in Tiananmen Square, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, when he reiterated China’s claim to Taiwan, a self-ruled island democracy. President Biden has mentioned four times that the United States is prepared to help Taiwan resist aggression. Each time his aides have walked back his comments somewhat, however, emphasizing that the United States retains a policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding its support for the island.

Even a vague mention by Mr. Xi at the party congress of a timeline for trying to bring Taiwan under the mainland’s political control could damage financial confidence in both Taiwan and the mainland.

The most important task of the ruling elite at the congress is to confirm the party’s leadership.

Particularly important to business is who in the lineup will become the new premier. The premier leads the cabinet but not the military, which is directly under Mr. Xi. The position oversees the finance ministry, commerce ministry and other government agencies that make many crucial decisions affecting banks, insurers and other businesses. Whoever is chosen will not be announced until a separate session of the National People’s Congress next March, but the day after the congress formally ends, members of the new Politburo Standing Committee — the highest body of political power in China — will walk on a stage in order of rank. The order in which the new leadership team walks may make clear who will become premier next year.

a leading hub of entrepreneurship and foreign investment in China. Neither has given many clues about their economic thinking since taking posts in Beijing. Mr. Wang had more of a reputation for pursuing free-market policies while in Guangdong.

Mr. Hu is seen as having a stronger political base than Mr. Wang because he is still young enough, 59, to be a potential successor to Mr. Xi. That political strength could give him the clout to push back a little against Mr. Xi’s recent tendency to lean in favor of greater government and Communist Party control of the private sector.

Precisely because Mr. Hu is young enough to be a possible successor, however, many businesspeople and experts think Mr. Xi is more likely to choose Mr. Wang or a dark horse candidate who poses no potential political threat to him.

In any case, the power of the premier has diminished as Mr. Xi has created a series of Communist Party commissions to draft policies for ministries, including a commission that dictates many financial policies.

What do you think? Let us know: dealbook@nytimes.com.

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Expansion of Clean Energy Loans Is ‘Sleeping Giant’ of Climate Bill

Tucked into the Inflation Reduction Act that President Biden signed last week is a major expansion of federal loan programs that could help the fight against climate change by channeling more money to clean energy and converting plants that run on fossil fuels to nuclear or renewable energy.

The law authorizes as much as $350 billion in additional federal loans and loan guarantees for energy and automotive projects and businesses. The money, which will be disbursed by the Energy Department, is in addition to the more well-known provisions of the law that offer incentives for the likes of electric cars, solar panels, batteries and heat pumps.

The aid could breathe life into futuristic technologies that banks might find too risky to lend to or into projects that are just short of the money they need to get going.

failure of Solyndra, a solar company that had borrowed about $500 million from the Energy Department, to criticize the Obama administration’s climate and energy policies.

Backers of the program have argued that despite defaults like Solyndra, the program has been sustainable overall. Of the $31 billion the department has disbursed, about 40 percent has been repaid and interest payments in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2021, totaled $533 million — more money than the failed Solyndra loan.

The Energy Department’s loan programs began in 2005 under the George W. Bush administration but expanded significantly in the Obama era. The department provided a crucial loan that helped Tesla expand when it only sold expensive two-door electric sports cars; the company is now the world’s most valuable automaker.

Under the Trump administration, which played down the risks of climate change, the department’s loan office was much less active. The Biden team has been working to change that. Last month, the department said it planned to loan $2.5 billion to General Motors and LG Energy Solution to build electric-car battery factories in Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

complicate the qualification process.

  • Plug-In Hybrids: After falling behind all-electric cars, U.S. sales of plug-in hybrids have been surging. The high cost of electric cars and gasoline have given them an opening.
  • Car Crashes: Tesla and other automakers capture data from their vehicles to operate their products. Experts say the collected information could also improve road safety.
  • A Frustrating Hassle: The electric vehicle revolution is nearly here, but its arrival is being slowed by a fundamental problem: The chargers where people refuel these cars are often broken.
  • One beneficiary of the new loan money could be the Palisades Power Plant, a nuclear facility on Lake Michigan near Kalamazoo, Mich., that closed in May. The plant had struggled to compete in the PJM energy market, which serves homes and businesses in 13 states, including Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

    The Biden administration has made nuclear power a focal point of its efforts to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 2035. The administration has offered billions of dollars to help existing facilities like the Diablo Canyon Power Plant — a nuclear operation on California’s coast that is set to close by the end of 2025 — stay open longer. It is also backing new technologies like small modular reactors that the industry has long said would be cheaper, safer and easier to build than conventional large nuclear reactors.

    The owner of the Palisades facility, Holtec International, said it was reviewing the loan program and other opportunities for its own small reactors as well as bringing the shuttered plant back online.

    “There are a number of hurdles to restarting the facility that would need to be bridged,” the company said in a statement, “but we will work with the state, federal government, and a yet to be identified third-party operator to see if this is a viable option.”

    Rye Development, a company based in West Palm Beach, Fla., that is working on several projects in the Pacific Northwest.

    geothermal power; old coal power plants as sites for large batteries; and old coal mines for solar farms. Such conversions could reduce the need to build projects on undeveloped land, which often takes longer because they require extensive environmental review and can face significant local opposition.

    “We’re in a heap of trouble in siting the many millions of acres of solar we need,” Mr. Reicher said. “It’s six to 10 million acres of land we’ve got to find to site the projected build out of utility scale solar in the United States. That’s huge.”

    Other developers are hoping the government will help finance technologies and business plans that are still in their infancy.

    Timothy Latimer is the chief executive and co-founder of Fervo Energy, a Houston company that uses the same horizontal drilling techniques as oil and gas producers to develop geothermal energy. He said that his firm can produce clean energy 24 hours a day or produce more or less energy over the course of a day to balance out the intermittent nature of wind and solar power and spikes in demand.

    Mr. Latimer claims that the techniques his firm has developed will lower the cost for geothermal power, which in many cases is more expensive than electricity generated from natural gas or solar panels. He has projects under development in Nevada, Utah, Idaho and California and said that the new loan authority could help the geothermal business expand much more quickly.

    “It’s been the talk of the geothermal industry,” Mr. Latimer said. “I don’t think we were expecting good news a month ago, but we’re getting more ready for prime time. We have barely scratched the surface with the amount of geothermal that we can develop in the United States.”

    For all the potential of the new law, critics say that a significant expansion of government loans and loan guarantees could invite more waste and fraud. In addition to Solyndra, the Energy Department has acknowledged that several solar projects that received its loans or loan guarantees have failed or never got off the ground.

    A large nuclear plant under construction in Georgia, Vogtle, has also received $11.5 billion in federal loan guarantees. The plant has been widely criticized for years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns.

    “Many of these projects are funded based on political whim rather than project quality,” said Gary Ackerman, founder and former executive director of the Western Power Trading Forum, a coalition of more than 100 utilities and other businesses that trade in energy markets. “That leads to many stranded assets that never live up to their promises and become examples of government waste.”

    But Jamie Carlson, who was a senior adviser to the energy secretary during the Obama administration, said the department learned from its mistakes and developed a better approach to reviewing and approving loan applications. It also worked more closely with businesses seeking money to ensure that they were successful.

    “It used to be this black box,” said Ms. Carlson, who is now an executive at SoftBank Energy. “You just sat in purgatory for like 18 months and sometimes up to two years.”

    Ms. Carlson said the department’s loans serve a vital function because they can help technologies and companies that have demonstrated some commercial success but need more money to become financially viable. “It’s there to finance technologies that are proven but perhaps to banks that are perceived as more risky,” she said.

    Energy executives said they were excited because more federal loans and loan guarantees could turbocharge their plans.

    “The projects that can be done will go faster,” said William W. Funderburk Jr., a former commissioner at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power who now runs a water and energy company. “This is a tectonic plate shift for the industry — in a good way.”

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    A Chinese Entrepreneur Who Says What Others Only Think

    China’s entrepreneur class is grappling with the worst economic slump in decades as the government’s zero Covid policy has shut down cities and kept would-be customers at home. Yet they can’t seem to agree on how loudly they should complain — or even whether they should at all.

    A tech entrepreneur wrote in a big group chat in May that many members were too critical. “What people here do every day is criticizing the government and the system,” she wrote. “I can’t see any entrepreneurship in this.”

    A top venture capitalist told his nearly nine million social media followers that as much as everyone had suffered from the pandemic, they should try to stay away from negative news and information.

    zero Covid policy, which has put hundreds of millions of people under some kind of lockdowns in the past few months, costing jobs and revenues. He’s saying what many others are whispering in private but fear to say in public.

    “The questions we should ask ourselves are,” he wrote in an article that was censored within an hour of posting but shared widely in other formats, “what caused such widespread negative sentiment across the society? Who should be responsible for this? And how can we change it?”

    He said the lockdowns in Shanghai and other cities made it clear that wealth and social status meant little to a government determined to pursue its zero Covid policy. “We’re all nobodies who could be sent to the quarantine camps, and our homes could be broken into,” he wrote. “If we still choose to adapt to and put up with this, all of us will face the same destiny: trapped.”

    staying out of politics is no longer an option for China’s business leaders. But some of his peers are reluctant, given the potential penalties.

    steered away from the market economy and cracked down on some industries. It demonized entrepreneurs and went after some of the most prominent of them. Then when the mild, albeit contagious, Omicron variant of the coronavirus emerged in China this year, the government meddled with free enterprise as it hadn’t in decades.

    The lockdowns and restrictions have done so much damage to the economy that Premier Li Keqiang summoned about 100,000 cadres to an emergency meeting in late May. He called the situation “severe” and “urgent,” citing sharp drops in employment, industrial production, electricity consumption and freight traffic.

    Many business leaders believe that it will be hard to reverse the damage if the government doesn’t stop the zero Covid policy. Yet they feel that there’s nothing they can do to make Beijing change course.

    The chairman of a big internet company told me that with all the pandemic restrictions, he and others were operating as if dancing with shackles on while expecting the sword of a lockdown to strike at any moment. With a big public company to run, he said, it would be too risky to be vocal. He hoped the economists could be more outspoken.

    The chairman of a publicly listed conglomerate with many consumer-facing businesses said he had to shut down a few of his companies and let people go as revenues dropped off a cliff. He’s not a Christian, he said, but he has been praying to God every day to help him get through this tough period.

    articles that compared the pros and cons of different pandemic policies. Then, in mid-May, his social media Weibo account was suspended.

    Jack Ma, the founder of the e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, largely disappeared from public view after he criticized banking regulators in late 2019. The regulators quashed the initial public offering of Ant Group, the tech and financial company controlled by Mr. Ma, and fined Alibaba a record $2.8 billion last year.

    Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real estate developer, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges of committing graft, taking bribes, misusing public funds and abusing his power. His real crime, his supporters say, was criticizing Mr. Xi’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020.

    Mr. Zhou, 49, is known as a maverick in Chinese business circles. He founded his first business in stereo systems with his brother in the mid-1990s when he was still in college. In 2010, he started Yongche, one of the first ride-hailing companies.

    Unlike most Chinese bosses, he didn’t demand that his employees work overtime, and he didn’t like liquor-filled business meals. He turned down hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and refused to participate in subsidy wars because doing so didn’t make economic sense. He ended up losing out to his more aggressive competitor Didi.

    He later wrote a best seller about his failure and became a partner at a venture capital firm in Beijing. In April, he was named chairman of the ride-sharing company Caocao, a subsidiary of auto manufacturing giant Geely Auto Group.

    A Chinese citizen with his family in Canada, Mr. Zhou said in an interview that in the past many wealthy Chinese people like him would move their families and some of their assets abroad but work in China because there were more opportunities.

    Now, some of the top talent are trying to move their businesses out of the country, too. It doesn’t bode well for China’s future, he said.

    “Entrepreneurs have good survivor’s instinct,” he said. “Now they’re forced to look beyond China.” He coined a term — “passive globalization” — based on his discussions with other entrepreneurs. “Many of us are starting to take such actions,” he said.

    The prospect depressed him. China used to be the best market in the world: big, vibrant, full of ambitious entrepreneurs and hungry workers, he said, but the senseless and destructive zero Covid policy and the business crackdowns have forced many of them to think twice.

    “Even if your company is a so-called giant, we’re all nobodies in front of the bigger force,” he said. “A whiff of wind could crush us.”

    All the business leaders I spoke to said they were reluctant to make long-term investment in China and fearful that they and their companies could become the next victim of the government’s iron fist. They’re focusing on their international operations if they have them or seeking opportunities abroad.

    Mr. Zhou left for Vancouver, British Columbia, in a hurry in late April when Beijing was locking down many neighborhoods. Then he wrote the article, urging his peers to try to speak up and change their powerless status.

    He said he understood the fear and the pressure they faced. “Honestly speaking, I’m scared, too.” But he would probably regret it more if he did nothing. “Our country can’t go on like this,” he said. “We can’t allow it to deteriorate like this.”

    In recent years, a few of Mr. Zhou’s articles and social media accounts have been deleted. His outspokenness has caused uneasiness among his friends, he said. Some have told him to shut up because it didn’t change anything and was creating unnecessary risks for himself, his family, his companies and the stakeholders in his businesses.

    But Mr. Zhou can’t help himself. He’s worried that China could become more like it was under Mao: impoverished and repressive. His generation of entrepreneurs owes much of their success to China’s reform and opening up policies, he said. They have the responsibilities to initiate change instead of waiting for a free ride.

    Maybe they can start by speaking up, even if just a little bit.

    “Any change starts with disagreement and disobedience,” he said.

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    How Elon Musk Winged It With Twitter, and Everything Else

    Kimbal Musk and Mr. Gracias, who left Tesla’s board last year and serves as a SpaceX director, declined to comment for this article.

    Today, Mr. Musk oversees or is associated with at least a dozen companies, including public ones, private ones and holding companies such as Wyoming Steel, which he uses to manage real estate. His net worth stands at about $250 billion.

    As Mr. Musk established more companies, he collected associates he could deploy across many of the endeavors.

    One was Mary Beth Brown, who was hired in 2002 to essentially be Mr. Musk’s executive assistant. Known as M.B., she soon became a kind of chief of staff, handling media requests and some financial matters for SpaceX and Tesla, as well as helping to manage Mr. Musk’s personal life, said Ashlee Vance, the author of “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.”

    That same year, Mr. Musk hired Gwynne Shotwell as SpaceX’s seventh employee. As the rocket maker’s president and chief operating officer, Ms. Shotwell has overseen the company’s growth, becoming one of Mr. Musk’s longest-lasting employees.

    At a conference in 2018, Ms. Shotwell explained how she managed Mr. Musk.

    Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

    “When Elon says something, you have to pause and not immediately blurt out, ‘Well, that’s impossible,’ or, ‘There’s no way we’re going to do that. I don’t know how,’” she said. “So you zip it, and you think about it. And you find ways to get that done.”

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    Pandemic’s Economic Impact Is Easing, but Aftershocks May Linger

    The pandemic’s grip on the economy appears to be loosening. Job growth and retail spending were strong in January, even as coronavirus cases hit a record. New York, Massachusetts and other states have begun to lift indoor mask mandates. California on Thursday unveiled a public health approach that will treat the coronavirus as a manageable long-term risk.

    Yet the economy remains far from normal. Patterns of work, socializing and spending, disrupted by the pandemic, have been slow to readjust. Prices are rising at their fastest pace in four decades, and there are signs that inflation is creeping into a broader range of products and services. In surveys, Americans report feeling gloomier about the economy now than at the height of the lockdowns and job losses in the first weeks of the crisis.

    In other words, it may no longer be that “the virus is the boss” — as Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist, has put it. But the changes that it set in motion have proved both more persistent and more pervasive than economists once expected.

    “I — totally naïvely — thought that once a vaccine was available, that we were six months away from a complete re-evaluation of the economy, and instead we’re just grinding it out,” said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project, an economic policy arm of the Brookings Institution. “A switch didn’t get flipped, and I thought it was going to.”

    computer chips, lumber and even garage doors have held up production of items from cars to houses, while a lack of shipping containers has led to delays in almost anything transported from overseas. Some bottlenecks have let up in recent months, but logistics experts expect it to take months if not years for supply chains to run smoothly again.

    disproportionate share of them women — have not.

    Diahann Thomas was at work at a Brooklyn call center in January when she got a call from her son’s school: Her 11-year-old had been exposed to a classmate who had tested positive for Covid-19, and she needed to pick him up.

    “There are all these moving parts now with Covid — one moment, they’re at school, the next moment they’re at home,” she said.

    Ms. Thomas, 50, said her employer declined to provide flexibility while her son was in quarantine. So she quit — a decision she said was made easier by the knowledge that employers are eager to hire.

    “It did boost my confidence to know that at the end of this, it’s not going to be difficult for me to pick up the pieces, and I have more bargaining power now,” she said. “There is this whole entire shift in terms of employee-employer relationship.”

    Ms. Thomas expects to return to work once school schedules become more reliable. But the pandemic has shown her the value of being at home with her three children, she said, and she wants a job where she can work from home.

    Whether and how people like Ms. Thomas return to work will be crucial to the economy’s path in coming months. If workers flood back to the job market as school and child care becomes more dependable and health risks recede, it will be easier for manufacturers and shipping companies to ramp up production and deliveries, giving supply a chance to catch up to demand. That in turn could allow inflation to cool without losing the economy’s progress over the past year.

    care for children may not go back to work right away, or may choose to work part time. And other changes may be similarly slow to reverse: Companies that were burned by shortages may maintain larger inventories or rely on shorter supply chains, driving up costs. Workers who enjoyed flexibility from employers during the pandemic may demand it in the future. Rates of entrepreneurship, automation and, of course, remote work all increased during the pandemic, perhaps permanently.

    Some of those changes could lead to higher inflation or slower growth. Others could make the economy more dynamic and productive. All make it harder for forecasters and policymakers to get a clear picture of the postpandemic economy.

    “In almost every respect, economic ripple effects that we might have expected to be temporary or short-lived are proving to be more long-lasting,” said Luke Pardue, an economist for Gusto, a payroll platform for small businesses. “The new normal is looking a lot different.”

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    Tech Start-Ups Reach a New Peak of Froth

    Astonishing data for 2021 tell the story. U.S. start-ups raised $330 billion, nearly double 2020’s record haul of $167 billion, according to PitchBook, which tracks private financing. More tech start-ups crossed the $1 billion valuation threshold than in the previous five years combined. The median amount of money raised for very young start-ups taking on their first major round of funding grew 30 percent, according to Crunchbase. And the value of start-up exits — a sale or public offering — spiked to $774 billion, nearly tripling the prior year’s returns, according to PitchBook.

    The big-money headlines have carried into this year. Over a few days this month, three private start-ups hit eye-popping valuations: Miro, a digital whiteboard company, was valued at $17.75 billion; Checkout.com, a payments company, was valued at $40 billion; and OpenSea, a 90-person start-up that lets people buy and sell nonfungible tokens, known as NFTs, was valued at $13.3 billion.

    Investors announced big hauls, too. Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm, said it had raised $9 billion in new funds. Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins, two other venture firms, each raised nearly $2 billion.

    The good times have been so good that warnings of a pullback inevitably bubble up. Rising interest rates, expected later this year, and uncertainty over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus have deflated tech stock prices. Shares of start-ups that went public through special purpose acquisition vehicles last year have slumped. One of the first start-up initial public offerings expected this year was postponed by Justworks, a provider of human resources software, which cited market conditions. The price of Bitcoin has sunk nearly 40 percent since its peak in November.

    But start-up investors said that had not yet affected funding for private companies. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more competitive market,” said Ambar Bhattacharyya, an investor at Maverick Ventures.

    Even if things slow down momentarily, investors said, the big picture looks the same. Past moments of outrageous deal making — from Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp to the soaring private market valuations of start-ups like Uber and WeWork — have prompted heated debates about a tech bubble for the last decade. Each time, Mr. Bahat said, he thought the frenzy would eventually return to normal.

    Instead, he said, “every single time it’s become the new normal.”

    Investors and founders have adopted a seize-the-day mentality, believing the pandemic created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shake things up. Phil Libin, an entrepreneur and investor, said the pandemic had changed every aspect of society so much that start-ups were accomplishing five years of progress in one year.

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    Why Silicon Valley Can’t Escape Elizabeth Holmes

    SAN JOSE, Calif. — In 2016, start-up founders sang, “Theranos doesn’t represent, we are better,” in a holiday video created by the venture capital firm First Round Capital.

    Over the next few years, several columnists wrote that Silicon Valley shouldn’t be blamed for Theranos.

    Last month, Keith Rabois, a venture capitalist, said on Twitter that articles connecting Theranos with Silicon Valley culture contained “more fabrication than anything ever uttered by Trump.”

    The technorati in Silicon Valley and beyond have long tried to separate themselves from Theranos, the blood testing start-up in Palo Alto, Calif., that was exposed for lying about its abilities. But the fraud trial of the company’s founder, Elizabeth Holmes, has shown that just as Bernard Madoff was a creature of Wall Street and Enron represented the get-rich-quick excesses of the 1990s, Theranos and its leader were very much products of Silicon Valley.

    a jury found the entrepreneur guilty of four of 11 counts of fraud, starkly underlined her participation in Silicon Valley’s culture.

    Ms. Holmes, 37, used the mentorship and credibility of tech industry big shots like Larry Ellison, a co-founder of Oracle, and Don Lucas, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, to raise money from others. She lived in Atherton, Calif., amid Silicon Valley’s elite and was welcomed into their circles.

    She also used the start-up playbook of hype, exclusivity and a “fear of missing out” to win over later investors. She embodied start-up hustle culture by optimizing her life for the maximum amount of work. She dismissed the “haters” and anything that interfered with her vision of a better world. She parroted mission-driven technobabble. She even dressed like Steve Jobs.

    No industry wants to be judged only by its worst actors. And many venture capitalists who heard Ms. Holmes’s impossibly lofty claims didn’t fall for them. But if anyone in Silicon Valley was suspicious of her proclamations, none spoke publicly about it until after things went south.

    said in a hearing in May before the trial began.

    At its best, Silicon Valley is optimistic. At its worst, it is so naïve it believes its own hogwash. Throughout her trial, Ms. Holmes’s lawyers argued she was simply a wide-eyed believer. Any statements that weren’t entirely truthful, they said, were about the future. It was what investors wanted to hear, they said.

    “They weren’t interested in today or tomorrow or next month,” Ms. Holmes testified. “They were interested in what kind of change we could make.”

    Soon after Theranos got started in 2003, Ms. Holmes used her vision of the future to win over investors and advisers like Mr. Ellison and Mr. Lucas. Mr. Lucas, who was chairman of Theranos’s board until 2013, was involved with more than 20 investment vehicles that backed Theranos. Those included his son’s venture firm, Lucas Venture Group; another vehicle, PEER Venture Partners; and trusts and foundations associated with members of his family.

    Bad Blood,” a book by John Carreyrou, a former Wall Street Journal reporter.

    Brian Grossman, an investor at the heath care-focused hedge fund PFM Health Sciences, learned about Theranos through Thomas Laffont, a co-founder of Coatue Management, a prominent investment fund with a San Francisco presence. In an email that was part of the court filings, Mr. Laffont gushed that Theranos had “one of the most impressive boards I’ve ever seen” and said Mr. Grossman’s firm should let him know “ASAP” if it was interested in an introduction.

    Coatue did not respond to a request for comment and PFM Health Sciences declined to comment.

    embraced by many in the tech industry. “This is what happens when you work to change things,” she said in a TV interview. “First they think you’re crazy, then they fight you, and then all of a sudden you change the world.”

    In the years since Theranos collapsed, more tech start-ups have followed its strategy of looking outside the small network of Sand Hill Road venture capital firms for funding. Start-ups are raising more money at higher valuations, and deal-making has accelerated. Mutual funds, hedge funds, family offices, private equity funds and megafunds like SoftBank’s Vision Fund have rushed to back them.

    Mr. Salehizadeh said Silicon Valley’s shift to a focus on fund-raising over all else was one reason he had left to set up a private equity firm on the East Coast. The big money brought more glitz to tech start-ups, he said, but it had little basis in business fundamentals.

    “You’re always left feeling like either you’re an idiot or you’re brilliant,” he said. “It’s a tough way to be an investor.”

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    As Other Arab States Falter, Saudi Arabia Seeks to Become a Cultural Hub

    JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — A pregnant Saudi woman, far from home, finds herself stalked by inner and outer demons. A wannabe Saudi vlogger and his friends, menaced by the internet’s insatiable appetite for content and more mysterious dangers, try to escape a dark forest. At a wedding, the mother of the bride panics when her daughter disappears with all of their guests waiting downstairs.

    These were just a few of the 27 Saudi-made films premiering this month at a film festival in Jeddah, part of the conservative kingdom’s huge effort to transform itself from a cultural backwater into a cinematic powerhouse in the Middle East.

    The Saudi push reflects profound shifts in the creative industries across the Arab world. Over the past century, while the name Saudi Arabia conjured little more than oil, desert and Islam, Cairo, Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad stood out as the Arab cultural beacons where blockbuster movies were made, chart-topping songs were recorded and books that got intellectuals talking hit the shelves.

    to promote pro-government themes.

    In many ways, the region’s cultural mantle is up for grabs, and Saudi Arabia is spending lavishly to seize it.

    At the Red Sea International Film Festival, held on a former execution ground, Jeddah residents rubbernecked as stars like Hilary Swank and Naomi Campbell strutted down a red carpet in revealing gowns, and Saudi influencers D.J.-ed at dance parties.

    All this in a country where, until a few years ago, women were not allowed to drive, cinemas were banned and aspiring filmmakers often had to dodge the religious police to shoot in public.

    CineWaves.

    Although Saudi Arabia’s population is about a fifth of Egypt’s, the Saudis are more affluent and wired, making them more likely to pay for streaming services and movie tickets. At about $18, a ticket in Saudi theaters is among the most expensive in the world.

    But the kingdom only allowed cinemas to reopen only in 2018 after a 35-year ban. Before that, Saudis escaped to nearby Bahrain or Dubai to go to theaters.

    Now, the country has 430 screens and counting, making it the fastest-growing market in the world, with a target of 2,600 screens by 2030, Mr. Abdulmajeed said.

    Film Clinic, a Cairo-based production company.

    Several Saudi-Egyptian collaborations are in the works, and an Egyptian “Hangover”-style comedy, “Wa’afet Reggala” (“A Stand Worthy of Men”), was the highest-grossing release in Saudi Arabia this year, beating the Hollywood blockbusters.

    Saudi productions may also continue to draw acting, writing and directing talent from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt — and will most likely need to do so to reach non-Saudi audiences, said Rebecca Joubin, an Arab studies professor at Davidson College in North Carolina.

    “With Saudi opening up, they say in Egypt that it’s saving Egypt’s movie industry,” said Marwan Mokbel, an Egyptian who co-wrote “Junoon,” the Saudi horror film about the vlogger that premiered at the Jeddah festival.

    Shahid, its Dubai-based Arabic counterpart.

    That has created a big market for Arabic-language content.

    Netflix has produced Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian-Lebanese shows, with varying degrees of success, and just announced the release of its first Arabic-language feature film, “Perfect Strangers.”

    Syrian and Lebanese studios that used to depend on gulf financiers — who, they complained, often forced them to water down their artistic ambitions by nixing political themes — are also turning to web series and Netflix for new funding and wider audiences.

    a hip alternative to the somnolent broadcast television. Mohammad Makki recalled dodging the police, guerrilla style, to film the first season of his show “Takki,” about a group of Saudi friends navigating Saudi social constraints, a decade ago. Then, it was a low-budget YouTube series. Now, it is a Netflix hit.

    “We grew up dying to go to the cinema,” he said, “and now it’s two blocks from my house.”

    Saudi women in the industry faced even greater challenges.

    When “Wadjda” (2012), the first Saudi feature directed by a woman, was filmed, Haifaa al-Mansour, the director, was barred from mixing in public with male crew members. She worked instead from the back of a van, communicating with the actors via walkie-talkie.

    “I’m still in shock,” said Ahd Kamel, who played a conservative teacher in “Wadjda,” which portrays a rebellious young Saudi girl who desperately wants a bicycle, as she walked through the festival. “It’s surreal.”

    As a young actress in New York, Ms. Kamel hid her career from her family, knowing they, and Saudi society, would not approve of a woman acting. Now, she said, her family pesters her for festival tickets, and she is preparing to direct a new film to be shot in Saudi Arabia.

    Saudi political, religious and cultural sensitivities are still factors, of course.

    Marvel’s big-budget “Eternals” was not released in Saudi Arabia — or in Qatar, Kuwait or Egypt — because of gay romantic scenes. Several of the non-Saudi films screened at the Jeddah festival, however, included gay scenes, nudity and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

    Hisham Fageeh, a Saudi comedian and actor, said officials had told him future films should avoid touching directly on God or politics.

    Sumaya Rida, an actress in the festival movies “Junoon” and “Rupture,” said the films aimed to portray Saudi couples realistically while avoiding onscreen physical affection.

    But the filmmakers said they were just happy to have support, accepting that it would come at the price of creative constraints.

    “I don’t intend to provoke to provoke. The purpose of cinema is to tease. Cinema doesn’t have to be didactic,” said Fatima al-Banawi, a Saudi actress and director whose first feature film the festival is funding. “It comes naturally. We’ve been so good at working around things for so long.”

    Vivian Yee reported from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and Nada Rashwan from Cairo.

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    Battling for Bolivia’s Lithium That’s Vital to Electric Cars

    “The amount of lithium we need in any of our climate goals is incredible,” said Anna Shpitsberg, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for energy transformation. “Everyone is trying to build up their supply chains and think about how to be strategic.”

    But Washington has little sway in Bolivia, whose leaders have long disagreed with the American approach to drug policy and Venezuela. That may explain why some energy executives do not think Bolivia is worth the risk.

    “You’ve had 30 years’ worth of projects in Bolivia with almost nothing to show,” said Robert Mintak, chief executive of Standard Lithium, a publicly traded mining company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, referring to lithium development efforts dating back to 1990. “You have a landlocked country with no infrastructure, no work force, political risk, no intellectual property protection. So as a developer, I would choose someplace else that is safer.”

    Mr. Egan sees the odds differently.

    That Mr. Egan has gotten this far is a marvel. He learned about Bolivian lithium only by chance when he and a friend crisscrossed South America as tourists in 2018.

    When they got to the salt flats, a guide explained that they were standing on the world’s largest lithium reserve. “I thought, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this, but I need to be involved,’” Mr. Egan said.

    He had tried his hand as a sports and music agent and ran a small investment fund at the time. He had invested in Tesla in 2013 at $9 a share; it now trades around $975. (He would not reveal how many shares he had bought and how many he still had.)

    But he felt that he wasn’t achieving much. Before Mr. Egan traveled to South America, his father, Michael, the founder of Alamo Rent A Car, advised him to make two lists — of his five biggest passions and of the five industries he thought would grow fastest in the coming decades. Renewable energy was on both lists.

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    Elizabeth Holmes Trial Exposes Investors’ Lack of Due Diligence

    SAN JOSE, Calif. — In 2014, Dan Mosley, a lawyer and power broker among wealthy families, asked the entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes for audited financial statements of Theranos, her blood testing start-up. Theranos never produced any, but Mr. Mosley invested $6 million in the company anyway — and wrote Ms. Holmes a gushing thank-you email for the opportunity.

    Bryan Tolbert, an investor at Hall Group, said his firm invested $5 million in Theranos in 2013, even though it did not have a detailed grasp of the start-up’s technologies or its work with pharmaceutical companies and the military.

    And Lisa Peterson, who handles investments for Michigan’s wealthy DeVos family, said she did not visit any of Theranos’s testing centers in Walgreens stores, call any Walgreens executives or hire any outside experts in science, regulations or legal matters to verify the start-up’s claims. In 2014, the DeVos family invested $100 million into the company.

    The humiliating details of bad investments like Theranos are rarely displayed so prominently to the public. But they have been laid bare in recent weeks at the trial of Ms. Holmes, 37, who faces a dozen counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud; she has pleaded not guilty. She and Theranos fell from grace — with investor money evaporating and the company shutting down in 2018 — after claims about its blood-testing technology were shown to be false.

    frenzied state of record-breaking fund-raising.

    With so many new investors flocking to start-ups, due diligence is sometimes so minimal that it is used as a punchline, investors said. An overheated market “definitely creates an environment for people to make more inflated claims” and may even tempt them to lie, said Shirish Nadkarni, a longtime entrepreneur, investor and author.

    During its lifetime, Theranos exemplified that dynamic. The company raised $945 million from famous venture capitalists including Tim Draper, Donald Lucas and Dixon Doll; wealthy heirs to the founders of Amway, Walmart and Cox Communications; and powerful tech and media moguls such as Larry Ellison and Rupert Murdoch.

    And as investors have testified at Ms. Holmes’s trial, a central tension has emerged around due diligence. Could these investors have avoided disaster if they had simply done better research on Theranos? Or were they doomed because their research was based on lies?

    added pharmaceutical company logos to validation reports indicating the pharmaceutical firms had endorsed its technology when they hadn’t, according to evidence and testimony. Theranos also claimed in late 2014 that it would bring in $140 million in revenue that year when it had none, according to evidence and testimony. The start-up also faked demos of its blood-testing machines to investors, witnesses have testified.

    Wade Miquelon, the former chief financial officer of Walgreens, to admit that he didn’t know if his company had ever gotten one of Theranos’s devices in its offices for testing before entering into a partnership. The lawyers also got Mr. Mosley to concede he never directly asked Ms. Holmes whether a pharmaceutical company had written the validation report.

    The strategy has sometimes veered into condescension. That was evident last week when Lance Wade, a lawyer for Ms. Holmes, asked Ms. Peterson, an investment professional, if she was familiar with the concept of due diligence.

    “You understand that’s a typical thing to do in investing?” he said.

    The investors have pushed back, explaining that they were acting on false information supplied by Ms. Holmes.

    “You’re trying to measure our sophistication as an investor when we weren’t given complete information,” Ms. Peterson said. Mr. Wade asked the judge to strike the comment from the record.

    Still, testimony from pharmaceutical company executives who interacted with Theranos showed it was possible to see through at least some of Ms. Holmes’s grandiose claims.

    Constance Cullen, a former director at Schering Plough, said this week that she was responsible for evaluating Theranos’s technology in 2009. She said she came away “dissatisfied” with Ms. Holmes’s answers to her technical questions, calling them “cagey” and indirect. She said she stopped responding to emails from Ms. Holmes.

    Shane Weber, a director at Pfizer, looked into Theranos in 2008 and concluded that the company’s responses to his technical questions were “oblique, deflective or evasive,” according to a memo used as evidence. He recommended Pfizer cease working with Theranos.

    But investors were less probing, especially when Ms. Holmes appealed to their egos. Her persona as a visionary, bolstered by magazine cover stories and personal eccentricities, created a sense that backing Theranos was an exclusive and elite opportunity.

    In testimony and evidence, Ms. Holmes was shown to have guarded information about the business, calling it a trade secret. She told investors she sought out wealthy families who would not want to see a return on their investment anytime soon, making those that she picked feel special with formal invitations. And she controlled the company tightly with “supervoting” shares worth 100 times the power of other shares.

    “She has a firm grasp on the company, let there be no mistake,” Christopher Lucas, a Theranos investor, said on a call with other investors that was recorded and played in court. “She would have the right to cast out investors.”

    Mr. Lucas’s firm, Black Diamond Ventures, invested around $7 million into Theranos, despite not getting access to its financial information or examining all of its corporate records. This was unusual, Mr. Lucas testified on Thursday, but Ms. Holmes told him the information was sensitive because a leak could “give competitors a chance to crush the company.”

    That secrecy extended to due diligence. Ms. Peterson testified that she was scared Ms. Holmes would cut her firm out of the deal if they dug deeper into the details of Theranos’s business.

    “We were very careful not to circumvent things and upset Elizabeth,” she said. “If we did too much, we wouldn’t be invited back to invest.”

    Mr. Nadkarni, the longtime investor, said such behavior sounded familiar. He said he had observed a loosening of diligence in deals he’s been involved with over the last year.

    It hasn’t led to many problems while times were good, he said, but “if something happens to the economy, then everyone is going to be toast.”

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