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Ibotta’s IPO opens sharply higher, hinting at warming public-market interest in tech shares | TechCrunch

Ibotta began it’s path as a public company on Thursday by opening at $117 per share, a big increase from its IPO price of $88, itself an increase from its proposed range of $76 to $84 per share.

And this pop is despite boosting the size of its offering earlier in the week, with existing shareholders expanding their sale by just under one million shares.

Shares are not continuing to climb in early trading, but are holding steady above its IPO price, at around $100 at the time of writing.

The company left money on the table “for investors who are very bullish on it [expanding] its third-party platform beyond just Walmart,” which has become a key partner for Ibotta and represents much of its current revenue, said Nicholas Smith, a senior research analyst at pre-IPO research company Renaissance Capital. Given that its started trading far above its IPO price today, some critics may argue that it left too much money on the table, and could have raised more for itself.

Its successful debut marks the third major tech IPO in the United States this year, and is the third in a row to price well and immediately trade higher. It is also the first half of a pair of technology offerings that will list this month, with data management and security company Rubrik expected to list its own shares next week. The two companies follow Reddit and Astera Labs out of the private markets, after both the social media company and datacenter connectivity hardware play continue to trade above their IPO prices.

Investor eagerness for Ibotta indicates that “there is an increasing appetite for IPOs again” Smith said, “particularly in the tech space.”

Don’t pop the champagne yet for the tech IPO market coming roaring back, however. Ibotta pivoted to business sales over a direct-to-consumer model, which helped it reach profitability in recent periods. Classic tech IPOs tend to feature tech companies still in growth mode and deeply in the red.

Rubrik could be a better test of IPO appetite. Its products are in the data management and security worlds, and the company is deeply unprofitable and growing more slowly than Ibotta. That said, it does have a strong cloud revenue story to tell. If its debut goes well, we could see more yet-unprofitable unicorns try a shot at the public markets. 

Smith agrees, calling the upcoming Rubrik IPO “an even bigger test” for tech debuts “given its weaker current financial picture.”

We’ll find out next week.

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Trellis Climate aims to bridge the 'commercial valley of death' for climate tech | TechCrunch

Let’s say you’re a founder who started a company that’s based on a breakthrough technology which can make hydrogen cheaper and faster than anyone else — so much faster and cheaper that you sailed through your first several rounds of fundraising, bringing in tens of millions of dollars to prove it works. And it does, even better than expected.

Now all you have to do is build a commercial scale plant, the so-called first-of-a-kind facility. Some call it the “commercial valley of death,” and it’s the point at which many climate tech startups struggle. Because no one has undertaken a project like that before, the usual financiers tend to balk; there are too many unknowns.

Climate nonprofit Prime Coalition is hoping to bridge the valley with a new program, Trellis Climate.

Prime Coalition has long taken a different tack to climate finance compared to its for-profit brethren. It makes the usual venture-style investments in startups through its Prime Impact Fund and also helps philanthropists direct their money to climate-related projects that it deems high impact. Trellis Climate follows the latter model with a focus on middle stages, where capital has grown scarce.

“There are more and more philanthropists that are really interested in solving the climate problem,” Lara Pierpoint, director of Trellis Climate, told TechCrunch.

“The highest, best use of philanthropy is in trying new ideas, in really swinging for the fences on the things that have a very high impact potential,” she added. “It is the most flexible and potentially risk-forward set of dollars that are out there.”

For founders in climate tech, that sort of funding is likely welcome news. Early stage founders have a wide range of capital to tap, from numerous venture capital funds to federal grants. It might not be enough to keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, but so far it has been enough to prime the pump and keep climate tech investors busy.

There has been an assumption that once climate technologies have been proven, “then corporations and industry would scale those technologies,” Pierpoint said. “On the corporate side, a lot of companies are really getting pushed to do the things that create immediate shareholder value.” As a result, there’s a widening gap in the middle.

“We strongly believe that philanthropy is the catalyst, but that the goal is to bring in infrastructure investors that are willing to lean forward a little bit on risk,” she said.

The program’s first investments include Ample Carbon, a startup that converts old coal plants to bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, and Ebb Carbon, a marine-based carbon removal startup.

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Inversion Space will test its space-based delivery tech in October | TechCrunch

Inversion Space is aptly named. The three-year-old startup’s primary concern is not getting things to space, but bringing them back — transforming the ultimate high ground into “a transportation layer for Earth.”

The company’s plan — ultra-fast, on-demand deliveries to anywhere on Earth — sounds like pie in the sky, but it’s the sort of moonshot goal that could transform terrestrial cargo transportation. The aim is to send up fleets of earth-orbiting vehicles that will be able to shoot back to Earth at Mach speeds, slow with specially-made parachutes, and deliver cargo in minutes.

Inversion has developed a pathfinder vehicle, called Ray, that’s a technical precursor to a larger platform that will debut in 2026. Ray will head to space this October, on SpaceX’s Transporter-12 ride share mission, paving the way for Inversion’s future plans on orbit (and back).

Ray is small — about twice the diameter of a standard frisbee — and will spend anywhere from one and five weeks in space, depending on factors like weather and how the orbit aligns with the landing site, Inversion CEO Justin Fiaschetti explained in a recent interview.

This first mission will have three phases: the initial on-orbit phase, where the spacecraft will power on, charge its batteries, and hopefully send telemetry to the ground. During the second phase, Ray will use its onboard propulsion system to slow down the vehicle so it starts losing altitude and reentering the atmosphere. The reentry capsule will separate from the satellite bus (both designed in-house), with the latter structure burning up.

The third and final phase will see Ray slow down using a supersonic drogue parachute, from a reentry speed of Mach 1.8 to Mach 0.2. The main parachute will then deploy, further slowing the capsule to a soft splashdown off the coast of California.

Impressively, the company has designed and built almost all of the Ray vehicle in-house, from the propulsion system to the structure to the parachutes. This last component is key: almost no space company designs parachutes themselves, and they’re incredibly challenging to engineer from the ground up. Inversion’s engineering team completed qualification testing of the deployment and parachute systems last year.

Fiaschetti said strong vertical integration has helped the company move so quickly.

“The purpose of our Ray vehicle is to develop technology for our next-gen vehicle. As such, we’ve built basically the entire vehicle in-house,” Fiaschetti said. “What we saw was that if we can build in-house now, do the hard thing first, that allows us to scale very quickly and meet our customer needs.”

The reentry vehicle is totally passive — meaning it doesn’t have active controls to navigate its reentry to Earth — but the company’s larger next-gen vehicle, called Arc, will have “football field-level” accuracy.

Inversion was founded by CEO Justin Fiaschetti and CTO Austin Briggs in 2021, but the two go back further: they met for the first time when they sat next to each other at a Boston University freshman matriculation ceremony. The pair eventually got jobs in southern California — Briggs, as a propulsion development engineer at ABL Space Systems, while Fiaschetti had brief engineering stints at Relativity and SpaceX — and they were actually roommates when they first floated the idea of developing technology to deliver cargo anywhere on Earth.

The company went through Y Combinator in the summer of 2021 (it was one of our favorites from the cohort) and closed its $10 million seed round in November that same year.

“We’ve been off to the races ever since,” Fiaschetti said. The company’s grown to 25 employees, who are based out of Torrance, California, where they have a 5,000-square-foot facility. The startup also owns five acres of land in the Mojave Desert, where it conducts engine testing. The scaling of the team and this first mission have been entirely financed by that round.

The startup sees promising markets in both government agencies and private companies; both segments could use Inversion’s reusable platform as an on-orbit testbed, or as a delivery vehicle to a private commercial space station. Inversion is aiming on pushing both reusability and duration-on-orbit “to the maximum” to bring down costs and also to support different mission profiles, Fiaschetti said.

Inversion aims to fly the next-gen vehicle, Arc, for the first time in 2026. While the two cofounders declined to provide more details on the spacecraft, the company’s website says it will be capable of carrying over 150 kilograms of cargo, to provide “proliferated” delivery in space.

“We are testing hardware consistently. We’re developing an infrastructure to be able to scale ourselves. Just as our decision to bring parachutes in house was a decision because the parachutes are so directly applicable to what we’re building, it’s making those kinds of key decisions that allows us to move move much faster than another reentry vehicle would take much longer to develop.”

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Consumer tech investing is still hot for Maven Ventures, securing $60M for Fund IV | TechCrunch

When prolific venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz and Lerer Hippeau announced in early 2024 they were pivoting away from consumer tech, it sparked a social media debate about whether there are still opportunities.

Maven Ventures’ Jim Scheinman and Sara Deshpande say “yes.” And to prove it, they raised $60 million in capital commitments for a fourth fund to back “massive consumer tech trends.”

They say “massive” because this is the firm that seeded companies like videoconferencing giant Zoom and autonomous vehicle maker Cruise. Scheinman, founding managing partner, is even credited for coming up with the Zoom name.

As to the notion that no one wants to invest in consumer tech anymore, Scheinman told TechCrunch “it’s not true.” Like other sectors, this one also has cycles where consumers either think something is “the coolest thing ever” or “the worst.”

Consumer tech is in the trough of the cycle, Scheinman said. As such, he believes this is the best time to be an investor. “It’s less noisy, and there is a lot less competition as less people try to invest,” he said.

When he started investing, the internet was the first major platform. Then came mobile, then cloud and AWS. Scheinman thought web3 was going to be the next thing, but that was eclipsed by artificial intelligence. Jumping in, Maven will be there helping to build the next game-changing health AI company or robotics AI consumer business, he said.

“This is absolutely the time when multi-billion-dollar companies are born, from now to over the next three to four years,” Scheinman said. “There are dozens of companies that you’ve never heard of that will be household names with the likes of Zoom, Cruise and Facebook. This is the time to invest in it.”

Any new portfolio business will be in good company. Overall, 16% of Maven’s portfolio companies have reached a minimum $500 million exit or valuation, which is 10x industry average, Scheinman and Deshpande, general partner, told TechCrunch.

Scheinman started the firm in 2013 and brought in Deshpande soon after to focus on consumer AI and personalized medicine. They brought in investment partner Robert Ravanshenas in 2015, and again in 2020 after a stint in a startup operating role, to focus on fintech, longevity and consumer AI.

Together the trio remains committed to seeding similar consumer tech trends, including applications of AI, personalized healthcare, climate and sustainability, family technology and fintech.

Fund IV brings total assets under management to $200 million and more than 50 total investments. The firm makes six to eight investments each year, writing average check sizes between $1 million and $1.5 million.

Maven invested in seven new companies so far from the new fund, including Medeloop, a platform to help improve clinical research; Lutra AI, a startup that creates AI workflows from natural language; and AI agent company Multion.

A big theme for this new fund is investing in founders that have unique insight around how this technology can improve life for consumers. In addition, “figuring how, with this new emergence and improvement in AI technology, do we envision that we can actually improve life for consumers all the way to the consumer,” Deshpande said.

“Consumer trends will never go away,” Deshpande said. “Consumers are the spending engine of a healthy economy. We are all consumers. For us, it’s really this knack of being able to see what is changing consumer behavior or a new technology that can massively impact people’s lives. Founders come to us with an amazing vision worth fighting for, and that’s the type of stuff we’re spending a lot of time on right now.”

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New U.S. ‘green bank’ aims to steer over $160B in capital into climate tech | TechCrunch

For years, banks have been financing large renewable power projects, from utility-scale solar farms to horizon-spanning wind farms. But smaller projects, like installing a heat pump in someone’s home or retrofitting affordable housing, often get passed over. They simply haven’t been lucrative enough.

But the demand is there, which is why advocates have been clamoring for the federal government to support a so-called green bank, which will underwrite these sorts of projects.

That green bank is now a reality. On Thursday, the EPA announced that it had awarded $20 billion in grants from the Inflation Reduction Act to eight organizations that will use the money to make loans that will help with those projects.

“It’s a chance to prove that this works and creates real benefit on the ground for people across America,” Dawn Lippert, founder and CEO of Elemental Excelerator, told TechCrunch, adding that “tribal communities, rural communities, low income and disadvantaged communities are really the focus here.”

Indeed, over $14 billion of the funding will go toward communities that fit those descriptions, the EPA said.

What’s more, since the money is to be used for loans, it can be recycled once those loans are paid off. Green bank loans have a pretty good track record, too. The Connecticut Green Bank, for example, has a delinquency rate that’s on par with other commercial lenders across both residential and commercial portfolios.

In addition to providing financing for energy upgrades, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, as it is known, is hoping to attract $7 in private capital for every dollar it disperses. In fact, that might be a conservative figure: McKinsey expects the new green bank should attract more than $12 of private investment per dollar on its balance sheet.

The U.S. is expected to need $27 trillion by 2050 to hit net-zero carbon emissions, McKinsey estimates, which might make the green bank’s $20 billion seem small. But its ability to spur private investment and the fact that it’s not a one-time grant should allow it to have an impact that extends beyond its initial bottom line.

Founders and investors should see some benefit, too. Though the money is aimed mostly at consumers and small businesses, equity investments are a possibility, Lippert said. Plus, the funding should juice demand for technologies that have been proven and are ready for commercial deployment.

For those that aren’t yet, the green bank’s loans should have a cascading effect, sending a signal upstream to founders and investors that there are markets for consumer-level climate tech that works for low-income and disadvantaged communities.

“This $20 billion of funding is going to have a really significant impact on creating jobs, reducing costs for American families, creating a healthier, safer future for our children,” Lippert said.

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Discover future-ready strategies for staff and tech evolution with Sand Technologies | TechCrunch

At the upcoming TechCrunch Early Stage 2024 event taking place in Boston on April 25, one session will stand out for early-stage companies seeking to navigate the turbulent waters of tech and staffing strategies. Titled “How to Evolve Your Tech and Staff Strategies for Future Rounds,” the session will be led by Brad Stanton, the managing director of business development at Sand Technologies. Drawing from his extensive experience in consulting and software development with global giants like Dell and Accenture, Stanton will delve into the intricacies of becoming an operational unicorn, not just a commercial one, even in the face of resource constraints.

Stanton’s insights will aim to empower startups to address the perpetual flux in their technical and staffing requirements as they progress through their growth journey. Attendees will discover practical yet impactful strategies to bridge skills gaps, optimize the productivity of small teams, and maintain the agility necessary to swiftly adapt to evolving market and investor expectations. With over 25 years of experience leading high-performing teams across various domains, Stanton will provide actionable takeaways for companies striving to thrive amid uncertainty.

Based in Texas, Stanton specializes in helping companies leverage AI talent and solutions across different regions, including India, LatAm, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the USA. His session at TechCrunch Early Stage 2024 will offer invaluable guidance for startups aiming to chart a course toward sustainable growth and success in an ever-changing landscape.

Want to attend this session? Then book your ticket to TechCrunch Early Stage 2024 right now before prices increase at the door.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TechCrunch Early Stage 2024? Reach out to our sponsorship sales team by completing this form.

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Spotify reuses its live audio tech through Listening Party feature | TechCrunch

Spotify’s live audio app is no longer active, but the company has been using the tech to connect fans and artists better with the “Listening Party” feature. The feature lets high-engaging fans join events like releasing of an album by an artist with opportunities to ask them questions.

The company confirmed to TechCrunch that it has been testing this feature in the U.S. and Indonesia since December 2023 with plans to expand to more markets.

“It’s still in its early stages but we’ve had a few artists test over the last few months, including Zara Larsson and Bleachers,” a Spotify spokesperson said.

Image Credits: Threads/Chris

A Listening Party is listed under the events section of an artist’s profile. Spotify said that while typically top fans of a band receive a specific invitation, any Spotify Premium user can join the Listening Party through the listing. The company didn’t specify what kind of user counts as a top fan besides folks who have “demonstrated an affinity for the artist over time.”

Since Spotify is using real-time audio tech, fans can request to go “onstage” during a session to interact with the artist. Plus, each listening party has a live chat room during the event.

The company said the feature allows fans to shop the latest merch from artists while streaming music alongside other fans. Last year, the company launched an in-app Merch Hub, to give fans personalized recommendations to buy stuff from different artists.

Notably, Spotify has had a Group Session feature to listen to songs with your friends. Now it is trying to bring parts of group listening and live audio interactions together with the Listening Party feature.

Over the last few years, the company has also tried to grow direct engagement between fans and artists through merchandise sales, events, and ticketing.

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Business planning startup Pigment raises $145M in rare French tech mega-round | TechCrunch

Paris-based startup Pigment has raised a $145 million funding round just five years after its inception. The enterprise software company offers a business planning platform for large companies to visualize their past financial performance and forecast upcoming quarters.

This funding round comes as a bit of a surprise as large rounds have been few and far between in France. According to a recent study from EY, funding rounds in the French tech ecosystem were down 38% in 2023 compared to 2022.

But if you remove buzzy AI startups like Mistral AI and capital-intensive infrastructure plays that are not really tech startups, like EV charging networks (Driveco) and EV battery factories (Verkor), funding rounds are drastically down. Pure software startups have had a rough couple of years.

Pigment appears as an exception with its Series D. Existing investor Iconiq Growth is doubling down by leading this new funding round. Sandberg Bernthal Venture Partners, IVP, Meritech, Greenoaks and Felix Capital are also participating — many of them were existing investors too.

And there’s a reason why Pigment managed to raise so much at a significantly higher valuation less than a year after its previous funding round. In 2023, the startup managed to triple its revenue and double its customer base with well-known clients like Unilever, Datadog, Kayak and Merck. Half of Pigment’s clients are based in the U.S.

“Our current investors told us ‘if you’re going to raise money in 18 months to scale with others, we might as well offer you great terms right now for an internal round.’ And everything happened very quickly … In one week, it was a done deal,” co-founder and co-CEO Eléonore Crespo told me.

Before Pigment, Crespo worked for VC firm Index Ventures and Google. She co-founded Pigment with Romain Niccoli, who was the co-founder and CTO of adtech startup Criteo — an early success of the French tech ecosystem.

“IVP — one of our backers — benchmarks the growth rate of all SaaS companies. And since we’ve been selling our product, we’ve been in the top 5% of SaaS companies with the best growth rate ever, in terms of revenue growth,” Crespo said.

Image Credits: Pigment

Pigment is a flexible business planning tool that is used by chief financial officers and finance teams to create reports and budgets. It’s a modern SaaS platform, meaning that you can integrate it with all your company’s data (ERP, HRIS, data lakes, etc.) and use it as a collaboration tool.

In addition to finance teams, sales teams can use Pigment to create quotas and see how everyone is performing against quarterly quotas. HR teams can see how they should scale the workforce up and down based on strategic changes and financial objectives.

“We’ve done a lot of work to address other teams, not just finance teams. We’ve developed a lot of modules that enable us to serve HR teams, supply chain teams and sales teams,” Crespo said.

In fact, as more teams start using Pigment, it becomes an important tool for cross-team collaboration. And it’s supposed to work better than legacy tools from Oracle and SAP.

Like many software companies, Pigment has also added AI features. As Pigment acts as the central repository for all the important metrics of a company, customers can ask questions to Pigment AI in natural language to get a quick answer. Examples include “Can you give me a breakdown of revenue per country?” or “Why was our actual revenue lower than our forecast last quarter for this product?”

But more importantly, the company has optimized its core product so that it works well even with large datasets and complicated calculations. The best enterprise software products are must-have products, which means that companies usually don’t need to spend a lot of resources on improving the product — clients need this tool to operate. Pigment is still the challenger in this industry, so it believes it needs to provide a better product to compete with other business planning products.

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'A Brief History of the Future' offers a hopeful antidote to cynical tech takes | TechCrunch

Cynicism is a quality taken almost for granted in tech journalism, and certainly we are as guilty as the next publication. But both the risk and the promise of technology are real, and a new documentary series tries to emphasize the latter while not discounting the former. “A Brief History of the Future,” hosted by Ari Wallach, also has the compelling quality of, as a PBS production, being completely free.

The thesis of the show is simply that, while the dangers and disappointments of technology (often due to its subversion by business interests) are worth considering and documenting, the other side of the coin also should be highlighted not out of naiveté but because it is genuinely important and compelling.

I talked with Wallach, who embraces the “futurist” moniker unapologetically from the start, suggesting we run the risk of blinding ourselves to the transformative potential of tech, startups and innovation. (Full disclosure: I met Ari many, many years ago when he was going to Berkeley with my brother, though this is quite coincidental.)

“The theory of the case is that when you ask 10 Americans ‘what do you think about the future?’ nine out of 10 are gonna say, I’m afraid of it, or they’re going say it’s all about technology. Those are two things that this show in some ways is an intervention for,” explained Wallach.

The future, he said, isn’t just what a Silicon Valley publicist tells you, or what “Big Dystopia” warns you of, or even what a TechCrunch writer predicts.

In the six-episode series, he talks with dozens of individuals, companies and communities about how they’re working to improve and secure a future they may never see. From mushroom leather to ocean cleanup to death doulas, Wallach finds people who see the same scary future we do but are choosing to do something about it, even if that thing seems hopelessly small or naïve.

“We wanted to bring the future into people’s living rooms that don’t normally think about it in a critical, open-minded way, in terms of the futures that you create,” he said. “People just don’t get exposed to it. Because at the current moment, there are a whole host of reasons that, culturally, to be critical and cynical is to come across as smart and aware. But now we’re at a point that if we continually do that, we’re going to lose the thread. We’re going to lose the narrative of the entire larger human project.”

The point, in other words, isn’t to pretend the problems don’t exist, but rather that there are enough people talking about the problems already. Shouldn’t someone focus on what people are actually doing to solve them?

Of course the expected themes of AI, automation and climate are there, but also food, art and architecture, and more philosophical concerns like governance and value.

The most common objection my cynical mind raised while watching was the classic “how does this scale?” And Wallach was quick to admit that much of it doesn’t.

“How does it scale, and how do you monetize it — this is kind of the Silicon Valley-ization, the Sand Hill Road of looking at the future. And there’s a time and a place for that! It may go forward, it may not. That’s not the point. We tried to inform and educate around how to think differently about tomorrow, and here are examples of people doing it. It’s a model behavior and action to give people a sense of agency. Like, are we all going to live in 3D-printed homes? Maybe not. But if we think about the 2-3 billion unhoused people on the planet and how we’re going to house them, this is potentially going to be a part of it,” he continued.

“It’s about solution centricity that isn’t purely VC solution centricity. It’s about, how do we solve the problems that we have today through an opportunity lens, as opposed to a ‘we’re all gonna die’ lens, which is usually what the headlines are, right?”

Wallach’s thesis earned his crew a golden ticket to travel the world and talk with numerous interesting people and companies. Vertical farms, mushroom leather, coral propagation. Pete Buttigieg, Emmanuel Macron, Reid Hoffman, Grimes, footballer Kylian Mbappé. And everyone seems to be relieved to be able to talk about the promise of the future rather than the threat of it.

When I asked Wallach where or with whom he’d have liked to have spent a bit more time, he gave three answers. One, a professor in northern Japan who has a theatrical, but apparently quite effective, way of asking seniors to consider the future, by having them pretend they are visiting from it. Two, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, where the level of innovation and ambition was, he said, too high to express. And three, the “death doula” who helps people move past the anxiety of their own existence ending. (Although technology is often discussed, it’s far from the only topic.)

Image Credits: PBS

In case you’re wondering what moneyed special interest is trying to placate you with this beneficent presentation of a kindlier, wiser future… don’t worry, I asked. And the shadowy corporation behind this remarkably well-produced documentary is none other than the nefarious Public Broadcasting Service. Which means, as noted above, that it is not only free to stream on, and on YouTube (I’ll add the first episode below as soon as it’s live), but it will also appear on normal, linear TV every Wednesday at 9 p.m. — “right after Nova.”

The general audience at which a show like this is aimed, Wallach reminded me, isn’t engaging on TikTok or often even streaming services. Millions, especially older folks who are not yet embittered to the promise of the future, turn on the TV after dinner to watch the local news, a network show and maybe a documentary like this one.

Wallach and his crew have also put together a classroom-specific version of the show that includes educational materials for following up with students about the topics covered.

“This will be the first nationwide futuring curriculum put into being, available to over 1.5 million teachers on the PBS education platform. That’s like 20 million kids. It’s cool. And it’s free.”

As a parting thought, Wallach noted the shows he grew up with, and how it’s “peak job” to be able to make something in emulation — though he was careful not to compare his to them — of classic shows like Cosmos, The Power of Myth and Connections.

“Cosmos changed how I think about the universe; The Power of Myth, how I think about faith, meaning, psychology; hopefully, A Brief History of the Future changes how folks think about futures and tomorrow. That’s the company that we wanted to be in.”

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Big Tech companies form new consortium to allay fears of AI job takeovers | TechCrunch

AI might not be coming for all jobs, but it might be coming for some. 

UPS’s largest layoff in its 116-year history was the result of, in part, new technologies, including AI, CEO Carol Tomé said during an earnings call in February. Meanwhile, IBM plans to pause hiring for roles it thinks could soon be automated by AI, CEO Arvind Krishna told Bloomberg last year.

Workers aren’t optimistic about the future. In a recent survey from McKinsey, 25% of business professionals said that they expect their employer to lay off staff as a result of AI adoption. And, well, their pessimism isn’t misplaced. According to one estimate, around 4,000 workers have lost their jobs to AI since May. And in a poll from, which makes AI-powered presentation software, nearly half of managers said that they’re hoping to replace workers with AI.

But a cohort of Big Tech vendors and consultancies — called the AI-Enabled ICT Workforce Consortium (ITC) — aims to push back against the notion that AI will lead to job losses, citing the need for re-skilling and upskilling within the information and communication technology (ICT) industry specifically.

The ITC is being led by Cisco with support from Google, Microsoft, IBM (conspicuously), Intel, SAP and Accenture. The ITC’s mandate is to explore AI’s impact on jobs while enabling people to find AI-related training programs and connecting businesses to “skilled and job-ready” workers, a spokesperson told TechCrunch in a briefing.

“The ITC’s unique approach will research and evaluate the impact of AI on specific job roles, including skills and tasks, and recommend training for an AI-enabled ICT workforce,” the spokesperson said. “Consortium members and advisers share a common perspective that a greater sense of urgency is required to understand the impact of AI on key job roles within the ICT Industry.”

In the first phase of its work, the ITC will evaluate the impact of AI on 56 ICT job roles and provide training recommendations for the roles affected. These 56 roles, which the ITC hasn’t disclosed yet, were selected for their “strategic significance” in the broader ICT ecosystem and AI’s impact on the tasks required to perform the roles, the spokesperson said, as well as roles that offer “promising entry points” for low-level workers.

“These job roles include 80% of the top 45 ICT job titles garnering the highest volume of job postings for the period February 2023–2024 in the U.S. and five of the largest European countries by ICT workforce numbers (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands),” the spokesperson said. “Collectively, these countries account for a significant segment of the ICT sector, with a combined total of 10 million ICT workers.”

If the goal is to allay fears of a mass AI threatening of livelihoods, tech incumbents will need to deliver a lot more than vague promises and reports.

The ITC intends to publish its findings in a report this summer. And, beyond that, it hasn’t quite figured out a roadmap.

“The Consortium will determine its ‘phase 2’ scope in mid-2024,” the spokesperson said. “As we progress towards phase 2, the Consortium may consider extending invitations to other organizations and institutions to join our collaborative efforts in supporting the success of an AI-enabled ICT workforce.”

And therein lies the problem with industry consortiums like this.

If the goal is to allay fears of a mass AI threatening of livelihoods, tech incumbents will need to deliver a lot more than vague promises and reports. IBM has pledged to skill 2 million people in AI by 2030; Intel has said it’ll upskill over 30 million with AI in the same timeframe.

“Consortium members have established forward-thinking goals with skills development and training programs to positively impact over 95 million individuals around the world over the next 10 years,” the spokesperson said.

Yet it’s not clear how many AI roles will be available then.

According to a recent analysis by Lightcast, a labor market analytics firm, the demand for AI roles is decreasing, not increasing. In 2022, AI-related positions made up 2% of all job postings in the U.S. In 2023, that figure dipped to 1.6%. 

“Consortium members commit to developing worker pathways particularly in job sectors that will increasingly integrate artificial intelligence technology,” the spokesperson said. “It’s a voluntary and transparent effort across companies to assess the impact and identify paths for upskilling and reskilling of technology roles most likely to be impacted by AI … We intend for this work to produce real, tangible recommendations that will address business and worker needs.”

I’ll reserve some judgment until we see those “real, tangible” recommendations. But I’d hope that, whatever form they take, they’re accompanied by courses of action — or any action, really. Big Tech has big promises to keep, particularly where it concerns the future of work and the tech industry’s role in shaping it.

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