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Virtually Human Studio

Virtually Human Studio (VHS), a platform used to virtually race horses using NFTs, has raised a $20 million Series A round from The Chernin Group, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz and Red Beard Ventures.

Why it matters: The company's virtual horse racing platform, called "ZED RUN," has created a new model for horse racing that enables participants to not only bet on their horses 24/7, but also own the horses as NFTs (non-fungible tokens), or put more simply — digital assets.

  • “What the team at Virtually Human Studio is building fundamentally alters what it means to be a fan," said Jacob Smilovitz, vice president at TCG, in a statement. "Fans are now empowered to come down from the bleachers, become owners themselves and play an active role in determining the outcome of the game.”

How it works: The platform, which runs on blockchain technology, allows horse racing fans to engage more deeply in the horse-racing process, from breeding their own virtual horses to selling or betting on them.

  • The horses themselves are considered “breathable" NFTs, which carry a set of attributes that allow them to change over time.
  • The attributes include fatigue and race track preference, as well as genetic profiles like bloodline and breed that help determine how well the virtual horses race and breed.
  • Real money is spent with virtual racing. Like regular NFTs, there’s a limited supply of ZED RUN Genesis racehorses ranging from $130 to $45,000. Horses have traded for over $125,000 on the secondary market. Whole stables can sell for over $250,000.
  • ZED RUN itself doesn't take bets but users can make money by breeding and racing their own horses. VHS takes a fee from breeding and race revenue.

Details: VHS is incorporated in Australia, but has 50 employees that work remotely around the globe. The company was founded by Chris Laurent and Rob Salha in 2019. ZED RUN is VHS' first big platform product. To date, the company has more than 125,000 connected users with 14,000+ unique stable owners.

The big picture: ZED RUN shows ways blockchain can take industries to new heights. The tech not only allows consumers to participate in the horse racing experience 24/7, but they are also able to participate in events themselves as horse owners and breeders.

  • Blockchain has been used to revolutionize many other markets, such as cryptocurrency, and it's just now starting to be used to change the entertainment, sports and gaming industries.

Bottom line: "The market opportunity here is huge," says VHS co-founder Rob Salha.

  • It "moves horse racing from a sport dictated by physical limitations to one unbound and virtual," he added.
  • "This means more races, more owners, more spectators, more upside to all that want to be involved. It makes horse racing a 24/7 sport."
  • "And we think there’s an opportunity to bring this same concept to many areas of sports and entertainment far beyond horse racing."

Go deeper

Manhattan, Westchester prosecutors request evidence from Cuomo investigation

Gov. Cuomo during a press conference in New York City on Aug. 2. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The district attorneys for Manhattan and Westchester County on Wednesday requested evidence related to New York Attorney General Letitia James' investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), according to a letter obtained by NBC News.

Why it matters: The district attorneys are investigating if alleged conduct highlighted in an independent report published by James' office that occurred in their jurisdictions was criminal in nature.

Scoop: Buzzy media startup Puck launches in beta

Puck.news

Puck, a splashy new digital media company, is coming out of stealth mode, Axios has learned. The company debuted its landing page, puck.news, on Wednesday, and will officially launch its website in September.

Why it matters: The company has been quietly building a roster of top talent, but hadn't confirmed its branding or exact business plans up until now.

NOAA's updated hurricane outlook calls for even more storms in 2021

Hurricane Dorian seen on Sept. 2, 2019. Photo: NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday updated its 2021 Atlantic hurricane seasonal forecast, slightly increasing expectations for the number of named storms and powerful hurricanes.

Why it matters: With the U.S. already reeling from extreme heat and wildfires, disaster response agencies are overstretched. A particularly destructive and active hurricane season could overwhelm some of its response capacity.