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Midwest rising

Emerging venture capital firms in smaller American cities from Indianapolis to Princeton, NJ are attracting increasingly larger funding as investors see opportunities for returns beyond the coastal confines of the nation’s largest cities and the innovation epicenter of Silicon Valley. For the last four years, AOL co-founder Steve Case has been criss-crossing the country preaching a gospel of economic renewal for American cities driven by startup investment and technology-based entrepreneurialism. With Case those journeys culminated in the creation of a fund called Rise of the Rest  — a $150 million vehicle raised by some of tech’s highest-profile names. Investors like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet; Jim Bryer, the former head of the National Venture Capital Association and an early investor in Facebook; Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner John Doerr; and Facebook’s former President Sean Parker; came together with the family offices of some of America’s wealthiest people to back the fund. As Schmidt told  The Times , “There is a large selection of relatively undervalued businesses in the heartland between the coasts, some of which can scale quickly.” Steve Case (Revolution LLC) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017 Case and his partner JD Vance (the author of Hillbilly Elegy ) are only two of the would-be pioneers that are bringing the venture investment model to the Midwest. In fact, i t has been about four years since Mark Kvamme and Chris Olsen left the West Coast and Silicon Valley to launch Drive Capital — the venture capital firm they founded in Columbus, Ohio. In that time the firm has managed to raise over half a billion dollars to invest in startups based primarily in the Midwest, and has spurred an investment revolution in areas of the country that are more synonymous with tractors than with technological innovation.  But the Midwestern investment scene isn’t just defined by Valley transplants coming in. Some of the entrepreneurs behind the region’s home-grown success stories, like Indianapolis’ ExactTarget, have launched funds of their own to plant an entirely new crop of tech companies in the Midwest. Homegrown Heroes These are funds like High Alpha , which just closed its second $85 million fund, High Alpha Capital II, and raised another $16.5 million for a companion venture studio that ideates and incubates startups. High Alpha doesn’t exclusively invest in the Midwest, but the bulk of its commitments are definitely falling outside of the typical geographies where most investors spend their time, according to High Alpha managing partner Scott Dorsey, the former chief executive of Indianapolis-based ExactTarget (which Salesforce acquired in 2013).* For its venture studio, the firms was able to bring back Emergence Capital, the San Francisco-based software as a service investor, and woo new investor Foundry Capital, a Boulder, Colo.-based firm co-founded by the legendary investor Brad Feld.

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When In Rome is the first Alexa-powered board game

Years ago, in the heyday of home video, I played a boardgames that used VHS tapes and electronic parts to help spur the action along. From Candy Land VCR to Captain Power , game makers were doing the best they could with a new technology. Now, thanks to Alexa, they can try something even cooler – board games that talk back. The first company to try this is Sensible Object . Their new game, When In Rome, is a family board game that pits two teams against each other in a race to travel the world. The game itself consists of a board and a few colored pieces and the real magic comes from Alexa. You start the game by enabling the When In Rome skill and then you start the game. Alexa then prompts you with questions as you tool around the board. The rules are simple because Alexa does most of the work. The game describes how to set up the board and gets you started and then you just trigger with your voice it as you play. The company’s first game, Beasts of Balance , was another clever hybrid of AR and real life board game action. Both games are a bit gimmicky and a bit high tech – you won’t be able to play these in a cozy beach house without Internet, for example – but it’s a fun departure from the norm. Like the VCR games of yore, When In Rome depends on a new technology to find a new way to have fun.

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During an event Facebook billed as "a presentation about our work to prevent the spread of false news", News Feed head defended keeping…

Charlie Warzel / BuzzFeed : During an event Facebook billed as “a presentation about our work to prevent the spread of false news”, News Feed head defended keeping InfoWars on the platform   —  Facebook says it knows the truth is messy; what it doesn't know is how to clean up all the fake news it is helping to spread.

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Trail Mix Ventures, an outfit centered on wellness-obsessed millennials, just closed an $11 million debut fund

The millennial generation — people born between 1981 and 1996 — are on the cusp of becoming America’s largest generation , according to projections from the U.S. Census Bureau. What else we know about this demographic : millennials are increasingly choosing to live at home with their parents, put off marriage and children, and not buy stuff like cars and luxury goods but instead access those goods through sharing services. What they can’t do without: wellness. It’s one area where they’re willing to spend money on compelling brands and experiences, even when they cost an  arm and a leg . And that’s something that Soraya Darabi, Will Nathan, and Marina Hadjipateras inherently appreciate as millennials themselves, as well as, more newly, investors. In fact, after embroiling themselves in startups — Nathan started an interior design startup called Homepolish ; Darabi’s last startup was a (now-shuttered) fashion marketplace called Zady ; Hadjipateras worked as VP of investor relations for her family’s shipping company, Dorian LPG , which went public in 2014 — the three friends decided to try funding companies that make their peers feel good. Enter Trail Mix Ventures , a New York-based outfit that invests in the “future of living well.” It’s a broad mandate, but the trio apparently sold the idea, securing enough capital — $3 million — from founder friends in January of last year to get started. Some of the then-nascent companies they have backed since include  The Wing , a 2.5-year-old women’s-only work and community that has now raised $42 million altogether;  Parsley Health , a two-year-old, membership-based wellness practice with locations in on both coasts that has raised more than $10 million; and Henry the Dentist , a two-year-old mobile dental clinic whose seed investors also include the early-stage, New York-based venture firm Brand Foundry. Asked where the three get their deal flow, Nathan points to the many entrepreneurs who Trail Mix counts as investors, including cofounder Neil Parikh of the sleep company Casper; cofounder Nick Taranto of the meal kit company Plated; and Warby Parker cofounder Neil Blumenthal, who is also CEO of the eyewear company. Nathan says the broader network in New York that the friends have built over the years also “opens doors for us and connections that help founders get to their next level.” Meanwhile, Darabi notes that while a lot of investors talk about being former founders, having so recent a memory as the three do of being in the trenches adds meaningful value

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You can now stream to your Sonos devices via AirPlay 2

Newer Sonos devices and “rooms” now appear as AirPlay 2-compatible devices, allowing you to stream audio to them via Apple devices. The solution is a long time coming for Sonos which promised AirPlay 2 support in October . You can stream to Sonos One, Sonos Beam, Playbase, and Play:5 speakers and ask Siri to play music on various speakers (“Hey Siri, play some hip-hop in the kitchen.”) The feature should roll out to current speakers today. I tried a beta version and it worked as advertised. A set of speakers including a Beam and a Sub in my family room showed up as a single speaker and a Sonos One in the kitchen showed up as another. I was able to stream music and podcasts to either one. Given the ease with which you can now stream to nearly every device from every device it’s clear that whole-home audio is progressing rapidly. As we noted before Sonos is facing tough competition but little tricks like this one help it stay in the race. gallery ids="1671157,1671158"

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Boost VC backs Storyline’s Alexa skill builder

Have you felt a disconnect with your Alexa and wished she could share more of your sense of humor or tell you an  actually  scary ghost story? Startup Storyline makes designing your own Alexa skills as easy and dragging and dropping speech blocks, and has just raised $770,000 in a funding round led by Boost VC to help grow its skill builder API. The company launched in 2017 to help bridge the gap between creators and the tricky voice recognition software powering smart speakers like Alexa. With its new funding, CEO and co-founder   Vasili Shynkarenka  says that Storyline is hoping to expand its team and its interface to other smart speakers, like Google Home, as well work on integrating monetization and third-party services into the interface. Storyline’s user friendly interface lets users drag-and-drop speech commands and responses to customize user’s interactions with their smart speaker devices. Users can choose between templates for a skill or a flash briefing, and test the voice recognition and logic of the design live in their browser window. Since its launch, over 12,000 Storyline users have published 2,500 skills in the Alexa Skills Store — more than 6% of all skills in the store. The interface has also been used by the grand-prize winners of Amazon’s developer  Alexa Skills Challenge: Kids and the publication Slate . For Shynkarenka, the creation of these skills is vastly different from the creation of a typical smartphone app. “Most people think of Alexa as another software platform, like a smartphone or the web, and that’s not actually true,” he said.

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Sigma America’s July Lens Workshops

Sigma today announced its Sigma Lens Workshops lineup for July. Workshops will be led by Sigma’s Brett Wells and Aaron Norberg, and will focus on various photography genres including astrophotography, how to shoot moving water, travel and macro photography.

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Hands on with the Echo Dots Kids Edition

Earlier this year, Amazon introduced an Echo Dot for kids, with its  $80 Echo Dot Kids Edition device, which comes in your choice of a red, blue, or green protective case. The idea is to market a version of Amazon’s existing Dot hardware to families by bundling it with an existing subscription service, and by throwing in a few extra features – like having Alexa encourage kids to say “please” when making their demands, for example. The device makes sense in a couple of scenarios – for helicopter parents who want to fully lock down an Echo device before putting it in a kid’s room, and for those who were in the market for a FreeTime Unlimited subscription anyway. I’ve been testing out an Echo Dot Kids Edition, and ran into some challenges which I thought I’d share. This is not a hardware review – I’m sure you can find those elsewhere.  Music Filtering As a parent of an 8-year old myself, I’ve realized it’s too difficult to keep her from ever hearing bad words – especially in music, TV and movies – so I’ve just explained to her that while she will sometimes hear those words, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to say them. (We have a similar rule about art – sometimes people will be nude in paintings, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to walk around naked all the time.) Surprisingly, I’ve been able to establish a level of shame around adult and inappropriate content to the point that she will confess to me when she hears it on places like YouTube. She will even turn it off without my instruction! I have a good kid, I guess. But I understand some parents will only want kids to access the sanitized version of songs – especially if their children are still in the preschool years, or have a tendency to seek out explicit content because they’re little monsters. Amazon FreeTime would be a good option in that case, but there are some caveats. For starters, if you plan on using the explicit language filter on songs the Echo Dot plays, then you’re stuck with Amazon Music. While the Echo Dot itself can play music from a variety of services, including on-demand offerings from Pandora and Spotify, you can’t use these services when the explicit filter is enabled as “music services that do not support this filter will be blocked,” Amazon explains. We’re a Spotify household, so that means my child’s favorite bedtime music playlist became unavailable when we swapped out her existing Echo Dot for the Kids Edition which had the explicit filter enabled. Above: Parent Dashboard? Where?

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Anker Mars II projector promises solid summer fun

Anker , a popular if battery and cable company, recently announced the Mars II projector under its Nebula brand. The company, which primarily sells via Amazon , is expanding out of batteries and cables and is now creating audio and other portable AV gear. This compact, battery-powered DLP projector is their latest creation and it has found a place of honor at our family barbecues. The projector is actually an Android 7.1 device stuffed into a case about as big as a Bluetooth speaker. A physical lens cap slides down and turns on the system and you control everything from he included remote or the buttons on the top of the device. You can also download an app that mimics a mouse and keyboard for choosing videos and information entry. It projects at a maximum of 300 lumens and projects at 720p. You can also connect an HDMI device like a game console or stick in a USB drive full of videos to view on the fly. Again, the real benefit here is the ability to stream from various apps. I have YouTube, Netflix, Plex, and other apps installed and you can install almost any other Android app you can imagine. It has speakers built in and you can cast to it via Miracast but you cannot insert a Chromecast. If all you want to do is throw up a little Santa Clarita Diet or Ice Age on a sheet in the back yard, this thing is perfect. Because the brightness is fairly low you need solid twilight or a partially dark room to get a good picture. However, the picture is good enough and it would also make a great presentation device for a closed, dark conference room

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Anker Mars II projector promises solid summer fun

Anker , a popular if battery and cable company, recently announced the Mars II projector under its Nebula brand. The company, which primarily sells via Amazon , is expanding out of batteries and cables and is now creating audio and other portable AV gear. This compact, battery-powered DLP projector is their latest creation and it has found a place of honor at our family barbecues. The projector is actually an Android 7.1 device stuffed into a case about as big as a Bluetooth speaker. A physical lens cap slides down and turns on the system and you control everything from he included remote or the buttons on the top of the device. You can also download an app that mimics a mouse and keyboard for choosing videos and information entry. It projects at a maximum of 300 lumens and projects at 720p. You can also connect an HDMI device like a game console or stick in a USB drive full of videos to view on the fly. Again, the real benefit here is the ability to stream from various apps. I have YouTube, Netflix, Plex, and other apps installed and you can install almost any other Android app you can imagine.

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Winnie raises $4 million to make parents’ lives easier

An app that has the needs of modern-day parents in mind, Winnie , has now raised $4 million in additional seed funding in a round led by Reach Capital. Other investors in the new round include Rethink Impact, Homebrew, Ludlow Ventures, Afore Capital, and BBG Ventures, among others. With the new funds, Winnie has raised $6.5 million to date. The San Francisco-based startup, which begun its life as a directory of kid-friendly places largely serving the needs of newer parents, has since expanded to become a larger platform for parents. Winnie was founded by Bay Area technologists, Sara Mauskopf, who spent time at Postmates, Twitter, YouTube and Google, and Anne Halsall, also from Postmates and Google, as well as Quora and Inkling. As new parents themselves, they built Winnie out a personal need to find the sort of information parents crave – details you can’t easily dig up in Google Maps or Yelp. For example, you can use Winnie to find nearby kid-friendly destinations like museums or parks, as well as those that welcome children with features like changing tables in restrooms, wide aisles in stores for stroller access, areas for nursing, and other things. "Babies are people too, and they deserve a designated clean bathroom space just like the rest of us." https://t.co/Ps8egQcDLL — Winnie (@Winnie) June 5, 2018 Winnie serves as a good example of what investing in women can achieve. Somehow, the young, 20-something men that receive the lion’s share of VC funding had never thought up the idea of app that helps new parents navigate the world. (I know, shocking, right?) And yet, the kind of questions that Winnie tries to answer are those that all parents, at some point, are curious about. The data on Winnie is crowd-sourced, with details, ratings and reviews coming from other real parents. Listings in San Francisco may be more fleshed out than elsewhere, as that’s where Winnie got its start. However, the app is now available in 10,000 cities across the U.S., and has just surpassed over a million users. In more recent months, Winnie has been working to expand beyond being a sort of “Yelp for parents,” and now features an online community where parents can ask questions and participate in discussions. “The crowdsourced directory of family-friendly businesses is still a huge component of what we do…and this has grown to over 2 million places across the United States,” notes Winnie co-founder and CEO Sara Mauskopf

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