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CEO of The Production Board David Friedberg walks to a morning session at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 09, 2021 in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

David Friedberg is known in Silicon Valley as an early Google executive who started farming insurance company Climate Corporation and sold it to Monsanto for $1 billion in 2013.

More recently, Friedberg has gained the nickname Queen of Quinoa on the popular All-In podcast with investors Jason Calacanis, Chamath Palihapitiya and David Sacks. The lifelong vegetarian earned the nickname when he purchased Canadian quinoa supplier NorQuin in 2014.

Friedberg remains board chairman at NorQuin and is chair of Metromile, a software-powered auto insurance provider that he started a decade ago and took public through a special purpose acquisition company earlier this year.

But he’s spending the bulk of his time on a project he started four years ago with the help of old friend and Google co-founder Larry Page.

After leaving Monsanto in 2015, Friedberg began talking with Page about a way to build and finance a whole new batch of start-ups focused on agriculture technology, sustainability and advancements in life sciences. He didn’t want to return to Google, so Page — through parent company Alphabet — agreed to help finance a holding company that Friedberg would operate.

Google CEO Larry Page holds a press annoucement at Google headquarters in New York on May 21, 2012. Google announced that it will allocate 22,000 square feet of its New York headquarters to CornellNYC Tech university, free of charge for five years and six month or until the university completes its campus in New York.
EMMANUEL DUNAND | AFP | Getty Images

Friedberg launched The Production Board in 2017. He’s now revealing Alphabet’s and Page’s involvement for the first time.

The company, which Friedberg describes as a venture foundry, just raised $300 million from Alphabet along with investors including Baillie Gifford, Allen & Co., BlackRock, Koch Disruptive Technologies and Morgan Stanley’s Counterpoint Global.

While Page was the initial Alphabet sponsor, Friedberg said the Google co-founder hasn’t been involved in the company for a while. Alphabet’s Anil Patel, who leads investments for the Other Bets segment, is on TPB’s board.

TPB is an investment company, but it’s not set up as a venture fund. That means Alphabet and other outside investors own shares in the parent entity but not the portfolio companies. They only get liquidity if TPB goes public or gets acquired.

“If one of our companies were to go public or get sold, we don’t take that capital and distribute it back to our shareholders,” Friedberg said in an interview this week. “It stays on the balance sheet and we keep building.”

No shortage of problems

Friedberg said neither he nor his investors need money, but they’re all trying to find solutions to some of the planet’s gravest existential challenges. With climate disasters emerging across the globe and more parts of the world becoming uninhabitable, TPB is investing in science and research to create new systems for food, agriculture and health.

“At least for my lifetime, I don’t think there’s going to be any shortage of problems and opportunities to go after,” the 41-year-old Friedberg said. “If we have a liquidity event, we should be able to recycle that capital and use it for new work.”

Friedberg said TPB has only 15 employees but its companies have hundreds of workers combined. His strategy is to hire top scientists, follow research trends for breakthroughs in genomics and life sciences and then fund R&D to determine if his team can develop a marketable product.

If there’s a business opportunity, TPB will spin the company out and give it a CEO, management team and lab space, while still offering centralized services for legal, human resources and finance. Some of the companies have raised additional capital from other venture investors.

“They can focus on getting a product built or getting product-market fit, and then over time as they mature, we start to hand some of those operating functions off so they can operate independently,” Friedberg said.

TPB’s existing investments include Soylent, the meal replacement beverage and nutrition company, and bioreactor lab Culture Biosciences.

Soylent
Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images

In a blog post Friday announcing the new investment, Friedberg is naming five foundry companies that TPB launched and turned into businesses. They include Pattern Ag, which is using precision engineering to help farmers make their land more productive; UR Labs, which makes a meal replacement shake to help people with diabetes lower their blood sugar; and Ohalo Genetics, a company using gene-editing tools to breed plants that use less land and water.

TPB also started Triplebar, a company using biotechnology to try to make food production, processing and packaging more sustainable. To run Triplebar, Friedberg teamed with Jeremy Agresti, a scientist and former Harvard fellow whose research was central to the creation of 10x Genomics.

Friedberg said seeking out and recruiting talent is a major part of his job.

“I love science,” he said. “Finding awesome scientists and trying to convince them to do this work is fun for me and a good use of my time.”

Along with hiring and raising capital, Friedberg has also been busy working on a SPAC. In February, he filed a prospectus for a blank-check company called TPB Acquisition, with plans to raise $250 million. He later reduced the target to $200 million.

The SPAC is looking for companies in the same markets that interest TPB. According to the filing, the transaction could even merge one of TPB’s businesses with another company.

“We will not, however, complete an initial business combination with only TPB or a portfolio company of TPB,” the filing said.

The SPAC hasn’t started trading or announced a deal, and Friedberg said he can’t talk about it at the moment.

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Top Amazon exec says it’s a ‘myth’ robots steal jobs

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Top Amazon exec says it's a 'myth' robots steal jobs

A robot prepares to pick up a tote containing product at the Amazon Robotics fulfillment center on April 12, 2019 in Orlando, Florida.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

A top Amazon executive told CNBC Thursday that it’s a “myth” that robots and other technologies take jobs away from people.

Stefano La Rovere, director of global robotics, mechatronics, and sustainable packaging at Amazon, said that, rather than replacing jobs, advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, and other technologies are enhancing people’s roles.

He added that new technology is leading to the creation of entirely new job categories.

“It is a myth that technology and robots take out jobs,” La Rovere told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Thursday.

Amazon says that the introduction of new technologies has enhanced more than 50,000 jobs across its fulfilment centers in Europe.

It's a myth that technology and robots take jobs away, Amazon director of global robotics says

The e-commerce giant says it has installed more than 1,000 new technologies across its European fulfillment center network over the last five years, for an overall investment of more than 700 million euros ($751 million).

“Robots and technology help our employees … by reducing walking distance between assignments, by taking away repetitive motions, or [by] helping them to lift heavy weights,” La Rovere  said.

“In turn, our employees can learn new skills, they can learn new competencies, they can acquire new capabilities that allow them to progress towards their career objectives,” he added.

La Rovere added that, “Over the last years, more than 700 new categories of jobs have been created by the use of technology.”

He cited the example of his own team, the Amazon robotics and AI division, which is focused on bringing automation to Amazon’s vast network of fulfillment centers that are responsible for getting orders packed and ready for delivery to customers.

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Factories are heading for a 'dark' future — and it's not what you think

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China remains crucial for U.S. chipmakers amid rising tensions between the world’s top two economies

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China remains crucial for U.S. chipmakers amid rising tensions between the world's top two economies

US-China chip war graphic

Wong Yu Liang | Moment | Getty Images

China remains an essential market for most American chipmakers despite Washington’s efforts to restrict chip sales to the country and amid Beijing’s push for self sufficiency in the semiconductor sector. 

Data from S&P Global showed that U.S. chip giants Intel, Broadcom, Qualcomm and Marvell Technology all generate more revenue from China compared with the U.S. 

The U.S. has passed a series of export controls starting in October 2022 aimed at restricting China’s access to advanced chip technology, particularly those used in AI applications.

“China remains an important market for U.S. chipmakers, and the U.S. restrictions on selling advanced AI chips to China have been designed specifically to allow most U.S. firms to continue selling most types of chips to Chinese customers,” Chris Miller, author of “Chip War,” told CNBC.

Used in a wide range of products, from smartphones to electric vehicles, semiconductors have become a top priority for governments globally. 

According to data from tech consultancy Omdia, China consumes nearly 50% of the world’s semiconductors as it is the biggest market for assembling consumer devices. 

U.S. chipmakers, which enjoy technological leadership over Chinese competitors, have been able to tap this demand as the U.S. export curbs are focused on some very specific products.

“There are still plenty of ‘high end’ chips with all types of allowable use cases that are good to go where U.S. based chip companies have the dominant, leading edge,” said William B. Bailey, lead technology, media, and telecommunications analyst at Nasdaq IR Intelligence.

Navigating export curbs 

U.S. chipmakers, even those with a majority of business in the U.S., such as Micron Technology, AMD, and Nvidia, have strived to serve their Chinese clients even in the face of export controls. 

When the first wave of U.S. restrictions came into effect late in 2022, Nvidia and Intel designed modified versions of AI chip products for the Chinese market. 

A year later, the U.S. updated the export rules to tackle these perceived loopholes. But, soon after, it was reported that Nvidia was working on a new chip made for China.

Intel has reportedly continued to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of laptop processor chips to U.S.-sanctioned Chinese telecoms company Huawei, thanks to an export license issued by the Donald Trump administration.

The company did not respond to a request for comment on their plans for the China market.

U.S. strategy to limit China's rise as a technological power is working, analyst says

AMD has also designed an AI chip for China but will need to apply for an export license after failing to get it past U.S. regulators last month.

Executives of Intel, Qualcomm, and Nvidia, had reportedly been part of a group that planned to lobby Washington against tighter chip restrictions in July last year.

The companies are also members of Semiconductor Industry Association, a major U.S. semiconductor trade organization, which released a statement around the same time requesting an easing of tensions and a halt on further sanctions due to the importance of the Chinese market for domestic chip companies.

Amid a tough policy stance by the U.S., China has also responded in kind. In May last year, chips produced by America’s Micron were banned from critical information infrastructure in China after failing a review by the country’s Cyberspace Administration. 

Micron is constructing a new assembly and test manufacturing facility at an existing site in Xi’an, China, as the country “remains an important market for Micron and the semiconductor industry,” a company spokesperson told CNBC. Production is estimated to start in the second half of 2025, they said.

Market share worries

China could catch up to U.S. in the semiconductor sector, says Insights & Strategy CEO

The Chinese government is “increasingly focused” on getting its firms to buy locally made chips, Miller said. “Unless foreign companies have a substantial technological advantage over domestic Chinese competitors, they will lose market share in China.” 

However, Phelix Lee, equity analyst at Morningstar, said it does not expect “an overhaul of the supply chain” even as Chinese firms could be innovating legacy chips found in everything from household appliances to medical equipment. 

Legacy chips are typically mature or lower-end semiconductors. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said about 60% of these chips are manufactured by China

According to Brady Wang, associate director at Counterpoint Research, in the AI GPU market segment, American companies such as Nvidia and Intel are estimated to have a technological lead of about three to five years over Chinese competitors.

“We believe China can still build up its local GPU supply chain for specific market segments, but the amount will be limited, and the cost will be much higher,” he added.

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Apple shares just had their best day since last May

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Apple shares just had their best day since last May

Apple CEO Tim Cook greets customers as he arrives for the release of the Vision Pro headset at the Apple Store in New York City on Feb. 2, 2024.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

Apple shares climbed 4.3% on Thursday to a share price of $175.04. It is Apple’s best day since May 5, 2023.

Apple’s rise came during a strong day for technology stocks, especially those in artificial intelligence, as the Nasdaq Composite rose 1.77%.

Apple shares are down more than 5% so far this year. On Thursday, JPMorgan analysts wrote that sentiment over Apple shares is improving with hedge fund investors, partially due to its recent stock slide.

Despite some negative trends around iPhone sales in China, and recent reports of canceled projects such as its effort to build a car, JPMorgan analyst Samik Chatterjee said investors may be more comfortable with its current valuation after recent losses and the potential to benefit from AI.

The JPMorgan analysts predicted a strong iPhone sales cycle in 2026 due to forthcoming AI features. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently told investors to expect an AI announcement later this year. That is expected to occur during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference event in June.

“Hedge fund investors are increasingly warming up to the opportunity of the AI upgrade cycle, but the uncertainty still pertains to whether the upgrade cycle starts with iPhone 16 in September 2024 or iPhone 17 in September 2025,” Chatterjee wrote.

Separately, Apple is also preparing new Mac laptops and desktops with next-generation “M4 chips” that emphasize AI, according to a report Thursday from Bloomberg. Apple declined to comment on the report. The current generation of Apple’s chips is called M3.

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