Saturday, November 26, 2016

Australian Israeli Collaboration in the VC Space

"It just seems like it's raining Aussies on us. I've never seen so many," says Jon Medved, chief executive of OurCrowd and one of Israel's leading hi-tech venture capitalists. After a period of "clearly not enough" investment in innovation, Australia seems poised for a "really great moment", he believes.

It looks like we're about to realise we can "actually make [money] on minds not mines", he says in his Jerusalem office, his voice as loud as his floral-themed shirt.

Some of them were among the 350 people, including Australian businessman and Israeli resident James Packer, who made it to the Australian embassy's "#Ozraeli" party celebrating ties between the two countries on the ocean-front in ancient Jaffa in September.

A rock band, drag queens and a stand-up comedian provided the entertainment at the function, described as "one of the most unusual diplomatic functions that Israel has seen". It was a high point for the innovative diplomacy of Australia's ambassador to Israel (and youngest ever ambassador) Dave Sharma. It even trended on Twitter, briefly.

Up to 40 Australian trade delegations have visited Israel this year: "a record for sure", says commissioner Ethy Levy of the Israel Trade and Economic Commission in Australia. NSW Premier Mike Baird led one in April; Greater Sydney Commission chief commissioner and prime ministerial spouse Lucy Turnbull led one in May.

A further deluge of Australians hit in late September, coinciding with the city's annual DLD Innovation Festival in Tel Aviv where start-ups, governments, multinationals and venture capitalists from all over the world congregate in search of deals. At least six separate delegations including from Telstra, the AMP, Visy Industries and the Trans-Tasman Business Circle toured the start-up capital's innovation ecosystem.

When Sharma took up the post three years ago, Australia "wasn't on the map" for the so-called start-up nation and there was "not much appetite in Australia for doing more" either, he says.

The upsurge in interest has coincided with the end of the commodities boom and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's personal commitment with the billion-dollar National Innovation and Science Agenda launched last December.

Australian ambassador Dave Sharma and James Packer at the Australian embassy's "Ozraeli" celebration at Jaffa.
Australian ambassador Dave Sharma and James Packer at the Australian embassy's "Ozraeli" celebration at Jaffa. Photo: Catherine Armitage

The delegations find doors wide open to the local ecosystem of more than 290 local venture capital, angel investor and micro funds; 350-plus megabrand multinationals like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Samsung; 25 start-up incubators; 70 accelerators and 5000 start-ups, as well as 282 research and development centres, mostly operated by multinationals.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has announced the two countries are negotiating a tax treaty aimed at improving trade and business links between the two countries.

The Google campus in Tel Aviv has hosted 100,000 visitors in the past 10 years.
The Google campus in Tel Aviv has hosted 100,000 visitors in the past 10 years. Photo: Tomer Foltyn

Lessons from the 'Start-up Nation'

Almost every Australian business person among dozens Fairfax Media met in Israel said the country could teach us a lot about how to build an innovative economy.

Israeli Innovation Authority chairman Avi Hasson says the ecosystem is "mature". "Ten years ago it would have been difficult to name revenues of over $50 million in tech. Today we have hundreds of companies in multiple sectors." High-tech exports make up over 40 per cent of Israel's manufactured exports.

Sharma has studied it more closely than most. People look to Silicon Valley for inspiration, but Israel is "much more comparable" to Australia in many respects, he says. It has a relatively small population and domestic market that depends on exports, open markets and access to foreign capital for prosperity; a large migrant workforce and a forthright business culture that is relatively flat-structured rather than hierarchical.

"There are things we can learn that we could not really learn from a system as big and gigantic as the US," the ambassador says.

And after decades of singular economic focus on innovation, Israelis are willing to share: "The general view in the hi-tech world here is there is plenty to go around, and we can all grow the pie," Sharma says. PriceWaterhouseCoopers says 2014 was a record for Israeli hi-tech exit deals, with more than 70 stake sales from mergers, acquisitions or initial public offerings valued at nearly $15 billion.

A culture of teamwork learned in the military, multiple interlocking social networks, an attitude of "chutzpah" or gutsy determination and an acceptance of failure as a learning experience are the attributes most often credited with Israel's start-up success, notably in the 2009 bestseller Startup Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer.

Israel spends 4.3 per cent of GDP on research and development, twice the OECD average and the highest per capita in the world. It also has more venture capital investment than any other nation, and spawns more start-ups a year than anywhere outside Silicon Valley. There are more than 40 government funding streams for start-ups, says Hasson. Yet for every $1 the government invests, the private sector invests a further $5, with the result that the Israeli government has the lowest share of investment in start-ups compared with the private sector of any OECD country. "It's not really surprising, because as a company matures, as the risk goes down, everyone is happy to invest", says Hasson.

Israel-Australia deals are surging

Victoria has led the way in building hi-tech relationships with Israel, but NSW is putting on a late burst, with Baird staking a claim for NSW as "Australia's start-up state". He declared his April trip "life-changing"; the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce reciprocated that it was a "game-changer". NSW and Israel committed $2 million to develop co-operative start-up and innovation projects emphasising cyber security, agribusiness and water management.

Partly as a result of that upgrade in relations, a joint Austrade-NSW government delegation of 14 participants from eight NSW cyber security and fintech start-ups became the first alumni of the Tel Aviv Landing Pad, one of five around the world set up under the Turnbull government's innovation agenda to help Australian startups go global. It is housed at SOSA, an entrepreneurial work space occupying four floors of a vintage industrial building in south Tel Aviv. Set up by key players in Israel's innovation sector, it aims to be a "bridge between the global demand for technologies [from multinationals] and the supply of disruptive technologies in the market", says general manager Uzi Scheffer.

The Commonwealth Bank signed a deal last year with the Israeli Office of the Chief Scientist which gives it privileged introduction to emerging technologies from Israeli start-ups in areas relevant to its operations. It has since evaluated "dozens of companies" with disruptive technology in cyber security, blockchain, fintech, robotics and big data, chief information officer David Whiteing said. These have been narrowed down to six for more intensive evaluation, "with a view to experiment with them on our own infrastructure".

Jon Medved, CEO of OurCrowd, in Jerusalem.
Jon Medved, chief executive of OurCrowd, in Jerusalem. Photo: Catherine Armitage 

OurCrowd's Australian "Our Innovation Fund" is on track to be fully subscribed with $50 million slated for investment in Australian tech start-ups. Medved says the deals in Australia are "wonderful". "The valuations seem to be very nicely priced, they are not crazy like they are in Silicon Valley ... They are a fraction of the price". OurCrowd has also raised $US60 million-$US70 million from Australian investors on its crowdshare platform, "a big chunk, about 20 per cent of our total capital". That's "way beyond the rightful share", which should probably be under 5 per cent, he says.

There is a growing trend for Israeli tech companies to list on the Australian Stock Exchange. Five have done so since January 2015, including satellite communications company Sky and Space Global and data storage company Weebit Nano Ltd. A further three are expected to list by the end of the year, ASX general manager of listings Max Cunningham told the Times of Israel. Levy says another 10-15 are looking at it.

Australian venture capital firm Square Peg Capital has set up an Israeli office and reportedly intends to spend nearly $200 million on Israeli growth-stage online and technology companies over three to five years. The firm took a delegation of more than 40 technology entrepreneurs, investors and executives to Israel last year, which included one of its lead investors, James Packer. Packer later said his private company Consolidated Press Holdings is working with Square Peg on technology sector investments including data storage, social gaming and cyber security. The IT sector in Israel has emerged as a hub for innovation and start-ups in technology-related services and will "provide major opportunities in the future", Packer told reporters.

Opportunities for Australian companies

Yanir Yakutiel says his Sail Funding is the first Australian company to "completely automate the lending process" by coupling a data-driven underwriting algorithm to accurately price risk with an advanced biometric security solution for verification. Recently launched in Sydney, the online lender to small business, which has raised $8 million in seed funding, will also be the first Australian start-up to take up a 90-day residency at the Australian landing pad at SOSA Tel Aviv. Yakutiel, a Sydneysider who grew up in Israel, says the residency will help Sail to tap into SOSA's extensive experience working with big financial institutions. "It gives us a sounding board for things we want to try which were unavailable to us in Australia." The business culture, which attaches no shame to asking for help and does not hold back with constructive criticism, helps you "check the robustness of your ideas", he says.

Yanir Yakutiel of Sail Funding.
Yanir Yakutiel of Sail Funding. 

"The whole community here is unbelievably supportive," says Matteo Grand of manner, an online insurance brokerage platform that was part of the NSW-Austrade delegation. He says any kind of progress takes two or three meetings in Australia, but "here, if you don't have key talking points or a resolution reached within 30 to 60 minutes, you get ejected from the meeting very quickly. It's a culture for getting things done".

Katryna Dow, founder and chief executive of NSW start-up Meeco, which seeks to create a mutually profitable relationship between individuals and institutions by leveraging the value of individuals' personal data, says Israel's cultural alignment on innovation is unique. "No matter who you speak to, everyone says you have to go global from day one. The expectation in Israel is, if you solve a problem it is for a mass audience, so people are not afraid to have conversations that are both visionary and practical."

Katryna Dow of Meeco: In Israel, people are not afraid to have visionary conversations.
Katryna Dow of Meeco: In Israel, people are not afraid to have visionary conversations. 
While "trying to be Israel is not the right strategy" for another country, says the Israeli Innovation Authority's Avi Hasson, "we will work with pretty much anyone who wants to work with us".

An estimated 400 people attended The Bridge, an Israel-Australia Investment Summit, held in Sydney in November. Speakers included Dov Moran of Grove Ventures, inventor of the USB flash drive, Paul Bassat of Square Peg Capital, and Amnon Shashua of Mobileye, the Israeli Nasdaq-traded global leader in driver assistance and autonomous driving technologies. Levy of the Israel Trade and Economic Commission said the summit had led to negotiations on new deals worth "very conservatively" several million dollars between Australian and Israeli companies.

Catherine Armitage is innovation and ideas writer for The Sydney Morning Herald. She travelled to Israel as a guest of the Embassy of Israel in Canberra.

VC opportunities becoming noticed

It is well know from experience in the US, Venture Capital funds depend on 1-3 "super hits" in their portfolios to generate most of their returns. In India, this phenomenon started to play out with Redbus - whose $100 million+ sale to Naspers in 2014 - generated more returns for Seedfund than the size of the firm's fund. 

Of course, in 2015, the mega valuation spikes for horizontal E-Commerce Unicorns - Flipkart and Snapdeal - made the fortunes of their respective earliest investors: Accel India and Kalaari Capital (formerly IndoUS Ventures). In Sep-09, Kalaari Capital had invested $2.25 M (INR 10 Cr) in Snapdeal for a 40% stake valuing the company at $5.6 M (INR 25 Cr). In Feb-2015, Kalaari Capital made a partial exit worth $60 million with a 11x return (when Softbank invested in the company at $1.6 Billion valuation). At Snapdeal's $5.5 Billion valuation in 2015, Kalaari's stake - including the realized and unrealized portion - would fetch the firm a return of 26 times its investment.

With out-sized returns like these, it is no wonder

1) Investors of all sizes (Mutual funds, Hedge funds, etc) and nationality (Chinese and Japanese) chased startups in India during 2015.

2) The success has led to a mini explosion in the number of seed / micro VC funds raising capital.

3) Limited Partners (LPs or investors in PE/VC funds) have developed a keen interest in the Venture Capital segment. In an interview to Mint, Nupur Garg, Regional Lead - South Asia, Private Equity Funds at International Finance Corp (one of the top LPs in Indian PE/VC funds) says her firm is looking to invest in a couple of early stage funds. Extracts:

In fact, early-stage funds have access to a large pot of domestic institutional capital that is not so accessible for various reasons to the traditional growth equity funds. As of H1 2015, 43% of the funds-raised was for venture capital, vis-à-vis 36% growth equity and 20% buyout. More capital was raised for India-dedicated VC funds in first six months of 2015, than was raised in any single year between 2006-2013. 
...We all know that Indian growth equity funds have generally under-performed. We can debate endlessly on who and what is to blame, but the fact is that the industry as a whole has so far not delivered the promise of the underlying growth in the market. Early-stage funds offer another route to tap into this growth and make out-sized returns. Plus there is experience and proof of concept available today, investing discipline is coming back in and valuations are coming closer to sanity. This coupled with the availability of high quality start-ups makes early-stage funds an attractive investment option for LPs.  
...Early-stage activity has exploded (while growth equity has declined), growing at 20% since 2008 thanks to the shifts in demand for capital within the entrepreneurial environment. And the number of early-stage fund managers has more than doubled—venture capital is fast eclipsing growth equity as the dominant form of investment in India. 

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

The USA workers have spoken


The problem is that our institutions—business very much among them—haven’t done nearly enough to cushion the blow for the half of Americans who lack the education and training that they need to thrive in this new world.

In fact, corporations have made the wounds worse during the past 40 years by not investing in developing their people; holding down wages and continually cutting back benefits; and downsizing their ranks—even when they’re profitable.

The social contract between employer and employee in America has been broken." - Rick Wartzman

See hull article

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Obama talks after the election

On the plane 1 hour to Washington , listening to Obama's press conference post election 

Obamas key points / so you can tell your patients

1. His team was  key - he had the best and smartest and  as a consequence of the team - had the ability to make great decisions 

Trump needs Team toserve him well - will help with his direction .... he won't be able to do this job on his own 

2. Interconnectedness - needs immediate decisions - re globalisation - the horse has bolted - supply chains exist - will be very difficult to change 
World has shrunk - can't put genie back in box - retool retrain education - rules of game are fair .  People won't stay in 1 job - continual need to retool and retrain . Vocational EducAtion and continual upskilling is key.

3. Gestures matter - how he reaches out is important  

4 When Obama came in USA was losing 800k jobs a month
In midst of feeefall 
Collapse of housing markets - banks going broke 

Obama - was busy - from day 1 

Now -  iindicators strong. -unemployment rate low
Income and wages high
Fin systems stable 
Stock markets all time highs 

Progress in Iraq 

Alliances in strong shape

Carbon emissions strong - gas $2 per gallon

5. Will be difficult to undo policies - eg Obamacare - has helped 20m people get healthcare - If Trump can make this better - all the power to him, says Obama!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Google opens its office in Singapore

SINGAPORE: US tech giant Google officially unveiled its new Singapore office located at Mapletree Business City on Thursday (Nov 10), looking to create an office that resembles its headquarters in Mountain View, California.

“We wanted a place that reflected our headquarters and have more of a campus feel to it so we were looking for a building that we could shape, influence the design and create a space that fosters creativity and spontaneous collaboration,” Mr Sengupta told Channel NewsAsia.

The Internet giant started operations in Singapore with only 24 people in 2007. The local team has since grown to 1,000, and is its fastest-growing office in the Asia-Pacific. Most of Google’s senior management team overseeing Asia-Pacific operations are also based in Singapore.

The new Google office at Pasir Panjang (Photo: Tang See Kit)

Mr Sengupta added that Google is ramping up its engineering team in Singapore to support its vision of reaching out to the next billion Internet users.

“We started the engineering team this year (and) we expect it to grow over the years,” he said. “Singapore is at the heart of a major change in how people in Asia are using technology and so for us, we want to have a team that’s based close to these users.”

A search on the tech behemoth’s recruitment page showed 76 available positions in Singapore at the moment. When asked about how big the local workforce would eventually become, Mr Sengupta declined to reveal specific numbers.

However, the Singapore-based senior executive told Channel NewsAsia that he remains “pretty optimistic” about further expansion despite an increasingly sluggish global economy.

“We are always cautious and very careful about how we grow … but I think we are still in a growth industry,” Mr Sengupta said. “Apart from Google, there’s an ecosystem of companies that are trying to take their services and products globally and so from that perspective, I remain pretty optimistic that as a growth industry, we can keep growing.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was present at the opening, said: "We hope you'll be able to bring with you the spirit and energy and connections, not just in Mountain View but also in other campuses around the world, to this campus in Singapore.

"Tech is disruptive and your objective is to disrupt the world… We expect to be disrupted but at the same time, we want to make sure we come out on the right side of the disruption, and we depend on you to help us to do that," he added. 

PM Lee Hsien Loong posing for a wefie with the crowd. (Photo: Calvin Hui)


Google also announced on Thursday that it will roll out a new multi-year programme, Code in the Community, in Singapore early-2017.

Mr Sengupta said the new initiative is part of Google's aim to help get the younger generation excited about technology and engineering, and eventually consider taking up a career in these sectors.

“We feel this has an opportunity to reach out to children at a particularly impressionable age and get them excited about technology and the creative industries,” he said. “We want lots more Singaporean parents to turn around and ask their kids: ‘Why aren’t you becoming an engineer?’ That’s our broader goal.”

Google’s computer science and computational thinking course aims to provide training for about 3,000 children from less well-to-do backgrounds over the next three years. The tech giant will partner self-help groups such as the Chinese Development Assistance Council, Singapore Indian Development Association, Mendaki and the Eurasian Association to identify these children. The classes, which will be targeting children aged eight to 15, will be run by non-profit organisation 21C Girls and local start-up Saturday Kids.

Inside the Google office (Photo: Tang See Kit)


Meanwhile, Google is also helping local small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to embark on digitisation. In collaboration with nine other industry partners such as SPRING Singapore and International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, the “Go Global” initiative was launched in November last year.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) manufacturing business, Poli Medical, is one of the local SMEs that has leveraged Google’s capabilities. Following discussions with the tech giant earlier in June, the 40-year-old company rolled out a YouTube campaign for one of its new brands, TruLife.

“As you can imagine, for a large and traditional business that has been running for quite some time, it’s quite difficult to change the direction of the company,” said the company's director Dylan Hu.

Before collaborating with Google, Poli Medical did not have a budget for digital marketing. “And so for me to go to management and say there’s this new channel of reaching out to people and let’s step up 20 per cent of our budget on this, was very difficult,” he added.

Through the YouTube campaign, the company was able to gather consumer insights from Google AdWords and use them to craft new marketing strategies for both the Singapore and regional markets. The campaign’s click-through rate of 27 per cent also translated into significant brand awareness which helped it to enter regional markets such as Cambodia and Myanmar, Mr Hu added.

In a speech delivered at the opening ceremony on Thursday, Minister of Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran said the focus on the digital economy and partnerships with companies like Google will create opportunities for local SMEs to enter online and global markets.

“While the digital economy presents challenges, it also offers new opportunities for companies and individuals… However it is equally important that companies adopt an open mindset to embrace new technologies and business models, while individuals take advantage of the various training programmes to equip themselves with the relevant skills sets,” Mr Iswaran said. 

Additional reporting by Calvin Hui.

How Sydney will become the new Silicon Valley

A who's-who of the Australian tech and  start-up scene have ploughed money into a new industry group that aims to mentor fast growing tech companies and lobby for changes they say can make Sydney a leading global tech centre.

The group to be known as TechSydney has been founded by serial entrepreneurs Dean McEvoy, Mick Liubinskas, Kim Heras, Riley Batchelor and Gen George, in a bid to address problems that have seen Sydney fall behind other global cities in terms of start-up ecosystem rankings.

The group will be signing up members from technology companies of all sizes, including start-ups and the local operations of fast growing and established global technology players.

It will operate as a not-for-profit and has been backed by companies including Atlassian, Tyro, Canva, SAP, Airbnb, Prospa, LinkedIn, Airtree Ventures, Reinventure, Blackbird Ventures and over 30 other funded start-ups.

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, TechSydney boss Dean McEvoy and StartupAus CEO Alex McCauley at the launch of ...
Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, TechSydney boss Dean McEvoy and StartupAus CEO Alex McCauley at the launch of TechSydney.

Mr McEvoy, who is best known as the founder of group buying website Spreets, will be TechSydney's chief executive officer. He said the group had been concerned by the annual 2015 Compass start-up ecosystem rankings, which saw Sydney falling to 16th place against global peers.   

He told The Australian Financial Review that he and peers in the tech community felt that, despite the increasingly positive rhetoric from government, more needed to be done to create a world leading tech centre in Sydney.

Talent and a home

It will focus on numerous issues, with immediate concerns being the need to attract a lot more highly skilled workers from overseas, and a perceived need to create a physical precinct as a Silicon Valley-style focus for tech firms.

"Government is happily more interested in this area now, but they are not entrepreneurial as their method of implementing policy is to look at what's happening overseas and identify best practice and try to copy it," Mr McEvoy said

TechSydney is backed by a who's who of the Australian tech scene.
Front Karen Doherty, (UTS,), Sam McDonagh (AirBnB,), ...
TechSydney is backed by a who's who of the Australian tech scene. Front Karen Doherty, (UTS,), Sam McDonagh (AirBnB,), Riley Batchelor (Tidy Me,) Dean McEvoy (TechSydney,) Craig Blair (Airtree Ventures,) Brent Harman (Atlassian,) Middle Cameron Adams (Canva,) Greg Moshal (Prospa,) Niki Scevak (Blackbird Ventures,) Mick Liubinskas (Muru-d,) Danny Gilligan (Reinventure,) Adam Rigby (Nabo,) Nick O'Donnell (LinkedIn,) Alex McCauley {StartupAUS.) Back Dean Jones (GlamCorner,) Alex Baker (Criteo,) Kim Heras (25Fifteen,) John Ruthven (SAP,) Mike Cannon-Brookes (Atlassian,) Matt Symons (SocietyOne,) Andrew Rothwell (Tyro,) Rob Regan (Kaplan.) Supplied

"But if all we do is follow what is going on in Tel Aviv and New York and London then we will always be two or three years behind them at best."

Mr McEvoy said the idea behind TechSydney is that nobody knows better about the challenges of building and managing fast growing companies than entrepreneurs, so it will look to be a strong lobbying presence as well as providing mentoring services to member companies.

One such backer is co-founder of Nasdaq-listed Atlassian Mike Cannon-Brookes, who unsuccessfully sought to acquire the Australian Technology Park in Redfern, Sydney with a view to establishing it as a tech hub. 

Attracting skills

The 2015 annual Compass startup ecosystem rankings saw Sydney falling against global peers.
The 2015 annual Compass startup ecosystem rankings saw Sydney falling against global peers. Compass

He said he had initially been against the idea of the formation of a new lobby group, but had been convinced it was necessary if Sydney was to push itself back into the top ten global locations for tech firms.

He said there was lots of evidence that suggested that density of companies in close proximity was helpful for a tech community looking to grow quickly.

"You are never going to get everyone to move into the same building, but you can certainly have a gravity towards a certain area of the city," Mr Cannon-Brookes said. 

"I had a mate from overseas running a unicorn business and asked me where in Sydney he should setup and there were really six or seven different options ... we need start-ups and overseas players like Dropbox, Uber and Airbnb together,  because they have the same set of issues and all hire lots of staff."        

Co-founder and managing partner of Sydney-based tech venture capital firm Airtree Ventures Craig Blair said that, while it had no urban bias in terms of backing companies from other Australian cities, his firm was backing TechSydney as it recognised that a deeper pool of concentrated tech talent was needed to breed more viable global companies. 

"Sydney needs a more vibrant technology ecosystem if it is to navigate the disruptive forces facing most industries and continue as a top place to live in the world," Mr Blair said.

He said he was encouraged by the people involved in TechSydney, that it would avoid the pitfall of becoming the latest in a long line of lobby groups asking for government assistance.

He said he believed the organisation could help make necessary changes, such as attracting skilled workers from around the world and initially championing the creation of a central tech precinct.  

"Too often lobby groups are descending into cries for help which are often self motivated. TechSydney is a group financed and run by leading tech companies in Sydney with a very pragmatic set of agenda items," he said.

Local tensions

Mr McEvoy said he wasn't worried about his organisation upsetting the vibrant start-up communities in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, saying healthy competition was good for companies.

Mr Cannon-Brookes has previously upset Melbournites by suggesting that Australia should focus its attentions on making Sydney a global tech powerhouse. However he said the domestic rivalry was irrelevant in the global context.

"This isn't an exclusive thing if they want to start a Tech Melbourne or a Tech Perth and there was a lot more energy going into making their city great, then I would think that would be excellent," he said.

"But Sydney is not going to get into the top ten cities in the world for technology by beating Melbourne, we are already  ahead of them in the rankings and it's not going to go to get us from 16 to ten."  

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