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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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02:00 AM | February 13, 2023
One of the most-used elements in industrial work on Earth is disappearing.
Popular for industrial use because of its resistance to corrosion and heat, platinum sells for over $1,000 an ounce and is in everything from wedding bands to medical devices to a number of auto parts.
And retrieving what little of the element does remain, will only exacerbate the ongoing climate crisis – resource extraction was the source of half the world’s carbon emissions and 80% of its biodiversity loss in 2019 and that number has likely only risen.
The problem’s been known for awhile; back in 2016 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology predicted demand would outpace supply of platinum and palladium. At that time, the college estimated we’d run out of platinum by 2050, a mere 27 years from now.
There’s also the issue that what platinum remains is in the hands of powers adversarial to the U.S.
Russia accounts for up to 30% of the world’s palladium supply, and up to 10% of its platinum, and its war in Ukraine has pushed export prices higher. MIT also estimated that China, another stockpiler of industrial metals, could stop selling its platinum stores to the greater globe as soon as 2034.
So what is there to do?
The answer could lie thousands of miles from our planet, in deep space, according to Astroforge CEO and former Virgin Orbit veteran Matt Gialich. Gialich is certain that in the near future, it’ll be commonplace for companies to operate refineries in space that can sort and send back elements crucial for construction on earth.
“We know that these concentrations are super high in space,” Gialich said. He said Astroforge is starting with platinum metals, but it does have “a future roadmap that’s much, much bigger than that,” but wouldn’t share more about what other materials the company hopes to mine in space. It’s reminiscent of the old California Gold Rush – the minute you tell someone there’s platinum in them there asteroids, others with means will want to rush in first.
Astroforge is developing technology to mine and refine minerals in deep space. The company will face a vital test in its mission to mine asteroids for minerals this April, when it tests its in-space refinery technology for the first time.
In particular, Astroforge is looking at retrieving palladium and platinum from asteroids. The shrinking store of these metals makes it easier to understand why going to space to mine more might not be such a far-fetched plan.
Gialich pointed out the emissions problem and noted, “part of that is platinum group mining… not all, but a big part of it. When it comes to mining metals, there’s just no way to solve that; you can do things to reduce it, but we’re running out of ore on the earth as we continuously mine.”
He noted that a while ago, it wasn’t feasible to undertake these sorts of missions, but said that mission price continues to drop as more companies enter the private space race and offer rideshare missions for lower and lower costs.
“As we continue to run out of ore and as access to space becomes cheaper, we think we're actually past the inflection point of when this makes more economic sense to do,” Gialich said.
But, it’ll take a lot of cash and crafty partnerships – NASA spent $800 million to retrieve only 60 grams during a similar project. Two other space mining firms, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, were bought out before reaching their goals. This is why Astroforge raised $13 million in May, but it’ll likely need much more than that for future missions and anticipates future fundraises. Gialich wouldn’t disclose if Astroforge has any customers signed up for future missions or to buy space ore yet.
This upcoming mission in April will see Astroforge’s small in-orbit refinery hitch a ride to space on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, in partnership with British small satellite launcher OrbAstro. The plan is to test the refinery capabilities in space first by supplying the refinery with an “asteroid-like material” (so, a rock, but not an asteroid) that the tech will then vaporize and sort into its elemental components while in orbit. It’s a vital test of if the refinery can function in space, and if all succeeds, a critical part towards Gialich’s overall mission – becoming the first company to successfully mine asteroids.
“We have gone to asteroids before,” Gialich said. “We've landed on them, we've taken samples from them, we’ve done every step of the way, scientifically, multiple times. We just haven’t added that refining piece in, but that is actually very simple. You can prove that out on Earth, there’s not a big difference [in space].”
And Gialich really, really wants to be first. After all, whoever is,will have their pick of lucrative contracts as other private and public players rush in to gather up their share of the valuable asteroid minerals. NASA is leading a mission to explore an asteroid that some have joked could be worth $10 quintillion.
“We’re going to be the first commercial company to explore that frontier,” he promised. “There’s enough space out there for a ton of companies to exist and be successful. We’re still going to do it first.”
That, of course, remains to be seen. The SpaceX launch doesn’t yet have a window open. But when it does, it’ll be a crucial test of Astroforge’s system. And, it could eventually lead to an overhaul of our centuries-old mining system that might very well one day help the planet. At least, that’s Gialich’s overall goal.
“We’re going to save the planet, and to save the planet we need to have big, audacious ideas that really solve a critical problem we have on Earth, and we have a resource problem on Earth,” Gialich said. “Now that we’re a globalized world, there’s nowhere else to grow. There’s not an option here, this has to be done.”
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Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to email@example.com and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.
02:16 PM | March 02, 2023
On Thursday, Upfront Ventures hosted its 2023 Summit and music icons Alex Pall and Drew Taggart of The Chainsmokers hit the stage, not to perform, but instead to discuss their venture journey.
The duo launched MantisVC, a Marina Del Rey-based early stage tech venture fund in 2019.
Pall and Taggart shared the stage with WndrCo’s managing partner Jeffrey Katzenberg to dive deeper into what their music career has taught them and how it translated over to their venture firm.
Here are some of the most important takeaways:
The duo believes hustle is more important than talent to achieve success.
“There's just so much content out there that's just happening all the time for no reason,” Taggart said. “There's just so much to pay attention to and if you have to wake up every day, and think out what your angle is going to be, try stuff, have it not work. You have to accept defeat so frequently and still get up and do it.”
Creating music was their foray into building communities.
“I think we have some real insight into how to build that community and tell that story because essentially, that's all we're trying to do,” Pall said. “No matter what your business is, you're telling the story about something that you think is important that someone else needs and will enjoy.”
Building connections and having conversations with pioneers in the space helped them launch MantisVC.
“Humility and being self aware are two of our strengths,” Taggart said. “I think knowing what we don't know is a big part of how we've gotten to where we are, and with the support of people around us, and the relationships we built, we understood that we were going to have to go out and prove to the world that we were serious about this and we respected the people that have come before us and the people that are doing it right now.”
VCs should offer all their founders support.
“When you're building something early on, you want that support, that hands-on feeling and the purpose of Mantis isn't necessarily right now to replace the incredible institutional investors that exist out there and have been around for a while,” Pall continued.
“But we want to be the Robin to their Batman, and we think there's a way that we can kind of partner with everybody in the space and provide our founders that holistic support they need. It's inspiring to work alongside people that share that same energy and we're constantly working on ourselves and I feel like it takes a really special type of human being to be successful in this world. Level of grit and determination and something that's continually fueled us and we want to invest in people like that.”
Feedback is necessary and essential to create successful products and businesses.
“Similar to products or services that you're building, it's important to get real life feedback out there and iterate on those things,” Taggart said. “And there's really just no substitute for that.”
Pall added, “I think for some reason in our culture, it's become an issue for people just to be straightforward and say no, about things and give honest feedback and, and move on. I think we can all learn a lot from just having more honest conversations with each other.”
Never lose sight of your core audience and mission as a company.
“Never forget what your core product is and what people love about that and make sure that every piece of innovation is derivative of that,” Taggart said. “I see a lot of friends of ours that have had really successful companies start to build ancillary projects that don't really feed their core audience that they're just making to compete with their competition. We do the same thing in songwriting, and you can never lose sight of what people love about you.”
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Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow 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.
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