Celebrating the Music of Video Games as an Art Form

HIGHLIGHTS

  • London Symphony Orchestra will perform game music this weekend
  • Music will include songs from Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario
  • This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first game-music concert

The electronic bleeps and squawks of Tetris, Donkey Kong and other generation-shaping games that you may never have thought of as musical are increasingly likely to be playing at a philharmonic concert hall near you.

From the “ping … ping” of Atari’s 1972 ground-breaking paddle game Pong, the sounds, infectious ditties and, with time, fully-formed orchestral scores that are an essential part of the sensory thrill for gamers have formed a musical universe. With its own culture, sub-cultures and fans, game music now thrives alone, free from the consoles from which it came.

When audiences pack the Philharmonie de Paris’ concert halls this weekend to soak in the sounds of a chamber orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra performing game music and an homage to one of the industry’s stars, Final Fantasy Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu, they will have no buttons to play with, no characters to control.

They’re coming for the music and the nostalgia it triggers: of fun-filled hours spent on sofas with a Game Boy, Sonic the Hedgehog and the evergreen Mario.

“When you’re playing a game you are living that music every day and it just gets into your DNA,” says Eimear Noone, the conductor of Friday’s opening two-hour show of 17 titles, including Zelda, Tomb Raider, Medal of Honor and other favorites from the 1980s onward.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBV1MLX02fM?ecver=2]

“When people hear those themes they are right back there. And people get really emotional about it. I mean REALLY emotional. It’s incredible.”

Dating the birth of game music depends on how one defines music. Game music scholars – yes, they exist – point to key milestones on the path to the surround-sound extravaganzas of games today.

The heartbeat-like bass thump of Taito’s Space Invaders in 1978, which got ever faster as the aliens descended,caused sweaty palms and was habit-forming.

Namco’s Pac-Man, two years later, whetted appetites with an opening musical chirp . For fun, check out the 2013 remix by Dweezil Zappa, son of Frank, and game music composer Tommy Tallarico. Their take on the tune speaks to the sub-culture of remixing game music, with thousands of redos uploaded by fans to sites like ocremix.org – dedicated, it says, “to the appreciation and promotion of video game music as an art form.”

Celebrating the Music of Video Games as an Art Form

Based on the Russian folk song Korobeiniki, the music of the 1984 game Tetris has similarly undergone umpteen remixes – including Tetris Meets Metal, with more than 2.2 million views on YouTube.By 1985, the can’t-not-tap-along-to-this theme of Super Mario Bros., the classic adventure of plumber Mario and his brother Luigi, was bringing fame for composer Koji Kondo, also known for his work on Legend of Zelda. Both are on the bill for the Retrogaming concert in Paris. Kondo was the first person Nintendo hired specifically to compose music for its games, according to the 2013 book, Music and Game.

Noone, known herself for musical work on World of Warcraft, Overwatch and other games, says the technological limitations of early consoles – tiny memories, rudimentary chips, crude sounds – forced composers “to distill their melodies down to the absolute kernels of what melodic content can be, because they had to program it note by note.”

But simple often also means memorable. Think “da-da-da-duh” – the opening of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

“That is part of the reason why this music has a place in people’s hearts and has survived,” Noone says of game tunes. “It speaks to people.”

She says game music is where movie music was 15 years ago: well on its way to being completely accepted.

“I predict that in 15 years’ time it will be a main staple of the orchestral season,” she says. “This is crazy to think of: Today, more young people are listening to orchestral music through the medium of their video game consoles than have ever listened to orchestral music.”

She still sometimes encounters snobbism from orchestras: “They saw ‘Pong’ once and that’s video game music to them, you know?”

But “halfway through the first rehearsal, their attitude has changed,” she adds. “And then when they walk out on stage and the audience treats them like they’re The Rolling Stones.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first game-music concert: The Tokyo Strings Ensemble performed Dragon Quest at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall in August 1987. Now there are six touring shows of symphonic game music, Noone says.

“This is just the best way, the most fun way to introduce kids to the instruments of the orchestra,” she adds. “It may be the first time ever they are that close to a cellist, and that’s really exciting for me.”

 

Western Digital Moves to Court in a Bid to Block Sale of Toshiba Chip Unit

HIGHLIGHTS
WD has sought a court injunction to stop Toshiba’s chip unit sale
The court injunction details that Toshiba needs to take WD’s consent
Toshiba wants to complete the deal as quickly as possible
Western Digital Corp has sought a court injunction to prevent Toshiba Corp from selling its chip business without the US firm’s consent – a move that threatens to throw the fiercely contested auction into disarray.

The escalation in the spat between Western Digital, which jointly operates Toshiba’s main chip plant, and its business partner follows tense last-minute jockeying by suitors for the world’s second-biggest producer of NAND semiconductors.

According to a person familiar with the matter, the California-based firm has been left out of a new Japan government-led group being formed to bid for the unit.

Toshiba’s “attempts to circumvent our contractual rights have left us with no choice but to take this action,” Western Digital’s Chief Executive Steve Milligan said in a statement.

ALSO SEEJapan Urges Toshiba, Western Digital to Get Along as Chip Spat Flares

“Left unchecked, Toshiba would pursue a course that clearly violates these rights,” he added.

Western Digital has filed its suit with the Superior Court of California, seeking an injunction until its arbitration case against Toshiba is heard. It is concerned about how Toshiba, the Japanese government and other stakeholders are handling the auction process, a second source said.

The second source added it had submitted a revised bid on Wednesday that satisfies Toshiba’s requests on deal certainty and price but did not receive a favourable response. Toshiba has demanded at least JPY 2 trillion ($18 billion) for the unit.

Sources declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the negotiations concerning the auction.

Toshiba said in a statement that it was proceeding with selecting a preferred bidder for its memory unit by the second half of June as planned and hoped to reach a definitive agreement on a sale by June 28.

Western Digital Moves to Court in a Bid to Block Sale of Toshiba Chip Unit

Toshiba wants to complete the deal as quickly as possible to help cover billions of dollars in cost overruns at its now-bankrupt Westinghouse nuclear unit and to dig itself out negative shareholders’ equity that could lead to a delisting.

Satoru Oyama, senior principal analyst at research firm IHS, said Western Digital’s argument made sense from a common-sense point of view and that developments were moving towards a worst-case scenario for the Japanese company.

“Toshiba has more to lose in the dispute because it is running out of time,” he said. “Toshiba and Western Digital eventually have to talk. They cannot afford to keep fighting when Samsung is taking advantage of the NAND market boom and investing massively.”

A third source familiar with the matter said Western Digital expects to get a ruling on its injunction request by mid-July and that arbitration cases generally take 16-24 months to resolve.

A state-backed fund, the Innovation Network Corp of Japan (INCJ), has been at the centre of trade ministry efforts to forge a successful bid that will keep the highly prized unit under domestic control. But the nature of its partnerships appears to be going through drastic changes compared to just last week.

It has been in talks with Bain Capital and the group now includes South Korea’s SK Hynix Inc, sources have said.

INCJ was, however, also part of a proposed bid tabled by Western Digital last week that also included US private equity firm KKR & Co LP, other sources familiar with the matter have said.

Other bidders include Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics maker. Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry, is leading a consortium that includes Apple Inc computing giant Dell Inc and Kingston Technology Co.

The highest known bid so far is one from US chipmaker Broadcom and its partner, US private equity firm Silver Lake. They have offered JPY 2.2 trillion, sources have said.

NASCAR's first lady of racing Louise Smith is the inspiration for 'Barnstormer' in 'Cars 3'

“Cars 3” character Louise “Barnstormer” Nash was inspired by real-life racer Louise Smith.

Before Janet Guthrie and Danica Patrick, there was Louise Smith — pioneering race car driver and NASCAR legend. As the first woman inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999, the “Good ‘Ol’ Gal” from Greenville, South Carolina, is also the inspiration behind Disney Pixar’s “Cars 3” character Louise “Barnstormer” Nash (voiced by Margo Martindale). The name serves as a tribute to the driver and her infamous No. 94 1950 Nash Ambassador. Known for her flair and fearless crashes, Smith’s success and style made history in the racing world.

Her journey began with the support of a then-young promoter, Bill France Sr., the eventual co-founder of NASCAR. France helped launch Smith’s career, and she quickly fell in love with the sport.

She gained national notoriety in 1947 at the Daytona Beach and Road Course race, where, legend has it, Smith went to watch but ended up on the track. Entering her husband’s new Ford coupe in the race, the “Barnstormer” wrecked and landed herself on the front page of newspapers across the country.

Known as the “First Lady of Racing,” Smith crashed several cars and broke innumerable bones. In fact, one wreck left her with 48 stitches and four pins in her left knee; others are claimed to have nearly taken her life. Her boldness and spectacular speed took the racing world, and many of the men in it, by surprise.

Smith won an impressive 38 races across four divisions from 1947 to 1956, when she retired. She remained active in the racing world for nearly four more decades before her death in 2006 at age 89. Her legacy lives on with “Car 3,” which hits theaters on Friday.


Louise Smith
ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

Smith posed in front her car after a crash at North Carolina’s Occoneechee Speedway in the late 1940s. Her car went airborne into the surrounding woods. It took rescue workers more than a half-hour to free Smith from the wreckage.

Louise Smith
ISC Archives/Getty Images

At the first NASCAR Cup Series in Daytona Beach on June 19, 1949, Smith accepted the trophy for sportsman win. Daytona Beach was instrumental in the formation of NASCAR, home to several of its earliest events and the sport’s first track: the Daytona Beach Road Course. Smith was one of three women to compete in the race.

Louise Smith
ISC Archives and Research Center/Getty Images

In another accident at Occoneechee Speedway during the inaugural NASCAR Strictly Stock Series on Aug. 7, 1949, Smith emerged with several injuries from the crash but crawled back into the crushed car for a photo op. Most early NASCAR races, including this one, were held on dirt-surfaced short tracks or dirt fairground ovals. The race was renamed the Grand National series in 1950.

Ethel Flock Mobley, Sara Christian and Louise Smith
ISC Images & Archives/Getty Images

Ethel Flock Mobley and Sara Christian were the two other female NASCAR drivers to compete in the circuits of that era. Before a race at Philadelphia’s Langhorne Speedway on Sept. 11, 1949, the three posed in their rides for a publicity photo intended to attract women to the sport. Mobley drove No. 92, the ’48 Cadillac. Christian, middle, wheeled No. 71 — the ’49 Oldsmobile — finishing best of the three at sixth place overall. Smith sported a ’47 Ford.

Louise Smith
ISC Archives/Getty Images

Smith standing next to her Leslie Motor Co. Nash Ambassador at Occoneechee Speedway on Oct. 29, 1950. Her famed No. 94, the car she raced in the NASCAR Grand National Series in both 1949 and 1950, was the inspiration for the style and name of Disney Pixar’s “Cars 3” character, Louise “Barnstormer” Nash. Smith was both the driver and the owner of this car, an extraordinary claim for a woman behind a NASCAR wheel. She finished 19th in the 200-miler, holding her own against some of the sport’s early greats including Buck Baker and Flock brothers Tim and Fonty.

Louise Smith
AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain

Smith, the first woman inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, showcasing memorabilia in her Greenville, South Carolina, home in 1998. After retiring in 1956, she returned to the racing realm in the 1970s as an owner, sponsoring cars and supporting drivers. Her decades-long involvement in the sport is captured in this room.

CamSoda jumps into the world of paid life-streaming

Have you always wanted to show your messy room to hundreds of people? Want to get paid for the pleasure of streaming your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners? Feel a real need to share how long you can stare idly at your phone? CamSoda has a deal for you.

CamSoda is a streaming cam service featuring men and women in various states of undress and it is now offering a unique life-streaming program that lets you show everyone your business and nets you $200 a month and a free “custom” webcam. The service, LifeStream, is mostly NSFW so don’t click through right now.

While we could chalk this up to a publicity stunt by a publicity-savvy company, LifeStream does offer a compelling use case for live streaming. The “LifeStream” package has a fairly picky acceptance process and those chosen get a number of webcams to place around their house as well as a $200 stipend and CamSoda pays for their monthly Internet bill. In other words if you’re fairly certain your life is compelling enough to live stream then someone wants to pay you to do it.

CamSoda is careful to explain that they are looking for “non-sexual and sexual” candid live streams and that they are entering into an “arms race” with Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat. To be fair, I would argue that CamSoda hasn’t just entered the arms race but that they’ve detonated the Big One. While services like Facebook offer wan, bland and generally unwatchable live video – with the occasional newsmaking exception – CamSoda has weaponized the process and ensures that the live streamers, if they aren’t doing sexy things, will at least try to be interesting.

And it doesn’t just have to involve sexy times. One could imagine a house full of programmers in Palo Alto paying for their La Croix by live streaming their brodeo or a band live streaming their home/practice space. To paraphrase Warhol, in the future everyone will be famous until they’re sick of it.

 

Further, CamSoda is looking to add a little VR to your live stream. From their press release:

CamSoda is currently testing a virtual reality (VR) camera to bring a fully immersive experience to the masses. The company has plans to incorporate VR into LifeStream in the coming months. This will allow participants to share their experiences more intimately, enabling viewers to feel as though they are actually in the room with them.

Porn, once again, is leading the technical arms race. And they have the right idea.

I predict a time when companies will find that it’s getting harder and harder to get and monetize user-generated content. While Twitter and Facebook are sitting pretty now, future networks will encourage us to broadcast to ever-more-granulated audiences and celebrities will no longer lend their names to companies that refuse to pay them for the privilege. A general UGC blow-out like this, then, is what companies will have to end up doing eventually anyway.

Ultimately this about seeing people maybe having sex. However, as we march ever forward into the world of new media who knows – maybe video of you, your unmade bed, and your floppy golden retriever will be part of a live streaming sensation that eclipses Hollywood. It could happen.

'They've built a garden in the middle of a cyclone': House Rules couples marvel at their renovated yards after devastating Queensland storms halted production

The devastation caused by Queensland’s Cyclone Debbie forced House Rules to halt production last episode.

But with everything back on schedule on Sunday, the contestants were able to continue with their next challenge- executing two stunning garden makeovers.

In a sneak peak released this Friday, the couples were overjoyed to witness their brand new yards for the first time.

Scroll down for video.  

Overcoming the odds! In a House Rules sneak peak released Friday, the couples were overjoyed upon witnessing their brand new yards for the first time

The Queensland contestants had faced a daunting task upon returning to the building site after wild weather hit.

In the sneak preview footage, the contestants were sent scurrying the second the countdown timer resumed with seven hours and two minutes to go.

‘We’re going to need those extra two minutes,’ Kate joked.

Devastation: Couples faced a daunting task upon return, after Cyclone Debbie hit Aaron and Daniella's house so badly, the clock had to be stopped for the first time in the show's history

Devastation: Couples faced a daunting task upon return, after Cyclone Debbie hit Aaron and Daniella’s house so badly, the clock had to be stopped for the first time in the show’s history

Relief! But in a relieving surprise, footage from the clip showed couple's on the verge of tears upon witnessing the transformations

Relief! But in a relieving surprise, footage from the clip showed couple’s on the verge of tears upon witnessing the transformations

The contestants appeared to have pulled things together at the last minute, however, as implied by footage showing the couples lost for words upon witnessing the transformations.

Queensland local Daniella was shown walking down the street, squealing with elated shock at the first glimpse of her garden.

Images from their front yard showed renovated entry steps, a new lawn and a brand new driveway.

Elation! Queensland local Daniella squealed with elation after seeing her renovated entry steps, a lawn refresh and a brand new driveway

Elation! Queensland local Daniella squealed with elation after seeing her renovated entry steps, a lawn refresh and a brand new driveway

Impressive! Meanwhile, Tasmania's Sean and Ella were equally impressed as they lay eyes on their once run-down garden

Impressive! Meanwhile, Tasmania’s Sean and Ella were equally impressed as they lay eyes on their once run-down garden

Meanwhile, Tasmania’s Sean and Ella were equally impressed as they lay eyes on their once run-down garden.

Gone was dug-up soil and dead grass that once dominated the backyard, replaced with fresh green grass and a luxurious outdoor timber table setting.

Even hard-to-please judge Laurence Llewelyn Bowen was impressed, applauding: They have (managed to) build a garden in the middle of a Cyclone!’

Two gardens are revealed on Channel Seven’s House Rules, 7:00 on Sunday night.

Lush! Gone was dug-up soil and dead grass that once dominated the backyard, replaced with fresh green grass and a luxurious outdoor timber table setting

Lush! Gone was dug-up soil and dead grass that once dominated the backyard, replaced with fresh green grass and a luxurious outdoor timber table setting

Full reveal: The Two gardens are revealed in full on Channel Seven’s House Rules, 7:00 on Sunday night

 

Why Amazon's Use of Self-Driving Technology Would Be a Game Changer

Self-driving vehicles have yet to hit the road in a major way, but Amazon already is exploring the technology’s potential to change how your packages are delivered.

Amazon is the nation’s largest online retailer, and its decisions not only turn heads but influence the entire retail and shipping industries, analysts say. That means any foray into the self-driving arena – whether as a developer or customer – could have a significant effect on the technology’s adoption.

Amazon has assigned a dozen employees to determine how it can use the technology as part of its business, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. It’s unclear what shape Amazon’s efforts will take or how far along they might be, although the company has no plans to create its own vehicles, according to the report.

Nevertheless, the Amazon group offers an early indication that big companies are preparing for the technology’s impact.

Transportation experts anticipate that self-driving cars will fundamentally alter the way people get around and the way companies ship goods, changes that stand to disrupt entire industries and leave millions of professional drivers without jobs. The forthcoming shift has attracted the money and attention of the biggest names in the technology and automotive industries, including Apple, Uber, Google, Ford, General Motors and Tesla, among others.

In particular, the technology could make long-haul shipping cheaper and faster because, unlike human drivers, machines do not command a salary or require down time. That would be important to Amazon, whose shipping costs continue to climb as the company sells more products and ships them faster, according to its annual report. Amazon even invested in its own fleet of trucks in December 2015 to give the company greater control over distribution.

Why Amazon's Use of Self-Driving Technology Would Be a Game Changer

If Amazon adopts self-driving technology, it may push others to do the same.

 

“When Amazon sneezes, everyone wakes up,” said Satish Jindel, president of SJ Consulting Group, a transportation and logistics advisory firm.

The company said it shipped more than 1 billion items during the 2016 holiday season.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined a request for an interview, citing a “long-standing practice of not commenting on rumors and speculation.” The company’s chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Washington Post.

Amazon has become something of a pioneer in home delivery, in part by setting the standard for how quickly purchases arrive on your doorstep. The company has begun using aerial drones in an effort to deliver goods more quickly, completing its first successful flight to a customer in the United Kingdom in December. Like self-driving vehicles, drones will need to overcome regulatory hurdles before they’re widely deployed.

In its warehouses, Amazon has used thousands of robots that pull items from shelves and pack them. Last summer, Deutsche Bank analysts found the robots reduced the time to fulfill an order from more than an hour to 15 minutes, according to business news site Quartz. They also saved Amazon about $22 million per warehouse. Amazon acquired Kiva, the company that makes the robots, in 2012 for $775 million.

AgriTech In India: How Startups Are Changing The Face Of Indian Agriculture

India holds the record for the second-largest agricultural land in the world, with around 60% rural Indian households making their living from agriculture thus creating a huge scope for agritech startups in the country.

The central and state governments are proactively pursuing policies to improve farmers’ lives in India. In fact, PM Modi’s government has an aim to double the average farmer’s income by 2022. But is enough being done to remove inefficiencies in the agricultural supply chain to make Indian agritech a lucrative investment opportunity?

We, at Inc42, have taken up the onus to promote and spread awareness about agritech in India. To this end, our first step was hosting an AgriTech Investors Roundtable on 25 May 2017 in Delhi. The purpose of the roundtable was to discuss the challenges and opportunity in the Agriculture sector in India and also to launch a report on – The State Of Indian AgriTech – 2017.Image result for AgriTech In India: How Startups Are Changing The Face Of Indian Agriculture

The report was launched in the presence of Vikram Gupta, Managing Partner, IvyCap Ventures; Ravinder Singh Saini, Principal Consultant of National Productivity Council; Adhir Jha, MD and CEO India Sugar Exim Corporation (ISEC); Ritu Verma, co-founder and Managing Director, Ankur Capital; Hemendra Mathur, Venture Partner, Bharat Innovations Fund; Akash Rukhaiyar, an ex-CFO and investor and Shamit Ghosh.

Download The Report Now!

The State Of Agriculture In India

Agriculture, along with fisheries and forestry, is one of the largest contributors to the Indian Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The GDP of agriculture and allied sectors in India was recorded at $244.74 Bn in FY ‘16.

  1. At 157.35 Mn hectares, India holds the second-largest agricultural land in the world.
  2. There has been an increased focus on investments in agricultural infrastructures such as irrigation facilities, warehousing, and cold storage.
  3. New schemes such as Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, Pradhanmantri Gram Sinchai Yojana, and Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana have been introduced to improve farmers’ fortunes and other facilities which could boost agriculture in India.

Agriculture In India: Challenges

A drop in landholdings (average 1.4 hectares), small and fragmented land holdings, a decreasing agricultural land versus a growing population, decreasing groundwater levels, poor quality of seeds, lack of mechanisation, low yield per unit crop and a dependence on middlemen are some of the challenges for the growth of agriculture in India.

Added to that, an absence of an organised marketing structure for produce, malpractices in the existing unorganised agricultural markets, inadequate facilities for transportation and storage, scarcity of credit, and limited access to superior technology to get timely information are some of the many afflictions which obstruct the Indian agricultural sector.

Opportunities For AgriTech Startups

Opportunities lie in areas like how to increase crop production, improving the nutritional value of the crops, reduction in input prices for farmers, improving the overall process-driven supply chain, reducing wastage in the distribution system, making easy farm mechanisation available, and enabling connectivity of farmers with the masses by interlinking the consumer and producer.  

AgriTech startups are also leveraging technology in the area of market linkages such as retail, B2C and B2B marketplaces and digital agronomy platforms. AgriTech startups are now able to address input challenges of agriculture in India from the very beginning. They are able to provide correct information, techniques, and efficiencies to farmers both for pre-harvest applications and post-harvest use cases.

AgriTech Funding In India

According to the latest report, for 2016, over $3.23 Bn was invested in agriculture sector worldwide. Of this, 53 Indian agritech startups raised $313 Mn. Globally, category-wise, 40% of the total funding ($1.29 Bn) was invested in food marketplaces or the food ecommerce category, followed by biotechnology startups which garnered 22% of the funding ($719 Mn). Investment in precision agriculture technologies, which include data-capturing devices and farm management software, came third at $405 Mn, while investment in Novel Farming Systems, which are startups using new and innovative ways to produce agricultural and biological products, was the fourth category wherein funding flowed ($247 Mn).

Conclusion

Demand-side drivers such as population growth, rising income levels leading to increasing consumption, and increasing exports favour the growth of agriculture in India. More so, policy support from the government such as increasing MSPs, increasing crop insurance support, the introduction of various schemes to facilitate farmers, initiatives to bolster easy credit to farmers will also increase growth. The need of the hour is for all stakeholders – from governments to agritech startups to investors – to come together in harnessing the opportunity to transform this sector. Mostly, government policies treat agriculture as a poverty alleviation method but the focus should be on enhancing productivity and raising incomes. The impetus should be on the application of technology to lower challenges on the input side right from planting to irritating to harvesting and finally selling.

Download The Report Now!

The report launch was followed by two-panel discussions centred on the theme that the agriculture value chain requires disruption and innovation to tackle inefficiencies – which would most likely come from tech-driven startups rather than the traditional agriculture players in India.

The first panel comprising Vikram Gupta, Ravinder Singh Saini, Adhir Jha, and Akash Rukhaiyar was moderated by Shamit Ghosh. The panel examined if the agritech opportunity is a hidden opportunity or mere hype.

AgriTech – A Hidden Opportunity Or Hype?

On this, Vikram Gupta stated that the size of the opportunity is quite large. He said, “From an investor’s perspective, investors are looking for four-five years’ kind of timeframe for returns. We are looking for asset-light opportunities, where you can use technology to scale up businesses. One of them is information technology – which farmers can leverage to take mission-critical decisions.”

Vikram noted that while it’s challenging to monetise these products, there are interesting models which are being monetised, and farmers are willing to pay for them. However, he pointed out that when it comes to the other part of technology such as farm mechanisation, India is lagging.

agriculture-agritech-india-startups

He said, “Despite India having one of the highest productive agricultural land in the world, its share of sales in the mechanised products sold by top Fortune 100 farm companies in the world is less than 5%.” This is where he believed an opportunity exists for startups.

Taking the discussion further on the same tangent, Adhir Jha stated that since average landholding size of farmers is small, many mechanisation technologies are beyond the means of farmers. He said, “Hence, startups need to come up with technologies which can be leased to farmers for a period of time to but whose maintenance rests majorly with startups.”

He also added that since it takes time for farmers to develop confidence in agritech extension activities, patience will have to be a key factor here. “So, as an investor, you have to be in here for the long haul. You might see a negative impact in the first four or five years and then the model might turn around.”

AgriTech – An Investor’s Perspective

The second-panel discussion centred on exploring the investors’ perspective in detail –why investors who have invested in the sector continue to bet on it, what would make investors who don’t invest in agritech currently explore it proactively, and trends to watch out for in this space.

This panel consisted of Ritu Verma, co-founder and Managing Director, Ankur Capital, Hemendra Mathur, Venture Partner, Bharat Innovations Fund, and Vikram Gupta of IvyCap Ventures.

On being questioned as to what made Ankur Capital invest in agriculture, Ritu replied the fact that the section is associated with the fundamental act of eating, coupled with the drive to engage with the backend of delivery of food, as demands and habits change was the main driver for investment.

agriculture-agritech-india-startups

Speaking on if the opportunity is viable, Hemendra Mathur stated, “The size of the opportunity is a key factor as well as the demand. If you look at the last 10 years, why VC investment has picked up is because some bit of inflection point was there when per capita income of Indians increased. This resulted in shifts in demand habits in food in India in 2013.  And that is reflected in the balance sheet of the food sectors. It’s not that we are eating more, but more consumers are willing to buy good quality food. So, that’s a reason for sudden VC interest in the last few years in agriculture.”

He also added that another reason is that it is a very defensible sector, given that food is the last thing one cuts out even when the economy goes down.

The investors also discussed that technology will help lower costs for farmers. Thus, what startups have to do is build the cost value proposition for the farmer. Hemendra aptly stated, “And viability cannot come alone from the farmer but from the entire ecosystem on the supply chain, who can make business models viable.”

For encouraging more funds to flow into the sector, Vikram believed that the government should get incentives to funds who invest in agriculture, its sub-sectors, and in remote areas. He stated that general education and awareness at the grassroots level is missing and the government has to play a huge role in informing farmers about the opportunities available – be it credit or technologies.

For startups looking to enter the sector, Hemendra added that the top three opportunities lay in capturing real-time data, image analytics, and technology for soil scanning. He explained, “With satellite imagery, you can tell at sowing stage, what is going to be the potential yield. So, once it reaches a point where demand supply is matching, the government can issue an advisory. These measures would help farmers to avoid excess sowing, manage supply so that prices don’t crash.”

Vikram aptly summed up the discussion stating, “The Uberisation of Indian agritech startups is just waiting to happen. The inflection point is around the corner.”

The session concluded with a presentation from Jukka Peuranpää, CEO, Agroy and a former farmer. Agroy has made giant strides in terms of making its presence felt in the US and now with aims to plant its flag in India.

Agri-tech startups have a field day as farmers, investors sow seeds of growth

In Indian agriculture, the scope—and application—of technology has long been limited to genetically-modified crops, high-yield seeds and, of late, a handful of sophisticated tools like aerial images and GPS technology. Needless to say, a lot of challenges that farmers faced remained unresolved, partly because there were no problem-solvers around.

But that’s fast changing. Leveraging rising mobile and internet penetration, an army of agri-tech startups is offering farmers services such as on-demand delivery of farm inputs, online financial assistance, weather updates, drone-driven crop health identification, soil health assessment and equipment on rent, among others. Then, for purposes of edification and infotainment, there are startups offering both financial literacy videos and online games, such as Wonder village and Farmer Book!

The array of offerings clearly suggests these startups are finding takers in farmers.

Ayush Nigam, co-founder of Distinct Horizon, a fertiliser application startup, says the biggest change the industry is seeing is that farmers are now willing to adopt new practices that can improve yields or reduce cost. They are open to trying new technologies as long as they are sustainable and don’t require too much additional labour.

Distinct Horizon, which has developed an innovative machine for deep placement of urea fertiliser to increase crop productivity, counts Tata Chemicals and San Francisco-based IDEO.org as partners. Nigam, who feels the space has been underserved for decades, claims his deep placement technology not only doubles farmers’ profits but also helps maintain better soil health.

Then there are startups like Ravgo, a farm equipment rental marketplace that holds out hope for small farmers who cannot afford expensive machinery. Ravgo follows a commission-based model, wherein it charges a certain percentage from vendors for the business it generates for them. The fact that analysts peg India’s tractor-hiring market alone at Rs 15,000 crore per annum indicates the potential of the segment.

The supply-chain space, too, has seen several startups, with logistics between farmers and end-customers continuing to be a tricky area. Others have gotten into primary processing, packaging and selling of produce, spanning the entire chain.

Rising investor interest
Several of these ventures have been able to raise funds from prominent investors like Indian Angel Network, International Finance Corporation, US-based venture capital fund Unitus Impact, and even Denmark-based Bestseller Foundation, a private philanthropic organisation.

“The sector is evoking investor interest because of the enormous market size and the new-found thrust on the end-customer. If entrepreneurs can prove that their concept works and farmers are willing to pay for it, investors will grab the opportunity,” says Nigam. In case of Distinct Horizon, he claims, the precise fertiliser application technology helps the company recoup four times the investment in the first year itself.

Gajjender Yadav, founder at cow milk delivery startup 4SFoods, feels the rise of socially-responsible consumerism is giving the industry a fillip. Besides, the fact that these startup entrepreneurs are not just sitting in AC cabins, but are willing to get their hands dirty, is also driving the change.

Also, investors are placing their bets on startups like 4SFoods, and other farm-to-fork and organic food ventures given the rising propensity of the Indian consumer to loosen their purse strings for healthy, pesticide-free food.

“The disposable income with the middle class is growing, the first avenue they spend money is the better quality of food. Hence, there is an incentive for companies to invest time, energy and money into delivering better quality food to the consumer. As long as the consumer is willing to pay, there is value in investing in these companies. Look at the organic sector, for example, no one was talking about it 5-6 years ago, but now people are buying organic. In general, they are willing to pay 10%-20% extra for packaged, pesticide free food.”

Using Bangalore-based Farmily, farmers can set up micro-sites to display their produce and reach out to potential customers. Whenever a customer shows interest, the farmer receives an SMS with the customer’s details, which eliminates middlemen from the process.

Another app-based startup, Mandi Trades, also connects farmers and buyers.

“Farmers face significant challenges at every point from buying agri-inputs, to improving yields and finally getting a good price for their produce. We are working on solving some of these challenges through technology,” Shardul Sheth, founder and CEO of AgroStar, had told VCCircle earlier this year.

A direct-to-farmer m-commerce platform, AgroStar is operational in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan and claims to have over a million farmers on its platform.

Big Data isn’t behind either, with startups in the space winning insurance companies and banks as clients.

Mostly operating on the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, these startups capture data on crop growth, likely yield, soil moisture, temperature and humidity, among other things, sell it to relevant stakeholders. Buyers include players selling agricultural inputs to farmers, apart from insurers and banks.

And the value-proposition is undeniable given data is the ultimate commodity.

“For most insurance companies, the challenge is to estimate the risk profile of the farmer and his farm. You have to have a lot of information, in terms of what crops are being grown, the track record, data on soil, nutrition, weather and pest attacks, the likely output, and the farmer’s income,” says Hemender Mathur, agribusiness investment lead and venture partner at Bharat Innovations Fund.

Not a cakewalk
Agrawal says the creation of a strong farmer network is tough but paramount. “Because many farmers have been cheated a lot of times by corporates and fly by night companies, they don’t trust you easily. They are generally sceptical and for companies to be able to service them and get the output from them is a challenge,” he observes.

He adds that if startups can figure out how to take “basic technology” to small farmers, productivity will rise.

On the tech side, the primary challenge is domain expertise.

For tech-driven startups, says Mathur, seamlessly integrating the technology platform with domain knowledge of agriculture is critical. “I think the challenge is to build multiple layers of analytics. How to analyse these data points in a form that it becomes more valuable and can be sold to multiple users. It needs a lot of domain expertise. People are not asking for data per se, they are asking for insights,” he adds.

Resilient food demand is, however, a good sign, and it will ensure there is always scope for innovation in all areas of agriculture.

“Challenges are on the supply side…there are so many intermediaries and inefficient handling. Aggregation is clearly the missing link. Primary processing, as simple as trading, sorting and packing, are also areas of big opportunity,” Mathur says.

As for the government’s role in the ecosystem, startups feel it needs to bump up the spend on farm inputs to unlock the sector’s long-term potential.

“The government spends almost 10 times of farm inputs on farm subsidies, but it needs to reverse the trend gradually. Farm subsidy makes a farmer dependent while inputs will make him much stronger and independent,” Yadav says.

De Beers: US Diamond Jewelry Demand Hits High of $41 Billion

(IDEX Online) – Total diamond jewelry demand from US consumers increased 4.4 percent in 2016 to exceed $40 billion for the first time, according to industry insight data published today by De Beers Group.

 

While slower US GDP growth in the first quarter of 2017 is likely to have impacted diamond jewelry demand in the short term, the US has recorded five years of consecutive demand growth. US consumers now account for roughly half of all diamond jewelry purchases globally – a level not seen since before the financial crisis.

 

Although bridal diamond jewelry continues to be the foundation of demand in the US, more frequent acquisitions and a higher value of spend from single women helped drive demand. Meanwhile, self-purchase trends increased among both single and married women.

 

Fifty-seven percent of self-purchased diamond jewelry is acquired by married women, while a third is from Millennials. Retailers also reported high levels of consumer interest for multi-diamond pieces.

The data showed that consumers are spending more per piece on diamond jewelry, with retailers reporting an increase in the $1,000 to $4,999 category, De Beers claimed.

 

Globally, demand for diamond jewelry in 2016 increased marginally in US dollars (at actual exchange rates) to $80 billion, with demand growth from the US offsetting a contraction in India.

 

  • Demand from Chinese consumers grew 0.6 percent in local currency and has continued to improve in early 2017, with robust sales around Chinese New Year contributing to the positive performance in the first quarter.

 

  • Demand from Indian consumers started to return to more normal levels in 2017, following an 8.8 percent contraction (in local currency) in 2016 due to the jewelers’ strike, demonetization and exchange rates.

 

  • Demand from Japanese consumers declined 2.9 percent in local currency in 2016, but growth in US dollars reached 8.1 percent due to the strength of the yen.

 

  • Demand in the Gulf was impacted by a challenging macro-economic environment, driven by continued oil price weakness.

 

Further marginal global growth in diamond jewelry demand (in US dollar terms) is likely in 2017.

 

Bruce Cleaver, CEO, De Beers Group, said: “American consumers continue to express strong desire for diamonds, but their purchasing habits are changing rapidly. While bridal diamond jewelry remains fundamental, we are seeing both single and married women buying for themselves more frequently and more purchases being made online. Meanwhile, products such as multi-diamond jewelry are becoming more popular.

 

“However, while US demand drove global growth in 2016, it is increasing demand from emerging markets that is behind the last five years being the strongest on record. Despite some markets facing challenging conditions last year, we see this trend continuing, with improvements in demand from China and India, in particular, emerging in 2017.”

37 Percent of Discussions on Gig Economy Negative, Study Finds

Media calls it the force that could save the American worker. But independent workers feel differently about the gig economy.

According to a new media analysis by Cision, on behalf of The Rockefeller Foundation, about 37 percent of overall discussions on gig economy is negative.

Clearly, there’s a “disconnect between news coverage of the independent workforce and the voice of independent workers on social media channels.”

Is the Gig Economy Bad for Small Businesses?

Highlights of Cision’s Media Analysis

The analysis identified four groups of independent workers: parents, retirees, recent graduates and small business owners.

Some interesting insights that emerged from the analysis are:

  • Most negatively toned discussions were on taxes, worry and insurance.
  • Retirees often go online with their questions about taxes and retirement plans.
  • Thirty-five percent of discussion from recent graduates were about looking for work, discussing additive work, or using gig labor to supplement income from a primary job.

“Workers are trying to find ways to make ends meet and they are going online to find advice from each other on how to do just that,” said Caitlin Jamali, Cision’s senior insights analyst.

Over one-third of the conversations about the gig economy are negative. Is this a sign of uncertainty or is the gig economy bad for small businesses?

Small Businesses Worried About Income

A closer look at the discussions led by small business owners reveals hourly rates and not being able to earn enough money are their top concerns.

It’s also worth noting that about 12 percent of the small business conversations are related to general worry.

Cision analyzed more than 540,000 news media and blog articles as well as 132,000 social media posts for the report.