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Ex-Akamai CSO will guide security startups on strategy as new YL Ventures partner

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Andy Ellis, operating partner, YL Ventures

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Andy Ellis, the former CSO of Akamai Technologies, has joined YL Ventures as an operating partner. Ellis will draw upon his experiences as a security decision maker to advise startups on a broad range of services, including product development, go-to-market strategies, and managing customer pipelines.

YL Ventures funds Israeli cybersecurity companies from “seed to lead,” but the support goes beyond just funding, Ellis said in an interview with VentureBeat. YL Ventures provides strategic and operational guidance to the companies in its portfolio “in the time that YL’s going to be part of their journey,” Ellis said. The firm also publishes the CSO Circuit, a newsletter that tells startup founders what CSOs need and what the market is currently looking for to help shape product roadmaps and sales strategy.

The support could be as straightforward as having access to a marketing or press team before the company is big enough to have its own, it is also about time and practical advice: YL acts as an advisor on anything the founders and their teams need help with. Ellis would be available “anywhere in the pipeline that I can be useful,” such as joining the company on a customer call, providing feedback on product design, advising on the product roadmap, helping to develop the marketing presentation, and advising the company on how to recruit and develop talent.

Ellis spent 20 years at Akamai and grew the security business to more than $1 billion in annual revenue. As the CSO, he dealt with the challenges enterprise security leaders face in developing a security program, as well as deploying and integrating multiple platforms and technologies. One thing he regularly dealt with was the question of how to protect as many people as possible–security at scale. “I can bring some of the lessons about solutions that didn’t always work because they were great on paper and in the pilot,” but not across the entire organization, Ellis said. He also has the vendor perspective, as he has “secondhand experiences across thousands of CSOs” — Akamai customers — about their problems. He knows that enterprise leaders have budget constraints and integration challenges, and can advise security companies on how to address those specific needs. Being on the selling side, he understood how different dynamics played out in different marketplaces and knew the difference between selling to financial services, retail, and manufacturing, for example.

One of the challenges early startups have is shifting their focus from investors to customers. The first slide deck a startup creates typically leads with how much the company has already raised and is typically designed to sell the companies to VCs. “You almost have to throw that entire deck out and start over,” with a presentation that considers the target market and what the customer cares about, Ellis said. A cloud-native business, for example, will want to know how the technology will solve the problem it is having.

“How much money you raised is a signal that says, maybe you have a great idea, but the idea [technology] is what you want to talk about, and should always be what you’re talking about in selling the business,” Ellis said.

What enterprises care about

YL Ventures consults with CSOs– over 90 CSOs on the advisory board as well as a less formal network of a thousand security leaders–to “get market feedback before making an investment,” Ellis said. These conversations help YL Ventures stay up-to-date with the challenges organizations are facing and to understand the needs and gaps in the industry. This collaboration helps YL Ventures decide which areas to focus on and which security companies to add to their investment portfolio. Ellis joined that advisory board about four years ago.

“Sometimes the input was wow, you know, brilliant people, but this, this technology is never going to sell in the market,” Ellis said. “Other times it was, Oh my goodness, I want to do this one.”

YL Ventures currently manages over $300 million and is currently investing its fourth $135 million fund. Its portfolio currently is focused on the following areas: application security and securing code; security controls for software-as-a-service applications; extended detection and response (XDR) capabilities; next-generation cloud security solutions; and data security. YL Ventures is betting on these technologies as the areas enterprise leaders are the most concerned about.

While YL Ventures didn’t provide aggregate totals on how much it has invested in each of these areas, it provided some insights in recent funding decisions.

Key areas of security investment

The sheer number of attacks against applications and the ever-widening attack surface is driving organizations to allocate more resources to application security and secure software development. One emphasis is on security solutions to “shift left,” to implement security earlier in the software development lifecycle. The firm led the seed round in application security startup Enso Security, vulnerability management company Vulcan Cyber, and source-code protection startup Cycode.

The growing attack landscape means organizations are also increasingly looking for new ways to detect threats and respond quickly. XDR is a new approach which collects and automatically correlates data across multiple security layer, so threats can be detected faster and security analysts can improve investigation and response times. YL Ventures led the seed round in Hunters and participated in follow-on rounds.

The shift to the cloud, the growing remote workforce, and rapid adoption of digital transformation initiatives means enterprise leaders are willing to spend on ways to protect cloud platforms and software-as-a-service applications. More and more employees connecting remotely to corporate assets and accessing sensitive data from private devices and networks. YL Ventures led the seed round in Orca Security, a security startup which reached a unicorn valuation in less than two years.

Data security and governance is another big area for YL Ventures, especially as enterprises try to manage the massive amount of data being generated. Organizations have to figure out how to comply with a growing slate of regulations such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act. As more states follow California’s example, organizations have to ensure their governance processes and data management practices keep up with each regulation’s requirements. YL Ventures led a seed round in Satori in 2019.

Other areas YL Ventures has invested in recently includes authorization (build.security), medical device security (Medigate), and embedded security for connected systems (Karamba).

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Nintendo has some intriguing indie games to fill out the Switch’s future lineup

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Nintendo has some intriguing indie games to fill out the Switch's future lineup

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OK, I admit that I’m a little bummed that we didn’t see an update on Hollow Knight: Silksong during today’s Nintendo Indie World event. But we got enough other cool looking games that I’m not too upset.

Nintendo has done a great job showcasing indies on Switch during the console’s first four years. Along with those awesome Nintendo first-party games, it has really been these smaller digital titles that have kept the Switch’s library looking so attractive. And today, we saw some that I imagine many of us are going to want to download.

Play them soon

A few of them are even coming out later today. The Longing jumped out at me with its moody, hand-drawn art. It also looks like an adventure game of sorts, which sings to this old LucasArts fan. There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension is also coming out later today, somehow looking even weirder than The Longing. It gives me some WarioWare vibes. It looks like you’re playing snippets of minigames.

Above: There Is No Game.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Fez is also heading to Switch later today. This is a classic indie game that should appeal to anyone who enjoys 2D platformers with a heavy emphasis on puzzle-solving. As the Switch continues to become such an indie-focused machine, it’s important to get classics like Fez on the console.

Look at all these games

I also saw a few action games that look intriguing. Skul: The Hero Slayer is a 2D roguelite that gives me a bit of a Dead Cells impression, both because of its pixel art and its fast-paced 2D fighting. Then there’s Aztech: Forgotten Gods, a 3D action game! You don’t often see the indies take on that genre, and its Mesoamerican aesthetic helps it stand out from all the fantasy and sci-fi stuff that we usually see.

aztech

Above: Aztech: Forgotten Gods.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Nintendo also showed off some neat games that focus on story, like Road 96. This one is about a teenager going on a road trip, and its procedural story should make for a lot of replayability. Nintendo closed the show with Oxenfree II: Lost Signals, a sequel to one of the better-liked indie games ever. I was also impressed by Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield, an auto-runner set in a Tokyo-Detroit mashup.

It was an impressive showcase. I know that some Nintendo fans have been worried that 2021 would be a quiet year for the Switch. That may be true when it comes to Nintendo first-party games, but these indies should help keep the system relevant for a lot of players while they wait Breath of the Wild 2.

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USC Games Expo will highlight 70 student games on May 15

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Danny Bilson is head of USC Gam,es.

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The USC Games Expo will debut more than 70 student-made games at noon Pacific on May 15 in a livestreamed online-only event.

The event for the University of Southern California’s video game program will feature returning host Geoff Keighley, creator of The Game Awards. Long-term partner Jam City returns as well. The USC Games program is rated as the top undergraduate game school in the country by The Princeton Review.

The event will be the second time it has been held in an online-only format because of the pandemic. The 70 games are up from 50 a year ago. They’re from students teams who worked remotely and were distributed across the globe.

Continuing the “global” theme, an additional live encore of the expo will stream that evening Pacific time to coincide with daytime in Asia. All interested attendees can register on uscgamesexpo.com for event updates, with North America attendees who RSVP eligible to win prizes, including game codes, during the stream itself.

Above: Danny Bilson is head of USC Games.

Image Credit: USC

This is the fifth year USC Games has held an expo, which covers the video game development programs offered by USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. The Expo will also feature the first hands-on for the 10 projects being developed in its capstone course, the Advanced Games Program (AGP).

The 10 games from the AGP class are:

  • Beat the Beat Up (Oculus VR) — A VR action/rhythm game where you fight to the beat as the star of your own Bollywood blockbuster. The neighborhood Don has sent out his goons to terrorize the locals, and you are the only one that can stop them. You have to impress the critics, including one voiced by Bollywood star Abhay Deol (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Dev.D, Happy Bhag Jayegi). If you rack up your score and clear the streets, you can save the village.
  • Corporate Clash (Mobile IOS/Android) — You can become the richest CEO of 2250. Corporate Clash is a casual mobile strategy game where players are the CEO of a futuristic company that makes widgets for robot consumers. You have to deal with the twists and turns thrown at you by your factory, employees, investors and other demanding groups. Pollute to cut costs but irk environmentalists, or raise prices and upset your customers?
  • Crescendo (PC) — Crescendo is a 2D combat action game where you conduct a musical world through your actions. Travel through an eerie fairy tale setting with music and battle the monstrous personifications of an orchestra.
  • Detour Bus (SteamVR, Oculus Rift/Link) — Detour Bus is a VR construction-comedy game where players build winding highways around themselves to take the Flowers family on a psychedelic road trip across post-infrastructure America. Snap together random road pieces to traverse groovy landscapes, avoid hazardous obstacles, and prevent corrupt Senator Joseph McCarthief from turning all freeways into pay-to-drive tunnels.
  • Larger Than Light (PC) — Traverse shadows by manipulating light in the 2.5D puzzle platform game, Larger Than Light. Escape a haunted school as the sibling duo: Skia the shadow, who can move across other shadows on the wall, and Lux the lightbulb, who can manipulate the size and placement of shadows for his younger sister to platform across. A single player will control both characters, getting them to work together to break away from the otherworldly force trapping them in their school while overcoming their bitter sibling rivalry.
  • Leechbug (PC) — Leechbug is a real-time strategy combat game where players take on the role of the Leechbug, a robotic symbiotic parasite who exists in an alien seascape. Your home is under threat from a polluting force that’s also sapping the will of your fellow undersea denizens. You have to use your powers of possession to free your friends, control their unique abilities synergistically to engage in combat, and reach the surface of the ocean to rescue your underwater world.
  • Pelota (PC) — Pelota is an action-packed online sports game for 2-to-4 players that brings an ancient sport into the interactive medium. Players will be immersed in a Mesoamerican setting as they master the game’s novel physics-based mechanics to get the game ball through a vertical hoop, using everything they have — except their hands — in order to win the favor of the gods.
  • Snowshoe Thompson (PC) — Explore the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains in The Trials of Snowshoe Thompson, a skiing expedition game set in the 19th century about an immigrant traversing the elements and laying the groundwork for what would become the U.S. Postal Service. During 1856, Snowshoe Thompson sets out to aid his new community as a mailman cross-country skiing across the Sierra Nevada mountain range, connecting the wild west with the wider world.
  • Sweeping the Ruins (PC) — Sweeping the Ruins is a two-player co-op strategy and combat game that let’s players engage in asymmetrical combat with an overpowered behemoth inside a dark and deep dungeon. Armed with no weaponry, two players will rely on their wits and use environmental traps to work in tandem to take down the beast. Players will need strategic coordination, situational awareness and teamwork to defeat the massive enemy and prevent the destruction of their nearby homeland.
  • Wheelin’ & Mealin’ (PC) — Wheelin’ and Mealin’ is a two-player co-op driving-and-cooking game that blends tooling around a bright, colorful cityscape and cooking fantastical dishes. Players can maneuver a souped-up race car and immerse themselves around a fantastical city to create crazy dishes that satisfy their customers in order to rise to the top of the restaurant world.

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Nvidia forms Inception VC Alliance to connect AI startups with venture capital

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Nvidia forms Inception VC Alliance to connect AI startups with venture capital

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Nvidia has formed its Inception VC Alliance to connect AI startups with venture capital. The move will help connect more than 7,500 startups in the company’s Inception program for AI tech with venture capital firms.

Jeff Herbst, vice president of business development and head of Inception at Nvidia, unveiled the alliance today at the AI Day for VCs event during Nvidia’s annual GTC 21 conference. Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang unveiled the company’s latest products on Monday in a keynote speech where he talked about the company’s new Grace central processing unit (CPU).

“We always felt a very strong connection to the ecosystem. We give them technology, we introduce them to our 150 different software development kits, we give them joint marketing, we introduce them to investors,” Herbst said in an interview with VentureBeat. “We give them Cloud Credits. We give them discounts for GPUs.”

Above: Nvidia’s Jeff Herbst (top left) leads a panel on AI startups at GTC 21.

Image Credit: Nvidia

AI adoption is growing across industries, and startup funding has been booming. Investment in AI companies increased 52% last year to $52.1 billion, according to PitchBook. The Inception AI startups are up 9 times from 2016, Herbst said.

The alliance aims to help investment firms identify and support leading AI startups early, as part of their effort to realize meaningful returns down the line. The goal is to educate VCs about AI opportunities and nurture startups, Herbst said.

inception 2

Above: Inception has more than 7,500 AI startups.

Image Credit: Nvidia

“AI is growing like a weed. We’re over 7500 companies, and it’s not going to be long before we’ve doubled that,” he said. “The ecosystem is clearly exploding. And VCs are a super important part of it. Startups need VCs, and VCs need startups. It’s just that simple fuel for startups to grow. We have thousands of VCs that are already part of our ecosystem, but we’ve never formalized the partnership with them until now.”

Founding members of the alliance include venture firms NEA, Acrew, Mayfield, Madrona Venture Group, In-Q-Tel, Pitango, Vanedge Capital, and Our Crowd. More VCs can apply here.

nvidia panel 2

Above: Nvidia’s Inception AI startups by industry.

Image Credit: Nvidia

The Nvidia Inception VC Alliance is part of the Nvidia Inception program, an acceleration platform for startups working in AI, data science, and HPC. These startups represent every major industry and are located in more than 90 countries.

Among its benefits, the alliance offers VCs exclusive access to high-profile events, visibility into top startups actively raising funds, and access to growth resources for portfolio companies.

“It’s both a corporate goal and a personal goal to extend this ecosystem around the world,” Herbst said.

nvidia panel 3

Above: Nvidia’s Inception AI startups are from the green countries.

Image Credit: Nvidia

Nvidia currently counts about 40 companies it has invested in directly. Around 300 Inception companies are making presentations at the GTC 21 event, which is expected to have an online audience of about 150,000. And around 35 of the startups are in emerging markets, Herbst said.

“Is there parity in the world with AI startups? No,” Lopez Research analyst Maribel Lopez said on the panel. “Do we have a long way to go? Yes. But I’m seeing exciting things like Cuda, a fintech startup in microfinance in Africa.”

These startups are using AI for a wide range of tasks, like figuring out what percentage of fisheries in the world are operating illegally.

“Now that Jensen has shown the roadmap, people know that Nvidia is a complete platform, with CPUs, GPUs, DPUs, and everything that enables these startups to do their life’s work.”

nvidia panel 4

Above: Nvidia’s Inception AI startups over the years.

Image Credit: Nvidia

On Monday, Herbst moderated a panel on investing in startups around the globe and the need to create a more diverse ecosystem for entrepreneurs. He estimated there are 12,000 to 15,000 AI startups around the world and said Nvidia is only in touch with about half of them through Inception.

“It’s an open invitation to join our ecosystem,” Herbst said. “Nvidia loves startups.”

Herbst said about 16% of Inception members are part of the health care industry. Growth areas include robotics, self-driving cars and trucks, and data science.

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