Inside One of Silicon Valley’s Hottest AI Startup Events

Learn about the hottest AI startup event in Silicon Valley and the man behind it, Jeremiah Owyang.
"The AI Economy," a newsletter exploring AI's impact on business, work, society and tech.
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Events are a great way to help stay abreast of tech trends. But what’s the secret to identifying great gatherings worth your time? In this week’s edition of “The AI Economy,” meet Jeremiah Owyang, a general partner at Blitzscaling Ventures and the architect behind an innovative event fostering AI development in Silicon Valley. Gain insight into why he launched this initiative, the criteria for startups to showcase their innovations, and details on how you can attend an upcoming event.

Plus, learn about the latest efforts by government regulators, law enforcement and tech companies to put a halt to deepfakes.

The Prompt

During my early years residing in San Francisco, startup events thrived. There were so many in some weeks that you could hop from one gathering to another in a single night. From vibrant launch celebrations to insightful panel discussions and beyond, the atmosphere was ripe with the excitement of uncovering groundbreaking innovations.

Over the past decade or so, there has been a noticeable shift in the atmosphere. While there were still occasional startup parties, their frequency dwindled. However, with the rise of artificial intelligence, the Bay Area is experiencing a revival of these social gatherings. Entrepreneurs are once again enthusiastic about showcasing their products to potential customers and investors.

At the center of these AI events: Jeremiah Owyang.

A former analyst who transitioned into entrepreneurship and later became an investor, Owyang is the organizer of the Llama Lounge — which has no connection to Meta. The event allows startups to showcase their AI while giving attendees a chance to network with one another.

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Owyang says he drew inspiration for the Llama Lounge after attending Hugging Face’s “Woodstock of AI” event. It was there where he derived the name for his showcase — it was the icon the industry needed, he once tweeted. Plus, having a unicorn was so 2013.

“When markets are in formation mode, hosting meetups to enable the relationships to foster is a critical role,” he tells me. As more Llama Lounge events were held, it started allowing curated startups to set up tables. “Several events have had 10 AI startups demo, which has been a key draw.”

What are the requirements for selection? “The founder should be working on this project full-time. There’s a website, users and a working demo. The product solves a business goal. The founder is verbally articulate and can present,” Owyang explains.

There have been seven Llama Lounge events to date. However, not all were in the San Francisco Bay Area — one was held in New York City. There are plans to hold five in San Francisco and one in Palo Alto in 2024. As for bringing the event to cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, Austin or Chicago? Owyang says not right now: “They don’t have AI founders to support this type of event style.”

Response to the Llama Lounge has been positive to date. Owyang revealed some statistics for his most recent event last November:

  • 1,332 registered attendees with 760 admitted
  • More than 30 AI founders and builders showed up along with an estimated 80 investors
  • 3 speakers

Owyang has long been deeply engaged in major technological trends, spanning from social media to the on-demand/collaborative economy and Web3. When asked about similarities between those markets and AI, he reflects on their shared pattern of innovation: “They all follow a similar trajectory of questions posed by the market: What is it? Why is it important? How do I begin? What are the best approaches? And how do I incorporate it into my life, business, or society?”

To aid him in market research, Owyang states he attends an average of three AI events each week while also subscribing to newsletters like Sythedia and the Neuron. Moreover, “I read and have alerts about AI setup and my social network feeds are trained on AI…Hosting events gives me greater depth into the market, as teams expose information to me.”

And Llama Lounge isn’t the only AI event in Silicon Valley. There’s a resurgence in hackathons, panels, conferences and other social gatherings. The home of the tech industry is certainly seeing a renaissance and you can bet that Jeremiah Owyang will be right there, front and center.

The next Llama Lounge event will be held on Feb. 29. Those interested should request an invite as soon as possible. Space is limited with priority given to AI startup founders and investors.

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Drop me a message or share your insights in the comments below.

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A Closer Look

As the famous quote from Ferris Bueller goes: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

In last week’s edition of “The AI Economy,” I covered the growing number of deepfakes. The newsletter highlighted two major incidents that happened recently: the explicit images of Taylor Swift and the fake robocalls targeting New Hampshire primary voters.

Underscoring the impact of these synthetic media, this week we learned of a finance worker tricked into paying out $25 million to fraudsters through the use of a deepfake phone call.

Even still, some progress has been made in response to these incidents. Law enforcement authorities have identified potential suspects, while regulatory bodies have taken action.

New Hampshire’s Attorney General traced the fake Joe Biden robocalls to a Texas company, and regulators quickly declared the use of voice-cloning technology in robocalls illegal. As for those Swift deepfakes? Research firm Graphika says they originated from the notorious message board 4chan.

Silicon Valley has progressed in adopting protective measures, with OpenAI, Google and Meta announcing they’re either adding tools to watermark AI-generated images or joining a coalition to prevent deepfake creation.

It’s great to hear action is being taken to beef up protection, but it’s still a reminder for everyone to be doubly suspicious about calls and what you see online.

Today’s Visual Snapshot

During last year’s Hollywood writers’ strike, one of their main issues was about how artificial intelligence was being used. Though studios acquiesced to writers’ demands, concerns remain.

Variety found in a survey of entertainment workers, a majority of respondents said generative AI will be effective at creating realistic sound effects for film, TV or games, and also autocompleting code for game programming. Additionally, there’s now a plurality who say AI will do a good job developing artwork for film, TV or game storyboards.

Even if folks think gen AI will get better over the next two to three years, it doesn’t ease people’s worries about job displacement. Yet, it shows how quickly AI is progressing.

Are consumers interested in AI-generated media? Another survey conducted by Morning Consult indicates there’s a mixed reaction. Between February and August 2023, respondents expressed a growing interest in gen AI creating social media captions, ads, deepfakes, TV series, company spokespeople and actors. However, there’s less appeal for virtual travel agents and customer support, tools to replicate voice and speech patterns, along with AI-generated movies and social media personalities.

Regarding media and entertainment, it seems AI will soon excel in tasks, but there’s uncertainty if consumers will fully embrace the end result, as they’re still unsure about how much they want to embrace AI’s role in the creative process.

Quote This

“This is how we’ve always approached search, in the sense that as search evolved, as mobile came in and user interactions changed, we adapted to it. In some cases we’re leading users, as we are with multimodal AI. But I want to be flexible about the future, because otherwise we’ll get it wrong.”

— Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai on why Google’s Gemini launch is not a replacement for search but “an alternative to see what sticks

Neural Nuggets

🏭 Industry Insights

🤖 Machine Learning

✏️ Generative AI

💻 Consumer

⚙️ Hardware

🔬 Science and Breakthroughs

💼 Business and Marketing

📺 Media and Entertainment

💰 Funding

⚖️ Copyright and Regulatory Issues

💥 Disruption and Misinformation

🔎 Opinions and Research

🎧 Podcasts

End Output

I hope you enjoyed diving into the latest articles on “The AI Economy!”

I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this edition. What struck a chord with you, and what left you scratching your head? Leave a comment or shoot me a message on LinkedIn with your feedback — it’s the secret sauce that makes this journey worthwhile.

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Follow my Flipboard Magazine for all the latest AI news I curate for “The AI Economy” newsletter.

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Until next week, stay curious!

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