Montgomery Summit Updates: Zynga Hunting Gaming Acquisitions; Moxie the Robot Looks to Partner with Schools

Pat Maio
Pat Maio has held various reporting and editorial management positions over the past 25 years, having specialized in business and government reporting. He has held reporting jobs with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Orange County Register, Dow Jones News and other newspapers in Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
Montgomery Summit Updates: Zynga Hunting Gaming Acquisitions; Moxie the Robot Looks to Partner with Schools
Photo by Joseph Ngabo on Unsplash

This year's Montgomery Summit – held online this year for the first time - features Eric Yuan, CEO & founder of Zoom, author Deepak Chopra, Darius Adamczyk, CEO of Honeywell, and Jim Whitehurst, president of IBM.

There will be about 100 hours of content available exclusive to those who have paid and registered, but, for the first time, 12 hours of plenary sessions will be free for anyone to stream on YouTube, opening panels to a much bigger audience around the world.

See the full agenda here. We'll be watching, and will keep you up to date with takeaways from the conference. Follow updates from the event below and check our Twitter account for more.

Day 2:

Day 1:

Video Game-Maker Zynga Is Hunting Acquisitions

Zynga Bernard Kim

Video game-maker Zynga's president, Bernard Kim, said the cash-rich company is on the hunt for acquisitions.

"We have a pretty healthy balance sheet," said Kim, pointing to the $1.5 billion on the books. "We're heavy in the hunt for acquisitions."

San Francisco-based Zynga, which has an office of 20 employees in Culver City, announced earlier this week that it had acquired Echtra Games Inc., a San Francisco-based video game developer. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The acquisition is the latest in a string of seven in the past five years, according to Kim. The Echtra purchase continues the company's strategy of growing through deals.

Last month, Zynga pushed further into PCs and consoles with the announcement of its "Star Wars: Hunters" game. The studio is working with developer NaturalMotion Games to release "Star Wars: Hunters" this year for Nintendo Switch, which is a handheld gaming console.

"I guess you can consider us as a consolidator, but it's not really like that. It's really just around expanding the family," said Kim, adding that Zynga has done three acquisitions in the past year during the pandemic.

Zynga has always been in the driver's seat in the video gaming world.

"A lot of companies had counted us out, the industry counted us out, and we sat in a proverbial engine room, and just grinded out questions and like just solved problems," Kim recalled of the game maker's tough times.

Back in 2013, Zynga laid off more than 500 employees — roughly a fifth of its workforce -- and closed offices in Dallas, New York and Los Angeles..

"It all starts snowballing, and we kind of had those moments like, 'Wow, we can't do anything right.' We won this award, —like, the worst company in America — two years in a row, but we emerged from that," he said. "We had these dark moments as a company and now things are kind of snowballing into this positive momentum story."

Kim didn't discuss any potential targets while speaking on a video gaming panel at Thursday's virtually held Montgomery Summit.

"You know, we aren't going to slow down. And that's the really exciting time when things start really moving in the right direction. It could be a really great moment to double down and have more fun."

Maker of Moxie Robot Looks to Raise $50M, Partner with Schools

Paolo Pirjanian, co-founder and CEO of Pasadena-based Embodied Inc

Paolo Pirjanian, co-founder and CEO of Pasadena-based Embodied Inc., disclosed plans on Thursday that his privately held robot maker business began talks this week to raise an additional $50 million in venture funding.

His company, which makes a robot companion to help kids learn, has raised a total of $44 million from investors including Amazon, Intel, Sony and Toyota.

Pirjanian, a former chief technology officer of iRobot Corp., a Bedford, Mass.-based technology company that designs and builds consumer robots, such as vacuum cleaners and mops, launched Embodied back in 2016.

Embodied's robot companion, called Moxie, can have conversations with kids to help them learn. It is designed to interact with kids and help with social, emotional and cognitive development, while parents connect via an app.

"It's a physical robot that interacts with children in the 5- to 10-year old range, that have been diagnosed with disorders like autism, anxiety, depression, ADHD, and so on," said Pirjanian.

ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a chronic condition including attention difficulty, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.

Pirjanian said that his company plans to explore the use of Moxie with pediatric hospitals, or clinical care facilities for coping with pain and stress. Discussions also are underway with one of the nation's largest school districts to put Moxie in the classroom, Pirjanian said.

"The next big wave is going to be driven by social machine interfaces," said Pirjanian, who made the comments at a panel discussion on innovation in Southern California at the virtually held Montgomery Summit.

Thanks to Pandemic, Incoming Qualcomm CEO Sees 'Golden Era' for Telecom

Cristiano Amon, president and CEO-elect of Qualcomm Inc

Cristiano Amon, president and CEO-elect of Qualcomm Inc., a San Diego-based maker of chips and software for wireless technology, thinks we're entering a "new golden era of telecom," fueled partially by a coronavirus pandemic that could accelerate 5G rollouts.

"Telecom kept the world working," said Amon, who is expected to take the helm of Qualcomm in June.

"Without a 5G network, without a 5G infrastructure, none of this is possible. And especially as governments emerge from the pandemic, the importance of prioritizing crucial infrastructure that will be part of the future digital economy of many nations, it is very important for 5G's success," the executive said.

Amon made his comments Thursday at the virtually held Montgomery Summit tech conference.

In telecommunications, 5G is the fifth-generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, which cellular phone companies began deploying worldwide in 2019. It is the planned successor to the 4G networks which provide connectivity to most current cellphones.

"It is indeed one of the largest opportunities we ever had," said Amon, who noted the resilience of the company's workforce to work remotely during the pandemic, and keep its business humming.

Amon, who climbed the ladder within Qualcomm's chip side of the business, noted that at the height of the pandemic that shut down large chunks of the world last year, roughly 90% of its own workers were at home connected computers on its far-flung tech empire.

"So, we were able to connect all of our labs and people," he said. "What would take the broader society, and I'm speaking from our experience in dealing with 3G or 4G [technology], sometimes it will take about five to 10 years to recognize the benefit and the potential technology that was accomplished in two quarters [of 2020]."

Anon also noted that Qualcomm Ventures, the investment arm of Qualcomm, continues to invest in technologies that transform industries.

"We just put our money where our mouth is, and we look in investing in areas that are going to benefit some of the technology transitions we're very focused on, or also create new industries," he said.

In total, Qualcomm Ventures has invested $1.5 billion and made 360 investments since its launch in 2000. Some of the investments include unicorns like San Jose-based video conferencing firm Zoom, San Francisco-based website security firm Cloudflare, China-based online chat firm Xiaomi and Fitbit, a San Francisco-based consumer electronics and fitness company.

Glitches: Audio Static Disrupts Cox Enterprise CEO Presentation

audio glitch

The Montgomery Summit, one of Southern California's most anticipated tech conferences, got a reminder on Thursday that going virtual isn't as simple as it sounds.

The audio for the fireside chat with Cox Enterprises CEO Alex Taylor went dead after 15 minutes into a half-hour presentation. Technicians attempted to deal with a loud static noise that interrupted the interview.

Several attendees commented on a message board that the static interference was so loud that the conversation was inaudible. Another poster noted that Apple earbuds worn by Tom Giles, Bloomberg executive editor of technology, could have been the culprit.

After the audio was turned off after about 15 minutes into the Taylor chat, operators of the website broadcasting the summit posted a note on the session.

"Due to an audio malfunction, we will share the interview between Alex Taylor and Tom Giles on The Montgomery Summit YouTube page after the conference," the statement read.

Before the audio went silent, Taylor had been discussing a broad number of topics, including Cox's move into cable – its biggest revenue generator – automotive services, and the importance of newspapers, although Cox has shed all of its paper properties.

"I still believe that a newspaper, for whatever the political slant of its editorial pages, is the best source of actual facts, because you have so many levels of editorial judgment going on in that process, and it's hard to get inaccuracies," Taylor observed.

'We Got Punched in the Face': How Is Recovering From COVID

Ruzwana Bashir, co-founder and CEO of, got off to a good start with her trip-booking company, which is backed by heavyweights Eric Schmidt of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square.

A year ago, was flying high with $1 billion in bookings. The service lets travelers and locals find and book activities online of via cell phones, including tours, wine tastings, kayaking, helicopter tours, ziplining, horseback riding and lessons of all sorts.

Then COVID-19 hit. Stay-at-home restrictions were imposed throughout the world and domestic travel came to a virtual halt as people sought safety from the pandemic.

"We got punched in the face," Bashir said. "It was a pretty scary time... We did a small layoff. We laid off 30% of our team."

Based in San Francisco, the eight-year-old company has raised roughly $50 million in venture capital funding. But it wasn't certain it would get through the hard times.

Then the summer came, and Peek began seeing a surge in bookings. People were tired of staying indoors and wanted to get out, Bashir explained.

"We are the backbone of these businesses," she added. "It took a level head to get through this, make tough changes. It took a lot of resilience and persistence to get through this."

With the federal government now saying that it could vaccinate all adults by the end of May,'s Bashir is beginning to see a resurgence in business bookings again this summer. "When we look at the travel space, there is a need," she said. "Campgrounds and RV parks are now even coming in and saying they need our software."

'We've Got to Be Paranoid': ​Zoom's Founder Offers Leadership Advice to Startup Execs

Zoom CEO Eric Yuanmacbook pro displaying group of peoplePhoto by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Eric Yuan, president and chairman of Silicon Valley-based Zoom Video Communications, took a break Wednesday from his company's highly touted video conferencing business to deliver some nut-and-bolt tips on executive success and leadership.

Answering questions from former Cisco chief John Chambers, who now runs San Jose-based JC2 Ventures, Yuan noted that his bedside reading has yielded profound success and helped him develop as a leader.

He cited two management and self-help books as key.

They are "Crossing the Chasm," a marketing book written by Geoffrey A. Moore that focuses on the specifics of marketing high tech products during the early start up period; and "Speed of Trust," written by Stephen M.R. Covey that serves as "a guide to business leaders, public figures and their organizations towards unprecedented productivity and satisfaction.

"I read Geoff's book twice," said Yuan, who agreed with Chambers' suggestion that anyone in a startup role should read the book.

But "Speed of Trust," said Yuan, gives startups like Zoom a strong foundation to build on. "At Zoom, a lot of [our employees] work from home, so how do you build trust? It's really hard."

In building a business, founders need to think about the company's "value," he said, as a key facet.

"It's hard to build trust. You need social interaction, but you do that with eye contact. Video is really hard."

Yuan said that building a company takes a lot of time speaking with customers, because they could change their buying decisions quickly. "We've got to be paranoid."

Yuan, who moved from China to the Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, founded Zoom in 2011.

Prior to Zoom, Yuan was corporate vice president of engineering at Cisco, where he was responsible for Cisco's collaboration software development. He was also one of the founding engineers and vice president of engineering at Webex, a video conferencing application.

"My story is pretty straightforward," Yuan said.

Yuan made his comments on the first day of the virtually held Montgomery Summit, one of Southern California's largest gatherings of tech investors and executives of the year.

San Jose-based Zoom, which just two days ago reported profits and revenues for its January quarter that beat Wall Street estimates, raised 2022 guidance to $3.77 billion in revenue, up from $3.53 billion.

Zoom became a household name as the COVID-19 pandemic forced lockdowns across the globe. A steep rise in coronavirus cases during and after the holidays intensified business restrictions and forced many workplaces to reconsider reopening in 2021.

Honeywell CEO Bullish on 2021, M&A Not Slowing Down


Honeywell inked a deal to produce Long Beach-based Dimer's GermFalcon last year.

The pandemic limited some of Honeywell's typical tire-kicking while cutting deals, but the global conglomerate still saw a flurry of recent acquisitions and its CEO Darius Adamczykis is optimistic about a resurgent economy in 2021.

"2021 will be a transitional year, and 2020 was a crisis year," he said.

Among the deals made last year, Honeywell inked a licensing partnership with Long Beach-based Dimer to produce a UV-C light machine, the GermFalcon, that sanitizes airplane cabinets.

"Conditions generally are positive," said Adamczyk, noting that the uptick in "normal" business is expected to swing back noticeably in the second half of the year, coincidentally timed to when Honeywell is expected to open a new corporate headquarters in North Carolina.

Adamczyk said one of his bigger concerns is whether there will be "enough capacity to handle the surge" in growth.

Notably, the $145-billion market-capitalization corporation has made a handful of acquisitions at a time when COVID-19 has limited some of the typical due diligence processes. In fact, M&A activity slowed somewhat last year – though not for Honeywell.

"Acquisitions are more difficult in this environment," he said. "You can't go to facilities and meet with people."

In the case of its Sparta Systems acquisition last month, said Adamczyk, "We knew so much about it. We did a comprehensive due diligence, but we had comfort in buying it."

In December, Honeywell agreed to pay $1.3 billion for New Jersey-based Sparta, an industrial software provider that specializes in life sciences. The deal was the largest acquisition engineered by Adamczyk since he took the helm nearly four years ago. The deal strengthens Honeywell's leadership in industrial automation, digital transformation solutions and enterprise performance management software.

Roughly a week before this deal, Honeywell acquired Sine Group, an Adelaide, Australia-based technology and "software as a service" – or SaaS company -- that provides visitor management, workplace and supply chain solutions that are readily accessible with mobile devices. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The company also snapped up several smaller companies last year, including the unit of Ballard Power Systems that makes fuel cells for drones.

"We are building organically, and building inorganically as well," Adamczyk said. "The more digital you are, the better you weather the storm."

Another long-term concern: "What I miss is the water cooler conversation."

Adamczyk said that Honeywell is trying to reach out with connectivity. "It's really important to stay connected."

Cybersecurity Spending Is Likely to Grow Amid High-Profile Hacks: Snyk CEO


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The headline-grabbing security breaches uncovered in the past year will likely lead to an acceleration of cybersecurity spending, said Peter McKay, CEO of London-based developer security company Snyk.

The lifecycle in cybersecurity spending is at a very early stage, McKay observed during the first day of the virtually held Montgomery Summit, one of Southern California's largest gatherings of tech investors and executives.

"We are maybe two outs in the (bottom of the) second inning," he said. "We are very early on. If talking security, and not thinking shifting left into security development, we'll walk away and come back to talk in six months. We know where they are in their journey," said McKay of the value of waiting for clients to catch up.

McKay cited two high-profile breaches as the catalyst for more cybersecurity spending: Austin-based SolarWinds, which develops security software to monitor databases, and China's Mintegral, which develops mobile operations system applications offered in the Apple app store.

In the Mintegral case, Snyk researchers identified malicious behavior in a software development kit that was present in more than 1,200 iOS mobile operation system applications offered in the Apple App Store.

Snyk estimated that the Mintegral attack – dubbed "SourMint" involved the 1,200 iOS apps that it estimates are downloaded about 300 million times every month. The concern was that the IOS software could harvest URLs accessed through the kit and steal highly sensitive information.

"Once we understood the exposure, we talked to Apple," McKay said. "We automate as much as you can to fix vulnerabilities."

In the other case, SolarWinds provides software to monitor many features of on-premises infrastructure, including network performance, log files, configuration data, storage and servers. SolarWinds sends out regular updates and patches. Hackers were able to infiltrate the update and "trojanize" the software — meaning when customers installed the updates, the malware just went along for the ride.

"This was a paradigm-shifting event," MacKay said. "It brought a lot of attention of building security features into the lifecycle and supply chain."

Snyk's work in the security developer field has been an evolutionary one since it was founded in 2015. Two years ago, SNYK began with technology companies, then financial ones, and then health care and the media fields.

"What you are seeing now are airline or packaging companies, or very low-tech companies, which are in the process of doing a transformation of their business in a secure way. We are bringing best practices to help them make this transformation."

'We Were All Quite Naive': How the Montgomery Summit Has Changed for 2021

Montgomery Summit 2020

When one of Southern California's largest gatherings of tech investors and executives of the year in Southern California begins Wednesday it will be held virtually, just like every other event is these days.

What a difference a year makes.

Last year's Montgomery Summit, also held during the first week of March, brought together hundreds of tech titans to the upscale Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica, just as the seriousness of COVID was becoming abundantly clearer every day.

It was the last time many people saw each other in the flesh. Read more >>

- Ben Bergman

🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

🔦 Spotlight

Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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  • Penguin Random House agreed to acquire comic book publisher Boom! Studios from backers like Walt Disney Co. - learn more

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.

Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor

Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo

Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect

MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health

Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP

Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space

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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.

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