LA Tech Updates: GoodRx IPO?; Trump Gives Green Light for  Microsoft to Acquire TikTok

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Today:

  • Reuters reports GoodRx is looking to go public
  • If American company doesn't buy Tiktok by Sept. 15, Trump said "it will be out of business."

          If U.S. Company Doesn't Buy Tiktok by Sept. 15, Trump Said "It Will be Out of Business."

          TikTok got at least a temporary reprieve in the ongoing battle between the U.S. and Chinese governments over its fate.

          President Donald Trump said Monday TikTok could be bought by an American company after threatening to ban it in the U.S. on Friday. The move opens the door to a Microsoft acquisition but if no deal is reached by September 15th, Trump said TikTok "will be out of business in the United States."

          Trump also added a new wrinkle to the negotiations, saying that "a very substantial portion" of the purchase would have to go to the U.S. Treasury, "because we're making it possible for this deal to happen." It is not yet clear how that would work.

          Trump's remarks follow a recent conversation with Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella about his firm's intentions to potentially acquire the Chinese-owned company, Microsoft wrote in a blog post Sunday. The President stated he will hold off banning TikTok while Microsoft negotiates with its Chinese parent company, ByteDance.

          According to Microsoft's statement, the two companies are exploring a proposal wherein the Seattle-based software behemoth would purchase and operate TikTok's operations in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The acquisition could also include participation from minority investors.

          In its statement, Microsoft touted its ability to add "world-class security, privacy and digital safety protections" to TikTok, which could assuage the national security concerns of many U.S. government officials over the Chinese government's access to TikTok's data.

          Specific security measures mentioned in Microsoft's statement include ensuring that TikTok's data on American users is transferred to and remains in the U.S., and that any American user data in servers outside the country is deleted.

          Microsoft underscored that the discussions are preliminary. "We do not intend to provide further updates until there is a definitive outcome to our discussions," the statement said.

          The two companies have given notice of their intent to pursue a deal to the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is already investigating whether ByteDance's 2018 acquisition of L.A.-based Musical.ly threatens national security.

          Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called the discussions "a win-win in the making" while Senator Marco Rubio, who has been critical of TikTok, has said if the company and its data can be "purchased & secured by a trusted U.S. company that would be a positive & acceptable outcome."

          GoodRx is Reportedly Looking to Go Public

          shallow focus photography of prescription bottle with capsules Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

          The prescription marketplace platform GoodRx Inc has filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for a potential initial public offering, Reuters reported Sunday.

          The Santa Monica-based company was valued at $2.8 billion in 2018 when private equity firm Silver Lake took a stake. Reuters reported the company is hiring IPO advisers and the listing could come later this year or early 2021.

          Last year, the company purchased HeyDoctor, a telemedicine service that has expanded its care options.


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          Less than seven months after launching, the high-flying streaming service Quibi has shut down.

          Despite a sold-out advertising slate, deals with A-listers and a $1.75 billion war chest from high-profile investors the former Disney executive and founder Jeffrey Katzenberg couldn't make the short-form mobile video platform stick.

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          Tech agricultural unicorn Plenty is gearing up to hire 50 full-time employees to run a new vertical farm monitored by robots in Compton.

          The farm, which will open in 2021, will grow leafy greens and Driscoll's branded strawberries, showcasing Plenty's indoor hydroponic farming. CEO and co-founder Matt Barnard says it's more efficient than traditional farming, which is weather-sensitive and requires large plots of land.

          "We're severely straining our environment," said Barnard, a former tech executive who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. "Plenty farms aren't vulnerable to nature's threats, such as storms, flooding, heat, pests and pathogens the way outdoor farms are."

          And they're unlike the popular images of commercial farms that stretch acre after acre of a single crop. Plenty's farm grows up instead of out.

          Green walls of lettuce and arugula grow on vertically stacked beds, using less than 5% of the water required for traditional agriculture and less than 1% of the space. Since shelter-in-place began, the company has shipped out two to three times more food every week.

          The San Francisco-based startup will get a boost from the $140 million Series D round it announced last week, led by Softbank, along with berry grower Driscoll's Inc., to establish its second facility. Their first farm was on Google's Mountain View campus, where the company tested hundreds of crop varieties before stocking stores with greens in the Bay Area.

          The Compton facility will help Plenty supply 431 Albertsons-owned grocery stores with strawberries and greens across the state — including Safeway, Vons and Pavilions — in a deal struck this summer.

          Moving to Compton

          Barnard's team looked at over 180 site options across L.A. before settling on a location in Compton, which he calls "a perfect spot" because of the city's agricultural history that harks back centuries and is evident in Richland Farms, a still-rural area. He was also interested in the high density of households lacking access to healthy food.

          The 50 new positions for growers, technicians, logistics and operations managers at the Compton farm will be posted by the end of the month, spokesperson Jane Gideon said.

          The move down to L.A. is likely the first in a series of new farms Plenty is planning to build. What began in late 2018 as a line of boxed produce sold in Bay Area grocery chains can now be found in retailers such as Whole Foods.

          For an industry that didn't exist seven years ago, vertical farming is thriving, Dickson Despommier, professor emeritus of Public and Environmental Health at Columbia University told dot.LA. He coined the term vertical farm in 1999.

          "In Los Angeles, you don't have to go too far to get into the fire zone and once you're there you realize that it used to be farmland," Despommier said. "The Central Valley of California is doomed. And by the way, how do you think they're trying to put out those fires? They're using water that would ordinarily be used for irrigation."

          He said that not everyone is sold on the idea of growing food inside. Part of the marketing challenge for companies like Plenty is reassuring consumers and buyers that their produce is just as healthy (if not moreso) as traditionally grown produce.

          "They think that farming outdoors is natural and farming indoors is unnatural," he said.

          Still, it's catching on.

          On Tuesday, BrightFarms, which also grows produce in hydroponic farms and sells it in retailers like Kroger and Walmart, announced a $100 million raise this week. The New York-based company is currently developing three new farms in North Carolina, Massachusetts and Texas, they said in a statement.

          The first company Despommier heard of that was growing food indoors was Newark-based AeroFarms, which was funded by investors including Goldman Sachs as well as the city of Newark, which saw it as a hiring opportunity for its residents. A similar social mission defines Vertical Harvest in Jackson, Wyoming, a company that hires employees with developmental disabilities such as Down Syndrome and Autism.

          The Indoor Model

          Plenty wants to churn out accessible produce that also tastes better, a way of encouraging consumers to buy more because it's "the most desirable option."

          "One of the missions of Plenty is to move the world from a calorie-rich diet to a nutrient-rich one," Barnard said. "That means more plants that taste amazing."

          The components that determine flavor in crops include light, climate, water and stress, Barnard said, which the agricultural industry can't manipulate simultaneously on outdoor farms.

          "Now that we can control things like light and climate recipes, we have the privilege to control flavor," he said. "We view our competition as all the stuff in the middle of the store — highly processed foods with lots of sugar."

          Back at Plenty's first farm, employees would walk the produce to the Google cafe to ask chefs for instant feedback on fresh arugula and bok choy. The startup now owns a research farm in Laramie, Wyoming, where scientists test plant varieties and growing conditions, and a production farm in South San Francisco.

          Their line of pesticide-free produce like baby kale and lettuce mixes are ready to eat out of the box because human hands don't touch them. Even though robots and sensors manage daily tasks like watering plants and purifying the facility air, Plenty hasn't cut out human work.

          A 4.5 ounce box of Plenty greens sells for $4.99 on Instacart, and prices will remain consistent as products are stocked in the organic sections of grocery stores across the state.

          The company went with Albertsons in hopes of reaching the largest number of consumers in California. The retail giant reported this week that business in its retail stores rose 13.8% during its second quarter, which ended on September 12.

          Like most of its competitors, Plenty only sells leafy greens at the moment. But that will change with the Compton farm, which will grow strawberries as well.

          Plenty and Driscolls have begun early stages of research and development for their strawberries at an indoor farm in Wyoming. Testing will be completed before the companies roll out their production in Compton, senior VP of Global R&D at Driscoll's Scott Komar said.

          He added that his company, now an investor of Plenty, backs the startup for two reasons: the promise of "controlled growing environments" and the chance to move fruit production to underserved locations.

          "These opportunities go beyond berries," Komar said.

          Snap shares soared after CEO Evan Spiegel touted the company's highest Q3 growth rate since 2017. The outspoken executive used Tuesday's earnings call to highlight the social media platform's efforts to engage users "following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor."

          The upbeat earnings report sent its stock soaring 20% in after-hours trading.

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