Sources say Jody Allen is reshaping the leadership team for the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation in the wake of last October’s death of her brother, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. (Allen Institute / Kevin Cruff Photos) Five months after the death of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the billionaire’s sister is taking steps to put her own stamp on a family foundation thought to hold at least $750 million in assets. Sources tell GeekWire that Jody Allen, co-founder of the , is bringing fresh blood to the charitable organization. Among the names being mentioned as potential additions to the foundation’s board or to an advisory panel are former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Nancy Peretsman, managing director of the New York investment bank Allen & Co. Three sources discussed the transition on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. No principals in the process — ranging from representatives of the foundation and the Allen family’s holding company, Vulcan Inc., to representatives of Ballmer and Peretsman — were willing to provide comment. Changes in emphasis have already come to light in the form of , and organizational shifts at the and But based on the reports from sources, the transition to the post-Paul era is likely to take months longer, if not years. Most aspects of Paul Allen’s legacy are staying constant: For example, the research institutes that Paul Allen created — focusing on subjects ranging from neuroscience to cell science to artificial intelligence — are said to be on solid footing for years to come. That’s largely due to arrangements that Allen made before his . In the past, the family foundation was exclusively directed by Paul and Jody Allen and people who worked for them. show the two Allens as the foundation’s sole directors. The organization’s officers and managers were all Vulcan executives, with the exception of assistant secretary Allen Israel, who was Paul Allen’s personal lawyer. The same forms list the foundation’s net assets as $756 million, with $43.4 million paid out for charitable purposes during 2016. The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation supports a wide range of charitable programs — including efforts to monitor climate change’s effects on glaciers, on the world’s oceans and on coral reefs. It backed the , which , and is continuing to focus on employing high-tech tools for wildlife conservation. Combating homelessness, promoting arts and culture, and encouraging health innovations are also part of the foundation’s portfolio. Last year, the foundation to get a homeless resource center off the ground in Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood. It has a rich history of . And just this week, it kicked off a challenge program aimed at . Widening a family foundation’s circle of advisers is a classic phase of organizational evolution, particularly after a major transition like the death of a founder, said Benjamin White, an Atlanta-based estate attorney who specializes in family-based philanthropy but isn’t familiar with the Allen family’s detailed circumstances. “If you want the foundation to continue for a very long time, you’ve got to get outsiders involved,” White told GeekWire. The shift suggests that the foundation could plot a future course distinct from that of Vulcan Inc.’s for-profit ventures. Ballmer and Peretsman may not have a direct business relationship with Vulcan Inc., but they’re not total outsiders, either. Peretsman worked with Paul Allen on a series of investment ventures going back more than two decades, including investments in and . She was named in Paul Allen’s as an alternate personal representative in case Jody Allen couldn’t take on that role. Ballmer, meanwhile, got to know Paul Allen during their time together at Microsoft. Allen in his 2011 autobiography “Idea Man,” but in the years that followed, the two billionaires became close friends. When news of Paul Allen’s death broke last October, Ballmer was one of the . “Paul was a truly wonderful, bright and inspiring person — and a great friend,” he wrote. “I will miss him.” In his post-Microsoft career, Ballmer built up years of expertise running his own family charity, the , and getting involved in civic projects such as . (Ballmer and USAFacts are partnering with GeekWire on a podcast and video series called ) He even credits Paul Allen, who bought the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers, with getting him involved in the sports world through his . “He used to yell at me, ‘Steve, you got to do it, it will fire you up,’ ” . “That too changed my life for the better.” If Ballmer takes on a role with the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, he’ll be in a position to return his friend’s favor.
Some interesting M&A is afoot in the world of hardware and software that’s aiming to improve the quality of audio and video communications over digital networks. — the Danish company that broke new ground in mobile when it inked deals first with and then to stream audio from their phones directly to smart, connected hearing aids — is expanding from audio to video, and from Europe to Silicon Valley. Today, the company announced that it would acquire Altia Systems, a startup out of Cupertino that makes a “surround” videoconferencing device and software called the PanaCast (we reviewed it ) designed to replicate the panoramic, immersive experience of vision that we have as humans. GN is paying $125 million for the startup. For some context, this price represents a decent return: according to , Altia was last valued at around $78 million with investors including Intel Capital and others. Intel’s investment was one of several strategic partnerships that Altia had inked over the years. (Another was with Zoom to provide a .) The Intel partnership, for one, will continue post-acquisition. “Intel invested in Altia Systems to bring an industry leading immersive, Panoramic-4K camera experience to business video collaboration,” said Dave Flanagan, Vice President of Intel Corporation and Senior Managing Director of Intel Capital, in a statement. “Over the past few years, Altia Systems has collaborated with Intel to use AI and to deliver more intelligent conference rooms and business meetings. This helps customers make better decisions, automate workflows and improve business efficiency. We are excited to work with GN to further scale this technology on a global basis.” We have seen a lot of applications of AI in just about every area of technology, but one of the less talked about, but very interesting, areas has been in how it’s being used to enhance audio in digital network. , as one example, is creating and tracking “audio fingerprints” for security applications, specifically fraud prevention (to authenticate users and to help weed out imposters based not just on the actual voice but on all the other aural cues we may not pick up as humans but can help build a picture of a caller’s location and so on). GN, meanwhile, has been building AI-based algorithms to help those who cannot hear as well, or who simply needs to hear better, be able to listen to calls on digital networks and make out what’s being said. This not only requires technology to optimise the audio quality, but also algorithms that can help tailor that quality to the specific person’s own unique hearing needs. One of the more obvious applications of services like these are for those who are hard of hearing and use hearing aids (which can be awful or impossible to use with mobile phones), another is in call centers, and this appears to be the area where GN is hoping to address with the Altia acquisition. GN already offers two products for call centre workers, Jabra and BlueParrot — headsets and speakerphones with their own proprietary software that it claims makes workers more efficient and productive just by making it easier to understand what callers are saying. Altia will be integrated into that solution to expand it to include videoconferencing around unified communications solutions, creating more natural experiences for those who are not actually in physical rooms together. “Combining GN Audio’s sound expertise, partner eco-system and global channel access with the video technology from Altia Systems, we will take the experience of conference calls to a completely new level,” said René Svendsen-Tune, President and CEO of GN Audio, in a statement. What’s notable is that GN is a vertically-integrated company, building not just hardware but software to run on it. The AI engine underpinning some of its software development will be getting a vast new trove of data fed into it now by way of the PanaCast solution: not jut in terms of video, but the large amount of audio that will naturally come along with it. “Combining PanaCast’s immersive, intelligent video with GN Audio’s intelligent audio solutions will enable us to deliver a whole new class of collaboration products for our customers,” said Aurangzeb Khan, President and CEO of Altia Systems, in a statement. “PanaCast’s solutions enable companies to improve meeting participants’ experience, automate workflows, and enhance business efficiency and real estate utilization with data lakes of valid information.” Given GN’s work with Android and iOS devices, it will be interesting to see how and if these video solutions make their way to those platforms as well, either by way of solutions that work on their phones or perhaps more native integrations down the line. Regardless of how that develops, what’s clear is that there remains a market not just for basic tools to get work done, but technology to improve the quality of those tools, and that’s where GN hopes it will resonate with this deal.