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What Are LA’s Hottest Startups of 2022? See Who VCs Picked in dot.LA’s Annual Survey
05:00 AM | January 31, 2022
In Los Angeles—like the startup environment at large—venture funding and valuations skyrocketed in 2021, even as the coronavirus pandemic continued to surge and supply chain issues rattled the economy. The result was a startup ecosystem that continued to build on its momentum, with no shortage of companies raising private capital at billion-dollar-plus unicorn valuations.
In order to gauge the local startup scene and who’s leading the proverbial pack, we asked more than 30 leading L.A.-based investors for their take on the hottest firms in the region. They responded with more than two dozen venture-backed companies; three startups, in particular, rose above the rest as repeat nominees, while we've organized the rest by their amount of capital raised as of January, according to data from PitchBook. (We also asked VCs not to pick any of their own portfolio companies, and vetted the list to ensure they stuck to that rule.)
Without further ado, here are the 26 L.A. startups that VCs have their eyes on in 2022.
Whatnot was the name most often on the minds of L.A. venture investors—understandably, given its prolific fundraising year. Whatnot raised some $220 million across three separate funding rounds in 2021, on the way to a $1.5 billion valuation.
The Marina del Rey-based livestream shopping platform was founded by former GOAT product manager Logan Head and ex-Googler Grant LaFontaine. The startup made its name by providing a live auction platform for buying and selling collectables like rare Pokémon cards, and has since expanded into sports memorabilia, sneakers and apparel.
Boulevard’s backers include Santa Monica-based early-stage VC firm Bonfire Ventures, which focuses on B2B software startups. The Downtown-based company fits nicely within that thesis; Boulevard builds booking and payment software for salons and spas. The firm has worked with prominent brands such as Toni & Guy and HeyDay.
GOAT launched in 2015 as a marketplace to help sneakerheads authenticate used Air Jordans and other collectible shoes. It has since grown at a prolific rate, expanding into apparel and accessories and exceeding $2 billion in merchandise sales in 2020. The startup sealed a $195 million funding round last summer that more than doubled its valuation, to $3.7 billion.
The Best of the Rest
Nielsen competitor VideoAmp gathers data on who's watching what across streaming services, traditional TV and social apps like YouTube. The company positions itself as an alternative to so-called "legacy" systems like Nielsen, which it says are "fragmented, riddled with complexity and inaccurate." In addition to venture funding, its total funding figure includes more than $165 million in debt financing.
Seizing on the NFT craze, Mythical Games is building a platform that powers the growing realm of “play-to-earn games.” Backed by NBA legend Michael Jordan and Andreessen Horowitz, the Sherman Oaks-based startup’s partners include game publishers Abstraction, Creative Mobile and CCG Lab.
FloQast founder Michael Whitmire says he got a “no” from more than 100 investors in the process of raising a seed round. Today, the accounting software company is considered a unicorn.
Nacelle produces docuseries, books, comedy albums and podcasts. The media company’s efforts include the Netflix travel series “Down To Earth with Zac Efron.”
A platform for virtual concerts, Wave has hosted performances by artists including Justin Bieber, Tinashe and The Weeknd. The company says it has raised $66 million to date from the likes of Warner Music and Tencent.
Sherman Oaks-based Papaya looks to make it easier to pay “any” bill—from hospital bills to parking tickets—via its mobile app.
Based in Marina del Rey, LeaseLock says it’s on a mission to eliminate security deposits for apartment renters.
Emotive sells text message-focused marketing tools to ecommerce firms like underwear brand Parade and men's grooming company Beardbrand.
Based in Long Beach, Dray says its mission is to “modernize the logistics and trucking industry.” Its partners include Danish shipping company Maersk and toy maker Mattel.
Coco makes small pink robots on wheels (you may have seen them around town) that deliver food via a remote pilot. Its investors include Y Combinator and Silicon Valley Bank.
HiveWatch develops physical security software. Its investors include former Twitter executive Dick Costollo and NBA star Steph Curry’s Penny Jar Capital.
Whatnot competitor Popshop is betting that live-shopping is the future of ecommerce. The West Hollywood-based firm focuses on collectables such as trading cards and anime merchandise.
Founded by former SpaceX engineer Karan Talati, First Resonance runs a software platform for makers of electric cars and aerospace technology. Its clients include Santa Cruz-based air taxi company Joby Aviation and Alameda-based rocket company Astra.
Founded by Crowdstrike and Microsoft alums, Open Raven aims to protect user data. The cybersecurity firm’s investors include Kleiner Perkins and Upfront Ventures.
When an actor faces the camera and speaks directly to the audience, it’s known as “breaking the fourth wall.” Named after the trope, Venice-based Fourthwall offers a website builder that’s designed for content creators.
The Non Fungible Token Company creates NFTs for musicians under the name Unblocked. Its investors include Jay Z’s Marcy Venture Partners and Shawn Mendez.
Backed by Mayo Clinic Ventures, Safe Health develops telehealth software and offers tools for enterprises to launch their own health care apps.
Intro’s app lets you book video calls with experts—from celebrity stylists, to astrologists, to investors.
With the tagline “Land the package, not the plane,” DASH Systems is a Hawthorne-based shipping company that builds hardware and software for automated airdrops.
With a focus on sustainability, Ettitude is a direct-to-consumer brand that sells bedding, bathroom textiles and sleepwear.
Along similar lines as Unblocked, Afterparty creates NFTs for artists and content creators such as Clay Perry and Tropix.
Heart to Heart is an audio-focused dating app that “lets you listen to the story behind the pictures in a profile.” Precursor Ventures led the pre-seed funding round.
Frigg makes hair and beauty products that contain cannabinoids such as CBD. The Valley Village-based company raised an undisclosed seed round in August.
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05:15 AM | December 13, 2022
Vinfast, the Vietnamese EV company with headquarters in Los Angeles, shipped its first order of vehicles to U.S. soil from Hai Phong, Vietnam on November 25th. The batch of 999 automobiles is due to arrive here in California on Thursday this week.
The VF8 SUVs on board will have the difficult task of convincing American buyers that an unknown, untested Vietnamese manufacturer can deliver on a new technology. And so far, the company appears to be off to a rocky start.
According to an email sent to reservation holders on November 29th, the VF8s in the initial shipment will be a special “City Edition” and have lower range advertised than the previously announced versions–just 180 miles in total. Over the weekend, Vinfast confirmed to dot.LA via Twitter that all of the vehicles in the first batch are the City Edition, and that the standard edition would be coming Q1 of 2023. Until this email, there had been little, if any mention of this new City Edition. The message to reservation holders offered no rationale as to why the company was choosing to ship this version of the car instead of the 260-292 mile-range VF8 it’s been advertising for months. Despite the lower range, however, the EVs will still carry a price tag of either $55,500 or $62,500, depending on trim–just $3,000 less than the previously-announced versions.
The VF8 Specs page from Vinfast’s site still bears no mention of a “City Edition,” but that’s what’s coming to America this month.
Vinfast is offering reservation holders an additional $3,000 off these City Edition variants (bringing the total to $6,000 less than the previously announced versions). But even at a discount, the vehicle’s $52,000 price tag is far from competitive with more established EV makers and raises questions about the brand’s strategy and value.
- The 2023 Hyundai Ioniq 5 has 220 miles of range and starts at $42,745. Or 303 miles of range for $60,000.
- The base model Kia EV6 costs $49,795 and goes 206 miles on a full charge.
- The Mustang Mach E starts at 46,895 and reaches 224 miles.
And the list goes on. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a 2023 EV with a worse cost to range ratio than the VF8. Vinfast, which has been nearly impossible to reach on this matter despite numerous calls and emails, hasn’t explained why they chose to offer such a range-compromised version as their initial foray into the U.S. market, or why the cost remains so high.
The reaction to the news, especially on Reddit, has been largely negative, with users accusing the company of “springing” the City Edition on reservation holders. Others speculated that the company rushed out the first batch so it could drum up good press before its recently announced IPO. Whatever the reason, most redditors didn’t seem to be buying it, and with Vinfast so reluctant to comment, it’s hard to see the announcement in a light that bodes well for the company’s future. First impressions tend to last, and this doesn’t seem like a good one for the EV hopeful.
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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.
05:00 AM | December 12, 2022
Image by Pixels Hunter/ Shutterstock
Generative AI is tech’s latest buzz word, with developers creating programs that can do anything from writing an academic essay about guitars and elevators to creating photorealistic paintings of majestic cats.
ChatGPT, a platform built by DALL-E 2 and GPT-3 founder OpenAI, is the latest one of these tools to go viral. But this tool can go far beyond writing a version of the Declaration of Independence in the style of Jar Jar Binks. It has the capability to write full essays on almost any subject a college kid could desire — creating another layer of complex technology that humanities professors now have to consider when they teach and dole out assignments.
While ChatGPT does have some limitations (It can only write up to 650 words per prompt), some students have taken to Reddit to talk about the potentialuses and workarounds of the word limit to help them pass their classes. Ironically, another student even used the AI to write an apology email to his professor for using AI to write his emails.
One student wrote, “As finals are hitting, I’ve written 6 papers for people and made a great chunk of change. Same day turnaround, any size paper with perfect grammar and in depth writing plagiarism free is a pretty lucrative way to advertise oneself to a bunch of cracked out stressed college students.”
But despite the tool’s internet virality among desperate college students, UCLA professors told dot.LA that they aren’t worried about ChatGPT’s capabilities. Rather than viewing the technology as something they have to shield students from using, they see it as another potential tool in their arsenal and something they can implement in their classrooms.
\u201cI asked ChatGPT to write an essay on mental health. Returned essay immediately. College professors don\u2019t need to worry; the essay contained mostly weak verbs and no advanced grammar.\u201d— Heather Holleman (@Heather Holleman) 1670419435
“My sense of ChatGPT is that it's actually a really exciting opportunity to reconsider what it is that we do when we write things like essays,” said Danny Snelson, assistant professor of English at UCLA. “Rather than raising questions of academic integrity, this should have us asking questions about what kinds of assignments we give our students.”
Snelson tried ChatGPT out for himself, prompting the platform to write an essay about “the literary merit of video games that cites three key scholars in the field.” As it does, ChatGPT instantaneously churned out an essay which answered the prompt accurately and synthesized the arguments of three scholars in a compelling way. But Snelson could spot flaws in its work. The writing style was repetitive and the scholars the AI chose were not diverse.
“I probably will give my students the assignment on the first day of class to write a ChatGPT essay about a topic they know nothing about,” Snelson says. “Then have them discuss the essays that ChatGPT has written for them and what the limits of their arguments are.”
Christine Holten, director of Writing Programs and the UCLA Undergraduate Writing Center, said that she and other instructors are currently having similar talks about how to integrate these tools in a responsible way.
“One way is to allow students to use them,” she said. “Build them into the course, and allow reflection about the bounds of their use, what their limitations are, what are their advantages? How does it change their composing?”
Along with dissecting the platform’s limitations, Snelson also sees using ChatGPT as a tool to propel students’ writing even further. For example, one of the hardest parts about writing an essay is the first line. Having an AI write it for you can be a great starting point to push past the “blank page dilemma,” he said.
And while ChatGPT can write a passable essay on almost any subject, Snelson said students still need to have an understanding of the subjects they’re writing about. “Having a live conversation about Chaucer in the classroom, a student is not going to be helped by an AI,” he said.
“In the real world, you have access to information, you have access to writing tools,” Snelson added. “Why should (academics) disavow or disallow those kinds of tools?”
To that end, Holten said she recognizes that ChatGPT “raises the stakes” by circumventing tools that academics have relied on to detect plagiarism. But students turning in papers that aren’t their own isn’t new: Essay mills have existed for a long time, and Instagram is filledwithpages that will sell students an academic paper.
“We have to do our part by trying to craft assignments carefully and making sure that we're not assigning these open-ended prompts of the sort that could be bought from paper mills,” she said.
It helps, too, that ChatGPT may already be working on a solution. Scott Aaronson, who works on the theoretical foundations of AI safety at OpenAI, said in a blog post that he’s working on a tool for “statistically watermarking the outputs of a text model like GPT” that adds in an “otherwise unnoticeable secret signal in its choices of words” to prevent things like academic plagiarism, mass generation of propaganda or impersonating someone’s writing style to incriminate them, though it's unclear how far away this development is.
“We want it to be much harder to take a GPT output and pass it off as if it came from a human,” Aaronson wrote.All of which explains why even despite claims that high-school English and the student essay are nearing their death knell, Holten thinks, ultimately, “The availability of ChatGPT is not likely to change very much.”
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Nat Rubio-Licht is a freelance reporter with dot.LA. They previously worked at Protocol writing the Source Code newsletter and at the L.A. Business Journal covering tech and aerospace. They can be reached at email@example.com.
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