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These 10 Austin Tech Companies Raised a Total of $767M in 2020 – Built In Austin

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Last year has brought plenty of new innovations to the Austin tech scene. Undeterred by the COVID-19 pandemic, several companies secured ample new capital in 2020 to further advancements in areas from digital healthcare to online streaming.
Leading the way for Austin in 2020 was Everlywell, followed by Homeward and Vapor IO. Read on for the rest of the top Austin tech fundings of 2020. Now, onward to 2021.
 
Since the pandemic has spurred companies to continue remote work, the company has encountered increased demand among employers for its AI-powered workforce analytics and productivity software. Its Series B round was led by Sapphire Ventures and will enable it to further develop its platform and expand its integrations with third-party data sources and tech partners. ActivTrak is also hiring for sales, marketing and product development positions.
 
As more people are searching for ways to earn money by streaming content online, this startup aims to help them reach larger audiences. After closing its Series B round led by Sapphire Ventures and Insight Partners, this startup plans to launch its product Restream Studio. The platform offers content creators and businesses a way to broadcast live videos simultaneously across over 30 social platforms.
 
For entrepreneurs looking to take charge of their solo business ventures, the company offers tools to help its customers create an LLC or corporation for free. After raising a Series B funding round led by Cathay Innovation, the startup is working to enhance its services and launch new platforms including ZenBusiness Money for fintech services and ZenBusinessU for educational resources. The company is also hiring in engineering, development, design and more.
 
With a goal to help its customers build a good credit score and reach their financial goals, Self Financial had an eventful year with two funding rounds to help further its platform. Its $20 million Series C round in February was led by Altos Ventures and Conductive Ventures and went toward hiring new talent. This month, Self announced the close of its $40 million Meritech Capital-led Series D that will allow the company to continue supporting its customers.
 
One thing that has been consistently challenging for city dwellers is finding a good parking space, but with its equity financing from L Catterton, this company is seeking to lessen the burden for drivers. Its cloud-based software platform offers users real-time data and pricing options for city parking space providers. With the funding, the startup is working toward advancing its mobility hub operations.
 
The legaltech startup’s AI-powered platform helps customers efficiently search documents to determine their relevance to a specific case. With its software, users can automate, organize and expedite their collection of evidence. After securing the new funding, the company’s valuation raised to $785 million. Additionally, the company announced $40 million in debt financing in December. DISCO is planning on expanding worldwide, furthering the development of its platform, and increasing its go-to-market and enterprise sales teams.
 
With its Series D funding led by Wafra, the startup is planning on growing its AI-powered platform that provides customers with personalized property recommendations for real estate. This comes after acquiring Movoto, a search engine for residential properties. The company also announced plans to increase its headcount in engineering, data science, product talent and other teams.
 
This startup is working to expand its edge computing service offerings. Edge computing uses a network of data servers located closely to the device attempting to access that data, so users can access the information they need more quickly than in some cloud computing instances. After the close of its extended Series C, Vapor IO is looking toward expanding into 36 markets by the end of next year with its edge colocation, edge exchange and edge networking services.
 
This company offers a way for real estate agents to buy and sell their clients’ homes through a central platform. With the new equity funding, this startup is planning to expand its housing inventory by the hundreds as well as partner with thousands of agents across Texas, Colorado and Georgia. Most of its fresh funding will go toward hiring new team members in engineering, marketing, product and operations.
 
Offering digital health solutions has become an even greater necessity during the pandemic, and this company’s at-home medical testing kits are in higher demand than ever before as a result. It plans on using the capital from its Series D round to grow its testing infrastructure, enhance its virtual care platform, invest in clinical research and expand its nationwide footprint. The round brings Everlywell’s total funding to $250 million.
 
Funding data is compiled from SEC filings, press releases, confirmed news reports and other public databases. Funding includes venture capital and private equity announced during 2020, but excludes acquisitions and debt financing in most cases.

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Biden begs for money for 2024 Campaign from local SF Bay Area tech leaders and talks AI

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Biden discusses risks and promises of artificial intelligence with tech leaders in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — President Joe Biden convened a group of technology leaders on Tuesday to debate what he called the “risks and enormous promises” of artificial intelligence.

The Biden administration is seeking to figure out how to regulate the emergent field of AI, looking for ways to nurture its potential for economic growth and national security and protect against its potential dangers.

“We’ll see more technological change in the next 10 years that we saw in the last 50 years,” Biden said as the meeting with eight technology experts from academia and advocacy groups kicked off.

“AI is already driving that change,” Biden said.

The sudden emergence of AI chatbot ChatGPT and other tools has jumpstarted investment in the sector. AI tools are able to craft human-like text, music, images and computer code. This form of automation could increase the productivity of workers, but experts warn of numerous risks.

The technology could be used to replace workers, causing layoffs. It’s already being deployed in false images and videos, becoming a vehicle of disinformation that could undermine democratic elections. Governments, as well as the European Union, have said they are determined to regulate and put brakes on AI before it is too late.

Biden said social media has already shown the harm technology can do “without the right safeguards in place.”

In May, Biden’s administration brought together tech CEOs at the White House to discuss these issues, with the Democratic president telling them, “What you’re doing has enormous potential and enormous danger.”

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White House chief of staff Jeff Zients’ office is developing a set of actions the federal government can take over the coming weeks regarding AI, according to the White House. Top officials are meeting two to three times each week on this issue, in addition to the daily work of federal agencies. The administration wants commitments from private companies to address the possible risks from AI.

Biden met Tuesday at the Fairmont hotel in San Francisco with Tristan Harris, executive director of the Center for Human Technology; Jim Steyer, the CEO of Common Sense Media; and Joy Buolamwin, founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, among others. California Gov. Gavin Newsom was also in attendance.

Biden is also in the San Francisco area to raise money for this 2024 reelection campaign. At his first fundraiser of the night, Biden spoke about what he saw as freedoms under siege, particularly for the LGBTQ community and with the overturning of abortion protections by the U.S. Supreme Court. And as president, it’s his job to help safeguard the right to choose.

“I think the American people need to have the confidence that we’re going to do what we say we’re going to do,” he said.

Climate change has also been a priority in Biden’s speeches at the fundraisers. On Tuesday, he told a group that he expects that John Kerry, the special envoy for climate, will soon return to China for talks on reducing carbon emissions.

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Associated Press writer Barbara Ortutay in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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Microsoft makes case for Activision merger amid EU scrutiny

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Microsoft makes case for Activision merger amid EU scrutiny

BRUSSELS (AP) — Microsoft’s Xbox video game division on Tuesday announced new partnerships with Nintendo and chipmaker Nvidia as it tries to persuade European regulators to approve its planned $68.7 billion takeover of game publishing giant Activision Blizzard.

A key audience for the announcements were the European Union antitrust regulators who held a closed-door meeting Tuesday with executives from Microsoft and some of its competitors, including Sony and Google.

Microsoft announced a 10-year agreement with chipmaker Nvidia to bring Xbox games to Nvidia’s cloud gaming service. Microsoft also said it has now signed a similar deal with Nintendo, formalizing a commitment it revealed late last year.

What it does not have is an agreement with Xbox’s chief rival, PlayStation-maker Sony, which has sought to convince antitrust regulators around the world to stop the Activision Blizzard merger.

The all-cash deal, which is set to be the largest in the history of the tech industry, faces pushback from regulators in the U.S. and Europe because it would give Microsoft control of popular game franchises such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Candy Crush.

The European Commission, the 27-nation bloc’s executive arm, has been investigating whether the merger would distort fair competition to popular Activision Blizzard game titles. It’s scheduled to make a decision by March 23.

Microsoft first announced the agreement to buy the California-based game publisher early last year, but the takeover has also been stalled in the U.S., where the Federal Trade Commission has sued to block the deal, and in Britain, where an antitrust watchdog’s provisional report said it will stifle competition and hurt gamers.

Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Washington, has been counting on getting approval in either the EU or Britain to help advance its case in the U.S.

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Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, said at a Brussels news conference after meeting with regulators Tuesday that he was “not in a position to say exactly what was said in the hearing room” but emphasized that Xbox has a much smaller share of the market than PlayStation does in Europe, and asserted that the deal would be good for the industry by bringing more games to more people.

“For us at Microsoft, this has never been about spending $69 billion so that we could acquire titles like Call of Duty and make them less available to people,” Smith said. “That’s actually not a great way to turn a $69 billion asset into something that will become more valuable over time.”

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Amid ChatGPT outcry, some teachers are inviting AI to class

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Amid ChatGPT outcry, some teachers are inviting AI to class

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Under the fluorescent lights of a fifth grade classroom in Lexington, Kentucky, Donnie Piercey instructed his 23 students to try and outwit the “robot” that was churning out writing assignments.

The robot was the new artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT, which can generate everything from essays and haikus to term papers within seconds. The technology has panicked teachers and prompted school districts to block access to the site. But Piercey has taken another approach by embracing it as a teaching tool, saying his job is to prepare students for a world where knowledge of AI will be required.

“This is the future,” said Piercey, who describes ChatGPT as just the latest technology in his 17 years of teaching that prompted concerns about the potential for cheating. The calculator, spellcheck, Google, Wikipedia, YouTube. Now all his students have Chromebooks on their desks. “As educators, we haven’t figured out the best way to use artificial intelligence yet. But it’s coming, whether we want it to or not.”

One exercise in his class pitted students against the machine in a lively, interactive writing game. Piercey asked students to “Find the Bot:” Each student summarized a text about boxing champion and Kentucky icon Muhammad Ali, then tried to figure out which was written by the chatbot.

At the elementary school level, Piercey is less worried about cheating and plagiarism than high school teachers. His district has blocked students from ChatGPT while allowing teacher access. Many educators around the country say districts need time to evaluate and figure out the chatbot but also acknowledge the futility of a ban that today’s tech-savvy students can work around.

“To be perfectly honest, do I wish it could be uninvented? Yes. But it happened,” said Steve Darlow, the technology trainer at Florida’s Santa Rosa County District Schools, which has blocked the application on school-issued devices and networks.

He sees the advent of AI platforms as both “revolutionary and disruptive” to education. He envisions teachers asking ChatGPT to make “amazing lesson plans for a substitute” or even for help grading papers. “I know it’s lofty talk, but this is a real game changer. You are going to have an advantage in life and business and education from using it.”

ChatGPT quickly became a global phenomenon after its November launch, and rival companies including Google are racing to release their own versions of AI-powered chatbots.

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The topic of AI platforms and how schools should respond drew hundreds of educators to conference rooms at the Future of Education Technology Conference in New Orleans last month, where Texas math teacher Heather Brantley gave an enthusiastic talk on the “Magic of Writing with AI for all Subjects.”

Brantley said she was amazed at ChatGPT’s ability to make her sixth grade math lessons more creative and applicable to everyday life.

“I’m using ChatGPT to enhance all my lessons,” she said in an interview. The platform is blocked for students but open to teachers at her school, White Oak Intermediate. “Take any lesson you’re doing and say, ‘Give me a real-world example,’ and you’ll get examples from today — not 20 years ago when the textbooks we’re using were written.”

For a lesson about slope, the chatbot suggested students build ramps out of cardboard and other items found in a classroom, then measure the slope. For teaching about surface area, the chatbot noted that sixth graders would see how the concept applies to real life when wrapping gifts or building a cardboard box, said Brantley.

She is urging districts to train staff to use the AI platform to stimulate student creativity and problem solving skills. “We have an opportunity to guide our students with the next big thing that will be part of their entire lives. Let’s not block it and shut them out.”

Students in Piercey’s class said the novelty of working with a chatbot makes learning fun.

After a few rounds of “Find the Bot,” Piercey asked his class what skills it helped them hone. Hands shot up. “How to properly summarize and correctly capitalize words and use commas,” said one student. A lively discussion ensued on the importance of developing a writing voice and how some of the chatbot’s sentences lacked flair or sounded stilted.

Trevor James Medley, 11, felt that sentences written by students “have a little more feeling. More backbone. More flavor.”

Next, the class turned to playwriting, or as the worksheet handed out by Piercey called it: “Pl-ai Writing.” The students broke into groups and wrote down (using pencils and paper) the characters of a short play with three scenes to unfold in a plot that included a problem that needs to get solved.

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Piercey fed details from worksheets into the ChatGPT site, along with instructions to set the scenes inside a fifth grade classroom and to add a surprise ending. Line by line, it generated fully formed scripts, which the students edited, briefly rehearsed and then performed.

One was about a class computer that escapes, with students going on a hunt to find it. The play’s creators giggled over unexpected plot twists that the chatbot introduced, including sending the students on a time travel adventure.

“First of all, I was impressed,” said Olivia Laksi, 10, one of the protagonists. She liked how the chatbot came up with creative ideas. But she also liked how Piercey urged them to revise any phrases or stage directions they didn’t like. “It’s helpful in the sense that it gives you a starting point. It’s a good idea generator.”

She and classmate Katherine McCormick, 10, said they can see the pros and cons of working with chatbots. They can help students navigate writer’s block and help those who have trouble articulating their thoughts on paper. And there is no limit to the creativity it can add to classwork.

The fifth graders seemed unaware of the hype or controversy surrounding ChatGPT. For these children, who will grow up as the world’s first native AI users, their approach is simple: Use it for suggestions, but do your own work.

“You shouldn’t take advantage of it,” McCormick says. “You’re not learning anything if you type in what you want, and then it gives you the answer.”

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Associated Press writer Sharon Lurye contributed to this report from New Orleans.

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The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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