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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.
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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.

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.

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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Alibaba to split into 6 units and explore IPOs; shares pop 9%




Alibaba to split into 6 units and explore IPOs; shares pop 9%

Alibaba has faced growth challenges amid regulatory tightening on China’s domestic technology sector and a slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy. But analysts think the e-commerce giant’s growth could pick up through the rest of 2022.

Kuang Da | Jiemian News | VCG | Getty Images

Alibaba said Tuesday it will split its company into six business groups, each with the ability to raise outside funding and go public, in the most significant reorganization in the Chinese e-commerce giant’s history.

Each business group will be managed by its own CEO and board of directors.

Alibaba said in a statement that the move is “designed to unlock shareholder value and foster market competitiveness.”

Alibaba’s shares popped more than 9% in pre-market trade in the U.S.

The move comes after a tough couple of years for Alibaba which has faced slowing economic growth at home and tougher regulation from Beijing, resulting in billions being wiped off its share price. Alibaba has struggled with growth over the past few quarters.

Alibaba is now looking to reinvigorate growth with the reorganization.

The business groups will revolve around its strategic priorities. These are the groups:

  • Cloud Intelligence Group: Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang will be head of this business which will house the company’s cloud and artificial intelligence activities.
  • Taobao Tmall Commerce Group: This will cover the company’s online shopping platforms including Taobao and Tmall.
  • Local Services Group: Yu Yongfu will be CEO and the business will cover Alibaba’s food delivery service as well as its mapping.
  • Cainiao Smart Logistics: Wan Lin will continue as CEO of this business which houses Alibaba’s logistics service.
  • Global Digital Commerce Group: Jiang Fan will serve as CEO. This unit includes Alibaba’s international e-commerce businesses including AliExpress and Lazada.
  • Digital Media and Entertainment Group: Fan Luyuan will be CEO of the unit which includes Alibaba’s streaming and movie business.

Each of these units can pursue independent fundraising and a public listing when they’re ready, Zhang said.

The exception is the Taobao Tmall Commerce Group, which will remain wholly-owned by Alibaba.

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The company sees the creation of the six businesses as a way to be nimbler.

“This transformation will empower all our businesses to become more agile, enhance decision-making, and enable faster responses to market changes,” Zhang said in a statement.

The reorganization also comes at a time when there are signs that Beijing is warming back up to technology businesses, as the government seeks to revive economic growth in the world’s second-largest economy.

Jack Ma, Alibaba’s outspoken and charismatic founder who was out of the public eye and travelling abroad for several months, has returned to China, in a move perceived as an olive branch from Beijing.

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4G internet is set to arrive on the moon later this year




4G internet is set to arrive on the moon later this year

Nokia hopes to install a data network on the moon sometime in 2023, an executive told reporters.

Thomas Coex | AFP via Getty Images

Nokia is preparing to launch a 4G mobile network on the moon later this year, in the hopes of enhancing lunar discoveries — and eventually paving the path for human presence on the satellite planet.

The Finnish telecommunications group plans to launch the network on a SpaceX rocket over the coming months, Luis Maestro Ruiz De Temino, Nokia’s principal engineer, told reporters earlier this month at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.

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The network will be powered by an antenna-equipped base station stored in a Nova-C lunar lander designed by U.S. space firm Intuitive Machines, as well as by an accompanying solar-powered rover.

An LTE connection will be established between the lander and the rover.

The infrastructure will land on the Shackleton crater, which lies along the southern limb of the moon.

Nokia says the technology is designed to withstand the extreme conditions of space.

The network will be used within Nasa’s Artemis 1 mission, which aims to send the first human astronauts to walk on the moon’s surface since 1972.

The aim is to show that terrestrial networks can meet the communications needs for future space missions, Nokia said, adding that its network will allow astronauts to communicate with each other and with mission control, as well as to control the rover remotely and stream real-time video and telemetry data back to Earth.

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The lander will launch via a SpaceX rocket, according to Maestro Ruiz De Temino. He explained that the rocket won’t take the lander all the way to the moon’s surface — it has a propulsion system in place to complete the journey.

Anshel Sag, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said that 2023 was an “optimistic target” for the launch of Nokia’s equipment.

“If the hardware is ready and validated as it seems to be, there is a good chance they could launch in 2023 as long as their launch partner of choice doesn’t have any setbacks or delays,” Sag told CNBC via email. 

Nokia previously said that its lunar network will “provide critical communication capabilities for many different data transmission applications, including vital command and control functions, remote control of lunar rovers, real-time navigation and streaming of high definition video.”

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Elon Musk says only verified users will show up in Twitter’s recommendation feed in further shake-up




Elon Musk says only verified users will show up in Twitter's recommendation feed in further shake-up

Elon Musk Twitter account seen on Mobile with Elon Musk in the background on screen, seen in this photo illustration. On 19 February 2023 in Brussels, Belgium.

Jonathan Raa | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Elon Musk said that only verified accounts will appear in Twitter’s recommendation feed, as the billionaire further shakes up the social media platform.

Twitter’s “For You” tab shows users tweets from people they don’t follow, but that are recommended to them by the social media firm’s algorithm. To date, this has showed accounts from any Twitter users, whether they are verified or not. 

But Musk announced in a tweet late Monday that, going forward, only verified accounts will show up in the “For You” section of the site.

Musk claims the move “is the only realistic way to address advanced AI bot swarms taking over.”

Musk also said that only verified users will be able to vote in polls.

Since buying Twitter last year, Musk has sought to shake up the way the company does verification. Before Musk’s acquisition, Twitter used to verify users with a blue check mark as a way to identify the account matches the person or company it says it is. This process was free and applied to celebrities, journalists, government officials and organizations.

Musk introduced a subscription service last year called Twitter Blue that allows a user to pay $8 per month to be verified and obtain the blue check mark.

Twitter said last week that it would begin to wind down its “legacy verified program” and remove “legacy verified” check marks on Apr. 1. The company is prompting people with the legacy checkmarks to sign up for the Twitter Blue subscription service.

Musk has been trying to find ways to generate new revenue streams at Twitter, with paid verification being a flagship policy. But the company has reportedly lost a huge amount of value.

Musk told employees last week that Twitter is now valued at $20 billion, according to an email sent to employees and seen by the New York Times. That is down more than 50% from the $44 billion Musk paid for company last year.

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