Plastic Degradation Company, BREAKING, Emerges from Stealth with $10.5 Million in Seed Funding

L-R)  Vaskar Gnyawali, Co-founder and CSO of Breaking, with Sukanya Punthambaker, Ph.D., Co-founder and CEO.

Colossal Biosciences is spinning out a new company, Breaking, a plastic degradation and synthetic biology company.

Colossal started the company at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

“We could not be more thrilled to launch Breaking from Stealth from Colossal. The technologies co-developed by the Wyss Institute provide limitless applications to address our planet’s pervasive plastic contamination challenges,” Breaking Co-founder and Colossal CEO Ben Lamm said in a news release. “Part of our core mission of ecosystem restoration at Colossal can only be achieved by removing plastic that plagues our ecosystems and negatively impacts biodiversity.”

Breaking discovered X-32, “which can degrade polyolefins, polyesters, and polyamides leaving behind carbon dioxide, water, and biomass in as little as 22 months,” according to a news release.

“I’ve spent my career in synthetic biology and protein engineering with the hope of developing something this transformational,” Breaking Co-founder and CEO Sukanya Punthambaker, Ph.D, said in a news release. “In the future, our solution will be able to work across terrestrial and marine environments to break down today’s greatest threat to humankind/our existence: the plastic that is choking our world.”

Breaking, which previously raised $10.5 million in a seed round, was co-founded by the Founding Director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, Donald Ingber, Harvard geneticist George Church, CEO Punthambaker, CSO Vaskar Gnyawali, Alba Tull, Kent Wakeford, and Ben Lamm.

Plastics are a huge societal problem. “Today, 5,000 million tons of plastic are in landfills, oceans, and ecosystems. And 390 million tons more of plastic are produced yearly, up 22,400% since 1950.  Plastics have been found in Antarctic sea ice and in marine animals in deep ocean trenches. Even bottled water contains almost a quarter of a million nanoplastic fragments,” according to a news release.

The X-32 breaks down plastics’ chemical structure and can do it with up to 90 percent of polyesters and polyolefins in less than 22 months.  

“The microbe starts to work immediately. In lab tests, X-32 started to break down paint brush bristles, fishing wire, and dental floss in less than five days. If left untreated, paint bristles brushes can take 450-1000 years to decompose, fishing wire can take 600 years, and dental floss would take 80 years,” according to a news release.

Concurrently, X-32 utilizes plastics as a primary carbon source and needs no pre-treatment, sorting, cleaning, or decontamination and it emits carbon dioxide, water, and biomass during the degradation process. 

Today’s primary recycling processes are inefficient and either degrade the plastic to the point it becomes unusable or contribute to other environmental harms. Crushing and grinding destroy the fibers in plastics, making them unsuitable for re-use. As a result, only 9% of plastic makes it to a recycling plant. The most efficient disposal method, incineration, furthers the carbon crisis and releases toxic chemicals. But Breaking’s X-32 has no known negative environmental ramifications. 

The team will now utilize its expertise in synthetic biology to engineer X-32 into a faster, more efficient, and uniquely effective solution to break down more plastic faster.

“Breaking is solving one of the biggest problems on our planet. They are using the natural world as inspiration and layering on cutting-edge technology to transform how we break down plastics,” Jim Kim, General Partner of Builders VC and a lead investor in Breaking, said in a news release.

“The first in-field pilots will target the food waste and composting industry,” Kent Wakeford, Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of Breaking, said in a news release. Food waste in landfills costs $16 billion in taxpayer dollars per year. But that food can’t be composted because of plastic contamination. If we can remove the plastics, we can save the government a lot of money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help improve overall quality of life.”

Additionally, as X-32 degrades plastics, it generates biomass containing different biomolecules that may also be immensely valuable in various industries.

Tesla Lays Off 10 Percent of its Workers Worldwide

Tesla Texas Gigafactory in Austin Texas

Electrek, a news organization that covers electric vehicles, reported on Monday that Tesla planned to lay off 10 percent of its workforce and scaled back production of its Cybertruck.

Some Telsa workers then reported receiving an email informing them their jobs had been eliminated.

According to the New York Times, Tesla is cutting 14,000 jobs, or 10 percent of its global workforce. The article was critical of Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO and Founder.

“Mr. Musk has not outlined a plan to reverse a decline in car sales, and he appears focused on long-shot ventures such as a self-driving taxi, rather than new models that would help Tesla compete with cars being introduced by established carmakers and the new rivals from China,” according to the article.

Tesla’s global headquarters are in Austin at its Texas Gigafactory, which covers 2,500 acres along the Colorado River. The plan is more than 10 million square feet of factory space. It makes the Model Y and the Cybertruck.

The Texas Gigafactory and Tesla headquarters employ more than 23,000 people, with plans to ramp up to 60,000 as production increases. It is uncertain how many Texas employees were affected by the layoffs.

The Associated Press reported that earlier this month, Tesla reported its first quarter earnings and said, “It delivered 386,810 vehicles worldwide from January through March, almost 9 percent below the 423,000 it sold in the same quarter of last year. It was the first year-over-year quarterly sales decline in nearly four years.”

In addition to the Texas Gigafactory, Tesla has gigafactories in Nevada, New York, Shanghai, China, and Berlin, Germany. The company also has extensive manufacturing and engineering operations in California.

Registration is Open for Zoholics Austin 2024

Sponsored post

Zoho is hosting Zoholics, its annual flagship conference, in Austin on June 5th and June 6th.

The conference will feature 12 tracks and 100+ sessions, workshops, in-depth content, and opportunities to meet technical staff, partners, and Zoho leadership.

Registration is now open for Zoholics Austin 2024.

“At Zoholics, we welcome everyone, whether you’re a Zoho newcomer, a long-time user, or just curious about the value Zoho can bring to your organization,” according to a news release. Zoholics is known for its complementary half-hour 1-on-1s, opportunities to meet like-minded Zoho users, and comprehensive lineup of product sessions. In 2024, we’ll have even more for you to enjoy.”

Zoholic’s 12 tracks will cover the following topics: Sales, Marketing, Service, Finance, HR, Team Communication, developer tools, and more. Zoho experts lead product sessions.

New Workshops

For the first time at our US Zoholics event, Zoho is offering three one-and-a-half-day workshops. These workshops include a Zoho CRM workshop, a Zoho Books/Finance workshop, and an Advanced Skills workshop that will focus on custom functions and business intelligence. 

Zoholics Workshops will take place during Zoholics 2024, starting in the second half of Day 1, and ending at the end of Day 2. The goal of a workshop is to give you guided, step-by-step instruction so you can learn how to use and implement particular applications and capabilities in your Zoho deployment after the conference. Workshop attendees will have a demo account to follow along with the instructor and learn new skills in real time. To ensure that you can ask questions and receive adequate instruction, each workshop will be limited to 50 seats.

Since space is limited, workshop attendees will be required to purchase a ticket for the workshop they plan to attend. This ticket will include access to the rest of the Zoholics event and a complimentary half-hour 1-on-1 with a Zoho expert to get particular questions answered. Get your ticket to a workshop today.

Complementary 1-on-1s

The 30-minute 1-on-1 you get when purchasing a Zoholics ticket is a longtime favorite of attendees, and they’re back for Zoholics 2024. 1-on-1s are a great way to meet a Zoho expert in person and get your specific questions answered. If we cannot address the issue within half an hour, we will follow up after the event to ensure you have received the necessary information.

If 30 minutes isn’t enough, Zoho offers hour-long 1-on-1s with a virtual 1-on-1 follow-up. This extended service 1-on-1 is available at an extra cost and is discussed below.

Hour-long 1-on-1s with Post-Zoholics Follow-Up

Zoho knows 1-on-1s are one of the best parts of Zoholics, and it wants attendees to get the most out of their time with us. For the first time at a US Zoholics, we will offer 1-on-1s longer than 30 minutes by purchasing a GA Plus Ticket. A GA Plus Ticket gets you one hour-long 1-on-1 and an additional virtual follow-up within six months of the event. This gives you two hours to meet with our technical staff to answer your current and future-specific questions.

Expo Hall

Zoholics is excited to bring back the Expo Hall in Zoholics 2024. This was a popular aspect of our 2019 Zoholics in Austin. In the Expo Hall, you will be able to meet Zoho Partners and third-party vendors, network with other users, and attend informative sessions at our Expo Stage.

Zoho Partners are essential to the Zoho world and help many customers achieve tremendous value with Zoho. They also provide training on Zoho products, custom solutions, and more.

Experience Center

The Expo Hall will also feature our new Experience Center, a concept we have experimented with for a few years. The Experience Center is staffed by product managers and experts from a wide variety of our product teams. Here, you can get your questions answered, watch a demo, talk about roadmaps, and provide direct feedback on our products to the great people who make them.

 See the agenda, register, or check out the Zoholics webpage to learn more.

UT Austin Appoints Mark Arnold to Lead Its Research Commercialization and Startup Efforts

Mark Arnold is the new associate vice president for Discovery to Impact at the University of Texas at Austin.

According to a news release, Arnold’s role in the new position is to connect the campus to innovators and industry. He will be tasked with enhancing the university’s commercialization efforts. He will also oversee technology transfer, intellectual property, licensing, business development, and launch Texas startups.

UT President Jay Hartzell hired Arnold to foster industry and university collaborations and to cultivate a robust research pipeline focused on life sciences, energy, the environment, and deep tech.

Arnold’s appointment comes when Austin seeks to become one of the nation’s top hubs for life sciences.

Arnold will also serve as the managing director of Texas Startups.

“By harnessing our collective expertise and passion, we will shape the future of innovation, galvanize our entrepreneurship programs and offerings, and scale the startup pipeline emerging from UT across the nation and around the globe,” Arnold said in a statement.

Previously, Arnold was the founder and general partner of The Resilience Fund, an early-stage venture firm.  He was also vice president of corporate development for Forcepoint, which sold to Raytheon Technologies for $1.9 billion in 2015. He also worked at Goldman Sachs, Kohlberg & Co., and Cisco Systems. He has B.S. and MBA degrees from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

The Austin Technology Council Seeks Nominations for its Austin Tech Hall of Fame Awards

The Austin Technology Council is accepting nominations for its “Austin Tech Hall of Fame” awards ceremony.

ATC’s Austin Tech Hall of Fame fits into its plans to honor the past, embrace the present, and shape the future of Austin’s tech community.

ATC is asking members of the technology community to nominate individuals who have made substantial impacts on the industry as a whole.

“The launch of the Austin Tech Hall of Fame represents a revitalization of an idea we initiated many years ago. It underscores the remarkable contributions of individuals who have played pivotal roles in propelling Austin to its status as a thriving tech hub,” Thom Singer, CEO of the Austin Technology Council, said in a statement.

“The evolution of our community into a tech powerhouse has been deliberate and driven by visionary entrepreneurs, community leaders, and innovators. It’s time to pay tribute to these trailblazers and celebrate the leaders shaping Austin’s future,” Singer said.

ATC plans to hold the inaugural induction ceremony and a cocktail reception on June 4th. It will recognize six “legacy inductees” alongside this year’s “first-time founder award.”  ATC’s board of directors will select the inductees.

“We are excited to launch this program to recognize and highlight the history of the Austin technology community,” Scott Francis, founder and CEO of BP3 Global and board chair of the ATC, said in a statement. “While each of these honorees were certainly honored in their heyday, we want to share this connection with history with new and thriving entrepreneurs in Austin, today. Many of us only have a sliver of Austin’s tech history in our memory banks, and this is just another way to expand our horizons and appreciation for those who laid the foundations we build on – with ATC, our member companies, and our broader community!”

Companies interested in supporting this initiative and becoming additional sponsors of the inaugural Austin Tech Hall of Fame event are encouraged to contact Thom Singer at Thom@AustinTechnologyCouncil.org for further details.

Nominations can be submitted here.

Raising Stakes: ‘Show Her the Money’ Shines a Spotlight on the Funding Gap for Female Founders

Female founders need more money to finance their ventures – that’s the key takeaway from the documentary “Show Her the Money.”

Over 100 people turned out Thursday night at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar in Austin to watch the film, highlighting female founders, their quest for Venture Capital, and the lack of investment dollars going to women.

When the documentary’s producer, Catherine Gray, discovered that female founders receive only 2 percent of Venture Capital, she asked, “Why are we only getting 2 percent, and what is Venture Capital?” Gray said during a panel discussion following the film’s showing. Valeska Pederson Hintz, partner at Perkins Coie, moderated the panel and asked Gray why she created the film.

“I’m a big believer that film and television help change culture like awareness creates change, and I thought, wow, I’m in this ecosystem with these amazing, smart women in venture and angel investing,” Gray said.

“Show Her the Money” generates awareness and provides education on Venture Capital, Gray said. It also seeks to inspire more women to learn about and participate in Venture Capital and angel investing. The film does this in a storytelling way that makes it feel tangible and hšeartfelt, she said. Venture Capital is “very exciting, and who doesn’t want to have their pulse on the innovations out there?” Gray said. Also, the VC asset class could be more lucrative than any other investment, she said.

The movie is on a 50-city grassroots global tour sponsored by Wells Fargo across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and New Zealand. Locally, Perkins Coie and the Central Texas Angel Network, CTAN, sponsored the showing.

In addition to Gray, the other panelists included Laurie Cercone, an angel investor with CTAN, Kelly Ann Winget, founder of Alternative Wealth Partners, and Azin Radsan van Alebeek, co-founder and general partner of Emmeline Ventures.

The film emphasizes the need for women to get involved in the Venture Capital industry.

“I was typically the only woman in the room,” Winget said. She is also featured in the film as an angel investor in Dapper Boi. Winget has been involved in the private equity investment space for a long time. She believes it’s crucial to let women know these investment opportunities exist and educate them on how to get involved.

Sara Brand, co-founder of True Wealth Ventures, the country’s first female-focused venture capital fund, attended the film’s showing. Brand founded True Wealth Ventures with Kerry Rupp. True Wealth Ventures has raised a $20 million fund and a $35 million fund targeted at female founders in consumer sustainability and health.

Only 18 percent of general partners in Venture Capital firms are women, said Radsan van Alebeek, co-founder and general partner of Emmeline Ventures.

Among the cast members featured in the film is entrepreneur Dawn Lafreeda from San Antonio. She is the largest single-owner franchisee within Denny’s restaurant chain and one of the most successful female restaurant franchise owners in the U.S. She is also self-made and started as a waitress and hostess at Denny’s. Now, she’s an angel investor and limited partner in SoGal Ventures, which invests in women. The founder of that venture fund, Pocket Sun, is also featured in the film.

Entrepreneurs showcased in the film include Vicky Pasche, founder of Dapper Boi, a gender-neutral, body-inclusive apparel line; Diipa Bulle-Khosla, founder of Inde Wild, a skincare products line targeted at South Asian women; Marian Leitner, founder of Archer Roose Wine, which sells luxury wines in cans; and Jasmine Jones, founder of Myya, an online post-mastectomy intimates brand.

CTAN, with more than 120 members, is one of Texas’s oldest active angel investment groups, and women make up 28 percent of its membership, said Cercone, CTAN angel investor. CTAN has a sidecar fund for female investors who want to write smaller checks. It is a $20,000 investment and gets put into between eight and ten companies, Cercone said. CTAN focuses on life sciences, software, hardware, and consumer packaged goods. CTAN is actively recruiting more accredited female investors with industry experience.

“If we get more women and people who understand the industries dominated by women, it’s going to result in more female-founded companies getting funded,” Cercone said.

It’s not about charity, said Radsan van Alebeek, co-founder and general partner of Emmeline Ventures. She said investing in women can be lucrative and yield a significant return on investment.

Pederson Hintz said the movie stated that a $10,000 check invested in a female-founded company goes much further than the same investment with a male founder. The data shows female founders generated 78 cents from every dollar of funding, compared to 31 cents for male-founded startups, she said.

Radsan van Alebeek said women are more capital-efficient because they know it will be challenging to get more funding.

“Whatever funding she gets, she cherishes, she nurtures; she has to be very thoughtful about how it’s going to be used,” she said.

“We’re kind of constantly in survival mode and thinking about 30 different problems,” Winget said. “We live in a world where we’re second-guessed by our male peers constantly,’’

Winget encouraged the allies of female founders to brag about the women in their lives to their networks and to promote their work.

“Women are very quiet about their accomplishments and skills,” she said. I think the louder we get about supporting women, the better.”

Radsan van Alebeek also said women must shift their mindsets and not wait for an intimate invitation to do something.

“If you want to do something, go do it,” she said.

Gray said she wants to see more women and men invest in women, LGBTQ founders, and other overlooked people with innovative ideas.

“Every person, including Caucasian men, should care about us creating enough funding for women and BI-POC and LGBTQ founders to get funding,” she said. That’s so that all their unique innovations can come to life and do everything from “curing cancer to saving the environment.”

That’s why there is such a great need for diversity in funding, Gray said. “That’s where the power is,” she said. “People deciding who gets the funding tend to invest in people they identify with, so you have to see yourself sitting at that table of deciding who gets the money.”

The panelists advised female founders to focus on aligning with investors who understand their industry and the specific challenges women face.

“Don’t take the first check you get, or do some due diligence on both the personality and the background of your potential investor because taking bad money can be detrimental to your business,” Winget said.

The founder might work with the investor for a decade, so it’s important to have investors aligned with the business.

Pederson Hintz also referenced a Harvard Business Review study that showed that there is a bias in investor questions when female founders pitch their ventures. Female entrepreneurs are often asked about risks and mitigation, whereas male entrepreneurs are asked about potential gains.

“I’ve been in all male-dominated spaces, even in the private equity space. I’ll go into a room, and I have a male assistant, and they’ll ask him a question before they ask me,” Winget said. “I can’t work with a person like that. So, you have to have a little bit of grounding, walk away from situations like that, and call them out on it because they don’t really know that they’re doing it, unfortunately.”

Other panelists advised female founders to ignore the question and keep talking about the investment opportunities.

“This is literally all made-up like everyone woke up one day and decided I’m going to do this,” Radsan van Alebeek, co-founder and general partner of Emmeline Ventures, said. “Everything is made up, so once you internalize that energy, you are unstoppable because if you can think it and dream it, it can happen.”

The panelists urged everyone to increase women’s participation in venture capital, educate themselves about the investment landscape, and invest in women-led initiatives. They also emphasized the need to improve financial literacy from a young age. Lastly, there is a push for collective action to support and invest in diverse, underrepresented groups.

Central Texas Shines on Inc. Magazine’s 2024 List with Seven Women Entrepreneurs Redefining Innovation

Inc. Magazine Names Seven Central Texas Entrepreneurs to its 2024 Top 250 Most Intriguing Women Entrepreneur List.

Six female founders come from Austin and one from San Antonio.

Allison Ellsworth founded Poppi, a prebiotic soda that combines fruit juices and apple cider vinegar. She founded the company in 2015 and moved it to Austin in 2021. According to Crunchbase, the company has raised $53 million to date.

Angela Hood, the founder behind ThisWay Global, a software that revolutionizes the recruitment process by delivering a diverse pool of qualified applicants, is a game-changer. Since its inception in 2015, the Austin-based company has raised $3.9 million, with the latest funding from a WeFunder equity crowdfunding campaign, making a significant mark in the industry.

Robin Laine founded Transect, a software company based in San Antonio. The company offers software for real-time natural resources due diligence for development projects. Founded in 2016, the company has raised $4.3 million to date, according to Crunchbase.

Cortney Lebens co-founded Muy’Ono Resorts, a hospitality company that provides weddings, catering, dining, and event services in Belize. She started Muy’Ono in 2014 and grew the business from one resort property to 16 resorts and supporting industries.

Arielle Olfers co-founded The Southern Influence, an advertising and marketing firm based in Austin. She founded the company with her husband, Chris Olfers. According to its website, TSI reports having worked with dozens of global brands like Bala, Soho House, Goop, Reebok, Red Bull, and Tecate. Its work has been featured in Vogue, the New York Times, AD, Southern Living, and other publications.

Katie Spies founded Maev, a raw dog food company based in Austin. In 2019, Spies launched Maev after years of research and development, working with veterinary nutritionists to perfect its formulas. The company moved from New York to Austin. According to Crunchbase, it has raised $19 million to date.

Jen Young is a co-founder of Outdoorsy, a marketplace platform that connects RV owners with other campers. The company, founded in 2014, has raised $191.1 million, according to Crunchbase.

Austin Mourns the Loss of Lori Hawkins, Pioneering Tech Journalist and Pillar of the City’s Innovation Story

During SXSW in 2019, Lori Hawkins with Michelle Breyer on South Congress in Austin, courtesy photo

When Lori Hawkins joined the Austin American Statesman in 1994 to cover technology, the city looked vastly different from what it does today.

Dell was just ten years old at the time. It was the dawn of the information age, an economy built on computers, software, and the commercial Internet.

For the next three decades, Lori would write stories that chronicled Austin’s technology industry’s growth, contraction, and development. She grew to know about everyone in the Austin technology community, from venture capitalists to angel investors, entrepreneurs, public relations experts, and tech executives. She even founded Naturally Curly with Michelle Breyer and Gretchen Heber. But while Breyer and Heber would pursue the startup full-time, Lori stayed at the Statesman.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that Hawkins, 57, died Thursday after complications from a medical procedure. She is survived by her husband, Paul Sunby, and her daughter, Sora Sunby, and son, Will Sunby.

“Lori was such a legend in the Austin business community,” said Breyer, the chief marketing officer for SKU, Austin’s consumer-packaged goods accelerator. “She was a highly respected, award-winning business reporter who chronicled every twist and turn of Austin’s growth into a major business hub. She was universally loved and will be missed by so many people. I have known her for three decades and was so honored to have her as a friend.”

Lately, Lori has reported on the profound changes in Austin, including the departure of several Austin establishments on Congress Avenue, like Tesoros Trading Company and Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, and the Austin American Statesman campus closure at Lady Bird Lake. She also wrote about newcomers to South Congress, like Austin-based Tecovas. She lived in South Austin and witnessed the changes firsthand.

Lori also “oversaw the publication of the Statesman’s TechMonday section, including editing the work of a five-person team and freelance writers,” according to her LinkedIn profile. She also helped the paper launch 512Tech.com, a website that covered technology startups, and contributed stories and videos to that project.

Serial Entrepreneur William Hurley, known as Whurley, worked with Lori on all his startups and considered her a friend.

“I owe a great deal to Lori Hawkins,” said Hurley, co-founder and CEO of Strangeworks, a quantum computing startup. “She was one of my favorite people. She was a dear friend and a huge supporter of all my crazy ideas. Without Lori, I don’t think that Chaotic Moon, Team Chaos, Honest Dollar, or even Strangeworks I’m running now would be where they were. She breathes life into startups. She supports founders of all types and backgrounds, and she was a staple in reporting on Austin tech and will be sorely missed.”

Preston James, Founder and CEO of DivInc, an accelerator for women and people of color, saw Lori as a voice for underrepresented founders in Austin.

“Lori focused on inclusivity in the ecosystem, which made us feel welcome and gave us visibility, and for that, I’ve always appreciated what she’s done,” James said. “She brought eyes and attention to DivInc and what we’ve been doing. She was one of the early ones that did that for us.”

Jenn Gooding, CEO of Narwhal Media Group, a public relations firm, recalled that when she struck out on her own in 2013, Lori was the first reporter she worked with when she was on the fence as to whether she wanted to continue in the field after having dealt with many (unnecessarily) rude business reporters.

“As I waited nervously with my client at the coffee shop on Congress, in walks this confident but warm woman that just put us both instantly at ease,” Gooding said. “She was kind and gracious, but when she left quickly, we both felt a little baffled…how on earth could she have gotten what she needed that quickly to create a good story? Nobody is THAT good, we said, waiting anxiously until the paper came out. The story turned out perfect, as did all the others we worked on over the years together, including the last one she ever wrote.”

Gooding’s client is Vendidit. Lori’s last story was on Billionaire John Paul Dejoria’s AI-powered startup, Vendidit, a software platform for the secondary market for retail returns.

“As the next generation of our community journalists learn their craft, I hope they work to embody the qualities that Lori gifted to Austin,” Gooding said.

Lori was a constant force of accurate, fair, and complete coverage of the technology space in Austin for decades, said John Berkowitz, founder of OJO Labs. He posted the Austin American Statesman story about her sudden death to LinkedIn and wrote:

“What a loss for our community. Lori Hawkins was one of the first to cover OJO and Movoto and stayed with us till today. The journalists who tell our stories and ask us the hard questions are a critical component of the success of Austin’s tech ecosystem, and Lori was one of the best. She will be dearly missed! Our Hearts go out to her family and colleagues.”

More than 20 people, primarily other Austin tech entrepreneurs, commented on the post, expressing their sadness at her death.

One of Berkowitz’s first conversations on the launch of OJO was with Lori.

“And from the first moment I met her, I felt the care and effectiveness of her tact,” Berkowitz said. “On every big milestone of the business, I knew Lori would be there to ask questions that mattered and tell the facts that she believed the community needed to know. The next big announcement of OJO won’t be the same without the conversation with Lori.”

Amber Gunst, who worked with Lori on several stories while she was the CEO of the Austin Technology Council, called Lori “the consummate professional. She was a real reporter. She didn’t sugarcoat anything, but she also didn’t do gotcha journalism. And she was always just absolutely a stellar person to have a conversation with and to do an interview with. I can’t think of anybody in Austin that supported tech or tech organizations more than Lori.”

David Altounian, an Austin entrepreneur for 30 years who moved to Rhode Island last year, was so sad to hear the news. He often talked to Lori at events like SXSW, tech meetups, and parties.

“Lori was always great to talk to about happenings in Austin, and we would generally gossip about people, companies, or subjects we both knew,” Altounian said. “Lori was always so positive, and I always felt that she wanted the best for Austin and its entrepreneurs. Not that she shied from tough stories or asking tough questions, but she acted as if she were invested in the community and its members. Instead of outside it.”

“To me, it wasn’t just a passing of a journalist; she covered an amazing time of growth and opportunity in Austin when Austin was struggling to build the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and her passing marks another Austin connection to that time that is no longer there for me,” Altounian said.

Richard Bagdonas said Lori was like a mind reader and was on top of the latest news.

 “As I was writing the Dark Ages of Austin Startup Capital, Lori had started working on a piece for the state of the Austin venture capital industry and pinged me to talk about it,” he said. “When I started MI7, she knew about it before anyone else.”

Barbary Brunner said that Lori was one of the essential sources of knowledge about the tech scene in Austin.

“Through my tenure as CEO of the Austin Technology Council, she and I had many frank conversations about the ecosystem and about being women in the ecosystem,” Brunner said. “She was an astute and generous guide, and her passing is a loss to the industry in so many ways.”

Inclusive Mentorship: Janice Omadeke’s Book Maps Path to Success

After New York-based The Cru acquired the Mentor Method in September of 2022, Joseph Kopser suggested that Janice Omadeke write a book about mentorship.

Omadeke founded the Mentor Method in 2015 in Washington, D.C. The business created mentorship software to engage, retain and develop talented and diverse employees. She moved the startup to Austin in 2018. Kopser served as a mentor to Omadeke and became the Chief Growth Officer of The Mentor Method.

Omadeke is among the fewer than 100 black women founders who have led a startup and raised more than $1 million in venture capital funding.

“I think one of my superpowers is just staying open to whatever is supposed to be next,” Omadeke said. So, when Wiley representatives approached her about writing a book about mentorship, she said yes.

Wiley published Omadeke’s book “Mentorship Unlocked: The Science and Art of Setting Yourself Up for Success”  with an official release date of April 2, 2024. The book is about mentorship, including what it is, how to find a qualified mentor, and how to make mentorship work for the benefit of everyone.

On Monday evening, Chris Hyams, CEO of Indeed, hosted a book launch event for Omadeke at The Indeed Tower in downtown Austin. About 200 people attended the event, which featured a fireside chat between Omadeke and Hyams. The talk highlighted practical insights around inclusive mentorship, Omadeke’s journey and her vision for empowering professionals from all backgrounds.

Hyams noted that Omadeke is vulnerable and open in the book about her experiences. Omadeke said it’s essential to be open as a mentor, to create a safe space for the mentee to grow, make mistakes, and share their fears and aspirations.

Omadeke also notes that mentorship is not easily accessible to many underrepresented groups, and it’s essential to make it more inclusive.

Hyams noted that Omadeke’s book provides a comprehensive framework for mentorship. It outlines seven different types of mentors one may need at different career stages and provides detailed guidance on how to write an email to a potential mentor to ask for mentorship.

“I wouldn’t be here without the help of incredible mentors like Joseph Kopser, Hugh Forrest and Jan Ryan, and others,” Omadeke said.

Omadeke said a person needs seven types of mentors: the company insider, skills master, money-minded, industry, network, influential, and peer mentors. In the book, Omadeke said she aims to help readers see themselves reflected and provides a roadmap for them to navigate their unique professional journeys confidently. She drew heavily from her experience after graduating and spending the first few years in corporate America.

When Omadeke signed up to participate in a mentorship program at her workplace in 2009, the organizers said they didn’t have anyone for her.

“Which actually meant that they didn’t have a woman or a person of color,” Omadeke said. Everyone was a straight white male, and that’s fine in mentorship, by the way. But the organizers of that program felt that race and gender were a stronger determining factor of mentorship than the fact that I’m smarter than everybody else who signed up.”

A male executive saw that and started mentoring Omadeke on the side, unofficially, and not through the program, but he saw her potential and encouraged her.

“I was my first pancake in terms of the framework written in Mentorship Unlocked,” Omadeke said.

Omadeke said she is committed to continued learning and growth and using her experiences to impact her next career opportunity. She also encouraged everyone to stay open to new opportunities, even if they don’t feel fully ready.

Following the talk, several people in the Austin entrepreneurial ecosystem commented on how Omadeke and her book have brought valuable insights to Austin.

“Janice is what Austin has been missing since I arrived in 1993,” said William Hurley, known as Whurley, CEO and Co-Founder of Strangeworks. “There’s not a strong enough mentorship community. A lot of people think they can’t mentor, or they just won’t because they don’t have time. And in her book, she describes exactly how people can give what time they have to drive the careers of those who need that opportunity to have mentorship.”

Preston James, Founder of DivInc, an Austin-based accelerator for women and people of color, praised Omadeke’s entrepreneurial drive and focus on mentorship. When James met Omadeke, she was in Washington, D.C. He encouraged her to move to Austin. In 2018, she won Capital Factory’s pitch competition for female founders, which came with a $100,000 investment. That same year, she also won Mass Challenge’s pitch competition, worth $50,000.

James, who spent a decade working for Dell, saw a massive need for mentorship in corporate America.

“I think anybody who’s tried to make their way and understand the importance of mentorship at various different stages throughout their career and in life, in general, this book captures the essence of that,” James said. I recommend it to everybody.”

James said he’s getting a copy of the book for his niece, who is graduating from Arizona State this spring.

“It’s a make or break for any individual who is serious about their professional growth,”  James said.

No one had tackled this topic until Janice said Jan Ryan, a partner at Capital Factory, a serial entrepreneur and a professor at UT who teaches the popular “Women in Entrepreneurship” course. Ryan recommends the book to students and everyone, no matter what career stage.

“She is bringing to life information people need to know no matter where they are in their careers. Finding the right killer mentor you’ve always dreamed about is now possible,” Ryan said. Read this book because it shows you how to get there, and it’s a two-way street. It’s not just about you. That’s why she’s successful. She understands that.”

“Janice is a hero to us all,” said Hugh Forrest, Co-President and Chief Programming Officer at South by Southwest. The mentoring concept she advocates so eloquently is so important to many different people at many levels of their careers. So, it’s a fantastic book for all of us to enjoy.”

Omadeke did a fireside chat with Kim Scott, the bestselling author of Radical Respect, at SXSW 2024. Following her talk, Omadeke did a book signing and sold out of her book.

“We had 40 copies, and they all went,” Forrest said. “We probably could have sold a lot more. It was great to have her part of the event. She served as the host of the innovation awards in 2023. She’s been very involved in SXSW for many, many years.”

Key Takeaways from OpenAI’s Peter Deng at SXSW

At SXSW, OpenAI’s vice president of consumer product and head of ChatGPT Peter Deng discussed the role of humans in the age of AI.

Deng previously worked at Instagram, Uber, and Airtable before joining OpenAI. He is a father of four. And in a fireside chat with Josh Constine, consumer VC at SignalFire and former TechCrunch editor, he discusses AI and humanity’s co-evolution.

Here are the key takeaways from the talk:

  1. AI can make us more human by allowing us to deepen our curiosities and ask more significant questions about existence, consciousness, mortality, etc. It acts as a “perpetual professor” to help crystallize our thoughts.
  2. AI, like ChatGPT, should assist humans, remove friction in tasks like writing or coding, and be a flexible tool to remove barriers so humans can focus on higher ambitions.
  3. AI should adopt each user’s values and ideals rather than projecting any particular culture’s values. Core values should include seeking truth, being helpful, and instilling human values like empathy.
  4. Safety and ethics must be baked into AI development, with responsible, cautious deployment even if core development accelerates rapidly.
  5. Basic versions of AI, like ChatGPT, should always be free and widely accessible to improve AI literacy globally.
  6. Disclosure of AI involvement should be the norm for personal communications, art, politics, etc. Even if we may care less about disclosure for some commercial uses in the future.
  7. People should constantly experiment with new AI tools, and enterprises should set “experimentation budgets” to empower employees to find AI use cases.
  8. The goal is coevolution – AI evolving responsibly alongside accelerating human understanding and trust in the technology through widespread access and transparency.

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7 Key Takeaways from Ray Kurzweil’s Talk at SXSW: the Singularity is Nearer

At SXSW, Ray Kurzweil painted an exciting but potentially scary vision of the imminent singularity driven by accelerating computing power and AI capabilities. Nick Thompson, CEO of The Atlantic, interviewed Kurzweil.

Kurzweil’s latest book, “The Singularity is Nearer,” will be released in June. The singularity is the point at which machines’ intelligence and humans merge.

Here are seven key takeaways from Ray Kurzweil’s talk at SXSW:

  1. Kurzweil believes we are rapidly approaching the singularity, where artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence. He predicts this will occur around 2045.
  2. The exponential growth in computing power, as described by Moore’s Law, is enabling significant advances in AI, like large language models, and will continue driving progress toward artificial general intelligence (AGI).
  3. Kurzweil is very optimistic about the future benefits of AI and technology in areas like longevity, wealth creation, and eradicating poverty and disease. He believes technology has been an overwhelming force for good historically.
  4. After AGI is achieved, brain-computer interfaces and nanotechnology will be critical for merging human intelligence with AI systems.
  5. Ethical risks and challenges with advanced AI need to be grappled with, such as the potential for an advanced AI system to pursue a catastrophic goal like converting all matter to paperclips.
  6. Kurzweil argues that conscious experience is not scientifically definable, so simulating the brain’s neural connections is sufficient to recreate human-level intelligence.
  7. After the singularity, Kurzweil envisions humans being able to back up their minds and potentially live indefinitely by being recreated from these backups if their biological bodies die.

Respark Coaching’s Aaron Thweatt Discusses Managing Conversations Effectively on Ideas to Invoices

Aaron Thweatt, a former employee of AECOM, Activision Blizzard, SpaceX, and DoorDash, founded Respark Coaching to empower individuals to manage conversations effectively.

In the latest episode of Ideas to Invoices, Thweatt discusses his belief that managing conversations is the most powerful skill set one can learn, driving multiple facets of life and work. He also believes the most crucial conversation is the one with oneself.

Thweatt emphasizes the importance of communication in addressing performance issues within startups. He advises founders to have clear standards and processes to avoid misunderstandings and effectively handle HR issues.

On customer feedback, Thweatt stresses its importance in the early stages of a startup for product development and the need to balance customer desires with the company’s vision.

Regarding layoffs and restructuring, Thweatt highlights the need for founders to communicate empathetically and supportively, offering the example of Airbnb’s sensitive approach as a model.

In handling ethical concerns, he advises founders to investigate and address issues decisively, ensuring that the company culture prevents such problems from reoccurring.

On the challenges of virtual workspaces, he suggests building a culture that values emotional intelligence (EQ) and training managers to handle difficult conversations effectively.

Lastly, Thweatt recommends Chris Voss’s book “Never Split the Difference” for learning about tactical empathy and its application in business. He also mentions co-authoring a book with Voss on employing empathy in business practices.

To contact Aaron Thweat, visit the Respark Coaching website or follow him on all social platforms at @aaronthweatt

The entire podcast is posted below. You can also download it on Apple, Spotify, Amazon, Google, iHeartMeadia, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Aaron Thweat, Founder of Respark Coaching

Aaron Thweatt is a dynamic executive coach and seasoned HR professional who strongly believes in the power of an individual’s potential. His mission is to create meaningful connections between talent, ambition, and purpose by empowering executives and entrepreneurs to bridge the gaps in their personal and business lives, allowing them to thrive in their zone of genius.

30 Takeaways from Futurist Amy Webb’s Talk at SXSW 2024

At SXSW, Amy Webb’s talk emphasized the significance of identifying and responding to fundamental technological trends, especially those related to AI, the interconnectedness of devices, and biotech.

  1. Trends vs. Temporary Changes: Webb distinguishes between fleeting societal fads (like fashion and TikTok trends) and significant, long-term trends that show a change in direction over time. She emphasizes the importance of focusing on these impactful trends for future planning.
  2. The Role of Data and Research: To identify meaningful trends, the Future Today Institute utilizes data, research, signals, and modeling. Combined with an understanding of uncertainties, these elements help predict future possibilities.
  3. A Unique Moment in Time: Webb feels that the current moment is distinct due to the rapid evolution of technology, particularly in the creation and use of software and the development of generative AI.
  4. Generational Perspective on Technology: She notes that every generation experiences unique technological advancements and that we are currently witnessing a momentous shift.
  5. General Purpose Technologies (GPT): Webb identifies three primary areas of technological development—artificial intelligence, the connected ecosystem of things, and biotechnology. She argues that these technologies have become pervasive, influencing every aspect of the economy and society, similar to past GPTs like electricity, the steam engine, and the internet.
  6. The Technology Supercycle refers to an extended period of heightened demand that leads to substantial economic changes. Unlike past cycles driven by a single technology, Webb believes we are now experiencing a supercycle powered by multiple converging technologies.
  7. Convergence of Technologies: The convergence of AI, biotech, and the connected ecosystem has led to significant breakthroughs, creating new markets and attracting investments and talent.
  8. Challenges for Leaders: Webb discusses how uncertainty and short-term planning horizons are crippling decision-makers, leading to fear and a reactive mode of operation rather than proactive, strategic thinking.
  9. Strategic Foresight: She advocates for a more systematic approach to future planning beyond trend analysis, including scenario planning and strategies that ensure organizational resilience against unforeseen disruptions.
  10. Accountability in AI: Webb criticizes the lack of accountability in AI development and points out ongoing bias and ethical development issues. She calls for an incentive overhaul and better management of technology’s societal impact.
  11. Concept to Concrete AI: Looking forward, Webb predicts that AI will evolve from requiring specific prompts to being able to work with broad concepts, allowing for more creative and iterative collaboration between AI and humans.
  12. Unsecured AI: The talk touches on the risks associated with open-source AI models that lack security, potentially leading to harmful outcomes.
  13. Need for Regulation and Accountability: Webb stresses the urgency for establishing an accountability chain in AI development, especially as we approach artificial general intelligence.
  14. The Everything Engine: AI is characterized as the “everything engine” embedded in all aspects of life and services, highlighting the need for comprehensive data to fuel this engine.
  15. Empowerment and Agency: Despite the challenges, Webb expresses optimism that individuals and organizations can exercise control over their futures by working collectively through the transitions technology drives.
  16. The Transition Generation: She labels the current generation as “Gen T” (Transition Generation), signifying everyone has a role in shaping a society that will look drastically different after this technological transition.
  17. AI as the Everything Engine: AI is becoming deeply integrated into all aspects of life and services, a foundational element that improves and streamlines various processes.
  18. Data Necessity: AI’s growth and effectiveness are heavily dependent on data, and as such, the demand for high-quality, diverse datasets is increasing. We need new types of data beyond text, including sensory and visual data, to train more sophisticated AI models.
  19. Large Action Models (LAMs): LAMs represent a shift from predicting speech to predicting actions and behaviors. Numerous sensors in our environment will be required to collect the data necessary for these predictions.
  20. Connectables: This term refers to a network of interconnected devices that collect data to further AI capabilities. This ecosystem will likely expand with wearables, smart devices, and sensors.
  21. Growth of Devices: There will be an influx of devices, some of which may seem unnecessary or odd until the market stabilizes around beneficial technologies.
  22. AI-First Devices: New devices are being created to continuously learn from our behaviors in real time, moving us towards more personalized and anticipatory technology.
  23. Face Computers: Devices like smart glasses will become more common, equipped with numerous sensors to capture detailed information about our environment and behaviors.
  24. Challenges and Risks: These advancements may have potential downsides, including privacy, security, and socio-economic divides exacerbated by technology.
  25. Connectables and Large Action Models: These will enable more efficient data collection and AI training but will consume more power and require more advanced hardware.
  26. Biotechnology Link: AI, connectables, and biotechnology are interlinked, with biotechnology potentially moving us beyond silicon-based computing to more efficient biological systems.
  27. Generative Biology: Following generative AI, generative biology will allow us to design and create biological organisms and materials, opening up vast possibilities for medicine and materials science.
  28. Bio Computers: Computers grown from human cells may be the future, raising ethical and practical questions about procuring and using biological materials for computing.
  29. Actionable Steps: Amy Webb encourages a proactive approach to navigating these trends, including government and business strategies, to manage the transition and ensure societal benefits.
  30. Fight for the Future: Individuals are urged to become informed and share knowledge to proactively shape the technology super cycle for the good of humanity rather than passively experiencing its effects.

Amy Webb Launches 2024 Emerging Tech Trend Report | SXSW 2024

Portuguese and Spanish language translations for SXSW 2024 Keynotes and Featured Sessions presented by Itaú Join Amy Webb for the launch of the Future Today Institute’s 17th edition of its Tech Trends Report and a deep dive into all the tech trends you’ll need to follow in 2024.

HICAM Unveils New Robotics and Manufacturing Accelerator in East Austin

A new robotics accelerator is beginning to take shape just down the street from the massive Tesla Giga Texas manufacturing plant.

It’s the Hays Innovation Center for Advanced Manufacturing, known as HICAM, and last Thursday, the project’s developers held an event at the 50,000 building to unveil the new accelerator program. HICAM supports Its startups in the areas of advanced manufacturing, robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence companies.

The building is in the SH 130 corridor in East Austin. HICAM, a nonprofit center for advanced manufacturing, sits on a seven-acre campus at 6201 Quinn Lake Trail. HICAM focuses on fostering economic development and workforce development in East Austin.

The center is named in memory of Warren Hayes, an Austin entrepreneur who pioneered large-scale modular building development and founded the SH130 Municipal Management District.

HICAM seeks to promote and expand advanced manufacturing capabilities in the U.S., particularly in the Texas Triangle, projected to account for many of the nation’s new manufacturing ventures.

HICAM offers industrial space to startups building hardware that needs much room.

Space in Austin has changed a lot, and HICAM meets a need for industrial space for manufacturing companies, said Joshua Bear, founder and CEO of Capital Factory.

“There is an opportunity here in Texas to bring back manufacturing,” Bear said. Central Texas is emerging as the centerpiece of the advanced manufacturing sector.

HICAM is in a strategic partnership with Capital Factory and plans to announce other partnerships soon.

“This project is a vital step toward expanding cutting-edge manufacturing operations within the Texas Triangle, anchored by San Antonio, Houston, and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, with the greater Austin region serving as a major technology hub,” Marc Spier, HICAM’s board chair, said.

Spier said the plan will drive advanced manufacturing back to the U.S. and Texas, particularly with HICAM leading that regional effort.

“If we do things right, the companies that leave here will be incredibly successful,” Spier said.

Spier said there are many milestones. This is the first, he said, and there will be more later this year.

Executive Director Marcus Metzger will operate HICAM. He previously served as executive director and founding member of Future Space NYC, a multi-purpose co-working incubator focused on the creative technology industry. He also served as head of a digital fabrication business in New York, specializing in custom manufacturing interactive installations for world-class museums and Fortune 100 businesses. He also runs NeoForge, a robotic additive manufacturing startup.

HICAM plans to select 5 to 10 companies in the initial cohort and hopes to graduate those companies within a one-to-three-year timeline, Metzger said.

“Our goal is to facilitate the rapid growth of promising hardware and manufacturing startups, seeing them graduate from our accelerator and into their manufacturing facilities in Central Texas,” Metzger said.

HICAM also plans to establish classrooms and educational partnerships with local academic institutions to build on the successes of existing workforce development programs. The education track will span six to nine months, focusing on skill acquisition in robotics, high-tech manufacturing, digital fabrication workflows, and computer-controlled machines.

Graduates of the program will earn a certificate, verifying their skill set and career readiness in advanced manufacturing fields. Moreover, businesses operating within the accelerator will actively contribute to curriculum development, leadership, skill sharing, and machine supervision to ensure a targeted skills pipeline. The accelerator also develops a specialized track to integrate veterans and active-duty military personnel into the workforce using similar educational frameworks.

In 2022, Austin voters approved a $750 million bond for all ACC campuses. Still, it included building a new campus focused on skilled trades at the college’s Southeast Travis County land near the Austin-Bergstrom Airport, said Molly Beth Malcolm, executive vice chancellor of operations and public affairs at Austin Community College. She said that ACC increasingly focuses on training students for highly skilled advanced manufacturing jobs.

Austin is becoming a hub for A.I. and robotics. The University of Texas’ Robotics Center has spun out two robot startups: Diligent Robotics, which makes Moxi, which assists in hospitals, and Apptronik, which makes Apollo, a humanoid robot used by Mercedes Benz in its manufacturing plants.

Colossal Hires Ancient DNA Expert Beth Shapiro as Chief Science Officer

Colossal Biosciences announced Tuesday that it has hired a key executive, Ancient DNA Expert Beth Shapiro, as its Chief Science Officer.

Shapiro’s joining Colossal full-time will help the company meet its de-extinction and species preservation goals.

Shapiro, an internationally renowned evolutionary molecular biologist, is a leader in paleogenomics and ancient DNA and will oversee the continued expansion of the company’s de-extinction and conservation science teams. She is also a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Award winner and National Geographic Explorer.

“Our efforts to apply our de-extinction technologies to help save critically endangered species is just as important to us as bringing back the iconic mammoth, thylacine, and dodo,” said Ben Lamm, Co-Founder and CEO of Colossal.

Lamm founded Colossal Biosciences in 2021 with George Church, a Harvard geneticist and pioneer in personal genomics and synthetic biology. Today, Colossal has 128 employees, more than 30 funded postdocs in major academic labs, and 60 advisory board members. The company is based in Dallas but has offices in Austin, Boston, Santa Cruz, California, and Melbourne, Australia.

Shapiro previously served as Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and lead of the Paleogenomics Lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Lamm said she will continue to work out of Santa Cruz and travel to Colossal’s other labs and offices as needed.

“Beth and I have developed an incredible relationship over the past few years. I’m extremely impressed by her intellect, drive, and the rigor of her scientific research,” Lamm said in a news release. “I know she will continue to push our scientific research programs further and is the best fit for the role. It’s a dream to work so closely with Beth, and I know our species leads feel the same.”

“I’ve been an advisor to Colossal since just after the company launched and am excited now to step in full-time to support the team’s groundbreaking work,” Shapiro said in a news release. “It’s thrilling to see the research we’ve been doing in the labs not only seeing the light of day but being applied to science that will positively impact the planet.”

As an advisor to Colossal for the past two years, Shapiro helped launch the company’s Dodo and Avian Genomics Group. She also developed, along with Colossal team members, the international scientific advisory board. And she served as the lead paleogeneticist. In that role, she secured samples and generated DNA data that Colossal uses as part of all species groups.

“I have worked with Beth for over 20 years and am continually impressed by her contributions to the field of paleogenetics. I cannot be more excited about Beth joining Colossal, as this will not only help accelerate Colossal’s de-extinction efforts but will also provide an even more direct link between my ancient mammoth research and Eriona’s and George’s teams. I look forward to continuing our collaboration with Colossal to refine our target list of which genes make mammoths unique compared to other elephant lineages,” Dalen,  Professor of Evolutionary Genetics at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, one of the research leaders at the Center for Palaeogenetics in Stockholm, and leading Woolly Mammoth expert, said in a news release. 

Austin-Made Apollo Robot to Assist Mercedes-Benz Manufacturing

Apollo, a humanoid robot designed and made in Austin, will soon assist in Mercedes-Benz’s manufacturing line.

Apptronik, which makes Apollo, signed a deal with Mercedes-Benz to provide its Apollo humanoid robots in logistics to bring parts to the production line for workers to assemble, according to a news release. Apollo will also deliver the totes of kitted parts later in manufacturing.

Apptronik’s Apollo humanoid robots can be used in Mercedes-Benz’s existing plants, so the carmaker can deploy them immediately without redesigning its plants. This allows the carmaker to automate some physically demanding, repetitive, and dull tasks for which it is increasingly hard to find reliable workers.

“When we set out to build Apollo, an agreement like the one we’re announcing today with Mercedes-Benz was a dream scenario,” Jeff Cardenas, Co-founder and CEO of Apollo, said in a news release. Mercedes plans to use robotics and Apollo to automate some low-skill, physically challenging, manual labor—a model use case that we’ll see other organizations replicate in the months and years.”

Apollo is a 5-foot, 8-inch-tall robot that weighs 160 pounds and can lift 55 pounds. It is built to operate alongside people in industrial spaces. According to the company, Apollo’s computing power allows leading AI companies to solve use cases outside the ones that Apptronik will initially solve.

“To build the most desirable cars, we continually evolve the future of automotive production. Advancements in robotics and AI have also opened up new opportunities for us. We are exploring new possibilities with the use of robotics to support our skilled workforce in manufacturing. This is a new frontier, and we want to understand the potential both for robotic and automotive manufacturing to fill labor gaps in areas such as low-skill, repetitive, and physically demanding work and to free up our highly skilled team members on the line to build the world’s most desirable cars,” Jorg Burzer, board member of Mercedes-Benz Group AG, production, quality, and supply chain management.

Apptronik, founded in 2016, spun out of the University of Texas’ Human Centered Robotics Lab. The company initially developed general-purpose robots for NASA.

Michael Dell Reflects on His Entrepreneurial Odyssey at SXSW, Expresses Confidence in AI and Dell’s Next 40 Years

Michael Dell sold stamps at auctions to make extra money as a kid.

At 16, he started driving his parents’ old station wagon to the Harris County courthouse to collect data on marriage licenses to target newlyweds and sell newspaper subscriptions. He then hired some of his high school buddies to check the filings in the surrounding counties and get more addresses.

“It worked really well,” Dell said.

It was the humble beginning of what would later become the global computer maker Dell Technologies, which reported revenues of $91.1 billion in 2023. Round Rock-based Dell is also one of Austin’s largest technology companies, with more than 14,000 local employees. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Dell has become the world’s 12th richest person, with a personal fortune of $104 billion.

At 19, Dell started his eponymous computer company in his freshman dorm at the University of Texas. He later dropped out. This year, the company turns 40 years old, and Dell, 59, spoke about his entrepreneurial journey during a fireside chat on Thursday at South by Southwest. The featured session: “Businesss, Life and the Magic of Austin: A Conversation with Michael Dell.”

Dell said he’s learned a lot throughout the years, especially how to build a team, surround himself with intelligent people, and keep learning

“I learned that integrity and reputation are the most valuable things, and it takes a long time to build them up, and it’s really easy to destroy them,” Dell said.

He said Dell’s success was due to its customer-focused approach. He learned from customers’ challenges, problems, opportunities, and unmet needs.

Dell said making mistakes, iterating, trying new things, and experimenting contributed to the company’s success.

Dell said he was fortunate to attract great people to sign up for Dell’s grand adventure, and Austin was a great place to attract people.

Today, Dell is the leader in infrastructure products and server storage, but its first couple of attempts at creating those products could have been more successful, Dell said. Dell had its version of Unix, and that turned out not to be a great idea. Dell also tried to get into the smartphone business, but that did not work. In his latest book, “Play Nice, But Win,” Dell recounts many failures and learnings, he said.

Dell said it’s OK to make mistakes but not repeat them; learn from them.

Dell said he remembered going to Japan a lot in the ’80s, and they were developing amazing things, but nobody needed them. Dell iterated into this idea of pragmatic innovation. The customer can’t consistently articulate what the future solution is, but they can usually articulate the pain or the problem they’re having and trying to solve, he said.

“But you have to be agile, flexible, and continually adaptive because you’re going to get it wrong. Just accept that, deal with it, and be able to change quickly and iterate,” Dell said.

Along the way, Dell Technologies went from a public company to a private one. At one point, people threatened to take the company away from Dell.

Going private was a way of liberating the company, reinvigorating the entrepreneurial spirit, and accelerating Dell’s transformation,” Dell said.

He said There were awkward moments when Dell was curious if he was supposed to go to the office or talk to the management team. The uncertainty inflicted on Dell’s team and its customers was painful, but Dell managed to get through that.

“Going private was a way of accelerating the transformation, and then a couple of years later, we got to the point where we were experiencing once again strong positive growth and momentum, and so returning to the public markets allowed us to simplify the capital structure and the ownership structure,” Dell said.

Dell said another part of Dell’s success is creating a good company culture that fosters innovation. The culture that allows Dell to develop great products, he said.

He said that bringing artificial intelligence to the enterprise is Dell’s enormous priority for the future.

“And it’s a big platform shift, and it’s just beginning,” he said.

Dell’s customers also want to bring AI to their data and not the data to their AI in a public cloud, so that’s undoubtedly a massive priority, he said.

“That’s on top of all the things we’re doing around modern data centers and multi-cloud edge, which is a really big deal because you know everything in the physical world is becoming intelligent and connected,” Dell said. He said about 75% of enterprise data is still on-premise or on devices and the edge.

Dell also sees AI empowering creators. He says he’s a technology optimist. AI is happening ten times faster than the Internet.

“In almost no time, we will have 5 billion people with PCs and phones accessing AI, and that’s pretty cool,” Dell said. And if you think about this, the cost of having a cognitive superpower as your friend enabling whatever you’re trying to do is approaching 0, and that’s a really interesting thought.”

Dell said AI will tremendously impact education, healthcare, science, and every aspect of humanity.

“Nobody knows what the true impact of AI will be, Dell said. “But I’m very excited about it and optimistic because technology has always been about enabling human potential, making us healthier, making us safer, making us more successful in everything we’re trying to do.”

Dell also said AI regulation should encourage innovation rather than slow it down.

“Any time you have an emergent technology that’s evolving super-fast, it’s a big challenge for regulators because if you think about regulation, let’s say last year regarding AI, just look at the dizzying pace of improvement that occurred last year. It’s gonna be hard for the regulators to imagine how fast it’s evolving,” Dell said.

In addition to the technology, Austin has evolved incredibly, doubling in size every decade for the past four decades, Dell said.

“But I think it’s kept a lot of its character, and it’s been an incredible attractor of people with talent,” Dell said.

Dell said technology has played a major role in all the great things that have happened in the world and certainly here in central Texas.

SXSW started with music, then moved to film and television, and now it is interactive with technology. In Central Texas, you have this great combination of innovative businesses, Dell said. Texas’ great universities and 1.6 million college students fueled the region’s growth.

“I believe entrepreneurs go where their ideas can flourish and are welcome,” Dell said. Talent goes where there’s opportunity. Capital goes where it’s treated well, and it turns out Texas is a great place for that.”

Dell said Austin has been a hub of innovation. It has attracted the best and brightest minds, new ideas, companies, and opportunities.

Dell also mentioned that the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation started 25 years ago and that they donated to Austin.

“Much more to come on in the future, by the way,” Dell said.

Dell said the last 40 years have been incredible and exciting.

“But I think it’s all just the pregame show for what’s to come,” he said. “When I think about the future and all the technology will play in the world, I think about the incredible innovations we’re already starting to see in healthcare driven by technology. As we use all this cognitive power and explore the mysteries of the universe, maybe with the combination of quantum technology, wow, there’s never been a better time to be alive right now.”

When asked where he sees Austin in 25 years, Dell said it will continue to grow.

“Will it double every decade for the next three decades? I don’t know, maybe,” Dell said. We certainly have land in the broader area to do that, and if you think about the overall country, populations have been moving South and southwest for quite some time.”

Dell said Texas has been an amicable environment, and that’s why all this migration and growth are happening. Dell said the University of Texas and other universities in Texas have played a critical role in its development.

” If you find great companies, there’s always a great university nearby,” Dell said.

Dell said finding the right balance between growth, development, and livability is essential, and Austin has managed that pretty well.

“All the things that make our city great and wonderful, all the things that I loved when I first came here a little over 40 years ago, and a lot of those things are still there,” he said.

Lisa Su: A Decade at AMD’s Helm, Transforming Tech, Films, and Future with AI

Lisa Su has led Advanced Micro Devices as its Chief Executive Officer for a decade to much success.

AMD’s revenues were $5.5 billion in 2014 and $22 billion last year.

Among its other accomplishments, today, an AMD CPU powers the world’s fastest supercomputer, Frontier, at Oak Ridge National Labs.

Although the company’s headquarters are based in California, Su lives in Austin and runs AMD from its sprawling campus on the Southside.

On Monday, she joined Ryan Patel on stage as the keynote speaker at South by Southwest. She talked about AMD’s role in technology innovation, its commitment to partnerships and open collaboration, and its vision for the future of Artificial Intelligence and computing.

To start, Su recounted her time as a student at MIT and her love of semiconductors from the beginning of college.

“Yes, that’s true; I was a nerd at heart,” Su said.

In one of her first jobs in college, she worked in a semiconductor lab, making tiny chips the size of a dime or quarter.

“I was just amazed at everything you could do with them,” she said. “I was in semiconductors when it wasn’t sexy, and I would say I don’t know that it’s sexy now, but it’s sexier.”

AMD’s chips and technology are used in Hollywood to make films. In a surprise appearance, director David Conley appeared on stage to discuss AMD’s technology in filmmaking. The night before, he was at the Academy Awards, where his film War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko, won best animated short film.

“It’s so great to be working with the best in the industry, and that’s what we enjoy,” Su said.

She said making feature films requires special effects that require tremendous computing power, and AMD chips are used in the process. Films like Avatar 2 used AMD chips.

Conley said he wanted to highlight the work that AMD is doing to help filmmakers create images that are more fantastic than they could have even thought about 30 years ago.

“These images are possible because we have a partnership with a company like AMD that gives us the leverage and the insights. They work with our teams, and we work with their teams to help optimize everything,” Conley said.

Conley said using AI in the entertainment industry is still a sensitive subject. Many people misunderstand it.

“I also want to make sure that artists understand that AI is a tool and that this is not about replacing artists,” Conley said. He said the future of films is more active entertainment with the intersection of games because gaming visual effects and movie-making are all the same.

“I want to jump from video games to movies,” he said. “I want to go from active entertainment to passive entertainment, and I want to go into real-time entertainment, and that is where films are going to be in three to five years, and we’re not going to be able to do that with the help of companies like AMD where we get real-time processing and real-time rendering and a lot of AI.”

AMD also partners with Adobe to optimize hardware and software for content creators. Generative AI can bring the whole content creation process to the next level, Su said. It gives creators more products so they can do more at a higher quality in less time.

Su said AI is the most critical technology that has come on the scene over at least the last 50 years. AI, and generative AI, has become the most important thing, and there’s a good reason for that, frankly, she said. ChatGPT came on board 14 months ago, and it just captured everyone’s imagination, she said.

“AI has always existed, but the ability to make AI so simple that you can just say, hey, you know, I want to know what I should do in Austin, TX, this weekend, for example, having that possibility only comes with a tremendous amount of computing power,” Su said.

Su showed one of AMD’s latest generation processors, a generative AI chip called MI 300, which has 153 billion transistors.

AI PCs aim to ensure that everyone has their own AI capability and doesn’t have to go to the cloud. But they can operate off their data. You can ask it questions, and it’ll answer for you faster in a private manner because maybe you don’t want your data going everywhere, Su said.

“It’s just the beginning of what I think is the ability to make us much more productive,” Su said.

AMD also partners with Microsoft, leading the way with Copilot, which runs Azure in the cloud. AMD is also partners with HP and Lenovo.

“Our goal is to make this super easy for all of you guys to use, and that’s the promise of AI PCs,” Su said.

“One of the things about AI that I’d like to say is that people are worried that AI is going to replace people’s jobs and stuff like that,” Su said. That’s not the way I think about it. Companies that learn how to leverage AI will win over companies that are not leveraging AI.”

Su said AMD wants to be at the forefront of using AI in every aspect of its business. “We’re using it to design chips,” she said.

Su said AMD is using AI to design faster chips and make them more reliable. It is also using AI to build better software. Su told AMD’s engineering team to increase the number of products the company can produce annually using AI. AMD also uses AI in HR, finance, and customer service.

This is a way of moving up the food chain because we’re allowing our team to have AI do some of the less fun things so that we can add higher value for our employees.

Su said everyone needs an AI strategy. It’s OK if it’s not perfect because everyone is learning.

“I’m learning new things about what technology can do and how we need to shape our entire ecosystem, our work, and our next-generation products as well, so that’s what makes it fun,” Su said.

Su uses Microsoft Copilot to summarize meetings and track action items, but she doesn’t use it to write her emails. She said she’s still experimenting with the software.

Su said AI is moving incredibly fast, and AMD’s approach is to have an open ecosystem and support open source.

“We believe that no company has the answer to everything,” she said.

Austin’s Women Entrepreneurs Task Force Wants to Make Austin the Best Place in the Galaxy to Launch and Grow a Business

Only one percent of VC capital invested in Austin goes to women founders.

Carla McDonald said that’s despite Austin being number six in the country regarding deal count and dollars invested.

“There is something very broken here,” said McDonald, who chairs Austin Mayor Kirk Watson’s Task Force for Women Entrepreneurs.

McDonald said that only 21 percent of all Small Business Administration loans go to female founders.

McDonald said the Austin Women Entrepreneurs Task Force’s primary focus is getting more funding for female founders. She spoke Sunday with other task force members at Capital Factory on a panel focused on the mission to make Austin the leader in female entrepreneurship.

Jennifer Cuello, partner with EisnerAmper, moderated the panel, which included Sara Brand, founding general partner of True Wealth Ventures; McDonald, founder of Dynabrand Ventures; Mellie Price, executive director of Texas Venture Labs at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business; and Patricia Green, a professor with Babson College.

According to panel members, Austin seeks to become the best place for women to launch and grow their companies.

McDonald said the primary objectives of the Austin Women’s Task Force are to identify the community pillars that support female entrepreneurs, including education institutions, companies, nonprofit organizations, and more, and to make Austin the best city in the world to found and build companies.

“There is a real opportunity for Austin, which has entrepreneurship in its DNA,” she said.

The Austin Women’s Task Force comprises 21 women, including McDonald, and reflects the ethnic and racial diversity of the community. She said it comprises leaders in their field and pragmatic thinkers. The recommendations to the Mayor have to be workable and actionable.

“The final thing is that I wanted people with a long history of advocating for female entrepreneurs,” McDonald said.

Price, an entrepreneur who has been in Austin for 35 years, said local organizations have done great work to lay the foundation for female founders. She is also a co-founder of Capital Factory.

Another trailblazer is Brand, who founded True Wealth Ventures with Kerry Rupp in 2016. Two years later, they closed their first $20 million fund, which was the largest fund ever raised with a gender diversity focus, Brand said. Today, one-third of True Wealth Ventures’ investments are in Texas, with over $60 million worth of assets under management.

Entrepreneurship has also been the focus for Greene, who released one of the first reports on women in venture capital in 2004 with the Kauffman Foundation. She was also an entrepreneurship professor at Babson College, where she became the founding national academic director of Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 small businesses. She also served as global academic director for 10,000 women, helping women in developing countries. She was the director of the Women’s Bureau for the U.S. Department of Labor, where she worked to build a platform for women entrepreneurs. Now, she’s back in Austin, investing in and advising startups.

Greene said that many small businesses led by women are working on a new product or service but don’t know where to go for help with innovation, prototypes, IP, and other related matters.

The Women’s Task Force is interested in promoting diversity, inclusion, equity, and economic development. McDonald said that if women entrepreneurs are supported in Austin, they will contribute an additional $6 billion to $12 billion in gross domestic product locally.

Price also said having the right funding structures available for the business is essential. Venture Capital is fantastic for the right company, at the right time, with the right objective.

McDonald said the Austin Women’s Task Force plans to get its report to Mayor Watson by March 25th. The report includes 12 pragmatic and actionable recommendations to address the needs of female founders, she said. Those needs include access to capital, access to a broader network, and access to affordable goods and services that help them build their businesses, she said

“Success looks like making a difference,” McDonald said. “This is a call to action for the entire community. Success would look like everyone leaning in and recognizing this is something everyone needs to solve. This is the right thing to do.”

Brand also believes that women should be investors. She says that getting more female general partners is the fastest way to change the dynamic of the two percent of all VC dollars invested annually going to female founders.

“When a woman is at a firm, they are twice as likely to invest in a female founder,” Brand said. “The way to get more female GPs is to have more female LPs. For our fund one, we found out that 80 percent of our LPs were women in Texas.”

Brand said that by 2050, women will control two-thirds of investible assets. She said it’s essential to get capital to women entrepreneurs, and the way to do that is to get more women investing in a fund.

McDonald sees a bright spot in Angel investors providing funding to female founders. She said Angel investors invested $23 billion in 2023, so it’s an essential part of the ecosystem.

According to the panelists, if investors were looking at the data, they would invest in women founders all day. Statistics show that women-led startups use less capital, exit faster, and provide good returns to investors.

Despite that, some conservative groups have targeted funds granting capital to black women founders. In particular, the American Alliance for Equal Rights has filed a lawsuit against the Fearless Fund, an early-stage venture capital firm that only funds Black women founders, accusing the fund of racial discrimination in its grant program.

In November 2023, America First Legal sued Hello Alice, a Houston-based company that helps small businesses get funding and services, over a program with Progressive Insurance Co. that gives grants to Black-owned commercial vehicle companies.

When asked about the backlash, McDonald said, “This is a wrong that needs to be righted.”

“It’s motivating and infuriating,” Brand said.

“It also makes the work we are doing all the more important,” McDonald said. The solutions are not one-offs; rather, they are woven into the fabric of this city, so no entity can attack it like they are doing with these funds.

“If we do this right, everybody wins,” she said.

During the Q&A, Barbara Jones Brown, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Free Returns, said she raised $5 million for her startup, 80 percent of which came from women and 70 percent from black women.

Space Junk Poses a Risk to Life on Earth

When Moriba Jah started tracking space junk orbiting the Earth, there were 26,000 objects ranging in size from a cell phone to the space station.

Of those, 1,200 were working satellites providing services.

“Everything else was garbage,” Jah said. “So, 96% of all human-made objects at that time were junk.”

He saw pollution on Earth and in the oceans, and he saw the same thing happening in space, which prompted him to become a space environmentalist.

So much debris now hurtles throughout our orbit, and it worsens daily. The space race began in 1957 when the Russians launched Sputnik, the first human-made object in orbit.

Today, Jah is tracking upwards of 50,000 objects ranging in size from cell phones to the space station, out of which a little over 5,000 are working, and everything else is garbage, he said.

Out of the 5,000, half are working satellites that belong to Starlink, a company founded by Elon Musk, who also founded SpaceX and Tesla.

“If you didn’t know, he’s launching 60 to 100 satellites every three weeks,” Jah said. “So, in a busy year, we used to launch a satellite a month. Maybe we’re launching over 12 satellites per week, on average, to provide the Internet and all these other things.”

Jah spoke in a fireside chat with Neo4j’s Sudhir Hasbe at South by Southwest Tuesday morning in a session titled “How the Tech That Tracks Space Junk Will Save Life on Earth.” Jah is the co-founder of Privateer, based in Maui, Hawaii. His co-founders are Steve Wozniak, Co-founder of Apple, and Ripcord CEO Alex Fielding. Privateer maps satellites and debris in Earth’s orbit. Jah is also an associate professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and the winner of a MacArthur Fellowship called the Genius Grant. He received the grant for creating the world’s first real-time streaming of near-miss collisions and activity in space.

The privatization of space travel has led to more and more companies putting satellites in orbit. Jah said that more regulation is needed to govern how they operate once they get there and what happens when they no longer function. On average, a satellite lasts five years, he said.

To track objects in space, Jah set up ASTRIAgraph, which assigns a dot to every human-made object it detects. The data can be accessed through Wayfinder, a program Jah created to allow everyone access.

At SXSW, Jah projected all the objects orbiting Earth on a giant screen in real time. He showed what he calls a “super spreader event,” in which an object explodes in space and creates a massive trail of debris. There are 2,000 more of these “ticking time bombs in orbit,” Jah said.

Jah showed a dot identified as junk; its removal from space would cost an estimated $20 million.

“Most of the stuff that we put up there either never comes back, or it takes decades to centuries to burn up in the atmosphere, and it pollutes the atmosphere,” Jah said.

Jah said part of the problem is that satellites are not recyclable and reusable. All that junk threatens other objects in space and the Earth.

“When things die in orbit, they continue to go at very high speeds because we don’t have this off-ramp kind of stuff, and so we just send up another thing and another thing,” Jah said. So these orbital highways are becoming congested mostly with dead stuff, and bad things happen when two things meet at the same place simultaneously with different speeds, he said.

Jah can’t track things the size of a bullet or a speck of paint. Still, those debris objects exist in space and can travel 15 times the speed of a bullet and damage a satellite or astronaut on a spacewalk, Jah said. If that happens, “It’s game over,” Jah said.

Jah said the data he relies on for ASTRIAGraph comes from everyone from amateur telescope operators to the U.S. Department of Defense and other governments, like a Russian Database.

If a company launches another satellite, it must know which objects are where and at what speed they are moving; Jah said all those calculations must be done to continue space exploration. Jah said there are no standards or taxonomies for cataloging junk in space.

Jah’s company is spinning out Gaiaverse, which will take ASTRIAGraph and link data and information from the land and sea with air and space because Mother Earth, Gaia, is a holistic system of systems, Jah said.

“Indigenous populations inspire my work,” Jah said. “Indigenous people still believe that all things are interconnected in an intergenerational contract of stewardship with the planet.”

Jah wants to provide humanity with evidence of the interconnectedness so he can delay the knee-jerk response of saying that’s not my problem.

“If you look deep enough, you will see that true independence doesn’t exist, and while we may escape some of the consequences in our lifetimes, the people we love and those they engender will not,” Jah said. “Our collective decisions are currently leading to our self-extinction.”

Through the Gaiaverse, Jah hopes to raise consciousness and allow people to recognize they have the power to control outcomes and make better choices regarding the stewardship of the planet.

Jah’s Privateer Space company also works with the National Geographic Society to create the Glint Evader. It will collect satellite data to develop software that predicts and helps astronomers anticipate when sunlight reflecting off satellites may interfere with their observations.

Jah expressed frustration at the absence of government funding to solve the space junk problem. He emphasized the need for a collaborative effort.

Jah said there’s a huge need for space regulation. People must learn to live with space debris as a reality and work in a circular space economy where satellites are reusable and recyclable.

“We have to learn how to live within the filth of our bathwater, so to speak, and we can clean up some stuff,” Jah said.

Jah said it’s not if but when a black swan event will occur in space that brings global awareness to the problem posed by space junk.

Uber Says Austin is One of its Top Cities and Plans to Have All Drivers Using EVs by 2040

Ridesharing companies have had a difficult time historically in Austin.

In 2015, Uber and Lyft didn’t operate during South by Southwest because of regulatory hurdles.

Ridesharing companies shut down operations the following year after Austin voters passed a proposition requiring driver background checks. The companies appealed to the Texas legislature, and Austin’s Mayor Kirk Watson, who served in the Texas Senate then, voted against Uber.

“We’re in a different place now,” Watson said Monday morning at a featured session at SXSW: A Conversation with Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

Khosrowshahi said he wasn’t with Uber then, but looking back at what happened, he said Uber’s communication with local and state leaders could have been more collaborative.

Today, Austin is one of Uber’s top cities, Khosrowshahi said.

Watson said Austin embraces new people, ideas, and concepts. Its ethos is to keep Austin weird, which means keeping Austin open to new ideas, he said. The key is that disruptors must embrace communication and collaboration with city leaders and citizens, he said.

“As the new ideas come into play, people will need to make sure they focus on the values and that they communicate and collaborate,” Watson said.

In addition to traditional Uber rides, Uber offers micro-mobility choices through its app, Watson said.

Uber has a partnership with Lime that allows consumers to book an eScooter ride on the app. Khosrowshahi said Uber is about multi-modal transportation and giving consumers a choice. He said scooters are popular with people who must go less than three or two miles.

Watson said Austin wants every tool in the toolbox for transportation, including scooters. “People are voting with their feet.”

Watson said that in 2023, there were over 130,000 rides in just under 130,000 miles of travel in Austin. Most of the trips were around three-fourths of a mile.

Watson said Austin’s universities serve as a fountain of youth for the city, providing many young people who are focused on sustainability and want better transportation options.

Austin is compelling and aggressive in protecting the environment, Watson said.

Transportation is at the center of sustainability for the city, Watson said.

It’s evident that transportation is the hub of a multi-spoke wheel,” Watson said. “If we do transportation right, we do the environment right. If we do transportation right, we do affordability right.”

Watson said one of the biggest pushes for sustainability in the city is preserving Austin’s light rail system, Connect, which is under assault.

“It’s key to protecting the environment,” he said.

“Unfortunately, in Texas, the word Rail is a four-letter word,” Watson said.

Watson said that Austinites are asking for clean transit.

Khosrowshahi said Uber Green is a big part of its offerings. However, when it comes to paying a premium for a green offering, consumers believe it is an investment that the government and private industry should make.

Khosrowshahi said Uber will be emissions-free and all-electric in Europe by 2030 and worldwide by 2040. Uber has the largest fleet worldwide, with over 125,000 electric vehicles. Uber also invests over $800 million to fund drivers’ switch to EVs and is helping to build the charging infrastructure in cities. In Austin, he said, the penetration of EVs is almost 9 percent.

Watson said that with the growth of Austin, autonomous vehicle technology offers a lot of potential.

“I see a lot of promise in those vehicles, but we’re not there yet,” Watson said.

Watson has been in office for 14 months. He said that for the first six months, some autonomous vehicle group wanted to come in and meet with him to tell him how they would change the world. But autonomous vehicles present safety issues, he said.

“Safety is the number one issue,” he said.

Watson said autonomous vehicles were not responsive to emergency vehicles and were parked in the wrong places. Cruise recently halted its AV rides in Austin and nationwide after safety issues arose in California.

“Accessibility is also an issue,” Watson said.

Human drivers cause more than 35,000 fatalities on the road nationwide every year, Khosrowshahi said. So, should an AV be as safe as a human being or five or ten times safer? Khosrowshahi asked Watson.

Watson said he didn’t know. But he compared riding in the back of an AV to riding on a motorcycle. He was impressed with the vehicle’s operation and attention to potential road hazards.

Khosrowshahi said Uber doesn’t have its own AV technology but partners with others, and those partners want to be multiple times safer than human drivers.

Khosrowshahi said Uber is focused on affordability worldwide. It also wants to build an on-demand logistics Uber delivery network that will allow local businesses to deliver packages to consumers on the same day. He said Uber wants to empower every business to send packages. AVs will be part of that.

UT is Promoting Austin’s Life Sciences Industry and Sees it as the Next Big Thing

Austin aims to be one of the nation’s top hubs for the life sciences industry, which includes biotechnology, biochemistry, genetics, cellular biology, medical devices, and more.

To that end, a prestigious panel gathered Friday afternoon at SXSW at Antone’s Night Club on Fifth Street, which the University of Texas took over and renamed the Hook’ Em house.

Jay Hartzell, president of the University of Texas at Austin, said the life sciences industry is one of the most significant opportunities for the University of Texas and the Dell Medical School. In April 2023, UT announced plans for the UT Austin Medical Center with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and a UT Austin hospital.

Hartzell led the SXSW panel, which included Jim Breyer, founder of Breyer Capital, Andre Esteva, Founder and CEO of ArteraAI, Thomas J. Cahill, Newpath Partners LP, and Claudia Lucchinetti, Dean of the Dell Medical School and senior vice president for medical affairs at UT Austin.

“What we are seeing for the first time is the depth and maturity of AI and computation applied to the life sciences and healthcare,” Breyer said.

In addition, visual computing is becoming increasingly important in healthcare, he said. If healthcare workers harness these technologies, they will save people’s lives and improve lives so people live longer and better, he said.

Lucchinetti said technology’s impact on healthcare is transformative. It’s more than fixing a broken healthcare system; it’s about reimagining healthcare.

“You also think about what people want from healthcare, and they want a much more personalized, tailored experience,” she said. Data is the rocket fuel.”

Lucchinetti said the convergence of AI, computers, data, and machine learning leads to an accelerated discovery rate. The other significant change is that in medical school, students used to have to memorize a lot of information, but now that’s not the case anymore, she said.

“The EQ side of training our future physicians is even more important,” Lucchinetti said. Doctors also need to know data science. The workforce training across the board is changing. The healthcare industry is not prepared for the transition to human and machine care delivery, she said.

“The opportunities are endless,” she said.

Austin can learn a lot from Boston, the country’s number one life sciences hub, with 253 startups and 145 percent growth, Cahill said. The Boston life sciences hub grew partly through government incentives, including $115 million in tax deductions for biotech companies that are still being used today.

Cahill founded Arena BioWorks, a biomedical research institute in Boston. Breyer could open a second office in Austin. It’s like a Bell Labs for biotech, Cahill said.

Today, Breyer said that some of the nation’s top cancer scientists don’t even use computers. But in five years, he said most patients will not go to a specialist who doesn’t rely on deep AI and computational systems.

Breyer said these technologies are essential for drug discovery. They also enable doctors, nurses, and patients to understand more fully what’s wrong and what can be done about their health to live longer and better.

Also, today, few people own their medical data, but five years from now, 90 percent of all people should have the right to their medical data and the medical data of their close relatives, Breyer said.

“You need to see the data, and that just doesn’t exist today,” Breyer said. “Put it in the hands of patients, doctors, and nurses, and great things will happen.”

Good data is essential to healthcare discoveries, Cahill said. Finland is the best place in the world right now for the availability and quality of health data, he said. Cahill encouraged Austin to create its own data bank that would attract researchers and companies. He said he often travels to Helsinki to access its health data vaults.

In the late 1970s, Finland’s leadership started taking blood samples and patient data from everyone. Cahill said that the Finnish databank has led to most discoveries about genetics and disease, especially in the autoimmune space.

“The general public is not seeing it right away – CRISPR solved sickle cell disease – one of the biggest health issues – 6 percent of the population carries that,” Cahill said. “It’s going to be gone in the next ten years because of these drugs. That happened in Boston, and you can do a similar thing here with the leadership.”

Lucchinetti said she’s most excited about the potential to bring engineering and technology to medicine in concrete ways that solve medical diseases like MS, which she sees as an electrical engineering problem.

“Solving the greatest unmet needs of our patients in healthcare will require a transdisciplinary approach,” Lucchinetti said. There’s something special here at the University of Texas at this time in Austin.”

Breyer moved to Austin four years ago. He said what makes the city special is the ability to gather 10 people from UT, VCs, technologists, healthcare experts, and other disciplines around a dinner table to discuss ideas.

“That doesn’t happen in most other places where it’s a mix of skills and tremendous comradery,” Breyer said.

Esteva, founder and CEO of ArteraAI, said the four key ingredients for a health sciences startup hub are venture capital, entrepreneurs, talented engineers, and a top-tier research university, and Austin has all of them.

ArteraAI, based in San Francisco, created tests for prostate cancer. Esteva formed a company in 2021 that raised $110 million and has 100 employees.

Hartzell urged Esteva, a graduate of UT, to move back to Austin and even jokingly offered him two tickets to the UT vs—Georgia Football game.
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Merit Medicine Raises $2 Million

Austin-based Merit Medicine, a health tech startup, announced it has raised $2 million.

Austin-based LiveOak Ventures led the seed stage investment.

Merit Medicine, founded in 2022, uses AI insights from millions of patients in extensive datasets to generate predictions for each employer.

Ali Panjwani founded the company and serves as CEO. He previously worked at Genentech, BridgeBio Pharma, Coherus Biosciences, and Aetion.

“Large self-funded employers cover over a quarter of the US population today,” Panjwani said in a news release.

And employer contributions to healthcare comprise roughly $600 billion of annual healthcare spending in the United States, Panjwani said. “Using AI insights from millions of patients, Merit Medicine ensures a smoother, more predictable budget for employers’ catastrophic healthcare spend, leading to more people getting affordable access to the care they need when they need it.”

“Stop-loss carriers, responsible for insuring employers against substantial claims arising from these drugs and treatments, handle extensive information to calculate the premiums for employers,” according to a news release. Self-funded employers rely solely on their employee population.

“Self-funded employers are faced with rising healthcare costs and significant financial risk based on the health of their employee base,” Mike Marcantonio, who is leading the investment for Live Oak Ventures, said in a news statement. “Unfortunately, they have very few tools today to evaluate this risk and plan for it.  When I met the Merit Medicine team, I was inspired by their mission to help employers address this risk by using AI to predict high-cost specialty drug usage and rare, chronic, and complex conditions.”

Austin-Based Perigon Raises $5 Million

Austin-based Perigon has closed on a $5 million seed stage round of financing led by LiveOak Venture Partners.

Josh Rickel, co-founder, said the company plans to use the money to hire key employees and further develop its technology.

In 2022, Rickel founded Perigon with Joshua Dziabiak, a serial entrepreneur who previously co-founded The Zebra in Austin. They wanted to make sense of public web data and news information. They named the company Perigon, a math term that means a 360-degree view, to make companies aware of what’s happening around them, Rickel said. They call it contextual intelligence or the ability to adapt to new information and situations.

Rickel said Perigon helps businesses and government agencies cut through the Internet’s noise, understand real-time data, and make better decisions. Perigon’s platform seeks to eliminate misinformation and synthetic content and provide companies with helpful information. The company scrapes data from more than 130,000 sources on the web and organizes it to answer queries.

“Perigon is committed to turning the chaos of the web into an organized system, making it possible for AI to understand and interpret the world’s events as they happen,” Dziabiak said in a news release. “It’s all designed to serve people with more context and diverse perspectives on the key issues that shape our world, in business and life.”

Perigon already has more than 70 customers, including government agencies, financial services companies, startups, and consumer products, Rickel said. According to a news release, environmental agencies have used Perigon’s platform to learn about environmental, health, and security risks. The platform also provides valuable insights to financial institutions and trading platforms looking for real-time data on economic trends.

Rickel said Perigon’s platform harnesses AI to update and make sense of all the data. The data is consistently updated and delivers real-time results.

“We are excited about the market opportunities that arise from unlocking contextual insights from public information at scale for business practitioners and consumers,” said Krishna Srinivasan, founding partner of LiveOak Venture Partners. “In a short period of time and with limited investment, Perigon has leveraged AI and powerful models to deliver value directly to end-users and through APIs by dozens of demanding customers all over the world. We believe that repeat entrepreneurs Joshua Dziabiak and Josh Rickel are the right pair to lead this ambitious endeavor and seize this massive opportunity.”

Perigon has over 20 employees, including a team of engineers in Ukraine. It’s a virtual company with employees worldwide, including Algeria.

Colossal Bioscience Hires New Chief Marketing Officer

Colossal Bioscience, the startup bringing the woolly mammoth and other extinct species back to life, announced it has hired Emily Castel as its new Chief Marketing Officer.

Castel previously served as chief marketing officer, president, and brand officer of Teton Ridge, an omnichannel entertainment company.

Castel brings her global entertainment and consumer brand experience to Colossal, where she will lead international efforts to scale the company’s brand, experiences, consumer products, and emerging media properties.

“It is important for Colossal to bring the importance of our scientific achievements and focus on de-extinction and conservation education to consumers in all mediums,” Ben Lamm, Colossal CEO, and Co-Founder said in a news release. “Emily is the global brand leader who is best suited to bring Colossal there given her extensive entertainment background, knowledge of global consumer marketing, and proven track record in franchise marketing.”

Castel previously ran a creative consultancy in Hollywood, FIVE33, which included clients Disney, Pixar, Universal and Paramount. She ran global marketing strategies for numerous entertainment properties, including the one-billion-dollar Tim Burton’s Alice & Wonderland, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and JJ Abrams’s 2013 Star Trek.

In 2013, Castel joined Legendary Entertainment as Chief Marketing Officer after Legendary acquired FIVE33.  While on the executive team, Castel oversaw all movie, TV, and entertainment launches, including global marketing, licensing, consumer products, and event activations. Castel successfully worked with distribution partners Warner Bros and Universal on Legendary-produced IPs, including Pacific Rim, Godzilla, Jurassic World, Warcraft, and Kong: Skull Island. Castel led the development of the MonsterVerse franchise mythology, which has gone on to gross $2 billion worldwide.

After leaving Legendary in 2017, Castel launched her UK-based consultancy Castel Creative, where she served as founder and CEO.  During that time, she focused on adding strategic value to brands and IPs, including the Kingsman franchise and Rocketman for Marv Studios, while maintaining an advisory role at Legendary Entertainment.

Now at Colossal, Castel will lead a growing team of brand and consumer hires, including the newly appointed EVP of Design, Chris Klee. An award-winning design team leader, Klee was formerly the Chief Creative Officer of Hypergiant Industries.

“I look forward to building the Colossal brand into the market leader in the space and continuing the inspiring work that the team has been undertaking,” said Castel.  “I’m excited to start the next chapter of my career with the world’s first de-extinction company. It is an opportunity to drive innovation in the sector, using entertainment to inspire global communities to engage in Colossal’s pioneering mission to preserve species and further their existence on earth.” 

Since launching in September 2021, Colossal has raised $225 million in total funding led by the United States Innovative Technology Fund (“USIT”), with participation from At One Ventures, West River Group, Paul Tudor Jones, Breyer Capital, Animal Capital, Bob Nelson, Tim Draper, Victor Vescovo, In-Q-Tel, Builders VC, Peak6, among others.

Colossal was founded by emerging technology and software entrepreneur Ben Lamm and world-renowned geneticist and serial biotech entrepreneur George Church, Ph.D.  Colossal creates disruptive technologies for extinct species restoration, critically endangered species protection, and the repopulation of critical ecosystems that support the continuation of life on Earth. 

SXSW Pitch Announces Finalists and Alternates, Including 10 Austin Area Startups

Ten Austin area startups made the SXSW Pitch competition’s list of finalists and alternates for its 2024 competition.

It’s the 16th year for the SXSW Pitch competition, which showcases innovative global startups. To date, finalists involved in the competition have raised more than $23 billion in funding since 2009, according to Pitchbook.

The event occurs from March 9-10th at the SXSW 2024 Conference & Festivals in Austin. KPMG is the sponsor of SXSW Pitch.

The categories for 2024 include Artificial Intelligence, Voice & Robotics; Enterprise & Smart Data; Entertainment, Media & Content; Extended Reality and Web3; Future of Work; Food, Nutrition, & Health; Innovative World Technologies; and Smart Cities, Transportation & Sustainability and Student Startup.

Austin had two finalists in the Artificial Intelligence, Robotics & Voice categories. They include Autonomize, which created AI for healthcare workers and healthcare institutions. The other Austin finalist is Nava AI, which created an AI assistant that helps immigrants navigate the complexities of the U.S. immigration system.

In the Enterprise and Smart Data category, Aiki of Austin is a finalist. It created a system prioritizing student safety with dynamic two-way communication, connecting occupants and first responders.

Applix of Austin is a finalist in the Extended Reality and Web3 category. It created an AR-based automated visual quality inspection app for automotive, industrial, and medical tech firms.

Connected Athletics of Round Rock is an alternate in the category. The company empowers athletes to forge meaningful connections and form relationships with key influencers to optimize their sports careers during/after their eligibility.

In the future of work category, Layerpath is an alternate. “Layerpath revolutionizes team efficiency with AI-powered interactive product demos. Our platform enhances self-serve help experiences and boosts software adoption among customers and employees,” according to the SXSW website.

In the Smart Cities, Transportation & Sustainability category, Austin-based Terralytiq is an alternative. It is a climate tech startup specializing in enterprise decarbonization through its SaaS platform.

In the Student Startup category, MACH Transit of Austin is a finalist. “MACH’s pilot product is a levitating camera vehicle utilizing maglev to maintain zero contact with its guideway, enabling the capture of ultra-stable footage at over 200 mph.” Paradigm Robotics of Austin is also a finalist for creating a robotic platform to provide mission-critical situational awareness for firefighting, disaster response, industrial/manufacturing, and other industries. Merge Conflict Studio is also an alternate. It is a minority-led video game development studio focusing on centering marginalized perspectives and environmental awareness.

Go to the SXSW site for the full list of finalists and alternates.

World Logic Day in Austin Engages Community Leaders to Address the World’s Problems

In Austin, Logictry hosted World Logic Day on Sunday at the Long Center downtown.

According to one of the organizers, the event featured more than 300 speakers, and an estimated 850 people attended a Friday event and the day-long Sunday event. Logitrcy’s co-founders Chris Fronda and Chelsea Toler organized World Logic Day and a handful of other co-hosts.

“As co-hosts, Logictry is enthused to spearhead this catalytic forum bridging innovation and collaborative community engagement,” Fronda said.

World Logic Day began as a movement organized by UNESCO in association with the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences.

Emily Gupton, COO of FOLIO and Community Partnerships Director for Austin Women in Technology, is also a Co-Chair for World Logic Day Austin. “I am deeply passionate about community and collaboration as a cornerstone to rise the tides together,” Gupton said in a news release. “UN World Logic Day brings local and global communities together to drive solutions to real-world problems.”

World Logic Day focuses on the importance of logic in addressing contemporary challenges.

Logictry began hosting the United Nations Austin World Logic Day in 2019, and the event has grown dramatically since then. Logictry also unveiled its Logic.Wiki, which shares how AI, business leaders, creators, and community builders are partnering together to share knowledge.

The event started Sunday morning with a keynote on “Innovation and Impact: Charting the Course Ahead.” Quite a few of the following panels focused on artificial intelligence and its effect on the educational industry, healthcare, and business. Other panels discussed community building.

“In the face of this new wave of AI, we are all a little uncertain of the future, but together we can utilize tools like Logic.Wiki and communities like our Logic Circle to leverage this moment for positive change,” Chelsea Toler, co-founder of Logictry, said in a news release.

One afternoon panel focused on YouTube content creators. Collectively, the five panelists had more than 30 million followers. Kenzie Yolles, a 15-year-old beauty, makeup, and fashion content creator, has a manager.

The event concluded with a panel of changemakers, five women who were highlighted in the most recent issue of Austin Women Magazine. Austin Women Magazine compiled a World Logic Day Changemaker List.

“I see logic bringing a brighter future for all when sustained by character,” Sofia Sunaga, Co-Founder and Director of Intergen.Family and Co-Chair for World Logic Day Austin said in a news release. “Logic, coupled with character development, invites us to step deeper into the realm of AI, creating a future where human logic and ethical development go hand-in-hand.”

The event engaged people of all ages to discuss change and the problems that must be solved. Chief among them was Anika Chokhavatia, student leader, founder, and co-chair for World Logic Day. “We are the emerging leaders of tomorrow, and it is our responsibility to be aware of the changing world and our place in it,” Chokhavatia said in a news release. “This initiative fuels the future we hope to build. I’m particularly looking forward to the Responsible AI, Consumer Protection, AI Innovation, and Business panel, exploring concepts of accountability and bias in shaping our worldview.”

Advice for Female Founders from Nilima Achwal

In the latest Ideas to Invoices podcast episode, Nilima Achwal, founder of The Female Founders Lab, provides insights from her entrepreneurial journal.

Previously, Achwal founded Iesha Learning, a technology education platform to teach sexual education to junior high school students in India. She also launched and ran SEED, a social enterprise incubation program at Villgro Innovations Foundation in Chennai. In addition, she was a Kiva Fellow in Bolivia and wrote business case studies at the University of Michigan.

In this discussion, Achwal gives her views on entrepreneurship and her commitment to fostering a more inclusive and humanistic approach in the business world.

Some key takeaways from the podcast:

1. Inspiration for Female Founders Lab: Achwal moved to Austin about half a year ago to focus on expanding the coaching accelerator she founded in 2019. She was inspired by the city’s tech ecosystem, which she described as vibrant and collaborative. The atmosphere embraced her like a big hug.

2. Background in Impact Ventures: Achwal has spent 15 years in the impact venture space, working with startups focused on healthcare, education, food systems, media, the future of work, and sustainability. She spent six years in India and has experience in various aspects of the technology industry and startups.

3. Motivation behind Female Founders Lab: Achwal’s motivation to start Female Founders Lab stemmed from her challenges as a founder. She sought to create a more holistic and deep approach to accelerator programs that focused on founders’ whole selves and aligned their vision with tangible results.

4. Challenges Faced as a Female Founder: Achwal highlighted the challenges female founders face in finding mentors and role models. She discussed the importance of creating a space where female founders can be authentic and not feel compelled to conform to traditional, masculine business norms.

5. Importance of Diversity and Inclusion: Achwal emphasized the intrinsic value of diversity in reducing risk in business. She expressed concern about the “hijacking” of the diversity and inclusion narrative by political forces and stressed the importance of aiming for excellence rather than artificially creating diversity.

6. Advice for Women Starting Businesses: Achwal advised women not to get distracted by external noise and to focus on tuning into their vision and values. She highlighted the significance of authenticity and encouraged women to trust their intuition and feelings to gauge if they are on the right path.

7. Fundraising Strategies for Female Businesses: Achwal discussed female founders’ challenges in securing venture capital funding. She advocated for values-aligned investors at the early stages and suggested leveraging angel investors for initial funding.

Achwal also recalled a lesson from her experience as an entrepreneur. She faced huge challenges making inroads in the Indian education industry with her sex education product. She highlighted the importance of surrendering to a larger plan and releasing external pressures. Ultimately, she struck a deal to license her product to Tata, the largest IT company in India. Her perseverance led to a breakthrough, demonstrating the power of staying the course and trusting the process.

You can listen to the entire podcast below or wherever you get your podcasts.

Nilima Achwal, Founder of The Female Founders Lab

Nilma Achwal is the founder of The Female Founders Lab, a virtual accelerator and coaching service in Austin. Achwal moved to Austin about a year and half ago from Los Angeles. Before launching The Female Founders Lab, Achwal founded Iesha Learning, a technology education platform to teach sexual education to junior high school students in India.

Austin Startups See Uptick in Fourth Quarter VC Funding but Overall Deals and Dollars are Down for 2023

Austin startups raised more than $1.12 billion in venture capital in the fourth quarter of 2023,  an almost 10 percent increase from the same quarter a year ago, according to the latest Pitchbook-National Venture Capital Association Venture Monitor Report.

The fourth quarter VC funding is also an almost 46 percent increase from the $607 million Austin startups raised in the third quarter of this year.

The number of deals funded in the Austin Round Rock metropolitan area also hit 126 deals in the fourth quarter, an almost 11 percent increase from 114 in the fourth quarter of 2022.

For all of 2023, Austin startups raised $3.8 billion, down 30 percent, compared to $5.5 billion for 2022. The number of deals funded in the Austin Round Rock metropolitan area also dropped to 416 in 2023, down 15 percent from 492 deals in 2022.

The top deal financed in the fourth quarter of 2023 was $300 million to Firefly Aerospace, based in Cedar Park, creating rockets for commercial launches to orbit.

The second largest deal was Infinitum Electric, which makes electric motors and received $200 million in venture funding. The third largest funding went to Mach Industries, a defense startup developing hydrogen-powered unmanned aerial vehicles, weapons, and generators, and received $84.1 million.

Deal, fundraising, and exit activity were down for the fourth quarter, according to the National Venture Capital Association. But the market isn’t in crisis, according to Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of the NVCA.

“Rather,  the market has changed,” he wrote in a statement. “From interest rates to foreign conflict, the world looks very different than it did two years ago, and a new set of problems needs to be solved for.”

Overall, startups nationwide attracted $170.6 billion in venture capital, down $71.6 billion from 2022.

Top Austin VC Deals in the Fourth Quarter

Firefly Aerospace.   $300.0 million

Infinitum                   $200.0 million

Mach Industries          $84.1 million

Saronic                         $55.0 million

Paradromics                $50.1 million

Source: Pitchbook

Harbor Health Raises $95.5 Million to Expand Healthcare Services in Central Texas

Austin-based Harbor Health, a primary and specialty clinic group, recently announced that it has secured an additional $95.5 million in funding.

General Catalyst led the round of funding with participation from Alta Partners and *VC. To date, Harbor Health has raised more than $128 million.

The company plans to use the funding to provide more primary care services and specialty care offerings.

Harbor Health was founded by Dr. Clay Johnston, Eric Scott (from 8VC), and Tony Miller.

“We realized in order to maximize the impact of our innovations, we needed to combine our efforts into one enterprise as a vertically integrated ‘pay-vider’ – both a payer and a provider,” Johnston said in a statement. “We have built a geographically dense care model that is organized around integrated practice units and focused on member health conditions. This new investment and our rapid growth confirm our innovative care model is working, and we’re meeting more people where they are with collaborative, team-based care.”

Harbor Health is creating a new healthcare model that puts consumers in control of their health.

“Eventually, we see a future where current care design and benefit design models become obsolete, replaced by a health-producing and health-promoting system that follows people along their life journeys,” Miller said in a statement.

This new approach and the history of success by both Johnston and Miller have attracted attention in the marketplace and from investors.

 “There’s a strong appetite for a fresh approach to healthcare delivery among employers that prioritizes outcomes, enhances consumer engagement, and is proactive by design,” Chris Bischoff, Managing Director at General Catalyst said in a statement.. “We believe Harbor Health is providing ease of access to the largest covered population in the U.S. and bringing much-needed change as the company seeks to transform value-based care for the commercial sector. This aligns with our Health Assurance thesis. We look forward to supporting Tony, Clay, and the Harbor Health team in this new phase of growth.”

Harbor Health has eight locations in Central Texas, with more planned this year. It also launched two mobile health units. It employs 43 clinicians. Harbor Health touched consumers more than 25,000 times in Austin in 2023 with in-clinic appointments, virtual appointments, mobile clinics, and other modes of communication.

From Frog Design to argodesign: Mark Rolston’s Journey of Innovation, Creativity, and AI Insights

When frog design fired Doreen Lorenzo for doing great work for a client but not charging enough, Mark Rolston decided to leave the firm and start his own company.

It was the “actual kick in the pants to do it right then,” Rolston recalled.

He worked at frog for 20 years since 1994 and wanted to “remake what I enjoyed about frog” and roll it out into the marketplace. argodesign encourages a “culture of open willingness to argue” and challenges each other’s work to get the best possible solution and products. argodesign focuses on creating products that interact with technology.

Lorenzo, assistant dean of the School of Design and Creative Technologies at the University of Texas at Austin College of Fine Arts, interviewed Rolston at BigIdeasATX, a monthly event series hosted by Silicon Hills News. Unnanu, evisio, and Swyft sponsored the event.

Rolston founded argodesign in 2014, and in 2018, he sold to a $22 billion IT company, DXC Technology, for an undisclosed sum. Rolston, who has a more than 30-year career in the design industry, has worked with some of Austin’s most innovative startups, including Apptronik on its Apollo robot for NASA and ICON on its massive 3-D printer for houses and other structures. argodesign also works with Dreamworks, Sam’s Club, and others. argodesign has offices in New York, Amsterdam and Munich.

During an hour-long talk at argodesign’s headquarters in downtown Austin, Lorenzo asked Rolston about topics such as AI, creativity, copyright, technology evolution, and AI’s future.

Here are five key takeaways from the talk:

  1. Shift in Technology and Product Development and AI in Software Development:
    Rolston talked about the evolution of the products being developed, from stereos and toasters to software and mobile apps. He discussed the challenges of creating AI tools for developers to make sense of AI at scale. He mentioned a shift toward dynamic, on-the-fly application creation, exemplified by the mention of Google’s Gemini.
  2. Velocity of Change and Creativity:
    Lorenzo and Rolston talked about the rapid pace of technological change and its impact on creativity. They explored ideas on the potential for AI to create dynamic, ephemeral applications based on user requests.
  3. Copyright Issues:
    Rolston said there is a need for potential regulation in the context of copyright, mainly as AI generates content inspired by existing works. He said there are challenges in existing copyright law, and there is a need for a rewrite to address AI-generated content.
  4. Creativity and Human-AI Collaboration:
    Rolston acknowledged the role of humans in creativity and the belief that creatives will find ways to protect their work in the digital space. He believed that AI could enhance the creative processes and contribute a new form of collaboration.
  5. Complexity of Emotion in AI and AI as a Tool for Empowerment: Rolston said detecting emotion in AI is a complex problem. Humans often attribute emotions to machines that are programmed to react like Furbys, according to Lorenzo. Rolston has a vision of designing AI systems that empower individuals to participate actively in conversations and the world around them.

Watch the entire talk in the YouTube video embedded below for more information.

Mark Rolston, Founder and Chief Creative of argodesign interviewed by Doreen Lorenzo

BigIdeasATX with Mark Rolston, Founder and Chief Creative of argodesign Doreen Lorenzo, Assistant Dean, School of Design and Creative Technologies at the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin, will interview Mark Rolston at the event.

Handraise Lands $6.3 Million in Funding to Create AI-Powered PR Platform

Former TrendKite Founder and CEO Matt Allison has raised $6.3 million in seed funding to launch Handraise.

Austin-based Handraise will create a platform powered by artificial intelligence to help companies increase the impact of their press coverage.

Allison built TrendKite into a top media monitoring and analytics platform, which Cision acquired in 2019 for $225 million.

“As we worked with the world’s foremost PR and communications professionals at TrendKite, I realized there is a massive opportunity to help everyone involved – brands, communications professionals, journalists, and news consumers – get more out of the news by connecting the right audience to the right content,” Allison said in a news release.

“TrendKite was known in the industry for delivering on its promises of being consultative thought partners to its customers,” Allison said. “We helped our customers prove their value through our intuitive analytics and domain expertise. We’ll deliver on those same promises at Handraise while using generative artificial intelligence to help our customers measure their business impact and amplify it.”

Handraise is leveraging large language models to deliver simple yet profound insights without manual effort. This allows users to focus on strategy and impact.

“We were excited to learn that Matt and his former TrendKite colleagues are back together building a new product in the PR technology market,” Morgan Flager, Managing Partner at Silverton Partners, said in a news release. “Matt and his team of industry veterans are experts in the space, and we’re thrilled to back them again.”

Silverton Partners, Floodgate, Bill Wood Ventures, Firebrand VC, Aperiam Ventures, Active Capital, Sputnik ATX VC, Capital Factory, and a handful of world-class angel investors back Handraise.

“The ongoing advancements in generative AI are creating opportunities we’ve never seen before in the earned media space,” Mike Maples, Jr., Co-Founding Partner at Floodgate and early investor in Twitter, Lyft, Twitch, and others, said in a news release. “We believe the Handraise team is best suited to leverage their industry expertise and unique implementation of AI to unlock the power of news for everyone.”

Samsung Austin Semiconductor Donates $1 Million to Taylor ISD for a Career and Technical Education Center

Circuit board close-up, with Samsung and TI chips

Samsung Austin Semiconductor announced Tuesday that it has donated $1 million to the Taylor Independent School District for a new career and technical education center.

The money will pay for equipment, staff, and training needed for classrooms, dual credit labs for coursework, robotics and automation, and other manufacturing-related program-specific laboratories at Taylor ISD’s new CTE building at Taylor High School. The new center is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2025.

“This new investment from Samsung Austin Semiconductor underscores our shared commitment to the next generation of advanced manufacturing talent,” Jennifer Garcia-Edwardsen, superintendent of Taylor ISD, said in a news release. “Our students have enjoyed working as interns and learning about the semiconductor industry. We look forward to our continued long-term partnership in ensuring that our scholars are inspired, equipped, and empowered to achieve their unique potential.”

The district offers 16 CTE programs that provide hands-on experience in various careers, from engineering to health science.

 In November of 2021, Samsung Austin Semiconductor announced Taylor as the site for a $17 billion manufacturing facility. Since then, Samsung has provided tours of its facility to students, hosted a summer internship program, provided funding for teachers, and awarded a one-time grant of $250,000.

 “We are excited to expand our relationship with Taylor ISD and invest in the vital resources necessary to provide an effective learning method about the semiconductor industry,” said Samsung Austin Semiconductor president Bonyoung Koo in a news release. “We believe our partnership can help build the future workforce of Texas, and we look forward to supporting education that will encourage students to consider a career in the semiconductor industry; our partnership is important for Taylor, our state, and the nation, and the impact will be felt worldwide.”

 “This collaboration and Samsung presence in Taylor will provide opportunities for our scholars to find great employment in their hometown,” Rachelle Finck, director of Behavioral Health & Student Services at Taylor ISD, said in a news release.

Turning Trash into Treasures: The Startup Rockstars and Origin Tale of SXSW

The founders of SXSW got the idea for the event from New Music Seminar or NMS, a New York-based music festival in the mid-80s.

NMS always featured many Austin-based bands, said Hugh Forrest, Co-President and Chief Programming Officer of SXSW. After a plan to organize NMS South in Austin fell through, the four founders created South by Southwest during Spring Break of 1987. They picked that week in March because it was the slowest week of the year for the music venue.

It started with just 700 people. Today, SXSW has 60,000 badge holders and hundreds of thousands of consumers.

Forrest started the discussion Thursday afternoon at Austin Startup Week on “Why & How Startups Rock SXSW” by providing a “very brief look at the SXSW origin story.”

“I love telling the SXSW origin story, particularly when talking to startups,” Forrest said. “As with a lot of origin stories, SXSW happened more by coincidence than by design.”

The big takeaway from SXSW is that entrepreneurs turn trash into treasures, Forrest said. He said there’s a lot to learn from SXSW’s origin story.

“Find something that everyone has overlooked and create intense value,” Forrest said. “Or find an idea that no one has thought of before and create intense value. Or execute on a great idea that no one has executed on effectively before.”

The key is to “persist, persist, and then persist even more – and don’t take no for an answer,” Forrest said.

The four founders of SXSW were Roland Swenson, Louis Jay Meyers, Louis Black, and Nick Barbaro.

“These four SXSW founders paved the way for so much more March entrepreneurism,” Forrest said,

Among the great entrepreneurs to emerge from SXSW, Forrest included Johnny Cash in 1994,  

Foster the People in 2011, Billie Eilish in 2017, Grimes in 2012, and other musicians.

Another takeaway from SXSW is that entrepreneurs are rockstars and vice versa, Forrest said.

There are a lot of similarities between entrepreneurs and musicians, and that’s why SXSW has survived for so long, Forrest said.

“SXSW always focuses on Creativity, authenticity, originality, and innovative ideas,” Forrest said. Those are the traits and characteristics that define successful SXSW bands and startups, he said. Forrest said they want to be on the same stage and intermingle at SXSW. He also encouraged everyone to reconsider and broaden their idea of what an entrepreneur is today.

“What can you learn from other creative types that will help you as a startup,” Forrest asked. The mission of SXSW is to help creative people achieve their goals, he said.

The event has attracted big names like President Barrack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden through the years. It has also been a launching pad for companies like Twitter, Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Workweek, Meerkat, ICON, and others.

At SXSW, entrepreneurs are even more critical than celebrities, Forrest said.

Chris Valentine, event manager for the SXSW Pitch competition, gave a quick presentation on the SXSW Pitch competition. Applications for SXSW Pitch are due on Sunday. There’s still time to apply at SXSW.com/Pitch, Valentine said.

Since 2009, SXSW Pitch has showcased 647 startups, which have raised a combined $23.2 billion in funding. Google, British Telecom, Apple, and others have acquired seven percent of those startups.

SXSW Pitch competition alums include Klout, ICON, Hipmunk, Tubemogul, Siri, Foodspotting, and Tango.

More than 700 startups apply for the SXSW Pitch competition every year, Valentine said. Of those, 45 finalists are selected to compete in nine categories, he said.

Startup Valuations Take a Hit as Investors Demand Profitability: Austin’s Evolving VC Landscape and Entrepreneurship Realities

Startups’ Valuations are down, and entrepreneurs must do more with less money and focus on their core business to become profitable.

The days of startups valued at 20 times revenue are over, and now, it’s more common to have five-, six– or seven-times revenue as a valuation, according to Mike Dodd, general partner of Silverton Partners.

He spoke on a panel during Austin Startup Week’s discussion on “The Shift of the VC Fundraising Landscape: What This Means for Texas Entrepreneurs” Wednesday morning at Capital Factory. Charlie Plauche, general partner of S3 Ventures, moderated the panel, which also included Venu Shamapant, founding partner of LiveOak Venture Partners, Kerry Rupp, general partner of True Wealth Ventures, and Tom Ball, Cofounder and managing partner of Next Coast Ventures.

“There was just a matter of time before this bubble burst,” Dodd said.

But the situation could be more dire. Dodd said the panel had $1 billion worth of “dry powder” or venture capital funds looking for an investment. Many of the firms raised significant funds a year or two ago, and they have been more discerning in the last three quarters of making investments.

That shows in the latest VC data on the Austin-Round Rock metro area. Austin companies completed 78 deals worth $589.9 million in the third quarter, down 33 percent in value and nearly 20 percent in deal volume from the same quarter a year ago, according to the latest Pitchbook-National Venture Capital Association Venture Monitor report.

In the first three quarters of 2023, Austin companies have raised nearly $2.8 billion in 290 deals.

“Austin will likely reach 400 completed deals for the third consecutive year in 2023,” according to the report. “That figure would be just a 20 percent decline from the 2021 high, making Austin one of the more resolute VC ecosystems of the major markets.”

“It’s been an entrepreneur-friendly environment for a while, but it’s shifted in the last ten months. It’s more investor-friendly,” Dodd said.

“It’s a very cyclical business,” said Ball, managing partner of Next Coast Ventures. Ball emphasized that there has never been a better time to start a business.

“You are in it for longer than the average marriage in America,” Ball said. “As long as you have a good idea and can fund it, it’s good.”

Ball said Next Coast Ventures has pushed all of its portfolio companies to reach profitability to survive. Three to four years ago, VCs told startups to pursue growth at all costs, and now they need to be profitable, Ball said.

“It’s a tough environment as an entrepreneur with all the different advice you get,” Ball said.

Entrepreneurs must focus on their core business, Rupp said.

Also, debt isn’t available like it was a few years ago, Shamapant said. He said the days of getting a low-interest loan from Silicon Valley Bank are gone.

Companies that have moved here need to know that things are going to get better, said Plauche, general partner of S3 Ventures.

Dodd said that Austin VCs have a lot of capital to focus on Austin investments.

In the past five years, Austin has seen a flood of people move from the California coast to Austin, and that’s been good for the ecosystem, Dodd said.

“I’m a bit of an Elon Musk fanboy,” he said.

In addition to relocating Tesla’s headquarters to Austin, Musk has brought SpaceX, the Boring Company, and Starlink operations here, and that’s good for everyone, Dodd said. He said that brings in many talented people, and some might decide to launch their own business.

“It’s better than it’s ever been,” Dodd said. “It may not look like that in your shoes right now because it’s hard to get capital. But I think we’re in a great spot.”

Silverton has made five new investments in the last three months; before that, it had yet to do any in the previous ten months, Dodd said.

Next Coast Ventures has also closed on five new deals in the last three months, Ball said.

Shamapant said he’s been in Austin for 24 years, and the venture capital industry is the healthiest it has ever been. Austin Ventures used to be the only venture capital firm in town two decades ago; now, there are dozens of firms, he said.

“Money has a lot better chance of getting to you when there are multiple firms in the market,” Shamapant said.

Austin needs to focus on its infrastructure to deal with the influx of new residents and companies, Shamapant said. In particular, there is a need for affordable housing.

“Inflation has hit here hard,” Ball said.

Californians have also driven up compensation levels, and startups need more capital at an early stage to build a company, he said.

“Every deal is going to need more money,” he said.

Plauche, general partner of S3 Ventures, asked the panelists what startup metrics they look at when deciding to invest.

At the early stage, many of the metrics True Wealth Ventures looks at in startups are qualitative, Rupp said.

“The first metric is the team,” she said. She said that it’s a bit more than just math at the seed stage.

“We don’t invest until we see efficacy that something improves health,” Rupp said.

Next Coast Ventures looks at the team and product market fit, Ball said.

LiveOak Venture Partners also looks at the team and product market fit, Shamapant said.

Silverton Partners focuses on product usage, Dodd said.

“If the usage is pretty high and becomes part of the daily workflow of the customer, then you are onto something,” he said. 

Rupp said seed investors and series A investors want a well-thought-out plan for how the entrepreneur uses the money.

“It’s kind of a long exercise of iterating around what can I do with the capital to get to the next stage,” she said. “You need to have a plan that makes sense to the investor around the assumptions you’ve made.”

Raising money is like being a plane, Ball said. And he said the entrepreneur has to take the plane apart and put it back together again before it crashes.

Q3 2023 Top 10 VC Deals in the Austin-Round Rock Metro Area

SpyCloud                          $110 million         Software                          Series D

Hidden Layer                    $50 million           Software                         Series A

One Model                        $41 million           Software                         Series B

Black Ore                           $40 million           Commercial Services    Series A

Diligent Robotics              $26.5 million        Computer Hardware    Series B2

Osano                                 $25 million           Software                         Series B

Chipletz                              $23.2 million        Computer Hardware    Series B

CertifID                               $20 million           Software                         Series B

Terminal Industries          $17 million           Software                         Seedstage

SkyFi                                    $14.4 million       Commercial Services    Seedstage

Source: Q3 2023 Pitchbook-NVCA Venture Monitor

Cruise Halts “Robotaxis” in Austin and Nationwide

A Cruise self-driving car was undergoing testing in the SoMa District of San Francisco.

Cruise, an autonomous vehicle company of which General Motors owns 80 percent, announced Thursday the shutdown of its Robotaxi operations in Austin.

“The most important thing for us right now is to take steps to rebuild public trust,” Cruise wrote in a post on Twitter. “Part of this involves taking a hard look inwards and at how we do work at Cruise, even if it means doing things that are uncomfortable or difficult.”

Cruise shut down its autonomous vehicle operations everywhere, including San Francisco and Phoenix.

“In that spirit, we have decided to proactively pause driverless operations across all of our fleets while we examine our processes, systems, and tools and reflect on how we can better operate in a way that will earn public trust,” Cruise posted.

The move comes after the California Department of Motor Vehicles ordered Cruise to halt its operations in the state after an accident with a pedestrian and another vehicle involved a Cruise Robotaxi which dragged the pedestrian forward, according to a story in Reuters.

Axios Austin reported earlier this year that 19 complaints were filed with city officials about Cruise’s Robotaxis. No deaths or injuries were associated with those complaints, which included Cruise cars stopped on the road and Cruise cars being unable to recognize a traffic officer’s hand signals.

At SXSW in March of this year, Mary Barra, GM’s Chair and CEO, spoke in a session on “Self-Driving Cars: From Science Fiction to Scale.” At that time, she said she believed AVs are the future of transportation and an essential part of General Motors’ business.

Shortly after that, Cruise’s robotaxis service started to scale up in the Austin market, which was already testing the vehicles.

Cruise contends that AVs provide increased safety and mobility for those who cannot drive.

At SXSW, Kyle Vogt, Cruise CEO, said that Cruise had built its cars for dense urban areas, forcing them to solve problems such as construction zones, traffic light outages, and road blockages. He said the company had solved most of the technical and scientific risks.

Google Fiber is Looking for 20 Gig Internet Testers in Austin

Google Fiber is looking for testers in the Austin market to see what they can do with 20 Gig Internet.

The applications can be drug development, virtual reality, artificial intelligent humanoid robot assistants, flying cars, or something else.

According to Google, an organization or company might be an excellent candidate to test a symmetrical 20 Gig connection if it is downloading or uploading massive datasets, conducting research that needs significantly more bandwidth, or doing future-focused technology that needs lots of bandwidth.

“We are interested in finding firms that are doing things I haven’t even thought of yet,” said Nick Saporito, head of Multi-gig & Commercial Product.

Google launched a test for its 20 Gig product with the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s School of Science and Engineering.

“They’ve been doing a lot of things at their School of Science and Engineering from tackling big data sets to making virtual reality less virtual and more reality,” Saporito wrote in a blog post.

“But we know that’s just the beginning (like our recently launched 5 Gig and 8 Gig products),” Saporito wrote. “That’s why we’re looking for eight more organizations  — businesses, non-profits, educational institutions — to help test 20 Gig in Austin, Huntsville, Raleigh-Durham, and Salt Lake City.”

Austin currently has 1 Gig and 2 Gig products, and Kansas City has 5 Gig and 8 Gig available, Saporito said.

“Texas markets will get them later this year,” he said.

Google Fiber is currently available in Austin and San Antonio. Google began offering Google Fiber in Austin in December of 2014, and a year later, it announced plans to bring Google Fiber to San Antonio.

“We are very aggressively expanding the market in San Antonio and Austin and in Texas,” Saporito said. “We are very happy with how our Texas markets perform.”

“The 20 Gig is really a nice experiment for us,” Saporito said. “We have the technical capability to do it so why not test it out.”

The 20 Gig experiment is designed to generate as many technical learnings as possible, Saporito said. The second piece is understanding what future-looking use cases are for 20 Gig. Markets, he said.

“What’s coming down the pike in terms of Internet usage?” he said. “That’s really what we’re after here.”

Apply to be a 20 Gig tester here 

Cloud Security Companies Eagle Eye Networks and Brivo Receive $192 Million Investment from SECOM

Eagle Eye Networks, specializing in cloud video surveillance, and Brivo, which provides cloud-based access control and smart space technologies, Wednesday announced it received a $192 million investment from SECOM CO., LTD.

SEACOM, a security integration company, is investing  $100 million in Eagle Eye Networks and $92 million in Brivo. Both Austin-based companies are majority owned by Dean Drako.

Drako founded Eagle Eye Networks in 2012 and serves as CEO. He acquitted a majority stake in Brivo in 2015 and is its chairman.

“The SECOM investment underscores that cloud and AI are the future of physical security,” Drako said in a news release. “Both Eagle Eye and Brivo will use a significant portion of the investment to further develop AI that dramatically improves the security of enterprises and businesses globally.”

Eagle Eye Networks and Brivo integrate with many third-party technology providers, including the leading property management and Proptech platforms.

In addition, Eagle Eye and Brivo provide a fully integrated solution that global businesses use to manage risk, identify threats, and respond. The companies’ joint capabilities deliver real-time AI-enabled video and access control events analysis, optimizing safety and security.

Eagle Eye Networks will use the investment for continued development of its AI-based analytics capabilities such as Eagle Eye Smart Video Search, Smart Alarms, and Vehicle Intelligence, and to expand its worldwide operations.

Brivo will use the investment to grow sales and marketing, accelerate product development, scale support and operational functions, and evaluate strategic acquisitions. Brivo will also use the additional investment to continue expanding in Europe, Latin America, and Asia Pacific. It will also enhance the smart spaces and AI functionality in the Brivo Access Platform for its enterprise, multifamily, and commercial real estate customers.

“SECOM has a proud history of innovation going back to Japan’s first online security system for commercial use in 1966,” Sadahiro Sato, SECOM Managing Executive Officer. “We’re committed to delivering services and systems that deliver safety, peace of mind, and business efficiency. Our investment in Eagle Eye Networks and Brivo, the market leaders in cloud physical security, is an investment in our three companies’ mission: to provide the best technology possible to keep businesses and communities safe.”

Newchip Enters Into Bankruptcy Liquidation

By Laura Lorek, publisher and senior writer of Silicon Hills News

Newchip entered into bankruptcy liquidation last week.

The Austin-based company rebranded as Astralabs, doing business as Newchip and Newchip Accelerator, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on March 17th, listing $1.7 million in total assets and $4.8 million in total liabilities, according to its filing. But last week, the bankruptcy judge forced the company into Chapter 7 liquidation, according to a letter posted by its co-founder and CEO, Andrew Ryan.

“I deeply regret to inform you that our company Newchip Accelerator after 6 + years of supporting startups globally, has faced a series of unfortunate events which have significantly impacted our operations,” said Ryan, formerly known as Ryan Rafols.

Among its top unsecured creditors, the company lists Apex Funding Source of Miami with a $536,000 claim, Clear Finance Technology Corp. of Ontario, Canada, with a $1.5 million claim, and Iruka Capital of New Jersey with a $594,000 claim. All of those were listed as “merchant cash advances,” alternative financing for small businesses where the borrower pays the interest upfront, and the lender takes a percentage of the company’s future revenue until it’s paid back.

In addition, Newchip received more than $776,000 in taxpayer funds under COVID-19 relief programs. It lists the U.S. Small Business Administration as a top 10 unsecured creditor with a claim of $500,000 for a COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan.

Newchip also received two Paycheck Protection Program loans for $141,289 in March of 2021 and $135,100 in April 2020, which were both forgiven.

Newchip raised $7.9 million in funding from accredited and nonaccredited investors, according to Crunchbase. However, the company has a history of losses. It filed documents with the SEC reporting a net loss of $197,884 for 2016 and a $748,999 loss in 2017. And in 2020 financial filings, it claimed $4.5 million in tax loss carryforwards.

In 2020, Newchip reported earning $2.6 million in revenue from selling its accelerator program to startups and $781,000 in 2019, according to its consolidated financial statements.

Silicon Hills News has been in contact with more than a dozen startups that claim the company took their money and didn’t deliver on the promises of the accelerator program. And one startup founder, Angela DiMarco, co-founder of Uniquely Phenom Collaborations in New York, said she paid $7,500 to go through Newchip’s accelerator and was pleased with the program.

“The education part of it was like getting an MBA, and where can you get an MBA for $7500, you know,” DiMarco said. “I went from not knowing what a KPI was to now being very comfortable that I can walk into a room full of investors and negotiate a term sheet.”

But DiMarco said she wouldn’t get that chance with Newchip to pitch to investors. She was supposed to do her three-minute elevator pitch to investors last week, which didn’t happen. She said she paid an additional fee for that opportunity and would try to get her money back.

In Vancouver, Washington, John Laine is not a happy customer.

In 2020, Laine gave a testimonial in favor of the company during the accelerator’s onboarding process. He hadn’t yet started the program, but when he did, he was hugely disappointed. Laine has asked the company numerous times to remove his name and testimonial from its marketing materials, but they have not.

At the time, Laine had a fintech startup and wanted to learn about crowdfunding. So he paid $3,800 of a $20,000 fee to participate in the accelerator.

“I did the program for less than a week and a half, and I realized I was duped,” he said. “It’s the crappiest version of online education you can produce.”

Laine contacted his credit card company and canceled the rest of the installments.

“Every business owner I’ve ever known is an optimist, and they prayed on that optimistic personality,” Laine said.

Newchip promised him that they would commit a minimum investment of $100,000 into his startup and that they did that for every startup that went through its program. But, unfortunately, he never got an investment.

Laine said they prayed on a particular avatar, a founder looking for a solution to bring their company forward.

Jari Kemppinen, the founder of Soulbotix, based in Australia, which builds custom ChatGPT-powered metahumans, joined the Newchip accelerator in February and paid $6,000 for the “courseware that gets you nowhere.”

“Seeking funding in Australia is a hopeless endeavor,” Kemppinen wrote in an email. However, he was attracted to Newchip because it was based in the US and offered remote learning and participation without relocating. He also liked the company’s promised connections and introductions to Newchip’s extensive VC investment portfolio. Unfortunately, once Kemppinen joined the program, he found little help from Newchip.

“I found that they lacked one-to-one communication, and I was left alone to navigate an enormous amount of content without any help,” Kemppinen said. “They just seemed to rely on founders looking after themselves.”

Kemppinen has yet to get any introductions to investors and would like a refund.

This experience disheartens him. “I am beginning to think the startup funding ecosystem is corrupt and not worth it,” he said. Too much work needs to go into creating so much documentation to gain some funding, he said. “Making solid partnerships, being honest, and working with your customers and partners is easier. That is what will make you money.”

A former Newchip employee said the company hired Garibay Ventures, based in Austin, to send spam emails to thousands of startup founders worldwide to recruit new startups for its paid program with the promise of investor introductions.

Ahmed Zobi, CEO and founder of Syntr Health Technologies, based in Irvine, Calif., received one of those emails from Anthony Garibay, CEO and Founder of Garibay Ventures, who claimed to be an investor.

Garibay Ventures said it recently partnered with Newchip’s accelerator to “get extra exposure to their investors (which I am a part of),” according to the email. The email included a link to the Newchip accelerator application.

In November 2020, Zobi paid $4000 to participate in the Newchip program. Newchip told him the actual cost of the program was $30,000, but they were granting him a scholarship for $26,000. But when he got the 12-page contract from Newchip, it included a clause that gave Newchip warrants or the right to buy a certain number of shares in the startup at a set price. Zobi showed it to his lawyer, who advised him not to sign. He didn’t. And Newchip never followed up to make sure the contract got signed. Zobi participated in the program but got little value out of it. His assigned mentor emailed him and said he was traveling to London. He ghosted him after that. The mentor never responded to follow-up emails or meeting requests, Zobi said.

“At the end of the day, I knew something was off because they never even asked for the contract back,” Zobi said.

“I think they just cared about getting as many startups signed up as possible,” Zobi said.

Other startups that paid to participate in Newchip’s global accelerator program are complaining on social media, primarily LinkedIn, that the company took their money and left them without resources. In addition, some former employees are alleging harassment in the Newchip workplace and a hostile work environment, according to a former employee.

Newchip started in 2016 as a marketplace aggregating the best deals from various equity-based crowdfunding platforms. It also was selected to participate in the Sputnik ATX accelerator program in Austin.

Newchip was not an equity crowdfunding platform itself. But it billed itself as the “kayak of funding,” Its website allowed nonaccredited investors to invest in deals for as little as $100 at a time.

The company said it made money from deal listing fees, investment commissions, exchange transaction fees, data analytics, and partners.

Travis Brodeen co-founded Newchip with Ryan Rafols, who has since changed his name to Andrew Ryan.

In 2018, Newchip raised $647,000 from more than 160 nonaccredited investors at a $15 million valuation on the equity crowdfunding platform Wefunder. Its goal was “to be the NASDAQ for the alternative investment market.”

But somewhere along the line, according to a former employee requesting anonymity, things went wrong.

The Newchip Accelerator has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau and two complaints from 2022 claiming the company lied to them. One complaint stated the startup paid $6,000 to participate in the program with a money-back guarantee that if they didn’t raise funds through Newchip, the accelerator would refund their money. However, the startup did not raise funds, and Newchip refused to repay its money.

Do You Need Venture Capital to Build a Business?

Michael Ramirez, the founder of SEO technology company Evisio.co

Special Contribution by Evisio

Every startup in the world has one thing in common: a dream. From humble beginnings in a basement or garage, entrepreneurs set out to build the next big thing. It’s a tale as old as time and has always been part of the American dream.

For most entrepreneurs, there’s inevitably one major obstacle blocking the path to making this a reality – funding. No matter how great the offering is, growing a business without money is hard. But how far are you willing to go to make it a reality?

One Austin man is betting the house on his success – literally. Michael Ramirez, the founder of SEO technology company Evisio.co, has decided to forgo the traditional route of seeking funding from venture capitalists. Instead, he has listed his home on the market to secure the cash he needs to scale his business.

Rather than sacrificing equity in the company he has painstakingly built from the ground up with outside investments, Ramirez decided to grow his startup via “bootstrapping” (i.e., pulling yourself up by your bootstraps).  

While venture capital, or VC, tends to get a lot of attention, largely thanks to the success of companies like DoorDash, Airbnb and Uber, many founders are unaware there are non-traditional ways to fund their startups.

Before we provide some alternative methods for VC funding, let’s take a closer look at the traditional role VC has played, the recent impact events have had on the field, and discuss other ways entrepreneurs like Ramirez are finding ways to finance their startups – without giving up a chunk of their business.  

What is Venture Capital?

Venture capital is a form of private financing in which an investor, investment bank, or other financial institution puts capital into a startup or small business in exchange for a piece of equity. This investment can come in many forms, including operational capital, technical expertise, or management experience.

In many cases, VC is used as a short-term investment, where investors provide cash for startups to grow and build infrastructure and then exit once the company has reached a position where it can be sold to a corporation or receive equity in institutional public-equity markets.

While shows like Shark Tank and movies like The Social Network have reaffirmed the romantic image of a group of unknown entrepreneurs taking their business from the basement to the peaks of Silicon Valley remains, in reality, less than 1% of startups receive outside investment capital.

What has led to this more cautious approach? And what does it mean for aspiring business magnates? Let’s find out.

The State of VC Investments in 2023

On Friday, March 10, 2023, one of the world’s most prominent VC institutions, Silicon Valley Bank, fell victim to panic, resulting in the third-biggest bank failure in United States history. It was a problem that caught many investors off guard – but it shouldn’t have.

Investopedia estimated 97% of the bank’s deposits were not federally insured, which was particularly problematic for the tech sector, which has been hard hit by the aggressive rise of interest rates in an attempt to offset inflation.

The total damage of the fallout remains to be seen. Still, the highly interconnected nature of VC could lead to far-reaching concerns for both investors and the companies they have invested in, including the risk of companies being unable to pay employees or investors being unable to secure funds.

As a result, it seems likely that VCs will become less risk-tolerant, which means startups will find it more challenging to secure funding as VC investors become more selective.

This is far from the only issue with using VC to fund business growth. The field is also a largely insular community. According to a study by Richard Kerby, more than 80% of U.S. venture capitalists are men, and 70% are white. The study also indicates that nearly half of all VC investors studied at either Harvard or Stanford.

This has had the unintended consequence of creating what is known as “pattern matching,” in which investors make decisions about future investments based on past experiences.

In other words, because VC has typically included a lack of diversity in race, gender, and alma mater, it has created a cycle where white men from top universities continue to dominate the field.

This landscape makes it challenging for founders to secure funding and successfully scale once it has been secured. That’s why some entrepreneurs are thinking outside the box when it comes to financing their businesses.

Why a Local Entrepreneur is Selling His Austin Home to Bootstrap His Startup

Many founders are looking for ways to avoid the VC model and instead are seeking ways to bootstrap their startups, which is considered one of the safest and healthiest ways to scale. The primary means of accomplishing this depends on either the business generating enough revenue to fuel its growth or the founders successfully securing another type of investment, either from their assets, via their friends and family, or finding another traditional source of capital like a bank.

But there’s the issue – most people don’t inherit a fortune from a distant uncle, win the lottery  or have some other source of behind-the-scenes funding. Solving this problem requires outside-the-box thinking to find nontraditional ways to secure financing – exactly what Evisio’s Michael Ramirez has done.

A self-described “serial entrepreneur,” Ramirez was not born into the lap of luxury. Growing up in inner-city San Antonio, he saw his share of financial and social struggles and made it his mission to change his family’s economic status.

“Despite our economic hardships, my parents taught me how to be resourceful, fight through tough times and see opportunities where others don’t,” he said. ”For example, when I was laid off from my first job out of college, I asked one of the company’s owners if he’d hire me as a contractor. Most people wouldn’t think to do that, let alone have the guts to ask.”

His hustle mindset led him to move to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas at Austin, started his marketing agency, became an SXSW speaker, and now bootstrapped his own marketing Saas company in Evisio.co.

“Starting with my SEO agency (which I still operate), I was constantly seeking ways to streamline the process of getting webpages to the top of Google rankings,” Ramirez said.”That’s when an idea struck me like a thunderbolt, and Evisio was born.”

A platform designed to streamline every aspect of search engine optimization and improve results, it’s suitable for every level of SEO expertise, from old pros to absolute novices. Ramirez was immediately confident this was a winning idea.

“But that brought me back to the funding problem,” he said. “I first wanted to prove the concept before taking on debt and giving away a lot of equity. But I didn’t have the cash to fund it myself, and unfortunately, my family is not independently wealthy. So, I had to get creative.”

This didn’t happen by chance, however. Ramirez worked multiple jobs to save money as he researched properties in Austin that would make a good investment. He then used his savings to build the first MVP (most viable product) and update the home. Once satisfied that he had improved the house’s value, he listed it on the market with the idea of using the proceeds to scale this venture.

“Is it risky? Sure. But if I’m not willing to go all in for this, why should I expect anyone else to?,” he said. “But by the way, if you know anyone looking for a beautiful 4-bedroom, 3-bath home in the heart of South Austin, send them my way,” he added with a smile.

Why Some Entrepreneurs Don’t Want VC

Despite making the headlines, most startups aren’t using venture capital. In some cases, this is because of shaky business models or over-saturated markets that make a business unappealing to investors. In others, it’s a conscious choice.

Some of the more common reasons why founders may choose not to seek VC include:

  • A loss of control – By surrendering equity to investors, founders can lose a portion of control over where their business is headed. Venture capitalists are not usually silent partners, which means they will have a share in how the business grows.
  • Forced timelines – Rapid scaling is not something every business is suited to, but the clock starts ticking when an entrepreneur accepts money from VC investors.
  • Unnecessary distractions – Securing VC funding takes a lot of time and energy. This can take you away from other equally important tasks during the crucial first two years of a business’ life. 
  • A poor fit – Things like geographical limitations, scalability issues, and the need for physical inventory can make VC a poor fit, particularly for companies not in the tech world. 

So, how do the 99% of startups that fall outside the realm of VC investors grow? By bootstrapping, of course.

Alternatives to Venture Capital

Entrepreneurs will go to extreme lengths to fund their dreams and retain company equity. But not everyone is a gambler. Some people are naturally more risk-averse. Luckily there are still lots of funding opportunities – without sacrificing control.

Here are some ideas for financing your business:

  • Selling assets – You don’t have to sell your house to fund your company as Ramirez did, but if you have other assets you don’t mind parting with, this is a route to consider. This could be anything from the mint condition Mickey Mantle rookie card your dad left you, your summer home, or your stock in Microsoft. Just remember you’re gambling on yourself here.
  • Government loans – While the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) only makes direct loans to help businesses recover from declared disasters, it does back loans designed to help small businesses get the needed funding.
  • Government grants – The SBA provides limited grants to small businesses and federal funding to states and eligible communities to promote entrepreneurship.
  • Programs for minorities – With a commitment to supporting the development of minority-owned businesses, the SBA has funding and resources earmarked for businesses owned and operated by African Americans, Asian Americans, Hasidic Jews, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders.
  • Incubators – Business incubators provide specialized programs to help new entrepreneurs learn and grow their businesses. These come in many forms, including academic institutions, nonprofits, and for-profit property development companies. These programs do not generally directly provide funding, but they can point you in the right direction.
  • Bank loans – Most banks offer small business loans and financing to provide startups with a cash infusion. However, many business owners have found approval challenging, as traditional banks are unwilling to issue high-risk loans.

VC is Not for Everyone

Venture capital funding can be a godsend for certain companies. Companies we know and love, like Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, were all backed by VC. But it’s not the right choice for every business. In his book Lost and Founder, author and entrepreneur Rand Fishkin provide honest advice about when a startup should consider taking VC money based on his experience building Moz.com.

With the constant threat of a recession looming, investors are taking a more careful approach to startups, which may lead to some businesses being left out in the cold.

Luckily, there are options. Work through yours and make a careful decision about your next steps. Ramirez does not doubt that selling my house will provide returns many times over. But if you’re not as bold as he is, there are still many sources of funding you can employ.

Hypergiant Galactic Systems Awarded $61.4 Million U.S. Air Force Contract

Hypergiant Galactic Systems has received a $61.4 million Small Business Innovation Research Phase III contract from the U.S. Air Force.

The company, based in Blanco, received the contract to provide user interface and user experience development services for cloud-based command and control.

Hypergiant will perform the work in Blanco by May 4th, 2026. Hypergiant Galactic Systems is a subsidiary of Hypergiant, based in Austin. Mike Betzer, Hypergiant’s president, and CEO, lives in Blanco, about 50 miles South and West of Austin, where Hypergiant Galactic Systems is based.

Air Force Life Cycle Management, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contractor.

In 2021, the U.S. Air Force named Hypergiant Galactic Systems and 28 other companies as awardees on a potential $950 million contract. The contract is to build and operate systems across land, air, sea, space, electromagnetic spectrum, and cyber domains as part of the Joint All Domain Command Control program. In addition, the companies will compete to provide software and other solutions to the Department of Defense. The contract runs through May 2025.

Founded in 2019, Hypergiant’s customers include Sumitomo Corporation, Boeing, Schlumberger, Booz Allen Hamilton, and the United States Department of Defense. In addition, Hypergiant sells AI services, software, and solutions. The company has raised undisclosed venture funding from Sumitomo Corp. of America, Perot Jain, and other investors.

CharterUP Opens its Second Headquarters in Austin and Plans to Hire Over 100 Employees

As a kid, Armir Harris immigrated to the United States from Albania.

Harris learned the ins and outs of the transportation business at a young age from his uncle.

“I picked up the ground transportation business at the dinner table,” Harris said. “I had no plans on going into the transportation or bus industry at all, but shortly after college, my uncle got sick. He had a limousine and bus company, and I had to take over.”

At 23, Harris stepped in and then, in 2012, founded a company called Shofur, a charter bus service.

“As I started to scale Shofur, I realized that there were much bigger problems we weren’t solving in the industry,” Harris said.

Mom-and-pop operators with ten buses or less make up more than 80 percent of the nation’s bus companies, Harris said.

“There is very little transparency and very little to no accountability in the industry,” Harris said.

In 2018, Harris founded CharterUP, a real-time marketplace for charter buses with an Expedia-like model to provide customers with a better experience, Harris said. The company also sells its software to 600 bus operators on its platform.

This week, Atlanta-based CharterUp opened a second headquarters in Austin. It plans to hire more than 100 employees locally, Harris said. In addition, CharterUp announced it had hired Brian Showers as the company’s Chief Technology Officer, Nick Donelson as its vice president of product, and Evan Hopkins as vice president of supply.

Austin will serve as the company’s tech and product hub. However, the company’s sales, customer success, and finance operations will remain in Atlanta.

CharterUP’s customers include school athletics departments, government agencies, and corporations. The company takes a percentage of all transactions booked on its marketplace. It also licenses its software to bus companies to run and manage their fleets.

“We’ve been profitable almost every quarter since the inception through bootstrapping,” Harris said.

CharterUP’s reached $150 million run rate revenue in 2022 through bootstrapping, Harris said. In October, the company raised $60 million, in a Series A round from Tritium Partners, a private equity firm based in Austin.

In the past five years, CharterUP hired many technology and product employees who lived in Austin, and it made sense to make this its second headquarters, Harris said.

“Austin kind of grew organically, and as I got to spend more and more time in Austin, I realized that Austin was a thriving tech hub, and many companies were moving their headquarters to the Austin region as well,” Harris said. “So we recently decided to move our technology and products or technology headquarters to Austin, where I spend most of my time.”

CharterUP is also seeing increasing demand for its services in Texas, Harris said. CharterUP serves Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, and El Paso and is expanding into McAllen, Brownsville, and throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

The company has rolled out more than 160 buses in the Austin and San Antonio markets.

“You should be able to see them rolling around with the CharterUP logo on the buses,” Harris said.

Another thing driving demand is corporations moving people from outer suburbs to work in Austin and shuttles between San Antonio and Austin. Harris said the growth for corporate shuttles between Austin and San Antonio had grown over 280%.

CharterUP’s customers in Austin include H-E-B, the University of Texas at Austin, and Austin ISD. Harris said it recently signed a contract to provide Samsung with corporate shuttles. Tesla is also a customer, he said.

“One of the reasons why we also decided to move our technology headquarters to the area is we were confident that commerce and tech companies are still going to continue to move to the Austin market, and over time, Austin will grow as that will grow and will thrive as a tech hub,” Harris said.

SaaStock USA is Coming to Austin

SaaStock is Europe’s largest conference focused on Software as a Service or SaaS.

It takes place in Dublin, Ireland.

But this year, SaaStock is launching its first Austin-based SaaS conference for a three-day event running May 31-June 2.

The conference, which is called SaaStock USA, features panel discussions and networking. It brings SaaS founders together with funders to help them access capital to scale rapidly.

SaaStock plans to make its SaaStock USA conference an annual event in Austin.

The conference first launched in Dublin in 2016, and its most recent event in 2022 saw over 5,000 attendees, many of whom were founders, executives, and investors focused on the SaaS startup industry.

SaaStock chose Austin because of its history as a startup hub and as a host to other technology conferences with a strong content, networking, and entertainment focus.

SaaStock expects over 800 attendees for its inaugural event and expects to provide Austin merchants a $1.2 million economic boost from spending on lodging, food, and entertainment over the three-day event. The event organizers expect to see that number exceed $10 million annually as plans to grow the event take root over the next five years.

“We’re excited to make Austin our home for future SaaStock USA conferences. We’ve long believed that Austin was the perfect city for the U.S. version of SaaStock. Austin is home to a healthy SaaS startup sector and the overall startup ecosystem is among the most active in the country. The city’s vibrant festival and music scene fits the experiential approach we take with our conferences, which places value on helping attendees create lasting connections through networking at entertainment-driven venues,” Alex Theuma, CEO and Founder of SaaStock said in a news release.

The SaaStock USA conference will feature over 50 speakers with proven experience as startup founders, executives, and trendsetters. Some of the notable speakers include Jason Cohen, Founder & Chief Innovation Officer of WP Engine; Mary D’Onofrio, a Partner at Bessemer Ventures; and Godard Abel, co-founder & CEO of G2.

Since its inception, SaaStock estimates that SaaStock Dublin has had a cumulative economic impact of over $500 million in the form of capital investment, M&A transactions, and new business deals over the past seven years.

“We have been attending SaaStock Dublin for 5+ years and have found it extremely productive. Nowhere can you meet so many SaaS startups in one spot in such a short period of time. While we’ve found several investment opportunities attending the events, we’ve also benefited from the networking opportunities and a chance to learn more about trends impacting the broader SaaS sector,” Kyle Poyar, Operating Partner, OpenView, said in a news statement. 

SaaStock USA will feature some of the following events and programs:

  • SaaS.City (May 31): a one-day accelerator for SaaS workshops led by SaaS experts addressing five critical startup functions, including CEO/Founder, Marketing, Sales, Operations Efficiency, and Fundraising/Investment; locations to be announced. 
  • Startup Program & Global Pitch Competition (May 31 – June 2): a launchpad for select SaaS startups to gain valuable feedback from SaaS investors and VCs.
  • NightStock (May 31 – June 2): evening networking and entertainment includes a Welcome Party, Rainer Street pub crawl, and Closing Party. 

For more information about SaaStock USA or to buy a ticket, visit the SaaStock USA website: https://www.saastock.com/saastock-usa/.

Discovering the Next Big Thing: 5 Highlights from SXSW 2023

By Laura Lorek, Publisher of Silicon Hills News

Last year, cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens, blockchain technologies, and the metaverse dominated at South by Southwest.

This year, the buzz was all about conversational AI, particularly ChatGPT, which released GPT-4 during the conference. ChatGPT is a chatbot that uses conversational AI capable of understanding, processing, and responding to human language.

And one of its co-founders, OpenAI’s Co-Founder and President Greg Brockman, talked to Laurie Segall, founder of Dot Dot Dot Media, about the technology in a jam-packed keynote address.

  1. This is freakier than HAL in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. (My alma mater – the University of Illinois, gave birth to the fictional HAL) Conversational AI is a sea-change technology that will shake up the economy as much as the introduction of the Internet did. Key takeaways from Brockman’s talk were that ChatGPT is a breakthrough technology, and Open AI, the company behind it, has made significant efforts to make it accessible and user-friendly. ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot launched in November of 2022. “ChatGPT reached its first 1 million user milestone in a week, surpassing Instagram to become the quickest application to do so,” according to a UBS report. “ChatGPT-3 uses a generative pre-trained transformer (GPT) to generate largely identical text to human conversation. GPT is part of the broader family of large language models, which are AI models that understand and can generate text.” On March 13th, OpenAi launched ChatGPT-4, which surpasses the previous version in its advanced reasoning capabilities. During his keynote, Brockman said, “this app really took off and people started using it, and we could see the gap between what people thought was possible and what actually had been possible for quite some time.” Brockman also expressed concerns about deploying the technology in a way that could be potentially harmful. He recalled a dinner meeting in 2015 attended by co-founders of OpenAI, including Elon Musk, to discuss the future of AI and whether they could positively impact the technology. They saw the potential for AGI, artificial general intelligence, and felt a sense of urgency to steer the technology in a positive direction. OpenAI started as a nonprofit research lab, hiring PhDs and open-sourcing code, but later realized they needed to scale and raise funds to make a more significant impact. The company aims to align its incentives with a good outcome for humanity and believes AI should be an endeavor of humankind, not just one company or individual. But even Brockman seemed a bit scared of the technology and the future. He’s not the only one concerned. On Wednesday, a group of technologists, including Elon Musk, penned a letter requesting a halt to all giant AI experiments.

OpenAI Co-founder Greg Brockman on ChatGPT, DALL·E and the Impact of Generative AI | SXSW 2023

The past year proved that AI is here to stay. We have seen AI disrupt every major industry, from search engines to art and music. The change will be felt in nearly every aspect of our daily lives.

2. We can unlock health insights and prevent disease from more knowledge about our genes. Personalized healthcare is based on patient genetics. I was surprised to hear Anne Wojcicki, Co-Founder and CEO of 23andMe, talk about the company’s healthcare focus. During the pandemic, 23andMe acquired Lemonade, which allows the company to provide medical expertise to customers and deliver care through a clinician group, physician consult, and pharmacy. Wojcicki noted that consumers often feel disempowered in healthcare, while physicians increasingly recognize the importance of genetics in patient care. She talked about the importance of pharmacogenomics, which can help match patients with the best medications based on their genetics. Wojcicki also noted that financial incentives could sometimes conflict with preventive care, underscoring the importance of consumers taking control of their healthcare. Along those lines, Wojcicki suggested patients should bring their 23andMe reports to their doctors to inform their care. Wojcicki also said conversational AI has the potential to predict and prevent health conditions. She discussed the possibility of risk prediction as a means of prevention. She said most of the AI currently used in healthcare is focused on disease optimization rather than prevention, but 23andMe is working on tests and research to predict behaviors that could help prevent disease.

CIA/NSA/National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency at the SXSW Creative Industries Expo

3. Welcome to the surveillance economy. For the first time (let me know if I’m wrong here, but I’ve never seen it before, and I’ve been going to SXSW for a couple of decades), the National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency all had booths along with the National Science Foundation in the corner of the Creative Industries Expo. Also, David Cohen, the deputy director of the CIA, and three other high-level members of the CIA participated in a panel discussion on “Spies Supercharged: Tech and the Future of the CIA.” “We recognize that technology is advancing very, very quickly, the pace of technological change is greater today than it’s ever been, and technology itself is a domain in which we need to compete with our adversaries,” Cohen said. “it’s not just that we need to use technology to do our business we need to understand how our adversaries are using new and disruptive technologies against us, how they are weaponizing technology.” The CIA was at SXSW to “find partners who want to work with us to find people who want to come and work for us,” Cohen said. The CIA focuses on wireless technology like 5G and 6G, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and bioengineering, financial technology, and advanced power like the next lithium-ion battery. I also learned that the CIA puts spy gear into mascara tubes, and now I’ll never look at my makeup the same way again. At the same conference, Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst who leaked classified documents to WikiLeaks and went to prison for violating the espionage act, spoke on the need for more privacy and data protection. She said it’s not just governments monitoring communications; corporations increasingly use sophisticated surveillance and tracking technology to learn as much about their consumers as possible.

Cruise’s Origin AV

4. This is definitely not your father’s Buick or even my old Pontiac Firebird, for that matter. Autonomous vehicles are on the streets today, and more are set to come along with more electric vehicles. Cruise is an autonomous vehicle company of which General Motors owns 80 percent. Kyle Vogt, Cruise CEO, and Mary Barra, GM’s Chair and CEO, spoke with Emily Chang, a Bloomberg reporter, at SXSW in a featured session titled “Self-Driving Cars: From Science Fiction to Scale.” Vogt discussed how Cruise operates a “robotaxi” service in San Francisco and is scaling up its testing operations in Austin and Phoenix. The technology has moved from a science-fiction problem to an execution and scaling problem, Vogt said. Barra believes that AVs are the future of transportation and that they are an essential part of General Motors’ future. Vogt noted that AVs provide increased safety, mobility for those who cannot drive, and the potential for faster and more efficient movement of goods. There are distinct differences between self-driving and driverless cars, and confusion arises when companies market their products as self-driving when they are not fully autonomous, Vogt said. The goal is to have vehicles that work for the driver rather than the driver working for the car, Vogt said. Tesla’s marketing of its “full self-driving” feature confuses consumers, Vogt said. Vogt noted that Cruise had built its cars for dense urban areas, forcing them to solve problems such as construction zones, traffic light outages, and road blockages. He said the company had solved most of the technical and scientific risks. The need now is for robust infrastructure and software systems to operate large fleets of electric vehicles and balance supply and demand across the network, Vogt said. Cruise can expand into more towns and cities as more vehicles are manufactured, including the new “origin” vehicle. Vogt noted that its transformational design breaks away from the traditional car shape built around the driver. He also expressed concern about the U.S.’s approach to AV development and regulations compared to China, which is building infrastructure and incentivizing development. He suggests that the U.S. could be at risk of seeding leadership in AV automotive manufacturing. Overall, the automotive industry is transforming, with GM planning to have all of its light-duty vehicles electric by 2035, Barra said.

5. If the HAL and AI reference didn’t freak you out enough, then you need to know about brain implants. Brain-Computer Interfaces are being used with paralyzed patients today to restore some motor functions and regain independence. In a panel titled “Hello World: Brain-Computer Interfaces at Scale,” Tom Oxley, CEO of Synchron is focused on implantable BCI devices, which he called a neuro-prosthesis. Max Hodak, CEO of Science, who previously worked at Neuralink, also focuses on brain interface development and restoring vision. Synchron offers a different approach, which involves using technology that delivers electrode senses of stimulation into the brain using the blood vessels rather than requiring the removal of the skull to implant electrodes directly into the brain. Technological advancements that have made BCI possible include the miniaturization of electronics and wireless communications. But challenges still need to be addressed, such as ensuring lower power usage and immune barriers. The panelists also talked about the potential role of AI in BCI technology, with many current user interfaces being mediated by AI.  AI will likely play a role in the suite of tools enabling people to use BCI devices. In closing comments, Oxley with Synchron said he expects to have widespread commercial adoption of its BCI technology in the next three to five years. It is currently conducting clinical trials in the U.S. and enrolling patients.

GovExec and VMware Partner to Host In Focus: Public Sector Event in Austin on Importance of Secure Cloud Technology for Business Future

Sponsored Post:

GovExec, the market-leading sales and marketing intelligence company for government leaders and contractors, announced Friday their upcoming Austin event in partnership with VMware (NYSE: VMW), the leading multi-cloud services provider for all apps, enabling digital innovation with enterprise control.

As companies continue to scale, support a hybrid workforce, and need secure flexibility for their operations, cloud technologies become more central to the future of business. At In Focus: Public Sector attendees will hear from government and industry leaders who will explore their current conditions and the importance of secure cloud technology to serve their current and future needs.

EVENT DETAILS

What: VMware Explore In Focus: Public Sector

When: April 5, 2023, from 9 am – 1:30 pm CT

Where: The Bullock Museum, 1800 Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701

Speakers include:

  • Amanda Blevins, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for the Americas, VMware
  • Dr. Brian Gardner, Chief Information Security Officer, City of Dallas
  • Nassos Galiopoulos, Chief Technology Officer and Deputy Chief Information Officer, University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Mark Silis, Chief Technology Officer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Abdul Subhanis, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army

“We’re really excited to bring together such a strong group of public sector IT leaders — especially in one of the top American tech hubs,” said George Jackson, Vice President of Events at GovExec. This event will be fun, informative, and fast-paced. It’s a must-attend for anyone interested in cloud systems.”

To learn more about or register for the event, please click here.

About GovExec:

GovExec’s data and insights set the standard for depth, accuracy, and impact for government leaders and contractors. GovExec provides data-driven strategic sales and marketing intelligence solutions that accelerate revenue growth to fuel market success. The platform is powered by the largest and most sophisticated database in the public sector, reaching over 3.3 million government influencers each month.

Ethernet Inventor Bob Metcalfe Named 2022 Recipient of ACM A.M. Turing Award

The Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) has awarded the 2022 ACM A.M. Turing Award to Bob Metcalfe, recognizing his contributions to Ethernet’s invention, standardization, and commercialization.

This award, often called the “Nobel Prize of Computing,” is named after Alan M. Turing, the British mathematician who laid the foundations of computing. It carries a $1 million prize with financial support from Google.

Metcalfe, an Emeritus Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and a research affiliate in computational engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, invented Ethernet in 1973 while working as a computer scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center. He drew on ideas from ARPAnet, particularly packet switching, and an idea from the University of Hawaii: Aloha Network, a method for sharing a communication channel.

With the help of David Boggs, a co-inventor of Ethernet, Metcalfe built a 100-node PARC Ethernet, which was replicated within Xerox to create a corporate internet. Metcalfe left Xerox and founded 3Com in 1979, raising venture capital in 1981. The company shipped its first big product, Ethernet for the IBM personal computer, in 1982 and went public in 1984.

Today, Ethernet is the main conduit of wired network communications worldwide, with data rates ranging from 10 Mbps to 400 Gbps, and emerging technologies with 800 Gbps and 1.6 Tbps. Ethernet has become an enormous market, with revenue from Ethernet switches alone exceeding $30 billion in 2021, according to the International Data Corporation.

Metcalfe’s original design ideas have enabled the bandwidth of Ethernet to grow dramatically, making it possible for every computer to be networked. Ethernet remains the staple data communication mode, particularly when prioritizing security and reliability.

Bob Metcalfe’s 1973 sketch of his original “Ethernet” vision. Photo courtesy of Bob Metcalfe and the Palo Alto Research Center Inc., a Xerox Company. 

Metcalfe has received numerous honors for his work, including the National Medal of Technology, IEEE Medal of Honor, Marconi Prize, Japan Computer & Communications Prize, ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award, and IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal. He is also a Fellow of the US National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Inventors, Consumer Electronics, and Internet Hall of Fame.

The ACM President, Yannis Ioannidis, said, “Ethernet has been the dominant way of connecting computers to other devices, to each other, and to the Internet. It is rare to see a technology scale from its origins to today’s multigigabit-per-second capacity. Even with the advent of WiFi, Ethernet remains the staple mode of data communication, especially when security and reliability are prioritized. It is especially fitting to recognize such an impactful invention during its 50th anniversary year.”

Jeff Dean, Google Senior Fellow and SVP of Google Research and AI added, “Ethernet is the foundational technology of the Internet, which supports over 5 billion users and enables much of modern life. Today, with an estimated 7 billion ports around the globe, Ethernet is so ubiquitous that we take it for granted. It’s easy to forget that our interconnected world would not be the same without Bob Metcalfe’s invention and his enduring vision that every computer must be networked.”

Metcalfe will receive the ACM A.M. Turing Award at the annual ACM Awards Banquet, which will be held on June 10 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.

Manchester and Austin Forge Connections Through Music and Innovation at SXSW 2023

Photo by Thomas Jackson / TyneSight Photographic

By Laura Kobylecky, Special Contribution to Silicon Hills News

During SXSW 2023, The Courtyard on 4th Street was transformed into an official SXSW venue that hosted various events focusing on British innovation, culture, and music. One of these events brought Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, to the stage to talk about what’s happening in Manchester.

Burnham made connections between the growth and innovation patterns in Manchester and Austin.  I also spoke with a citizen of Manchester to get their perspective and watched a performance from a Manchester band at an SXSW show.

I sat down with Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, to talk further about this connection.  Burnham explained, “The cities are so similar, to be honest.” After “coming to Austin for the first time in 2018 to go to South By,” he was “immediately struck by the similarities: a fast-growing city, a young city, a music city.”

He was also impressed by Austin FC, a football club that was founded in 2018, saying that “he loved it.” He described Manchester as “an old football city” and said, “There’s not much about English football that I don’t know.” This adds a particular layer of depth to his emphatic statement, ” They’ve built something new, something exciting… it’s got all the right kind of values built into it.” He believes that the “new fan culture” being built in Austin is something that “England will start to look to.”

He connects Manchester’s “passion” for football and live music culture with the culture of Manchester, stating that it’s “Something about the working class roots of Manchester. Working people have hard lives, and they needed something on the weekend.”

He explains, “Manchester is like Austin; we have an ecosystem of smaller venues.” Like Austin, these venues receive support from “lots of people who go and watch the new bands that are open-minded about music.” According to Burnham, “you go out any night of the week in Manchester, and you’ll find a few hundred people watching a new band.”

Burnham talks about the historical connections between Manchester, Austin, and SXSW. He said that “South By’s founders were regularly in Manchester in that period in the 90s and the early 2000s” and believes they were inspired by Manchester’s conference called “In the City,” which he describes as “similar” to SXSW.  Burnham describes this as something of a crossover and “not just by chance” but rather a sort of “cross-fertilization.”

Manchester is also concerned about some of the same issues as Austin. Affordability threatens the scene’s survival in both Austin and Manchester. Burnham believes that Manchester has “got a worry actually” because it remains “a working-class city,” but some of the working class may not be part of the music scene.

He states, “These days if you want to make it in the music industry, you’ve got to have money or be from a family that has money because it’s getting much harder to break through.” He thinks this is something that “should worry us all… because sometimes it’s those young people who come from those circumstances who become sort of the biggest personality, the character, and if that’s lost, then music is much the poorer for it.”

He also discusses “the risk” of Manchester perceiving “to trade on past glories: The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Oasis, New Order, Joy Division.” This can lead to situations where Burnham believes “we’ve kind of looked back too much, and we need to look forward more.”

Burnham’s more personal contribution to this is “a new initiative called Mayors Artist of the Month.” At “the last week of every month,” he has an open application, and from this, he chooses the “’ artist of the month,’ and they get airtime on the radio.” He says, “I promise you, I go out running, and then I listen to them all.”

Another similarity between Austin and Manchester is that Manchester will launch its own “new global music conference,” according to Burnham. He describes it as “not meant to be a rival to South By,” but he does draw comparisons between the two. This conference, he claims, “is about a forum for debate and for resolution of some of these issues in the industry.” He sees it as something that “counterbalances South by in many ways,” including the timing. Beyond the Music will take place in October.

On Saturday, March 18th, I returned to The Courtyard for the British Music Embassy. I spoke to Rob Brown, managing partner at a PR agency in Manchester’s MediaCityUK , to see how a non-government official feels about the Manchester/Austin connection. Brown has spent time in both Austin and Manchester and sees a kinship between the cities, saying that “they’re both boom cities.”

He explains, “you can see in the skyline of both cities they’ve changed immeasurably over the last ten years.” Brown says that skyscrapers may be typical in the US, “it’s quite unusual in the UK; it’s only really London and Manchester that have tall buildings.”

He also sees a cultural connection between the cities: “they’re both very vibrant music capitals.” Even though “Austin has more live venues than Manchester,” Brown still believes “you can see a great band every night of the week in Manchester.”

Brown is excited to be here at SXSW. He’s a passionate music fan, so enthusiastic that he’s already twice seen “The Golden Dregs,” a UK rock band.  This is his 10th SXSW, and he’s already planning to come back again next year.

On Friday, March 17th, I saw Ist Ist, a Manchester-based band, play at The Velveeta Room, an official SXSW venue. They played a show full of post-punk energy with tones that ranged from heavy rock to mellow emotionality. The lead singer, Adam Houghton, informed the audience that this band is from Manchester.

Manchester culture has made a connection with Austin at SXSW.

Photo by Thomas Jackson / TyneSight Photographic.

Billionaire Mark Cuban and SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman Speak on Entrepreneurship at SXSW Event Hosted by ZenBusiness

At South by Southwest, ZenBusiness hosted a talk on entrepreneurship with Billionaire Mark Cuban and U.S. Small Business Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, the highest-ranking Latina in a government office.

Austin-based ZenBusiness, a tech platform that makes it easy for anybody to start and run their own business, has helped form about 500,000 small businesses since its founding in 2015, said Michael Fanuele, ZenBusiness senior vice president, who moderated the discussion.

“Our purpose is unleashing the entrepreneur in everybody,” he said.

To start off, Fanuele asked SBA Administrator Guzman and Cuban about their first entrepreneurship experiences.

Guzman recounted how she grew up as the daughter of a small business owner.

“My dad bought his first veterinary hospital when I was one year old in East Los Angeles and grew it to chain of five veterinary hospitals,” Guzman said.

She spent time in his office and saw firsthand her dad’s passion for serving his customers.

“He worked harder than anybody I knew,” Guzman said.

Her dad also did community vaccination clinics and provided free services to his clients in need, Guzman said. Her dad ingrained in her “this grit and determination to really fulfill whatever it is that I was working on with such passion,” she said.

Guzman turned being seen as an underdog and being underestimated into an advantage. Her mother fought for her to be in gifted and talented programs at school. Her mother fought for her to have a seat at the table.

“It gave me a voice, confidence, and drive to feel that I can expect more,” Guzman said.

In middle school, Cuban was always the kid selling something. In college, he had side hustles, and after that, he joined Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh.

“I got in trouble because I saw an article in a magazine, and I clipped it and sent it to the CEO of the bank, and my boss and his boss and his boss did not like that, so you know, so I was the person that was always stepping out, so I knew at some point that I was going to have to work for myself it was just a question of when I would get there,” Cuban said.

Fanuele asked about the bar Cuban owned and ran at Indiana University.

Cuban ran parties at the Motley’s Pub, the hot bar on campus. When it got shut down, he bought it.

“We opened before I was even 21, but one day, they busted us too, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me because otherwise, I’d still be, not that there’s anything wrong, but I’d be running a bar in Bloomington, Indiana,” Cuban said.

After working at Mellon Bank, Cuban moved to Dallas and founded MicroSolutions, which he eventually sold to CompuServe for $6 million. He also co-founded AudioNet, an online streaming service, and sold it to Yahoo for $5.7 billion in stock. Cuban then bought the Dallas Mavericks National Basketball Association team. And since 2011, Cuban has been a “Shark” on ABC’s Shark Tank. And most recently, Cuban launched Cost Plus Drugs, an online pharmacy providing low-cost drugs.

Fanuele asked Cuban and Guzman to name some characteristics that define entrepreneurs.

“For so many entrepreneurs who are starting businesses today, it’s women and people of color. It’s this drive to try to achieve their version of an American dream of business ownership,” Guzman said. “That drive to create prosperity, to build wealth, to try to enter into spaces that they’ve not been able to before, I think that’s a unique thing about what the face of entrepreneurship looks like today.”

Other traits are grit, determination, flexibility, agility, ability to change, resilience, and vision, Guzman said.

Everyone can be an entrepreneur, Cuban said. “We’re all problem solvers.” The hard part is finding what you are innately good at, Cuban said.

 “Once you find something you could be good at, then it’s just a question of fear,” Cuban said.

Entrepreneurs have to cross that line and commit themselves to do it. But it takes a lot to act on it, Cuban said. Daymond John, CEO of FUBU and another Shark investor on Shark Tank, calls it the power of broke, Cuban said.

“One of the defining elements of an entrepreneur is you can’t be afraid to be broke because you will go broke at some point,” Cuban said.

Cuban recounted living with six guys in a 3-bedroom apartment and sleeping on the floor in his early days.

“You know it was nasty, I had my one towel I stole from motel 6,” Cuban said. “It was really disgusting, but it was the best thing ever because you know the power of broke; you got nothing to lose, and you go for it.”

And when your buddies are stepping over you to go to their job, and you’re starting this company, you realize that there’s only one direction to go, and that’s up, and that’s the power of being an entrepreneur, Cuban said.

“And we all have it, but taking that first step and finding the things we’re good at are the challenges,” Cuban said.

And the fear is warranted because half of all businesses fail in the first five years.

The SBA can provide tools and resources so that that fear can be reduced, Guzman said. She said that the SBA has more than 1,600 resource partners nationwide that focus on financial and capital readiness.

And beyond SBA loans, the federal government awards more than $4 billion yearly for research grants through SBIR.gov, Guzman said.

“Our growth model is to get you funded and also connect you to the largest buyer in the world, which is the federal marketplace,” Guzman said. It’s a $500 billion marketplace, and at least 1/4 of that is spent with small businesses and innovative startups, she said.  

The government grants are non-dilutive cash which means you don’t have to pay it back, Cuban said.

“When you’re starting a business, sweat equity is the best equity,” Cuban said.

Quantum Computing Startup Strangeworks Completes $24 Million Funding Round, Led by Hitachi Ventures and Backed by IBM and Raytheon Technologies

Quantum computing startup, Strangeworks has announced the completion of a $24 million round of funding.

The Austin-based company previously raised a $4 million seed stage round, bringing the total funds raised to $28 million.

Strangeworks, founded in 2018, reported Hitachi Ventures led the funding round with investment from IBM, and Raytheon Technologies. It also had follow-on investments from seed-stage investors Lightspeed Venture Partners, Great Point Ventures, and Ecliptic Capital.

Strangeworks, which has 21 employees, said in a news release that the investment allows Strangewowrks to offer a broader range of technologies beyond quantum computing, including quantum-inspired, high-performance computing, and artificial intelligence.

“Today’s announcement represents a significant milestone for Strangeworks,” Will Hurley, known as Whurley, the company’s founder and CEO, said in a news release. “Five years ago, I took the stage at SXSW for our first quantum computing keynote. Since that day, this team has stayed focused on our core mission, continuously beating industry expectations while utilizing only a fraction of the resources compared to the industry. Raising the Series A from these exceptional investors in this challenging economic climate sends a clear message to the market on where enterprise companies are placing their bets in a race to create quantum value.”

The funding comes after Whurley’s keynote speech at the 2023 SXSW conference using all AI-generated text and images.

Hitachi identified quantum computing as a critical technology to advance society and developed its own quantum technologies and quantum-inspired solutions, Norihiro Suzuki, Ph.D. and CTO of Hitachi, said in a news release.

“Quantum computing has the potential to help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems, from fighting climate change to curing fatal diseases that require far greater computational power than is currently available in classical computers,” Suzuki said. “The Strangeworks platform removes barriers to access quantum and quantum-inspired solutions creating customer value today.”

Raytheon’s investment in Strangeworks aligns with its customers’ interests, Dan Ateya, president and managing director at RTX Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of Raytheon Technologies.

“We believe Strangeworks’ platform and their ability to make quantum and high-performance computing more accessible can support a wide range of applications in the aerospace, defense, and commercial sectors.”

‘Quantum computing is here, but exploiting its advantages requires rare know-how and lots of capital,”  Ray Lane, managing partner of GreatPoint Ventures, based in San Francisco, said in a statement. “Strangeworks democratizes quantum computing by opening proprietary platforms to consumption-based usage, and this is how large tech markets are unleashed.”

PentoPix Wins Best in Show and Entertainment Category at SXSW Pitch Awards 2023 for AI-assisted 3D Animation Platform

By Laura Kobylecky, Special Contribution to Silicon Hills News

PentoPix won the 2023 SXSW Pitch Awards in the “Entertainment, Media & Content” category. PentoPix also won the “Best In Show” award at this competition.  PentoPix uses AI-assisted technology to transform text into 3D animations.

SXSW Pitch showcased innovators and tech industry pioneers, from “indie tech companies to trailblazing startups” (1). The event featured 40 interactive tech companies in 8 different categories. The startups pitched in front of a panel of judges.  

I sat down with Volha Paulovich, Co-Founder & COO of PentoPix, to talk about her experience at the Pitch Awards. When asked for the shortest summary of her company, a demonstration of her freshly-honed pitching skills, she stated, “PentoPix is an AI-assisted platform that brings creativity and efficiency together by converting scripts into 3D animated videos for storyboarding and pre-production.”

She was very excited about winning the Best in Show Award at SXSW Pitch and said, “It’s surreal; I haven’t processed it. It’s the best outcome we could have expected. And in startups, you never expect the best outcome to happen.”

Paulovich found the SXSW Pitch awards to be a unique experience. She explained, “I pitch almost every day …I didn’t really think about it much, and then coaching started, and we shook things up completely, and it was great because it kind of never happens, and I’m really glad that we did.”

The process of SXSW Pitch involved some hands-on training. Paulovich described the process “Every startup gets a coach we get to meet a few times.” There are a required number of meetings “we have a minimum bar of, I think, two times, but you can do more… I did more, for sure…probably four. The experience also included a coach who “can guide you through the process of what it’s like on the day or how to structure your pitch better, leave comments about slides, how to prepare for Q & A.

Paulovich compared the experience to that of an athlete and spoke highly of her coach, referring to them as “absolutely amazing” and the overall experience as “something new and different.”

The SXSW Pitch experience was unique in the startup world, according to Paulovich “And it’s a level of support that you rarely get in startups, especially when it comes to the pitch.”  The pitch experience normally means pitching “to an audience of investors or potential users.” For these early-stage startups, “it’s kind of their job to find why your startup won’t work,” meaning that “you don’t really get to hear the honest feedback because everyone is so critical.” The SXSW experience means having a coach with “a completely fresh eye on you,” and Paulovich described this added value as “amazing.”

When asked more about what she learned from the SXSW Pitch experience, Paulovich described how she and her team “started tailoring things towards people we are meeting, and it just gave us this understanding.”  She reflected, “Always there are people who are not a match, and it’s okay. We are not a gold coin so everyone loves you.”

She emphasized the value of targeting a pitch, stating that “there are funds that invest in specific categories, everyone has investment criteria, and it’s okay when you don’t match. It’s not the end of the world; we’ve got to keep pushing, and that’s great to understand.” This wisdom came from “the exposure to so many different walks of life and so many different startups, to so many different investors.”

Winning this award had a meaningful effect on Paulovich and her company. She says, “Now, since we won, we think bigger, like, a much bigger scale.” The SXSW Pitch award is, according to Paulovich, “the top of the top.” This award inspired her team with a vision that “we are onto something, we are doing great things, not that I didn’t believe it before, but now we have this external validation.”

The external validation led to some more immediate changes. Paulovich explains, “to be honest, I was going to take a holiday after South By, and now, I don’t feel like doing that anymore.” The encouragement from this experience inspired the feeling that “It’s time to push and get out there and continue all the conversations we started, connect to all the people we met, and do more.”

The motivation here came from more than just winning the award. Paulovich found being in Austin for SXSW to be uplifting in many ways, saying that “in general, just being here in Austin, it gives that level of motivation and inspiration.” It makes people believe that “we can do it. We will achieve all these great things and milestones in the future,” and this “kind of fights all the mental health issues and all the negativity that may be involved in building a startup.”

The SXSW experience seems to have inspired Volha Paulovich, Co-Founder and COO of PentoPix and winner of the Best in Show Award at SXSW Pitch, and perhaps this inspiration will be shared by others.

Strangeworks CEO Whurley Wows the SXSW Audience with an AI-Generated Presentation on QuantumAI’s Potential to Shape the Future

Five years ago, Will Hurley launched his quantum computing company, Strangeworks, on the main stage at South by Southwest.

On Wednesday morning, he returned to SXSW to present the power of quantum computing and artificial intelligence to solve the world’s biggest problems and change how everyone works and lives.

“I think there’s a lot of dystopian fears out there; I think we should be talking about the utopian stuff,” Hurley, known as Whurley, said.

He spoke on “QuantumAI: Why your future depends on the convergence of Quantum Computing & Artificial Intelligence” to a packed ballroom of about 600 people. Other people were turned away at the door when the room filled to capacity.

During his presentation, Whurley spoke from a teleprompter with his speech on a handheld iPad.

He spoke on “how quantum computing and artificial intelligence are two of the most rapidly advancing, controversial, and debated fields in technology today.” Austin-based Strangeworks develops quantum computing software and has 21 employees. The company has raised $4 million in seed-stage funding.

“The convergence of these two technologies will play a significant role in shaping the future of our species and the world as we know it,” according to Whurley.

Throughout his presentation, he hinted that he was doing something different. And at the end, he revealed that everything he said was created with ChatGPT 4, the conversational artificial intelligent agent created by OpenAI. He said he came up with the idea when he submitted the teaser for the talk on the SXSW programming site. Then he used ChatGPT to come up with a presentation outline. And a day ago, he created the entire presentation with ChatGPT and AI-generated images. He re-did the presentation when the latest version of the software was introduced yesterday.

All of the images on the slides were created with AI. And a magazine, “Schrody Cat,” handed out to attendees, was created in 3 hours. “Everything written, seen or printed in this book has been co-created with AI,” according to a statement on the publication.

At the beginning of his presentation, he hinted that he was doing something different and encouraged the audience to take pictures because he would tell them about them at the end of the presentation.

He started by explaining quantum computing, a technology that uses quantum mechanics to solve problems too complex for classical computers.

Quantum computing massively speeds up computer power and can lead to improvements in drug discovery by a lot, Whurley said. He said it could also lead to more efficient batteries and fix environmental problems.

Quantum computing has many applications in cryptography, weather forecasting, and optimization of train schedules and supply chains.  

Quantum-AI technology can also have a profound social impact.

“We are building technologies that could get out of our control,” Whurley said.

The fear is of creating a machine like the T-1000, a shapeshifting android Terminator assassin featured in the movie “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

The fear is the robots will kill us or make people their pets, he said. The technology could also lead to income inequality and economic upheaval, Whurley said.

But it can also lead to social and economic progress, Whurley said. Monitoring banking systems in real time can lead to greater accountability in financial systems. It can also lead to improved technologies for sustainable energy. It can lead to higher productivity with autonomous robots and drones for agriculture and manufacturing, and as Whurley predicted, 100 percent unemployment by 2060.

At the end of his presentation, Whurley also said that he stopped blogging on March 13th, 2018, and that his website is now filled with hundreds of articles that were AI-generated while he was on stage.

At Whurley’s book signing following his presentation, Hugh Forrest, Co-president of SXSW and Chief of Programming, was nearby. When asked about what he thought of Whurley’s presentation done exclusively with AI-generated content and images, he said he didn’t see it. But he had heard it was a successful event. But he doesn’t think technology will replace human creativity anytime soon.

“I think Whurley’s middle name is interesting and eccentric, it’s part of his brand, and it has served him well,” Forrest said.

In 2030 when SXSW meets, everyone will understand better how to implement AI robots as virtual assistants, Forrest said.

So much of SXSW is built on creativity, human creativity, and imagination, that’s what makes SXSW, and that’s not going away, he said.

“We will have more assistance from more machines, more software, more hardware in the future,” Forrest said.

Colossal Aims to Revive Woolly Mammoths by 2028, Says CEO Ben Lamm at SXSW Conference

Colossal is on track to produce a woolly mammoth by 2028, said Ben Lamm, the company’s CEO, and Co-founder.

“I think we’re on the path for that,” Lamm said during a discussion on Colossal’s De-Extinction Mission at South by Southwest Tuesday afternoon. TechCrunch’s Managing Editor Darrell Etherington interviewed Lamm in Salon H of the Hilton Austin Downtown.

Colossal Co-Founder George Church is a Harvard geneticist who is spearheading the team of 40 scientists and researchers to bring the woolly mammoth back to life.

Lamm said the gestation period for a woolly mammoth is 22 months and can’t be sped up. The company is using Asian elephants to carry the baby mammoth to term. It also has built some artificial wombs to grow woolly mammoths in the lab. Some of the other projects Colossal’s working on, like the Tasmanian Tiger, or Thylacine, or the Dodo bird, might be brought to life sooner than the woolly mammoth because they have shorter gestation periods, Lamm said. Thylacine has a gestation period of less than a month.

Colossal, founded in September of 2021, is one of Texas’ unicorn companies and a moonshot company tackling big projects like bringing the woolly mammoth back from extinction along with the Tasmanian tiger and the Dodo, a bird species extinct since 1662. The synthetic biology company has raised $225 million and spun out Form Bio, a software platform, which raised a $30 million Series A round.

Colossal has 90 employees and 40 external collaborators and labs in Austin, Dallas, Boston, and Melbourne, Australia.

“Our goal is every animal we work on we want to reintroduce back into their natural habitat,” Lamm said.

Colossal has been working with Alaska natives and conservationists about introducing the woolly mammoth back to Alaska. It is also in talks with people in Canada, Lamm said.

There are 54 mammoth genomes, and Colossal is working with the University of Alaska to re-introduce Alaskan mammoths, Lamm said. Colossal has agreed to provide 200 mammoths, he said.

Ben Lamm, Colossal CEO and Co-Founder

“That re-wilding process has to be very thoughtfully done,” Lamm said. “We are looking for people to be collaborators in it.”

Colossal is being transparent and is focused on educating the public, which is essential when doing something this big, Lamm said.

Colossal’s goal is to bring keystone species back to the environment they were removed from, Lamm said.

Reintroducing the extinct species will benefit the whole ecosystem, Lamm said. He mentioned the successful reintroduction of Grey wolves into Yellowstone National Park. The wolves had been absent from the parkland for decades when the park brought them back in 1995. Lamm said it had been one of the most successful reintroductions of a species to an environment.

Linchpin for the ecosystem

Colossal focuses on linchpin species that are essential for the ecosystem, with the animals going mainly extinct because mankind has a history of murdering them, Lamm said.

Lamm said that Colossal has looked at other species, like the Steller sea cow, which has been extinct since 1768 and would benefit kelp forests by bringing it back. But there’s nothing “we can gestate it in,” he said.

“There are certain species we can’t go after,” he said.

Beth Shapiro, Ph.D., Colossal Scientific Advisory Board member, and lead paleogeneticist, is heading up the work on the de-extinction of the Dodo bird and has to create reference genomes. Lamm said it could cost between $6,000 to $25,000 to do bird genomes.

“Before we can do ancient DNA, we have to do DNA for existing species,” Lamm said.

Colossal isn’t trying to create clones. It is creating close proximities to extinct species, Lamm said.

Etherington asked Lamm if he could make a real Pokémon.

“We aren’t ever going to focus on Pokémon,” Lamm said.

Humanity faces more significant climate issues and problems to solve, he said.

“After we solve all the climate issues, we can start getting weird,” Lamm said.

Etherington asked Lamm about how Colossal makes money.

Lamm said he looks at de-extinction as a systems problem and runs Colossal like a software company.

“We look at monetizing all of the technologies that come from it,” Lamm said. He said that Form Bio was its first spin-out company, but it plans to do more.

Colossal has gotten negative feedback, and some people think what it’s trying to do is like Jurassic Park.  Lamm said thoughtful and informed people give Colossal feedback that is critical. He brings them onto the company’s advisory boards to improve their projects.

“I do not think Colossal is the solution to the biodiversity crisis,” Lamm said. “I think we’re bringing attention to the crises.”

Environmentalists and conservationists today are massively undercapitalized. Colossal doesn’t replace existing conservation efforts, Lamm said.  Lamm said that Colossal didn’t take money away from conservation efforts but brought new money into it.

“People still need to support these existing causes,” he said.

In the Q&A at SXSW, Lamm got asked several questions about what happens if things go wrong, and Colossal creates a nightmare situation and deviates from the original genome to create a Jurassic Park situation.

“We are trying to be very thoughtful of narrating it down versus engineering for fun,” Lamm said.

He said Colossal also faces regulatory oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency and others. He said it doesn’t plan to create mammoths for food or build battle mammoths.

SXSW 2023 Innovation Award Winners Announced

By Laura Kobylecky, Special Contribution to Silicon Hills News

South by Southwest announced the 2023 Innovation Award winners during an awards ceremony at the Austin Convention Center on Monday evening.

The winners are:

Immersive

Move.ai of London, an OS Application, uses AI, computer vision, and machine learning to capture high-fidelity motion without the traditional markers and suits. It helps enable motion capture with things like off-the-shelf cameras and mobile phones.

Media

For Tomorrow: an Innovation Ecosystem of Los Angeles helps connect insights, innovators, resources, and inspiration and encourages people with actionable on-the-ground solutions to reach out to them and join their network.  The company strives to “create what matters.”

Convergent Gaming

Time Investigators of Bourne End, U.K., is a mystery-solving game that uses augmented technology to further immerse players in the experience.

Audio

Nomono Sound Capsule of Trondheim, Norway, created a wireless, self-contained recording kit for easy recording in the field and on the go. The technology democratizes audio by enabling “anyone to capture good audio.” The award was significant to them as there were “40 people sitting in Norway waiting in the middle of the night with vodka” to find out the results of this competition.

Enterprise DEI Workplace

Sephora of San Francisco is a multinational retail brand with skincare, makeup, beauty, fragrance, and hair products.

Mid-Sized DEI Workplace Innovation

Bitwise Industries of Fresno, CA, uses apprenticeships to bridge the gap between working in the tech industry and learning. The company offers a living wage to apprentices working on real-world projects.

Rising DEI Workplace Innovation

Included.ai of Seattle uses DEI data science to build a people analytics platform.  Its process can help companies connect with talent from diverse pools.

Urban Infrastructure

Power From the People of Brooklyn, NY partners with property owners to help them secure permits and add public chargers to their properties.

Artificial Intelligence

Bird Buddy Smart Bird Feeder of Kalamazoo, MI, is an AI-powered bird that lets people know when a bird visits and takes pictures. The company’s mission is to reconnect people with nature; on average, users spend 10-11 minutes daily looking at birds.

Renewable Design

The Pollinator™ Kit for Renewable Design of Alameda, CA, makes a kit that lets creatives use renewable polyurethane to build and prototype.

Social Impact

The 35*2 Free Initiative of Towson, MD, creates programs that improve college-educated black women’s economic and financial mobility.  The company provides career coaching, financial guidance, and retroactive scholarships.

Sustainability

World’s Whitest Paint–Thinner Than Ever of Lafayette, IN, Purdue University researchers developed the paint that helps to “fight global warming by reducing the need for air conditioning.”

Health and Med Tech category

NeuraLight – Digitizing Neurology of Tel-Aviv, Israel, introduces “novel ways of diagnosing and monitoring” issues like Alzheimer’s.

Patient Safety Technology

Kalogon of Melbourne, Fl, makes a smart cushion. It is helping the world live an active seated life by improving posture, relieving pain, and increasing blood flow.

Best in Show

GAF Beats the Heat by Cooling Streets of Parsippany, NJ. is an initiative aimed at helping cities address urban heat at a community level by developing insights and assessing the effects of current cooling strategies.

From a pool of hundreds, over 50 finalists were considered for the 14 different categories.  The winners were announced in a ceremony hosted by Austin comedian Carlton Wilcoxson, who created enthusiasm throughout the night.

The Innovation Awards also included the induction of Dan Rather into the SXSW Hall of Fame.  He was greeted with a standing ovation. Rather said this award was significant to him because when he was young, he saw “the lights of Austin” as “a beacon of creativity and knowledge and infinite possibilities.” He lives in Austin and still believes in the strength of that beacon and told the audience, “keep dreaming, keep exploring, keep connecting.”

Before the presentation, energy was high in the line that curled around the corner of the ballroom. Various people speculated whether they would be granted access to the event or if capacity had been reached.

Michelle Vincent, who spoke at the SXSW session You Should Start Your Own Indie Agency attended. She was particularly excited about the Innovation awards, explaining that she was “running a company where we are trying to transform and innovate, so we’re really curious to see what SXSW is doing to set the standard.”  Her particular interests included the creative side of things, artificial intelligence, the metaverse, and film.

VC Jim Breyer Encourages Health Tech Innovation and Interdisciplinary Collaboration at SXSW Fireside Chat with UT President Jay Hartzell in Austin

As great as Austin’s trajectory has been, the best is yet to come.

That’s the gist of the conversation between Jay Hartzell, president of the University of Texas at Austin, and Jim Breyer, founder, and CEO of Breyer Capital. They participated in a fireside chat on “Building a Hub of Academic & Business Innovation at South By Southwest Saturday at Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden on Rainey Street.

Breyer called Hartzell one of “the great presidents of a university, if not the best president of a university in the United States.”

“I have never seen a leader doing so many tactical and strategic things for the university, the city of Autin, and the state of Texas,” Breyer said.

In the movie, The Graduate, the advice given to Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin Braddock, is the future is plastics. Breyer referenced the movie when giving his advice.

“My advice to all of you….study linear algebra,” Breyer told the crowd. Linear algebra is the base of quantum technology, he said. Breyer is bullish on quantum but thinks the technology is still five to ten years away.

Breyer also encouraged interdisciplinary thinking between mathematicians, technologists, healthcare researchers, and more. Breyer said his mother, Eva, was a brilliant mathematician from Budapest, Hungary. His mother and father migrated to the United States, and his mother turned down a fellowship at Stanford to follow his father, who received a fellowship at Yale. Breyer was born in New Haven, Connecticut. He got his undergraduate degree from Stanford and his MBA from Harvard. As a venture capitalist, he was an early investor in Facebook, now known as Meta. He has also invested in Etsy, Spotify, and Grammarly.

About 15 years ago, Breyer began focusing on med-tech startups that use computational and artificial intelligence focused on medicine. He works with the best medical institutions to spin out startups. The first one Paige.Ai spun out of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  It uses artificial intelligence for cancer diagnosis and treatment. The next spinout was from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. So far, Breyer Capital has made ten similar investments.

Breyer said a lot is happening with artificial intelligence and proprietary data at hospitals and universities. It starts with a great medical team and a license with the hospital or cancer center. Breyer said his job is to find the brilliant 30 to 40 men and women to form the startup. He said those employees are mid-career technologists who come from other technology companies like Apple, Alphabet, and Amazon.

“I’m always working on one or two of these,” Breyer said. “That’s what brings me here today.”

Breyer and his wife, Angela Chao, moved to Austin from California three and a half years ago. He had been on the board of Dell and spent years traveling to Austin. Michael and Susan Dell are dear friends, he said.  They encouraged them to move, and they finally did.

“We’re here forever,” Breyer said. “We love Austin, and we love the Hill Country.”

Since opening Breyer Capital’s Austin office, the firm has invested in many Austin-based startups, including OJO Labs, Sana Benefits, Homeward, DISCO, data.world, ZenBusiness, and ClosedLoop.ai.

Breyer said many universities are really siloed and don’t communicate well among the various departments.

“What Jay and the University of Texas are doing is breaking down many of those siloes,” Breyer said. “It takes leadership to break down those silos.”

Breyer pointed to the recent hiring of Dr. Claudia Lucchinetti as the next Dean of the Dell Medical School at UT Austin as a positive move to encourage more collaborations. Lucchinetti previously worked at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Not having a medical school for 100 years, Hartzell said UT doesn’t have to break down silos.

“They can build it in a way that is collaborative,” Hartzel said. “A lot of the university’s strengths are around robotics, AI, and technology. How do we get companies connected with us and find ways to work with us?

That means engaging with companies that want to hire students or that have a problem they want UT students and faculty to solve, Hartzell said.

“Universities don’t’ understand how daunting and complex it is for companies to build relationships,” Breyer said.

Breyer said he’s never seen it work with just a research person in charge of licensing technology.

“Innovation, entrepreneurship, the natural partnerships don’t happen,” Breyer said. “It comes down to the leadership, faculty, and post-docs. It’s happening here in Austin the way it doesn’t happen in other places.”

Hartzell asked Breyer what UT could do to support those collaborations.

Breyer said that UT Austin could continue attracting phenomenal talent, building affordable housing, and working hard to find intersection points. He said the idea is to get collisions between brilliant people to develop new ideas. Proximity and location are essential to make that happen, Breyer said. It’s important to have centers of excellence together.

“Not everyone needs to be around Austin, Texas downtown,” Breyer said.

Breyer suggested UT create a quantum-oriented center about 30 minutes from downtown, and he mentioned Stanford Research Parc in Palo Alto as a model. Breyer advised UT to own the land, and Hartzell agreed.

Another strength is Austin’s close proximity to San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas-Fort Worth, where phenomenal hospitals and educational institutions exist, Breyer said

MD Anderson sends data to our data scientists to build a model of a person to predict how the treatment is going to go, Breyer said.

“I truly believe in this area of AI and medicine,” Breyer said. “With the use of technology, we are making humans smarter.”

 One-third of prostate and breast cancer diagnoses are incorrect, Breyer said.

“With technology, I’ve seen the cycle move from 10 days to two days, and the accuracy is 95 percent,’ Breyer said.

U.S. Regulators Plan to Cover all Depositors at Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank and Investigate What Happened

Tech startups at South by Southwest could breathe a little easier on Monday after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. announced Sunday that it would cover Silicon Valley Bank’s depositors.

It also will cover depositors affected by the closure of Signature Bank. On Friday, regulators took over SVB, based in Santa Clara, Calif., with $210 billion in assets, making it the second-largest bank failure in history.  Federal regulators also took over New York-based Signature Bank with $118 billion in assets, the third largest banking failure in U.S. history.

The largest bank failure was in 2008 when Seattle-based Washington Mutual, with $308 billion in assets, collapsed.

“Over the weekend, and at my direction, the Treasury Security and my National Economic Council Director worked diligently with the banking regulators to address problems at Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “I am pleased that they reached a prompt solution that projects American workers and small businesses and keeps our financial system safe. The solution also ensures that taxpayer dollars are not put at risk.”

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. insures deposits up to $250,000 at banks. But many startups had millions in SVB and ran payroll, accounts payable and other expenses out of the bank. Covering the uninsured depositors at SVB and Signature Bank ensures that the companies can access those funds to run their businesses.

“These actions will reduce stress across the financial system, support financial stability and minimize any impact on businesses, households, taxpayers, and the broader economy,” according to a joint statement from the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, and the U.S. Treasury.

In addition, the Federal Reserve Board on Monday announced that Vice Chair for Supervision Michael S. Barr is leading a review of the supervision and regulation of Silicon Valley Bank in light of its failure. The review will be publicly released by May 1.

“The events surrounding Silicon Valley Bank demand a thorough, transparent, and swift review by the Federal Reserve,”  Chair Jerome H. Powell said in a statement.

“We need to have humility and conduct a careful and thorough review of how we supervised and regulated this firm and what we should learn from this experience,” Vice Chair Barr said in a statement.

ICON Plans to Unveil a 3D Printed Performance Center at SXSW

At SXSW 2023, ICON plans to unveil a 3D-printed performance center at the Long Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday.

The event will begin with a discussion, “a Moonshot for Affordable Housing,” with ICON CEO Jason Ballard, Bjarke Ingels with BIG, Michaelle Addington with the University of Texas, and Sarah Satterlee with Mobile Loaves and Fishes, at 2:30 p.m. It will be followed by a reception and concert on the terrace with live music from Primo the Alien, The Bros Fresh, and Tameca Jones.

SunPower and Rewiring America’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) hosted a cocktail hour at ICON House Zero to showcase its technology on Saturday. The event featured a bluegrass band, an open bar, and tacos.

Austin-based ICON, a sponsor of SXSW, built the 2,000 square foot, three-bedroom 2.5 bath home featuring its 3D printed wall system, which replaces a building system. Its walls are made with the company’s proprietary cement-like material called “lavacrete.”

The house in East Austin was 3D printed by ICON’s next-gen Vulcan construction system and designed by Lake/Flato.

ICON has a history of doing big things at SXSW. In 2018, the company won the South by Southwest Accelerator pitch competition for its construction technology. ICON also generated a lot of buzz when it built a 3D printed home in East Austin in two days during SXSW using its 3D printer.

That first permitted 3D-printed house cost about $10,000 in materials. The 350-square-foot house was created as a proof-of-concept house in partnership with New Story.

The next year, ICON unveiled its “Vulcan II” 3D printer that can quickly print up to a 2,000-square-foot house at half the cost.

In 2021, ICON raised a $207 million Series B round of financing led by Norwest Venture Partners, one of the largest fundraising rounds for an Austin-based company in history.

And last year, ICON received a NASA contract worth $57.2 to develop construction technologies that could help build the moon’s habitats, landing pads, and roads. NASA is planning for long-term human exploration of the moon under Artemis.

SXSW Announces Winners of the 2023 Pitch Competition

By Laura Kobylecky, Special contribution to Silicon Hills News

The 2023 SXSW Pitch competition winners are Reality Defender, Climatiq, PentoPix, GPx, Reach Pathways, SXD Ai, Numbers Protocol, and Urban Machine.

The 15th annual SXSW Pitch competition, presented by ZenBusiness, occurred Saturday and Sunday at the Hilton Austin Downtown. It featured 40 tech companies from eight categories pitching in front of an audience of SXSW attendees, media, venture capital investors, and a panel of judges. The winners were announced Sunday night at an awards ceremony.

Reality Defender of New York, which created a deep fake platform, won the Artificial Intelligence, Voice, & Robotics Technologies category. Enterprises can use Reality Defender’s platform to flag fraudulent users and content. Their presenter says they are “the only one doing this right now” regarding their particular methods and how they detect deep fakes. 

Climatiq of Berlin, Germany, won the Enterprise & Smart Data Technologies. They use scientific data to “build climate intelligent solutions.”

PentoPix of London, United Kingdom, which uses AI-assisted technology to transform text into 3D animations, won the Entertainment, Media & Content Technologies category.

General Prognostics GPx of Boston, a company allowing physicians to remotely and non-invasively monitor blood biomarkers vital for managing chronic disease, won the “Food, Nutrition, & Health Technologies” category. The company’s process is similar to “continuous glucose monitoring,” minus the needles. The presenter emphasized that similarity and talked about how it could improve the quality of life for those individuals. 

Reach Pathways of Chicago won the Future of Work Technologies category. The company uses a “‘metaversity’ ecosystem” to connect talent and opportunities. It “rewards students for finding jobs and completing real-life and in-game tasks” and gamifies the recruitment system. 

SXD Ai of New York won the Innovative World Technologies category. It is a “tech-powered design platform” that is trying to make “creative visions into zero fabric waste clothing” that lower cost and carbon footprint without sacrificing beauty. Their presenter emphasized that, in the next few years, they would like to see one-third of the clothing “that we’re wearing right now” be zero waste. 

Numbers Protocol of Taipei, Taiwan, won the Metaverse & Web3 Technologies category. The company claims to be “building the most comprehensive solution to make digital media traceable and verifiable.” Its website describes the company as “a decentralized asset network for creating community, value, and trust in digital media.” It aims to make “digital media traceable and verifiable” to address issues like “misinformation, copyright, and royalty distribution.”

Urban Machine of Oakland, California, won the Smart Cities, Transportation & Sustainability Technologies. Category. The company is on a mission to build a sustainable future and plans to do this by “salvaging millions of tons of wood waste from construction and demolition.” They use “AI capable robots” to reclaim “old wood for reuse into locally sourced, premium lumber products.” 

Judges evaluated the companies on Creativity, Potential, Goodness, Functionality, and Team/People. The winner for each category received $4,000 and a trophy, two comped badges for the 2024 Interactive Festival, and a gift bag.

SXSW Pitch 2023 also honored its “Best In Show” winner, PentoPix.

Special awards were also presented to AMA — Environmental Agents for Best Bootstrap company. It creates “phygital” tools that integrate physical and digital elements to “improve people’s lives and their urban environments.” 

LeadrPro won the Best Speed Pitch award. The company directly connects sellers with software buyers. This category emphasized the unique skills and abilities it takes to funnel the whole mission and energy into a mere minute of time. 

The “Best in DEI” (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) award went to CreditRich, a company that “rounds up users’ spare change to pay their bills intelligently and optimize credit scores.” Their website explains that their “mission is to reduce poverty by giving people access to easy-to-understand financial education materials.” Their presenter told the audience that diversity is important to the startup scene, but currently, “less than 1% of funding goes to black founders.” They emphasized that we must “be the change that we all want to see.” 

Silicon Valley Bank’s Failure Could Ripple Through the Economy and Impact Austin Tech Startups

Isabella Casillas Guzman, the U.S. Small Business Administrator, and Mark Cuban, Billionaire Tech Entrepreneur at ZenBusiness SXSW panel Sunday morning

The Silicon Valley Bank failure can have downstream consequences depending on how the government responds to it, said Mark Cuban, billionaire tech entrepreneur.

“The rich people got wiped out already,” Cuban said at a South by Southwest panel discussion Sunday morning. “What’s at stake is the depositor. If they can’t get their money out come Monday, you ain’t getting paid. If you don’t get paid, others don’t get paid.”

SVB, which had $209 billion in total assets and $175.4 billion in total deposits at the end of 2022, failed on Friday. SVB is where a large share of VC firms and VC-backed startups all across the country held deposits, according to the National Venture Capital Association. It’s the second-largest bank failure in U.S. history behind Washington Mutual in 2008.

The investors of SVB are out of money, Cuban said. All those people who had deposits over the FDIC insured $250,000, that’s tens of thousands of companies that need access to their money for inventory, payroll, and accounts payable, Cuban said. If they don’t get access to their funds, it could have substantial ripple effects throughout the economy, he said.

“The Feds have to come in and say we’ve got you,” Cuban said. The bank got hit with a liquidity crunch, he said. “The federal government has to say all deposits will be made whole. I know that’s scary, but that’s the reality.”

Isabella Casillas Guzman, the U.S. Small Business Administrator, also participated in the SXSW panel discussion and said U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen was working closely with bank regulators on the collapse. She said that many of SVB’s depositors are small businesses and are critical to the U.S. economy.

“This weekend is critical,” Guzman said. Regulators are working to determine the right actions to ensure the U.S. economy remains strong.

On Sunday morning’s Face the Nation TV show, Secretary Yellen said SVB’s failure stemmed from a rise in interest rates. And that many of the depositors were small businesses and that the regulators were working on a solution for them, she said. But the Federal government didn’t plan to bail out the investors and owners of the bank.

“The problems of this bank, from reporting about its situation, suggest that because we’re in a higher interest rate environment, assets that it holds, many of which are Treasury assets, or mortgage-backed securities that are guaranteed by the government lose market value, and the problems of the tech sector aren’t at the heart of the problems of this bank,” Yellen said on Face the Nation, according to a show transcript.

SVB’s bank failure is the buzz around SXSW, the annual technology conference held in Austin every Spring.

 The bank backed a lot of startups locally, said Ross Buhrdorf, CEO of Austin-based ZenBusiness.

“We ran our business out of it,” Buhrdorf said. He spoke to Silicon Hills News Sunday morning after an SXSW panel his company moderated.

“We’re scrambling to figure out how to run day to day,” he said. “Like a bunch of us are.”

Buhrdorf, founding Chief Technology Officer of HomeAway, which sold to Expedia and is now known as VRBO, is also an active angel investor in Austin and has backed dozens of companies. All of them used SVB, he said.

ZenBusiness is one of Austin’s home-grown Unicorn companies. Founded in 2017, ZenBusiness runs an online platform to help small businesses incorporate and stay compliant with regulators. It raised a $200 million Series C round in late 2021, valuing the company at $1.7 billion.

ZenBusiness is not exposed financially, Buhrdorf said. He said it diversified its bank deposits in several banks before the bank failure. But ZenBusiness’ payroll is run out of there, he said.

“You don’t just change that and the next day go to another bank,” he said.

SVB’s Collapse Hangs Heavy Over SXSW in Austin

Two characters from the Roku City party at SXSW Friday night

South by Southwest kicked off Friday on the same day Federal regulators took over the failed Silicon Valley Bank.

It’s the second-largest bank failure in U.S. history behind Washington Mutual in 2008.

Silicon Valley Bank is “where a large share of VC firms and VC-backed startups all across the country held deposits,” according to the National Venture Capital Association. As of Dec. 31, 2022, the bank had about $209 billion in total assets and about $175.4 billion in total deposits.

Bank customers still have access to funds up to $250,000, the amount the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. insures. But others will have to wait to recoup their uninsured monies.

In an SXSW panel discussion on the Silicon Heartland with CNBC Journalist Rebecca Fannin Saturday morning, Venture Capitalist Jim Breyer said he began hearing about problems with SVB a week ago and advised 90 percent of Breyer Capital portfolio companies to establish an alternative bank account.

It’s too early to predict what’s going to happen, Breyer said. More details will come to light on Monday, he said.

SVB collapse: VC Jim Breyer & author Rebecca Fannin at #SXSW

VC Jim Breyer in Q&A with author Rebecca Fannin about Silicon Heartland and a major impact of SVB collapse on tech and venture

Meanwhile, Roku, which has an office in Austin, filed a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission reporting approximately $487 million held at SVB, representing approximately 26 percent of the company’s cash and cash equivalents as of March 1st. Its deposits with SVB are largely uninsured, and it “does not know to what extent the company will be able to recover its cash on deposit at SVB.” But the company said it believes it has sufficient capital to meet its needs for the next 12 months and beyond.

On Friday evening, Roku had an invitation-only party at the Riley Building downtown, transforming it into a Roku City, a Willy Wonka and Alice in Wonderland-type experience. It had customed characters dressed in purple outfits handing out purple boas, berets, and sunglasses, and Roku served purple martinis and prosecco cocktails at a rooftop bar. A DJ played music. Waiters served purple hors d’oeurves to guests. The party was rocking despite the bank failure.

But not everyone is in the party mood at SXSW. Reign Ventures canceled its Reign Ventures House events at SXSW because of the SVB collapse. It sent out a Tweet with its sincerest apologies.

“We are sorry to miss you, and we are sending out our support to all the startups and VCs being impacted during this challenging time,” according to a statement.

It’s still uncertain what effect the bank failure will have on startups in Austin.

The NVCA sent out a news release saying it “has been closely monitoring the SVB situation as it unfolds to help the startup community navigate this unprecedented turbulence.”

With the FDIC takeover of SVB, the NVCA said, “there will be immediate, short, and long-term impacts on the startup ecosystem.”

“NVCA is discussing the potential consequences of a failure of this central part of the financial plumbing of the innovation ecosystem with a range of policymakers and industry leaders,” according to the news release. “The implications for company and fund operations are far-reaching.”

The biggest concerns are startups’ inability to access their deposits greater than the FDIC-insured amount of $250,000. That means some companies might not be able to cover payroll.

“Without access to additional funds, or if access is delayed, companies will be faced with difficult decisions ranging from furloughing employees to potentially shutting down,” according to the NVCA. “These decisions could have a lasting impact on the industry and the country.”

TechCrunch reported in a story posted on Friday that the SVB collapse is the talk of SXSW. Some panelists were so distracted by the bank’s failure that they kept checking their phones during panel presentations to ensure their money was secure at their own banks.  

At SXSW, Ingrid Vanderveldt Provides a Sneak Peek at SHEconomy Virtual World, Which Aims to Boost Female Entrepreneurship

In 2021, Empower a Billion Women topped the list of Austin’s fastest-growing companies on Inc Magazine’s list.

Ingrid Vanderveldt founded the company in 2013 and launched a healthcare business to supply personal protection equipment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vanderveldt announced last week that she had sold EBW Cares Distributors to Shield Manufacturing, based in Alpharetta, Georgia. She discussed the deal at her SXSW presentation Friday titled “Be The One: Unlocking the $28 Trillion SHEconomy with AI” at the Hilton Downtown Hotel. And Alison Bagwell, CEO of Shield Manufacturing, attended the event. Bagwell is an engineer formerly with Kimberly Clark. She has more than 50 patents and has used the bulk of them to drive more than $500 million in sales over the last decade, according to a news release.

 “While the deal remains private, it is estimated to be valued at over $100 million,” according to a news release. The companies first focus will be building its cleanroom glove facility in Sandersville, Georgia, which is expected to produce over 2.2 billion gloves annually in its Phase I. Shield cleanroom gloves will serve pharmaceutical, medical device, biotech, chip manufacturing, and other controlled professional lab environments.

Vanderveldt created Empowering a Billion Women to reach one billion women across the globe and help them start and scale ventures through mentorship, education, and community. Vanderveldt is a former Entrepreneur in Residence of Dell and has led ventures and initiatives that combined have driven over $1 billion in impact reaching over 700 million people worldwide, according to Vanderveldt.

When she heard a statistic from the United Nations that it would take 300 years for gender parity, she thought she needed to do more.  She said she wanted to use technology to build a bridge, break down doors, and transform lives.

So she’s launching SHEconomy.com, a metaverse world built on technology, blockchain, and using artificial intelligence and machine learning, Vanderveldt said.

“The word Sheconomy was first coined in 2007,” according to Frost & Sullivan. “It refers to a new economy driven by the increase in female consumers in industries like tourism, healthcare, food, beauty and wellness, culture, media, and entertainment.”

 “Together, we can move the needle,” she said. “We can create the new future we want to see.”

Vanderveldt said it’s impossible to do big ideas without a team, so she has partnered with Cristina Diaz, founder of Minero, and Bobby Henebry, founder of HBCC LLC and Elway Capital LLC.

“As a technologist myself, it’s easy to think we can make all kinds of things happen with data, but we need relationships, and we need to bring people together, “ Vanderveldt said.

Today, 84 percent of women and diverse leaders running businesses don’t make over $100,000 in revenue annually; only 3 percent will get over $1 million, and .003 percent will get over $10 million, Vanderveldt said.

The SHEconomy World will bring people together in the virtual world to make real-life connections, Vanderveldt said. It will launch in November, she said. She said the focus would be on helping women connect to corporations and investors to move the needle of their progress as entrepreneurs.

At SXSW, White House Science Advisor Arati Prabhakar Emphasizes the Critical Role of Research and Development in Driving U.S. Economic Growth

In California in the early ‘90s, a man bought a ketchup bottle, and when he got it home, he found that it contained less ketchup than the specified weight.

That turned out to be true, said Arati Prabhakar, now Chief Advisor on Science and Technology to President Joe Biden and director of the White House Office Of Science And Technology Policy.

Heinz had new packaging material, and its sensors had miscalibrated how much to fill the bottles, Prabhakar said. At the time, she was the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a 122-year-old agency.

An investigation and a consumer protection lawsuit against Heinz ensued, and Heinz agreed to overfill ketchup bottles in the state of California for a year to get even with consumers, Prabhakar said.

“NIST just works, and you can count on it,” Prabhakar said. “It’s the invisible work of government in our society that just works.”

At the NIST, Prabhakar “reinforced the agency’s long-time mission in measurement science and technology that underpins commerce and high-quality manufacturing,” according to the White House.

Prabhakar spoke Friday afternoon in Salon B of the Hilton Austin Downtown Hotel during a South by Southwest Panel titled “Achieving America’s Aspirations through Science, Technology, and Innovation.” Austin Carson, founder and president of SeedAI moderated the discussion.

Prabhakar was the first woman to lead the NIST. She later served as director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Prabhakar, who moved with her family to the United States from India as a child, is the first woman and immigrant to serve as the director of OSTP.

Prabhakar also has Texas roots. Her family relocated from Chicago to Lubbock when she was 10. She received her electrical engineering degree from Texas Tech University. Then she became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology and earned an M.S. in electrical engineering.

Prabhakar also spent 15 years in Silicon Valley as a venture capitalist. She formed a nonprofit organization, Actuate, to open access to opportunity for everyone in the technology industry and focus on climate, health, trustworthy data, and information technology challenges.

In her new role as director of OTSP, Prabhakar said it’s one place to see the whole chessboard of research and development in science and technology in the U.S.

“Our job is to nurture and shape and strengthen that whole ecosystem,” she said. “Every major technological advance, our progress in society does not come from one technological model or place. The answer is you need all the pieces.”

And that ecosystem is getting bigger under President Biden, Prabhakar said. Prabhakar highlighted President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, $740 Billion to provide billions of dollars in new climate-related federal spending. It passed congress, and President Biden signed it into law in August of 2022. And she mentioned the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, which President Biden also signed into law in August of 2022. It provides nearly $50 billion in additional investments in American semiconductor manufacturing.

The U.S. originated the semiconductor industry, then it globalized, and eventually started getting very concentrated in one part of the world, Prabhakar said. She said the pandemic showed the U.S. needs to strengthen its domestic semiconductor manufacturing and research and development industry.

“The R&D part of the semiconductor work will keep production here,” Prabhakar said.

Investment in research often takes years to come to fruition, Prabhakar said.

For example, in 2012, when Prabhakar was director of DARPA,  a geneticist and Air Force Colonel warned about a future pandemic and the fact the U.S. still didn’t know how to develop vaccines. That problem led her to kick start the development of rapid-response mRNA vaccine platform, which made the development of the COVID-19 vaccine fast, safe and effective.

“We at DARPA were investing for a purpose – a vaccine platform for the future,” she said.

At the time, the mRNA research was being focused on cancer, a “tragically forever reliable and lucrative market,” Prabhakar said.

Everyone thought it was the dumbest idea they had ever heard of to do mRNA research on vaccines, she said. But then, testing with the Chikungunya and Ebola viruses, people saw that it could be possible, which happened around 2018, Prabhakar said.

That early research made it possible for Moderna to ship its first COVID-19 vaccines within 42 days from when they got the spike protein, Prabhakar said.

She said that early pivotal investment in research later made something happen in real time.

Of course, not all investments turn out as successful as that, and that’s the point of research and development, Prabhakar said. She recalled a launch system that blew up on the pad and an airship that didn’t fly.

“We had many things that did not pan out quite as expected,” she said.

This year, the U.S. is requesting $210 billion for research and development, which is a record request, Prabhakar said. But it’s needed, she said.

“We’re a big country, and we’ve got big ambitions, both public and private,” Prabhakar said.

One goal is to boost innovations in many of the regions throughout the country. In addition, Prabhakar said every child in America should have the opportunity to find out if a science and technology career is for them. That’s something that needs to happen, she said.

In the U.S., innovators, scientists, and entrepreneurs also need to continue going after big, bold, hairy, audacious goals, she said. She said that work on artificial intelligence, brain implants, and biological technologies would continue to improve people’s lives. Prabhakar said there is no better time in history to be alive than now. And continuous improvement is the goal, she said.

“I just want the future to be better than the past,” Prabhakar said.

Free Events, Panels, Discussions, and Parties at SXSW 2023

South by Southwest is best done with an official badge. The SXSW badge lets you into all the keynote talks, panel discussions, and some of Austin’s best parties, movies, music, and more.

But if you don’t have a badge, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the festivities. You can attend many badge–less events–some are free, some charge a ticket, and almost all require an RSVP. On the eve of the big kickoff for SXSW, it’s time to fill your calendar with events.

Don’t worry if plans change. SXSW is known for serendipitous encounters. Magic can happen with an unscheduled meeting in a hotel lobby or bar. So be open to talking to strangers.

And remember to use ridesharing whenever possible, wear comfortable shoes, drink a lot of water (bring a refillable water bottle with you), bring a phone charger or carry an extra battery pack, and be open to chance encounters of the creative kind.

SXSW has its own list of top free events. It includes Austin Industry Day at the Creative Industries Expo on Wednesday, March 15th. The Expo is open to all Austin industry professionals – no credential required from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Austin Convention Center.

Capital Factory House at SXSW – kicks off with the Capital Factory Startup Crawl Friday evening at 5 p.m. No badge is required, but it does require RSVP and tickets.

The Inc. Founders House at Foxy’s Proper Pub, 201 Brazos Street  – SXSW, runs from March 10-13th and is open to non-badge holder entrepreneurs and features curated conversations, cocktails, and more. Request an invitation here. March 10-13th.

Fast Company Grill at Cedar Door Bar & Grill – 201 Brazos Street is also open to non-badge holders. It features unique content, exclusive product demos, tasting and interactive experiences, and networking. March 10-13th.

SHE Media takes place March 11th and 12th at The Native at 807 East 4th in Austin. It will examine the science and storytelling around women’s whole health. Attendees will hear from experts and thought leaders, including Katie Couric, Maria Shriver, Christy Turlington Burns, Dr. Laurie Santos, Phoebe Robinson, Judy Greer, and more. Tickets required.

The Future of Food 2023 – SXSW event series is free and open at 1400 Lavaca Street and features conversations, art installations, and delicious tastings.

For more free events, check out these lists:

Marc Nathan, the author of the Texas Squared Newsletter, created the Texas Squared VIP Insider Events Guide 2023.

Texas Venture Association’s The Investors’ SXSW 2023 List

SXSW 2023 – Unofficial Events Schedule

Yoni’s OFFICIAL SXSW 2023 Curated Events + Parties List

FIESTA Calendar

Marissa Vickers with Builders + Backers SXSW 2023 List.

Builders + Backers, an Accelerator that Backs Idea Stage Entrepreneurs, will be at SXSW 2023

Sponsored Post

Builders + Backers, an accelerator program and investment firm that backs entrepreneurs at the idea stage, finds, funds, and equips builders nationwide.

“We want to put more ideas into action,” said Kathleen Hale, Partner at Builders + Backers.

Donna Harris, a native of Detroit, founded Builders + Backers and previously founded 1776 Ventures and served as managing director of the Startup American Partnership during the Obama Administration. Harris is also ranked as one of the top 25 female early-stage investors in the United States in 2021 and 2022.

The traditional VC model doesn’t work for most entrepreneurs. It was “leaving a lot of ideas on the sidelines,” Hale said. That’s where Builders + Backers comes in. The 90-day virtual accelerator provides funding and support to take the idea from the start to scaling it into a bigger venture, Hale said. Builders + Backers gives its entrepreneurs a $5,000 investment from its Pebble Fund to test the idea. It’s provided to the founder with a Stripe credit card. The Idea Accelerator program and the Pebble Fund are supported by philanthropic donations from partners and sponsors, including Heartland Forward, a think-and-do tank based in Bentonville, Arkansas. Along with the Pebble Fund, Builders + Backers invests in startups all the way from Seed Stage to Series C. 

Builders + Backers launched in early 2021 and has held six cohorts. To date, nearly 400 people have gone through the accelerator and over 100 new ventures. Everything from a nonprofit organization to a VC-ready startup has launched; as a result, Hale said.

The economic impact is huge, Hale said.

“We need a variety of ventures to have a thriving economy,” Hale said.

An estimated 60 percent of Americans have an idea to start a business, which equates to millions of ideas, and last year, VCs funded less than 5,000 deals, Hale said. That’s a lot of ideas that need to be shifted through to find the gold, she said.

“In this moment in time in the digital world, the ability to startup and test an idea is easier than ever,” Hale said.

She said tools like Canva, Wix, Square Space, and more make testing those ideas easy.

Builders + Backers also want to be in all of the places where ideas are, Hale said.

Last year, Builders + Backers hired Marisa Vickers, based in Austin, as its Director of Global Brand Growth. She’ll be at SXSW 2023 along with Hale, Builders + Backers COO.

At South by Southwest 2023, Builders + Backers is one of the sponsors of Midwest House, which showcases Midwest startups and innovation. It is open Friday, March 10th through Tuesday, March 14th, at Half Step Bar at 75 1/2 Rainey Street. It is free and open to the public. On March 11th at noon to 1 p.m., Hale will participate in a fireside chat about “Fueling Innovation: New Tools for Funding More Ventures!” moderated by CS Freeland, founder of the Texas Venture Association.

In addition, one of Builder + Backers builders, Narayan Iyer of Laminar Scientific, will be featured at the SXSW pitch competition as one of the top 5 finalists for “World Changing Technologies.” Laminar Scientific is an American Ocean Energy company that has developed several inventions and improvements in ocean wave energy that aim to improve efficiency, reduce LCOE, simplify sea maintenance, and reduce its frequency. Before the pitch, he will also participate in a private panel discussion regarding sustainability for the Austrian SXSW delegation. 

Additionally,  other Builder + Backers portfolio companies, Chris Cummings of Iconic Moments and Clint Carlos of Soar, will also participate in panel discussions with the Austrian delegation. Carlos of Soar will speak on Technologies for Tomorrow for on Friday, and Cummings will speak on Trends in Media and Creativity at a Tech Breakfast Panel on Monday.

Builder + Backer VC Associate Mychal Richardson will also be a judge for the upcoming SXSW Startup of the Year competition held on March 12 from 11:30-12:30 PM.

At SX, Builders + Backers also promotes the Tulsa Idea Challenge with Atento Capital and Tulsa Remote. The Tulsa Idea Challenge is a two-day entrepreneurial workshop and competition for Tulsans to learn how to transform an idea into action. Applications are open now, and the event will take place in downtown Tulsa from April 27-29. Builders + Backers is partnering with Atento Capital and Tulsa Remote on The Tulsa Challenge, which will award $50,000 to the top teams.

Amazon Prime Video Creates an Immersive Experience at SXSW with “Prime, Texas,” Along with Other TV and Film Activations

Every year, there are amazing experiences created at South by Southwest.

Mr. Robot put up a Ferris Wheel at Fourth and Congress one year, and General Electric had a solar-powered carousel.

Giant Spoon created one of the most talked about experiential marketing activations ever at SXSW when it recreated HBO’s Westworld in a ghost town just outside Austin. The next year, Giant Spoon launched a Game of Thrones experiential marketing activation at SXSW.

Amazon Prime also has a history of putting on incredible events at SXSW. It has hosted a Good Omens’ Garden of Earthly Delights activation featuring angels and demons. Last year, it held a Lizzo-themed marketing activation to promote Lizzo’s show “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls.” That event also had a carousel.

This year, the activations are back! Amazon Prime Video, Showtime, HBO, and the film Dungeons and Dragons all have experiential marketing activations at SXSW 2023.

Amazon Prime Video plans to establish Prime, Texas at Hotel San Jose on South Congress. The venue will highlight a variety of titles such as Daisy Jones & The Six, The Boys, Swarm, The Summer I Turned Pretty, The Power, Academy of Country Music Awards; I’m a Virgo, Harlem, and Carnival Row.

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson even plans to attend Prime, Texas, on Friday to accept the key to the faux town.

The town features sound and photo studios, a nail salon, a semi-permanent tattoo parlor, a plant shop, and a mysterious power room. There’s also locally sourced, Texas-inspired food and beverages with a Prime Video twist.

The venue will also feature music from Prime, Texas’ main stage from DJs CRGTJ the DJChristy RayDisko Cowboy, and Just Jim. Amazon Prime will also have drinks at the Six Saloon and food at The Prime Cantina. “On Sunday, Chef Damien Brockway, a 2022 James Beard award semi-finalist Pitmaster will serve modern African American fare and local Southern BBQ comfort food at a Harlem-themed influencer brunch,” according to a press release. “Partnering with online thrift store Goodfair, guests will also have the chance to personalize a denim jacket in collaboration with a local artist at PRIME DenimCo., leaving with a customized item to remember Prime, Texas.”

Prime, Texas, opens at noon on Friday, March 10th, and runs through Sunday, March 12th, at the Hotel San José, 1316 S Congress Ave.

Prime Video is also hosting the Swarm Mini-Mart pop-up at the Austin Motel with an exclusive first look into the world of Swarm by co-creators Donald Glover and Janine Nabers.

Showtime is putting on Camp YellowJackets at the Fair Market. The 3-day interactive experience celebrates the release of the series’s second season, Yellowjackets. It kicks off on Friday.

CAMP YELLOWJACKETS | SHOWTIME

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Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Tavern Experience will take place at The Highball at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. It will serve fluorescent “Dragon’s Brew” in the “antagonist Gelatinous Cube.” The tavern opens at 11 a.m. on Friday and runs through Sunday.

HBO Max also announced it will have an in-person activation with Coffeehouse in Austin on March 11 and 12th, featuring HBO and HBO Max content. HBO Max’s Human powers the event by Orientation and Pa’lante! Multicultural marketing initiatives. It’s focused on elevating LGBTQIA+ and Latinx communities. The event will feature invite-only and public events. HBO hasn’t published the Coffeehouse location yet.

SXSW Pitch Competition Features 40 finalists Including Three From Austin and one From San Antonio

The SXSW Pitch competition has selected 40 finalists for its 15th annual SXSW Pitch Competition.

“Since its inception, SXSW Pitch has been front row to some of the most ambitious startups from around the world, using creative ideas to change their industry’s future,” SXSW Pitch Event Producer Chris Valentine said in a news release.

From March 11-12, SXSW Pitch will showcase 40 tech companies from eight distinct categories for two days of live pitches in front of an audience of SXSW attendees, high-profile media, venture capital investors, and a panel of expert judges. This season’s judges include industry moguls like Stacy Feld (Johnson & Johnson), Jacqueline Jennings (Raven Indigenous Capital Partners), Mingu Lee (Cleveland Avenue), Trish Costello (Portfolia), Kay Koplovitz (USA Networks), and many more.

Participating companies come from all around the world, with finalists this year representing Norway, Germany, London, Ireland, Brazil, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates, to name a few.

This year, the competition includes two Austin and one San Antonio finalist and five alternates from Austin.

Austin Finalists:

gigaroo (Future of Work)

EverCase (Innovative World Technologies)

Austin Alternates:

443ID (Enterprise and Smart Data)

Endless Health (Food, Nutrition, & Health)

Vironix Health (Food, Nutrition, & Health)

Tirios (Metaverse & Web3)

Manifest.eco (Smart Cities, Transportation & Sustainability)

San Antonio Finalists: 

Allosense Inc (Enterprise and Smart Data)

TheZebra.com’s Founder Adam Lyons Launches REALLY, a Mobile Phone Service with $18 Million in Funding

A new mobile phone service, REALLY, announced last week that it had received $18 million in seed-stage funding.

Adam Lyons, the founder of TheZebra.com, is the company’s founder and CEO.

“We raised this capital to create the modern telco. REALLY is a tech company. A lifestyle brand. A movement. We are building the telecommunications company that people love,” Lyons wrote in a LinkedIn post.

Polychain led the round with Floodgate founding partner Mike Maples Jr and other strategic partners.

According to Lyons, REALLY wants to be the number one online retailer for phone plans. However, he said it also plans to offer its products and services alongside others.

“REALLY is already the most comprehensive wireless comparison platform in the nation comparing over 279 plans across 50 carriers,” Lyons wrote in his post. “But we aren’t stopping there. We plan to launch our own phone service later this year for people that care about their community and privacy.”

REALLY’s mobile network and infrastructure will create a blockchain-powered telecommunications community owned by the people using it, focusing on privacy, accessibility and anonymity for a 5G network.

Among the industry experts leading the infrastructure and service build-out for REALLY are executives from AT&T, T-Mobile, GoogleFi, uShip, Indeed, Niche, and The Zebra.

“Smartphones and mobile networks have become indispensable, yet most people don’t love their service provider. We see a massive opportunity to fix this, and our mission is to create a brand in this industry that people trust and love,” Lyons said. “We are building a better, more affordable phone service allowing communities to build equity and support their neighbors by using their cell phones. Those interested in putting a mini cell tower in their home or business will also have the opportunity to earn in USD. No other network exists that truly puts the ability to create and power the network in the hands of users like this.”

REALLY Wireless is set to launch later this year.

“The ongoing and rapid adoption of Web3 and blockchain into our everyday lives has allowed for an unprecedented period of change in telecommunications,” said Maples Jr., founding partner at Floodgate, said in a news release. “Adam and the team of industry experts assembled to make REALLY a reality have proven track records of excellence in their fields. We are excited to be able to play a part in this paradigm shift in telecommunications that will redefine how the industry functions.”

DivInc’s Champions of Change 2023 Honor Austin’s Changemakers

Preston James, Co-founder, and CEO of DivInc

DivInc, the premier startup accelerator for BIPOC and women entrepreneurs, announced the nominees for its 5th Annual Champions of Change Awards held in Austin, Texas.

The awards ceremony will occur on Thursday at Distribution Hall. This year’s theme is ‘Rise,’ a reflection of the champions who embody the organization’s mission and power initiatives that spark sincere change.

“Champions of Change is not the traditional awards recognition event. It is a celebration of the best of Austin,” explained Preston James, Co-founder, and CEO of DivInc. “The community comes together in unity to recognize awe-inspiring, unsung leaders who are creating positive change. Everyone walks away with pride knowing that we’re truly moving forward together to create a world where social and economic disparities no longer exist.”

Tickets to the event are $50 per person and are available on Eventbrite here

Proceeds from the event will go directly to support DivInc’s efforts in bridging the gap between underrepresented entrepreneurs and the resources they need to build profitable high-growth, high-impact startups.

“Over the years, I’ve had the honor to witness Champions of Change grow with more and more individuals at the helm of meaningful action and impact. Our future relies on their leadership to provide a safe and supportive space for underrepresented communities,” said James, “These nominations recognize the trailblazers who demonstrate exceptional dedication towards advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in Austin and beyond.”

This year’s categories include Executive of the Year, DEI Leader of the Year, Young Leader of the Year, Champion of the Year, Investor of the Year, Startup Leader of the Year, Rising Star of the Year, Spacemaker of the Year, and Non-Profit Leader of the Year.

2023 Nominees

Executive of the Year

Kana Livolsi, CEO and Co-Founder of Dos Mundos Creative

Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas

Shaleiah Fox, Chief Advancement Officer at The Thinkery

Shuronda Robinson, CEO of Adisa Communications and Austin Woman Magazine

Wendy Howell, Co-Founder and CEO of Executive Council Network

DEI Leader of the Year

Amy Maldonado, Global Inclusion Programs Coordinator at Indeed

Brion Oaks, Vice President of DEI and Operations at Charles Butt Foundation

Dr. Elizabeth Medina, Inclusion & Accountability Director at Everly Health

Rachel Lauren Pierce, Vice President of People and Culture at Dream.Org; Founding Partner at Diversified Consulting Firm

River Holley, Global Diversity, Belonging and Inclusion Specialist at AMD

Young Leader of the Year

Alyse Gamble, Public Affairs D&I Content Specialist at HEB

Ash Hall, Founder & CEO of Justice Strategies, LLC

Azteca Sirias, Founder & Executive Director at Aztech Kidz Code

Chastiny Brown, Programs Manager of 3 Day Startup

Corey Alan, Program Associate at 3 Day Startup; Community and Youth Engagement Consultant at OutYouth

Champion of the Year

Dr. Angela Valenzuela, Professor in Educational Leadership and Policy at The University of Texas at Austin

Hailey Easley, Executive Director at Austin Asian Community Health Initiative

Maria Brown-Spence, Founder of Hearts2Heal; Director of Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) at SThree

Judge Maya Guerra Gamble, Judge of 459th District Court

Ryn Gonzales, Director of Operations and Programs at Out Youth 

Investor of the Year

Andy Ambrose, Partner at TheFund Austin

Betty Wu Adams, Managing Director of Equity Investments at The Disability Opportunity Fund

Cat Dizon, Co-founder of Active Capital

Juan Thurman, Co-founder and Managing General Partner of SWAN Impact Fund

Sanika Bhave, VC at Capital Factory

Rising Star of the Year

Alyse Gamble, Public Affairs D&I Content Specialist at HEB

Daniela Silva, Consultant at Farmshare Austin

Dante Clemons, Co-Founder Origin Studio House

Jazz Mills, Founder and Director of Operations at Free Lunch

Nicole Cardoza, CEO & Founder at Reclamation Ventures

Nonprofit Leader of the Year

Diana Anzaldua, Founder & CEO of Contigo Wellness

Kelenne Blake-Fallon, Executive Director at Black Mamas ATX

Phyllis Everette, Founder & CEO of Saffron Trust Women’s Foundation

Rockie Gonzalez, Deputy Director at Austin Justice Coalition 

Timeka Walker, CEO of United Against Human Trafficking

Startup Leader of the Year

Carley Deardorff, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Capital Factory

Luis Gramajo and Hans Scheri, CMO and CEO of Wunderkeks LLC

Katrina Tolentino, Executive Director at Naturally Network

Sierra Pena, CEO & Co-founder of Shelfleet

Sugar Tennon, Founder and CEO of Pink Sugar Treats & Eats

Spacemaker of the Year

Diana Melendez, Esq., Co-Founder of Women of Color Collective; Attorney at Diana Melendez Law, PLLC

Dominique McLeggan Brown, Founder of The Sisters in Law LLC

Katrina and Eric Brooks, Owners of Black Pearl Books

Marissa Rivera, Founder & Community Curator, Ola Wellness _OFCOLOR

Natalie Sanders, Founder of House of LEPORE & the ORISHA mere project

From a Shower Idea to a $2.7 Million Business: The Inspiring Story of The Brobe

Allison Jenkins Schickel wanted a robe with a built-in bra to provide support after she got out of the shower.

 When she couldn’t find one, she created it by sewing a sports bra into a bathrobe.

Schickel took the bathrobe bra combination to Fredericksburg for a girl’s weekend wine trip and her friends fell in love with it. They called it the Brobe. The name stuck.

The following year, Schickel’s friend Wendy was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer and The Brobe took on a whole new meaning. Wendy told Schickel about the need for a hospital robe that could support the drains women have after undergoing surgery. The existing robes were “ugly as hell, overpriced, and not made from a nice material,” Schickel said.

“They were only focused on the sickness,” Schickel said. “They were not focused on wellness.”

The women recovering from breast cancer surgery needed something to make them feel beautiful and to give them their power back, Schickel said. So, she created The Brobe, a “bra” and “robe” combination with pockets for ice packs, prosthetics, drains, and more.

“I wanted to do something that mattered,” Schickel said.

Schickel officially launched the company in 2012 and to date, “Brobe’s functional and fashionable post-surgery apparel has reached more than 50,000 customers and garnered sales of $2.7 million.”

Last week, Schickel launched an equity crowdfunding campaign on StartEngine with the goal of raising $1.2 million. So far, the company has been bootstrapped and running on revenue along with a $150,000 Small Business Association loan from PeopleFund.

Schickel has secured three U.S. patents on The Brobe and two in the United Kingdom and two in Germany. The company was also selected as one of ten companies nationwide to participate in a 2017 fellowship cohort with the Tory Burch Foundation in New York. It also participated in the Monarq Incubator and Quake Capital’s Fall 2018 cohort in Austin.

Brobe sells direct to consumers online at retailers like Amazon. It also sells directly to plastic surgery centers, lingerie boutiques, and hospital systems.

Brobe started off focused on functional fashionable adaptive clothing for breast cancer survivors but has since expanded to helping people recovering from other major surgeries like open heart, organ transplant surgery, vasectomies, and more, Schickel said. Today, 70 percent of her sales are non-breast cancer related, she said.

The company also recently launched the Elliot Superhero Robe for children who are undergoing treatment at the hospital.

Schickel plans to use the funds raised from the crowdfunding campaign to buy more inventory because she’s not able to meet the demand for her product right now, she said. The Brobes are made in a factory in Shenzhen, China. She ran into supply chain problems during the pandemic and her inventory actually sat on a ship in the ocean for four months. Now that manufacturing and supply chain problems have subsided, Schickel is ready to ramp up production and inventory.

“I just keep pushing forward,’ Schickel said.

SXSW’s 2023 Health & MedTech Track to feature programming on Human Brain Interfaces, TikTok for Docs, Nick Jonas on Diabetes, and More

Hugh Forrest, C0-President and Chief Programming Officer at SXSW speaking at the Heath Tech Austin Summit

This year’s South by Southwest is going to be bigger than 2022, but not yet back to the pre-pandemic level, according to Hugh Forrest, Co-president and Chief Programming Officer at SXSW.

More than 51,000 people are expected to attend SXSW 2023, which runs from March 10th to March 19th.

There’s going to be a big increase in international attendance this year, Forrest said.

The SXSW conference features panels, sessions, meet-ups, workshops, networking, and more. It includes Interactive, Film, and Music segments and features 25 tracks of programming.

About a decade ago, SXSW added the Health & MedTech programming track, which runs from March 10th through March 13th, Forrest said.

SXSW added the track because SXSW is largely a reflection of what’s happening in Austin, Forrest said. And the Dell Medical School was opening, which spurred development and innovation locally in biotechnology, medical technology, and healthcare.

Forrest spoke Thursday morning at the Heath Tech Austin Future of Care Delivery Summit at Capital Factory. He said the event provided a preview of the kinds of programming that will be showcased at SXSW.

Among the sessions, there will be a discussion on how doctors are using TikTok now to reach younger audiences, Forrest said. Nick Jonas, singer, and songwriter, will be in a featured session titled “Crushing: The Burden of Diabetes on Patients” at 10 a.m. on March 13th.

Forrest also highlighted a documentary, “No Ordinary Campaign,” which will screen on March 12th at the Alamo Theater on Lamar. The film focuses on Brian Wallach, a former Obama White House staffer, who was diagnosed with ALS “on the same day he and his wife Sandra brought their second daughter home from the hospital.” The documentary focuses on Wallach’s fight against ALS and his fight for drug approval and research funding. Journalist Katie Couric is one of the film’s executive producers.

The Health & MedTech tracks have grown to be incredibly popular with SXSW attendees, according to SXSW. This year, the content includes everything from aging, data, and FemTech to organ transplants and virtual care.  It also includes a new area of focus on brain-computer interfaces, featured in the sessions titled “Hello World: Brain-Computer Interfaces at Scale” as well as in “Superhuman: Meet The World’s First BCI Pioneers.”

Badges are still available for SXSW at SXSW.

Austin’s Harbor Health Aims to Disrupt Healthcare Delivery

The intent of the healthcare system isn’t aligned with improving things, said Dr. S. Claiborne “Clay” Johnston.

“It’s not about making healthcare better,” said Johnston, the inaugural deal of the Dell Medical School, who left that job in 2021 after seven years and co-founded Harbor Health in 2022.

Austin-based Harbor Health is disrupting the way patients receive healthcare.

The first time he talked about his new venture in public was Thursday morning at the Health Tech Austin’s Future of Care Delivery Summit at Capital Factory.

Tony Miller, the other co-founder of Harbor Health, is a serial healthcare founder. He formerly founded Bind Benefits in 2016 which offered on-demand healthcare and sold to United Healthcare. Before that, Miller founded Definitely Health which sold to United Healthcare for $300 million in 2004, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Harbor Health is working with employers and Medicare to redesign benefits and care to reduce costs and improve care.

“We’re wasting a ton of money,” Johnston said.

For example, only 25 percent of people with high blood pressure are being treated for it, Johnston said. If that rose to 100 percent, then 60 percent of heart attacks and strokes could be prevented, he said.

Harbor Health is a fee-based system that focuses on preventative care and providing access to doctors through telemedicine and even text-based exchanges, Johnston said. It’s also focused on finding the best specialists for the patients, he said.

Harbor Health is redesigning the care system around things that matter, Johnston said.

The new healthcare provider has three clinics in Austin, Round Rock and Kyle.  The clinics provide primary care, chronic disease management, behavioral health, health and wellness services, and Medicare wellness exams. The multi-specialty clinic groups treat infants, children, adolescents, and adults.

Harbor Health has raised a $9.5 million Series A round of funding from two investors, according to Pitchbook. The company has 100 employees, Johnston said.

Curative Launches the Netflix Model for Healthcare Insurance in Austin

Fred Turner, CEO and Co-Founder of Curative

Curative started in 2020 as a company focused on improving outcomes for sepsis patients.

But then the Pandemic struck.

It quickly pivoted to become one of the nation’s largest testing centers for COVID-19 with 19,000 locations. Its test sites completed 36 million tests and 2.5 million vaccinations, said Fred Turner, the company’s CEO, and co-founder.

Now Curative’s headquarters are based in Austin with 400 employees and it’s pivoting again.

At the Health Tech Austin Future of Care Delivery Summit at Capital Factory Thursday morning, Turner shared more about the company’s new mission as a healthcare insurance provider. It’s creating a Netflix model for next-generation healthcare.

The startup has created a new employer-based health plan that offers $0 copays, $0 deductibles for in-network services, and preferred prescription drugs as long as the member completes a baseline visit to their primary care physician without 120 days of plan activation. If they don’t, then the member defaults to a plan with a high deductible plan.

At the baseline visit, the member is given a preventative health assessment, but they are also taught how to navigate the system, Turner said. Each member is assigned a “health navigator” who helps them understand their goals and needs and navigate the complex healthcare system.

After Curative’s COVID-19 testing business, Turner said he wanted to focus on something that would move the needle on how healthcare was delivered and make it better for everyone.

Fifty percent of the people in the U.S. get their insurance from large-group employer health plans. Curative is available to companies with more than 50 employees in Austin. It plans to move into the San Antonio market next within a few months, then Dallas and Houston later this year, Turner said.

High deductible health plans don’t work, Turner said. Those plans usually discourage people from getting preventative care like mammograms and colonoscopies or early detection of diabetes and heart disease, he said.

“By not investing in primary care and preventative care that comes back to bite you,” Turner said.

Curative’s plans offer zero cost in network and that builds trust with members, Turner said. Curative wanted to design a plan so that the member always knows what it will cost to receive care, he said.

Two percent of a healthcare plan’s members are generating 50 percent of the costs, Turner said. A dollar spent on primary care is worth way more than a dollar spent to treat a major health problem that if detected early could have been prevented, Turner said. In the long run, the plan ends up saving a lot of money and people are healthier, he said.

Curative already has 10,000 providers in the Austin area, Turner said. Its network includes major providers such as the Austin Regional Clinic, Austin Diagnostic Clinic, and all of St. David’s facilities, among others as well as 24-hour access to a local physician via telemedicine.

“We want you to go get care,” he said. “We want you to get the right care.”

Curative picked Austin for its headquarters at 900 Congress because the Curative brand is already well-known here, Turner said. In addition, Curative has a lab in Pflugerville. It also chose Texas because of its regulatory environment for new healthcare companies, he said. And Austin has a number of headquarters for large companies, he said.

To date, Curative has raised $8 million in venture funding, according to Crunchbase.

Health Tech Austin Hosts Summit on the Future of Care Delivery

Health Tech Austin is hosting the Future of Care Delivery System Summit on Thursday at Capital Factory.

The event takes place from 8:30 a.m. until noon. The event features opening remarks from Dr. Desmar Walkes, a public health expert, family physician, and medical director for the City of Austin, and Hugh Forrest, co-president and chief programming officer for South by Southwest.

The event also features four “TED-like talks” from the following speakers: Fred Turner, chief executive officer and co-founder of Curative, Mike Geeslin, president and CEO of Central Health, the Travis County Health District, Kacie Kelly, chief innovation officer at the Meadows Institute and Dr. S. Claiborne “Clay” Johnston, co-founder and chief medical officer of Harbor Health, a vertically integrated health delivery system that launched last year in Austin.

“I thought that maybe by starting a new academic medical center we could change the health system. I was wrong,” Johnston says in a news release. “We need to design an entirely new system.”

Kelly agrees and says, “Solving the mental health crisis requires a complete paradigm shift. At the Meadows Institute, we are working with health systems, school systems, and justice systems to design and implement data-driven solutions that are available today to correct the trajectory of mental health care.”

The summit opens with breakfast at the Capital Factory, first floor of the Omni Austin Hotel Downtown, 700 San Jacinto.

The event costs $55 to attend, and advanced registration is required. Silicon Hills News has a few free registrations if you’re interested in attending email Laura@SiliconHillsNews.com.

Unnanu Founder Aims to Build a Billion-Dollar Contextual Search Company in Austin

Madhu Basu, founder and CEO of Unnanu

Madhu Basu, the founder of Unnanu, wants to scale his startup to a billion-dollar contextual search company in the next ten years in Austin.

Already, he’s been issued a U.S. patent on selecting media using weighted keywords and he has another patent pending. He’s focused initially on applying the technology to match job seekers with jobs through Unnanu Hire.

But he sees widespread applications of the technology across all industries.

In this episode of the Ideas to Invoices podcast, Basu discusses his company’s plans for 2023 which include raising more than $3 million in seed-stage funding and hiring more than a dozen employees.

Previously, Basu founded and served as CEO of PMCS Services, which provided IT consulting, staffing, and solution services for more than 16 years. He also co-founded IntegrateUS, Prachas Technologies, and The Fresh Vegetable Package company.

“Unnanu is my fifth company,” Basu said. “I always found businesses to solve other businesses’ problems.”

Basu founded Unnanu because he saw a need to map job candidates to job descriptions contextually. He couldn’t find a way to do that. So, he built a solution and created better contextual search technology.

“It’s actually a search problem,” Basu said.

 He named the company Unnanu, which means hello in his native Indian language.

“Why? Because our search is so intricate part of what we do, it’s kind of like saying hello I need this,” Basu said.

Search technology has to be refined, Basu said.

“I think we have a chance to get better at that,” he said.

Open.AI with its ChatGPT technology is exploring artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide better answers to search questions, Basu said. He mentions a recent video from Greylock’s Intelligent Future Summit featuring a discussion between Open.AI CEO Sam Altman and Reid Hoffman, a serial entrepreneur and general partner at venture capital firm Greylock Partners on the future of AI. In the talk, Altman says with the new conversational AI models, there will be a serious challenge to Google’s existing search business. It’s a massive trend and very large businesses will be built around conversational AI, Altman said.

Unnanu is targeted at becoming one of those, Basu said. A fundamental problem with AI is it is missing contextual analysis, Basu said. His pending patent is focused on contextual analysis and weighted keywords, he said.

Right now, Unnanu is bootstrapped. The company recently participated in the Founder’s Institute program in Austin. And it has since gone on to participate in Founder’s Lab, Basu said. It’s in the process now of raising funding, he said.

Unnanu used to be based at Galvanize, which abruptly shut down operations in Austin last year. The company is now located at WeWork on Congress downtown.

For more listen to the entire podcast below or wherever you get your podcasts.

Madhu Basu, CEO and Founder of Unnanu

Madhu Basu is the founder of Unnanu, a tech startup from Austin that helps businesses by using a patented contextual weighted keyword search. The company currently provides a simple solution for businesses to have resumes mapped to jobs contextually.

Healthcare Insurance Startup Sana to Lay Off Employees

Sana, a healthcare insurance company, Tuesday announced it has laid off 19 percent of its staff.

Will Young, Sana CEO and Co-Founder, announced the layoffs in a LinkedIn Post late Tuesday afternoon. He also posted a statement on the company’s blog. He said the layoffs were painful but necessary to keep the company operating successfully in today’s environment. 

Laid-off Sana employees began posting “open to work” status on LinkedIn Tuesday. Sana had around 210 employees. A source reported 40 employees were let go this week.

Sana is providing its laid off employees severance pay equal to three months of their base salary, paid medical, dental and vision insurance coverage through May 31st, the ability to keep their laptops, removal of the one year cliff for equity and three months of career services through RiseSmart, a job placement services firm.

For the past few years, Sana has focused on “accelerating growth and product development came at the cost of higher risk tolerance and greater expenses,” according to Young’s blog post. He wrote that the company is “fundamentally well-positioned to weather downturns.

“However, we need our investments to reflect the realities of the current macroeconomic environment and funding climate,” Young wrote. “This means re-orienting our company for leaner times today so we can continue delivering on our mission decades from now.”

To date, Sana, founded in 2017 by Young and Nathan Hackley, has raised $107 million. In June of 2022, Sana closed on a $60 million in Series B funding. 

Sana provides health care options for small businesses. The company reports that Sana’s customers often save up to 20 percent compared to legacy insurers. It also provides telehealth care and low co-pays. Itoperates in eight states.

In January of 2022, the company opened Sana MD in Austin. It is Sana’s first primary care health center for members. In addition to in-person office visits, Sana gives employees access to virtual care with providers specializing in primary care, pediatrics, maternity and mental health.

The news of Sana’s layoffs come a week after Decent, another healthcare startup based in Austin, announced plans to wind down operations to a core team and layoff most of its 40 employees. 

Nationwide, tech companies have been trimming staff. Zoom announced on Tuesday it was cutting 1,300 employees, according to the New York Times. Other tech companies in Austin laying off employees include Dell, which announced this week plans to cut 6,500 employees worldwide, according to the Times. Microsoft, Alphabet, Salesforce, Meta, Amazon and PayPal have all announced layoffs recently, the New York Times reported. 

Colossal Biosciences is Bringing Back the Dodo Bird From Extinction and Announces $150 Million in Funding

Beth Shapiro, Ph.D., and lead paleogeneticist working to bring the dodo bird back from extinction with Ben Lamm, Co-Founder and CEO of Colossal Biosciences

By Laura Lorek, Publisher of Silicon Hills News

First, Colossal Biosciences announced in September of 2021 plans to bring the woolly mammoth back from extinction.

The next year, the synthetic biology company announced plans to bring the Tasmanian tiger, also known as the thylacine, back to life.

Now Colossal is announcing the launch of its avian genomics group, which will bring back the Dodo, a bird species extinct since 1662. Colossal is using breakthrough gene-editing technologies to recreate the woolly mammoth, Tasmanian tiger, and dodo.

Colossal Biosciences also announced on Tuesday that it raised $150 million in Series B financing. To date, the company has raised $225 million since launching in September of 2021. The funding makes Colossal a Unicorn company, meaning its valuation is more than $1 billion.

“It’s exciting being a Unicorn, but I don’t think it’s more exciting than bringing back the woolly mammoth,” said Ben Lamm, co-founder, and CEO of Colossal.

In addition,  Colossal spun out, Form Bio, a software platform last September, which raised a $30 million Series A round. Colossal, which has 80 employees and 40 external collaborators, has labs in Austin, Dallas, Boston, and Melbourne, Australia. Colossal expects to add additional employees as the various projects progress, Lamm said.

“The projects we are working on, we are seeing early success in the de-extinction efforts, and technology development,” Lamm said.

Colossal’s latest round is led by the United States Innovative Technology Fund, known as USIT, a private equity fund founded by U.S. Billionaire Thomas Tull, a technology investor. Other investors included Breyer Capital, Bob Nelsen, Animal Capital, Victor Vescovo, In-Q-Tel, Animoca Brands, Peak 6, BOLD Capital, and Jazz Ventures, among others.

“This support by Thomas Tull and the others ensures that we will get further faster,” Lamm said.

There is a hunger for this kind of moonshot type initiative that can move the needle forward for all of humanity, Lamm said.

“The World Wildlife Fund found that in the last 50 years, Earth’s wildlife populations have plunged by an average of 69% at the hands of mankind,” Lamm said. Colossal Biosciences has put together teams of some of the smartest people on the planet to tackle that problem, he said.

“By gathering the smartest minds across investing, genomics, conservation and synthetic biology, we have the opportunity to reverse human-inflicted biodiversity loss while developing technologies for both conservation and human healthcare,” Lamm said.

The launch of Colossal’s new avian genomics group will help to address the decline in the world’s bird population, which has lost more than 3 billion birds in the last 50 years, a stat from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

“The IUCN Red List also now categorizes more than 400 bird species as either extinct, extinct in the wild or critically endangered,” according to Colossal. “Colossal is on a mission to reverse these staggering statistics through genetic rescue techniques and its de-extinction toolkit.”

The work to bring the Dodo back to life is being spearheaded by Beth Shapiro, Ph.D., Colossal Scientific Advisory Board member, and lead paleogeneticist.

“The Dodo is a prime example of a species that became extinct because we – people – made it impossible for them to survive in their native habitat,” Shapiro said in a statement. “Having focused on genetic advancements in ancient DNA for my entire career and as the first to fully sequence the Dodo’s genome, I am thrilled to collaborate with Colossal and the people of Mauritius on the de-extinction and eventual re-wilding of the Dodo. I particularly look forward to furthering genetic rescue tools focused on birds and avian conservation.”

The dodo is iconic, and Shapiro has been working on it for more than a decade at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Lamm said.

“It is the symbol of manmade extinction,” Lamm said.

Most of the work on dodos will be done in Texas and the first dodo brought back to life will be a Texas dodo, Lamm said.

Lamm sees other applications for Colossal’s gene editing technologies in agriculture with new biofuels and preserving biodiversity, as well as in healthcare with gene therapies and vaccine development. Some of the technologies Colossal is developing will also have government applications, Lamm said.

“Dr. George Church and Colossal’s deep work in genomics is creating some of the most cutting-edge advancements in biotech,” according to Tull, USIT Chairman. “Their innovative technology has important applications for scientific discoveries, including biomedicine, and we look forward to supporting this crucial work.”

Colossal’s woolly mammoth de-extinction team, which is headed up by Church, now has more than 40 scientists and three laboratories. They are working with Asian and African elephants to implant an embryo to bring back the woolly mammoth. The team also launched a children’s education and research project with the University of Alaska Fairbanks on woolly mammoths in Alaska.

The Colossal thylacine team with 30 scientists in the U.S. and Australia has done a lot of work with stem cells in the lab and they have prototyped an artificial ex-utero development for early-stage marsupial gestation.

“The work is massively accelerated and currently ahead of our internal schedules,” Andrew Pask, Ph.D., Colossal Scientific Advisory Board member, and thylacine lead, said in a news statement.

In addition, Colossal recently launched its Conservation Advisory Board adding Forrest Galante, Virginia Riddle Pearson, Iain Douglas-Hamilton Ph.D., Former Lt. Governor of Alaska Mead Treadwell, permafrost research Jim Coates, Alaska’s Head of Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang, and Former Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Aurelia Skipwith, J.D.

Colossal has also established partnerships with WildArk, Aussie Ark, Save the Elephants, Elephant Havens, the International Elephant Foundation, Re:Wild, and the AZA’s SAFE.

Colossal also added new members to its Scientific Advisory Board including world-leading scientist Christopher E. Mason, Ph.D., Doris A. Taylor, Ph.D., Rachel J. O’Neil, Ph.D., Austin Gallagher, Ph.D., Tom Gilbert, Ph.D., Mike McGrew, Ph.D., Matthew Wooller, Ph.D., and Duane Froese Ph.D.

Colossal Biosciences has 80 employees and Austin-based Form Bio has 45 employees. Colossal may spin out new companies in its not-too-distant future, Lamm said.  

“I’m excited about Texas and what we are developing here,” Lamm said

Health Insurance Startup Decent to Wind Down Operations to a Core Team and Layoff Most Employees

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Decent, the Austin-based health insurance provider is “shutting down all of its operations to just a core team,” according to a blog post published Friday afternoon by Nick Soman, the company’s founder, and CEO.

“Decent’s mission since Richard Luck and I founded the company five years ago has been to deliver affordable health insurance for all. Starting in Texas in 2018, we launched health plans for 35% less than market rates with a Net Promoter Score of 79 vs. the industry average of 14. In 2021 we launched a professional employer organization to help small businesses band together to get even lower rates, and saw 100% renewal among eligible small businesses. I’m proud of what we’ve built, and prouder of the team that has built it.”

“Unfortunately, we just hit a massive and unexpected setback. It’s not impossible to move forward, but we will need time to figure out how,” Soman wrote. “For that reason, we are winding down all of our operations to just a core team.”

The company had 60 employees, according to an interview with Soman last November. The current number of employees is 40, according to a spokeswoman.

Decent, founded in 2018, has raised $43 million to date including a series that closed in December of 2021, according to a spokeswoman.  Last fall, the company launched a massive ad campaign in Austin promoting its services on billboards around town.

In his post, Soman reports that Decent had been working with a major partner to prepare for nationwide expansion this quarter. It wound down its product in anticipation of the partner’s new and improved one, according to Soman.

“We were all systems go as of last Wednesday,” Soman wrote. “Then late last week, our major partner pulled out without warning, citing unspecified concerns from their executive team and leaving us with no near-term path to market. We explored every possible avenue to salvage the partnership, but to no avail.”

That left Decent without a health insurance product, and as a result, it has to stop serving customers, according to Soman.

Decent will let its team go in the coming months with notice and severance, according to Soman.

Correction: Title corrected and updated to reflect Decent winding down operations to a core team, but not shutting down completely. Also, the article was updated with the current employee count and funding amount of $43 million.

Josh Wilson Leads SciPlay to New Heights as CEO

Josh Wilson, CEO of SciPlay

After moving to Austin recently, SciPlay’s CEO Josh Wilson has plans to expand operations and move into new areas including building SciPlay’s own gaming platform.

In this episode of Ideas to Invoices, Wilson talks about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the mobile gaming company’s operations. It led to a boom a business as people looked online for ways to entertain themselves while stuck at home.  He also talks about the company’s current outlook and plans for the future.

In 1998, Aaron Schurman founded Phantom EFX in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It was acquired by Scientific Games and now it is a stand-alone company called SciPlay, which is traded on the Nasdaq stock exchange under the symbol SCPL.

In 2019, Wilson became CEO, and his vision is to make SciPlay the best entertainment company for consumers.

SciPlay currently offers social casino games like Jackpot Party Casino, Gold Fish Casino, casual games like Bingo Showdown and Solitaire Pets Adventure, and hyper-casual games such as Rob Master 3D and Deep Clean. It does not have any plans for the Metaverse right now, but the company plans to build out its own gaming platform to connect directly with its customers.

SciPlay also recently contracted with America’s Got Talent Judge Sofia Vergara for an ad campaign. In the TV commercial, Vergara plays SciPlay’s Jackpot Party Casino game. The campaign was highly successful, Wilson said.

SciPlay has more than 500 employees worldwide including more than 150 in its Austin office, which was established in 2016.

For more, listen to the entire podcast posted below or wherever you get your podcasts.

Josh Wilson, CEO of SciPlay

Josh Wilson is SciPlay’s Chief Executive Officer. The company makes social casino games like Jackpot Party Casino and Goldfish Casino and others. Wilson recently moved to Austin where SciPlay has a large office. In this episode, he talks about the company’s current outlook and plans for the future.  

Austin Startups See Booming Growth in 2022 with $4.9 Billion in VC Funding, But Momentum Slows in Q4

The Austin area saw a huge slowdown in venture capital invested in the fourth quarter with $775 million flowing into 78 deals, according to PitchBook-National Venture Capital Association Venture Monitor data.

That is down 50 percent in dollars invested from the fourth quarter of 2021 which recorded $1.5 billion in 122 deals, according to the Pitchbook report. It is also a 36 percent decline in the number of deals being done.

The data comes from the Q4 2022 PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor, jointly produced by PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association with support from InsperityJ.P. Morgan, and Dentons.

“After years of frenzied investments and soaring company valuations, venture capital investment levels are readjusting as businesses assess the current economic landscape,” according to the report.

Despite the fourth quarter slowdown, overall, for 2022, the Austin area still had a phenomenal year with $4.9 billion of venture capital invested in 416 companies.

That’s on par with stats from 2021 when Austin had a record-breaking year with $4.9 billion in venture capital investments. And it’s actually an increase in deal flow by nearly 7 percent from 387 companies in 2021.

Overall, companies in Texas raised $1.6 billion in venture capital in the fourth quarter of 2022, in 180 deals. That is down nearly 56 percent from $3.6 billion in the fourth quarter of 2021. And down nearly 34 percent in deal flow from 271 deals in the fourth quarter of 2021.

For all of 2021, Texas companies raised $9.5 billion, down nearly 20 percent from $11.9 billion raised in 2021. Deal flow also dropped 16 percent in 2022 to 840 companies funded, down from 1,004 in 2021.

In Austin, the biggest deals in the fourth quarter went to Jasper, a content generation platform, that received $141 million in venture funding. The Series A round made Jasper Austin’s latest Unicorn company valued at more than $1.5 billion. Jasper is one of the startups developing conversational AI and image generation AI similar to Open.AI’s ChatGPT. Its investors include Insight Partners, Coatue, Bessemer Venture Partners, IVP, Foundation Capital, Founders Circle Capital, HubSpot Ventures and more.

The second largest deal went to Infinitum, based in Round Rock, which is developing motors and generators powered by its patented technology. It raised $110 million in a Series D round. Its funding came from Riverstone Holdings Latin America, Alliance Resource Partners, Caterpillar Venture Capital and Cottonwood Technology Fund. 

And rounding out the top three deals is Dabbsson, which has created a clean energy backup generator for homes. It landed $75 million.

Top 10 Venture Capital Deals in Austin in 2002 Q4

  1. Jasper, an AI content generation platform, $141 million
  2. Infinitum, develops motors and generators, $110 million
  3. Dabbsson, alternative clean energy equipment maker, $75 million
  4. Setpoint, real estate fintech and software platform, $43 million
  5. SubjectWell, clinical trial, and patient matchmaker platform, $35 million
  6. Way, a software platform for curating experiences for hospital brands, $20 million
  7. Flueid, a software platform to automate title and escrow closing practices, $20 million
  8. Maergo, shipping and logistics platform for retailers, $20 million
  9. Keystone Bank, banking services, $18 million
  10. Beatbox Beverages, ready-to-drink alcoholic punch, $16 million

Protopia AI Lands $6 Million in Funding

Eiman Ebrahimi, CEO at Protopia AI

Protopia AI, based in Austin, announced it has closed on a $6 million seed round of funding led by ATX Venture Partners.

The company has developed a software solution that allows big companies to tap into key data by using artificial intelligence and machine learning to extract insights without exposing sensitive information.

Protopia cites a Gartner report on AI which found that CEOs major problem in using AI is data accessibility.

Other investors in the round included Galaxy Interactive, Silverton Partners, and DNX Ventures. Protopia has raised a total of $8 million, which includes an initial $2 million pre-seed round. All existing investors extended their commitment by participating in the new round.

Protopia AI’s core technology is based on inventions by Professor Hadi Esmaeilzadeh, endowed chair of computer architecture at the University of California San Diego. He is also Protopia AI’s co-founder and chief technology officer.

“We are at an inflection point where AI has unprecedented capabilities — but at the cost of losing the control and ownership of data,” Esmaeilzadeh said in a news release. “Protopia AI is the vision to enable practical AI without losing the control/ownership of data.”

Portopia.AI plans to use the funds raised to hire engineers and on product development. It is currently in beta-testing with customers in financial services, government and health care.

Funds raised from the round will be used to build out engineering teams and advance the product. The company is currently beta-testing its product across industries where data sensitivity causes the most operational slowdowns, including financial services, government and health care.

“Protopia AI empowers enterprises to extract maximal value using AI and machine learning from their data by providing the governance and protection that is necessary,”  Eiman Ebrahimi, Protopia AI co-founder and CEO, said in a news release.

“Today, companies are looking to create real value from their data using artificial intelligence and machine learning, according to Protopia AI. “They frequently are blocked or slowed down by data-sensitivity issues. According to a Seagate Technology and IDC survey, respondents estimated their organizations collect only 56% of their operational data. Out of that 56%, 43% of data remains unused. Protopia AI solves this dilemma with its easy-to-use Stained Glass Transform™ that enables the operation of AI and ML while removing the need to access the company’s data in identifiable form.”

“Data-centric AI is the future, and Protopia is positioned to emerge as an industry innovator and market leader,” Chris Shonk, ATX Venture Partners managing partner, said in a news release. “No other software company in the market is offering a solution with privacy in mind, at all stages of the ML lifecycle, including deployment, in mind from inception. We have a shared vision for maximal data protection and are pleased to fund the company at this critical growth stage.”

Austin-Based Ribbon Raises $2.7 Million to Simplify the Process to Obtain Nonprofit Status

Austin-based Ribbon has closed on $2.7 million to help nonprofit organizations.

The company has created a software platform that gives individuals and businesses the banking, accounting, fundraising, and organizational tools they need to build a successful charity under the umbrella of a fiscal sponsor.

Ribbon’s fiscal sponsorship model allows individuals looking to conduct charitable work to partner with existing 501c3s to help them accomplish their goals while enjoying the sponsor’s tax-exempt status.

“We believe starting a new charity should be quick, easy, and effortless,” Ribbon CEO Braden Fineberg said in a news release. “We already have 1.6 million registered nonprofits in the U.S. In a crowded market, there is a growing demand for a platform that makes charitable work more accessible without the need to create a new 501c(3).”

Austin-based Trust Ventures led the investment round.

“You can start a company in a day for a few hundred dollars, but a nonprofit can take years and thousands of dollars, not to mention countless hours working through legal red tape,” said Salen Churi, General Partner at Trust Ventures. “Ribbon helps those in the nonprofit sector move at the speed of business, spending their time and resources doing good rather than on tax lawyers.”

Ribbon thinks its sponsorship model will replace the vast majority of new nonprofit organizations. The platform aims to save nonprofit organizations time and money in filing and managing their charitable status.

“Imagine the good that could be accomplished if people who wanted to do charitable work could, in effect, create a nonprofit in minutes, enable tax-deductible donations instantly, and not have to manage their nonprofit status,” Fineberg said. “With IRS backlogs and the acceleration of Open Banking APIs, the industry is ripe for this product.”

Open banking is a system under which banks make their application programming interfaces (APIs) accessible for third parties to develop new apps and services. Ribbon’s fiscal sponsorship model will be the first product to allow this to happen in the nonprofit sector, Finberg added. 

NASA Awards ICON a $57.2 Million Contract to Build Structures on the Moon

NASA has awarded Austin-based ICON a contract worth $57.2 to develop construction technologies that could help build habitats, landing pads, and roads on the moon.

NASA is planning for long-term human exploration of the moon under Artemis.

“In order to explore other worlds, we need innovative new technologies adapted to those environments and our exploration needs,” Niki Werkheiser, director of technology maturation in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “Pushing this development forward with our commercial partners will create the capabilities we need for future missions.”

ICON already received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) dual-use contract with the U.S. Air Force, partly funded by NASA. The new NASA SBIR Phase III award will support the development of ICON’s Olympus construction system, which is designed to use local resources on the Moon and Mars as building materials. The contract runs through 2028.

“To change the space exploration paradigm from ‘there and back again’ to ‘there to stay,’ we’re going to need robust, resilient, and broadly capable systems that can use the local resources of the Moon and other planetary bodies. We’re pleased that our research and engineering to-date has demonstrated that such systems are indeed possible, and we look forward to now making that possibility a reality,”  Jason Ballard, ICON co-founder and CEO,  said in a news release. “The final deliverable of this contract will be humanity’s first construction on another world, and that is going to be a pretty special achievement.”

ICON will work with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, under STMD’s Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technologies (MMPACT) project.

Previously, ICON 3D printed a 1,700-square-foot simulated Martian habitat, called Mars Dune Alpha, which will be used during NASA’s Crew Health and Performance Analog, or CHAPEA, analog mission starting in 2023.

ICON also competed in NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge. The company partnered with the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, and the team won a prize for 3D printing a structure sample that was tested for its ability to hold a seal, for strength, and for durability in temperature extremes.

The announcement comes after ICON’s warehouse and original headquarters in South Austin were severely damaged by a fire in the building the day after Thanksgiving, according to the Austin American Statesman. The paper reported a cause for the fire has not been determined.

3D Printing on the Moon and Beyond for NASA | Project Olympus – Off-world Construction | ICON

ICON TO DEVELOP LUNAR SURFACE CONSTRUCTION SYSTEM WITH $57.2 MILLION NASA AWARD SBIR Phase III Contract Furthers ICON’s Space-based Construction Technology Developments & Will Target Humanity’s First-ever Construction on Another Planetary Body ….. ICON, a leader in advanced construction technologies and large-scale 3D printing, announced that it has received a contract awarded under Phase III of NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

San Antonio’s Rackspace is Grappling with a Ransomware Attack

A ransomware attack at San Antonio-based Rackspace Technology has caused service disruptions for thousands of its customers.

The attack began last Friday, Dec. 2nd, and continues although the company reported Friday night that two-thirds of its customers’ services have been restored.

The ransom wear incident affected Rackspace’s Hosted Exchange Email business, which represents one percent of Rackspace’s total annual revenue and is comprised of primarily small and medium businesses that solely use this product, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“No other Rackspace products, platforms, solutions, or businesses were affected or are experiencing downtime due to this incident,” according to Rackspace.

Rackspace hired a leading cyber defense firm to investigate along with its security team.

“Ransomware is a type of malicious software or malware that prevents you from accessing your computer files, systems, or networks and demands you pay a ransom for their return,” according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. “Ransomware attacks can cause costly disruptions to operations and the loss of critical information and data.”

Computers can become infected with ransomware by opening an email attachment, clicking an ad, following a link, or even visiting a website that’s embedded with malware, according to the FBI.

“Once the code is loaded on a computer, it will lock access to the computer itself or data and files stored there,” according to the FBI. “More menacing versions can encrypt files and folders on local drives, attached drives, and even networked computers.”

Rackspace has been working with its customers to migrate them to a new environment as quickly as possible, according to a news release.

“Rackspace maintains cybersecurity insurance commensurate with the size of its business, and is confident in its ability to absorb potential financial costs associated with the incident and fulfill its obligations to other customers,” according to a filing with the SEC.

“As of today, more than two-thirds of our customers on the Hosted Exchange environment are back on email,” according to Rackspace. “Every customer who has reached us has been offered support to transition to Microsoft 365.”


“We are continuing to make significant progress in our recovery efforts. We have engaged industry-leading global cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike to help investigate and remediate,” according to Rackspace. “Due to swift action on the Company’s part in disconnecting its network and following its incident response plans, CrowdStrike has confirmed the incident was quickly contained and limited solely to the Hosted Exchange Email business.”

Rackspace is still investigating the root cause of the incident.

Meanwhile, Rackspace faces two class action lawsuits filed on December 6th against the company last week in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Chris Ondo, represented by Jon B. Ellis of Sadovsky & Ellis, filed a class action lawsuit against Rackspace seeking injunctive relief and damages for alleged negligence and breach of confidence.

In addition, Garrett Stephenson and Gateway Recruiting, LLC, represented by Cole & Van Note, filed a class action lawsuit, Stephenson, et al. v. Rackspace Technology, Inc.  for negligence and related violations arising out of the email hosting provider’s recent high-profile data breach. In addition to monetary damages, the suit demands Rackspace Technology implement and maintain sufficient security protocols going forward so as to prevent future attacks.

Setpoint Solves Real Estate’s Backend Paperwork Problem and Raises $43 Million in VC Funding

Stuart Wall, Michael Lam, and Ben Rubenstein, Co-Founders of Setpoint

In 2021, Ben Rubenstein left Realtor.com with Michael Lam to co-found Setpoint with another friend, Stuart Wall.

The problem they identified is a need for critical software to power a more efficient asset-based lending market. They’ve created a funding operating system to replace email, Excel spreadsheets, and computer folders which comprise the backend of real estate transactions. Setpoint’s software verifies, and stores documents automate interest rate calculations, and digitizes assets like homes or autos.

“The old real estate business backend is broken, and it is costing the consumer more money,” Rubenstein said. “This is a big problem that is hiding in plain sight and we’re solving it.”

On Wednesday, Setpoint announced it has closed a $43 million Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from Henry Kravis, Spencer Rascoff, co-founder of Zillow and 75and Sunny, Fifth Wall, 645 Ventures, NextView Ventures, LiveOak Venture Partners, Vesta Ventures, ATX Venture Partners and Capital Factory.

“A lot of people say it’s impossible to get tech funding right now, but this shows it is possible,” Rubenstein said.

Setpoint also announced that it is on “track to power 25,000 home transactions this year and expects to power more than 100,000 in 2023 via single-family residences, iBuying, Power Buying, Fractional Ownership, Rent-to-Own, and other transactions that make buying, selling, and renting a home easier, faster and more accessible,” according to a news release.

In addition to his experience at Realtor.com, Rubenstein was an early investor in Austin-based Homeward, which allows homebuyers to buy a home before they sell their existing one. In the early days of Homeward, Rubenstein, and Lam supplied capital to the company. It was asset-backed lending to a tech company. And through that experience, they understood the internal financial operations and how it was done manually, and it didn’t scale, Rubenstein said.

Setpoint initially focused on power buyers like Flyhomes, Orchard, UpEquity and then expanded to all of PropTech like Opendoor, rent to own, home equity, and warehouse lending, Rubenstein said.

“They all have the same problem,” Rubenstein said. “It is a company that is accessing capital and needs to report on those assets.”

Last June, Setpoint came out of stealth mode with $615 million in debt capital when it officially launched its platform. That part of the business enables Proptech companies to offer contingent-free, all-cash offers on homes to customers, which it says accelerates funding and closing on properties.

“While there’s been much innovation and investment made upon improving the front-end of fintech transactions, behind-the-scenes capital market workflows are often a product of email, Excel, and FTP folders,” David Haber, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, said in a news release. “I believe that Setpoint’s Funding OS has the potential to significantly improve the efficiency of these transactions, resulting in lower cost for both borrowers and lenders.”

The latest funding round will allow Setpoint to invest further in software engineering and develop critical tools for their customers on both sides of asset-backed transactions. The firm will continue to focus on relationships with borrowers and lenders, while also expanding beyond its core market of real estate.

Real estate is just the first market Setpoint plans to address. It might expand into other areas like auto loans and credit card loans, Rubenstein said.

Setpoint’s Team

Half of Setpoint’s team is in Austin and the other half is in New York. The company has 25 employees and expects to double over the next year, Rubenstein said. The company primarily operates as a hybrid company with most employees working from home and office space at WeWork on Congress, he said.

The Covid-19 pandemic changed the way tech companies operate and remote working is now more acceptable, Rubenstein said.

Setpoint is Rubenstein’s third startup. He previously co-founded Yodle, which sold for $342 million to Web.com, and Opcity, which sold to Realtor.com for $200 million.

“I truly enjoy building startups,” Rubenstein said. “I’m much more zero to one guy. I like the super, super early days of building a company.”

Rubenstein and Lam previously worked together as founders of Opcity and they have known each other since college. Wall is also a friend who founded Signpost, a competitor to Yodle.

His experience at his previous companies taught Rubenstein that there are big problems in the world that software can really help with. And that it is important to go to the right partners and work with the right VCs, he said.

“Working with people you like, and know and trust is really fun,” Rubenstein said.

For more information, read David Haber’s blog post on Andreessen Horowitz’s investment in Setpoint.

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