An Early Peek at First Look's Showcase of Cutting-Edge Science Startups

Francesca Billington

Francesca Billington is a freelance reporter. Prior to that, she was a general assignment reporter for dot.LA and has also reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.

An Early Peek at First Look's Showcase of Cutting-Edge Science Startups
Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash

Eliminating battery waste, developing new hair growth therapy, fixing carbon dioxide. These are among some of the ambitious problems that companies are trying to solve at the First Look SoCal Innovation Showcase beginning Tuesday.

Hosted by nonprofit Alliance for SoCal Innovation, the online event connects early-stage tech and life science companies with investors and serial entrepreneurs.


Founders of the 30 companies selected to participate come from universities and academic institutions across the region. Tech developed by these researchers and scientists is just emerging from labs, said Steven Gilison from the Alliance. This means most take longer to fundraise than typical startups and this opportunity often represents the start of their funding journey.

It's the third year the Alliance will host the showcase, which has been running for over 10 years. The event starts Tuesday with a daylong focus on life science founders and ends with the next day centered on tech. Each day begins with a keynote presentation and ends with a VC investor panel — a feature that last year brought in funding for several startups.

Here's a snapshot of the founders gearing up to pitch:

BioZen Batteries Aims to Solve Our Energy Storage Issues

Left to right: BioZen Batteries' co-founders Zach Rengert, Nate Kirchhofer and Eric Brigham.

Nate Kirchhofer, co-founder and CEO of BioZen Batteries, wants to make batteries that will outlive him.

Santa Barbara-based BioZen creates organic electrolytes, the active material inside a specific type of battery called a "redox flow battery." It's a different type of technology that differs from the lithium batteries often used in mobile applications like cars and phones. Only 5% of those get recycled.

BioZen's batteries are well suited for green, large-scale energy storage, Kirchhofer said. For example, batteries that help solar panels connect to the grid or provide backup during disasters when the power goes out.

Kirchhofer, an electrochemist, founded the company in June of 2019 with Zach Rengert, a materials chemist, and Eric Brigham, the company's CFO. Kirchhofer and Rengert met while getting their doctorate at UC Santa Barbara.

There hasn't yet been a push for sustainable batteries because it isn't economically incentivized, Kirchhofer told dot.LA. He said that his batteries are cheaper than competitors.

Kirchhofer's product fits into a growing renewable energy market and a social movement in which individuals want to do their part. He's worked for four startups but says this one is poised to make the biggest impact.

"If it's not our generation that solves climate change, there's not another chance. There's not another Earth." he said. "If we can make these batteries happen, we can truly integrate renewable energy and stop the petroleum-dominated energy paradigm we're part of."

Amplifica's founder Dr. Maksim Plikus

Amplifica Treats Baldness with Mole Molecules

Back in 2013, Amplifica's founder Dr. Maksim Plikus began studying hairy moles. Though some find the growths unsightly, his work showed promise for baldness treatment.

He, along with colleagues at UC Irvine, discovered that molecules from moles that grow excessive hair can induce follicle growth when administered anywhere on the skin.

"As long as you can tease it out and replicate it in the form of purified molecules, you can achieve essentially what we think would be a novel, revolutionary solution to baldness," Plikus told dot.LA.

Plikus said his company is the first to solve hair loss by replicating cells from hairy moles to stimulate hair growth. At the moment, hair follicle research has emerged as a leading experimental model for studying stem cells.

By 2025, hair-loss products are projected to surpass $12 billion, Plikus said. But only two drugs are FDA approved and require daily treatment in the form of pills, which he said come with long-term side effects.

Amplifica says it's poised to put a more effective and convenient solution on the market. Pinkus' proposed product is a topical solution requiring less frequent application, like getting Botox injections a few times per year.

FixingCO2 Aims to Recycle Fuel from the Air

FixingCO2's team. CEO Eldar Akhmetgaliyev is at right.

FixingCO2 got its start on Mars. Like the name says, the company aims to fix the global carbon problem that's fueling climate change.

In 2018, co-founder Alma Zhanaidarova's professor and research group at UC San Diego received a grant from NASA to build out a reactor that makes renewable fuels and chemicals from carbon dioxide, often a byproduct of industrial waste. The technology was being developed in anticipation of a one-day human mission to Mars, where 95% of the atmosphere is carbon dioxide.

Now, the San Diego-based startup is commercializing their product for earthlings.

"It's a different application but the same core technology," co-founder Eldar Akhmetgaliyev told dot.LA. "Instead of making fuels from oil or any other fossil sources, we can make them essentially from air."

The team is developing the hardware to capture industrial emissions blamed for much of the Earth's warming. The product has significant application for the aviation industry, where planes are built to burn jet fuel that produces carbon emissions.

"These kinds of technologies provide them a pathway to decarbonization," he said. "They can use fuels made from CO2 so they're not contributing to climate change."

As fires burn through California and the Pacific Northwest, Akhmetgaliyev said there's urgency for innovators in the carbon tech market. "We're pretty much turning our planet into Mars," he said.

He said that by 2050, about 14% of overall carbon reduction will come from carbon capture and utilization (CCUS) technology like his.

"The market hasn't met its opportunity and with the effects of climate change being seen everyday, there's going to be more drive towards these low carbon technologies."

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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

Image Source: Discover LA

A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

LA Venture Funds


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