Thursday, July 20, 2023

Silicon Heartland Author Gives Buffalo's Richardson Hotel Quite a Few Stars

Talk about a unique experience. I recently stayed at the just-reopened Richardson Hotel in Buffalo, while on my book tour in the city.  

At first glance, you had to be impressed by the majestic, awesomely large structure in a beautiful setting comparable to Central Park on 40 beautifully landscaped acres, in fact designed by the very same Frederick Law Olmsted. The interior was flawlessly clean and spacious with high ceilings, wide corridors, and beautiful wood floors and railings. 

Little did I realize when I checked in that the hotel was a former insane asylum, housing patients up until the mid-1970s.  But I might have guessed from some tell-tale clues. First, some chamber doors in the hallways were closed off, painted over so you could barely notice. Second, the rooms were extra small. Mine actually was a combination of two rooms. Third, most of the rooms had minimal views. Mine overlooked another wing of the building. Then, some of the vast structure was still empty, in need of repair.  In this section of the building, balconies were caged in, a remnant of the past (presumably to prevent suicidal jumps?). Not that hotel was hiding its past -- historical photos of Buffalo's maritime glory days, including many of this landmark dating back more than 100 years, lined the walls.   

All this noted, I liked the hotel. It has a great story, fitting well with the theme of my new book,
Silicon Heartland.  The staff was extra-friendly (everyone I met in Buffalo was!) The Richardson is conveniently located, nearby the (also) just-reopened AKG Art Museum, which I toured. 

And, everything functioned well! Super-speedy wi-fi connections, great water pressure, good heating-cooling controls, a well-equipped business center, and well-lit spaces. You could argue that's not much, but I can tell you that luxury hotels get many of these basic points wrong. There was plenty of space to roam along long and winding corridors, most of them still not occupied while renovations continue. The restaurant was not open yet during my stay but a cafe served pastries.  

The hotel, which used to be called the Henry, went into receivership in 2021, a victim of the pandemic. New owner Douglas Jemal, a local real estate developer, took it over in 2022, and are investing $57 million in campus renovations. Jemal rebranded the hotel as the Richardson, after original architect Henry Hobson Richardson. He also owns Seneca One, the city's tallest tower, where my book talk event was held with community leaders, including former Congressman and now real estate developer Chris Jacobs. 

I would definitely return for another visit, but I'm glad I caught it now at this early stage of development before all the tourists arrive.   
by Rebecca A. Fannin

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Shuffle Off to Buffalo: An Artsy Review of a City in Transition

 In the days of vaudeville, back in the 1920s, entertainers would usually want to include Buffalo on their circuit of theaters.
Buffalo was among the biggest markets in the country, one of the largest cities, and rich enough to have its own theater district, with several grand venues.
New York City was the big brother to the South, and got most of the attention, but the residents of Buffalo were proud of their City. And they wanted to be a cultural oasis, with theaters, museums and beautiful parks.
Once the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, Buffalo became a hub of commerce. It incorporated as a City in 1832, and by 1862, the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy was founded (years before the Metropolitan Museum in New York City).
That Academy eventually was transformed into the Albright-Knox Art Museum. a very respectable regional museum with a very good collection of modern and contemporary art.
But the Albright-Knox needed to expand as its collection grew, and the Museum launched an ambitious multi-million-dollar expansion.
With a generous donation of $65 million from financier (and Buffalo resident) Jeffrey Gundlach, they hired the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) headed by Shohei Shigematsu, with Executive Architect Cooper Robertson, to transform the museum.
OMA has added 30,000 square feet to the original museum, providing large spacious rooms for large contemporary paintings. With the new addition, Albright-Knox, now named Buffalo AKG Museum of Art, has a jewel box of a setting for some of its prize contemporary paintings, including 35 works by abstract painter Clyfford Still. Still is considered one of the leading abstract expressionist artists, and he donated many of his large master paintings to Buffalo AKG. Now they can all be viewed in three large galleries.
The addition and expansion have a light-filled bridge to the original collection, a nice transition between the neo-classical Greek structure of 1905 by EB Green.

contributed by John D. Delmar

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Some 8,000 Road Miles Later, Silicon Heartland Book Launches with Loads of Endorsements

After two years of research and some 3,000 miles logged in my Honda Element on a road tour through the Rust Belt, my new book, Silicon Heartland, is launching. 

Kevin Stevens, Editorial Director, Imagine Books
(distributed by Penguin Random House)

Change is sweeping across the American
heartland. For too long ignored as “flyover
country,” the once-mighty Midwest is
experiencing a quiet but compelling revolution
powered by savvy venture capital, high-tech
innovation, entrepreneurial boldness, and good
old American moxie. What has been known
as the Rust Belt is now developing the shine
of a tech belt. The former pinnacle of the US
economy is making a comeback, which bodes
well not only for the heartland but for our
economy and morale nationwide.
Rebecca A. Fannin explored this twenty-first century
transformation from the inside. And
she did it the old-fashioned way—by putting
hard miles on her Honda Element and visiting
women and men from Flint, Michigan, to
Huntington, West Virginia, who are planning,
financing, and building this latest version of
the American Dream. A heartlander herself,
Fannin brings readers on an investigative tour
that starts in her hometown of Lancaster, Ohio,
and takes in six states, dozens of cities, and
hundreds of enterprises.
Silicon Heartland tells the story of a comeback
journey—and also personal stories of some of
the remarkable people Rebecca met who are
restoring the region’s vibrancy and prosperity
with a social and economic turnaround that
is diverse, contemporary, and solidly realized.
What Rebecca discovered on the way—about
America, about her family, about herself—
is surprising and inspiring and makes her
book timely documentation about a reviving
economy and also a moving reminder of the
importance of family and heritage.

Thanks for the endorsements! 

“No place or company is immune from getting disrupted – and Silicon Valley is no different. In Rebecca’s new book, Silicon Heartland, she explores the tech innovation frontier emerging in states that were once centers of commerce but were left behind when they didn’t adapt to new technologies. Silicon Heartland underscores how my home state of West Virginia – and other Appalachian locations – are progressing by investing in entrepreneurship.”
 John Chambers, Founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures, and former Executive Chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems

As an investor and venture capitalist who moved to Austin, Texas several years ago, I find Rebecca Fannin’s compassionate and rigorous analysis of entrepreneurship a must-read. She asks and answers so many of the right questions: how we got here, where we’re going, and what needs to happen to revitalize communities and democratize innovation. This will be an indispensable book for founders, investors, and change-makers.
 Jim Breyer, Founder & CEO, Breyer Capital

“In Silicon Heartland, Fannin details the technology transformation underway in our heartland — masterfully weaving together years of research and knowledge with personal stories from people across America. It’s a book that inspires hope for our future.”
 Ro Khanna, author of Dignity in a Digital Age

Silicon Heartland, Rebecca Fannin’s uplifting journey into America’s all-too-often overlooked Midwest – where she, herself, grew up – is a compelling counter-narrative to the depiction of the region as being in the grip of post-industrial decline. This is the untold story of the Rust Belt rising, amid a wave of optimism, innovation and old-fashioned grit.”
 MaĆ«lle Gavet, CEO of Techstars and author of Trampled by Unicorns

Silicon Heartland shines the light on exciting examples and best practices that are leveling the playing field of opportunity and unleashing new opportunity. This book is a must-read for anyone who believes that entrepreneurial success is only possible on the coasts. The Silicon Heartland welcomes you!
 Brad D. Smith, President Marshall University and former Chairman and CEO, Intuit

“From an author with America’s heartland in her blood and a keen observer of global innovation, this book is a tremendous resource to help communities across the country tap into their entrepreneurial roots and reinvent themselves.”
— Greg Becker, president and CEO of SVB and graduate of Indiana University

Silicon Heartland provides an almost perfect sequel to Ms. Fannin’s must-read Tech Titans of China. Now she brings the focus back to our nation’s shores, but rather than detail the assumed decay of American greatness, she instead finds hope. The green-shoots of a potentially innovative and prosperous future have been planted for generations to come. This book provides a much-needed boost of optimism at a time when it’s vitally needed.”
 Chris Fenton, author, Feeding the Dragoand Film Producer

In her book Silicon Heartland, journalist Rebecca Fannin journeys back to her home in the Midwest to explore how cities and states are working to reinvent local economies. Her unique perspective will help readers understand the entrepreneurial communities that are working to turn cities between the coasts into promising innovation hubs.
 Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and Revolution and author of The Rise of the Rest

“Finally…someone gets it. The Rustbelt of the Midwest is transitioning to the Tech Belt of the heartland and author/journalist Rebecca A. Fannin tells that story in an engaging and sometimes personal manner. She took time to explore this flyover country to discover an emerging new energy and entrepreneurial spirit that is replacing regional depression. She tells the story of Midwestern rebirth that everyone else has ignored and she does so with the perspective of an experienced journalist. Her writing is crisp and sharp, and her reporting is thorough and in-depth.”
— Tom Hodson, Director Emeritus of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and WOUB Public Media

Silicon Heartland tells stories that should be told. 
With the move to onshoring, perhaps real dollars will continue to flow - and even increase - across the belt(s). I hope so. Lots of know-how and talent there. Less reason to move elsewhere in this increasingly un-tethered world, and current societal and technological waves benefit from more open spaces and lower costs.”  
 James D. Robinson, Founder & General Partner, RRE Ventures 

“Few journalists I know have truly been ‘out there’ deeply connecting with their subject like Rebecca. Her family’s personal history in the Midwest allows her to truly hear what’s happening.”
 Brian Cohen, Chairman, Science Literacy Foundation/ Founding Partner, New York Venture Partners/ Chairman Emeritus, New York Angels

“Hop into author Rebecca Fannin’s vintage Honda as she cruises through “flyover country,” reporting on what was long considered the rusted remains of America’s industrial might. Except she finds something quite different:  Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurship built on traditional Midwestern values of honesty, hard work, and community.  Without glossing over the challenges, Ms. Fannin provides an insightful look into the rebirth of cities and a region that launched American leadership in the global economy.”
— Dan Schwartz, Publisher, Asian Venture Capital Journal (1993-2008) and author, The Future of Finance

“Silicon Heartland is a fascinating and inspiring read.  Only Rebecca Fannin, with her venture background, China experience, and heartland roots, could uncover the amazing tech revolution occurring in the middle of America.  Rebecca shines a light on how the next generation will transform the region by taking a page out of the Silicon Valley playbook.”
 David Kaufman, Director of Global Strategies, Nixon Peabody

“Silicon Heartland shows how scrappy innovators are remaking the US economy and breathing life back into Rust Belt cities and impoverished rural communities. Fannin does a fantastic job providing both the data and case studies on how a new wave of entrepreneurs and technology are transforming America’s overlooked and under-funded regions.”
 Steve Hoffman, Chairman and CEO, Founders Space

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