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Metaverse 101 – Exploring the Concepts and the Potential

Facebook made big headlines recently when it announced the company would be changing its name. Now called Meta, the social media giant is planning to set its sights on an even grander landscape for the future. This landscape has been labelled the metaverse, which on a superficial level simply represents virtual worlds beyond reality. In this regard, gamers have been exploring such environments for years. But a deeper look at its future reveals some interesting concepts that are worth examining further. There’s a reason that Facebook, now Meta, has chosen to move in this direction. Thus, assessing the potential of a metaverse for us all is certainly worthwhile.

When it comes to virtual worlds, many companies are already exploring products related to this market. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) interfaces and accessories are rather common. Naturally, these will play a significant role as the metaverse unfolds. But exactly how this will evolve and how rapidly are subjects up for debate. On the one hand, we may have opportunities to explore multiple metaverses at once. But there’s also the chance a single all-encompassing metaverse might emerge, similar to the world wide web. This and other considerations are why it’s important to have some basic understanding of what the future may hold.

“A metaverse is a more immersive and embodied internet [where] you’re gonna be able to do almost anything you can imagine—get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create—as well as entirely new categories that don’t really fit how we think about computers or phones today.” – Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta

Origins and Definition of the Term

The original use of the term metaverse was in 1992 in Neal Stephenson’s book, Snow Crash. In this cyber-pink novel, it represented an imaginary place accessible by fiberoptic networks and a pair of VR goggles. In essence, it represented a constellation of virtual worlds that existed beyond reality. Thus, at a very basic level, metaverse is simply a virtual environment where people interact via the Internet. But it’s more than a chat room or social media site. Metaverses are much more immersive and multisensory in nature. And therefore, the evolution of these virtual worlds has been dependent on the development of various VR and AR systems.

Understanding this, there are several aspects of a metaverse that might be considered. Various features are commonly present, but these virtual worlds are still in the process of being defined. Not every one of these virtual worlds have all the characteristics that might portray what future metaverses may reflect. But for now, the following components are things that many associated with the term today.

  • Immersive User-Represented Avatars – There has been some significant advances in VR and AR technologies as of late. Some of these advances now allow individuals experience virtual worlds as immersive avatars. This includes having virtual eyesight through an avatar’s eyes and hand controllers that allow gestures. In addition, this immersion is 3-dimensional, aided by the use of VR and AR glasses. Among common features of a metaverse, this is one of the most consistent.
  • Capacity to Own and Create Virtual Property – One of the important features many believe are essential to a metaverse is its capacity to provide property ownership. Games like World of Warcraft offer these features in their virtual worlds as avatars can acquire various gear. Likewise, some games also allow users to create property that they then own. Minecraft is a perfect example of this characteristic. Without question, this is a cool feature of a metaverse. But like the real world, the ability to own and create virtual property demands oversight and even requires copyright considerations.
  • Virtual Exchange Systems – Lastly, a metaverse can also provide a marketplace and platform for the exchange of property. This is likely a big reason Meta is interested in advancing virtual worlds into the future. Such a marketplace could be huge in terms of transactions and profits. Just consider the increase in digital currency and non-fungible tokens lately. Metaverses offer an expansive and perhaps unlimited opportunity to explore these transactions in a major way.

 

“These are virtual worlds that, when you’re inside of them, feels like you’re inside a kind of a cool video game. But it’s so much more than a game because it’s like the internet, where you’re socially connected. So, you know, you can do just about anything in the metaverse.” – Jason Moore, Assistant Profession in Television and Virtual Reality, Brooklyn College

Metaverses or a Metaverse?

In the book Ready Player One, or in the movie, the fiction suspense story portrayed a single metaverse. This shared virtual universe was accessible to all, and it provided platforms for everything from education to finance. This perspective assumes that the future might treat a metaverse like the world wide web. Within that virtual universe, several virtual worlds might exist. But some overarching rules would govern it all, and everyone could participate within that environment. In contrast, others believe the level of coordination to attain a single metaverse is not likely. From their perspective, it’s much more probable that multiple metaverses will exist. Much like gaming sites today.

This debate is one worth having, and certainly one that Meta has contemplated. Major players first to the table within the scope of a single metaverse have much to gain. In fact, this might even allow unfair advantages for decades to come in terms of virtual and digital commerce. In addition, many are concerned about the addictive nature these virtual worlds may have, increasing luring people away from reality. And with any cyberspace environment, concerns about privacy and security are additional worries. Of course, all of these developments have yet to happen, and predictions range from one extreme to the other. But if companies like Facebook/Meta are targeting the virtual, it’s time to pay attention.

 

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The Next Stage of Battle – The Anti-COVID Pills Are Here

The innovations and scientific breakthroughs pertaining to battling the pandemic have been incredible. Numerous vaccines were developed in record time, and many involved new approaches to combatting viral infections. (Read about the race to create the coronavirus vaccines in this Bold story.) Likewise, complicated therapies like monoclonal antibodies were streamlined, allowing thousands to gain access to these important interventions. Despite these advances, many remain threatened by the COVID-19 virus, particularly older individuals and those with chronic illnesses. This is why recent reports concerning anti-COVID pills are attracting a great deal of excitement. The advantages that oral COVID medications could offer could be a game-changer in finally gaining control over the pandemic.

In recent weeks, two major pharmaceutical companies have announced favorable trial results involving oral COVID medications. Both Merck and Pfizer have their own types of anti-COVID pills that will likely be hitting the market soon. Given that these COVID treatment pills can be dispensed at pharmacies and taken at home, they offer much better accessibility to treatment. Plus, they can be taken after symptoms develop to reduce severity and complications. Certainly, vaccinations remain the best strategy at combatting the coronavirus to date. But having oral COVID medications as part of the arsenal in the pandemic fight represents an important turning point. Not only might this be the next stage of the battle, but it might finally mean the end of the pandemic is near.

“[Our anti-COVID pill] is a real game-changer in the global efforts to halt the devastation of this pandemic. These data suggest that our oral antiviral candidate, if approved or authorized by regulatory authorities, has the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections, and eliminate up to nine out of ten hospitalizations.” – Albert Bourla, CEO and Chairman, Pfizer

Anti-COVID Pills Show Impressive Results

In some ways, the search for oral COVID medications only started after the pandemic struck. The coronavirus served as a catalyst for change in many industries, and the pharmaceutical sector was certainly included. But the search for oral drugs to combat viruses is not necessarily new. In fact, Pfizer’s work in this area dates back 19 years during the SARS epidemic. This was further fueled by research to find more effective HIV therapies as well. Thus, the most recent discoveries involving anti-COVID pills simply required a shift in existing research protocols.

Understanding this, both Merck and Pfizer have recently announced impressive findings concerning oral COVID medications. Merck’s drug is named molnupiravir, and the company reports its use reduces the chance of hospitalization by 50%. Thus far, the medication has only been tested in high-risk patients who developed COVID symptoms. This included elderly, obese, and diabetic patients, and all began treatment within 5 days of symptom onset. Based on early results of the study, Merck halted further investigations and pursued regulatory approval for use. So far, Britain has already approved Merck’s pill and is moving forward with its use.

A bunch of anti-COVID pills just hanging out
Anti-COVID pills are the latest–and hopefully not the last–breakthrough in combating the virus.

In regards to Pfizer, its research into anti-COVID pills is even more promising. After studying 1,200 high-risk patients with COVID symptoms, their formulation, paxlovid, reduced hospitalization by 89%. For these individuals who took it within 3 days of symptom onset, the course of the illness was much milder. Pfizer, like Merck, also stopped their study early because of the impressive results seen. It is now also seeking regulatory approval in numerous countries throughout the world as well.

“Once we get through this delta wave of infection over the course of the next two months, I think that this therapeutic and the other innovations that we’ve seen coming to market really mark the end of the pandemic in the United States.” – Scott Gottlieb, Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner

Practical Issues with Anti-COVID Pills

In terms of administration, both oral COVID medications are quite similar. Notably, both work by slowing down the replication of the virus. This allows fewer symptoms and a longer period of time for the body to fight off the infection. For Pfizer, 30 pills of paxlovid are administered over a 5-day period. Its administration, however, also includes 10 pills of the HIV drug, ritonavir. This medication is added because it prolonged the action of paxlovid according to researchers. For Merck, 40 pills of molnupiravir are taken also over a 5-day period, and it doesn’t include adjunctive medications. And for both anti-COVID pills, the cost of a course of treatment is around $700. While this certainly isn’t cheap, it is much less expensive when compared to monoclonal antibody therapies. (Dive deeper into this post-COVID infection treatment in this Bold story!)

As with any new medication, there is always concerns about side effects and safety. For both of these new oral COVID medications, however, safety profiles to date look favorable. Both Merck and Pfizer reported that patients receiving their anti-COVID pills had fewer complaints when compared to those taking placebo. This suggests that the positive effect on COVID symptoms as well as any side effects were less than COVID symptoms by themselves. Some critics, however, are concerned with Merck’s medication because it works by inserting genetic errors into the coronavirus itself. They are worried such a mechanism of action might lead to unwanted viral mutations. Pfizer’s medication doesn’t involve genetic alterations, and therefore, it has not received the same criticism.

Coming to a Pharmacy Near You

As noted, both Merck and Pfizer are actively seeking regulatory approval in numerous countries for their oral COVID medications. The U.S. already ordered 1.7 million doses of molnupiravir and is negotiating an order for the same amount of paxlovid. For low-income nations, these companies are also working with the UN’s nonprofit, Medicine Patent Pool. This will allow other countries to manufacture the anti-COVID pills and receive medication at reduced costs. In terms of production, Pfizer expects to have 180,000 courses available for use by year’s end. They then anticipated 21 millions courses by mid-2022. Thus, it’s clear that these oral COVID medications will soon be available for routine use. This is great news for everyone and offers great hope that the end of the pandemic may well be in sight.

 

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Move Over California – New States Offer Great Opportunities for Startups

It looks like 2021 will have been a banner year for startups. Not only does the post-pandemic climate favor entrepreneurship, but startup funding is skyrocketing. In fact, some states are seeing fourfold increases in early seed funding of new companies compared to 2020. And these trends look to be continuing as we head into the fourth quarter. But not every state is enjoying such a situation as some are attracting new companies at a higher pace. For a number of reasons, these are emerging as the best states for startups in the years to come.

(Read what Bold Business predicted for business in the post-pandemic world in this story!)

Over the past few decades, many startups tended to migrate to a few select states. California has been a popular site for tech companies for many years, and New York also often has its fair share. The reason for this in part relates to access to startup funding in these areas. Tech startups had the best chance of securing funding if located near Silicon valley. Likewise, other companies explored major hubs where venture capitalists tended to live. But this is no longer the case, especially as costs of operation have increased. Today, the best states for startups are those that not only offer funding resources but many other amenities as well.

“The pace of activity across all facets of the U.S. [venture capital] ecosystem in 2021 has been astounding, with many annual records already shattered before the fourth quarter even started.” – John Gabbert, Founder and CEO of PitchBook

Florida as a Case Study 

Since mid-way through the pandemic, the state of Florida has seen tremendous growth. In 2021 to date, startup funding in Florida has exceeded $1.3 billion. By comparison, the total funding in 2020 as $277 million. Some of this growth had to do with less restrictive policies to individuals and businesses alike during COVID. But this is not what is continuing to sustain Florida’s growth potential. Instead, many cities in Florida are enjoying expansion because of investments made specifically in startup funding programs. These programs have originated from several sources, including municipalities, universities, and even local investors. This is why many consider Florida one of the best states for startups today.

 

Some pretty green water in the middle of a city
A key driver in determining fertile ground for startups? Access to startup funding, of course.

Miami and Tampa are among several cities in Florida seeing such a boom in company startups. Miami is now a hotspot for new tech companies as a result of some well-designed startup funding programs. This includes the University of Miami’s Launch Pad startup accelerator. It also includes a branch of 500 Startups in the area. Tampa is also becoming a hub for new companies attracting diversified sectors. This includes fintech, healthcare, and other areas of interest. Of course, it helps that Florida has the 4th largest economy and has no personal state income taxes. This combined with a favorable climate and low cost of living are other reasons it’s one of the best states for startups.

“I see a massive brain drain happening in California which is great news for the rest of us. Texas, Florida, and the mountain states will benefit now that Zoom has shown us what is possible using their technology.” – William Bowman, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Catholic University of America

Other States Seeing an Increase in Startups

While Florida’s growth in both startups and startup funding has been impressive, they are not alone. There are several other emerging states that are consider among the best states for startups today as well. The following a few of the ones that offer an appealing environment for a variety of new companies. From small to large, new companies in several industries would suggest these too are among the best states for startups.

  • Texas – With a state economy of $1.8 trillion, Texas has the second largest economy in the nation. In addition, it has a cost of doing business that is more than 11 percent below the national average. This, combined with the fact that it has no state or personal income taxes, makes it among the best states for startups. And it also offers a variety of resources for startup funding. Places like Austin are well known for supporting small business startups. Likewise, the Texas Enterprise Fund lends grant support for larger companies with greater capital and job creation.
  • North Dakota – Among the best states for startups, North Dakota has recently been recognized for its high-growth potential for small businesses. It too has extremely low state personal and corporate state taxes, less than 3 percent overall. Fargo is rapidly becoming one of the fastest growing tech hubs in “Silicon Prairie.” And the state has incubators and funding resources that include the Innovate ND Program. These features and a very low cost of living make it one of the best states for startups currently.
  • Utah – According to some reviews, Utah is believed to have the second highest growth potential for business of all states. One reason for this is that the state offers easy access to bank financing and startup funding. This naturally places it on the list of best states for startups. The Utah Microloan Fund provides qualified small businesses with up to $50,000 in grants. The state also has a healthy labor supply and a low cost of business. Salt Lake City and the surrounding regions have similarly attracted many tech firms, giving it the name Silicon Slopes.
  • North Carolina – Compared to the national average, North Carolina boasts business operation costs that are 10 percent lower. The state also has vast talent pool given the high number of universities and colleges in the area. Charlotte and Raleigh specifically are key hotspots for new companies. In fact, Charlotte has earned the name of the “startup capital of the South.” Several startup funding resources similarly exist in the state, particularly for companies in fintech or with university affiliations. Thus, North Carolina is also now considered among the best states for startups as well.

Core Attractions for Startups

By examining the best states for startups above, it is evident that all share common features. These states offer low costs of living and of business operations. Most also have little to no state taxes when it comes to corporate or personal taxes. Each also has significant growth potential. But most importantly, all have invested heavily in programs that support aggressive startup funding, acceleration, and incubation. This appears to be the magic recipe for states wanting to attract startups today.

 

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