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Speech by the President: II Cercle d’Economia Award

Distinguished members of the Jury, I want to thank you for this prestigious award. It is really humbling me. And Doctor Tocci, dear Nathalie, many, many thanks for your kind words. I really cherish that, so many thanks. I am truly honoured by this prize. And it is wonderful to follow the big steps of my good friend Mario Draghi.

The Cercle d’Economia, indeed President Faus, as you said, was created, during the dark days of Franco’s dictatorship, as a place to debate and imagine the future. And ever since, for over six decades now, it has stood on the right side of history. It has stood for democracy and for an open economy.

The Cercle has always worked to bring Spain where it belongs: at the centre of a strong and united Europe. And today, Spain is indeed at the heart of Europe. You have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. And yet today, your recovery has solid foundations. You are a global leader in clean energy.

You have a dynamic and innovative economy. And you have always been a vocal supporter of the most recent steps in European integration. España es hoy un motor de nuestra Unión. This is a defining moment for Europe and for our future. I am very grateful that you decided to focus the annual meeting on ‘Europe’s moment’.

I remember, I used this expression for the first time two years ago, in May 2020, when I announced the creation of NextGenerationEU, the recovery fund. We were in the middle of the first pandemic wave. In our Union, at the worst moment of that dramatic spring, almost a thousand people were dying daily because of COVID-19 ­– almost a thousand. The scale of that crisis was such that only as a Union could we provide the answers to our citizens. Indeed, it was Europe’s moment to step in. It was a ‘make or break’ moment for the European Union.

Now, fast forward to May 2022, the present day. COVID-19 has not disappeared, our guard is still high, but the pandemic feels like a distant echo. Yet thousands of innocent people are once again dying right here in Europe, because of the Kremlin’s aggression against a peaceful country. And it is not only the future of Ukraine that is at stake. It is an attempt to tear down the security architecture in Europe.

 

And it is a global tectonic shift. The great powers of the world are aligning themselves again. Putin’s war by choice is an attack against everything we believe in. Against the idea that a country’s future should be decided democratically, by its own people, and not by some foreign autocrat. And to impose his spheres of influence, the Kremlin is not only devastating Ukraine, it is also trying to play the old game of ‘divide and rule’.

There is only one way for us to help our Ukrainian friends win this war, and to be the masters of our own future, and that is by choosing unity. Even more than two years ago, this is Europe’s moment.

Today, I can tell you with certainty that Europe is seizing its moment. We are tapping into the true power of our Union. We did it, first and foremost, with our strategy on vaccines. Second, came NextGenerationEU. And now, our unprecedented sanctions on Russia and our drive to free ourselves from Russian fossil fuels. You, dear Nathalie, Doctor Tocci, said that Europe has rediscovered its DNA. And this is so true. But we have also broken new ground. We have pushed our boundaries and redefined the limits of what is possible, step by step.

Take vaccines. It is a European success story. It is no coincidence that the first safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 was developed in Europe. Because science thrives in democracy and in a social market economy like ours. That is the story of the mRNA technology. It all started with researchers, following a bold and innovative idea. It is thanks to their pioneering spirit, and our freedom of research. Then came European public support to this kind of support and research. And finally, the power of the market and our private investment. Because of this unique mix – the researchers, the European support, the democracy of free minds and free science and research, the public support and the private investment –, the world can rely today on mRNA vaccines.

And yet, only two years ago, none of us knew whether science would win in developing an effective vaccine. This, two years ago, is when we first proposed that our Union stepped in. And just imagine what would have happened if only a few Member States – the big ones – would have had access to vaccines, while the others would have been left outside in the cold. It would have severely weakened our fight against the virus, and it would have torn apart our Union. Instead, we pooled our resources to scale up the production, and we made sure that all Member States had equal access to life-saving vaccines. Today, three-quarters of Europeans received at least two doses. 60% of us received booster shots, too.

But another fact is also important: We achieved all of this while remaining open to the world. That was not easy, and you remember the pressure that was on us to close down, to shut down Europe’s export. For every dose of vaccine produced in the European Union, one dose was shipped abroad. We made the choice of solidarity not only with our fellow Europeans, but also with the rest of the world. This is unique. This is Europe. And I think that we should keep that in our collective memory.

The second moment I would like to focus on is indeed the birth of our Recovery Plan, NextGenerationEU. Pedro, I am sure you remember these months very well. It took long European Councils, days and nights, but we overcame decades of ideological debates on whether our Union should raise money on behalf of the Member States. Let me thank you again, Pedro, for believing in NextGenerationEU from the very first day on. As of today, we have already provided to our Member States roughly EUR 100 billion in investment under NextGenerationEU.

It is an unprecedented plan with investment and reforms. And this plan can reshape our economy for decades ahead. Making our European Green Deal a reality, speeding up our digitalisation. With EUR 800 billion of investments, NextGenerationEU will make Europe and Spain stronger and better prepared to face the challenges of our time.

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Amid the AI hype, don’t forget about no-code

No-code startup Softr, which allows its customers to build apps from their existing data, announced Tuesday that it has added Google Sheets to its integration list.

Previously, Softr focused on Airtable databases. Its move to support data from Google’s spreadsheet product likely expands its potential customer pool. Even before that expansion, CEO Mariam Hakobyan told TechCrunch+ that her company grew its annual recurring revenue 3x from December 2021 to December 2022.

 

Softr’s quick revenue expansion is a good reminder that while the tech world seems completely consumed by all things AI, there’s quite a lot of work going on in other areas that are worth keeping an eye on.

That said, there is an interesting connection between AI and no-code worth writing down: Both are potentially great expanders of human capability. AI tooling could operate as a second brain of sorts for the digitally busy, and no-code services may allow nondevelopers to build the tools they need to complete their work. In both cases, the genres of new tech development have a shot at helping regular folks do a lot more, more quickly and often at a low cost.

Something else that modern AI tooling and no-code share is accessibility. Softr, for example, grew its base of signed-up users from 35,000 to 150,000 in 2022. That’s really quite a lot for a service that was, until recently, Airtable-specific. On the AI side, I don’t need to reiterate just how much market demand there is for modern LLM tooling.

Let’s dig into Softr’s progress since we last covered the company and chat about what we can learn about no-code progress as a method of building more accessible software.

Softr, no-code and empowering the regulars
Ask anyone who works at a company that builds software and isn’t part of the engineering or product orgs how long it will take them to get something built for their own needs. Without even making Jira ticket jokes, we all know what the answer will be. And to a degree, the standard situation makes sense: What nondeveloper employees need is often pretty basic software, and expensive engineers need to focus on the company’s core offering not internal tooling.

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Twitter’s legacy blue checkmark era is officially over

Twitter appears to have officially killed off its legacy blue checkmarks, one of the last remaining vestiges of the pre-Elon Musk owner era.

The legacy blue checks, which Twitter doled out to journalists, celebrities and other public officials for free to help curb impersonations and spam, were supposed to end April 1.

Musk took to Twitter on April 11 — days after the legacy checkmarks should have disappeared — to shift the end date to April 20 or 4/20. Yes, that’s the day when folks honor weed because Twitter is now owned by a middle schooler.

With the legacy checkmarks gone, Twitter will have verification marks only for paid users and businesses as well as government entities and officials. Now, if a user sees a blue checkmark and clicks on it, the label reads: “This account is verified because they are subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone number.”

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Autotech Ventures’ new $230M mobility fund adds fintech, circular economy to its investment strategy

Autotech Ventures will use its newly closed $230 million fund to expand beyond its foundation of early-stage ground transportation startups and invest in what the firm believes are the next big opportunities in automotive and mobility.

Fintech, logistics, supply chain and the circular economy are at the top of the list.

The $230 million fund, its third since launching in 2017, will be used to invest in seed through Series C mobility-related startups, according to the company. A mixture of financial and corporate LPs, including Allison Transmission, American Axle, Iochpe-Maxion and Shell participated in the fund.

“We’re still a ground transportation-focused firm and we have a very similar strategy [with this fund],” Alexei Andreev, Autotech Ventures managing director told TechCrunch. “On a high-level, it’s same as Fund 1 and Fund 2. However, one of the fastest areas of growth is SaaS-enabled fintech. Auto commerce is inefficient and there are large pockets of profit to capture.”

The firm is particularly interested in transportation-related fintech ventures that are poised to grow during a recession.

“We made a prediction that sooner or later there will be a recession and we identified areas that benefit when the economy softens, Andreev said, noting that this latest fund invested in Yendo, a Dallas-based startup (formerly known as Otto) that lets customers borrow against their vehicles at the same interest rate as standard credit cards.

Autotech Ventures’ previous fintech investments include U.K.-based buy now, pay later startup Bumper and Carpay, a buy here, pay here loan servicing SaaS platform for car dealers.

Andreev said the firm is also investigating investment opportunities in the circular economy, a nascent industry focused on finding ways to reuse materials and products. Circular economy startups have garnered an increasing amount of attention and investment as automakers transition away from gas-powered vehicles and towards EVs.

Autotech Ventures is also cautiously wading into generative AI, although Andreev was quick to note that the company has not made any investments in that area.

Autotech has more than $500 million under management and has invested in more than 40 companies.

Some of the firm’s investments include computer vision startup DeepScale (which was acquired by Tesla), Lyft, used vehicle marketplace operator Frontier Car Group, Drover, Outdoorsy, Swvl, parking app SpotHero and Xnor.ai, which Apple acquired in January 2020. Five of those startups have gone public, including indie Semiconductor and Volta Charging.

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