How a Co-Founder of NWA Created A Platform to Get Small Businesses Back to Work
Rachel Uranga covers the intersection of business, technology and culture. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.
Kim Renard Nazel is best known as Arabian Prince, a founding member of the '80s rap group N.W.A. whose raw lyrics on police brutality inspired a generation of West Coast rappers. But the producer and artist, who goes by his stage name, has long been a tech geek passionate about closing the digital divide.
This week, the Compton-bred rapper-turned-entrepreneur launched his latest endeavor, Covitech, a platform intended to get people back to work safely. The cloud-based suite of apps provides a protocol plan for small-to-medium businesses, giving them access to COVID-19 screening, testing resources and often hard-to-procure protective equipment.
Prince was inspired to begin the project months ago when he saw that the federal government wasn't getting needed supplies to cities. And the effort has now coalesced just as the issue of police brutality, the pandemic and longstanding inequities exploded into the national consciousness.
"Because of George Floyd's death and COVID both hitting the black community and the brown community and the inner city, it's important to bring technology and infrastructure to prop them up and keep them from going into a (economic) depression," he said. "This is an invisible killer."
Kim Renard Nazel is best known as Arabian Prince, a founding member of the '90s rap group N.W.A.
As restrictions have lifted, businesses across the country are scrambling to figure out the logistics of bringing people back to offices, factory floors and restaurants. They're often stymied because they don't have easy access to testing, protective equipment or other resources to that keep individuals safe. Putting protocols in place can be expensive and often time-consuming. For smaller businesses with few resources, the task can be daunting.
Covitech is intended to help solve those problems by providing employers a way to screen and inform workers of their status, as well as keep to them on track with local regulations. The effort was created with Art+Logic, a software development team based in Pasadena and Michigan-based Hudson Scientific, a group that brings medical products to market.
The pandemic has ravaged California's economy, hurting the very communities that N.W.A rapped about. Since the outbreak, the state has processed more than 5.6 million unemployment claims. Black and Latino employees make up a large portion of low-wage service workers and have seen higher rates of job loss.
"The inner cities are really taking a big hit," Arabian Prince said. "My passion is really taking care of the inner cities."
Prince been rapping and producing since leaving N.W.A. in 1988. But he also developed another passion for technology and has been working in the industry — in video games, animation and special effects for decades. It's through those contacts that he helped build this coalition.
"People in the trenches aren't getting the protection they need," Prince said.
He's seen that play out during the protests where there are images of police fully suited up with goggles and masks, while he said hospital workers struggled and those who are serving thousands of people at fast food restaurants don't have protection.
"It's upside down," he said.
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Eliminating battery waste, developing new hair growth therapy, fixing carbon dioxide. These are among some of the ambitious problems that companies are trying to solve at the First Look SoCal Innovation Showcase beginning Tuesday.
Hosted by nonprofit Alliance for SoCal Innovation, the online event connects early-stage tech and life science companies with investors and serial entrepreneurs.
BioZen Batteries Aims to Solve Our Energy Storage Issues<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDI0Nzg5MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTg3OTYyNn0.y9dSMjovB1GtsQ1SZhKiPTIJY3VW0XOE2YXd-JN1xYU/image.jpg?width=980" id="95064" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3ad9197ad70005802e6d34d6da3c29d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Left to right: BioZen Batteries' co-founders Zach Rengert, Nate Kirchhofer and Eric Brigham.<p>Nate Kirchhofer, co-founder and CEO of <a href="https://biozenbatteries.com/" target="_blank">BioZen Batteries</a>, wants to make batteries that will outlive him.</p><p>Santa Barbara-based BioZen creates organic electrolytes, the active material inside a specific type of battery called a "redox flow battery." It's a different type of technology that differs from the lithium batteries often used in mobile applications like cars and phones. Only 5% of those get recycled.</p><p>BioZen's batteries are well suited for green, large-scale energy storage, Kirchhofer said. For example, batteries that help solar panels connect to the grid or provide backup during disasters when the power goes out.</p><p>Kirchhofer, an electrochemist, founded the company in June of 2019 with Zach Rengert, a materials chemist, and Eric Brigham, the company's CFO. Kirchhofer and Rengert met while getting their doctorate at UC Santa Barbara.</p><p>There hasn't yet been a push for sustainable batteries because it isn't economically incentivized, Kirchhofer told dot.LA. He said that his batteries are cheaper than competitors.</p><p>Kirchhofer's product fits into a growing renewable energy market and a social movement in which individuals want to do their part. He's worked for four startups but says this one is poised to make the biggest impact.</p><p>"If it's not our generation that solves climate change, there's not another chance. There's not another Earth." he said. "If we can make these batteries happen, we can truly integrate renewable energy and stop the petroleum-dominated energy paradigm we're part of."</p>
Amplifica's founder Dr. Maksim Plikus
Amplifica Treats Baldness with Mole Molecules<p>Back in 2013, Amplifica's founder Dr. Maksim Plikus began studying hairy moles. Though some find the growths unsightly, his work showed promise for baldness treatment.</p><p>He, along with colleagues at UC Irvine, discovered that molecules from moles that grow excessive hair can induce follicle growth when administered anywhere on the skin.</p><p>"As long as you can tease it out and replicate it in the form of purified molecules, you can achieve essentially what we think would be a novel, revolutionary solution to baldness," Plikus told dot.LA.</p><p>Plikus said his company is the first to solve hair loss by replicating cells from hairy moles to stimulate hair growth. At the moment, hair follicle research has emerged as a leading experimental model for studying stem cells.</p><p>By 2025, hair-loss products are projected to surpass $12 billion, Plikus said. But only two drugs are FDA approved and require daily treatment in the form of pills, which he said come with long-term side effects.</p><p>Amplifica says it's poised to put a more effective and convenient solution on the market. Pinkus' proposed product is a topical solution requiring less frequent application, like getting Botox injections a few times per year.</p>
FixingCO2 Aims to Recycle Fuel from the Air<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDI0ODM4My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzA1ODA4MH0.9RqwD9zUN1et1kor8zNPj8WH2kOX6SrysdpRDFT5QMc/image.jpg?width=980" id="daa89" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9851b177139c4b5e06bd9c96fb395083" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
FixingCO2's team. CEO Eldar Akhmetgaliyev is at right.<p><a href="https://fixingco2.com/" target="_blank">FixingCO2</a> got its start on Mars. Like the name says, the company aims to fix the global carbon problem that's fueling climate change.</p><p>In 2018, co-founder Alma Zhanaidarova's professor and research group at UC San Diego received a grant from NASA to build out a reactor that makes renewable fuels and chemicals from carbon dioxide, often a byproduct of industrial waste. The technology was being developed in anticipation of a one-day human mission to Mars, where 95% of the atmosphere is carbon dioxide.</p><p>Now, the San Diego-based startup is commercializing their product for earthlings.</p><p>"It's a different application but the same core technology," co-founder Eldar Akhmetgaliyev told dot.LA. "Instead of making fuels from oil or any other fossil sources, we can make them essentially from air."</p><p>The team is developing the hardware to capture industrial emissions blamed for much of the Earth's warming. The product has significant application for the aviation industry, where planes are built to burn jet fuel that produces carbon emissions.</p><p>"These kinds of technologies provide them a pathway to decarbonization," he said. "They can use fuels made from CO2 so they're not contributing to climate change."</p><p>As fires burn through California and the Pacific Northwest, Akhmetgaliyev said there's urgency for innovators in the carbon tech market. "We're pretty much turning our planet into Mars," he said.</p><p>He said that by 2050, about 14% of overall carbon reduction will come from carbon capture and utilization (CCUS) technology like his.</p><p>"The market hasn't met its opportunity and with the effects of climate change being seen everyday, there's going to be more drive towards these low carbon technologies."</p>
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- L.A.-based Artie, which began in 2018 as a platform to help game publishers build AI-enhanced video game characters but shifted its focus to enabling a distribution method that allows game publishers to circumvent app stores, has reopened its seed round.
- The company plans to go to market later this year with celebrity and IP partnerships, then start attracting third-party game publishers and players to its platform with its distribution technology. In the long run it hopes to grow its user base with its original focus of AI-for-gaming features.
- Artie has raised $8 million from investors, including the founders of Zynga, Shutterstock and YouTube; Warner Music Group; Jeffrey Katzenberg's WndrCo; and three L.A.-based venture firms including Scooter Braun's Raised In Space.
In late 2018, Ryan Horrigan and Armando Kirwin set out to bring to life video game characters who could see and understand and interact with the gamers on the other side of the screen. They quickly recognized a problem that has now taken the tech world by storm: App stores create friction.