Santa Monica Startup Graze Wants to Make Lawn Mowing Electric (and Autonomous)

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Graze electric autonomous lawn mower
Photo by Decerry Donato

Is there any worse sound to wake up to than a gas-powered lawn mower? Not only are they a noise pollutant, but they are clunky environmental ones as well. Insert Graze, a Santa Monica-based startup looking to change the landscaping industry by building electric, autonomous lawn mowers.

On Tuesday at the Glendale Sports Complex, Glendale Mayor Paula Devine announced that the city will be the first in Los Angeles County to join Graze’s pilot program, allowing Glendale facilities like Sports Complex to its equipment. In exchange, the startup will be getting free beta-testing research.


Graze CEO John Vlay said that he hopes other municipalities will follow Glendale’s lead. “Gas-powered mowers are just so polluting and have been unregulated for so many years,” Vlay, a 30-year veteran of the landscaping industry, told dot.LA.

Graze CEO John Vlay

Graze CEO John Vlay.

Image courtesy of Graze

The showcase came five months after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new law that bans the sale of new gas-powered landscaping equipment in an effort to curb emissions. (The new law takes effect at the start of 2024.) According to Environmental Protection Agency data, gas-powered lawn mowers account for 5% of total air pollution in the U.S.

As a gathered crowd listened to Vlay speak, one of Graze’s machines, roughly the size of a go-cart, mowed the Glendale Sports Complex grass. The sound that emitted from the mower was minimal compared to gas-powered mowers; Vlay didn’t even have to use a microphone to be heard.

Three engineers were onsite and paraded the mowers across the field using a tablet that mapped the perimeter and locked in the boundaries that the mower must stay in.

From there, the mower continued to make parallel passes, at 1.5 meters per second, throughout the field. The battery life of one mower can last up to eight hours, while the mowers have also been tested on rocky and undulated terrain.

A Graze mower consists of two large sections. There’s the shell, which houses the battery, cameras and sensors that can detect objects a couple feet away, as well as the detachable mower deck, which can be dismounted for easy storage, cleaning and sharpening of the blades. Vlay boasted that the detachable mower deck was built with future attachments in mind, such as a leaf blower or golf ball picker.

Graze autonomous electric lawnmower demonstrationVideo by Decerry Donato

Currently, Graze has four robots completed, and its team is in the process of building more for future pilot programs that cities like Glendale may want to adopt. (The startup says it has secured over 400 pre-orders since launching 2017.) Though he did not disclose how much each unit will be sold for, Vlay said Graze’s business model is focused on “robot-as-a-service,” which would charge users for the machine per acre mowed and based on how difficult the mowing will be. With crowdfunding, Graze has raised over $9 million in funding split between 6,200 investors.

Vlay believes that the product will sell itself as more than just an eco-friendly option. “It really becomes a Swiss Army knife of lawn mower equipment,” he noted while watching the machine whir around the field quietly.

🎬 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

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😊🚘 Rivian's $5 Billion Lifeline

🔦 Spotlight

Volkswagen announced on Tuesday a significant investment of up to $5 billion in Rivian, a struggling electric truck manufacturer known for its vehicles' distinctive smiley-face design reminiscent of Volkswagen's iconic Beetle. This partnership marks a unique collaboration between the world's second-largest automaker and a startup grappling with profitability challenges akin to those faced by Tesla. Volkswagen's infusion of $1 billion initially, potentially rising to $5 billion pending regulatory approval, underscores its strategic pivot towards enhancing its electric vehicle (EV) software capabilities, an area where analysts believe the company has lagged.

For Rivian, which has received acclaim for its electric trucks and SUVs but struggles with production ramp-up and financial losses, the investment offers crucial financial backing. The company plans to utilize Volkswagen's expertise in manufacturing, leveraging the German automaker's annual production of nearly 10 million vehicles. This alliance aims to bolster Rivian's efforts to launch new models like the R2 midsize SUV and complete its Georgia factory, paused earlier this year to conserve funds. Rivian's stock surged upwards of 40% following the announcement, reflecting investor optimism in the company's future prospects.

Despite their differing corporate cultures—Volkswagen's traditional, structured approach contrasted with Rivian's agile tech startup ethos—the CEOs of both companies expressed mutual admiration and shared goals during the partnership announcement. The collaboration is expected to yield EV software solutions benefiting Volkswagen's various brands, potentially including Audi and Porsche, while allowing Rivian to maintain its brand identity and separate vehicle marketing strategies. This strategic partnership between Volkswagen and Rivian not only promises to revolutionize the electric vehicle market but also highlights the potential for collaboration between established automakers and innovative startups in Southern California, where Rivian is based. Here’s to hoping these smiling cars will balance out some of the inevitable LA road rage.

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • HeyGen, a startup that allows users to generate videos with AI-created avatars that can lip-sync to provided audio, making it easier for businesses to create engaging video content, raised a $60M Funding Round at a $500M post-money valuation. The deal was led by Benchmark, with Conviction, Thrive Capital, and Bond Capital also stepping up. - learn more
  • Pomerium, a startup that provides a secure access platform that dynamically verifies user identities to ensure authorized access to applications and services, raised a $13.8M Series A round led by Benchmark and including previous investors Bain Capital, Haystack, and SNR. - learn more
  • Etched, a maker of transformer-specialized AI chips, raised a $120M Funding Round. - learn more
  • Rocketlane, a customer onboarding platform, raised a $24M Series B co-led by 8VC, Matrix Partners India, and Nexus Venture Partners. - learn more
  • Sift, a developer of unified observability solutions for hardware sensor data, raised a $17.5M Series A led by GV. - learn more
  • LOST iN, a travel media brand, raised a $4M Seed Round led by MaC Venture Capital. - learn more

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