Pepperdine Hosts the Startup World Cup — and its $1M Prize
The most cut-throat competition for startups isn't happening in a shark tank — it's being played out in an auditorium at Pepperdine University. And the stakes are high with contestants vying for a $1 million prize.
The Malibu campus hosts the Startup World Cup's regional final on Tuesday with 10 contestants pitching ideas, from an emergency device alerting that someone is drowning to a robotic kitchen assistant named "Flippy." The winner is sent to San Francisco for a global grand finale that pits 40 rivals hailing from L.A.'s backyard to Mongolia to Kenya.
Startups aren't treating this like a game show. The competition is a chance to see and be seen by deep-pocketed business leaders and venture capital investors who pump some $254 billion globally into nascent companies. And about half that amount lands in the U.S. alone.
Even losing can be life changing.
"It was this great momentum-building event that we've been riding ever since," said Chris Ellis, whose Santa Monica-based AudioCardio competed in last year's regional competition. "It really helped build confidence in us. In ourselves."
Ellis, whose sound therapy app listed on Apple's App Store is designed to strengthen hearing, nabbed the 2019 Southern California final. But he lost out in the million-dollar prize to A.I.-based shipping management startup Abivin. (The Hanoi-based company was also a 2019 winner of Vietnam's version of Shark Tank). The 36-old chief executive, who founded the company in 2018 as his grandfather battled hearing loss, said the contest taught him how to pitch his business better: "I was able to go to anyone, tell them what we do, and my goal was to see if I can make their eyes light up about what we could do in the first 30 seconds."
To be sure, a vast majority of startups in the U.S. — and the rest of the world — fizzle out. Research firm CB Insights found that 70 percent of upstart tech companies fail, with consumer hardware startups among the hardest hit. The study, published last year, found that running out of cash and not finding the right venture capital partners were chief among reasons behind their demise.
That's why Len Lanzi, an advisor and former executive director at the Los Angeles Venture Association (LAVA), sees the competition as a boon for fledgling companies. The $1 million prize, backed by Pegasus Tech Ventures and its partners, gives Ellis and other contestants a chance to get experience pitching investors who can help grow their business. That's why Pepperdine's Graziadio Business School's Peate Institute for Entrepreneurship and LAVA is organizing this week's regional finals.
"We build communities around individual silos, industry silos, like global or digital media, clean tech, healthcare, or life science," said Lanzi, who last year helped sift through "about 120 or so applications for ten spots for people to pitch."
Among last year's regional contestants that competed with Ellis' AudioCardio was Los Angeles-based travel search engine Baarb; Encino's Ready, Set, Food!, which protects kids from baby food allergies; and Laguna Beach software maker Eyedaptic that's tackling blindness and macular degeneration.
Lanzi is ready for a fierce battle this year. He describes the current crop of judges as a "blue-ribbon panel." They include Dan Peate, the founder of Los Angeles-based Peate Ventures. Others casting votes are Austin Clements, who is a partner for venture capital firm OPV, Backstage Capital director Greer Engonga, and Frontier Venture Capital managing director Frank Foster.
They could send someone to the world finals with a cool million at stake. And, by comparison, that's a decent sum considering the average deal amount on CNBC's 10-year run on Shark Tank is $286.000.
The contestants for this year's Startup Up World Cup regional championship are:
- Coral Drowning Detection Systems, the Los Angeles developer of the Coral Manta, an A.I. powered device that gives an alert when it detects a person drowning in a residential pool.
- HomeZada, a platform to help homeowners manage information such as finances or home improvements, based out of El Dorado Hills.
- vRotors, a Los Angeles-based platform allowing users to fly real drones around the world using a computer or VR headset from home.
- MyShoperoo, an Orange County-based A.I. powered platform allowing users to have errands run for them while they are at work.
- Miso Robotics, a Pasadena developer of a "robotic kitchen assistant" called Flippy, capable of working grills and fryers, switching tools, and more.
- Gifts for Good, the Los Angeles-based startup that helps companies curate ethical and sustainable corporate gifts.
- Limbix, who assists with mental health treatment using VR.
- OPKIX, a Costa Mesa maker of small cameras that can be attached to hats, sunglasses, necklaces, and other kinds of apparel.
- LexSet, a platform that generates data optimized for retail, augmented reality, warehouses, supply chains, and more.
- Saya Life, a Los Angeles-based platform designed to help property owners conserve and monitor water usage.
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Troy Carter, Founder and CEO of Q&A<p>Troy Carter is the founder and CEO of Q&A, a technology and media company focused on powering the business of music through distribution, services, and data analytics. Formerly, Troy was the founder and CEO of Atom Factory, where he rose to prominence, nurturing the careers of global superstars including Lady Gaga and John Legend. He most recently served at Spotify as its global head of creator services, overseeing the company's growth strategy for artists and record labels. In 2017, Carter was also named entertainment advisor to the Prince Estate. </p><p>His interest in the intersection of technology and culture resulted in the formation of AF Square Investments. Early investments include Uber, Lyft, Dropbox, Spotify, Warby Parker, theSkimm, Blavity, Gimlet Media, Thrive Market, PlayVs, and FazeClan. Troy currently serves as a trustee for The Aspen Institute, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and CalArts.</p>
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Rena Ronson, Partner and the Co-Head of the Independent Film Group
Rena Ronson, Partner and Co-Head of the Independent Film Group<p>Rena Ronson is a partner and the co-head of the Independent Film Group at leading global talent and entertainment company United Talent Agency (UTA). One of the industry's pre-eminent packaging and finance executives, Ronson specializes in global film finance, distribution and marketing strategies for independent and co-financed features, helping the world's most acclaimed independent filmmakers see their work reach global audiences.</p><p>Throughout her career, Ronson has helped package, structure financing for, and sell numerous high profile films, including Oscar-winning "I, Tonya," "Room" and "Icarus," and Oscar-nominated films, "Hidden Figures," "The Big Sick," "Lady Bird," and "Call Me By Your Name," among many others. She is also known for working with acclaimed filmmakers on their directorial debuts, including Greta Gerwig's "Lady Bird," Haifaa al-Mansour's "Wadjda," Don Cheadle's "Miles Ahead," Marielle Heller's "Diary of a Teenage Girl," Jill Soloway's "Afternoon Delight," Crystal Moselle's "Skate Kitchen," and Emerald Fennell's "Promising Young Woman." Additional upcoming films include "The Father" starring Anthony Hopkins and "The Mauritanian" starring Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, and Benedict Cumberbatch.</p>
Kelly O'Grady, Chief Host and Correspondent
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Sam Blake, dot.LA Entertainment Reporter
Sam Blake, dot.LA Entertainment Reporter<p>Sam Blake is dot.LA's entertainment reporter. Prior to joining dot.LA, he had a writing fellowship with The Economist, where he wrote primarily for the business and finance sections of the print edition. Sam previously interned at KCRW and hosted a podcast at UCLA's college radio station while completing his dual-degree MBA and Master's in Public Policy. A native of Detroit, Sam previously lived in Madison, Wisconsin and New York City. He studied history at the University of Michigan and speaks four languages.</p>
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