Backstage Capital Opens Fund to Everyday Investors

Backstage Capital, the Los Angeles venture firm founded in 2015 by Arlan Hamilton to focus on underrepresented founders, flung itself open to mom-and-pop investors and they quickly smashed down the doors. The firm launched a crowdfunding page Monday with the goal of bringing in slightly over a million dollars by the end of April, with investments ranging from $100 to $50,000.

By Monday evening, it had already raised more than $700,000 from more than 1,000 funders eager to invest alongside the likes of Sequoia Capital and Initialized in Backstage's long roster of consumer-focused startups.


The campaign comes as corners of investing that once were restricted to wealthy individuals have opened up to the masses. Before 2016, one had to make more than $200,000 per year or have investable assets of $1 million or more to invest in a private company. The SEC further loosened the rules last year, increasing the cap on what companies can raise annually from $1.07 million to $5 million.

Crowdfunding campaigns have been an increasingly common route for startups to raise venture funding, which has coincided with the Robinhood trading boom that fueled the recent GameStop frenzy.

But individuals investing in a venture firm – normally the province of family offices and pension funds – is something else entirely.

While Backstage's crowdfunding page is heavy on generalities about the firm's mission, it does not include any specifics on Backstage's financial performance, which like other venture firms is a closely guarded secret. Harlan did not respond to a request seeking comment.

"We would like to give everyday investors who share our values the opportunity to be a part of the Backstage journey and help us deploy more capital to underestimated founders," the firm said on its crowdfunding page.

Backstage has raised more than $7 million in dry powder since 2015 – which does not include Monday's haul – and invested in more than 130 startup companies, led by what it describes as "underestimated" founders.

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Bird Rides is going public. Apple is backing a Latinx-focused venture firm. PayPal is acquiring Happy Returns. Snap Inc. suspends apps after it's sued for death of teenager. Plus Thrilling, GEM, Jellysmack and other local startups notched raises. Here's a look at this week's top L.A. tech and startup stories.

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Bird Rides, the e-scooter company that was once a startup darling but saw ridership plunge during the pandemic, is planning to go public through a so-called blank-check company, dot.LA learned early this week. Then the Santa-Monica company made it official, revealing more than a hundred lawsuits involving "brain injuries, internal injuries, and death."

VamosVentures Doubles Down on Backing Latinx Founders

Companies like Apple and Bank of America were knocking on the door of VamosVentures when it decided it might as well capitalize on the increasing desire of corporate America to show they cared about diversity. The firm just closed a $50 million fund focused on Latinx and other diverse founders.

Appia Bio Comes Out of Stealth Aiming to Offer Faster, Safer Cancer-Fighting Therapies

Cell therapy has taken the oncology world by storm. Appia Bio, a Westwood-based biotech startup that came out of stealth this week hopes to speed up the process of cell therapy with a new type of treatment. The company is armed with $52 million in Series A funding led by venture capital firm 8VC.

PayPal Acquires Another LA Startup

After acquiring Honey, a modern twist on coupons, in 2019, PayPal announced Thursday it has purchased Santa Monica-based Happy Returns. The company allows online shoppers to return items at one of 2,600 physical stores like Paper Source and Cost Plus Market.

Snap Suspends Two Partner Apps, YOLO and LMK 

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Thrilling Rides a Wave of Vintage Interest to Get Mom-and-Pop Thrift Shops Online

Before Poshmark and the RealReal and ThredUp went public, Shilla Kim-Parker had a hard time convincing investors there was a market for buying used clothes online. Those companies flourished in recent years and helped Kim-Parker make the case for her company, Thrilling. This week, she closed an $8.5 million Series A round led by Prelude Venture.

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On this episode of L.A. Venture, Minnie Ingersoll talks to Unlock Venture Partners co-founder Sanjay Reddy about Unlock Fund II, his Southern California focus, and if he could offer any advice for startups trying to find good bankers — and much more.

Unlock doesn't invest in any particular industry, but Sanjay says they do look for startups that are oriented towards "some kind of unique conviction or insight around data."

The firm is split between Los Angeles and Seattle.

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