Firms aim to help millions of Americans with their retirement planning needs, from saving to spending

NEW YORK and REDMOND, Wash. Dec. 13, 2018 BlackRock Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are reimagining America’s path to achieving greater financial security in retirement. Bringing together BlackRock’s investment capabilities and Microsoft’s technology strength, the two companies are jointly exploring next-generation solutions to help more people make better decisions as they work toward their financial goals in retirement.
The traditional pension system that generations of workers depended on for lifetime income has been upended, leaving millions of people with the responsibility to plan for and fund their own retirement. Today, many people are struggling with the difficult tasks of saving, investing and spending their own retirement assets. This shift in responsibility, from corporations to individuals, combined with ever-increasing life spans, has created a need to reimagine our approach to securing a sound financial future in retirement — one that is powered by innovative investment solutions and the most advanced, trusted and cutting-edge technologies.
Technology is already revolutionizing entire industries and the way people interact with everything from health care to education and transportation. And yet, retirement solutions of today have been slow to keep pace. Taking advantage of Microsoft’s cutting-edge technologies and BlackRock’s innovative investment products, the companies aim to make it easier for people to save for retirement and achieve the lifetime income they need through their employers’ workplace savings plan.
The companies are exploring the development of a new platform that helps people develop better saving and investing habits through more regular engagement with their retirement assets. This engagement will give people a clearer picture of how their contributions today will translate to their long-term retirement income. BlackRock intends to offer the platform in connection with next-generation investment products that it will design and manage. The new products from BlackRock will seek to provide a lifetime of income in retirement and would be made available to U.S. workers through their employers’ workplace savings plan.
“Today millions of Americans are struggling to achieve their financial goals for retirement,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. “Together with BlackRock we will apply the power of the cloud and AI to introduce new solutions that address this important challenge and reimagine retirement planning.”
“Retirement systems worldwide are under stress, and providing financial security to retirees has become one of the most defining societal challenges of our time,” said Laurence D. Fink, chairman and CEO of BlackRock. “BlackRock has a tremendous responsibility to help solve this challenge, and we recognize the need to act now. Working with Microsoft will enable us to build a powerful solution for millions of hardworking Americans.”
About BlackRock
BlackRock helps investors build better financial futures. As a fiduciary to our clients, we provide the solutions they need when planning for their most important goals. As of September 30, 2018, the firm managed approximately $6.44 trillion in assets on behalf of investors worldwide. For additional information on BlackRock, please visit
About Microsoft
Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.
[Culver City, CA – December 11, 2018] – Issa Rae’s production company, ColorCreative, has signed a multi-picture production deal with Columbia Pictures, and will source and incubate emerging, diverse screenwriters. Selected participants, to be announced in the Spring of 2019, will work with Rae and the studio to develop and write features based on their original ideas
"Issa is a force of nature, and a magnet for talented people," said Sanford Panitch, President of Columbia Pictures. "We couldn’t be more excited to join her in her mission to pave the way for fresh and authentic voices."
"Working with Bryan Smiley and Columbia Pictures to further the mission ColorCreative set out to achieve four years ago in creating access for underrepresented writers, has been a dream come true," said Issa Rae. "All of the projects we are working on are fresh and promising and we can't wait to continue the work. We hope to set a precedent and inspire the industry at large to invest in undiscovered talent, original IP, and fresh stories and perspectives."
Bryan Smiley, vice president, production, Columbia Pictures shepherded the deal and will oversee production and development with ColorCreative for the motion picture group. Sara Rastogi, recently appointed as Vice President of Production for ColorCreative drives the company’s partnership slate and will help oversee the deal with Columbia Pictures along with Deniese Davis, COO of ColorCreative
"Sara's commitment to discovering and elevating budding voices along with her out-of-the-box thinking has made her a perfect and insightful addition to our team," said Rae.
About ColorCreative
ColorCreative was founded to raise awareness for writers from diverse backgrounds, and to provide a springboard for their careers by producing and selling their work to digital, network and cable platforms. Since 2015, ColorCreative has partnered with Adaptive Studios, Sky Vision & Talos Films, BET, Anonymous Content, and HBO to identify new voices and fast track their scripts into development and/or production.
About Sony Pictures Entertainment:
Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) is a subsidiary of Sony Entertainment Inc., which is a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Sony Corporation. SPE's global operations encompass motion picture production, acquisition, and distribution; television production, acquisition, and distribution; television networks; digital content creation and distribution; operation of studio facilities; and development of new entertainment products, services and technologies. SPE’s Motion Picture Group production organizations include Columbia Pictures, Screen Gems, TriStar Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation, Stage 6 Films, AFFIRM Films, and Sony Pictures Classics. For additional information, visit
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M12, EQT Ventures and SVB Financial Group present the winners of their global startup competition for female founders

SAN FRANCISCO — Dec. 11, 2018 — On Tuesday, Microsoft Corp. venture fund M12, in partnership with EQT Ventures and SVB Financial Group, announced the two winners of the Female Founders Competition: Acerta and Mental Canvas. The companies and their founders, Greta Cutulenco (CEO and co-founder, Acerta) and Julie Dorsey (founder and chief scientist, Mental Canvas) beat out several hundred applicants to receive $2 million each in venture funding, along with access to technology resources and more to help progress the future of their businesses.
Earlier this year, M12 and its partners kicked off the global event in a bid to not only find and fund innovative female entrepreneurs, but also to spotlight the funding gap that exists and the need for more equitable distribution of capital. Hundreds of startups across North America, Europe and Israel applied, providing a glimpse into the potential opportunity and untapped talent in the market.
“Our goal for this competition was to clear a path to funding for more women entrepreneurs,” said Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of Business Development, Microsoft. “We were thrilled by the response we received and feel confident that we’ll see great returns on our two newest additions to our portfolio, but we also know there’s much more work to do. We plan to continue exploring other ways to close the funding gap using the lessons we learned from this competition: There’s no shortage of women entrepreneurs building for the enterprise, there’s more than one way to source an investment, and networking is essential to women founders’ growth and success.”
In early November, the VC firms narrowed the selection down to 10 finalists. Teams from each startup then pitched their company to a group of judges from M12 and the partner VC firms for one of two chances at the top prize: a total of $2 million in venture funding from M12, EQT Ventures and SVB Financial Group, and access to Microsoft technology. The winning companies include:
Waterloo, Ontario-based Acerta, founded by CEO Greta Cutulenco, provides an AI platform that ensures vehicle systems’ quality and reliability throughout a vehicle’s lifecycle.
New York-based Mental Canvas, founded by chief scientist Julie Dorsey, reimagines sketching for the digital age by augmenting it with spatial strokes, 3-D navigation and free-form animations, all drawn with the ease of pencil and paper.
“At SVB, we have the good fortune to work with some of the most innovative companies around the world,” said Tracy Isacke, head of Corporate Venture at Silicon Valley Bank. “This partnership provided the opportunity to meet some incredible female founders, and we were truly inspired by the depth and breadth of innovation that they are bringing to the enterprise technology market. We are proud to support Acerta and Mental Canvas as they pursue their ambitious business goals.”
“The quality and number of submissions for the competition was incredible, and the EQT Ventures team would like to congratulate both Acerta and Mental Canvas,” said Alastair Mitchell, partner and investment advisor at EQT Ventures. “Our fund is dedicated to backing founders with the ambition, drive and vision to build a global success story, and this competition not only provides a great launchpad for Acerta and Mental Canvas, it highlights the fact that far more needs to be done to close the funding gap between male and female founders. The EQT Ventures team is proud to play a part in bridging that gap.”
Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. With the help of its partners and competitions like this, the company is pushing forward in its efforts to ensure women are afforded an equal opportunity when raising capital.
More on the Female Founders Competition can be found on the Official Microsoft Blog.
About EQT Ventures
EQT Ventures is a European VC fund with commitments of just over €566 million. The fund is based in Luxembourg and has investment advisors stationed in Stockholm, Amsterdam, London, San Francisco and Berlin. Fueled by some of Europe’s most experienced company builders, EQT Ventures helps the next generation of entrepreneurs with capital and hands-on support. EQT Ventures is part of EQT, a leading investment firm with approximately €50 billion in raised capital across 27 funds. EQT funds have portfolio companies in Europe, Asia and the U.S. with total sales of more than €19 billion and approximately 110,000 employees.
About SVB Financial Group
For 35 years, SVB Financial Group (NASDAQ: SIVB) and its subsidiaries have helped innovative companies and their investors move bold ideas forward, fast. SVB Financial Group’s businesses, including Silicon Valley Bank, offer commercial and private banking, asset management, private wealth management, brokerage and investment services and funds management services to companies in the technology, life science and healthcare, private equity and venture capital and premium wine industries. Headquartered in Santa Clara, California, SVB Financial Group operates in centers of innovation around the world. Learn more at
About M12
As the corporate venture arm for Microsoft, M12 (formerly Microsoft Ventures) invests in enterprise software companies in the Series A through C funding stage with a focus on big data and analytics, business SaaS, cloud infrastructure, machine learning and artificial intelligence, productivity, and security. As part of its value-add to portfolio companies, M12 offers unique access to strategic go-to-market resources and relationships globally. The company has offices in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, London and Tel Aviv. Visit to learn more.

New grant offers awards of more than $1.2 million to advance uses of artificial intelligence in scientific exploration and research on critical environmental challenges

WASHINGTON — Dec. 11, 2018 — Eleven changemakers have been selected to receive Microsoft and National Geographic AI for Earth Innovation Grants to apply artificial intelligence (AI) to help understand and protect the planet. Each AI for Earth Innovation Grant recipient will be awarded between $45,000 and $200,000 to support their innovative projects.

National Geographic logo

“The National Geographic Society is committed to achieving a planet in balance, and in joining forces with Microsoft on the AI for Earth Innovation Grant program, we are providing incredible potential to drive fundamental change through our unique combination of expertise in conservation, computer science, capacity building and public engagement,” said Jonathan Baillie, executive vice president and chief scientist of the Society. “We look forward to seeing these talented individuals create solutions to some of the most challenging environmental issues of the 21st century using the most advanced technologies available today.”
Eleven projects were selected from an impressive pool of more than 200 applicants. The high caliber of the applications prompted Microsoft and National Geographic to increase the funding for the 11 chosen projects from the initially planned $1 million to more than $1.28 million. This furthers the organizations’ commitment to investing in novel projects that use AI to help monitor, model and ultimately manage Earth’s natural systems for a more sustainable future.
“Human ingenuity, especially when paired with the speed, power and scale that AI brings, is our best bet for crafting a better future for our planet and everyone on it,” said Lucas Joppa, chief environmental officer at Microsoft Corp. “The caliber of the applications we received was outstanding and demonstrates the demand we’ve seen for these resources since we first launched AI for Earth. We’re looking forward to continuing our work with the National Geographic Society to support these new grantees in their work to explore, discover and improve the planet.”
The grant recipients and their project members will have the funds, computing power and technical support to advance exploration and discover new environmental solutions in the following core areas: sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, climate change and water. The diverse group hails from around the globe, originating from six countries and working in eight regions across five continents.
The 11 AI for Earth Innovation Grant recipients were announced at an event on Tuesday at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C.:
  • Ketty Adoch: Geographical information systems specialist from Uganda. Her AI for Earth Innovation Grant project will detect, quantify and monitor land cover change in the area surrounding Lake Albert and Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda’s largest and oldest national park.
  • Torsten Bondo: Business development manager and senior remote sensing engineer at DHI GRAS in Denmark. With the AI for Earth Innovation Grant, his team aims to use machine learning and satellites to support irrigation development and improve crop water efficiency in Uganda together with the Ugandan geo-information company Geo Gecko. The goal is to contribute to food security, poverty alleviation and economic growth.
  • Kelly Caylor: Director of the Earth Research Institute and professor of ecohydrology in the Department of Geography and in the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His team will use the AI for Earth Innovation Grant to help produce an online web map and geospatial analysis tools that will improve estimates of agricultural land use change and groundwater use.
  • Joseph Cook: Polar scientist from the United Kingdom. With his AI for Earth Innovation Grant, he aims to develop new tools that use modern techniques of machine learning and drone and satellite technology to explore the changing cryosphere.
  • Gretchen Daily: Co-founder and faculty director of the Natural Capital Project, based at Stanford University in Stanford, California. With this AI for Earth Innovation Grant, her team will develop a way of detecting dams and reservoirs around the world — most of which are hidden today, in digital terms — to quantify their impact and dependence on nature and guide investments in green growth that secure both people and the biosphere.
  • Stephanie Dolrenry: Director of Wildlife Guardians, based in Washington, D.C. Her team will use the AI for Earth Innovation Grant to help support the Lion Identification Network of Collaborators, an AI-assisted collaborative database for lion identification and interorganizational research.
  • Africa Flores: Research scientist at the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and originally from Guatemala. Her AI for Earth Innovation Grant project will focus on developing a prototype of a harmful algal bloom (HAB) early warning system to inform Guatemalan authorities about upcoming HAB events in Lake Atitlan, a landmark of Guatemala’s biodiversity and culture.
  • Solomon Hsiang: Chancellor’s associate professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he founded and directs the Global Policy Laboratory. With this AI for Earth Innovation Grant, his team will use 1.6 million historical aerial photographs to discern the effect of major droughts and climate change on human migration in Africa.
  • Holger Klinck: Director of the Cornell Lab’s Bioacoustics Research Program in Ithaca, New York. His team will use the AI for Earth Innovation Grant to develop a machine-learning algorithm for detecting and classifying the songs of insects in tropical rainforests to monitor species composition and spatial distribution, information that is critical for monitoring ecosystem health.
  • Justin Kitzes: Assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. With this AI for Earth Innovation Grant, he aims to develop the first free, open source models to allow academic researchers as well as agency, nonprofit and citizen scientists to identify bird songs in acoustic field recordings, with the goal of radically increasing global data collection on bird populations.
  • Heather J. Lynch: Quantitative ecologist and associate professor jointly appointed in the Department of Ecology and Evolution and in the Institute for Advanced Computational Science at Stony Brook University in New York. Her AI for Earth Innovation Grant project will couple AI with predictive-population modeling for real-time tracking of Antarctic penguin populations using satellite imagery.
The AI for Earth Innovation Grant program will provide award recipients with financial support, access to Microsoft Azure and AI tools, inclusion in the National Geographic Explorer community, and affiliation with National Geographic Labs, an initiative launched by National Geographic to accelerate transformative change and exponential solutions to the world’s biggest challenges by harnessing data, technology and innovation. The grants will support the creation and deployment of open source trained models and algorithms so they are available to other environmental researchers and innovators, and thereby have the potential to provide exponential global impact. The AI for Earth Innovation Grant program builds upon Microsoft’s AI for Earth program, which counts as grantees nearly 200 individuals and organizations on all seven continents, and the National Geographic Society’s 130-year history of grantmaking, supporting more than 13,000 grant projects along the way.
About National Geographic Society
The National Geographic Society is an impact-driven global nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Since 1888, National Geographic has been pushing the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas to increase understanding of our world and generate solutions for a healthy, more sustainable future for generations to come. Our ultimate vision: a planet in balance. To learn more about the Society and its programs, visit
About Microsoft
Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

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