These Are LA's Top Venture Capitalists of 2022, According to Their Fellow VCs
Sign up for dot.LA’s daily newsletter for the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.
On the heels of a record-setting year for Southern California’s startup environment, we asked more than 30 leading Los Angeles-based investors for their take on the city’s top venture capitalists. (Specifically, we prompted: “Which L.A.-based VCs impress you the most?”) They responded with the names of 45 peers that they admire—14 of whom made the following list by receiving two or more votes.
The results offer an insider’s view of the L.A.’s startup scene in 2022—which, even as it rapidly expands, remains an insular world led by a handful of key dealmakers, like the venture capital industry at large. This year, TenOneTen partner Minnie Ingersoll and Bonfire Ventures managing director Mark Mullen tied for the top spot, with five votes apiece; they were followed by Wonder Ventures managing partner Dustin Rosen, who received four votes. Behind them, five VCs tied for third place with three votes each, while another six investors round up the list with two votes apiece.
Like last year’s list (which also featured Bonfire’s Mullen in the top spot), the below results are sorted by the number of votes each VC received; where there were ties, we list the investors alphabetically by their last names. As always, we asked survey participants not to vote for any of their colleagues—and vetted the list to ensure they stuck to that rule.
Without further ado ado, here are LA’s top VCs of 2022, as judged by their peers.
Minnie Ingersoll, TenOneTen Ventures
Minnie Ingersoll, TenOneTen Ventures (5 Votes)
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at early-stage venture firm TenOneTen, whose recent investments include crypto travel rewards startup FlyCoin. Prior to TenOneTen, she co-founded Shift Technologies, an online marketplace for buying and selling used cars. Ingersoll also spent more than a decade at Google, where she focused on the tech giant’s fiber optic, advertising and charitable efforts. (She also hosts dot.LA’s LA Venture podcast.)
Mark Mullen, Bonfire Ventures
Mark Mullen, Bonfire Ventures (5 Votes)
Mark Mullen is co-founder and managing director of Bonfire Ventures, an early-stage venture firm that backs business-to-business (B2B) software startups. (Recent investments include cloud communications startup Telgorithm.) Mullen previously managed venture funds Double M Partners and Mull Capital. In January, an SEC filing revealed that Bonfire aimed to raise $165 million for its third fund. (Disclosure: Mullen is an investor in dot.LA.)
Dustin Rosen, Wonder Ventures
Dustin Rosen, Wonder Ventures (4 Votes)
Dustin Rosen is the founder and managing partner of Wonder Ventures, an early stage investor in companies including L.A.-based unicorns Whatnot and Bird. Earlier in his career, Rosen founded the fashion app Pose and was a senior associate at the Mail Room Fund. Last month, Wonder launched a $31 million fund focused exclusively on early-stage L.A. startups.
Jim Andelman, Bonfire Ventures
Jim Andelman, Bonfire Ventures (3 Votes)
Alongside Mark Mullen, Jim Andelman is a co-founder and managing director at Bonfire Ventures, an early-stage venture firm focused on B2B software startups. Previously, he oversaw software deals for Bay Area investment firm Broadview Capital Partners.
Anna Barber, M13
Anna Barber, M13 (3 Votes)
Anna Barber is a partner at M13, a venture firm focused on early-stage consumer tech companies. (Recent investments include NFT startup Unblocked.) Barber is also an advisor to the USC Marshall Venture Fund. She previously led Techstars LA as its managing director and co-founded Scribble Press, a New York-based book publishing startup. (Disclosure: M13 is an investor in dot.LA.)
Eva Ho, Fika Ventures
Eva Ho, Fika Ventures (3 Votes)
Eva Ho is a general partner at Fika Ventures, a seed-stage firm that focuses on sectors including AI, automation and big data. Ho formerly worked at Google and served as entrepreneur-in-residence for the city of Los Angeles.
Jeff Morris, Chapter One
Jeff Morris, Chapter One (3 Votes)
Jeff Morris is the founder and managing partner of Chapter One, a venture firm targeting early-stage web3 startups. The former Tinder executive’s previous investments include Dapper Labs, Lyft, Cameo and PearPop.
Dana Settle, Greycroft
Dana Settle, Greycroft (3 Votes)
Dana Settle is a co-founder and managing partner at Greycroft, which has backed consumer-focused startups including Acorns, Goop and Bumble. The Lehman Brothers alum helped Greycroft close two funds worth nearly $700 million combined in late 2020. (Disclosure: Greycroft is an investor in dot.LA.)
Josh Diamond, Walkabout Ventures
Josh Diamond, Walkabout Ventures (2 Votes)
Josh Diamond is a general partner at Walkabout Ventures, a seed-stage venture firm that primarily targets fintech startups. Diamond previously served as a principal investor at Clocktower Technology Ventures.
Buck Jordan, Wavemaker Labs
Buck Jordan, Wavemaker Labs (2 Votes)
Buck Jordan is the founder and CEO of Wavemaker Labs, which funds and incubates startups in partnership with larger corporations. Wavemaker has especially targeted the food industry supply chain space—backing automated technologies at both the agricultural and food preparation stages that deploy AI and robotics.
Kara Nortman, Upfront Ventures
Kara Nortman, Upfront Ventures (2 Votes)
Kara Nortman is a managing partner at Upfront Ventures. An alum of IAC, Battery Ventures and Microsoft, Nortman previously co-founded children’s ecommerce startup Moonfrye and also helped launch women’s professional soccer club Angel City FC. Upfront raised $177 million for a new fund in January; local portfolio companies include GOAT, Creator Now and Endgame. (Disclosure: Upfront Ventures is an investor in dot.LA.)
Spencer Rascoff, 75 & Sunny
Spencer Rascoff, 75 & Sunny (2 Votes)
Spencer Rascoff is a co-founder and general partner at 75 & Sunny, a venture firm and startup incubator. Focused on sectors including proptech and ecommerce, Rascoff previously co-founded Zillow, Hotwire.com and real estate platform Pacaso (Disclosure: Rascoff is the co-founder and executive chairman of dot.LA.)
Adriana Saman, Clocktower Technology Ventures
Adriana Saman, Clocktower Technology Ventures (2 Votes)
Adriana Saman is a principal at Clocktower Technology Ventures, a venture firm investing in early-stage fintech startups across the U.S., Europe and Latin America. Saman was previously an analyst at JPMorgan Chase.
Sara Zayani, Global Founders Capital
Sara Zayani, Global Founders Capital (2 Votes)
Sarra Zayani is a partner at Global Founders Capital. The Greycroft alum has led Global Founders’ investments in local startups including Cann, Universal Hydrogen and Pacaso.
- Los Angeles Startups Closed a Record Number of Deals in Q3 - dot.LA ›
- VCs See Valuations Reach Record Highs as Optimism Stays High ... ›
- Here Are Los Angeles' Top Venture Capitalists - dot.LA ›
- Venture Deals in LA Are Slowing Down - dot.LA ›
- Bonfire Ventures Raises $230M Across Two New VC Funds - dot.LA ›
- Struck Studio Launches $15M Fund to Create In-House Startups - dot.LA ›
- Struck Capital Launches $15M Fund to Create In-House Startups - dot.LA ›
- L’Attitude Ventures Closes $100M Fund Aimed At U.S.-based Latino Founders - dot.LA ›
- L’Attitude Ventures Closes $100M Fund Aimed At U.S.-based Latino Founders - dot.LA ›
- PitchBook Reports Fewer Tech Investments - dot.LA ›
Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.
Located roughly a hundred miles east of San Diego, the Salton Sea is California’s largest landlocked body of water, for now.
Measuring 5 miles across and 35 miles long in its current form, the lake was created by diverting water from the Colorado River into the region for agricultural purposes. Once a vacation destination renowned for its wildlife and wetlands, a series of environmental mishaps and mismanagement have left the lake toxically salty, shrinking and often malodorous. Conditions have gotten so bad that Palm Springs Life Magazine called the region’s transformation “the biggest environmental disaster in California history” in March of 2020.
But against this unlikely backdrop, new life—or at least new industry—is scrambling to set up shop in the region. The Salton Sea, it turns out, is rich with lithium, an element that has taken center stage in the world’s transition to clean energy and its ever-growing demand for batteries. From smartphones to electric vehicles, there’s a pretty good chance that the last battery you used had lithium ions inside. Prices for the metal reached an all time high in September, and futures are up more than 400% since the start of 2021. With Biden’s new economic policy outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act, there are strong financial incentives to move battery production back to North America.
If that’s going to happen the Salton Sea could very well become the lithium capital of North America, or to paraphrase Governor Gavin Newsom, the region could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” and the players are already starting to assemble.
Currently, there are three companies attempting to set up plants in the Salton Sea for direct lithium extraction: EnergySource Minerals, Controlled Thermal Resources and BHE Renewables, a branch of Berkshire Hathaway. All three companies have similar business strategies from a high level, all of which involve geothermal power plants. These plants, which are common in many parts of the world, draw hot, salty water from deep in the ground to create steam which drives a turbine to produce electricity. What makes the Salton Sea so special is that its geothermal brines just happen to contain lithium.
In a 2017 study, researchers from the U.S. DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy analyzed more than 2,000 samples of geothermal fluid from U.S. sources and found that only 1% had significant lithium concentration. This rare confluence of geothermal activity and lithium presence provides an opportunity for companies to generate electricity and mine lithium simultaneously.
Beyond their marriage of geothermal energy and lithium extraction, the three companies begin to diverge.
According to former dot.LA engagement editor Luis Gomez — whose newsletter Lithium Valle, is essential reading on this topic — EnergySource seems to be out in front early.
“They claim to have the technology that’s patented, they claim to have done the research, they claim to have the funding, and they claim they're ready to go and start production,” says Gomez. “They are kind of considered the canary in the coal mine.”
According to a report from the United States Department of Energy, EnergySource plans to eventually scale production up to over 20,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year using its proprietary Integrated Lithium Adsorption Desorption technology.
Construction on the plant was slated to start earlier this year, but has been delayed. EnergySource has said publicly that lithium production might begin in the second quarter of 2024, but it’s unclear whether this date will also be pushed back. The company has a long history of operating in the region, having run the John L. Featherstone geothermal plant since 2012. The new venture into lithium would leverage that same plant, but without more details about how their proprietary technology works, there’s not much to do but wait and see.
One potential problem facing all three lithium extraction companies is that the Salton Sea geothermal brines are not the same as the brines in evaporation ponds similar to those in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, where more than half of the world’s lithium is produced. Specifically, the deep geothermal brines in the Salton Sea contain more silica and transition elements, which may complicate the chemistry of purifying the lithium. Still, many researchers are extremely bullish on the prospect of tapping into these reserves. Alex Grant, The Principal at Jade Cove, a research organization focusing on direct lithium extraction technologies, says that much of the skepticism surrounding the technology can be attributed to competing financial interests that are trying to squash the nascent tech’s potential in favor of an established method.
Lithium Mines in the Atacama Salt Flats, Chile from an altitude of 15km via Google Earth. The facility is about 10km wide.
For its part, BHE Renewables, operating as CalEnergy, runs a fleet of 10 geothermal plants in the Imperial Valley. The company had previously announced its intent to set up a direct lithium extraction demonstration plant sometime before the end of 2022 to assess the viability of lithium extraction. If that pilot program goes well, the company could build a commercial-scale facility as early as 2026 with a projected annual capacity of 90,000 metric tons of lithium.
Obviously, having the backing of Berkshire Hathaway comes with advantages and capital. Add into the equation another $15 million in DoE grant money obtained last winter, and BHE appears to be well positioned as a major player in the long term.
Finally, there’s Controlled Thermal Resources. As the only company not already operating a geothermal business in the region, CTR is something of an outsider and dark horse. By 2024, the company hopes to build both a geothermal energy plant and a direct lithium extraction plant to operate in parallel, projecting a capacity to extract 300,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent annually by 2030. As dot.LA previously reported, Controlled Thermal Resources has partnered with Statevolt, a company that intends to build a $4 billion gigafactory nearby that will run on power from CTR’s geothermal plant and make batteries from the lithium it extracts. It’s a beautiful closed-loop business model. But again, all of this relies on the direct lithium extraction technology, and details are scant.
According to Gomez, despite the typically cut-throat nature of the energy industry, the relationship between the three upstarts in the Salton Sea is often surprisingly cooperative at the moment.
“They want the others to succeed because it kind of gives them the confidence that their technology is also eventually going to succeed,” he says. “It gives confidence to investors.”
Which is all to say, there may well be space for all three companies if the technology is as solid as they claim. If that’s the case, the Salton Sea and its surrounding region may have yet another miraculous transformation up its sleeve.
- EV Battery Maker Statevolt Is Embracing a 'Buy Local' Ethos - dot.LA ›
- EV Battery Maker's Plans Gigafactory in Imperial Valley - dot.LA ›
David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.
Anasofia Gomez spends her early mornings filming herself journaling, picking up coffee and getting ready for the day. By 9 a.m., she’s ready to start her full-time job as a social media marketer.
The Los Angeles-based creator is just one of the 53% of non-professional creators in the United States who maintain a full-time job while also creating monetized content. Colloquially speaking, Gomez is considered a micro-influencer—creators with followers that range from 1,000 to 100,000.
Gomez treats her content creation as a second job: she starts her day at 6 a.m. just to film her content, which often features her outfits and local recommendations, and ends her days at 11 p.m. by posting her daily video. This level of dedication has earned Gomez almost 38,000 TikTok followers and partnerships with brands like perfume company Dossier and FitOn—a fitness app.
Jon Davids, the CEO of influencer marketing company Influicity, says brands often partner with micro-influencers to create a larger volume of content. Similar to their partnerships with normal influencers, companies will send micro-influencers free products in exchange for a promotional video. Depending on the influencer, some companies will pay over $200 per video.
The difference, of course, is that since companies can pay micro-influencers less, they’ll get more content for their money. For example, he says a mega-influencer may charge $5,000 for one video, while companies can take that same budget and work with roughly 30 micro-influencers.
“You can get lots and lots and lots of content without paying massive amounts of money for it,” Davids says. “And, frankly, the supply is just there.”
But Gomez says the money is often inconsistent. A month-long deal can briefly boost her income, but that doesn’t guarantee a partnership for the upcoming months. The inconsistency isn’t without its benefits, however. Gomez says that since she doesn’t rely on these partnerships for income, she can be more particular about what companies she works with.
Gomez has even turned her micro-influencing, work-life balance into content. Her series documenting her attempts to make the most of her time outside of work has taken off. Gomez’s first video about her “promise to get off the couch and seize life” has over 10 thousand likes. As such, she’s since maintained a series of videos focused on how she uses her time outside of work.
In fact, the “5 to 9” trend, which features people showing off their detailed routines before and after work, often with homemade meals and elaborate skincare routines, can get creators thousands of views. Other micro-influencers highlight content specifically about their careers: lawyers translate legal jargon, nurses discuss their work hours and teachers share their classroom management strategies. Which is to say, for many non-professional creators, quitting their full-time job would likely alter their content and potentially alienate their audience.
To that end, Davids says, these niche communities, such as influencers who make content about engineering or waste management, are often where micro-influencers thrive.
“The micro-influencers that we have today really didn't exist five or six years ago,” Davids says. “People who had very, very small audiences on social weren’t doing it to have any kind of professional presence—they were just kind of creating content for their friends and family.”
Which is why, Davids adds, amateur content creators can actively engage their followers on a more personable level than many mega-influencers.
Nonetheless, Gomez has thought about pursuing content creation full-time. But, she finds that she enjoys the security her traditional job provides compared to the lack of financial consistency from her influencing endeavors.
“You just never know what the future is with social,” Gomez says. “I think you really do have to be in a really good place [financially] to be able to say, ‘I'm going to quit my job and just do content creation.’” Amen.
- TikTok Stars Are Earning More Than Many S&P 500 CEOs - dot.LA ›
- Influencers and Influencer Trends to Watch in 2022 - dot.LA ›
- SAG AFTRA Approves Influencers for Union Protection - dot.LA ›
- Mantis VC Jeffrey Evans On Influencer Marketing - dot.LA ›
- Should I Sell or Keep My Yeezy Shoes? - dot.LA ›
- What Kanye's Dropped Brand Deals Mean for Influencers - dot.LA ›
- How A Recession Might Impact Influencers - dot.LA ›
- Rosie Nguyen Wants Fanhouse To Help Content Creators - dot.LA ›
Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.