Get in the KNOW
on LA Startups & TechX
Meet the Startups Joining the Long Beach Accelerator's New Cohort
Long Beach has a long history of innovation. It’s one of the densest aerospace hubs on the West Coast. There’s a vital port there, and the city is home to several tech industries—including health care, space tech and cybersecurity. That, along with its colleges and universities, have made Long Beach an enticing destination for entrepreneurs.
It’s within this environment that the Long Beach Accelerator sprouted in 2019 and has grown since. To date, the accelerator has cycled 20 companies through its four-month program, helping them raise a total of over $12 million.
On July 5, the program will welcome its fourth cohort of startups from around the world, participating in a hybrid combo of virtual and in-person sessions. Each cohort includes between five to 10 companies.
Long Beach, along with Cal State University, Long Beach’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and capital provider Sunstone Management, are all partners in this public-private model of startup investment. The accelerator itself operates as a nonprofit.
Long Beach Accelerator Managing Director Andrea White-Kjoss
The city provides help with some funding, covering the costs for some low- to moderate income Long Beach-based founders whose companies are accepted into the accelerator.
The organization's partnership with CSULB enables it to help founders move from idea stage to execution at the institute, and then advance to business growth via the accelerator.
Sunstone Management, a private capital management and investment firm, provides funding for the incoming cohorts. The firm's venture capital fund typically invests $100,000 in the startups as soon as they join the accelerator and takes a 6% equity stake in return.
Sunstone had also been providing some follow-on funding on a case-by-case basis. It upped the ante earlier this year by promising an additional $500,000 to current cohort and alumni.
“It's a model that brings enormous resources to the table for our portfolio companies, as well as for economic development, acting as a growth engine for the region,” managing director Andrea White-Kjoss told dot.LA.
A serial entrepreneur who has served as CFO at several companies, White-Kjoss came aboard as the founding managing director in July 2020. Before that, she co-founded seed-stage funding platform ExtraVallis, based in Rancho Santa Fe, and founded Mobis Transportation, which was the product of a public-private partnership with the city of Long Beach.
She also happens to be a 17-year resident of the city.
“So I know intimately how attractive this city is to tech entrepreneurs, from the high-tech industries, to the culture and lifestyle, to the world-class workforce and institutions,” she said. “When you bring all of that together...the opportunity to build a tech accelerator, and more than that really, a tech ecosystem here in Long Beach, was natural and irresistible.”
The accelerator was originally intended to be in-person, but quickly had to pivot to remote sessions during the pandemic. It remains virtual, for the most part, “which has turned out to be a huge source of strength,” White-Kjoss said.
That’s because the founders come from all over the world. There’s no geographic restrictions on who’s accepted and no need to burden founders with moving to Long Beach to participate.
White-Kjoss said the move has fostered diversity, and enabled the accelerator to draw on an international network of mentors, instructors, advisors and investors.
They—along with the accelerator’s staff of three facilitators — get to know the companies and their founders “deeply” and provide individualized assistance, including building strategic partnerships with potential customers and/or marketing partners.
There is still an in-person aspect to the accelerator. All cohort founders fly into Long Beach for about two weeks during the program. While there, they attend in-person workshops and networking events. They also participate in a Demo Day, with investors present. This helps the companies get additional seed funding for continued growth once they graduate.
So far, five graduating startups have received acquisition offers—but none have taken them.
White-Kjoss said that’s because those founders “felt they had much further to take their companies, at least in some degree, due to the empowerment of the tools, resources and networks provided by the accelerator.”
One success is Los Angeles-based Bump. Since graduating from the Long Beach Accelerator, Bump has raised more than $5 million, co-founder and CEO James Jones told dot.LA.
It’s currently participating in another accelerator, Snap’s in-house Yellow Accelerator, which is now a co-lead investor in Bump, along with Sunstone.
The company is working on an AI-fueled fintech platform for the creator economy, which hasn’t yet launched. It would help creators track revenue from multiple sources, monitor expenses, access credit and manage their crypto and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
The company has started a waitlist, for access to its credit and financial management tools. Once the services are available users would pay about $400 per year.
The company also plans to integrate micro-advances into its platform, designed to enable creators to stay in full control of their finances and keep 100% of the rights to their work.
Jones said that participating in the Long Beach Accelerator’s very first cohort was a “great springboard” for the company.
Specifically, sessions on customer personas and discovering addressable markets, as well as mentor meetings were “invaluable,” he added.
Meet the Startups In the Long Beach Accelerator's Latest Cohort:
Apsy: Creating the first true fully AI platform to build affordable elegant custom apps.
Crumbraise, Inc.: Fundraising made easy for creators, clubs & causes.
Educational Vision Technologies, Inc.: Automated video editing and content curation using A.I. to make online learning accessible, efficient and engaging.
Gift Pass App Inc.: Streamlining experiences around digital gifting & payments.
The Girls Co LLC: We are a women's health company that is currently focused on a solution to alleviate period cramp pain.
Intellitech Spa Inc.: Intellitech is a realtime telematics, predictive maintenance and driver behavior monitoring platform.
Kwema: Kwema provides an easy to scale Smart Badge Reel Duress Service that reduces incident response time without escalating the situation.
Pathloom, Inc.: Outdoor trip planning made easy!
Rotender: The world's fastest and most reliable bar.
- Launch House Accelerator Expands to New York and Beyond - dot.LA ›
- Techstars' 2021 Space Accelerator Class - dot.LA ›
- Los Angeles' Top Startup Incubators and Accelerators - dot.LA ›
Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.
A month after she died at the age of 87, Marina Helen Smith spoke at her own funeral.
Smith, the co-founder of the U.K.’s National Holocaust Centre and Museum, addressed her friends and family last week through a prerecorded video. Yet Smith was able to answer some questions during the memorial service, too. After her son, Stephen Smith, asked what she’d say at her funeral, she delivered a brief speech about her life and spirituality. She also answered questions about loved ones who attended the ceremony, creating the illusion of a real-time conversation.
Smith’s interactive video was made using tech from her son’s startup, Los Angeles-based StoryFile. Launched in 2017, the company lets people create videos that can reply to viewers’ questions, using artificial intelligence (AI) to play relevant video clips as responses. Initially conceived as a way to preserve stories of Holocaust survivors and talk to other historical figures, StoryFile’s videos are now showing up at funerals, CEO Stephen Smith said. After losing his mother, Smith understands why.
“I don't find it in the least bit weird to bring up my mother's StoryFile and talk to her,” he told dot.LA. “It's strange to say that but it feels, actually, very natural.”
StoryFile is part of an emerging tech trend practically pulled from the plot of a sci-fi novel. Tech companies have made tools that let people talk to the dead, from digital memorials to chatbots impersonating the deceased. In addition to helping people mourn and remember loved ones, such programs can serve as educational tools. But experts warn similar tech has been deployed for nefarious purposes, like spreading misinformation.
In June, Amazon showed how its Alexa virtual assistant could read a bedtime story in a dead relative’s voice, based on a short audio recording of the deceased person. It’s unclear whether that capability will become an Alexa feature, as it remains in an “exploratory research” stage, a company spokesperson told dot.LA.
Microsoft has also shown an interest in virtually reviving the dead, patenting a chatbot that pulls data from a person’s social media posts. More recently, the software giant said it would restrict customer use of AI that can impersonate someone’s voice, noting the tech “has exciting potential” but could be used to “deceive listeners.”
Tech bringing the dead back to life has shown up in Hollywood, too, and not just as a storyline for Netflix’s “Black Mirror.” In 2019, Disney included late actress Carrie Fisher in a “Star Wars” film by combining real footage of her face with a completely digital character.
StoryFile’s videos aren’t that creepy. At least not yet. The 40-person startup doesn’t put words in anyone’s mouth or try to create new facial expressions like so-called “deepfake” videos. The StoryFile clips use only pre-recorded answers for a limited—but still long—list of possible questions. If you pose a question the subject doesn't have a recorded answer to, they’ll encourage you to ask something else.
That said, StoryFile’s Smith showed dot.LA demos of its more advanced “digital recreations,” which would let people talk to historical figures like Elvis and Albert Einstein, who obviously were unavailable for interviews. Smith believes such videos could potentially be educational, letting students of the future learn physics from a digital Einstein.
The StoryFile idea can be traced to 2010 when Smith’s wife, Heather Maio-Smith, was creating a historical exhibit about Holocaust survivors. She wanted to create “engaging conversations” that would let people interview survivors rather than simply hearing a “linear” oral history, Stephen Smith said. They developed the interactive interviews through a partnership with the University of Southern California. Eventually, the Smiths launched StoryFile to capture stories from historical figures and everyday people. Heather serves as StoryFile’s chief visionary officer.
“How do you communicate best with the past? It's when you ask questions about the past,” Stephen Smith said. “It becomes a relationship with the past, not just that history that's told to you.”
StoryFile’s Conversa AI has been used to create interactive interviews with the still-living likes of actor William Shatner and, more recently, Clarence Jones, the personal counsel of Martin Luther King Jr. The company also has commercial clients using interactive video for customer service or employee training. StoryFiles popping up at funerals, however, was a total surprise, Smith said. Late actor Ed Asner’s memorial notably included such a video.
Other startups see a market opportunity in interactive digital memorials. El Cerrito-based HereAfter AI pairs user photos and audio interviews to similarly let family members talk to recordings of loved ones on their computers, smartphones or smart speakers. Cofounder and CEO James Vlahos got the idea after creating “Dadbot,” a chatbot that shared his father’s life story and personality when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
Actor William Shatner is interviewed for an interactive video inside StoryFile's L.A. studio.Photo courtesy of StoryFile
Some HereAfter AI customers have recorded interviews for up to 10 hours, Vlahos told dot.LA. “Once you get people rolling, talking about their lives, they have a lot to say,” he noted. The market for this kind of product is still relatively small, with only a handful of direct competitors, he said.
Like StoryFile, HereAfter AI doesn’t use its tech to generate answers to questions that weren’t asked during an interview. Vlahos called that a “sensitive area.” On one hand, letting AI form its own responses would make the chat experience more flexible and powerful. On the other, synthesizing what grandpa might have said starts “crossing that line,” Vlahos said.
“We might get it wrong, and that might be really hurtful to someone,” he said. “Or if nothing else, it might be kind of creepy.”
More advanced “deepfakes,” which use AI to create convincing video and audio hoaxes of someone’s likeness, have gained widespread attention and criticism. Recently, a fake clip of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made it look like he surrendered to Russia. Fraudsters could deploy similar programs to steal someone’s identity, too, experts said. Unlike the living, dead people can’t correct the record if a video is bogus, creating a unique set of ethical and philosophical questions.
Legitimate commercial ventures deploying the tech make sure users know they’re not talking to a real or living person, said Arizona State University professor Subbarao Kambhampati, who teaches computer science. “But the real issue is, what if you don't know? And that can be very easily done,” he added. As such tech becomes more ubiquitous, Kambhampati predicts more people won’t trust their eyes and ears.
“I think in the longer term, we will get used to it. We will no longer just directly trust what we are hearing and seeing,” he said. “But it's the transition that's going to be tricky, because many people can be taken because we still tend to believe what we hear, what we see, so that skepticism has to increase.”
The tech could also be applied in the metaverse, a nascent vision for the internet where we might work, shop and socialize inside 3D virtual environments. Students may one day strap on virtual reality headsets and watch Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address—then ask the president some follow up questions.
“I think there's a lot of good that will come out of this,” said Majid Abai, founder and CEO of Seena AI, a software and app development firm in Los Angeles. “Now, not only can I see a video, but I can also put a headset on and meet up with a loved one in the metaverse.”
In January, Stephen Smith asked his mother scores of questions over two days to record her StoryFile. She spoke candidly about her upbringing in India and childhood difficulties transitioning to England. Smith said he learned new things about her past, such as when she had measles as a child and was put in quarantine for four months, seperated from her parents.
“I didn’t know that story. She never mentioned it,” Smith said. “Things that she'd [previously] not revealed were revealed. I was grateful for that information about her.”
- LA-Based StoryFile Raises Another Round to Expand Its Interactive ... ›
- Storyfile Uses AI to Allow Users to Talk with History - dot.LA ›
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.
Historical documents, records and important artifacts are sometimes locked away in vaults (until a museum or library wants to showcase them), and under restricted access. Thomas McLeod believes that these artifacts hold great value and have the potential to impact communities, so he founded Arkive, the first decentralized, physical museum.
The inspiration for Arkive came from McLeod’s previous company, Omni, a physical storage company acquired by Coinbase in 2019.
“We thought it would always be like utility items and we started getting full sneaker collections, vintage posters, records, comic books that were valuable and we kind of had a panic attack,” McLeod told dot.LA. “The business [Omni] was built around storing bikes, and you can't put a vintage record next to a dirt bike. They just don't store in the same manner.”
McLeod was fascinated by the items and collections that came through the door. To him, it felt like browsing a museum of curated items that everyday people collect.
That’s when McLeod knew he was onto something.
McLeod has built startups before. Past projects included Pagelime, acquired in 2015 by SurrealCMS, and in 2012 LolConnect was acquired by Tencent.
The items in Arkive's collections are hand-selected by members who vote on what items they want to acquire. The organization currently has 300 active users, and there are hundreds on the waiting list. McLeod confirmed to dot.LA that they will increase the number of members admitted to 50 people each week with plans to cap admissions at 1,000 for the first phase. He added that while membership is free today, that will likely change in the future.
People interested in becoming members must apply on Arkive's website, where they will answer individual questions about their interests and occupations.
Arkive's physical, blockchain-inspired museum is coming to Santa Monica. Courtesy of Arkive
Just as museums have a lobby, Arkive has its “atrium.” In this space, every member enters and registers their cryptocurrency wallets. Once registration is complete, members can vote on the blockchain for the artifact or piece of art they want Arkive to acquire. Prior to voting, to ensure they are well informed, members will have the opportunity to learn about each artifact from the artist, the gallery or the collector who previously held the item.
Since there is a surplus of artifacts around the world, Arkive’s team of curators handpick options that are relevant to the current theme: ”When Technology Was a Game Changer.” While each round of voting is different, McLeod said the voting window for members usually lasts five days (M-F).
Arkive has acquired two items since coming out of stealth mode, the first one being the original patent for the ENIAC – known as the world’s first programmable, electronic general-purpose computer. In addition to ENIAC’s patent, members also voted to acquire Seduction (1985), a vintage print by Lynn Hershman Leeson, which will be part of Arkive’s first public exhibition at the Art Basel Miami Beach in December 2022. Once items are acquired, they will be loaned to museums or galleries to be placed on display for the public to enjoy—at locations Arkive members believe have the most significant cultural impact.
“For instance, the ENIAC patent, we would love it if it lived at the Computer History Museum in San Mateo. If we acquired a Frida Kahlo, we would love it if it was in Mexico City or somewhere that mattered to her art or the family that she was a part of,” McLeod said.
The Santa Monica-based startup announced last week that it raised $9.7 million in a seed funding round led by Offline and TCG Crypto. Other participants included NFX, Freestyle Capital, Coinbase Ventures, Not Boring Capital, Precursor, Chainforest, Coil, Julia Lipton, Joe McCann, Chris Cantino, Marty Bell and Paul Veradittakit.
“People who committed were all the way in and did not hesitate to support and be a part of the journey,” McLeod said. “It got us the right people that are in it for the long haul and really care about not just the business but the potential cultural impact that it could have. So having the right investors to me is more important than just money.”
Some of the funding will be allocated towards expanding the team, but a majority of the capital raised will go into acquiring more artifacts. McLeod said Arkive has three more acquisitions lined up in the next three months, but the eventual goal is to acquire two pieces a month.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece misspelled Thomas McLeod's last name.
- NFT Gallery With Art By Julie Pacino - dot.LA ›
- Folio Wants to Streamline the World of Digital Art - dot.LA ›
- Art Created By Artificial Intelligence Can't Be Copyrighted - dot.LA ›
- Wildcat Discovery Lands $90M, Web3 Hang Secures $16M - dot.LA ›
Decerry Donato is dot.LA's Editorial Fellow. Prior to that, she was an editorial intern 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.