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Apple’s former Europe boss has raised $88 million to invest in start-ups

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Apple’s former Europe boss, Pascal Cagni, has raised a new €80 million ($88 million) fund to invest in start-ups through his venture firm, C4 Ventures. 

Cagni, who was head of Apple in Europe from 2000 to 2012, said the fund will be used to back entrepreneurs who prove they can survive and excel in the age of the coronavirus. 

While the virus has wrecked economies and destroyed company revenue streams, Cagni believes that some start-ups will thrive after the pandemic and he’s keen to capitalize on their success. 

“We felt confident that we should, as planned, raise and deploy capital during this period,” Cagni, who has been described as an “ally” to President Emmanuel Macron, said on a video call with CNBC.

Recruited by the late Steve Jobs, Cagni started working on C4 Ventures within months of leaving Apple, but the firm didn’t properly get going until 2014. Going from the iPhone maker to the world of venture capital wasn’t without its challenges: “After being brainwashed by Apple, I had to open my mind to the rest of the world,” Cagni said. 

But C4 Ventures has now backed more than 30 companies operating across hardware, commerce, and digital media. Each investment is normally around 3 million euros ($3.4 million) but they can go up to 4 million euros. 

Before investing in companies, Cagni said he likes to get to know the people running them. “I’m asking them … where do you come from? What drives you? You need to understand the history of the people.”

Big wins for the former Apple exec include Nest, the smart thermostat company acquired by Google for $3.2 billion, and Graphcore, an AI chip start-up now valued at over $2 billion.

His bets haven’t all worked out well though. “We have also failures,” said Cagni. “Anki is one of my big regrets.” 

Anki was a consumer robotics company that went bust last year after raising around $200 million. 

The card that Graphcore sells for $10,000.

Graphcore

When asked what makes C4 Ventures different to other tech investment firms, Cagni points to his head. “Look at my grey hair,” he said. “What is it I bring? It’s 30 years of experience.”

“We built a real success story with Apple in Europe,” he added. “When I came we were the kids on the block not doing well. We were losing money.”

Although he left Apple eight years ago, he claims to still have connections to some of Apple’s top leaders including Internet Software and Services SVP Eddy Cue, who he spoke to last week, and Worldwide Marketing SVP Phil Schiller, who he talks to from time to time. Start-ups in the portfolio shouldn’t expect an automatic introduction, however. “I may put you in contact with Apple, but it will be very, very rare, and I will never abuse that,” he said. 

Cagni has brought on former Apple colleague Raphael Crouan as partner of business development at C4 Ventures. Crouan said Apple’s “amount of methodology” and “rigorous processes” are something that they’re able to draw on as they invest in start-ups. Meanwhile, Cagni pointed to Apple’s “attention to detail.” 

London-based tech investors told CNBC that executive-level experience at big Silicon Valley tech firm can come in useful when backing new start-ups. 

Hussein Kanji, a partner at Hoxton Ventures in London, said: “Rolodex and domain knowledge are the key ingredients; patience, wisdom and experience is the other core skill set to be effective.”

Europe is full of venture capitalists vying for a slice of the hottest start-ups on the continent, and many of them have a lot more cash at their disposal than C4 Ventures.

Index Ventures, Accel Partners, and Balderton Capital have raised billions to back promising young companies. Meanwhile, in Israel, global venture investing platform OurCrowd just announced a $100 million “Pandemic Innovation Fund” to target tech solutions for Covid-19 and future pandemics, remote working, virtual learning, and social distancing.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/03/apple-pascal-cagni-vc-europe.html

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Pinterest is reportedly in talks to acquire VSCO

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So what can Pinterest do to jump higher up the list of social networking sites? According to a report by the New York Times, one possibility is acquiring the owner of VSCO, the app for editing / sharing photos and videos that has brought in-depth tools to mobile users for years. Neither side directly confirmed the negotiations, and there’s no word on a possible price, but maybe combining forces can bring some Instagram-like glow. 

As it is, Pinterest is still mostly known for planning and organizing, and as the NYT article points out, other than some recent acquisitions, VSCO is currently best known for the “VSCO girls” meme.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/vsco-pinterest-014258107.html

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A sealed copy of ‘Super Mario Bros.’ just sold for $660,000

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A nearly perfect copy of Super Mario Bros. for the NES has sold for $660,000 at auction. In what turned out to be a 13-bidder contest, $550,000 went to the game’s original owner. The copy was one of the earliest shrink-wrapped versions of the games you could buy in the US (Super Mario Bros. eventually had 11 different box variants, according to WATA Games).

Heritage Auctions, the firm that oversaw the sale, told Ars Technica it dates back to late 1986. It was reportedly bought as a Christmas gift and sat unopened in a desk drawer for the better part of four decades. “I never thought anything about it,” the seller, who asked to remain anonymous, told the auction house.

The $660,000 this copy of Super Mario Bros. sold for is crazy when you consider the Nintendo PlayStation, a one-of-a-kind prototype representing a unique piece of gaming history, sold for $360,000 at auction last year. More recently, someone paid $156,000 to buy a pristine copy of Super Mario Bros. 3. It makes you wonder how much the owner would have walked away with had they simultaneously tried to cash in on the NFT craze somehow.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/super-mario-bros-auction-000001095.html

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‘Lost Tapes of the 27 Club’ used Google AI to ‘write’ a new Nirvana song

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Were he still alive today, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain would be 52 years old. Every February 20th, on the day of his birthday, fans wonder what songs he would write if he hadn’t died of suicide nearly 30 years ago. While we’ll never know the answer to that question, an AI is attempting to fill the gap.

A mental health organization called Over the Bridge used Google’s Magenta AI and a generic neural network to examine more than two dozen songs by Nirvana to create a ‘new’ track from the band. “Drowned in the Sun” opens with reverb-soaked plucking before turning into an assault of distorted power chords. “I don’t care/I feel as one, drowned in the sun,” Nirvana tribute band frontman Eric Hogan sings in the chorus. In execution, it sounds not all that dissimilar from “You Know You’re Right,” one of the last songs Nirvana recorded before Cobain’s death in 1994.

Other than the voice of Hogan, everything you hear in the song was generated by the two AI programs Over the Bridge used. The organization first fed Magenta songs as MIDI files so that the software could learn the specific notes and harmonies that made the band’s tunes so iconic. Humorously, Cobain’s loose and aggressive guitar playing style gave Magenta some trouble, with the AI mostly outputting a wall of distortion instead of something akin to his signature melodies. “It was a lot of trial and error,” Over the Bridge board member Sean O’Connor told Rolling Stone. Once they had some musical and lyrical samples, the creative team picked the best bits to record. Most of the instrumentation you hear are MIDI tracks with different effects layered on top.

One thing neither AI gave direction on is how exactly Cobain would have sung the song. Outside of cadence and tone, Hogan had to interpret how the grunge star, who famously suffered from crippling stomach pain, would have channeled his anguish into the lyrics.

Over the Bridge isn’t the first group to use AI to emulate a dead artist. But the intent here is different from similar past projects. “Drowned in the Sun” is part of the organization’s Lost Tapes of the 27 Club initiative. They set out to record AI-generated songs by musicians who died at the age of 27 to raise awareness about mental health resources musicians, and people more generally, can turn to when they feel they need help. The Toronto-based non-profit has a Facebook page where it offers support. It also offers online sessions and workshops.

If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or over an online chat.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/over-the-bridge-lost-tapes-of-the-27-club-223000315.html

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Microsoft’s online-only Build conference starts on May 25th

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Spring is fully upon us, which means the calendar is starting to fill up with high-profile tech events. And the latest addition? Microsoft confirmed today that its online-only Build developer conference will run between May 25th and May 27th, though there’s still no word on when registration will open. (If last year is any indication, our money is on “the end of April.”)

“Microsoft Build is where developers, architects, start-ups, and students learn, connect, and code together, sharing knowledge and expanding their skillset, while exploring new ways of innovating for tomorrow,” the company’s events page explains. 

Unfortunately, Microsoft has yet to update its Build-specific webpage with information about this year’s priorities or schedule, but we’re almost certainly looking at another packed event. Last year, Microsoft went on (among other things) about improved collaboration tools for its suite of Office productivity apps, an AI-focused supercomputer running on its Azure cloud platform, and new cloud tools designed specifically for healthcare practitioners. 

Historically, spring and summer are been jam-packed with large, in-person events where app and software developers get their first glimpse at upcoming platform and strategy updates, attend workshops and code reviews, and generally mingle with their colleagues. Starting last year, though, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic has forced companies that stage these events to rapidly rethink their approaches.

Some, like Microsoft and Apple, quickly pivoted to informative online-only affairs that include full days worth of sessions, demos and fireside chats. (For what it’s worth, Apple announced this week that its own Worldwide Developer Conference will also proceed as an online-only event from June 7-11.) Meanwhile, Google has not yet confirmed whether it plans to stage its Google I/O developer conference at all this year — the company cancelled the show entirely in 2020, but said last month that it does plan to host some version of its annual Google Cloud Next event this October. 

Between a surge in COVID-19 vaccine production and news of relaxed restrictions for vaccinated travelers, Build 2021 may well be the last purely virtual developer conference Microsoft will ever need to put on. With any luck, devs will resume their pilgrimages to Seattle next year, and who knows — maybe those tiny emotional support horses from Build 2018 will show up again too.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/microsoft-build-2021-may-25-to-27-developer-conference-official-212230206.html

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