First Look Showcases Life Science  Startups from SoCal Academies

Bernard Mendez
Bernard Mendez is an editorial intern at dot.LA. He attends UCLA, where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics. Mendez was previously an editor at the Daily Bruin, the student newspaper at UCLA.
First Look Showcases Life Science  Startups from SoCal Academies
Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

The featured startups span industries from therapeutics to software to green tech. One wants to change the way you experience audio. Another uses CRISPR technology to find a cure for a rare genetic disease. A third wants to repurpose waste to generate a food preservative.

These three startups, along with 24 others, will have the opportunity to present to a panel of investors as part of today's First Look SoCal Innovation Showcase.


The event, which will be held virtually, begins Wednesday and lasts two days, bringing together some of the top research institutes in SoCal, including Caltech, USC and UCs Santa Barbara, Riverside and San Diego, among others. Each team will have three minutes to present their startup followed by a six minute question and answer session with investors. There are no prizes and no competition involved.

The first day is dedicated to life science-related startups, while the second is reserved for technology startups.

Both days begin with a welcome speech and a keynote speaker. The first day will feature Andy Slavitt, the former senior advisor to the White House COVID-19 response task force during the first four months of the Biden administration; the second will feature George Whitesides, a former CEO and current chair of Virgin Galactic.

The event will also host workshops for startups and will conclude with a panel of experts. The event is free and attendees can attend by registering for tickets on the Alliance for SoCal Innovation website.

Here's a quick run through of three of the startups scheduled to present:

EDGE Sound ResearchEDGE teammembers from left: Vincent Zhang, Winson Bi, Constantine Pappas, Ethan Castro, Valtteri Salomaki, Julian Bell, Santiago (not part of the team) and Brandon Babu.

Technology to Let You Feel Music — Literally

Valtteri Salomaki wants to update how people experience sound.

"The last big significant pull was surround sound," he said. "Since then, audio hasn't changed, it's just fragmentally gotten better."

Salomaki, the co-founder of L.A.-based startup EDGE Sound Research, is developing what he and his cohorts call "experiential audio," an experience that lets users feel audio physically.

The company has one product, which is still in testing: ResonX, a circular device that straps onto the back of a gaming or office chair. The device resonates, allowing the user to feel vibrations in the chair. Users can use this technology for video games, music or movies.

EDGE is aiming to raise around $1.6 million to finish the product and launch new ones.

Experiential audio is difficult to explain; "until you've experienced it, it's very hard to rationalize," Salomaki said.

"The first reaction that we kind of are coining is they have a 'holy shit' moment where they've never experienced feeling sound before," he said.

He described the experience as like being in the front row of an EDM concert and feeling the boom of subwoofers. He said ResonX can create that sensation without bothering your neighbors or destroying your ears: the device has a "quiet" option.

The company plans to tailor its products to the gaming market, which Salomaki said is driven by immersion and experience — and is less price sensitive. The company is also allowing gamers to sign up to test ResonX in-person for free.

MyoGene BioFrom left: Melissa Spencer, a Neurology professor at UCLA and cofounder of the company; Courtney Young, CEO; and April Pyle, a UCLA Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics professor and co-founder.

Treating Rare Diseases With Genetic Editing

As an undergraduate at John Hopkins University, Courtney Young volunteered at labs and spent summers interning for companies that did work related to Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disease that affects around 1 out of every 3,500 of males and causes the atrophying of upper arm and leg muscles. Patients often require wheelchairs by their early teens and develop life-threatening conditions by early adulthood.

For Young, her Duchenne research is personal: when she was in high school, her cousin was diagnosed with the disease.

Duchenne is most often diagnosed in patients between the ages of 3 to 6, according to the National Organization of Rare Diseases. There is no existing long-term cure for the disease. And, according to Young, the few approved treatments either have modest effects, require weekly doses or have severe side effects.

As a PhD candidate at UCLA, she began developing a gene editing therapy for Duchenne, eventually discovering that CRISPR, gene editing technology, could be used to treat some patients.

"Gene editing is kind of like a permanent version of that for more patients," Young said.

She and two UCLA professors went on to found MyoGene Bio, a Los Angeles-based startup hoping to use that technique to find an effective, long term treatment for Duchenne.

MyoGene Bio is using the technology to serve as a long-term treatment. The technique, called MyoDys45-55, uses CRISPR technology to remove genetic mutations that cause the disease.

The company has proved that its treatment is effective in human stem cells that have been injected into mice, and is looking to move on to larger animal and long-term mice testing, Young, now the company's CEO, said.

The treatment is still in pre-clinical development, and clinical trials themselves could take between four to eight years, Young said.

MyoGene Bio also isn't the only company trying to treat Duchenne using gene editing technology. A number of academic labs and a handful of companies are working on similar techniques, Young said. However, MyoGene Bio's technique can target a larger number of Duchene patients — around 50% — while other treatments have so far been able to target only around 13% of patients, she added.

Young said her personal connection has pushed her to seek a more holistic solution to Duchenne, rather than just treating side effects.

"Seeing him at holidays and how his disease is progressing always kind of reminds me of why we're trying to develop therapies for muscle diseases that have no other cure," she said.

Turning Biodiesel Waste Into Food Preservatives

In the words of its head of research and development Joshua Hirner, Catapower turns "people's trash into other people's treasure."

The company started in 2017 after USC chemistry professor Travis Williams and Zhiyao Lu, then a chemistry PhD candidate at the school, discovered a technique to turn Glycerol, a waste product made during biodiesel fuel production, into Lactate salts.

Lactate salts are used by the meatpacking industry and other food industries as a food preservative.

Catapower's process uses a proprietary chemical catalyst that is more efficient at turning Glycerol into Lactate salts than other techniques, Hirner said.

Increasing the supply of Lactate salts could also help replace food preservatives that can be toxic, Hirner said, including bleach and ammonia.

"We see a lot of value for it for everyone involved here, from a planetary perspective, from a climate perspective, from a health perspective," he added.

Catapower is still in its proof-of-concept stage and is planning to figure out ways to ramp up production of Lactate salts, Hirner said. Ultimately, the company hopes to buy Glycerol waste from biodiesel producers that produce large quantities of glycerol and sell the lactate salts to larger Lactate salt distributors.

"We're really excited about the fact that we can take these byproducts, and through our efficient process, turn them into something that the market finds valuable," said Hirner.

Catapower has since received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Hirner said.

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🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

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.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

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.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

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.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

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