Toyota-Backed Machine Learning Startup Elementary Robotics Raises $30 Million

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Toyota-Backed Machine Learning Startup Elementary Robotics Raises $30 Million

As the “great resignation” continues, manufacturers are finding themselves shorthanded, and leaning towards automation to fill the gaps left behind by skilled workers.

Machine learning startup Elementary CEO Arye Barnehama thinks that’s where their software can fill in, doing visual quality inspections in manufacturing lines – a job now mostly filled by humans. The labor shortage, he said, has left companies in the lurch.

“There's so many background pressures on manufacturers, between labor shortages, and supply chain issues, and ecommerce, where you ship directly your customers,” said Barnehama, a Pomona College graduate said. “All of these things really add up to more pressure, and the need to be more repeatable and more automated.”

Launched out of Bill Gross’ Pasadena-based IdeaLab accelerator in 2017, Elementary is gearing up to rapidly expand its headcount and product offerings on the heels of raising a $30 million Series B raise, led by Tiger Global.

Arye Barnehama, CEO of Elementary

Barnehama said the pandemic has accelerated the existing trend towards automating manufacturing plants.

He said prior to the pandemic, it took a lot more convincing to get plants on board with using Elementary’s no-code AI programs to do quality control.

“There was a lot more education needed pre-COVID on why (to use) cloud in manufacturing and now the cloud is really accelerating and growing in manufacturing, and they have strategies and architectures that the top manufacturers are looking to deploy,” Barnehama said. “That's been the biggest transition, and it's gone from education, to now a key feature that (manufacturers) want.”

Elementary’s AI lets assembly line operators do a detailed and rapid check of their parts, which isn’t possible at scale with individual humans checking each step of the process. The company touts attention to detail and speed as two of its key advantages and Barnehama said using technologies like Elementary can help manufacturers ship products faster.

A recent PitchBook report on the robotics industry found that the labor participation rate in the U.S. – the statistic used to estimate how much of the country is working – is 58.8%, still a few points shy of the pre-pandemic high of 61.1%. Basically, fewer people are returning to work, which Pitchbook attributed to “an increased demand for more flexible work arrangements.”

Overall sales of industrial robotics are going up, Pitchbook noted. Sales of robots in North America have totaled roughly $1.5 billion through the third quarter of this year, a new all-time high.

Automotive plants continue to be the main user of industrial robots, though other industries are catching up: Pitchbook’s report notes non-automotive orders have experienced the largest increase so far this year, rising 53% and proving that more industries are looking to get in on the trend.

But the move towards more automated jobs could signal bad news for workers. As businesses pour more money into innovation, it’s difficult to go backwards. As the New York Times recently noted, once a workplace introduces robots, it often doesn’t return to a mostly human workforce.

“The goal is to really enable and empower the teams that (manufacturers) do have, because they're already facing these shortages,” Barnehama said. “Our goal is to superpower the people that they do have, from a quality and remote inspection perspective. We are often deploying to use cases where they're just not monitoring or it's not possible to automate at this time.”

Tiger Global is a new investor in Elementary. Existing investors Fika Ventures, Threshold Ventures, Fathom Capital, Riot VC and Toyota Ventures also participated.

Following this raise, Elementary has raised $47.5 million to date. Part of the Series B will be used to expand its product offering and grow the team of 50 people at least three times that size, Barnehama said.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.