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Blackberry and Baidu deepen autonomous, connected car partnership



Blackberry and Chinese search engine giant Baidu have agreed to expand a partnership that aims to give automakers the tools they need to launch next-generation connected and autonomous vehicles in China.

Under the deal, Baidu’s high-definition maps will be integrated into Blackberry’s QNX Neutrino Real-Time Operating System. The embedded system will be mass produced in the upcoming GAC New Energy Aion models from the electric vehicle arm of GAC Group, one of the country’s top three automakers that produces more 2 million vehicles a year.

The aim of this new, expanded partnership is to “provide car manufacturers with a clear and fast path to the production of autonomous vehicles, with safety and security as the top priority,” according to a statement from Wang Yunpeng, senior director of the technology department of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group.

The partnership between Baidu and Blackberry is notable because it inserts a foreign operating system into Chinese-made vehicles even as the government there has called for native tech.

Blackberry’s QNX software handles the functional safety, network security and reliability pieces, while Baidu has invested in the development of artificial intelligence and deep learning.

“Together, we can help car manufacturers quickly produce safe autonomous vehicles and promote the development collaboratively of the intelligent networked automobile industry,” Yunpeng said.

Blackberry, once the dominate force in the smart phone industry, has found success getting its QNX technology into vehicles. Today, the software is used in the advanced driver assistance, digital instrument clusters and infotainment systems of more than 175 million vehicles.

The agreement builds on the two companies January 2018 agreement to make BlackBerry QNX’s operating system the foundation for Baidu’s ‘Apollo’ autonomous driving open platform.

The deal with Baidu also helps Blackberry continue to carve out market share in China, where it’s a more recent entrant. Last year, Blackberry announced QNX would be integrated into Tesla rival Xpeng’s electric vehicles in China.

“With BlackBerry QNX’s embedded software as its foundation, Baidu has made significant progress as part of its Apollo platform in establishing a commercial ecosystem for innovative technologies that OEMs can leverage for their next generation vehicles,” Dhiraj Handa, vice president of channel, partners and APAC, BlackBerry Technology Solutions, said in a statement.

Baidu’s autonomous driving program, known as Apollo, has been described as the “an Android for smart driving.” The Apollo program has landed more than hundred manufacturing and supplier partners. Baidu has also been busy testing autonomous driving and launch a robotaxi fleet in September.

The deal also comes on the heels of Baidu’s push beyond automotive software and into the production of vehicles. Baidu announced earlier this month that it plans to set up a new company to produce electric vehicles with the help of Chinese automaker Geely. Baidu will provide so-called smart driving technologies while Geely handles will the design, engineering and manufacturing of the vehicles.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Celebs like Rob Dyrdek, Joe Jonas, and Travis Barker are backing the nootropic nosh company, Mindright



It was only a matter of time before someone married the nascent nootropic supplements for brain health to the snack bar craze that continues to attract dollars and exits.

That time is apparently now, as Rob Dyrdek, the MTV-famous celebrity, pro-skater and entrepreneur, and Chris Bernard announce a new investment in the company they co-founded, Mindright, alongside celebrity investors including Joe Jonas, Travis Barker, and The Profit’s Marcus Lemonis. 

“When we started down the path of condition-specific food and beverage… we started doing a lot of research into the nootropics and adaptogens space,” said co-founder Bernard. Working with a food scientist who did not want to be named (which isn’t sketchy at all), Dyrdek and Bernard were introduced to several companies producing Ashwagandha, which the two had settled on as the new key ingredient in their snack bars.

Along with ginseng and cordyceps mushrooms, the company has a trifecta of new (and old) supplements that have taken the nutraceutical world by storm.

Bernard had initially approached the Dyrdek Machine group about another product, but the company was too far along and not something that Dyrdek felt passionate about backing. The story changed when Bernard returned with plans for this nootropic nosh.

“[Bernard] brought back the concept of the path of what’s evolved from functional foods and probiotics and collagen and sort of the mental health and adaptogen and the supplement world and said here’s how to merge these,” Dyrdek said of Bernard’s second pitch. “It was a home-run for us. Our process is supporting a solopreneur where we help shape and build the company together and provide the outsourced resources. We fund the development of the idea to go to the capital markets.”

So far, Drydek and his team have made 15 investments in consumer and entertainment businesses, and five of those business have since been acquired.

Most deals from Dyrdek Machine follow a similar trajectory. The firm becomes a co-founder and shares common stock and then negotiate a preferred equity investment for the capital infusion. Typically those deals will range from $250,000 to $500,000.

“We co-found it and we share that common share class and our first money is preferred and pick a valuation that balances out the deal,” Dyrdek said. “How much equity do we want to develop it with you is what we negotiate with that initial capital.”

Portrait of Rob Dyrdek, founder of Dyrdek Machine

Dyrdek describes his investment firm as founder-driven and market agnostic. “We want a well-rounded, multi-dimensional founder and then we look at the market and how do we evolve it into something that has a larger, broader appeal,” Dyrdek said. “Rather than chasing down nootropics, we found that ‘good mood’ was the important thing to the consumer base. That’s why we drove ‘Good mood superfood.’”

Bernard’s faith in Dyrdek’s ability to move the business forward has been proven in the evolution of other companies in the firm’s portfolio. Dyrdek pointed to Outstanding Foods, another investment, which he said had recently closed a $10 million round at a $100 million valuation. Another startup in the portfolio, Momentous, a supplement manufacturer, also closed on a big round recently after raising $5 million in 2019, Dyrdek said.

For Mindright, Dyrdek’s involvement brought in other celebrity names once they tried the product. The company counts Joe Jonas and Travis Barker among its seed investors.

“They were excited to get involved in this because they believed in what we took the time to create,” Bernard said. 

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The path forward for essential workers



Gig workers and warehouse workers have become essential in a pandemic-ravaged economy. In California, a law went into effect earlier this year that makes gig workers independent contractors. Meanwhile, Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama are actively seeking to form a union to ensure better protections at the workplace.

At TC Sessions: Justice, I spoke with Gig Workers Collective co-founder and organizer Vanessa Bain, The Congress of Essential Workers founder and former Amazon warehouse worker Christian Smalls and National Council for Occupational Safety and Health Co-Executive Director Jessica E. Martinez about what’s next for gig workers and tech’s contractor workforce, and what battles lie ahead for these essential workers.

On the Amazon union drive

Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama are in the midst of a historic union drive. Smalls, who was fired from his job at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island last year after speaking out about the lack of personal protective equipment, told me he recently spent a few days in Bessemer.

The building opened up when Coronavirus started. When New York City became the epicenter, that’s when Bessemer facility opened up. So the union got a head start on talking to workers. So that’s a gem for anybody or any union that plans on trying to unionize the building — that you have a facility in your community that’s about to open up, when opening, that’s the best time to connect with workers. That’s what happened last year. And as a result, the workers had seen what happened to the workers that were unprotected and they don’t want that. They want better for themselves. And they rightfully desrve that, especially in Alabama. It’s a right to work state, a state with no state minimum, obviously a red state. So I think it’s a lot of intangibles against them. But these workers now see the window of opportunity for change systemically. (Timestamp: 4:40)

Meanwhile, President Biden recently came out in support of the unionizing efforts in Bessemer.

I would hope that he is a man of his word. He’s a pro-union guy. He ran his campaign off of that, saying he’s a union guy and unions need to be strong, and he supports unions all the way. It was powerful to see that the President, the man, the highest plateau in the country, support the union. (Timestamp: 13:11)

[…] But once again, like Vanessa said, I don’t put all my eggs in that basket either. I just want to hold him accountable. Make sure that, you. know, we see this all the way through to the end. Even if Alabama is not successful, if we were to try again, in other locations, other parts of the country, that we have the support of the highest power in the country, that is the most powerful thing that will resonate with workers. So it’s good to see that it’s happening now. (Timestamp: 14:17)

On the effects of Prop 22

Already, Prop 22 has affected industries outside of tech. In December, supermarket chain Albertsons began replacing delivery drivers with contractors and hundreds of employees in California were swapped for DoorDash workers, Bloomberg reported. Meanwhile, tech companies have spoken about implementing Prop 22-like legislation in other parts of the country. Martinez described how some California residents who voted to pass Prop 22 thought they were supporting workers for better access to rights.

And unfortunately, you have workers who have possibly died. We have a California rideshare driver who died from COVID-19 last month. His independent classification means his family will receive no workers’ compensation. That is a huge impact to workers and the reality of how it impacts day to day life for workers and in the midst of a pandemic. So I share that, because Prop 22 sets the tone, again, for what could happen nationally. (Timestamp: 17:00)

Meanwhile, Bain said she sees the passing of Prop 22 as a failure of “our entire structure of economy.”

And we have really allowed tech to run rampant under this pretense that somehow it’s innovative, and especially within the gig economy. I mean, it’s the opposite of innovative, right? Like it’s feudalism on your phone, right? It’s 1-800 dial listserv. So it’s like, they’re not doing anything new that justifies creating an entirely different classification of labor than existed before, which is what Prop 22 did, right? It literally created this category of marketplace contractor that retains neither the protections of an independent contractor nor an employee. And allowing, you know, companies to write their own laws in this way is a systemic failure. (Timestamp: 18:57)

On the PRO Act

There’s legislation in the U.S. Senate right now that aims to make it easier for workers to organize and form unions in the country. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act seeks to change labor laws in favor of giving workers more power.

Bain spoke about the importance of getting the PRO Act across the line in light of the passing of Prop 22 in California.

These things shouldn’t be at the mercy of who happens to be, you know, held to a position. These are things that should be codified and enshrined really in law. And things that should be consistent and stable protections that people can rely on and count on. (Timestamp: 20:22)

Martinez explained how the PRO Act aligns with the work she’s doing at COSH. The organization recently released a national agenda for worker safety and health, along with some recommendations.

We want stronger safety laws, tougher enforcement, including a mandatory emergency standard to prevent the spread of infectious disease. And again, this is federally so if there is an ETS or an emergency [temporary] standard pass, it applies all over and impacts all kinds of workers, stronger protections against retaliation. (Timestamp: 07:53)

Martinez added:

Employers will funnel resources to try to scare tactics to scare workers from organizing, demanding safer workplaces, job security, and so forth. [The agenda] also includes workers are included in all policy decisions. We believe strongly that workers, more than anyone, understand the job, know the solutions and controls to health and safety issues, and also equity and Inclusion to end the misclassification and better protections for temporary gig workers. Paid sick and family leave for workers also worker centered health protocols, including health for high risk workers and getting access to vaccines. And we want to confront the workplace effects of climate change. Finally, also prevent chemical catastrophes and harmful exposure. […] With that said, this is not working in isolation. It works in collaboration with laws, we’re hoping that will pass, such as the PRO Act, allowing workers to gain bargaining power when organizing, essentially giving them the ability to negotiate with the employer get access to benefits again, such as some job security paid sick leave workers comp and so forth. (Timestamp: 8:23)

You can read the entire transcript here.

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The rise of the tech workers union and what comes next



While not entirely non-existent, the union has been an elusive phenomenon in Silicon Valley. More recently, however, big names like Google and Kickstarter have taken key steps toward forming unions, as have smaller startups like Glitch, which made history this week by signing a collective bargaining agreement – the first team of software engineers to do so. Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama, meanwhile, are currently on the cusp of forming their own historic union. In this panel from TC Sessions: Justice, we discuss how we got here, what comes next and steps tech employees can take.

On Why Now?

As has been the case with management throughout history, tech companies have long fought tooth and nail against labor organizing. Over the course of the last couple of years, however, we may have seen something of a critical mass that could represent the beginnings of a sea change for the industry.

Redwine: It seems like tech workers are reacting to some of the maturity of tech and the expansion of the platforms that we all work on, and also more worker instability in general in the US, especially. I think it’s sort of a response that workers are becoming more formal in their organizing efforts. (Timestamp: 1:08)

Parul Koul (Google):

Koul: A variety of tactics and strategies have been tried, and we’ve been able to analyze the successes and failures of past movements and arrive at a point where we’ve developed enough institutional and organizational knowledge to try something new and – in some ways – more complex. (Timestamp: 3:25)

On Whether The Pandemic Will Spur More Organizing

Covid-19 has radically transformed where – and how – we work. It’s upended many industries and cause millions to lose jobs. Could the pandemic prove to be yet another inflection point for a growing movement.

Koul: In our case, what we saw was companies moving to work from home and then, in certain categories of employees, not really receiving the same benefits […] whether it’s a stipend to buy equipment or even having the benefit from working from home […] We also saw a mass movement and social and political protests against police brutality erupt right in the middle of the pandemic. For me, and many other organizers at Google, it really galvanized us to do something and respond to that in the streets and in our own way. (Timestamp: 6:56)

On How – or if – Unions Can Protect Against Layoffs

For many industries, layoffs have become all but an inevitability during the pandemic. In a number of the aforementioned cases, they’ve continued even in the wake of employee unionizing. Ultimately, how much protection does a union give workers against layoffs?

Reckers: Kickstarter won its union on February 18, 2020. The pandemic hit in mid-March. The company announced that they were going to have pretty massive layoffs in early-April. That was a very difficult time. We looked at the numbers and did see that a number of the people they were proposing to layoff were advocates for the union or union members. That was very hard to stomach. What happens, though – and where the union comes into play – is that the company was not able to just lay people off like that. Especially under the terms that they wanted to impose unilaterally, without any consultation with staff. The difference was that when the company proposed these layoffs, because there was already a union in place, Kickstarter had to negotiate with the group of employees about the terms of that layoff. (Timestamp: 9:10)

On How to Get Started

First steps toward unionization are often difficult in an environment where organizing is frowned upon management. Many early conversations happen after hours and off-the-clock for fear of repercussion. This can be doubly difficult in an environments like white collar workers tech company, where some employees don’t tacitly understand the benefits of organizing.

Reckers: You can best support each other by getting into conversations with your coworkers and understanding what’s been going on with them. The first question I often get from people is how to first start having conversations. I think that’s a challenge, especially since we’re not taught how to do that. But starting a conversation about what their experiences have been like at the organization or company, how long they’ve been there, how has there changed? What did they want to see when they were hired? What sort of workplace were they looking for? And how can we make sure that we have some way of achieving that? (Timestamp: 24:04)

On Whether Expressions of Support From Management Are Always Positive

Management often adopts the narrative that they support unions following hard fought battles. In the wake of support from certain tech executives and political leaders like Joe Biden, the question arises about whether such sentiments can ultimately have negative repercussions for organizing.

Redwine: First and foremost, it’s really important to remember that the things that people in power say do not matter. All of the power that you have doesn’t come from people at the top giving it to you. It comes from linking arms with the people next to you and taking that power and influence for yourself. (Timestamp: 28:27)

You can read the entire transcript here.

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