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Salesforce Ventures’s John Somorjai warns N.C.’s politics could dampen its tech hub potential – TechCrunch

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North Carolina has been rising as an entrepreneurial hub. It’s now home to massive deals, like IBM buying Red Hat for $34 billion and Fortnite maker Epic Games raising a landmark $1.25 billion, both which helped to put the state — and the Triangle region, in particular — on the map. And now it’s just minted another unicorn with Pendo’s last fundraise. But its tech hub potential can still be threatened by the state’s political swings, said Salesforce Ventures head John Somorjai, who spoke today at a tech event in Durham.

On a panel at Bull City Venture Partners’ Entrepreneurs’ Series 2019, Somorjai reminded the audience that investment in the state follows the talent. And a state can’t attract talent when it’s not “welcoming to all people,” he said.

North Carolina has had a difficult history on this front, if you recall.

In 2016, PayPal canceled plans to open a global operations center in Charlotte after N.C. passed the controversial (“bathroom bill”) law that prevented cities from creating non-discrimination policies based on gender identity. The state lost 400 potential jobs, as a result. Over 100 other companies, including Apple, Google, Twitter, Facebook, eBay, Uber, and others also asked the state to repeal the law after its passing.

N.C. eventually revised the law, then reached a settlement this summer that allows transgender people to use certain bathrooms matching their gender identity. But in some cases, it was too late to woo the tech companies back.

Apple and Amazon have also been separately criticized, at times, for considering N.C. area investments because of the state’s anti-LGBTQ leanings.

This issue now has a broad effect on the state’s ability to attract tech and business investment at a time when investors are often looking outside the Valley (and its obscene valuations) to find companies that are more focused on profitability.

Salesforce Ventures, a strategic investor who keeps its stake below 15%, isn’t hesitant to fund companies beyond Silicon Valley — it has five investments in N.C. and 15 overall in the larger region, for example. And 75% of its investments were made outside of California, Somorjai noted.

But when asked what North Carolina’s biggest challenge was, in terms of becoming home to a startup community, he alluded to the state’s politics and its history of divisive laws.

“Before the last election, there was an environment here that wasn’t really welcoming to all people,” Somorjai said. “One of [Salesforce’s] core tenants — our core values — is equality. And there’s really sound business sense behind that,” he explained. “If you have discriminatory policies, people don’t feel welcome. If they don’t feel welcome, they’re not going to want to work there. And you will never be able to attract the best talent.”

“Money flows to where the talent is,” he added.

He also suggested to the event’s audience — a group of some 450 entrepreneurs and hundreds more working in the area’s startup ecosystem — that local community leaders should remain vigilant about these sorts of problems.

“If you’re complacent, it can happen again,” he said.

Despite the concerns, Somorjai was generally positive about the ability for strong startups to arise in N.C.

Salesforce Ventures itself invested in two N.C. area unicorns — Pendo and nCino — and it just acquired Charlotte-based MapAnything, which gives it some 200 new employees in the Tar Heel state. Elsewhere in N.C., startups AvidXchange, Red Ventures, and Tresata all have unicorn valuations.

“One thing we’ve been so excited about is — you have these tremendous universities that are putting out great engineers every year. And you have a growing group of investors that are investing in this area. There’s also now so much talent here that you’re attracting investors from all over the country,” he told the audience. “I think that’s great.”

Image credit, top: SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images

 

 



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Google TV app to include deprecated Android TV Remote app

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Just like with its messaging platforms, Google hasn’t exactly been consistent about its digital media ecosystems. Google News was once Google Play Newsstand which was once Google Play Magazines and Google Currents combined. Google Play Music was supplanted by YouTube Music and now the Google Play Movies & TV app has been renamed Google TV, which is different from the Google TV “skin” based on Android TV. To be fair, Google does try to consolidate things, like retiring an obsolete Android TV remote control app and shoving it into the new Google TV app.

It probably won’t be long before Google consolidates its video-on-demand platforms and branding into a single “Google TV”. Whether that will replace Android TV, just as Wear OS replaced Android Wear, is still an open question but, at least for now, Google TV seems to be focused on the user interface, viewing experience, and, of course, its digital content store.

The old Google Play Movies & TV Android app that Google TV replaced mostly focused on those as well but it seems it’s being primed to do more soon. 9to5Google found traces of functionality that refers to a directional pad as well as enter and back buttons. There’s also mention of pairing the phone to an Android TV.

These operations are already found on the standalone Android TV Remote Control. Although the app still exists on the Google Play Store, it hasn’t seen an update since 2017. Considering Google may be moving to put all its Android TV and videos in one basket, it makes sense to retire such a standalone app and just incorporate its pretty basic features into a single Google TV app.

At the moment, these new features don’t work at all but it does hint at the direction Google might be heading for Google TV. While it might be nice to have everything under a single Google TV banner, there is also the overlap with YouTube and YouTube TV that could make some wary of another Google Play Music scenario in the near future.

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ASUS ROG Phone 5 might have more RAM you’ll ever need for now

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How much RAM do you need for a smartphone? Disregarded the old joke about 640KB of RAM for PCs in the late 80s, smartphone memory seems to have stalled at 12GB in the past year or so with very few exceptions. That said, it seems that high-end smartphones are ready to push the envelope again with the ROG PHone 5 going beyond the 16GB that you’d find on the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G this year.

Just for a quick refresher, RAM is that volatile (meaning it loses data when power goes out) memory space that’s used not for holding data you want to keep but for programs to stay while running. To keep it overly simple, the more RAM you have, the more programs you can have running at the same time before the operating system starts killing unused programs to make room for more. This is why phones with less RAM often have problems multi-tasking, forcing apps to be restarted when you switch back to them because they were killed in the background.

That is true for normal apps but is even more true for games that have large pieces of code and data that need to be kept in memory to run fast and smoothly. It’s really no surprise, then, that the first smartphones that boasted 16GB of RAM were gaming phones like the Lenovo Legion Duel (or Pro) and the ASUS ROG Phone 3. According to a Geekbench sighting, the ASUS ROG Phone 5 will be taking that to the next level even.

The benchmark notes a RAM size of 16.97GB which, given how these numbers work, suggests that the phone could actually have 18GB of RAM. That is quite a large amount of RAM that, even with today’s demanding mobile games, might sound almost too much. Then again, ASUS offers various configurations for its ROG Phones so this could simply be the top-end variant.

The entry doesn’t have other details to offer but we can already piece some of those together. The phone will undoubtedly take advantage of all the power that the Snapdragon 888 has to offer, for example, and DxOMark’s recent audio benchmark revealed not just the return of the 3.5mm headphone jack but also what seems to be a display on its back purely for branding purposes. The ASUS ROG Phone 5 is slated to debut on March 10 so Android gamers won’t have too long to wait for confirmation.

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NVIDIA SHIELD TV SmartThings Link will become unusable in July

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A smart home hub is only as useful as the number of languages it can speak. Given the number of disparate smart home platforms available today, it pays to either understand all those or at least have the ability to learn to communicate with other smart home products. That was practically what the SmartThings Link USB dongle did for the NVIDIA SHIELD TV but that dongle itself will lose its ability to speak the SmartThings language when Samsung upgrades its ecosystem in June.

The SmartThings Link dongle goes way back in 2017 when Google, NVIDIA, and Samsung seemingly sang in unison to bring their smart home ecosystems to a single device. The NVIDIA SHIELD TV, which ran Android TV, not only got support for Google Assistant but also Samsung SmartThings via that USB stick. It may not have exploded as the companies would have hoped but this recent news shows that there will be quite a number of disenfranchised users who banked on that setup.

Janko Roettgers on Twitter shared an email from Samsung detailing the end of times for the SmartThings Link. Starting June 30, 2021, the device will be rendered useless and the NVIDIA SHIELD TV and SmartThings devices will no longer be able to communicate with each other. Additionally, NVIDIA’s Android TV console will also lose control of any other Zigbee or Z-Wave product previously connected via the SmartThings app.

Although disappointing, the writing has been on the wall since June last year when Samsung announced that it would be moving to a new SmartThings platform. A lot of devices won’t be able to make the transition, not just the SmartThings Link, as the change will require completely new hardware more than just a software update. Samsung is taking a very big risk in promising a more flexible ecosystem while potentially hanging hundreds out to dry.

Samsung seems to be offering refunds for some or discounts for its new SmartThings Hub but this still means that SHIELD TV owners won’t be able to use their device as a central smart home hub anymore. Whether Samsung takes steps to bridge the gap again is still unknown but it seems to be cozying up to Google lately so that might still happen, one way or another.

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