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 Vardi www.youtube.com

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

Relativity Space, the Long Beach 3D-printed rocket maker, has unveiled plans to create a fully reusable rocket.

CEO Tim Ellis told CNBC that the move is an "obvious evolution" for the company. The announcement comes on the heels of a hefty $500 million round he closed in November.

"It's the same architecture, the same propellant, the same factory, the same 3D printers, the same avionics and the same team," Ellis told the outlet.

Read more Show less

Nearly a year into the worst pandemic in a century, Los Angeles companies expecting to snap up office space on the cheap may be disappointed.

L.A. office rents have held steady or even gotten pricier since COVID, even as more space has become available as most employees continue to work from home.

"I honestly thought rents would have dropped by now," said Michael Soto, research director at the brokerage Savills Inc. "For a lot of tenants, they are still seeing a bit of sticker shock that prices haven't dropped yet."

Read more Show less

On today's episode of Office Hours, I'm excited for you to get to know Austin Allison, my co-founder and CEO of our company, Pacaso.

Birds were the first dwellers Austin served with his boyhood bird-house business. Now, with Pacaso, our goal is to democratize second-home ownership by enabling people to co-own an amazing second home --- for 1/8 the cost.

Hear his take on what it meant to have his first company acquired, his number one tip on how to keep his crew focused and how to best navigate what seems like weekly iterations of the start-up environment.

Read more Show less
RELATEDEDITOR'S PICKS

Trending