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Organizations supporting small businesses get millions in grants



The Strive Innovation Fund program will support 11 organizations around the world | Photo: Jacques Bopp
The Strive Innovation Fund program will support 11 organizations around the world | Photo: Jacques Bopp

The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth announced the newest grant recipients of the Mastercard Strive Innovation Fund, with nearly $2 million in grants distributed globally. Mastercard Strive supports early-stage solutions with the potential to drive outsized impact for small businesses in the categories of sustainability, digitalization, community lending, and more. Funding is awarded to change-making organizations focused on building, testing, and scaling creative solutions that drive small business growth, financial resilience, and environmental sustainability.

The Strive Innovation Fund program, which is administered by Caribou Digital and DAI, will support 11 organizations around the world, including seven organizations focused on innovative digital solutions that support small businesses’ growth in environmental sustainability and data for market access. In the United States, grants will be awarded, through Strive USA, to four organizations focused on elevating and accelerating promising ideas for strengthening the small business ecosystem through digital and data-first approaches.

“Every day, digital advances are creating new opportunities for small business growth and resilience.  Mastercard Strive helps provide the necessary funding to develop and scale ideas and solutions that meet the needs of small businesses today and for the future. This is key as we work toward an economy and society that promises opportunity for everyone, everywhere,” says Shamina Singh, founder and president of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth.

Grantees of the Strive Innovation Fund include:


Vested Impact, Global
Vested Impact assesses the impact of companies’ activities against the 169 United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Targets. They are developing a portal for automated impact assessment for small businesses, particularly in Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

Asia Pacific

Alner, Indonesia
Alner employs a reusable and returnable packaging system in Indonesia, replacing single-use, non-recyclable packaging for daily essentials. They empower small businesses as resellers with a digital solution, namely a mobile app, enabling them to sell zero-waste yet affordable daily products and monitor consumer habits, packaging return rates, and business performance to drive efficiency.

SkyEye, Samoa
SkyEye is a geospatial and software solutions provider whose ecommerce platform works with Samoan small businesses to facilitate access to local and international markets and collect sales, user, and location data. This platform helps enterprises with advanced business intelligence analyses.

SoBanHang, Vietnam
SoBanHang is a business management mobile app that empowers small businesses to sell more across digital channels, manage business operations efficiently, and access inclusive financial services easily on smartphones. SoBanHang wants to provide merchants instant access to market data and procurement services through its Intelligent Procurement Solution for small businesses in Vietnam.


Tern Eco Ltd, UK
Tern’s mission is to help retailers of any size build brand-owned circular models that meet business objectives and sustainability goals – reducing waste while driving customer lifetime value and unlocking new opportunities for revenue growth. They plan to improve the functionality and flexibility of their current service to enable additional circular models and leverage the collected data through the development of an API infrastructure.

Latin America/Caribbean

Datasketch, Colombia
Datasketch advocates for the responsible use of data technologies to enable evidence-based decisions. Their mission is to democratize data science for small businesses, particularly those in developing nations, by equipping them with accessible, easy-to-use tools to harness the power of their own data.

Middle East/Africa

Africa 118, Ethiopia
Africa 118’s mission is to act as marketing support to help African small businesses get discovered by leveraging digital platforms and social media. Africa 818 leverages a Digital Presence Pack, which it plans to expand to add value and accelerate its adoption, including social media integration, a mobile operator and market intelligence database.

North America

Accessity, Calif., U.S.
Accessity opens the doors of financial opportunity for primarily low-to-moderate income and diverse entrepreneurs through access to small business loans and a community of support and resources. Accessity’s SmartLend solution will utilize Accessity’s years of lending data and integrate AI-enabled tools to enhance the client experience through education and resources, predictive analytics, and a simplified and expedited loan application and underwriting process.

Aeris Insight, U.S.
Aeris Insight accelerates the flow of capital to Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs), whose mission is to provide financial services to underserved small business and communities in the U.S. Aeris will establish a data repository to support analysis of CDFI industry performance and create a performance baseline for new investment and liquidity tools that expand and diversify capital resources.

California Farmlink, Calif., U.S.
California FarmLink is focused on investing in the livelihoods and well-being of farmers, ranchers, and fishers who build and restore healthy communities and natural environments. In partnership with local Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs), FarmLink will pilot a program that integrates capital tools, digital solutions, and conservation measures to better support Latino farmers and promote social impact investment in climate-smart agriculture.

Scale Link & LoanWell, U.S.
Scale Link and LoanWell are piloting a scalable solution — Regional SMB Loan Digital Marketplace — that will facilitate small business lending via a common interface with a network of participating CDFI lenders, for the purposes of loan applications, matching, reporting, and recapitalizing of loans by Scale Link.

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Thousands left without money after Small World LCC ceases trading



Migrants looking at a closed branch of Money Transfer Small World
Customers look at a notice of suspension of services at a Small World LCC branch in London

“Every month I send €800 to help my son with his university costs and general maintenance. It has been over a week, and the money hasn’t arrived yet,” says Nara Baracho, a Brazilian migrant who works at an industrial laundry in Switzerland.

Nara is one of thousands of customers across Europe who, this week, were taken by surprise by the suspension of services of Small World (LCC), a money transfer company operating since 2005 with offices and presence in Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.

“I have used them for over 13 years and it is regrettable that they left so many people without their money. Earlier in the week I tried to contact Small World by email and received a message saying that my message had been blocked,” explains Baracho providing a screenshot of the message received as proof.

A popular money transfer service among migrants, until recently Small World LCC offered money transfer services to over 180 worldwide destinations. In 2018, the company generated revenues in excess of £110m.

On Thursday, June 14th, however, a “Suspension of Services” disclaimer was posted on the Small World website, informing customers of recent changes and that the company had stopped accepting any new customers or agents, as well as sending money abroad.

“We want to tell you about some important changes at Small World.

From now, Small World has stopped accepting any new customers or agents, accepting funds or making payments for existing customers through all channels, including any of its agents, branches, web sites or mobile applications.

If you ask us to make a payment, we may not be able to make that payment. Where we have already sent the funds to a bank or other third party that we use to deliver the funds to the person you are trying to pay, it is possible that the bank or third party has paid the funds to your recipient or will do so in the usual timeframes.”

Customers going to physical branches in England, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland also encountered similar messages affixed to Small World LCC closed doors. The announcement was not 100% true: throughout June 14th, Small World LCC still had the send money button fully active, hours after the company started to inform customers of service suspension, even if most of the site was already with limited access.

For Marbel Luz Carrillo, a Colombian who lives in Barcelona, Spain, that timeframe has long passed. The worker used Small World LCC on Saturday, June 8th to send funds to help relatives to make home repairs – a week later, Marbel is still awaiting any response regarding whether her family will receive the money sent.

“I have been here in Spain for 24 years, and on many other occasions I have sent money through this company (Small World LCC) without any issues. I am surprised that this is happening because, in my opinion, they were one of the best companies for sending money abroad,” says Luz Carrillo, expressing disappointment. She is currently without work and has used funds from her severance pay to help her family back home.

“I will continue to insist that Small World LCC return the money sent to me or make the payment in my country (Colombia). If not, I will file a complaint for scam with the competent authorities here in Barcelona,” says Mabel.

Another victim of Small World LCC this week is auto paint technician Adilson Mamede. Last week, he used a branch located in London to send £210 to Brazil to help with the purchase of tickets for family members to visit him. On Wednesday, after many days without the transaction being completed, Adilson visited the same location and was informed that the delay was due to technical issues with Small World LCC’s database and that the money would be available shortly at the intended destination. After 48 hours passed without any updates from the money transfer company, he returned to the branch, but this time, it was closed with several posters announcing the end of activities. He never got his money back.

Jennifer Cortegana, a student who lives in Peru, has been waiting for funds sent by her father, a transportation worker based in Spain, since June 7th.

“The money is intended to pay for my university and health bills. He used Small World LCC before and had no problems. Now they don’t respond to any form of contact. Their offices are closed and they do not respond to calls or emails,” worries Jennifer.

A Brazilian model who preferred to stay anonymous used Small World LCC for the first time last week in Italy, where she lives. The money sent to help her family in Brazil has never arrived, either. “I made the deposit via Small World on June 8th and was informed that it would be in the beneficiary’s account the next business day. The store is now closed, and the money has not been sent to my family,” says the freelancer professional, who managed to contact Small World LCC customer service but was informed that “there were some technical errors in the system, and there would be no date for returning to normal activities.”

Customers affected by Small World LCC payment delays are now getting together to try to recover their cash. Groups have been created on social media platforms such as Facebook and Telegram. The goal is to sue the company collectively for breach of contract.

Euronewsweek has reached out to Small World LLC using its telephone number available for customer service, as well as individual branches in the United Kingdom, Spain, Switzerland, and Italy. Calls are being forwarded to voicemail, but no feedback or return calls are being carried out. Calls to the Small World LCC headquarters in Blackfriars, London, are being answered with a recorded message informing customers that the company is no longer accepting new registrations or making money transfers, and giving callers an email that is being answered with an automated message informing people how to track the status of their transactions.

The suspected collapse of Small World comes a few months after the company was fined £139,500 by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the United Kingdom for breaching competition rules alongside two other transfer firms. In that case, the British regulator found Small World, Hafiz Bros and LCC Trans-Sending coordinated on certain exchange rates offered to customers in Glasgow for converting pounds to Pakistan Rupees when transferring money. 

Euronewsweek also reached out to Equistone Partners, one of Europe’s leading mid-market private equity firms, which invested in Small World Financial Services back in 2018 – but we had no reply from its UK office.

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Biggest hotel complex in Finland open its doors



Biggest hotel complex in Finland open its doors
With a total of 37 500 square meters the hotels will offer 716 guest rooms in Helsinki

After almost three years of construction, Clarion Hotel Helsinki Airport and Comfort Hotel Helsinki Airport could finally open the doors to the biggest hotel complex in Finland.

With a total of 37 500 square meters, 716 guest rooms, 21 meeting rooms and a huge 826 m2 banquet hall, it is the largest hotel operation in Finland which has now opened right at the terminal of Helsinki Airport.

Combining two different brands and concepts under the same roof, Clarion Hotel Helsinki Airport and Comfort Hotel Helsinki Airport will cater for all kinds of travelers, travels, conferences and events.

“I am so happy to welcome our first guests to this big and beautiful hotel. The Clarion Hotel brand is already recognized as a meeting and event specialist in the Finnish market and with this hotel, we further emphasise this. Clarion Hotel Helsinki Airport will put the Finnish capital higher on the European list of conference destinations and make Vantaa a more attractive area for the Finnish market,” says Tarja Jeskanen, General Manager at Clarion Hotel Helsinki Airport.

The hotel has a rooftop terrace and the Finnish premiere of the restaurant concept NÒR, a modern brasserie with Nordic culinary traditions influenced by the best tastes from Europe. Here you can also enjoy a cocktail overlooking the runway.

In addition, there is a well-equipped gym, and a wellness area with an outdoor plunge pool, steam bath and of course a Finnish sauna.

“This is a huge step for Strawberry in Finland. By adding this jumbo hotel to our portfolio, we clearly state that we are serious about our ambitions to grow massively in the Finnish market. Our recently published projects in Turku and Hyvinkää show our plans stretch beyond Helsinki, but to achieve them, we need a strong foundation like the one we have in place with both our city hotels and the cluster with these two new hotels together with Clarion Hotel Aviapolis and the rebranded Comfort Hotel Xpress Helsinki Airport Terminal,” says COO of the Finnish operation in Strawberry, Erika Ehrnrooth.

Comfort Hotel and Comfort Hotel Xpress are new brands in the Finnish market. Both of them are centered on giving the guests what they need and offer what they want on individual demand. Whilst Comfort Hotel Helsinki Airport will offer their guests the same upscale breakfast as their sister hotel in the same building, the rebranded Comfort Hotel Xpress Helsinki Airport Terminal has breakfast options available, but not included.

Comfort Hotel Helsinki Airport and Clarion Hotel Helsinki Airport share the same roof and will cooperate tightly. In total, the hotels can welcome more than 1500 guests, and together with the Comfort Hotel Xpress Helsinki Airport Terminal and Clarion Hotel Aviapolis, the total capacity will make Vantaa Finland’s best conference and event area.

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UK-first sees digitally signalled train driven on intercity mainline



UK-first sees digitally signalled train driven on intercity mainline
The testing process will continue until mid-2025 to ensure complete assurance of the new system’s safety and reliability

In a UK-first, a rail industry partnership has successfully run a digitally signalled train on an intercity mainline route.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, 2 June, a Great Northern Class 717 ran in test conditions between Welwyn Garden City and Hitchin in Hertfordshire using European Train Control System (ETCS), which sends signalling information direct to a computer screen in the driver’s cab. ETCS will enable a more reliable, more efficient and greener railway for passengers and freight customers.

Sunday’s test was part of the early stages of an ongoing process to prove that the trains – already fitted with the necessary on-board technology – work with the new digital signalling infrastructure on this section of the East Coast Main Line (ECML). Testing is taking place overnight and at weekends to minimise disruption to passengers as much as possible.

The testing process will continue until mid-2025 to ensure complete assurance of the new system’s safety and reliability, with the first passenger and freight digital signalling operations expected to start soon afterwards.

The process will involve the breadth of the industry-wide partnership delivering the pioneering East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP). Train Control Partner Siemens Mobility is overseeing the testing process, working with the relevant train operating partners (initially Govia Thameslink Railway as the first train to be dynamically tested).

Oliver Turner, Head of ERTMS at Govia Thameslink Railway which operates Great Northern, said:

“We’re proud our Class 717 train and ERTMS team were instrumental to this landmark use of digital signalling on the East Coast Main Line.

“This weekend’s testing marks the very first step in an intensive testing process to ensure the system is safe. We are working closely with the rest of the industry to share the lessons we’ve learned – and continue to learn – from introducing and operating ETCS on the Northern City Line and Thameslink route across the heart of London.”

Ben Lane, Project Director for Siemens Mobility & Infrastructure Sector Lead ECDP, said:

“Following on from the success of the pathfinder project on the Northern City line, we are now deploying this technology on an intercity mainline in preparation for the commencement of driver training for all passenger and freight operating companies on the Programme.

“The first digitally signalled train movement on the Welwyn to Hitchin project is not only a big step for the ECDP, but also for the wider railway industry and future digital schemes.”

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