TechCrunch Day Brings Us the Winner … and the Superior Also-Rans

Now that I would like to write more for TechCrunch, I face a problem. I have the articles written, ready and sent for a review, but the editor has fallen silent, and news are getting stale.

So I now have to double my writing efforts just to get some points across. So yes, the winner is MySugr, the only Austrian startup at the Startup Week Vienna competition. Compared to all other companies who are set to increase productivity here, profitability there, these guys aim big! They are to increase the lifespan of diabetes patients (55 million in Europe alone) by up to 8 years. The team achieves that by creating a simple way of tracking the level of sugar and physical exercises for diabetics.

Off they go to the Silicon Valley then, to network, raise funding and spend the Austrian Media award of 30 000 Euros they have received at the Startup Week.

The guys who did not win, but were highly praised by the judges are MyKoob and Pocketguide.

Pocketguide is actually a great tool, it gives you directions to the beginning of your tours, navigates you throughout the tour while offering voice instructions. Once you’ve completed your tour, taken pictures and videos, those too are integrated into the 3D map. Here is a demo video.

PocketGuide promo from Pocketguide on Vimeo.

The idea came to the founder of the company Martin Retai as he was … Continue reading

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Serious Tech Talk: Ukrainian Hypertection Disrupts Virtualization Security

Dennis Turpitka, the founder of Ukrainian software development company Apriorit, is looking for beta-testers for his new venture, Hypertection. Hypertection is an antivirus software application for virtual environments, which dramatically increases the security of virtual machines whilst reducing the cost of antivirus licenses by an order of magnitude. Here is how:

Hypertection is installed not on the operating system level of the virtual machine, but on a lower level closer to that of software. This level is called hypervisor, and is the key element of any virtual system. In this way, the antivirus software for the virtual environment is hidden from the viruses and can effectively neutralize them.

If this makes you scratch your head, keep reading.

As servers become more and more powerful, virtualization technology is on the rise. With the help of virtualization applications such as … Continue reading

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Rejoice! 7 out of 10 Finalists at the Startup Week Vienna Come from Eastern Europe

startup eastern europe, innovation eastern europe, venture capital eastern europe

CEE Panel at Startup Week Vienna 2011

Today is the first day at the Startup Week in Vienna, and here is my alas an incomplete report.

It is hard to get through the crowd of participants at the Startup Week Vienna, this is how full it is. During the presentations this morning there was no spare seats and many attendants had to stand at the back of the room.

The event takes place at the heart of Vienna, in a beautiful building of Haus der Industrie. In fact the stateliness of this palace is hardly suitable for tech entrepreneurs who looked much better against a background of a scrapyard at the European Pirate Summit in Cologne. Not that I think that a place for entrepreneurs is on the scrapyard, but the opulence of Haus Der Industrie is almost overwhelming.

innovation eastern europe, startup, venture capital

My objectives during these three days is to meet Eastern European entrepreneurs and to connect with tech investors in the region.

Here is a quick summary… Continue reading

Slovak Piano Media Raises 300,000 Euros to Accelerate European Growth

startup slovakia, startup eastern europe, innovation eastern europe, venture capital slovakia

Piano Media, online subscription-based media content payment system, announced last week that it has received €300,000 in Series-A funding from Jan Jenča and Ivan Štefunko at MONOGRAM Ventures, bringing Piano’s total market valuation of the company to nearly 1 million Euros. This investment round will be used primarily to expand into new European markets and solidify Piano’s Slovak market share.

Piano’s initial project is in Slovakia where nine publishers have agreed to put their online content behind its pay-wall. “Piano has proven remarkably successful for participating publishers. We have increased their online subscription revenue while having only a small impact on readership ” said Tomas Bella, co-founder and Chief Executive of Piano. “This first round of funding enables us to examine market possibilities and expand beyond Slovakia’s borders while we strengthen our position on the Slovak market.”

Piano netted over €40,000 in its first month of operations in Slovakia and has experienced steady active subscriber growth since it launched in May, 2011. Nine major Slovak publishers participate in Piano’s common payment system offering more than 44 different sites and services.

Here is an older article by WSJ Emerging Europe on Piano Media plans earlier this year.

Recommendation Engine Surfingbird Raises $2.5 Million

innovation russia, startup russia, venture capital russia, innovation eastern europe, startup eastern europe, venture investment eastern europe

Russian recommendation engine Surfingbird announced that it has raised $2.5 million from Russian and French business angels.

Surfingbird allows users to rate websites, add links and rate existing links available in the system. Based on the user’s preferences, the tool, which is powered by complex algorithms, makes recommendations on content that might be of interest to the user.

The founders, the CEO of the company Sergey Shalaev and its CTO Dmitry Shalashov  compare the company with Stumbleupon in terms of value proposition although the engine behind it is unique.

The company was established in 2011 when the founders discovered that such a service was not available in Russia and many other European countries.

The founders have collective working experience at Yandex, Mail.ru and Parallels, the most well known Russian technology and internet companies. They met their angel investor … Continue reading

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My First Post on TechCrunch

innovation eastern europe, startup eastern europe, venture investment eastern europeToday my first post was published on TechCrunch. There is not enough exclamation marks to put at the end of the first sentence to say how happy I am about it. It is not that with that I am launching my journalistic career. I do love blogging, although English is not my first language.

It is just that I am just great believer in the eastern European engineers and their capacity to innovate. So I think that the world should know more about what is going on in this region. Here is a link to my post ‘Eastern Europe creates waves at HackFwd event‘.

Since this post is about TechCrunch, I thought it would be useful to share this video created by another Russian blogger, Daria Batukhtina. This is a video interview with Lukas Zinnagl who writes for TechCrunch Europe (longer than me!) about how to get a post published on TechCrunch. I know less about it, as out of my three submitted posts only one was selected.

Why the Sale of Slando is Good News

innovation eastern europe, tech entrepreneurship eastern europe, internet company eastern europe

Today news broke that Slando, the classified ad website which has 11 million users in eastern Europe (with 81% of them located in Russia and Ukraine), was sold. The buyer is Naspers, a South African Holding, which also owns classified websites in eastern Europe.

The deal is covered in mistery. My contact, who is no longer working in Slando, but has close links with its management, said that everyone is under strict non-disclosure agreements and can not comment much about the transaction, but here is what we know.

The company has been set up by Britons Simon Crookall and Michael Pennington in 2005 after they have successfully exited their other venture Gumtree, property advertisement website focusing on people moving to the UK from abroad.

Slando has been established from the outset as a free classified website focusing on the eastern European markets. A few years ago I have helped the team find software development resources (in eastern Europe, of course). According to “Otkritie Capital” Alexander Vengranovich, based on the website traffic the value of the company might be … Continue reading

Eastern European Startups at the Startup Week Vienna 2011: Review

startup eastern europe, venture investment eastern europe, innovation eastern europe

The next week is time for the much anticipated Startup Week in Vienna. Among the Eastern European startups which were selected to pitch to the investors were many interesting ones. Below is my take on them.

Romania

  • 123ContactForm is an online form builder. The idea is definitely not new. So where is the twist? The judges will find out. The remaining Romanian companies are probably readying themselves for How To Web.

Croatia

Weekly News: Farmeron, Yandex, Surfingbird, Speedinvest, Startup Sauna, Synopsi.tv, Filmaster

Trying to catch up with the news about eastern European technology entrepreneurship and venture investment, I hereby release, our first weekly news digest.

Speedinvest, a Super Angel fund based in Austria, closed 10 million US dollar fund to concentrate on early stage investments in central and eastern Europe as reported by TechCrunch. The fund will invest up to 500,000 US dollars into web and mobile technologies and will enable entrepreneurs to work out of its Silicon Valley offices.

Raindance British Film Festival has partnered with Filmaster, a Polish movie recommendation service, that provides its visitors with a mobile application developed by Filmaster to keep up with … Continue reading

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Slovak Synopsi.tv Releases Beta Version, Two Weeks Behind Polish Filmaster

innovation slovakia, innovation poland, startup poland, startup slovakia, innovation eastern europeI used to be a big movie buff until I started this blog. Now I have no time for movies, and the last two Blu-ray disks from LoveFilm have been collecting dust in the beamer room for over a month.

This must stop. Because of Synopsi.tv. Or Filmaster . Or both.

I love writing, but I love movies more. The only problem I have is that my other half does not always support my movie choices and vice versa. Having wasted enough time watching blockbusters, I switched to independent movies entirely. To help my movie selection process, I scanned all the latest independent film festivals, and put them into the rental queue on Lovefilm.de.

A year later they began to arrive … Continue reading

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Imagine it: Startup Sauna in 3D

innovation poland, innovation eastern europe, innovation cee

I was meaning to write about technology entrepreneurship in Poland, and now, yet, another competition gave me this opportunity, as there is a winner and I must write about it. First, let me put in a few more words about the organizers.

Looking back, the Startup Sauna logos have been appearing quite frequently on GoalEurope over the past couple of weeks. And yes, they did it again. Weary but unwavering, Ville Simola and his team have been conducting Warmup in Poland, the third largest country in eastern Europe after Russia and Ukraine.

As if Russia was not enough.

Startup Sauna is a non-profit accelerator where mentors are successful Finnish technology entrepreneurs. According to Kamil Bargiel, the organizer from the Polish side, startups do not have to sell an equity stake in exchange for mentorship, so they are even more keen to participate.

Bargiel is an entrepreneur himself whose two companies were recently funded by the Polish VCs. One of them … Continue reading

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From the Valley to New Europe: the story of one VC

This post is by the guest blogger Maxim Gurvits, a serial IT entrepreneur with a past in online professional services and workflow management. Based in Sofia, he writes about disruptive tech startups in the Balkans and is interested in (regional) startup ecosystems and all the latest in mobile and web apps. He blogs regularly at socialeast.eu.  

innovation bulgaria, innovation eastern europe, venture capital bulgaria, venture capital eastern europe, startup bulgaria

Last time around, we talked about the road to Silicon Valley for New Europe startups. It remains the classical way for a matured concept to meet true scalability and attention, and validate its product with a decisive audience. But what about about traffic in the opposite direction?

Two weeks ago I met for a beer with Deven Soni, partner at Bulgaria’s only VC fund, NEVEQ. Deven is Chicago-raised, Berkely-educated and worked at Goldman Sachs and Highland Capital before joining the Bulgarian fund. He was hired by NEVEQ in 2010 to foster contacts for fund-backed startups in the Valley. But in 2011 he decided to move to Sofia: to be closer to the action. Continue reading.

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Russian Maxygen and Celoform are Off to Finnish Sauna

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Artem Elmuratov, Maxygen with a trophy at Startup Sauna Warmup

The past two events of Startup Sauna Warmup went under the “Healthcare” banner. On Friday, the a winner at the start-up competition at the incubator of High School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow was chosen: Maxygen produces inexpensive DNA tests which allows general physicians detect infectious diseases as well as HIV and tuberculosis.

Yesterday, Ville Simola, Antti Ylimutka and the mentors met Russian entrepreneurs in Kazan to award the first prize to Celoform, cotton 2.0 to clean & disinfect wounds while relieving pain without medicine.

Both companies are now making plans to go to Finland’s Startup Sauna where they will further develop their business ideas, technology and market entry strategy during the six-week of early stage acceleration program. After the Demo day in December 2011, the best out of 15 teams will move to Silicon Valley for three months to concentrate on customer development and fund-raising. We will provide an update on Celoform later. and for now focus on Maxygen.

This is the sixth time Maxygen won a startup contest in the past year. The team has also presented its business to the President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev. This is how high innovation policy is in the government agenda. Continue reading

The Final Chapter: Credo Week 2011 in Bratislava

It feels that it was ages ago that I went to this trip. Yet, the last stop of Credo Week tour in Bratislava, Slovak Republic was less than two weeks ago. Here is what has happened on that sunny, summer day.

innovation slovakia, startup slovakia, strtup eastern europe, innovation eastern europe

The meetings were going on at a full speed as I have arrived to the venue of Credo Week’s last networking event. It has been organized by Jan Solik, the man behind the Association of Young Entrepreneurs of Slovak Republic.

There is an association of old (or if you like, experienced) entrepreneurs as well headed by another Jan, Jan Oravec with whom we discussed issues of … Continue reading

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Eastern Europe: Entrepreneurial Events, Past and Future

innovation russia, innovation cee, innovation eastern europeI feel like I am being snowed under with all of startup conferences. The upcoming events are plentiful. It seems that life is one big celebration of entrepreneurship. The only question is, when the attendants of these numerous startup competitions manage to do any work.

This past Friday, two startup competitions took place: HackFwd Build07 and Startup Sauna Warmup Saint Petersburg. Russian Maxygen won the Startup Sauna Warmup competition, and Filmaster from Poland got a lot of buzz at HackFwd. Maxygen, which was already mentioned on these pages once, developed a new technology that allows for the detection of infectious diseases including HIV, tuberculosis and malaria within 10 minutes, and at the cost of only $10. Useful and practical in my view. Filmaster has developed a better way to make movie recommendations (must ask Synopsi.tv’s Rastislav Turek how the two compare). Continue reading.

 

Startup Week 2011 in Vienna will Feature Kosovo’s Siyov

innovation russia, innovation eastern europe, innovation cee, startup weekYesterday, I was browsing a website of the Investment Promotion Agency of Kosovo and to my surprise, I noticed a familiar logo of STARTeurope along with an expired invitation for a startup competition in 2010.

What? Kosovo? The small country crippled by atrocities, war and subsequent poverty? Yes.

Apparently, Kosovo is the country the organizers of the Startup Week 2011 really wanted to visit. As one of them, Jürgen Furian, puts it, Kosovo is a startup of Europe. “It is a new country and we felt the need to visit it.” So, the Startup Europe team organized a Startup Live competition in Kosovo one and a half years ago.

“A lot of people are entrepreneurs in Kosovo. What really struck out is how many private gas stations there are,” recalls Furian. “A lot of people think about building their own businesses, so they copy a proven business model such as a gas station,” he explains. Apparently, Kosovo leads European ranking in the highest number of gas stations per person although the source of this fascinating fact is unknown. Continue reading.

Eastern Europe to be a Major Focus at European Pirate Summit 2011 in Cologne

innovation eastern europe, innovation cee, startup eastern europe

The Weird and Wonderful Odonien, An Outdoor Venue of the European Pirate Summit

The European Pirate Summit is a one-day conference that will take place next week in Cologne, Germany, on the 20th of September 2011.

Put together by German university students Maurice Kock, Till Ohrmann, Fabian Muecke and Waldemar Hein, the event will be carried out under the “Pirate’s Flag”.

The term, coined by Michael Arrington in his TechCrunch post in 2010, was an inspiration for the organisers, who thought that bringing together entrepreneurs under “one roof” would be something everyone could benefit from. The roof is more an abstract figure of speech here, as the weird and wonderful Odonien, the location of the Pirate Summit is an outdoor venue.

Eastern Europe is one of the major themes at the conference. “We think that people in Eastern Europe are very talented and should be given a chance to meet other entrepreneurs and especially Western venture capitalists, so that they could connect and do business together,” says Waldemar Hein, who originally comes from Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic, but grew up in Germany. I did not test his Russian skills in exchange for the promise for him not testing my German.

Indeed, the opportunities for Eastern European startups to meet venture capitalists will abound, that is if only they (startups) can afford the tickets to attend the conference. The conference will bring together many VCs as speakers and participants, who are in charge of over three billion Euros of venture funds.

Representatives from Romania, Croatia, Poland and Kosovo are speaking at the event.

Visit The European Pirate Summit for more information.

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Unmanned Helicopters and Startup Sauna Warmup in Saint Petersburg, Russia

innovation russia, innovation cee, startup eastern europe, startup russia, startup sauna warmupAnother day, another startup competition. Today, it is Startup Sauna Warmup in Saint Petersburg, Russia. This month a team of Finns sponsored by Aalto University are grilling Russian entrepreneurs and their business models throughout the country. Startups from Moscow, Kazan, Yekaterinburg and my native Novosibirsk are to be examined shortly.

One of the founders of Startup Sauna, the Finnish incubator that works with Nordic and Russian startups, is Ville Simola, a recent business graduate of Aalto University. A catalyst of the startup revolution in Finland, he has co-founded Aalto Ventures Garage, a co-working space for Baltic and Nordic entrepreneurs in Espoo, Finland, and later Startup Sauna, a seed accelerator for most promising teams in the Baltic Rim. “Startup Sauna helps the best teams with seed money, advice and a mentorship program,” says Simola.

The Startup Sauna hosts the winners of the series of startup competitions called Startup Sauna Warmups, which take place across Baltic and Nordic regions as well as Russia. Here is a list of their companies from the CIS region (or what I call Eastern Europe). Continue reading.

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Russia’s Innovation Efforts Pay Off

innovation russia, innovation eastern europe, innovation cee

Skolkovo, Russia's Future Silicon Valley

According to the results of Global Competitiveness Survey conducted by World Economic Forum in 2011, Russia is the only country from the CEE / CIS countries (collectively called here eastern Europe) which has moved up the development curve closer to its goal of becoming an innovation-driven economy. It is no wonder, as the country’s government policies push the innovation agenda high on the priority list. GoalEurope looks at what might have been the cause of Russia rising on the global innovation arena.

Venture capital industry in Russia is growing. According to Russian Venture Capital Association, by the end of 2010, there were 16.8 billion US dollars of venture funds raised which is almost 11% increase compared to the previous year of which 151 million US dollars were invested that year.

There are over 60 private and state-financed startup incubators, accelerators and technology parks while the Russian government continues to actively participate in the high technology industry.

Russian Venture Company, the government venture fund, invests in growing local venture capital industry and into the startups directly. Continue reading.

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Eastern Europe’s Startups After the Seedcamp: Zemanta, Brainient, Codility and UberVU Revisited

innovation eastern europe, seedcamp, startup eastern europeThe year 2011 has been remarkable for startups from Eastern Europe at Seedcamp. four companies from the region were shortlisted as finalists at this year’s Seedcamp Week 2011, and two other ones: Vox.io and GrabCAD became winners. Today I look in more detail at how Seedcamp has impacted Eastern European startups over the years.

Before going any further, let us agree on the definition of the region we are covering. I have been using the term Eastern Europe to define the fast-growing region that comprises former communist countries, including CEE (Central and Eastern Europe), as well as European CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries. I would like to stick with this definition, as it is a less of an alphabet soup than CEE/CIS etc, even though it may not be technically or academically correct.

Eastern European companies have been present at Seedcamp since 2007, starting with Zemanta from Slovenia. I was curious about the performance of startups after they have won a Seedcamp competition, so I spoke to some of the Eastern European finalists from the years 2007 to 2009, and this is what I learned. Continue reading.

Venture Investment in Russia: Almaz Capital is Raising a New Fund

innovation russia, startup russia, venture capital russiaAlexander Galitsky, the veteran of Russian venture investment, is raising a new fund.Almaz Capital, the growth stage venture fund focusing on technology companies in Russia where Galitsky is the founder and managing partner has invested most of its current fund and aims at $150-200 million US for the next one.

The Almaz Capital’s portfolio companies include Yandex, Russa’s leading search engine, now a public company listed on New York Stock Exchange; Parallels, the virtualisation software company that is expected to go public in 2012; Qik, a mobile video sharing platform that was sold to Skype; Acumatica, a cloud-based ERP software company; and Alawar Entertainment, Russia’s leading publisher and distributor of casual games; and other companies.

Galitsky’s deep knowledge of technology and experience in building successful technology businesses are at the heart of the venture fund’s stellar performance. By 1991 he had already pioneered the development of WiFi technologies in collaboration with Sun Microsystems, not to mention his subsequent achievements (full list). Prior to that he was, well, a rocket scientist.

Technology, digital media and communications industries are high on Almaz’s agenda, which focuses on early- and expansion-stage companies. Galitsky and his partners are strict in their selection approach. “We do not aim to invest in Russian ‘clones’, the copycats of successful Western companies. We search for technology companies with a unique value proposition and a global ambition,” explains Galitsky.

This is unusual, as the ‘clones’ offer the least risky return on venture investment in Russia… Continue reading

Credo Week Day 2: The Glorious Budapest

To start with, I had bad luck choosing a hotel in Zagreb. I stayed in the Movie Hotel, which had a loud air-conditioner and a tram line nearby. So, if you want a good night’s sleep, stay away. They do have password-free Wi-Fi though for those of you seeking a cheap and cheerful Internet connection in Zagreb.

After a wake-up call at 6am (tram!), and a decent breakfast later, I was on the road to Budapest, which was quite uneventful, with the exception of a Hungarian customs official inspecting my luggage on the border with Hungary, and my GPS navigator TomTom not recognizing a new highway, connecting the two countries.

Better that, than the built-in navigation system in Ondrej Bartos’ car, which simply refused to give directions and left him lost in Budapest for a while. The rest of the Credo team arrived safely in Budapest in the Cessna 172, but their journey was affected by the peculiarities of the region: they had to fly back to Slovenia first, and only then to Hungary to comply with customs regulations.

I was the first to arrive to the Ybl Palace where the meeting was to take place, and had the great fortune to welcome the first attendants of Credo Week in Budapest: Peter Farago and Balázs Benedek of Skawa, the Hungarian crowdsourcing company. Since our publication is about outsourcing and innovation, crowdsourcing fits both themes perfectly.

startup hungary, innovation hungary, venture capital cee, innovation eastern europe, innovation cee

Continue reading

The First Long Day: The Second Stop of Credo Week is Zagreb

It is amazing how close Zagreb is to Ljubljana. It only took 1.5 hours of driving to get there. In fact, it is so close, that someone came up with an idea to include them into one country and call it Yugoslavia.

In Zagreb, over 80 people turned up to attend Credo Week. Most of them spoke impeccable English, thanks to the local television, which broadcasts Hollywood movies in the original language.

innovation croatia, innovation cee, innovation eastern europe, credo week

Credo Week was organized by Crane, Croatian Business Angel Network. After Ondrej Bartos’ presentation of Credo Ventures and Sven Marusic’s presentation of Stratus, a Croatian company which turns Microsoft Dynamics NAV deployment into a cloud-based service, the participants formed lines to pitch their ideas to Credo Ventures team. Continue reading

Credo Week: Day One – Innovation in Slovenia

Ljubljana is a beautiful city. So beautiful, I would say, that one should have no reason whatsoever to want to go on a business trip, let alone move to the US to grow the business, as some Slovenian entrepreneurs are planning to do. Enter Credo Week, day one, organized by Credo Ventures, Czech venture capital fund.

Credo team decided against driving all the way from Prague, and settled for a private jet instead, as its partner Jan Habermann is also a pilot.

Innovation in Slovenia, outsourcing slovenia, outsourcing eastern europe, outsourcing cee

For me, however, the journey is not as seamless. To get to Ljubljana, located at the heart of Central Europe, I had to travel from Northern Germany via Switzerland and Austria to finally drive across the border to Slovenia.

The first the Credo Week event was well attended – three hours was just enough time to talk to everyone. Here is a list of companies whose founders came to the meeting:

One company, whose name was not yet on the business card, analyses Twitter content created by Slovenians and makes clippings of tweets for the businesses who aim to understand how they can use Twitter, or wish to monitor their brand’s reputation.

Ivan Turkovic talked about Kuponski, a Slovenian startup that aggregates deals and offers them to mobile phone users in real time.

Innovation in Slovenia, outsourcing slovenia, outsourcing eastern europe, outsourcing cee

A company, whose name I will not disclose yet: its technology simplify organisation of sport events.

Matija Klemenc from Adrialog came to talk about the online travel community and focused on the Adriatic Sea as a travel destination. The community is number one in Slovenia, and the founders are looking to expand it into other European countries.

Jure Zadravec from Genelitik discussed the company`s capability to diagnose genetic causes of various diseases. By conducting analysis of its clients’ DNA the research conducted by the company … read more