Here Are the LA Seed Startups Top VCs Wish They'd Invested In

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

Here Are the LA Seed Startups Top VCs Wish They'd Invested In

Los Angeles is home to around 5,000 startups, the majority of which are in their young, formative years.

Which of those thousands are poised for a breakout in 2021? We asked dozens of L.A.'s top VCs to weigh in. We wanted to know which companies they would have invested in if they could go back and do it all over again.


Yesterday, our investors picked their favorite Series-A or later startups, and not surprisingly there was more consensus, with familiar names like PopShop Live and Scopely leading the way.

But the most lucrative returns come from identifying companies in their infancy, as recent blockbuster IPOs vividly demonstrate. For instance, Sequoia's $600,000 seed check to Airbnb in 2009 accounted for 70% of its shares in the company and helped it get into competitive later rounds. When the vacation rental service went public last month, Sequoia's stake was worth $4.8 billion.

What will be the next breakout? The complete list is below and is ranked in random order except for the first three, which stood out by virtue of getting multiple votes: Pipe enables companies with recurring revenues to tap into their deferred cash flows with an instant cash advance. Clash App, Inc., is a TikTok alternative launched by a former employee of the social network in August. And XCLAIM allows bankruptcy claims to be digitally traded.

Boiling

Pipe logo

Pipe

Pipe provides financial services to help cloud service companies tap into their deferred cash flows, allowing them to continue growing without taking on debt or giving up ownership. For subscription-based businesses, this makes it "as if all of your customers converted to annual plans overnight," according to the company.

Founded by Harry Hurst, Josh Mangel and Zain Allarakhia, the company raised $66 million of seed funding earlier this year in a deal led by Craft Ventures and Fin Venture Capital.

clash logo

Clash App Inc.

Created by former Vine-r Brendon McNerney and entrepreneur and marketing expert P.J. Leimgruber, Clash App is a short form video platform similar to TikTok, but without built-in sound libraries. It's geared toward empowering creators with innovative monetization options and inclusive communities.

xclaim logo

XCLAIM 

XCLAIM has created an electronic platform where bankruptcy claims that take a notoriously long time to process can be digitally traded. Founded in 2018 by Matthew Sedigh, who has operated in the corporate restructuring field for more than a decade, the company says "rather than wait years for the bankruptcy court process to issue payment distributions, creditors can now access immediate liquidity by selling their claim to interested buyers." Earlier this year, it raised a $4 million seed round led from Luma Launch, First Round Capital and Freestyle Capital.

Simmering

Freck Beauty logo

Freck Beauty

Freck Beauty manufactures beauty products intended to make the user feel seen. Remi Brixton, the company's chief executive officer, founded the startup in 2015 when she was in search of a freckle makeup product. When she couldn't find one, she launched her own, the FRECK OG. The East Los Angeles-based company raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding in a deal led by KarpReilly and Stage 1 Fund earlier this year.

The Skills logo

The Skills

The Skills wants to be the master class on sports and life. The Los Angeles-based startup launched two months ago and offers classes from gold medal Olympians — including swimmer Michael Phelps and volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings — and Grand Slam tennis Champion Maria Sharapova. In December, it closed a $5 million seed round backed by Boston-based Will Ventures, Global Founders Capital, 8VC, Maveron, Hack VC and Correlation VC.

mapped logo

Mapped 

Founded by Shaun Cooley, former chief technology officer of Cisco's Internet-of-Things (IoT) and Industries division, Mapped provides IoT services in El Segundo.

The company raised $3 million of seed funding in a deal led by Greycroft earlier this year, putting its pre-money valuation at $9 million.

dataplor logo

DataPlor 

Created in 2016 by Geoffrey Michener, Dataplor indexes micro-businesses in Mexico (and will soon be expanding to other countries in Central and South America) and sells the data to larger companies.The company relies on contractors in those countries to collect the information from local businesses. It raised $4 million from ff Venture Capital, Quest Venture Partners and Space Capital earlier this year and expects to use it to expand into more Latin American countries.

Grow Credit logo

Grow Credit 

Launched by serial entrepreneur Joe Bayen, Grow Credit helps customers improve their credit score by providing credit for subscription services like Netflix and Spotify. Their MasterCard can help consumers with thin or damaged credit scores and the small line of credit can be upgraded for a fee. The company closed a $2 million seed round earlier this year with participation from Mucker Labs.

outer logo

Outer 

The two-year-old Santa Monica-based company has seen business boom during the pandemic as retail stores shut down and online orders surged. The direct-to-consumer outdoor furniture brand uses backyards as showrooms and raised $4.3 million in a seed round earlier this year led by Mucker Capital. Founded by Jake Liu and Terry Lin, a former designer at Pottery Barn, Outer aims to appeal to Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn shoppers.

WhatNot

A livestreaming reseller of collectibles like FunkoPop vinyl figurines, Pokémon cards and sports cards, WhatNot taps into a growing retail trend and promises that the collectibles are verified, much like sneaker reseller GOAT.

The startup secured $4 million in seed funding this month from Scribble Ventures, Wonder Ventures, Operator Partners, Y Combinator, Liquid 2 Ventures, Twenty Two Ventures and other investors. The company plans to use the funds to expand into video games, comics books, designer toys and vintage fashion.

Fourthwall

Fourthwall is the developer of an internet platform that helps content creators launch fully-branded websites focused on interacting with fans. Their website tag phrase is "Make a living doing what you love," which is complemented by their model, which provides creators 100% ownership of their website and brand.

Founded by Walker Williams and Will Baumann, the company has raised $4 million to date, from investors Defy Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Initialized Capital Management.

shop latinx logo

Shop LatinX 

Shop LatinX calls itself the "leading beauty, fashion, and lifestyle ecommerce designed by and made for Latinas." The brainchild of two Los-Angeles-based Latinas, Brittany Chavez and Raquel Garcia launched their website before Black Friday in 2016. It features more than 200 brands.

First Resonance logo

First Resonance 

Founded by former SpaceX software engineer Karan Talati and Neal Sarraf, First Resonance promises to ease the workflow for manufactures with software intended to provide greater visibility into production and test product development lifecycle. The company raised $1.75 million of seed funding last year from Wavemaker Partners, Stage Venture Partners and PLG Ventures, among clothes.

vurbl logo

Vurbl

Vurbl offers curated, one-stop-shop of what it calls the best audio on the internet, which can include podcasts but also goes well beyond that from religious sermons to court arguments. The new platform founded by CEO Audra Gold is being built with the $1.3 million pre-seed round Vurbl closed in September led by AlphaEdison with participation from Halogen Ventures and Ten13.

pocketwatch logo

PocketWatch 

Former Disney executive Chris Williams founded the studio that produces family-focused content from YouTube stars. This year it launched clock.work, an advertising agency designed to help major brands reach kids. Investors include Viacom, Greycroft, Third Wave Digital and United Talent Agency, along with strategic angels including Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Landau.

pocketlist logo

PocketList

The app allows renters to see and share apartments that will soon be available before they're listed — reducing the time properties sit vacant and potentially heating up competition among apartment hunters. It launched earlier this year. The company has $2.8 million in seed funding led by David Sacks' Craft Ventures along with Abstract VC, Wonder Ventures and angel investor Spencer Rascoff, co-founder of Zillow and dot.LA.

Quilt logo

Quilt 

The audio-based social platform promises to be the spot for "live, supportive, feel good conversations—just like hopping on the phone with a friend when you need it most." It lets people start a conversation around any topic or join by listening. Quilt raised an undisclosed amount of venture funding from Freestyle Capital in 2019.

tonebase logo

Tonebase

Founded by Abhi Nayar, Chris Garwood and Igor Licthmann, Tonebase provides high-level music education online. Yale School of Music alumnus Garwood and Lichtman told their alma mater that it built with the idea that it was "a way for people everywhere to learn from the very best musicians around the world — individuals who, due to their busy performing and teaching careers, are traditionally accessible to only a select few." The company has raised an undisclosed amount from Launch fund, e.ventures and other undisclosed last May.

Second Spectrum logo

Second Spectrum

Launched in 2013 by Jeff Su, Yu-Han Chang and Rajiv Maheswaran, Second Spectrum already has deals with the NBA and English Premier League. This year it scored another one with Major League Soccer to use its optical tracking system to evaluate and analyze performance.

Second Spectrum puts their tracking cameras inside the stadium. Machine learning and AI-powered analytics provide detailed data that helps coaches and others better understand the game from player speed and deceleration to shot velocity in near real time. That technology can also be used on broadcast platforms to give fans more insight. The company raised about $20 million backed by CAA Ventures, Raine Ventures and The Chernin Group in 2018.

Toucan logo

Toucan 

Founded by CEO Taylor Nieman, Shaun Merritt and Brandon Dietz, Toucan is a Chrome browser extension that lets people learn a new language. It scans websites you visit and translates some words into the language you want to learn. The Santa Monica-based company most recently raised a $3 million round backed by GSV Ventures, Amplifyher Ventures, and Wonder Ventures, among others.

Serve Automation logo

Serve Automation

Created by former SpaceX engineers, Serve Automation aims to change the way foods get delivered. It has secured $7 million in a seed round and is operating in stealth mode.

Lead art by Candice Navi.

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🔦 Spotlight

Image Source: Toyota

Toyota has transformed its facility in Gardena, CA, into a hydrogen research and development center to capitalize on the expanding market for hydrogen technology in California. With three decades of experience in hydrogen-powered mobility, Toyota is aligning with California's efforts to transition to fuel cells, particularly in the trucking and stationary power sectors. The facility, now named North American Hydrogen Headquarters, will house around 50 engineers and specialists focused on advancing both vehicle and stationary power applications. The revamped office space will serve as a hub for research, development, and commercialization of hydrogen-related products and technologies. Additionally, they have plans to expand the campus with features like a flexible microgrid and sustainable education center for people to learn more about sustainability and hydrogen's role in it. Toyota's President and CEO, Ted Ogawa, emphasizes their commitment to scalable, zero-emission technology and reducing carbon emissions through real-world products like the Mirai fuel-cell car.

Despite challenges such as a shortage of hydrogen refueling stations, Toyota is leveraging its resources to scale up hydrogen technology. The company operates a hydrogen stationary power at its Long Beach port facility, using biomass waste gas to produce clean hydrogen. California's stringent regulations, including requiring newer trucks and buses and eventually banning all internal combustion trucks by 2036, are driving the adoption of clean technologies..

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • Mother Science, a biotech skincare brand, raised a $3.5M Funding Round led by Greycroft. - learn more
  • Rainmaker, a cloud-seeding startup, raised a $6.3M Seed Round from Long Journey Ventures, Day One Ventures, Tamarack Global, 1517 Fund, Starship VC, Champion Hill Ventures, Garry Tan, and Balaji Srinivasan. - learn more
  • Elementary, an AI-powered machine vision software developer, raised an undisclosed amount from Rockwell Automation. - learn more

LA Venture Funds

LA Exits

🔦 Spotlight

Image Source: Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

The integration of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming healthcare in Los Angeles, with hospitals increasingly employing these technologies to enhance patient care and operational efficiency. According to a Morgan Stanley report from August 2023, 94% of healthcare companies are utilizing AI or machine learning (ML), with the industry's budget allocation for AI and ML projected to double from 5.7% in 2022 to 10.5% this year. These technologies are being used for various applications, from autonomous robots delivering medications to AI systems predicting emergency room wait times and identifying life-threatening infections like sepsis (the third most common cause of death in U.S. hospitals).

Institutions like City of Hope are pioneering AI applications in healthcare, such as real-time clinical decision support tools. City of Hope's sepsis prediction model utilizes AI to monitor patients and detect subtle changes in their vitals, providing early alerts to medical staff, which has led to decreased ICU admissions and improved patient outcomes. Similarly, Antelope Valley Medical Center has implemented autonomous robots like Diligent Robotics Inc.'s Moxi to streamline medication and lab deliveries, reducing staff workload and enhancing efficiency.

Cedars-Sinai is leveraging AI through its CS Connect app, utilizing a chatbot to interact with patients and assist in scheduling appointments and providing diagnostic insights to physicians. Moreover, the hospital is actively combating AI bias to ensure fair and accurate treatment across patient demographics. UCLA Health's Robotic Surgery program, led by Dr. Mark Girgis, has been utilizing robotic surgery for over seven years, offering enhanced recovery, less pain, and shorter hospitalizations for patients. Girgis highlights the benefits of competition driving down costs and improving accessibility to robotic surgery platforms, such as the Da Vinci surgical systems.

The widespread adoption of AI and robotics in Los Angeles hospitals not only represents significant advancements in healthcare but also offers opportunities for the city's tech industry. Hospitals like Cedars-Sinai and Children's Hospital Los Angeles are leading the way with innovative AI-driven solutions. As a result, LA has the potential to attract top health tech talent, bolstering its growing health tech sector.

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • Diddo, a startup that uses computer vision to identify products in videos and enables viewers to purchase products seen on screen without leaving the video, raised a $2.8M Seed Round led by Link Ventures - learn more
  • Shinkei Systems, a developer of fish-processing tech, raised a $6M Seed Round led by Cantos and joined by 8VC, Impatient Ventures, Susa/Humba Ventures, Carya Venture Partners, Ravelin Capital, Red & Blue Ventures, and Undeterred Capital - learn more
  • Moso, a shop-to-earn crypto rewards startup, raised a $2M Seed Round from Symbolic Capital, Dao5, Coinlist, and Polygon Ventures - learn more
  • Holograph, a startup whose platform enables the creation and management of tokens that can operate across multiple blockchain networks, raised an $11M funding round co-led by Mechanism Capital and Selini Capital, with Northrock Capital, Arca, Courtside Ventures, and Hartmann Capital also stepping up - learn more
  • LiNova Energy, a developer of polymer cathodes for batteries, raised a $15.8M Series A led by Catalus Capital and joined by Saft - learn more
  • Altruist, a custodian for RIAs, raised a $169M Series E led by Iconiq Growth and joined by Granite Capital Management in addition to insiders Adams Street Partners and Sound Ventures - learn more

LA Exits

  • Insight Treatment Programs, a provider of teen outpatient programs for mental health and addiction treatment in Southern California was acquired by Torrance, CA-based Your Behavioral Health, a portfolio company of Comvest Partners - learn more
  • SameSky Health, a patient engagement company merged with Tampa, FL-based GroundGame.Health, a startup linking community-based organizations with health plans and providers. After they combined the company raised a $17M funding round led by 7wireVentures - learn more
  • Viking Holdings Ltd, a cruise operator based in Woodland Hills raised $1.5B in its IPO. On Wednesday Viking (VIK) closed at $26.10, 9% higher than the IPO price ($24) - learn more

📖 What We’re Reading

  • Triller Corp., the Hollywood rival to TikTok, is being bought in an astounding $4 billion deal by AGBA Group Holding Ltd - learn more
  • Despite the somewhat bleak gaming venture landscape, Santa Monica's Griffin Gaming Partners gears up for expansion, tapping into Hollywood's top talent and exploring new avenues in IP licensing and investment - learn more
  • Sony and Apollo bid $26 billion for Paramount Global, intensifying the competition for the renowned film and TV company - learn more
  • Rivian will receive an $827 million incentive package from Illinois to expand its manufacturing plant - learn more
  • SAG-AFTRA partners with Nielsen for third-party streaming content measurement, ensuring transparency and accuracy in tracking hits on platforms like Netflix and Prime Video - learn more
  • New platform, ProdPro Network, aims to help Hollywood crew members find work - learn more

Good Afternoon!

Given the challenging times in the startup and venture capital world, we wanted to lift spirits (pun intended) with some of the LA tech community’s favorite happy hours on the Westside, offering a chance to take a break, network, and relax. So, without further ado, here are some top picks for happy hours on the Westside.

Ester’s Wine Shop

Image Source: Esters Wine Shop

Neighborhood: Santa Monica

Address: 1314 7th Street Santa Monica, CA 90401

Happy Hour Details: Esters Wine Shop’s happy hour runs Tuesday through Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. and all day Sunday and Monday. A selection of wines are $10 by the glass and the special happy hour cocktail of the day is $14. Happy hour bites range from $3.5 oysters to a $23 charcuterie plate for two.

What You Can Expect: A sophisticated yet unpretentious wine bar with a diverse selection of wines, delicious food, and knowledgeable, friendly service in a beautiful and inviting atmosphere.

The Waterfront Venice

Image Source: The Waterfront Venice

Neighborhood: Venice

Address: 205 Ocean Front Walk Venice, CA 90291

Happy Hour Details: The Waterfront’s happy hour runs weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. A selection of cocktails, beers, seltzers are buy one get one free including but not limited to espresso martinis, margaritas, and palomas.

What You Can Expect: Delicious margaritas, ample outdoor seating just steps from the beach, and a Venice vibe that includes a gaggle of post-work tech bros.

Santa Monica Brew Works

Image Source: The Infatuation

Neighborhood: Santa Monica

Address: 1920 Colorado Avenue Suite C, Santa Monica, CA 90404

Happy Hour Details: Santa Monica Brew Work’s happy hour runs Monday through Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m.

What You Can Expect: A spacious coastal vibe despite the location with refreshing beers and the added bonus of New York City's famous Emmy Squared craft pizza operation.

Birdie G’s

Image Source: Birdie G’s

Neighborhood: Santa Monica

Address: 2421 Michigan Ave, CA 90404

Happy Hour Details: Birdie G’s happy hour, also known as “Early Birdie’s Happy Hour” runs daily from 5 to 6 p.m. A selection of wines and cocktails are $12 and featured beers are $8. Happy hour bites range from $5 lavender almonds to $12 reuben fries.

What You Can Expect: A stylish industrial setting with a unique twist on comfort food that stands out from typical upscale dining options in LA.

Zinqué - Venice

Image Source: Eater LA

Neighborhood: Venice

Address: 1440 Lincoln Blvd, Venice, CA 90291

Happy Hour Details: Zinque Venice’s happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. All cocktails and wines by the glass are $12. Happy hour bites let you choose 3 from their list of tapas for $20.

What You Can Expect: A vibrant and airy, low-key neighborhood restaurant with french-inspired dishes bustling with people in meetings or out grabbing a meal with friends.

Maple Block Meat Co.

Image Source: TimeOut

Neighborhood: Culver City

Address: 3973 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230

Happy Hour Details: Maple Block’s happy hour runs Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. and Monday from 5 to 9 p.m. Drinks are buy one get one free. Happy hour bites range from $7 chopped pork grilled cheese to $12 brisket nachos.

What You Can Expect: A modern, fantastic BBQ with standout brisket and a varied menu of comfort foods in a laid-back, approachable atmosphere.

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