A Santa Monica Accelerator for the 'Startup Nation' Deals with COVID

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

A Santa Monica Accelerator for the 'Startup Nation' Deals with COVID

In normal times, the venture-backed accelerator Fusion LA brings batches of Israel startup teams to Santa Monica twice a year for networking, roadshows and mentorship. In their down time, founders can compare Southern California beaches to Tel Aviv, try out local restaurants and visit Disneyland.

But with most in person interaction halted by coronavirus, there was little point in taking a 15-hour flight to LAX. So most of the recent cohort stayed in Israel, pitching their business plans in a virtual showcase Tuesday.


Accelerators – with their white board sessions and leisurely group dinners – are particularly ill-suited to COVID, but Yair Vardi, founding partner of Fusion LA, has tried to focus on the silver linings.

"The advantage of the surreal COVID reality is that everyone is working from home, and no one knows if you're zooming clients from Santa Monica, Hong Kong or Tel Aviv," said Vardi. "In some cases, it's easier to set up a video-call, saving costs on flights and trade shows."

Fusion LA invests $110,000 in each company and connects Israeli founders with U.S. venture capital executives and entrepreneurs. In less than three years, it has backed 49 early-stage companies, with 70% of alumni going on to raise funds of $1 million to $7 million. Standouts have included GiantLeap, a science-backed platform that helps parents make data-driven decisions about their children's development as well as Erudite, an AI-powered reading platform.

The latest class included Crispify, which automates air quality monitoring, and eLoomina, which helps large corporations reduce employee fraud.

"VCs were not interested in hearing pitches during Q2, but over the summer some sense of normalcy returned," Vardi said.

Before starting Fusion LA in 2017 he worked as an advocate for the Israeli government's technology and innovation initiatives in L.A and served in Unit 8200, Israel's equivalent of the NSA.

Israel has been called "startup nation," boasting the largest number of startups per capita in the world.

"We hope that in 2021, with positive vaccine news, we can resume on the ground accelerator operations, or at least host an outdoor happy hour," Vardi said.

Founder Spotlight: Fusion LA Co-Founder & Partner Yair Vardiwww.youtube.com

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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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LA Tech ‘Moves’: HyperDraft Taps LegalZoom Exec

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.

LA Tech ‘Moves’: HyperDraft Taps LegalZoom Exec
Photo by James Opas | Modified by Joshua Letona

“Moves,” our roundup of job changes in L.A. tech, is presented by Interchange.LA, dot.LA's recruiting and career platform connecting Southern California's most exciting companies with top tech talent. Create a free Interchange.LA profile here—and if you're looking for ways to supercharge your recruiting efforts, find out more about Interchange.LA's white-glove recruiting service by emailing Sharmineh O’Farrill Lewis (sharmineh@dot.la). Please send job changes and personnel moves to moves@dot.la.

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