HopSkipDrive Wins Startup of the Year at dot.LA's Second Annual Startup Awards

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He 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 at @Samsonamore. Pronouns: he/him

HopSkipDrive Wins Startup of the Year at dot.LA's Second Annual Startup Awards

Downtown Los Angeles-based HopSkipDrive, a mobility startup that aims to be a kid-friendly Uber service for school-age students, won startup of the year at dot.LA's second annual startup awards.


Winners were announced at the dot.LA Summit. Judges voted for their picks for the most-deserving companies and individuals in six categories, including rising entrepreneur, top rising startup and entrepreneur of the year.

"It's such an honor to be included among all the impressive companies nominated for this award," Katrina Kardassakis, HopSkipDrive's vice president of business operations, said during her acceptance speech. "We are a youth transportation solution on a mission to create opportunity for all through mobility, and so we're focused on serving vulnerable populations, including kids in the foster care system, kids experiencing homelessness and kids with special needs or anyone who needs a little extra care to get where they need to go."

Kardassakis added that HopSkipDrive is currently focused on providing a potential solution to the ongoing shortage of bus drivers across the country, which is leading to backlogs in getting kids to and from school as the transportation industry struggles to retain workers and rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.

Finalists for the 2021 Startup of the Year Award included Universal Hydrogen, a company that's working to make planes that run on clean energy; Long Beach-based Rocket Lab, a reusable rocket manufacturer and small satellite launcher that looks to compete with SpaceX; ChowNow, a commission-free online ordering platform for restaurants and Crexi, a platform for streamlining commercial real estate transactions.

Check out the full list of nominees and winners for dot.LA's 2021 Startup Awards below.


Pivot of the Year: Potion

This award celebrates a startup's ability to revamp by changing its business model and strategy in the face of adversity.

Finalists:

  • Triller
  • Behold
  • GiveSum
  • Potion — Winner
  • Struct Club

Social Justice Award: Grid110

This award recognizes a company or individual who has made the biggest impact on driving social justice to create a positive, significant and sustainable impact.

Finalists:

  • All Voices
  • Cheese
  • SoLa Impact
  • Hacker Fund
  • Grid110 — Winner

Rising Entrepreneur: Krista Berlincourt

This entrepreneur is new in the LA startup scene and has emerged as a forward thinking innovator and leader. Despite his/her age, the Entrepreneur of the year has a pioneering spirit and a promising future.

Finalists:

  • Clash App, Brandon McNerney
  • Lolly, Marc Baghadjian and Sacha Schermerhorn
  • Kona, Sid Pandiya
  • Kensho Health, Krista Berlincourt — Winner
  • Seed, Ara Katz

Rising Startup: Invisible Universe

Sponsored by TriNet

This startup is less than two years of age from incorporation and has shown major development based on market growth, innovation and impact of products and services. This newcomer has the greatest potential to disrupt its market and global tech community.

Finalists:

    • Elude
    • Returnmates
    • Dogdrop
    • Invisible Universe — Winner
    • Launch House
    Alex Israel

    Entrepreneur of the Year: Alex Israel

    This entrepreneur has a fearless spirit while their partners, teammates and clients are inspired by their vision on a daily basis. They have made notable achievements this past year in regards to funds raised, sales, impact of product and leadership in the tech ecosystem.

    Finalists:

      • Heather Hasson and Trina Spear, FIGS
      • Cathy Zoi, EVgo
      • Alex Israel, Metropolis — Winner
      • Dakota Semler, Xos Truck
      • Jason Wilk, Dave

      Startup of the Year: HopSkipDrive

      This company has shown the greatest development over the past year based on innovation and impact with goods and services. This startup has the most promising potential for an exit and potential to reach unicorn status.

      Finalists:

        • HopSkipDrive — Winner
        • Universal Hydrogen
        • Rocket Lab
        • ChowNow
        • Crexi

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        Cadence

        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.

        Read moreShow less

        ‘Crypto Winter’ and the Future of Sports Sponsorships

        Steve Huff
        Steve Huff is an Editor and Reporter at dot.LA. Steve was previously managing editor for The Metaverse Post and before that deputy digital editor for Maxim magazine. He has written for Inside Hook, Observer and New York Mag. Steve is the author of two official tie-ins books for AMC’s hit “Breaking Bad” prequel, “Better Call Saul.” He’s also a classically-trained tenor and has performed with opera companies and orchestras all over the Eastern U.S. He lives in the greater Boston metro area with his wife, educator Dr. Dana Huff.
        silver and gold round coins
        Photo by Art Rachen on Unsplash

        Between 2020 and 2021, a cryptocurrency boom led several crypto-oriented companies to ink deals with athletic organizations like the NBA and UFC. One of the bigger deals was blockchain giant Crypto.com signing a $700 million deal with the Staples Center—one of the world's largest sports and entertainment venues—in Los Angeles. The Singapore-based company also signed agreements with the UFC and Formula 1 for promotion at various sports venues and on athletic equipment.

        Crypto.com wasn't the only crypto company to extend its reach into sports or entertainment. In exchange for naming rights to the Miami Heat's arena for 19 years, FTX, a cryptocurrency derivatives exchange, paid $135 million. And in an exclusive deal, Coinbase became the exclusive cryptocurrency exchange for the WNBA, NBA, and NBA G League.

        Rolling into 2022, there was little warning that crypto winter was coming.

        Winter Is Here

        In May, the major stablecoin TerraUSD lost its peg to the US dollar. In one day alone, TerraUSD lost $60 billion in value. After that, major crypto lender Celsius suspended withdrawals, citing liquidity problems. The company followed up by filing for bankruptcy.

        They were just among the first dominos to topple in the crypto world, and many others soon fell. As a National Research Group (NRG) report about the state of the cryptocurrency industry noted, the market has gone "down over 70% from the highs it reached towards the end of 2021, and many of the most popular coins are trading at less than half of where they were at the beginning of the year."

        As the NRG report also notes, the crypto market has undergone "dramatic" corrections before. Is the current crypto winter that different? And more importantly, will crypto winter freeze the budding love affair between entertainment, pro sports, and cryptocurrency?

        According to NRG, "crypto winter" has affected the public view of cryptocurrency in various ways.

        For example, NRG reports that "70% of consumers feel they have at least a 'moderate' understanding of cryptocurrencies." If accurate, that’s a notable change from a YouGov survey conducted in June 2021 which found that 69% of Americans agreed with the statement, “I don’t really understand cryptocurrency.”

        On the other hand, at least 61% of people surveyed said they were aware of the "crypto crash" or "crypto winter." It seems the heavy and negative news coverage of crypto winter over the last three months has considerably boosted consumer awareness—of the crashing market.

        NRG notes, "This isn't a technological novelty anymore; increasingly, having some knowledge of crypto and how it works is seen as an element of baseline financial literacy."

        Even though consumers have been exposed to a large number of crypto news stories, however, NRG reports that few bother to do deeper research. Bitcoin remains the most well-known name, and consumer awareness of other coins like ETH, Dogecoin, or even popular meme coin Shiba Inu hasn't increased much since the beginning of 2022. Even with the media's attention to TerraUSD de-pegging from the dollar (arguably one of crypto's most significant events in recent memory), only 7% of consumers are familiar with the term "stablecoin."

        Crypto sponsorships continue…mostly

        Crypto.com’s Al D’Agostino gave a succinct response to dot.LA when we reached out for further comment on the company's association with the Staples Center: "Crypto.com remains fully committed to its sports sponsorships. We are well financed and these are multiyear contracts, which will continue to play a crucial role in our mission to accelerate the world's transition to cryptocurrency."

        While the New York Post reported in late June that FTX had backed out of sponsorship negotiations with the Los Angeles Angels, the crypto exchange has taken on new sponsorship obligations with a $210 million naming deal for pro esports team TSM, aka Team SoloMid.

        But as recently as August 2, the Voyager cryptocurrency exchange backed out of a multi-year sponsorship deal with the US National Women's Soccer League (NWSL). In addition, the exchange is facing bankruptcy after its CEO made millions at the 2021 peak of the cryptocurrency boom.

        In comments accompanying its crypto winter report, NRG's Global Head of Insights, Marlon Cumberbatch, said "that the crypto crash hasn't done much to dampen Americans' enthusiasm toward cryptocurrencies – for investors, the recent crash is just the latest in a long series of ups and downs, rather than the start of a terminal decline."

        Cumberbatch also offered advice on how companies as big as pro sports teams and small as local businesses might strategize to survive crypto winter. "Start engaging openly and constructively with policymakers," Cumberbatch said, "continue to invest in educating consumers about the technology and promote practical use cases for crypto…"

        Cumberbatch also encouraged better cryptocurrency education for everyone. From the C-suite to the penny crypto investor in the street, people need to understand better what they're getting into. "Recent media coverage has done a lot to increase consumer awareness of crypto," he said, "it's not the same as increasing understanding. It's critical that consumers know enough about the technology to be able to make informed decisions and protect themselves from unnecessary risk."

        Cumberbatch did not respond immediately after dot.LA reached out for specific comments about crypto company sponsorships such as the Crypto.com and Staples Center deal.

        Where do we go from here?

        The NRG report on the general state of crypto did not predict doom and gloom but noted that the crypto landscape "is vast, complex, and constantly in flux."

        "More than anything else," the report continued, "recent events in the crypto market have made it clear that there's a need to educate potential investors. Before they buy-in, it's vital that consumers understand the technology on more than just a surface level—and that they know enough about crypto to be able to make informed decisions and protect themselves from unnecessary risk. And today's leading crypto firms will have a pivotal role to play in facilitating that educational journey."

        Cryptocurrency exchanges have benefited more from their sponsorships than the sponsored organizations, and at minimum, crypto winter has put a dent in more multimillion-dollar deals for now. But if the National Research Group's report proves prescient, this may be a temporary lull in cryptocurrency-oriented companies paying big money for widespread name recognition. Crypto.com arena is here to stay…for now. If crypto winter gives way to a crypto spring, we could see more Coinbase stadiums and Bored Ape Yacht Club restaurants soon.

        steve@dot.la

        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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