Saturday, April 23, 2022

"Mr. Metaverse" And His Web3 Bet Against Facebook


  • Yat Siu, executive chairman of Hong Kong-based metaverse start-up Animoca Brands, says that as new technology worlds are being built around the Web 3 idea, the biggest threat isn’t regulation but companies like Facebook and Tencent.
  • Animoca is valued at over $5 billion, turned profitable in 2021, has over $15 billion in digital asset and token reserves, and is raising another $150 million this month.
  • The college drop-out who was born and raised in Vienna as the only child of professional musicians discovered at an early age an affinity for computers, which led to a job at Atari, founding his internet service provider at the age of 20, and selling a previous start-up to IBM.
  • Read more at CNBC, by correspondent Rebecca Fannin 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Silicon Valley fallout from waging economic war against Russia

 Russian politicians and tech leaders started coming to Silicon Valley more than a decade ago to build high-tech bridges but since the Crimea annexation in 2014, venture capital deal-making within the U.S. involving Russia has been declining.

  • Still U.S.-based and global VC firms face issues with investments made over the past decade alongside Russian firms and individuals.
  • Russia has been angling to make its own Silicon Valley with the Skolkovo Technopark outside Moscow, but now-ended relationships with tech investors and universities including MIT were important.
  • Photo: Rebecca Fannin at Moscow's tech park Skolkovo in 2018 to speak at an innovation conference
  • See CNBC article on Russia by Rebecca Fannin

The 30-year-old female founder at the forefront of a billion-dollar bet on CRISPR gene editing

Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna is the most well-known co-founder of CRISPR start-up Mammoth Biosciences, but Janice Chen, the sister of U.S. figure skating champion Nathan Chen, is also one of its four co-founders and the chief technology officer.

  • Mammoth has added $100 million in big pharma contracts and government grants since the pandemic began, quadrupled its employee count and is still hiring, and saw its valuation rise to $1 billion in a venture deal featuring Amazon and Apple’s Tim Cook.
  • Chen has her sights set on reaching a $100 billion valuation as an independent company.
  • See CNBC article on CRISPR startup by 
    Rebecca Fannin

Next to the last steel mill in town, a robotic farm grows backed by Pritzker billions



  • Currently less than 1% of fresh produce is grown through hydroponics systems versus open-field agriculture, but this segment is forecast by Mordor Intelligence to grow by nearly 11% yearly to about $600 million by 2025 and Walmart has invested $400 million in Plenty Unlimited.
  • Vertical farming start-up Fifth Season is backed by billionaire Nicholas Pritzker’s Tao Capital and planning to disrupt the $60 billion U.S. produce market through food partners include Sabra, Kroger, Shoprite and Giant Eagle.
  • “The tech multiplier doesn’t lift all boats but it is spreading in the heartland,” says Congressman Ro Khanna of Silicon Valley.
  • See CNBC article on Pittsburgh startup Fifth Season 
    by Rebecca Fannin

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Endless Frontiers Can Move the US of A Forward and Compete with China


Predictions that China could win the superpower tech race were once considered ludicrous. Now the U.S. is fighting this increasing threat by reinvigorating the U.S. innovation economy with a massive federal agenda to spur the growth of new technologies, startups, and regional innovation hubs. 

China has advanced swiftly in artificial intelligence, 5G communications, electric vehicles, robotics, and other futuristic technologies. Having dominated China’s markets while Facebook, LinkedIn and Google were blocked, Chinese companies also have invested heavily in Southeast Asia and Africa, while Alibaba, Tencent and other tech titans were penetrating Hollywood, Silicon Valley and the Rust Belt before regulatory crackdowns largely halted those deals.      

Anyone who has traveled to China knows or seen the televised Olympics sees the stark comparison with America’s decaying bridges, highways, rails, and airports. China is building for the coming decades.        

China’s swift catch-up to the U.S. in high-tech innovation and R&D is remarkable. China has surpassed the U.S. in patent filings globally, and is gaining on the  U.S. lead in research and development. China’s venture capital market has surged to become the world’s second-largest, and nearly surpassed the U.S. in 2018. China’s ByteDance, the maker of TikTok, is the world’s most valuable venture-backed unicorn, worth $140 billion. Meanwhile, America’s share of global VC spending has fallen to about half from more than 90 percent in the 1990s.

To rebuild and retain America’s technology leadership will take turbo-charging emerging startup ecosystems throughout the country, from the Heartland region as well as the dominant coastal cities. New tech hubs that have sprung up in the midlands such as in Columbus are a starting point in transitioning Middle America’s once-dominant economies from industries of the past to tomorrow’s growth engines. But more support is still needed for many former steel towns, auto cities and coal mining lands that are struggling to latch on to the new digital economy.

Legislation sweeping through Congress ─ the America Competes Act and the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act ─ rightly promises increased funding and resources that can filter into overlooked inland markets. This effort can revitalize coal mining regions of the Appalachians and the industrialized Great Lake states, and even create Zoom towns in remote places.

But federal spending can only go so far. To fully recover from the Rust Belt days, more venture capital investment is needed for the Heartland. Two-thirds of VC spending nationwide goes to startups in California, New York, and Massachusetts.  Only a fraction goes to the midland states.

Increased venture spending in mid-America can drive much-needed development in economic wastelands that still suffer from poverty, drug addiction, lack of opportunities, and hopelessness. This comprehensive approach to rebuild can help the U.S. counter China’s technology innovation gains and restore confidence and pride.    

Traditional jobs in factories are not coming back. What’s needed to boost the former industrialized Midwest is diversification from past industries that went overseas or were automated. This drive forward needs to be accompanied by retraining of blue collar workers for higher-skilled jobs, an increase in vocational education, and more mentors and role models to inspire tomorrow’s tech entrepreneurs. With the right resources, the former Rust Belt can emerge as a Tech Belt. Entire business sectors from insurance to healthcare to transportation can be impacted. 

Intel’s plans to invest $20 billion to build chip-making plants in central Ohio – alongside Google, Facebook, and Amazon data centers ─ sends a strong signal that America is building back. Other specialized tech-centric innovation zones in former Rust Belt cities such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland are gaining strength with technology startups. These innovation clusters have developed in the toughest, most unexpected places, out of necessity. In a Build Back Better challenge initiated by the Department of Commerce, 50 finalists made the cut, including advanced manufacturing hubs in Cleveland and Detroit, information technology in Pittsburgh, and digital health in Louisville.  

Now, increased funding and resources from both the public and private sector can further develop regional tech hubs in new MidAmerican frontiers. To commercialize innovations from this frontier, it will take entire communities, uniting universities, incubators, economic development organizations, and R&D labs. This effort will reshape the digital divide in America, leading to a Silicon Heartland in the center of the U.S. It will speed up the adoption of new technologies. It will spread throughout overlooked regions that missed the tech boom. It will fuel economic growth in still-struggling cities of the Heartland.

The beginnings of this revival are already here: biotech spin-outs from Cleveland Clinic, robotics and autonomous driving breakthroughs from Carnegie Mellon University, and advancements in 3D printing, additive manufacturing from the Youngstown Business Incubator, and security technology in Dayton from the Air Force Research Laboratory. See photo of author standing in front of last steel mill in the Pittsburgh metro

Developing innovation zones such as in Cincinnati are getting on the bandwagon too, fostering entrepreneurship, and attracting more millennials and Gen Z’ers who want to live and work there. These districts as tearing down or repurposing abandoned factories, dilapidated buildings and empty shopping malls. They can be turned into massive tech parks like I’ve seen in Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen.

It’s urgent that America acts now to maintain its global technology leadership. Building up innovation hubs in the Heartland should be an important part of this rebuild effort. An American prosperity requires that all pockets of America benefit. It’s time that “flyover country” becomes known as “fly in country.”

By Rebecca A. Fannin, author of Silicon Dragon (2008) and Tech Titans of China (2019)

Monday, January 24, 2022

Intel's Big Build-Out In My Home State of Ohio Spurs the Growth of a Silicon Heartland

In a game changer, Intel is investing $20 billion on a new chip manufacturing hub on 1,000 acres near Columbus, the first semiconductor fab in the Midwest, and is hiring 3,000 employees. 

The silicon chipmaker's bold investment will draw more high-tech employment to central Ohio and spur the development of a Silicon Valley in the Heartland. Already, Google, Facebook and Amazon operate  data centers here, in this New Albany rural suburb of Ohio's capital city. My hometown of Lancaster, just 30 miles southeast, has attracted Google too.  

These investments come as Silicon Valley continues to decentralize. With this move toward the interior of the U.S., the old images of Rust Belt and cow towns could fade fast.  

The emergence of America's Heartland as a tech center comes at a crucial time for the U.S. as it fights back China's rise, deals with supply chain shortages, and jobs lost to lower-cost centers in Asia and Mexico. 

The arrival of Intel to the Midwest signals another Silicon territory, like Silicon Beach, Silicon Alley and Silicon Dragon. Call this Silicon Heartland.

Over the next decade, Intel plans to spend as much as $100 billion in eight factories spanning 10,000 acres of farmland. The Silicon Valley-based giant also intends to partner with local universities to foster new talent. This build out will spur the growth of an already budding tech ecosystem in central Ohio.   

Heartland America has been eager to develop new jobs, and has looked to technology and startups as sources. Now budding tech centers are gaining momentum, feeding upon the region's strong universities and research centers, and digitization of traditional businesses in insurance, healthcare and manufacturing. 

A growing number of talented millennials have been drawn away from the coasts and into the center of the country. The attraction is increased job opportunities in more inland startups and emerging businesses. Other factors driving this trend are lower cost of living and the ability to work remotely.  

Columbus is in the forefront of Midwestern clusters that are forming far away from long dominant Silicon Valley. CBus, as it's known, is emerging as the biggest of the once-sleepy giants. The population has surged 15 percent to nearly 900,000 over the past decade, the largest increase of any major Midwestern city. 

The metro's tech cluster is fueled by the arrival of venture firm Drive Capital and its Silicon Valley style. Drive Capital, set up by two former Sequoia Capital partners from California, has invested in dozens of tech startups in 10 years, and is building businesses for the future from healthcare to insurance to robotics. Further sparks come from spinouts at Ohio State University, startup studios Rev1 Ventures and Converge Ventures, and inventions at world-leading research outfit Battelle Memorial Institute, creator of vehicle cruise control and the bar code.    

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine -- and other Midwestern states -- have been angling for a chunk of this new distributed Silicon Valley. The Buckeye state has allocated billions to develop urban innovation districts in Columbus as well as Cincinnati and Cleveland. The goal? Create thousands of jobs in high-tech, healthcare and smart manufacturing, and educate students in science and technology fields. Now, this Intel facility is touted as the single, largest investment in the state's history, and boosts Ohio's economy that suffered when the steel mills and auto factories left. 

The San Francisco Bay Area continues to be the epicenter of venture capital, attracting half of VC spending nationwide. But the sands are shifting. Investment in Silicon Valley startups recently declined to below 30 percent nationwide for the first time in 10 years. Meanwhile, venture deals in the Midwest have quadrupled over the past decade. 

Unicorn-valued startups, high-ticket acquisitions, and IPOs have popped up in Columbus as well as tech clusters in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Detroit. Each city leverages its strengths in technology to specialize. For instance, Pittsburgh is a hub for autonomous driving. Indianapolis is strong in software as a service. Detroit is into advanced manufacturing and electric vehicles.  

Over the past 50 years, Silicon Valley saw its orchards transformed into high-tech parks. Now, central Ohio is starting to see its fertile pastures changed to data-driven centers. It will take some time for the culture to change for more of a risk-taking nature that is common in the Valley.  As an early spotter of major tech innovation trends such as in China with Silicon Dragon, I'm convinced that a Silicon Heartland will show its power.  

Monday, June 14, 2021

Endless Frontiers Can Combat China's Tech Rise


Twelve years ago, my book Silicon Dragon cautioned that China could win the tech race. Now the U.S. has finally woken up to this threat. The U.S. is moving in the right direction with the largest national increase in science, technology and manufacturing in generations. It's a build back better plan, and with European allies coming aboard, this bold plan counters China's Belt and Road initiative and five-year economic plans. 

China has been gaining on the U.S. for years. State-led blueprints have advanced China as a powerful innovation nation in important world-changing tech sectors. The Chinese have moved from copying innovations in the West to crafting their own inventions. Leading edge technologies for electric vehicles, smart phones, robotics, biotech, finance, retail and more have been adopted very swiftly in China’s digitally savvy market.

Chinese tech titans Baidu, ByteDance, Alibaba and Tencent have emerged as powerful counterweights to Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google, which have struggled or been blocked in China.  China’s BAT, as they’re called, have out-innovated the West in many game-changing consumer and business technologies that rely on artificial intelligence. They’ve bulked up internationally too, investing heavily in Southeast Asia and Africa, and previously in America’s Silicon Valleys before a U.S. crackdown on foreign (read China) ownership of sensitive technologies.  Moreover, China has been pumping money into building its semiconductor capabilities. The world’s second-largest economy has its own ambitions for space technology and quantum computing too.  

And as anyone who has traveled to China knows, the country’s modern infrastructure beats our nation’s decaying bridges, highways and airports. There is no Rust Belt in China like our abandoned factories and depleted downtowns in Middle America. China was starting from scratch. No need to rebuild former industrial cities.  Just build for the future is what China has been doing.

Several worrisome indicators point to a shift in power. China surpassed the U.S. in 2019 in the number of patent applications to the World Intellectual Property Organization, and increased that lead in 2020 to a 25 percent share globally, bypassing the U.S. at 21.5 percent.  Moreover, China is catching up to the U.S. lead in global research and development.  The U.S. has a 25 percent share of global R&D spending while the PRC weighs in with 23 percent and growing strongly, according to the National Science Board.  The National Venture Capital Association finds that America’s share of global venture dollars has dropped from 83 percent in 2004 to 51 percent today, with China as the biggest gainer. China’s ByteDance, the maker of TikTok, is the world’s most valued unicorn at $140 billion.

By passing the Endless Frontier Act, the government will fund cutting-edge science to combat China’s increasing challenge to America’s technology prowess. More U.S. technology innovation will be commercialized to retain our global leadership well into the mid-century. The $250 billion bill increases investment in critical scientific and tech fields, funds R&D and manufacturing of key technologies, and creates 10 regional technology hubs.

With this urgently needed funding, the middle of the country could recover from a long downward spiral of lost jobs. A growing number of inland innovation districts stand to prosper. Specialized strongholds such as biotech in Cleveland and robotics in Pittsburgh already have emerged with state funding and local resources such as the Cleveland Clinic and Carnegie Mellon University.

More national funding and venture capital investment is needed to boost our Heartland markets. Two-thirds of startup investing goes to three coastal states (California, New York and Boston). Meanwhile, seven core states of the Rest Belt and Great Lakes capture only about six percent of venture spending nationwide. This gap needs to be closed.

The well-named Endless Frontier Act will send more resources to down-and-out places that need support the most. It will help the USA reclaim its might.  As I pointed out in my pivotal book in 2008, whoever wins the race to the technologies of the future will be the global economic leader.

By Rebecca A. Fannin the author of Silicon Dragon (2008) and Tech Titans of China (2019).