Our Most-Read LA Startup and Tech Stories of 2020

Eric Zassenhaus
Eric Zassenhaus is dot.LA's managing editor for platforms and audience. He works to put dot.LA stories in front of the broadest audience in the best possible way. Prior to joining dot.LA, he served as an editorial and product lead at Pacific Standard magazine and at NPR affiliate KPCC in Los Angeles. He has also worked as a news producer, editor and art director. Follow him on Twitter for random thoughts on publishing and L.A. culture.
Our Most-Read LA Startup and Tech Stories of 2020

This year was filled with pivots, pauses and restarts for L.A.'s tech and startup world. In our first year of chronicling it (we officially launched January27th), our most-read stories reflect the strangeness of 2020, and go some way in predicting some big questions for 2021. From gaming to biotech, movies to music, and transportation to education, the shifts have been dramatic. Where will we be when the dust settles from this year? As we head into our second year, we'll keep a close eye on the trends that have transformed some of L.A.'s core industries.

Take our survey below and help us as we get started with year two!


#1: Bird's Botched Layoffs

Bird scooters

The early days of the pandemic, as companies scrambled to shore up cash and preserve their business, provided a number of examples of how to handle a crisis. L.A.-based scooter unicorn Bird, sadly, provided the world a lesson in how not to do it, calling over 400 employees into a glitchy virtual chat and summarily dismissing them all in a two-minute, no-question call that left employees feeling baffled, humiliated and betrayed. In a post that went viral, dot.LA spoke with employees and obtained a recording of the call.

#2: Ageism and Women in the Workplace

"When you're older you get discredited and when you're younger you get discredited." Our virtual discussion on how ageism affects women in the workplace struck a nerve with readers. Inclusology founder Cheryl Ingram, PhD and Cue Career founder Heather Wetzler discussed strategies for women to employ at every stage of their careers, and tools that companies can use to combat workplace discrimination.

#3. The Twentysomething Who Built LA's COVID Testing Response

Interest in our profile on Fred Turner, the 25-year-old college dropout who founded of Curative Inc., gathered over the course of the year, as more people became personally familiar with the testing system he helped deploy at Dodger Stadium and throughout the city (and, eventually, the country). "We are a strange company because our goal is to essentially put ourselves out of business," Turner told dot.LA at the time. Sadly, his startup has only grown since we published the story.

#4. The Rise and Collapse of LA's $164M Cannabis Startup

The killing of a well-connected Russian investor and the missteps of the twenty-something U.S. executives he hired to run his $164 million cannabis empire made for one of the most compelling stories we published this year. dot.LA spoke to dozens of former employees, as well as state and national law enforcement, to bring readers this 5-part series on the collapse of the Genius Fund.

#5. The Tech Startups Poised to Reshape How Music is Made

"Music is no longer just music." The pandemic has completely reshaped the music industry, and transformed how music is made, performed and distributed. In a post that was reached far beyond Southern California, we took a look at the new players that are rapidly growing as the traditional model has hit pause.

#6. Where Celebrities Meet the Gig Economy

Cameo CEO Steven Galanis

In 2020, CEO Steven Galanis moved from Chicago to L.A. with a number of his Cameo cohorts. The app has increasingly found itself at the intersection of two mega-trends: the growth of gig work and the rise of the influencer economy. Social media stars have been leveraging their massive audiences and forcing the advertising industry — so often fixated on TV, film and sports celebrities — to take notice. Our profile of Galanis and his company revealed a world of celebrities eager to take hold of their audiences — and monetize them.

#7. The Investors Who Remained Unfazed

When the pandemic brought the economy to a standstill in March, many L.A. entrepreneurs found themselves staring down a frightening future. But investors were still spending. Inspired by a LinkedIn post from Luma Launch partner Laurent Grill, dot.LA published a list of local investors still looking to fund great ideas. The resulting post took off and so did the dealmaking.

#8. FAANG Reimagines LA Real Estate

Among the trends that have reshaped L.A. during the pandemic has been the rapid rise of streaming services and the equally stunning shift in audience habits for movies and TV. As the world emerges from the pandemic in 2021, it will find Netflix, Google and other FAANG companies have gobbled up real estate — especially on the Westside, where Netflix alone is poised to occupy 10% of commercial real estate by 2023.

#9. Sketchy's Product Plans and Edutainment's Rapid Rise

In 2020, Sketchy Medical grew from a cult startup that helped medical students efficiently memorize clusters of information into an edtech darling, with big raises, a new CEO lured from Disney and plans to leverage its foothold in education technology into a full-blown media empire that aims to make remote learning more effective and far more entertaining. Its story parallels the incredible disruption taking place in schools and homes globally, as parents, teachers and school districts confront the pandemic and rethink how education can happen.

#10. Karma's IPO Push and Electric Cars' Banner Year

dot.LA got the scoop on luxury electric car company Karma's moves to go public via SPAC, but it was far from the only SoCal electric vehicle startup to do so. In the wake of Tesla's turbocharged stock market rise, Canoo, Fisker, Xos, Envoy and many others sought their own IPOs or raised massive rounds. It's a trend we'll be watching closely as California ramps up its plans to go fossil fuel free by 2035.

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🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

🔦 Spotlight

Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.


Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110

Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab

Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor


Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo


Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect


MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


KidsX

The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health


Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP


Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space



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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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