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AI-Fueled Misinformation Threatens U.S. Democracy in 2024 Elections

Political campaigns increasingly rely on technology but have small teams, creating cybersecurity vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can exploit.

Will Hurd, a former Republican congressman from San Antonio, said election misinformation is a real threat to American Democracy.

Hurd, a former 2024 presidential candidate, cybersecurity expert, and former undercover officer in the CIA, spoke at a Thursday half-day summit at Google’s downtown office in Austin. Defending Digital Campaigns, a Google Partner, put on the event. The organization provides political parties and campaigns with knowledge, products, and services to protect themselves from cyber threats and attacks. More than 100 people attended the event, including leading experts in politics and technology.

Hurd said the future of cybersecurity will be a battle between good AI versus bad AI. New tools like Generative AI easily create text, images, and videos with large language models, known as LLMs, like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Gemini, Athropic’s Claude.Ai, and others.

Hurd said AI can be used for good, to get the correct information out there, and to facilitate helpful discourse. It’s a tool; use it to promote good conversations, he said.

“That’s the only way we’re going to keep this little experiment called Democracy safe,” Hurd said. “The bad guys aren’t necessarily smarter than you. Truth is on your side. Use it. Harness it.”

Hackers have created havoc with misinformation in past election campaigns, and this year, with Generative AI, the situation will only worsen. In February 2024, the Federal Communications Commission issued a cease-and-desist letter against Texas-based Lingo Telecomm, which is alleged to have originated robocall traffic using AI-generated voice technology to impersonate President Joe Biden and tell voters not to vote in the New Hampshire primary election.

Hurd said misinformation first began circulating through social media during the 2016 Presidential elections, and Blactivist and Southern Pride were some of the originators of posting misinformation campaigns.

“These were two organizations that the Russian Internet Research Agency built and ran social media campaigns,” Hurd said. Those campaigns reached hundreds of thousands of people.

“It’s not just the Russians we have to worry about,” Hurd said.

One of China’s latest campaigns is targeting Texas and spreading misinformation across social media about political unrest in the state stemming from immigration and border disputes with the Federal government, Hurd said. The online chatter is about an impending civil war. The U.S. State Department released its first report in September 2023 on the People’s Republic of China’s information manipulation.

“Why are they doing that?” Hurd said. “It’s to erode trust in our institutions. It’s not about influencing the actual vote count. It’s not about ten votes here or there. It’s to erode trust in our institutions because when we are battling each other, we’re not battling them.”

Hurd said that the U.S. has known for years that Chinese hackers have been in some of the U.S.’s critical infrastructure, which should be a considerable concern.

Hurd said the world is already experiencing an infodemic, with information overload from the Internet and social media, and AI will make it even worse.

Information that AI allows us to release into the ether will lead people to do one of three things: they are going to revert to things they already know and people they already trust or straight out reject even if the information is accurate, or they’re going to get duped, Hurd said.

Protecting the democracy starts with protecting yourself, Hurd said.

“Don’t let the bad guys into your systems,” he said.

It’s simple, Hurd said. Hurd said don’t click on phishing messages like fake receipts or messages about other stuff from people you don’t know. He said that is a real tech scam, and 90 percent of cyber hacks start with a phishing expedition. It’s OK to ignore it, he said.

Hurd said that half of all current attacks could have been prevented with updated software.

“Update your freakin’ software, y’all,” Hurd said.

If people do these two things, they protect themselves, their campaigns, their candidates, and their principles, and “you’re preventing the Chinese, the Russians, and the Iranians from gaining access to information they could potentially use in the future,” he said.

And be careful of what you click on while browsing the Internet, Hurd said. There are a lot of phishing ads that are not real ads on the Internet, he said.

Revolutionizing Emotional Wellness: Innovator Manu Rehani Unveils Issa’s Groundbreaking Emotion-Aware AI

Manu Rehani is the founder of Issa, an emotional AI startup.

Rehani is an innovator in applied behavioral and cognitive linguistics. He is an inventor, mentor, and board advisor for several startups. After successfully exiting two tech ventures, he’s currently focused on developing a new class of emotion-aware AI for general application in custom GPTs and LLMs and specific use in mental health and wellness applications to foster a healthy relationship with self and others through AI.

On the Ideas to Invoices podcast, Rehani discusses the ethical and thoughtful development of AI that understands and responds to human emotions to improve mental health and well-being rather than creating dependence or isolation.

Here are ten key takeaways from the podcast:

  1. Personal Inspiration for Emotion-Aware AI:
    • Manu was inspired to create Issa after observing the effects of COVID-19, particularly the loneliness his daughter experienced when her social activities were disrupted.
  2. Mission of Issa:
    • Issa aims to address loneliness and mental health issues by leveraging AI that can understand the emotional content of conversations, thereby fostering healthier relationships.
  3. Unique Approach to Emotion Detection:
    • Unlike other emotion AI that use a “bag of words” approach, Issa’s technology considers the context surrounding words to determine their emotional content, applying rules-based AI rather than training sets.
  4. Success Stories:
    • Issa has made breakthroughs in caregiver support by analyzing care notes for stress indicators, which helped reduce caregiver burnout and attrition rates in eldercare facilities.
  5. Future of Emotion-Aware AI:
    • Manu envisions that emotion-aware AI should serve as a bridge to real-life connections and stresses the importance of considering ethical issues like privacy and trust.
  6. Impact of Previous Startups:
    • Lessons from previous ventures have influenced Manu’s approach to Issa, emphasizing team culture, the role of diverse perspectives, and the need for products relevant across age groups.
  7. The Process of Patenting AI Technologies:
    • Securing patents for Issa’s technology was an intensive process but was viewed as a beneficial exercise that improved their technological approach.
  8. Austin as a Tech Hub:
    • Manu notes that Austin’s culture of citizen entrepreneurship creates a conducive environment for startups, particularly in the AI sector.
  9. Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs in Emotional AI:
    • Manu advises newcomers to the field to focus on AI’s impact on human connections and avoid creating technologies that could further isolate people.
  10. Humanizing AI:
    • There is a discussion about incorporating AI into humanoid or animal forms, which Manu expresses reservations about, preferring AI to assist with human connections rather than replace them.

Manu Rehani, founder of Issa

Manu Rehani is an innovator in applied behavioral and cognitive linguistics. He is an inventor, mentor, and board advisor for a number of startups. After successfully exiting two tech ventures, he’s currently focused on developing a new class of emotion-aware AI for general application in custom GPTs and LLMs and specific use in mental health and wellness applications to foster a healthy relationship with self and others through AI.

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 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, 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.”

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