LA Tech Week's Climate Panel Unveils Funding Secrets for Green Startups

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

LA Tech Week's Climate Panel Unveils Funding Secrets for Green Startups
Samson Amore

In a region known for being a national trailblazer when it comes to climate policies, there’s no shortage of green energy startups in L.A. looking for funding. There’s also a plethora of investors and incubators, which means founders looking for cash flow should be extra specific about their value proposition when they pitch to cut through the noise. At least that was the message coming from the panelists at the UCLA Anderson School of Management on Tuesday.


LA Tech Week’s panel on the Future of Climate Tech: Advancements, Challenges, and Opportunities, hosted by UCLA’s business school, discussed a number of ongoing issues in the green tech industry, including how the 2024 presidential election could affect funding for climate initiatives.

David Jassby, associate director of UCLA Institute for Carbon Management, said he has been writing educational grants to fund graduate students’ research since Obama’s presidency. “In terms of the university, the research topics and the research dollars have not really changed, which is, to me, really encouraging,” Jassby said, noting that federal workers are eager to issue grants for cutting-edge climate research, regardless of political affiliation.

But there was more on the table than just climate politics. The panelists were particularly eager to advise the room, which was packed with students, founders and other investors, about how to get their green startups funded.

Zora Chung, chief financial officer of Rejoule, a battery diagnostics startup, said that she regularly speaks with engineers and has often noticed that they can get too bogged down in the science rather than focusing on pitching the product and its use case. To that end, she noted that it is crucial for startups to be clear about the value of the product and who it will serve. “Defining the value proposition isn't as simple as just seeing what it is. It actually needs to be very specific to who you think is your core customer service,” Chung said. Instead of comparing their startup to another, Chung believes it is more important for founders to focus on fundamentals like the goals of the service and its audience.

In climate tech and other science-heavy industries, making a clear pitch is even more crucial. Frank Bryan, founder of venture capital firm Halftone Investment Partners, said green tech startups have to “tell a business story.”

Bryan said that those who are deeply involved in the research and development aspects of the product often forget to think about who the customers are, why they might purchase the product and how much they’re willing to pay. By answering these questions in a pitch, entrepreneurs can show investors that their startup is in a phase poised for growth, that “you’re not just a chemical process, you've actually developed this into a real plan that is going to result in a financial return, which is ultimately what I'm trying to get at,” Bryan said.

Shomik Dutta, co-founder and managing partner of climate venture fund Overture VC, said that he prefers to “invest in painkillers rather than vitamins,” i.e. in startups that aim to solve climate issues rather than those who deceive the public by using eco-friendly marketing labels.

The issue of waste management and recycling particularly excited several of the panelists. Bryan is currently working with a company that recycles plastic waste from the air bag industry. “Everything that's made in the world has waste streams that are either emitted [by a] landfill or its heat. Those can be converted, they can be shredded and liquefied and cracked and into hydrogen, carbon dioxide or carbon,” Bryan said.

Although the U.S. is still grappling with disposal strategies of hazardous waste produced by industrial mining, many states are supportive of innovation in this area, Jassby said. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the country generates hundreds of millions tons of waste every year; less than a third of this waste is recycled or composted. In other words, Jassby said, “recycling of waste is tremendous.”

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🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
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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

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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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