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By Alex Wilhelm

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Good morning, and welcome to TechCrunch AM for February 8, 2024. Today, we’re talking about Google’s new AI model, a French unicorn, a startup building software for fusion power tech, the impact of X’s drama on its smaller competitors, and Disney buying a big chunk of Epic Games. I have a varied, and honestly fascinating grip of stories for you this morning. Let’s get reading!


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TechCrunch Top 3

  1. Google launches new, powerful AI model: Say hello to Gemini Ultra, everyone. Also say goodbye to Bard, a brand that Google had in the market for about a year. Now it’s all Gemini, got it? If you want to snag the Ultra version of Google’s most powerful AI model, you’ll need the top-tier of its Google One plans, which will run you $20 per month. Google is also bringing its new AI models to its Assistant product. Now it’s time for Microsoft et al. to fire back and keep the AI race going.
  2. Pennylane is France’s latest unicorn: Flush with €40 million in new capital, Pennylane’s accounting software business is now worth at least $1 billion. The startup is another standout from France, where startups have seemed very busy in recent quarters.
  3. Disney + Fortnite: The U.S. entertainment giant is acquiring a $1.5 billion stake in Epic Games, which runs Fortnite, develops the Unreal Engine, and the Epic games store (which is tussling with Apple) as part of a partnership deal. The deal makes good sense, since Disney has lots of IP that it wants to lever as widely as possible, and Epic Games has lots of customers in the Mouse Kingdom’s target demographic. Shares of Disney are up 8% this morning following the news and the company’s quarterly report.
TechCrunch Top 3 image

Image Credits: Google

Don’t miss these

CodeSignal wants to teach you coding: CodeSignal started life as a competitive coding platform, and later rebranded to a technical assessment service. Now, the company is building CodeSignal Learn, which features an AI bot called Cosmo that will help teach users topics like introduction to programming, coding languages, data analytics and machine learning. There’s a free tier, but CodeSignal Learn will run users $24.99 per month if they want to ask Cosmo as many questions as they want.

AI pricing is the interesting concept here. OpenAI’s more powerful ChatGPT service costs $20 per month, while access to Google’s new Gemini model costs $20 per month. Microsoft is charging a lot for its AI-infused Office tools, and CodeSignal is targeting a price point above the $20 mark. In short, AI tools are going to cost users, and a price floor is being established by the market. Put another way, AI is going to bolster total software TAM. That’s good news for tech companies big and small.

Daedalus wants to bring AI to manufacturing: With a new $21 million Series A under its belt, Daedalus plans to tackle precision part fabrication. Such work doesn’t mesh with the high-volume manufacturing lines that we see in the automotive industry, but perhaps the German startup can shake up a large, fragmented piece of the “building stuff” world with its AI-infused processes.

Thea Energy raises $20M for its software to advance fusion power: There are two main ways to approach magnetic confinement for fusion power: You can build a simple, donut-shaped plasma container (tokamak), or a more complicated layout that superheated plasma likes more (stellarator). Thea wants to use software-controlled, high-temperature superconducting magnets inside a tokamak-like container to get stellarator-like ease of plasma control and achieve the best of both worlds. Very cool, very complex, and hopefully very effective.

Rally is building a micro climate fund: Rally Cap VC is known for its investments in fintech, but the venture firm has now reached the ‘first close’ of a new, climate-focused fund it’s calling Rally Cap Climate. The firm said “many of the most exciting calls [it was] having with founders were on the climate side,” which meshed with its goals to move beyond just fintech dealmaking.

Attentive is bringing AI to manual labor: Now with $7 million more under its belt,’s business of helping automate landscaping and construction services is bringing the vertical SaaS model outdoors (AI is very useful for estimating, it turns out). Attentive is not the only startup with the idea. TechCrunch covered SingleOps’ $6 million round back in 2020, for example.

Big Tech Roundup: Apple has rebuilt its iCloud app for Windows; Meta doesn’t want to help finance the EU’s oversight of its business; and a collision with a cyclist has Alphabet’s Waymo under regulatory scrutiny.

X’s drama is social media rocket fuel: Sarah Perez writes that recent product and business changes at the social media service formerly known as Twitter is helping “further growth of numerous social networks that prioritize brief posts.” In short, if you like to tweet, you have more options than X.

Indian central bank not sorry it’s wrangling with Paytm: The Reserve Bank of India’s actions have not only undercut Paytm’s banking arm, they’ve also dramatically curtailed its market cap. In response, the RBI says that its actions only follow a long period of non-compliance and lots of mutual engagement. Don’t blame the regulators, RBI is saying, blame the company.

Don’t miss these image

Image Credits: CodeSignal

Before you go

I don’t fully understand it, but the United States has lately seen a boom in trendy water bottles. Stanley water bottles are today’s symbolic item of coolness, though how long they will hold on to that moniker is beyond me. No matter, some businesses want a piece of the action: Brita, known for its water filter tech, is buying smart water bottle-maker Larq.

What’s a smart water bottle? Larq vessels use “a UV light built into the cap to reduce the bacteria that accumulates inside.”

You can also just drink from the tap, but hey, that’s not cool enough.

Before you go image

Image Credits: Larq

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