Top startup news for Tuesday, March 21, 2023: Adobe, Google, Microsoft, StructShare, tomi, and Unlearn
Good evening! Below are some of the top tech startup news stories for Tuesday, March 21, 2023.
Google announces the public release of ChatGPT competitor Bard
Alphabet Google on Tuesday morning finally began the public release of its high-anticipated ChatGPT competitor Bard as it seeks users and feedback to catch on Microsoft in the AI race. Google CEO Sundar Pichai describes Bard as”an experiment,” adding that 80,000 company employees participated in testing Bard.
Bard, which is built on Google’s LaMDA, or Language Model for Dialogue Applications, can offer chatty responses to complicated or open-ended questions, such as “give me ideas on how to introduce my daughter to fly fishing.”
The testing is currently open to users in the U.S. and UK. Consumers can join a waiting list for English-language access to Bard, a program previously open to approved testers only.
“As more people start to use Bard and test its capabilities, they’ll surprise us. Things will go wrong,” Pichai wrote in an internal email to employees Tuesday. “But the user feedback is critical to improving the product and the underlying technology.”
According to Google’s website, Bard does not possess the same level of skill as ChatGPT in producing computer code. Additionally, Google disclosed that Bard’s ability to recall past conversations in a chat is restricted, and currently, it is not utilizing Bard for advertising purposes, which is a crucial aspect of Google’s business model.
Biotech AI startup Unlearn raises $15M in funding to create “digital twin” profiles of patients in clinical trials
Artificial intelligence is quickly becoming one of the hottest startup investing trends of 2023. Interest in AI startups has grown in recent months, thanks to the sudden success of OpenAI ChatGPT. Although, investments in AI have been hot in recent years, with a reported $75 billion invested in the space in 2020 alone.
However, between 2020 and 2022, generative AI, the area that ChatGPT falls under saw a 425% increase in VC investments. But ChatGPT is not the only game in town. There are a dozen AI startups using generative AI in other sectors. One of those startups is Unlearn.AI, a San Francisco-based Biotech AI startup using machine learning to create “digital twin” profiles of patients in clinical trials.
Today, Unlearn announced it has raised $15 million in funding to grow its partnerships and accelerate regulatory approval, the startup[ told Reuters on Tuesday. The round, which valued the startup at $265 million, was backed with investment from Radical Ventures and Wittington Ventures. To date, Unlearn has raised a total of $85 million from high-profile investors including Insight Partners, 8VC, and Mubadala Ventures.
In conjunction with the funding, Unlearn also announced that Mira Murati, chief technology officer at Microsoft-backed OpenAI, is joining the company’s Board of Directors.
“The team at Unlearn is working on applications of AI that have incredible potential to revolutionize healthcare, diagnostics, and treatment,” Murati told Reuters.
Founded in 2017 by CEO Charles K. Fisher, Aaron Smith, and Jon Walsh, Unlearn leverages generative AI not only to generate content such as text, images, and computer code but also to construct digital twins utilizing its neural networks. This innovative approach aims to accelerate clinical drug trials, potentially resulting in reduced costs for drug developers by replacing patients who receive a placebo and reducing the number of required enrollments if successful.
StructShare announced today it has raised $8 million in funding to automate the procurement and material management process in the construction industry and scale its platform across the United States and globally. The round was led by Copenhagen-based VC firm KOMPAS, with participation from other strategic industry investors.
The round also saw participation from SeedIL, first-time investors in the construction technology space, and CEMEX Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of a multinational building materials company. In addition to these new investors, existing angel and strategic investors also contributed to the round. KOMPAS is a venture capital firm specializing in early-stage investment in the built environment and construction digitization.
StructShare has raised a total of $10 million in pre-seed and seed funding since its inception 2 years ago and has grown its customer base by 300% year-on-year across 20 states and 15 different trades.
Co-founded in 2021 by Arik Davidi, StructShare has developed a software solution that enables trade contractors to take control of the entire procurement cycle. By automating all procurement processes in the field, office and warehouse, StructShare reduces costs and material waste, prevents purchasing mistakes, and enables full control over spend and inventory.
StructShare has established strong strategic relationships with leading players in the construction tech, finance, and supply chain industry. To date, the company has raised a total of $10 million in pre-seed and seed funding and has grown its customer base by 300% year-on-year across 20 states and 15 different trades.
Davidi said: “We are extremely proud of the team and look forward to continuing to facilitate the transition of efficient commerce in the construction industry. The fresh funding will help us to expand our platform and continue to scale our footprint in the US and beyond.” Or Lakritz, Co-Founder, added: “We are excited to continue with our mission to help the people and businesses who are building our world thrive in this tough environment while transforming construction delivery, efficiency, and sustainability through best-in-class procurement management.”
In what analysts said could pose the ‘biggest potential threat’ to Apple’s App Store, Microsoft is gearing up to launch a games app store for iPhones and Androids in 2023 if government regulators approve its acquisition of Activision Blizzard is approved.
In an interview with Financial Times on Monday, Microsoft head of Gaming Phil Spencer said the tech giant could launch a new app store for games as early as next year if regulators approve the company’s $75 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard.
The EU’s Digital Markets Act is anticipated to introduce fresh regulations mandating that Apple and Google permit other companies’ app stores starting from March 2024. Nevertheless, Microsoft is currently in the midst of grappling with regulators in the US, Europe, and the UK over concerns regarding anti-competitive behavior. However, the company could seamlessly modify its Xbox and Game Pass applications to sell mobile games and subscriptions.
Analysts at Morgan Stanley said on Tuesday that Microsoft’s potential launch of its own app store would pose an “immaterial risk” to Apple, although it should still be regarded as a “long-term threat” worth monitoring, CNBC reported.
“If we took a ‘worst case’ view of the world and said the potential Microsoft app store could take all EU gaming revenue from the Apple App Store – given the focus of the DMA is just in Europe, for now – that would equate to 8% of App Store revenue, 2% of Apple Services revenue, and a ~1% hit to Apple company-level revenue and EPS,” the analysts said.
The lucrative App Store business could cut into Apple’s profit if Microsoft were to enter into the App Store business. For example, Apple generated $20.77 billion in services revenue during its fiscal first quarter of 2023 alone.
Although Microsoft may successfully acquire Activision Blizzard and establish an app store, Morgan Stanley analysts remain unconvinced that this development would pose a threat to Apple.
As per 2022 reports, Microsoft and Activision Blizzard’s contribution to Apple’s overall revenue was deemed negligible, as their combined revenue accounted for less than 1% of Apple Services’ revenue.
“We estimate the impact of a potential Microsoft App Store on the iPhone would be limited to <3% of App Store revenue and <0.5% of EPS, but it still represents the biggest potential threat to the App Store today,” they wrote in a Tuesday note.
tomi secures $40M in funding to build a surveillance-free alternative internet controlled by the community
Over the past few years, we’ve seen big tech companies working with governments to censor free speech and information on the internet. The modern internet, spearheaded by industry giants such as Google and Facebook, was originally designed to grant users unrestricted access to information and freedom of expression.
However, as time has passed, the internet has fallen victim to censorship and surveillance by both governments and corporations, resulting in increasingly stringent restrictions on what can be accessed and expressed.
Although certain alternative internet options exist to protect users’ privacy and ensure uncensored information access, the “dark web” networks that emerge from such options often harbor illicit activities. This has prompted Google to introduce a new tool for One users that monitors the dark web for any instances of their personal data being sold. It’s for this reason that a group of tech veterans is trying to build an alternative internet controlled by the community designed to promote a free economy, free speech, a free web, and a free world.
Enter tomi, an alternative internet network led by an anonymous group of eight senior crypto veterans. tomi offers a DAO-governed, surveillance-free alternative to the World Wide Web. tomi also offers tomiNet which leverages DAO governance to foster community-driven censorship of the more illicit activities that run rampant on the most prominent alternative internet networks today.
Today, tomi announced it has closed $40 million for its DAO-governed alternative internet network in a funding round led by DWF Labs. Ticker Capital, Piha Equities, Japanese crypto whale, and community leader Hirokado Kohji, with participation from additional private investors, also participated in the round. tomi will leverage the funding to court content creators for its network.
Tomi is launching an alternative internet network, governed by a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), that champions freedom of speech and unrestricted access to information. The funds raised will be used to attract prominent content creators and publishers to the network, guaranteeing users secure access to high-quality content.
Additionally, the team is developing a fairer monetization system that allows creators to concentrate on producing content without distractions from sponsorships or ads. The funding will also support the development of technology aimed at safeguarding the privacy of tomiPAY users and tomiDAO members.
The community-driven tomiDAO oversees the alternative network and decides on proposals ranging from code changes to censoring content that fails to meet the community’s standards. The DAO will vote against content that contains terrorism, child pornography, and other forms of violence, as outlined in the community guidelines.
In just a few months, ChatGPT, the most popular generative AI created by OpenAI, has revolutionized the way we communicate with chatbots and unlocked a whole new world of possibilities by making it possible for an average user to do tasks that were previously impossible unless with the assistance of an expert.
Now, Adobe has thrown its hat in the ring of generative AI with the launch of Firefly, an AI tool that let users type commands to quickly modify images. According to Adobe, the beta version of Firefly is initially focused on the generation of images and text effects, but the company added that it has the potential to do much, much more down the road.
“Firefly is a major step forward. Our first Firefly model focuses on the creation of images and text effects. It is particularly valuable to those seeking to generate content for commercial use because it is trained on hundreds of millions of professional-grade, licensed images in Adobe Stock along with openly licensed content and public domain content where the copyright has expired,” Adobe said.
Adobe Firefly is Adobe’s family of new creative generative AI models with capabilities to generate content brushes, variations on existing images, and potentially transform photos and videos based on user prompts. The company added that the new Firefly will integrate into its existing suite of products.
“We’ve augmented the model with a powerful style engine, to help you explore the generative capabilities and create photos, art, graphics and text effects with impressive style, color, tone, lighting and composition controls. Everything is designed, from the ground up, to be embeddable into your existing workflows across Adobe Creative Cloud, Document Cloud, Experience Cloud and Adobe Express. Adobe is also planning to make Firefly available via APIs on various platforms to enable customers to integrate into custom workflows and automations.”
In one example, Adobe shows how one might take a picture of a summer scene and type “change scene to winter day” to change the image without any editing by the user.
Adobe also showcased a product demo featuring a “Generate Variations” option in a sample video. The video demonstrated how Adobe Firefly utilizes AI to create diverse versions of a specific element in a multi-layered artwork, such as a lighthouse. In the demo, the audience was shown how the AI-generated variations can breathe new life into the original artwork.