This Startup Aims to Use AI and Blockchain Technology to Empower Artists

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

This Startup Aims to Use AI and Blockchain Technology to Empower Artists
Mattia Cuttini's "Produkt Hi-res-50-10" is a culmination of the Italian visual artist's 12 years of creative experimentation with rubber stamps and Xerox machines, which he sold earlier this year for over $5,000 on digital art marketplace SuperRare.

But Cuttini cannot take sole credit for the piece. Some is due to the artificial intelligence software that he fed with dozens of abstract images he's crafted over the years and which synthesized them into the new creation.

Mattia Cuttini's "Produkt Hi-res-50-10"

Mattia Cuttini's "Produkt Hi-res-50-10"

Playform, the company behind the software, wants to provide more visual artists with technology that serves as a creative partner and can generate novel digital artworks based on the artist's previous works. Backed by Khosla Ventures, the company's technology stems from founder Ahmed Elgammal's research.

Now the startup is shifting its center of gravity to Los Angeles.

"What we want to do is create a world in which artists can make a living doing what they love," said Jennifer Chang, the Southern California native who the company announced Friday will take over as CEO.

Formerly head of marketing for the remote company, Chang inherits the mantle from outgoing CEO Ahmed Elgammal, a computer science professor at Rutgers who will remain the company's chief technology officer.

A work by Chris Trueman created with Playform

The rising popularity of NFTs has provided digital artists with new financial opportunities, enabling their works to more easily be certified as authentic, thanks to the blockchain.

Cuttini is one of about 15,000 artists who've used Playform, Chang said. He's also one of about 35 who've worked with the company as part of its residency program, through which Playform provides artists access to its software, co-markets the output, and takes a percentage of the sale.

"Between all these new, emerging technologies like AI, which is creating new ways of producing artworks, and blockchain, which is creating new ways of selling artworks, this is the time of the artist; they're in a position that just wasn't accessible before, other than to a very select few," Chang said.


Playform is one of several generative AI tools available to artists. Some, like Runway ML, are available for free with limited features. Many require some degree of technical know-how.

To use Playform, artists need not know how to code. They feed a set of images to the software, which uses a type of AI invented in 2014 called a "generative adversarial network" to create novel pieces. The model can work with as few as 30 inputted images, a relatively low input volume for GANs. Processing time varies depending on the variety of the inputted images, but can take as little as 30 minutes, Chang said. The software includes several features for artists to guide the output.

The company charges $5 per hour of usage, or a monthly subscription fee.

Copyright ownership can get murky when human artists work alongside machines to generate new creations, but Playform gives artists full control of the IP.

"We're committed to empowering artists and helping them succeed," said Chang, who earned her MBA from USC and considers creativity the consistent theme in her career path.

The new CEO has worked in Disney's ABC division and at numerous startups focused on helping creative people develop monetization opportunities. For her, Playform is a new opportunity to bolster creative people through technology.

Artificial intelligence poses an ever present threat of replacing humans in any realm where it is deployed. But Chang sees Playform, along with technologies like the blockchain, as tools poised to help rather than harm artists.

"This new ecosystem provides the infrastructure necessary to really enable digital artists to thrive," she said.

Chang inherits a company with 10 full-time employees distributed across North America and Asia, but anticipates growing her team through her L.A. network and capitalizing on the region's artistic community.

"This is a very creative city and it's full of really creative talent," she said, "and I'm really excited to be building a business here."

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LA Venture: Emilio Diez Barroso On Why Everyone Isn’t Cut Out To Be A Founder

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
LA Venture: Emilio Diez Barroso On Why Everyone Isn’t Cut Out To Be A Founder
Photo: provided by LAV

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Bold Capital Partner Emilio Diez Barroso talks about his entrepreneurial journey, what led him to become an investor and shares the qualities he looks for when investing in companies.

Bold Capital is a Series A fund that primarily focuses its investments in deep tech and biotech companies. But, like other funds, they make excuses to invest in other companies every now and then.

“We're always interested in things that have the potential to truly transform how things are done and uplift humanity,” he said.

In his experience with investing in early stage startups, Diez Barroso said “humility and vulnerability are assets and qualities in the journey, and you don’t feel like you have to have it all together with your investors.”

Which is why he looks for people who have “this capacity to take full responsibility for how they show up and they have a vision and they have the willingness to go and execute it.”

In addition to his work at Bold Capital, Diez Barroso also runs two family offices which provide him with a surplus of knowledge in the investment space.

“I wear two very different hats,” he said, “and I invest very differently when I'm investing for myself, when I'm investing for my family, and when I'm investing for LP’s.”

But before becoming an investor, Diez Barroso got his entrepreneurial start when he arrived in Los Angeles. He admits that he failed plenty of times because unlike in Mexico, where Diez Barroso grew up, he didn’t have the same access to the contacts or resources of his family business.

“I would say yes to every opportunity that came my way,” he said, “I had started or partnered with someone and co-founded and most of them I had no idea what I was doing, so most of them really failed and a few got lucky enough to succeed.”

After learning how these startups worked and investing his own capital into several companies, he soon realized he was a much better investor than an operator.

“I think we're not all cut out for the journey,” he said, “and I don't think we should all be cut out for that journey. I think that it takes a very different character to start something from scratch.”

Throughout his own journey, Diez Barroso acknowledged that he struggled with his own identity and need to feel like the smartest person in the room. Once he better understood his own motivations, Diez Barroso was able to see that he was chasing the next reward, the next carrot.

“It's fun to close the deal and it's fun to grow the business,” Diez Barroso said. “But what I hadn't been in contact with is how much of my fuel was derived from trying to outrun the idea of not feeling good enough.”

Of course, he’s not alone. “I see a lot of entrepreneurs, activists all across fields and I can tell the difference when they're running from this fuel that is sort of very quick burning because there is an anxiety that oftentimes makes us narrow minded,” Diez Barroso said. “We are so attached to what we think should happen that we leave very little space for the possibilities.”

dot.LA Reporter Decerry Donato contributed to this post.

Click the link above to hear the full episode, and subscribe to LA Venture on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

This podcast is produced by L.A. Venture. The views and opinions expressed in the show are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of dot.LA or its newsroom.

Xos Receives Multi-Million Dollar Order for Armored EVs

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Xos Receives Multi-Million Dollar Order for Armored EVs
Xos/Loomis
The United States transportation sector is rapidly adopting electric vehicle technologies at every level. From aircrafts, to tractor trailers, to sedans and bicycles, no means of locomotion is off limits…even armored trucks.
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