Get in the KNOW
on LA Startups & TechX
Meet the New Santa Barbara Venture Fund Eyeing Software Startups
A new venture fund based up the 101 isn’t letting the current market slowdown curb its appetite for new software startups.
Santa Barbara Venture Partners has officially closed its first, $11 million investment fund, the company told dot.LA, with the primary goal of backing software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies based predominantly in Southern California.
The Santa Barbara-based firm was founded in 2020 by former tech entrepreneur Dan Engel, who said that he looks to invest in companies that can weather the storms of tumultuous capital markets. SBVP claims a strict set of criteria for its portfolio companies; Engel said it won’t invest unless a startup can prove it’s already conquered product-market fit and is generating at least $3 million in annual revenue, with an emphasis on companies with subscription-based revenue models and annual growth rates of at least 75%.
“We invest at a stage when product-market fit has already been figured out,” Engel told dot.LA. “We don't want to take that risk, because too many times it doesn't end up getting figured out, and an investor ends up with a goose-egg zero.”
The firm plans to invest in startups that are anywhere from the seed stage up to their Series D round, and which have the potential to deliver a 3x-to-6x return in at least a seven-year time span, Engel added.
“We try to invest in businesses that are really hard to screw up,” Engel noted, half-jokingly.
So far, SBVP has backed nine companies out of its debut fund with an average check size of about $850,000, according to Engel. The fund recently saw its first exit via San Diego-based nonprofit fundraising platform Classy, which raised $118 million in a Series D round last year before being acquired by GoFundMe this January.
While he’s cautious about backing companies that don’t have a clear track record of growth, Engel did say he’s optimistic about the current state of the tech startup environment despite increasingly sluggish market conditions. He noted particular optimism about SBVP’s chosen software market.
“Every time SaaS is down, it comes roaring back up,” Engel asserted. “It's got real advantages to it as an investment—such as having the ability to weather storms that others can’t, [like] much more capital-intensive businesses that don't have predictable recurring revenue.”
Still, there is at least one company in the SBVP portfolio that’s been directly affected by stagnating IPO markets—with Classy originally planning to go public before opting to shelve its Nasdaq ambitions
“The M&A market I don't think is too different at the moment; maybe multiples are down a little bit. The IPO market is certainly on hold at the moment, and that affects us too,” said Engel, who worked in customer acquisition and marketing for the likes of Google before co-founding Santa Barbara-based fintech software startup FastSpring. He also served as FastSpring’s CEO prior to its 2013 acquisition by L.A.-based investment firm Pylon Capital.
Other recent SBVP investments include Hydrosat, a satellite thermal imaging company that graduated from Techstars’ aerospace accelerator in Los Angeles; and Berkeley-based Voltaiq, which makes software to analyze the efficiency of electric vehicle batteries. The remaining investments from the new fund include Bark Technologies, Specright, Nice Healthcare, Jackpocket, Rad AI and Curri. Engel said over 70% of the fund is already invested, including via sidecar deals.
Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.
Three months after opening its new headquarters in Santa Monica, micromobility startup Veo is expanding its fleet and its footprint. As of last week, riders have been able to cross the municipal boundary between Santa Monica and L.A. and take trips north to Will Rogers State Beach, south to Marina Del Rey and east to Mar Vista.
“It’s good to see more people able to actually commute from Santa Monica to a nearby neighborhood…because in the past, we [did] see a lot of people stopped at the boundary,” said Veo CEO Candice Xie.
A screenshot shows Veo scooters' new availability on the west side of the city of L.A.
Still, riders will not be able to ride all through the city of L.A. The city of L.A. has only granted them permits for 500 vehicles. Xie said they’re focusing on expanding the boundaries of where their mostly Santa Monica-based users are already indicating they want to ride.
As part of the expansion, the company is adding a mixed fleet of 400 e-bikes and 100 standing scooters.
Enterprising riders who venture beyond the new, expanded geofenced zone can expect to receive a warning text message and for their vehicle to come to a slow stop. In addition, they will not be allowed to leave the e-scooter or e-bike outside of the zone without incurring a penalty that starts at $15.
Currently, it costs riders $1 to unlock and $0.33 cents per minute to ride (plus tax and fees). Residents of Santa Monica and Los Angeles who qualify can apply to ride at a reduced rate through Veo Access, where riders pay $5 per month for unlimited 30 minute rides.
Xie said that the permit approval process for the city of L.A. took longer than originally anticipated and that this new expansion will happen in phases, with the next phase anticipated in two to three months.
Veo is the seventh micromobility operator currently permitted in the city of Los Angeles, joining rivals Bird, Lime, Wheels, LINK (Superpedestrian), Lyft and Spin.
Veo’s expansion comes at a precarious time for the shared micromobility market. Earlier this month, Santa Monica-based Bird laid off 23% of its staff. Layoffs were also reported at both Superpedestrian and Voi this week.
However, Xie said that Veo is doubling down on both the greater L.A. area and California as a whole, as it recently launched in Berkeley and intends to move into Santa Clara and San Jose soon. As other companies lay off workers in pursuit of profitability, Xie said Veo is expanding.
“We're still hiring from the community and want to increase our exposure and also have more local talent join us.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that Veo vehicles were already available in Santa Clara.
- Lime Is Bringing Its New, More Eco-Friendly Scooters to LA - dot.LA ›
- Escooter Startup Superpedestrian Takes to LA Streets - dot.LA ›
- Bird Scooters Are Kicked Out of Santa Monica - dot.LA ›
- Veo CEO Is Bringing Anti-Tech Bro Approach to Micromobility - dot.LA ›
Starting today, Glendale’s most meme-able outdoor mall, The Americana at Brand, will be home to the Amazon Style store—the ecommerce giant’s first foray into brick-and-mortar apparel retail. We got an early sneak peak inside the new digs (located on the corner with Sprinkles Cupcakes, next to H&M and the Apple store) and were able to try out some of its tech-enabled features, which—as ever with Amazon—seek to make the act of shopping as easy as possible.
1. It’s Bigger Than It Looks—Even From the Inside
The floor is massive—laying out original products from Amazon’s own apparel lines alongside name brands like Theory, Adidas and Calvin Klein, as well as several other lines that have up until now only existed online. But the actual store is much larger than the two floors that most customers will only ever see.
Amazon Style is just the front—the homepage, if you will—behind which a large warehouse facility keeps a gigantic surplus of inventory. A floor-to-ceiling glass window on the main floor gives shoppers just a peak behind the scenes, as employees help load industrial-sized elevators with racks of goods to send upstairs to the dressing rooms.
2. Online Shopping IRL
When perusing the store’s bouquet of cottagecore maxi dresses, Kendall & Kylie blazers and, yes, a whole section dedicated to Y2K apparel, one doesn’t just pick an item off the rack and take it with you while you shop. Instead, each rack has a barcode that you can scan via the Amazon Shopping app, which has your sizes pre-loaded from previous purchases. (You can opt for a different size if you choose.) That cues an AI-enabled algorithm to start searching through the store’s warehoused catalog and zip the desired item over to the second floor, where the dressing room provides its own glimpse into the future of shopping.
The store also boasts a version of The Drop, an Amazon staple that allows online customers to shop entire influencer-curated collections for a 30-hour flash window.
3. Changing Stations of the Future—Today
Your phone also acts as your keycard to get into your personal dressing room. To prevent waiting, you are put in a virtual cue the moment you scan your first item; should the Amazon app prompt that your room is ready while you’re still shopping, a tap of your screen allows you to hold your spot in the queue while freeing up the room for someone else. (And if your phone dies while you’re waiting, Amazon says a Style employee on the floor will be happy to help you keep your place in line, or hook you up with a charge.)
Amazon Style’s dressing rooms offer a tech-enabled twist to trying on clothes.Image by Joshua Letona
The changing room is like its own parlor trick. Designed to look like a walk-in closet, one wall has a full-length mirror and a giant touchscreen while another has all the clothes you scanned in your style and size preference. Expect to see a few surprises in there, as Amazon’s algorithm picks out other stuff you might want to try on based on your picks. It would be spooky if it wasn’t so convenient—an IRL mashup of the online retailer’s “Recommended Based on Your Purchases” and “Frequently Bought Together” features.
If an item doesn’t fit quite right or you want to see how a skirt looks in blue instead of black, just tap the touchscreen to request a variant. Or an entirely new outfit, as the screen makes available everything in the facility. Then just bring it down to checkout—perhaps the wildest part of this ride.
4. Palming the Bucks
Checking out of Amazon Style’s flagship store is what really blew my mind—although apparently it’s because I haven’t been to one of the Amazon Go, Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods locations where cashless checkouts have been an option in select stores since 2020.
I assumed you could just walk out the door with your purchase, because I watch "Saturday Night Live" sketches for news. While the Go payment option isn't available at Amazon Style, there are several checkout options to keep the experience as frictionless and non-cumbersome as possible.
One way is to take the clothes you want out of the dressing room and go directly to Amazon’s palm-enabled checkout kiosks. That’s right: Register on the spot for an Amazon One account, and you need merely to wave your hand over a little black device that reads your palm and charges your on-file payment method. It’s super convenient for everyone except $10 boardwalk psychics, who just may be put out of business by such technology.
For the more traditional set, you still have the option of paying via credit card or cash.
Shoppers can check out of Amazon Style with the wave of a palm. Image by Joshua Letona
5. Supply & Demand & Return
Amazon Style’s brick-and-mortar location opens up a variety of new ways to shop, return and exchange clothing. For instance, you can order a load of clothes online and pick them up in the store; anything you don’t want can be returned in the store without you ever having to print a shipping label.
See something you like but don’t have time to try it on? Just scan the barcode, pick it up at the front of the store and pay on your way out without ever going into a dressing room.
The Amazon Shopping app also boasts a Deals feature, which automatically sorts for the best price on items to help customers either save money (or believe they are).
While Glendale is home to the only Style store so far, Amazon isn’t ruling out more locations. With fewer retailers able to afford rents on America’s main strips and shopping malls, Amazon’s resources—and its unique position at the intersection of tech and retail—make it easy to envision more Style stores on the horizon.
- Amazon To Add 2,500 Corporate and Tech Jobs in Expansion of ... ›
- Inside Amazon Fresh, Amazon's Ecommerce Grocery Store - dot.LA ›
- Amazon Unveils its New Go Grocery Stores - dot.LA ›
- Amazon Is Opening Its First Clothing Store in Glendale - dot.LA ›
Drew Grant is dot.LA's Senior Editor. She's a media veteran with over 15-plus years covering entertainment and local journalism. During her tenure at The New York Observer, she founded one of their most popular verticals, tvDownload, and transitioned from generalist to Senior Editor of Entertainment and Culture, overseeing a freelance contributor network and ushering in the paper's redesign. More recently, she was Senior Editor of Special Projects at Collider, a writer for RottenTomatoes streaming series on Peacock and a consulting editor at RealClearLife, Ranker and GritDaily. You can find her across all social media platforms as @Videodrew and send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.