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Bag Week 2018: The Nomadic NF-02 keeps everything in its right place

Nomadic, a Japanese brand sold by JetPens in the US, makes some of my favorite bags and backpacks . The Wise Walker Toto was an amazing little bag and I’ve always enjoyed the size, materials, and design. The $89 Nomadic NF-02 is no different.

The best thing about this 15×7 inch backpack is the compact size and internal pouches. The Nomadic can hold multiple pens, notebooks, and accessories, all stuck in their own little cubbies, and you can fit a laptop and a few books in the main compartment. This is, to be clear, not a “school” backpack. It’s quite compact and I doubt it would be very comfortable with a much more than a pair of textbooks and a heavier laptop. It’s definitely a great travel sack, however, and excellent for the trip from home to the office.

The bag comes in a few colors including turquoise and navy and there is a small hidden pouch for important papers and passports. There is a reflective strip on the body and it is water repellent so it will keep your gear dry.

Again, my favorite part of this bag are the multiple little pockets and spaces. It’s an organizer’s dream and features so many little spots to hide pens and other gear that it could also make an excellent tourist pack. It is small enough for easy transport but holds almost anything you can throw at it.

Nomadic is a solid backpack. It’s small, light, and still holds up to abuse. I’m a big fan of the entire Nomadic line and it’s great to see this piece available in the US. It’s well worth a look if you’re looking for a compact carrier for your laptop, accessories, and notebooks.

bag week 2018

Bag Week 2018: The Bitcoin Genesis Block backpack will centralize your belongings

Welcome to Bag Week 2018. Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions.

It’s difficult to show people that you love blockchain. There are no cool hats, no rad t-shirts, and no outward signs – except a libertarian bent and a poster of a scantily-clad Vitalik Buterin on your bedroom wall – to tell the world you are into decentralized monetary systems. Until, of course, the Bitcoin Genesis Block Backpack.

Unlike the blockchain, this backpack will centralize your stuff in a fairly large, fairly standard backpack. There is little unique about the backpack itself – it’s a solid piece made of 100% polyester and includes ergonomically designed straps and a secret pocket – but it is printed with the Bitcoin Genesis Block including a headline about UK bank bailouts. In short, it’s Merkle tree-riffic.

The green and orange text looks a little Matrix-y but the entire thing is very fun and definitely a conversation starter. Again, I doubt this will last more than a few trips to Malta or the Luxembourg but it’s a great way to let Bitcoin whales know your ICO means business.

The bag comes to us from BitcoinShirt, a company that makes and sells bitcoin-related products and accepts multiple cryptocurrencies. While this backpack won’t stand up to 51% attacks on its structural integrity, it is a fun and cheap way to show the world you’re pro-Nakamoto.

So as we barrel headlong into a crypto future fear not, fashion-conscious smart contract lover: the Bitcoin Genesis Block backpack is here to show the world you’re well and truly HODLing. To the moon!

Read other Bag Week reviews here.

Build your own L3-37 droid complete with voice interaction

Robot maker Patrick Stefanski has created a 3D-printed – and animated – model of L3-37, the droid in the recent Solo movie. L3-37 is one of the funnest – and woks – droids in recent memory and this recreation is fun and ingenious.

Stefanski used Alexa voice controls to let the robot head respond to voice commands and he set the wake word to “Hey L3” to which the robot responds with a grumpy “What!”

The version you see above is painted and weathered but you can 3D print your own pristine version from here and then add in a Raspberry Pi and Arduino with a simple servo to control the head motion. In all it looks like a lot of fun and the hardest part will be printing all of the larger head parts necessary to recreate L3’s saucer-like dome.

It could make for a nice weekend project and looks to be surprisingly simple to build. Just don’t be surprised L3 rallies your DVR and air conditioner to revolt against attacks on droid rights.

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Africa Roundup: African startup investments turn to fintech this winter season

Forty-seven and a half million dollars is a big commitment to African technology companies — even with the recent uptick in VC investment on the continent.

But for the Kenyan-based fintech firm Cellulant, whose digital payments platform processed 7 million transactions worth $350 million across 33 African countries in the last month alone, raising that amount in a series C round led by TPG Growth’s Rise Fund just makes sense.

In 2017, the company processed $2.7 billion in payments, said chief executive, Ken Njoroge.

Clients include the continent’s largest banks: Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered, Standard Bank, and Ecobank. Cellulant also has multiple revenue streams and is EBITDA positive, according to its CEO.

So what does an African technology company do with $47.5 million? “The round is to accelerate our growth of around 20 percent…north of 50 percent,” said Njoroge. “Most of the investment is to scale out our existing platform in Africa and build usage on our existing network.”

Founded in 2004, Cellulant offers Person-to-Business, B2B, and P2B services on its Mula and Tingg products. It’s also developing a blockchain based Agrikore product for agriculture related market activity.

On Africa’s digital payments potential, “We’ve built internal value models that estimate the size of the market at somewhere between $25BN and $40BN,” said Njoroge.

He differentiates Cellulant’s focus from Safaricom’s M-Pesa –one of Africa most recognized payment products — by transaction type and scope. “Kenya’s M-Pesa is optimized as a P2P platform in a few African countries. We’re optimized as a P2B platform and single pipe into multiple countries across Africa,” he said.

One of those countries is economic and population powerhouse Nigeria — where Cellulant offers both its Ting and Agrikore apps. Nigeria is also home to notable digital payment companies Paga and Interswitch, the latter of which has expanded across Africa and is considered a candidate for a public offering.

On a future Cellulant initial public offering, “it’s too early,” said Njoroge. But he doesn’t rule it out. “When you look at the size of the payments business, you could say we have fairly strong prospects to go in that direction.”

TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the Nigerian investment startup Piggybank.ng closed $1.1M in seed funding and announced a new product — Smart Target, which offers a more secure and higher return option for Esusu or Ajo group savings clubs common across West Africa.

The financing was led by a $1 million commitment from LeadPath Nigeria, with Village Capital and Ventures Platform joining the round.

Founded in 2016, Piggybank.ng offers online savings plans — primarily to low and middle-income Nigerians — for deposits of small amounts on a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual basis. There are no upfront fees.

Savers earn interest rates of between 6 to 10 percent, depending on the type and duration of investment, Piggybank.ng’s Somto Ifezue explained in this TechCrunch exclusive.

The startup generates returns for small-scale savers (primarily) through investment in Nigerian government securities, such as bonds and treasury bills.

Piggybank.ng generates revenue through asset management and from the float its balances generate at partner banks.

The Lagos based startup will use its $1.1M in new seed funding for “license acquisition and product development,” according to company COO Odunayo Eweniyi.

Piggybank.ng looks to grow clients across younger Nigerians and the country’s informal saving groups and has taken preliminary steps to launch in other African countries.

Lead investor and LeadPath Nigeria founder Olumide Soyombo was attracted to Piggybank.ng as an acquisition target.

“The banks have been slow to try new things in this savings space. Piggybank is coming in…and filling a particular need, so they are in a very acquisitive space.”

PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images

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