LA's Top VCs Are Watching These 10 Female Founders

Hanna Chea
Hanna Chea is an editorial intern at dot.LA.
LA's top female founders

From helping save beehives to healing the human body, some of L.A.'s most innovative companies are helmed by female founders. Who stands above the pack? We asked the region's top VCs participating in our recent dot.LA sentiment survey to weigh in.


Ara Katz, a serial entrepreneur and founder of probiotic company Seed tops our list. Katz found a niche in a multi-billion dollar industry, but she acknowledges that this past year has been especially tough for women, as the pandemic forced millions to drop out of the workforce.

"It is not lost on me what a privilege it is to be building a company as a female founder and mother given how impactful the pandemic and the past year has been on women and mothers in the workforce," said Katz. "My best advice to founders is to build with abandon — it is contagious, amplifying and makes it all meaningful."

Nationally, female-founded or co-founded companies earned less than 3% of all venture capital in 2020, according to data from Pitchbook. Although women founders say they still face issues of sexism and encounter more obstacles than their male counterparts, there are signs of improvement. In the first quarter of this year, women entrepreneurs reeled in $9.8 billion in capital investment nationally – an all-time high in quarterly investments over the past 12 years.

We asked L.A.'s top VCs to tell us which female founders they have their eyes on as part of our Q1 sentiment survey.

In Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Ana, $544 million was poured into female founded startups alone over that time.

Therese Tucker, founder of fintech company BlackLine, which also made our list, said that it's important for women to find people who believe in them as they build their companies.

"Don't be intimidated by condescension," Tucker said, "Look for people you can actually partner with who 'get' your business."

And just as importantly, founder of health platform Kensho, Krista Berlincourt, said stay true to who you are.

"It is not easy. And you'll be surrounded by men, so just find the people who get you and your vision, hold onto them tight, and go for it. Then remember that soft is strong. You don't have to 'crush it' to be successful," she said. "Be you. Be flexible. Soften. Grow. That's the only thing that has ever worked," Berlincourt added.

Here's the complete list:

Ara Katz

Ara Katz, Seed

Ara Katz

Ara Katz is the co-founder and co-CEO of Seed, a Venice-based probiotic company designed to improve health and digestion. Katz's experience as a breastfeeding mother led her to explore the importance of microbes and their impact on bodily health. Among other leading roles, Katz was co-founder and CMO of ecommerce marketplace Spring, which was sold to ShopRunner in 2018. She was also on the founding team of Beach Mint, an e-commerce company for fashion and lifestyle brands.

Claire Schmidt

Claire Schmidt, AllVoices

Claire Schmidt

Claire Schmidt aims to empower workers through AllVoices, an anonymous reporting and management platform, which allows employees to report issues in the workplace. The LA-based company has raised a total of $4.1 million with investments by Crosscut, Greycroft, Halogen Ventures and dot.LA founder Spencer Rascoff. Inspired by the the MeToo movement, the platform lets employees alert management to problems like discrimination, harrasment, or work bias. Prior to roles at AllVoices, Schmidt was vice president of technology and innovation at Fox properties and senior director of giving at Thrive Market, an e-commerce platform for organic products.

\u200bAriel Kaye

Ariel Kaye, Parachute

Ariel Kaye

Ariel Kaye used her design and brand background to launch Parachute in 2014. Parachute is a direct-to-consumer bedding brand based in Culver City. The startup has raised over $47 million in funding to date with investments by H.I.G Capital, Jaws Ventures and Brilliant Ventures. The brand avoids chemicals and synthetics in their products putting an emphasis on sustainability.

Therese Tucker, BlackLine

Therese Tucker

Therese Tucker is the founder and executive chair of BlackLine, an LA-based platform for accountants that takes on repetitive or complicated tasks. BlackLine pulled in nearly $352 million in revenues in 2020, and expects to grow that to at least $410 million this year. Ranked among Fortune's '50 fastest growing' women led companies in 2016, the company also received first place in G2's "Best Finance Products of 2021" ranking.

Sophia Amoruso

Sophia Amoruso, Nasty Gal

Sophia Amoruso

Southern California native Sophia Amoruso is the founder and former owner of Nasty Gal, a multi-million dollar clothing store originally started on eBay. Nasty Gal was sold at a value of $20 million, including $15 million in debt, to BooHo in 2017. Amoruso's newest project is an eight-week entrepreneurship course called Business Class, which aims to help female business leaders begin or grow their small businesses. The New York Times bestseller author of#GIRLBOSS, she detailed her entrepreneurial story that was later made into a Netflix series.

\u200bMadeline Fraser

Madeline Fraser, Gemist

Madeline Fraser

Madeline Fraser is the CEO and founder of Gemist, a mobile app that allows users to design a ring and try it on at home before they buy. Fraser used her experience in growing tech-startups to create one of her own. The sustainable jewelry brand raised $1 million in funding in its first seed round in 2019 and last year was backed by De Beers Group Ventures, Hawke Ventures and Monique Woodward last year for an undisclosed amount.

Krista Berlincourt

Krista Berlincourt, Kensho

Krista Berlincourt

Berlincourt is the CEO and co-founder of Kensho, an Los Angeles-based health platform and guide to natural medicine. Kensho provides users with specialized wellness services from surfing to acupuncture. The company has raised $1.3 million and is backed by top investors like CrossCut Ventures, Female Founders Fund and Evolve Ventures. Prior to creating her own company, Berlincourt worked in public relations at venture-backed Simple.

Katherine Power, Who What Wear

Katherine Power

Katherine Power co-founded Who What Wear 15 years ago out of frustration with a fashion industry that was often out of reach for many. The brand focuses on providing affordable and size-inclusive fashion. She is now CEO of Clique Media Group, a parent company that oversees Who What Wear and other consumer brands. As of 2017, Clique Media Group raised over $15 million in funding with investments by Amazon, Greycroft and e.ventures. Power was also listed in Fortune's 40 under 40 in 2016.

\u200bCat Chen

Cat Chen, Skylar

Cat Chen

Cat Chen is the founder and CEO of Skylar, a fragrance and body care brand. Chen developed a hypo-allergenic and cruelty free fragrance after being dismayed by the lack of clean ingredients in high-priced perfumes. The company founded in 2017 has raised a total of $11 million backed by Amplify, FirstMark Capital and GingerBread Capital. Prior to Skylar, Chen was was an executive of operations at The Honest Company, where she helped grow the company to $300 million of revenue in her four years there.

Shivani Siroya

Shivani Siroya, Tala

Shivani Siroya

The founder and CEO of Tala, a Santa Monica-based consumer credit smartphone app, Shivani Siroya created the company to assist people in underrepresented markets. Tala uses advanced data science to provide personalized financial services, such as disbursing loans to people with no formal credit history. The startup has raised over $217 million in funding by top investors, and has since been mentioned in TedTalks, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. Siroya's company is valued at an estimated $750 million dollars as of 2019, and was deemed one of the top FinTech companies in the world by Forbes.

Lead image by Ian Hurley.

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This ChatGPT Competitor Wants to Remember Everything for You, Forever

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 samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

AI generated text
Andria Moore

What if you could never forget any memory ever again?

That’s the question at the heart of San Diego-based artificial intelligence company Personal.ai. Formerly named Human AI, the company recently raised $7.8 million in seed funding led by Differential VC and Supernode Global to continue to develop its app, a fluent digital clone of yourself that remembers all the information you feed it at a moment’s notice, while also constantly learning and evolving with every input.

I had recently seen the Blumhouse horror flick “M3gan,” in which an android doll performs this very function for her owner, a child named Cady. So naturally, when I heard about this less creepy (and more real) concept, I was eager to give the platform a try.

The app works by training on information you give it about yourself through text, image or URL inputs. That could include info from your daily itinerary, your personal website or even intimate details about your life and relationships. As it learns, it mimics the way you speak to it, with the goal of becoming an artificial clone of your hippocampus. Once the training is complete, in theory the AI should be able to recall all the information you give it within a few seconds of being prompted.

That said, according to Personal.ai’s head of finance Jonathan Bikoff, the AI is “not a replacement for you, it’s a supplement.” Most of the app is built on Personal.ai’s proprietary AI system called GCT-1, which learns from personal data, unlike ChatGPT’s popular GPT-3 model trained on publicly available data online. This means GCT-1 provides more limited, but also more tailored personal responses. In other words, it’s more likely to know your schedule from two years ago based on your input than it is to know the name of the current president.

Personal.ai's head of finance Jonathan Bikoff

Photo: Personal.ai/Bikoff.

But there is a component of Personal.ai’s model that does use GPT-3. Part of the app that lets users give the AI more detailed prompts and receive longer generative replies is based on the GPT-3 model, Bikoff said.

Everything you do on Personal.ai has the option to be added to the AI’s “memory stack,” a repository of all it’s learned. Most of the time, the user has to manually select this button before inputting commands or questions.

The main hurdle, for both me and the AI, was training it. First, I input my bio from the dot.LA website, recent clips and a link to my own online portfolio. Then I asked the AI to tell me if it knew things like when I got my degree and from where and when I began specific jobs.

Once the AI quickly learned my basic background, it was on to the fun part – trying to get it to glitch. That proved harder than expected. When asking the AI “what is your name,” it replied, “my name is Samson,” and when I asked “who are you,” expecting a regular response like “I am a journalist based in Los Angeles,” the AI instead uncannily replied, “I am a person, albeit an artificial one.”

Each AI response has a meter to track accuracy, relevance and fluency – basically the AI’s confidence in its answer – which should theoretically increase the more you train it, something I found to be true. There’s also an emoji function that gives the AI an “emotional” response. It felt “anxious” when it didn’t know the answer to a question and “nostalgic” when reminiscing about past conversations.

I was mostly careful about what I input, only giving it source material that’s already been published online. That’s more of my own tech reporter paranoia than it is a recommendation by the Personal.ai team. But I imagine others will also share my reluctance.

That said, Personal.ai uses a third-party decentralized service Oasis to secure the data on the blockchain. Personal.ai CEO Suman Kanuganti said that users own all their data within the app, and that it isn’t aggregated or “sent to big tech.”

Kanuganti also claimed the company can’t see how you’re training your AI: “Users will control the input and output, when and where [and] the company cannot access data,” he said.

Since launching in 2020 Personal.ai has existed as a desktop app. But Bikoff and CEO Suman Kanuganti said the plan is to develop it into a standalone mobile app with a messaging feature so users can communicate with each other’s AIs. To do so, of course, you have to be on the app to message other AIs and can only send AI replies through it. Messages coming from the AI will be marked as such, so people know when they’re communicating with the “real” you or not. But if the AI learns enough about you, the texts should be eventually indistinguishable.

“By simply messaging people, friends and family and colleagues, your AI is learning so much about you, and it’s able to generate better and better draft responses for you to send, saving you time and helping you remember things,” Bikoff added.

Right now the desktop app costs $40/month, but Bikoff said the plan is to reduce that subscription price soon.

Despite the obvious work applications, Bikoff said Personal.ai is designed to be for the general public first. “This is an assistant to help with everyday communications, whether you’re 18 or 80 years old,” Bikoff said.

For his part, Bikoff uses the AI to keep track of which reporters he’s speaking to, his to-do lists, and upcoming travel plans. He added that older users might find the AI beneficial as an everyday assistant as their memory degrades. Hence why he believes onboarding to the app,“should be as easy as iMessage.”

“If you can send a text message, you can train your own AI,” Bikoff added.

Some issues I ran into were that the app’s search function was hyper-specific. Looking for GPT-3 without the hyphen didn’t produce the memory I was searching for: I’d previously asked the AI to define the difference between GPT-3 and Personal.ai’s GCT-1 model. The AI also had to be trained every time it was wrong, otherwise it wouldn’t learn which answers were incorrect. For example, when I asked for the date,it would repeatedly tell me the wrong date, unless I corrected it. But unlike humans, the AI only makes a mistake once; when I relayed the same question a few minutes later it knew the right answer.

I also asked the AI to write me a kicker for this story based on Personal.ai’s press releases.It spit out that, “while these AIs can perform many tasks, from managing our schedules to providing customer service, their true potential lies in their ability to generate new ideas and solutions.”

That’s not exactly what I had in mind. But I can’t blame the AI for being biased.

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