Smart cities: fighting against a pandemic



A recent virus outbreak in Wuhan will shape China’s smart cities vision.  After 11 million people have been under quarantine for 3 months, the government is investing heavily to upgrade the country’s digital healthcare system, enlisting technology giants like Tencent and insurance group Ping An. A unit of the latter has partnered with local governments in Shenzhen and other big cities to develop an algorithm, which claims to predict the transmission of the virus and other infectious diseases with more than 90% accuracy. Elsewhere, the video-surveillance specialist, Hikvision, are helping Beijing develop high-tech, digitally-connected urban areas.

With the constant threat of the next pandemic, smart cities can be an incredible resource to help fight against the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19. Some smart city tools that could be helpful include: AI tracking of diseases; analytics and geolocation to predict behaviors and social response; thermal or infrared cameras to detect elevated body temperature; wearable connected (IoT) health monitoring devices; constantly updated information kiosks; connected mobility and infrastructure; and autonomous delivery robots. 


Over half of the world's population now lives in urban areas. Rapidly growing cities in Asia and Africa with significant inequities within themselves and high urban population density multiples the overall risk for outbreaks. By 2050 experts project that more than two-thirds of the world will live in urban areas. This transition requires new measures to change cities into efficient ecosystems, which will affect the way of living, working, travelling and building networks.

Although the idea of a “smart city” is at least a decade old, progress towards its realization has only accelerated over the past few years with the development of IoT, AI and 5G mobile networks. 

A smart city is a framework of information and communication technologies (ICT), which is mostly an intelligent system of connected objects and machines that transfer data using wireless technology and the cloud. Cloud-based IoT systems obtain, interpret and manage data in real-time to help municipalities, companies and urban residents make better decisions in order to improve the quality of life in big cities. Citizens interact in a variety of ways with smart city environments using smartphones and mobile devices, and connected cars and homes. For instance,

  • Air quality:  it can be monitored on a real-time basis, so that you know when to regulate emissions.

  • Environment: visualize and analyze all the city real-time data to better decide when and how to act.

  • Urban mobility: understand where people move and spend their time and use those insights for city planning.

  • Parking: generate revenue with demand-based parking and reduce parking-space search time for citizens.

  • Transportation: reduce congestion and pollution through traffic management.

  • Safety and security: Protect against crime, terrorism, and respond more quickly to emergencies with advanced video analytics.

  • Communication architecture: Connect with citizens and tourists through interactive kiosks and mobile apps, offering information based on their location.

  • Waste management: When waste bins are connected, city workers can collect them as needed. Save staff time and resources.

  • Lighting: lower energy consumption and cut costs.

  • Water management: Safe, efficient water flow is an essential resource for any city.


There are already some smart cities in practice, mostly in Asia, as it accounts for over half of the world’s mega cities and the region is facing the challenge of balanced sustained population growth with depleting resources and strained infrastructure. 

According to a new survey published by Swiss Business School IMD and the Singapore University of Technology and Design - the IMD Smart Cities Index - which looked at how well cities are adopting digital technologies and improving the lives of the people who live there, Singapore is the smartest city in the world. Other examples of smart cities around the world are New York City, Amsterdam Smart City, Copenhagen and London. 

One of our Zebra Insights experts recently presented the ‘Smart Cities’ concept in Singapore and Hong Kong to a private bank audience from both an investment viewpoint and from a research focused angle, which was very insightful. If you want to learn more on cities of the future and how to monetize smart cities, please contact us to be connected with one of our experts.


Genomics and why it has the potential to transform the future of medicine 



Recently, one of our top experts, a female professor in genomics, traveled from London to Melbourne and Sydney to deliver keynote speeches on the power of genomics and how it will transform healthcare and society over the next 5 to 10 years, in terms of how we can detect, manage and prevent diseases. Her expertise, drive and ambition are inspiring and bring deep insights into the future of medicine.

The genomics field recently has attracted a wide range of investors, from both the technology side as well as more purely biotech and healthcare-focused funds.  But why is genomics a breakthrough in medicine and why can it change people’s lives?

Extensive genomics research holds the key to overcoming various problems that are often faced by the global healthcare industry. Here are the three major use cases of genomics:

1.    Potential to cure previously incurable diseases: Advances in genomics can provide the first real opportunity to cure several diseases that were previously considered to be lethal or incurable.  Scientists have identified numerous genetic diseases caused by a single human gene mutation, known as Mendelian diseases, that are likely among the first to be treated successfully by genomics. As more genes are sequenced and aggregated into databases at decreasing cost, scientists will have access to a greater sample size, and able to more accurately verify and validate the genetic causes of illnesses. 

2.    Rise of predictive-preventive medicine and precision medicine: Precision medicine uses the patient's genetic information to select the most appropriate treatment option for an illness. Although historically doctors have been asking patients about their family history, advances in genome sequencing and bioinformatics make this information more reliable and easier to access. Further research into human genetic variation should therefore help to explain why some treatment strategies work better than others for any given patient and develop customized treatments. Over the next few years, it is likely that every newborn child will have their own genome processed and sequenced as part of their electronic medical record and other health data. This would help the parents to obtain early insights into their children’s health and aim to prevent potential diseases. Moreover, pregnant women will be able to opt for non-invasive prenatal testing, to determine whether a baby may suffer from chromosomal diseases. 

3.    Pharmacogenomics: Not all medicines work for every person. Anyone who ever had allergies can tell you that.  With genome sequencing, however, doctors will be able to predetermine whether a certain drug could be effective for a patient before prescribing it to them or could even create customized drugs for a given patient. 

The rise of genomics and precision medicine is expected to change the perception and provision of healthcare.
The convergence of human biology with technological advances like big data, advanced analytics, scalable computing power should provide extensive insight into how all sorts of diseases impact humankind and, more importantly, how they can be avoided. From using innovative therapies to altering our own DNA, the broad potential of genomics to transform health care creates a compelling thematic opportunity to invest.


The Cannabis Craze: how green is the industry?


Chloé de Salle

Cannabis. A highly controversial product trying to break out of its taboo and become a large-scale consumer good. This year might see a turn-around. On account of several countries passing or having passed initiatives to legalize the production of marijuana for medicinal and recreational use, the cannabis industry is diverse, disruptive and rapidly growing. Thus, new companies within the cannabis trade are appearing out of thin air.


The craze encompasses everything from start-ups buying supply stocks from large marijuana farms and importing the extracts into their target market for medicinal use, to scientists developing ways to recreate the extracts without having to grow and harvest the plant. Not only are start-ups and healthcare firms getting involved, but also food and beverage consumer giants want a piece, and even IT firms such as Nielsen are jumping on board. According to data from the Bank of Montreal (BMO), cannabis could evolve into a $200 billion industry over the next seven years. The cannabis industry is rapidly developing in terms of array of products and pricing, hence investors who are looking for their next investment opportunity shouldn’t wait for a green light for too much longer.


A wide variety of edible cannabis is sold every day, which accounts for a fair share of consumer spending, however, extracts for inhalation are becoming the larger market segment. Even though the marijuana industry has been highly competitive at the processing level and less so at the retail level, 2019 could reverse this trend. Considering the possible upcoming legalization in many countries of cannabis for medical use, this will likely imply a giant boom in its market share, at both levels.


With Canada federally legalizing marijuana in October 2018, the country pioneers the cannabis universe. The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) announced at end of last year that it will be conducting large scale research within this field and its investment banking unit will take the lead on over-viewing and advising cannabis firms on takeovers and stock sales. Other banks, such as BMO, are joining the competition for a slice of this promising industry. The fact that first-tier investment banks are entering in this industry is a sign that they are getting comfortable with the cannabis trade, according to Business Insider.

The Expert

An impressive expert from our Zebra Insights network who founded his own private cannabis firm recently spoke at one of our clients’ events. His company operates on a global level and focuses on the research, licensing, cultivation and processing of cannabis. He sketched the correlation between cannabis and big data solutions, involving a different spectrum of artificial intelligence than what is known to the market today. He also shared his exclusive insights on cannabis on a governmental level, regarding the endorsement, development and market share in China, plus its competition with the US from a trade war point of view. To top it off, he involved many other industries, such as textiles, biotech and investment management, and of course the scientific, medical and health industries.


As for the opportunities in the near future, it is essential to consider all the different types of products in which cannabis can be implemented making it advantageous for its psychoactive substances and stimulants, not just for it being known as a single drug. However, there are still many concerns regarding the risks of oversupply and the side-effects of the product. One of the most important factors in all types of investments, but especially for cannabis investments, is to be well-informed and to have access to the necessary data given this is a young disruptive industry.


Consumer Stocks vs. Technology Stocks: what's your pick?


Chloé de Salle

Perceptions and predictions about consumer behaviour are constantly popular subjects of debate. Only last year we saw consumer discretionary stocks nipping at technology’s heels. More recently tech stocks have fallen due to concerns around privacy, international trade and less than expected earnings.


This drives investors’ focus to consumer staples and discretionary. Retailers such as Estee Lauder and Ralph Lauren have led the gains on the S&P 500 with a 12% and 9% rise respectively while Alphabet was down 0.4% (Feb 2019), and very recently LVMH has hit record sales and earnings on Asian markets.


Given the dynamics of this market, our client invited the APAC head of commercial strategy from a leading cosmetics firm to speak. Our expert, with a wealth of experience in this field, shared his sharp views on global trends and China trends, and particularly on APAC’s competitive growth strategy.


Thereafter our client opened a frank discussion with our expert, leading to insights on:

  • The advancement from brick & mortar model to e-commerce to new retail 

  • New marketing and the influence of KOLs on big brands in China

  • Alibaba's Luxury Pavilion club 

  • The impact on sales through platforms such as Taobao and Tmall

  • The growth of splurging millennials in China


What is your point of view on the balance between technology and consumer? Or could you use some clearer insights about these robust sectors?


An Expert Insight in the Global GPU Investment Landscape


Chloé de Salle

With Chinese New Year upon us, we would like to nurture you with some food for thought to kick off the Year of the Pig. There have been recent developments in the GPU market and therefore we connected one of our investment banking clients with a Zebra Insights’ expert on GPU. Our client was excited to host the Director of Engineering from a leading artificial intelligence company based in California. He shared his deep expertise on computer vision with them.


Our expert covered topics ranging from comparison of neural network training to technical merits of various processors. Additionally, he shed a light on inter fencing platforms and developments in new platforms such as Graphcore, Cerebus and Nervana. To give you a grasp of the depth of expertise of our trusted expert, here are the key takeaways from the engagement.


Our client inquired about the following questions, which our expert was happy to answer and share his perspective on:

  • Can a particular platform sustain a lead or emerge as a new competitor?

  • What stage are the processors of the new platforms like Graphcore, Cerebus, Nervana and their required elements of success?

  • How often are engineers punching through the frameworks to the native language or libraries like CUDA/cuDNN?


Besides answering those questions, our expert was also able to give insights on the following topics:

  • Hardware comparisons: Nvidia GPUs vs Google TPUs vs FPGAs

  • Programmability/functionality and efficiency of various processors Google TPU vs Nvidia GPU vs AMD GPUs vs FPGAs

  • Tensorflow vs Caffe vs other deep learning frameworks

  • AWS vs Google Cloud vs Microsoft Azure: their positions with different types of users


As a result, our client obtained the insights they were seeking and acquired a perspective they had not explored previously.  As such they determined what area of GPU they want to invest in to bring about a prosperous Year of the Pig. Have you figured out what your investment focus will be for the coming year?


Kung Hei Fat Choy!