floor at the disco bar La Conga, where some members of the FOL military base spend their spare time, in Manta, Ecuador (Photographer: Jorge Vinueza/Bloomberg News.)  

After expanding its hotel network to three countries outside India, hospitality startup Oyo has decided to foray into a new vertical -- event management.

It has launched a new service, Oyo Auto Party, that lets users complete event planning for parties, weddings and conferences. The service is currently only available in Delhi-NCR, Jaipur, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Lucknow.

Auto Party, which is also a separate portal from Oyo’s hotel aggregating website, allows for planning an event through its website. It even offers a personal event manager who'd take care of everything from venue, catering, decor, music and food. The portal also lets you schedule food tasting and menu customisation. Auto Party also claims that the banquets it offers can be ready to host an event within six hours.

Just weddings themselves are a big deal in India. And a goldmine for businesses too. Last year, KPMG had estimated that India’s wedding market churns out $54 billion revenue a year. That is an opportunity for Softbank-backed Oyo which won't have any shortage of banquet space from over 5,000 hotels in its network.

The startup recently ventured into China after its expansions in Nepal and Malaysia. It had recently also earned praise from Softbank's Masayoshi Son at its annual general meeting in Tokyo last month.

Zuckerberg Buys A Startup To Fight Fake News

Facebook Inc. has acquired the team of Bloomsbury AI to help combat fake news as the social media giant continues to amplify its fact-checking machinery ahead of a mid-term election in the U.S.

“The Bloomsbury team has built a leading expertise in machine reading and understanding unstructured documents in natural language in order to answer any question,” Facebook said in a media statement. “Their expertise will strengthen Facebook’s efforts in natural language processing research, and help us further understand natural language and its applications.”

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., speaks during the Viva Technology conference. (Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg)
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., speaks during the Viva Technology conference. (Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg)

The London-based startup has developed a machine learning tool that can analyse unstructured text and answer queries about it. That’s key to Facebook which only last month started using automated technologies to give a helping hand to its human fact-checkers reviewing hoax news. “We know it doesn’t make sense to have fact-checkers review all content given the scale...which is why need to use technology to figure out how to scale the impact,” Tessa Lyons, a product manager at Facebook, had said at a press briefing in Brussels last month.

This comes after the social network has faced months of scrutiny from lawmakers across Europe and U.S. over its privacy policies and its alleged role in influencing the 2016 U.S. elections and the Brexit vote. Now it becomes crucial for it to regain public trust as the U.S. heads for a midterms in November.

Facebook is paying between $23-$30 million for Bloomsbury AI, Techcrunch reported. The startup is an alumni of the London-based accelerator Entreuprenuer First and is backed by venture capitalists inlcuding Fly.VC, Seedcamp and IQ Capital. According to Crunchbase, it had raised about $1.7 million in two funding rounds.