Snap Pledges $3.5M to Fund Augmented Reality Creators to Kick Off Its Lens Fest

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

Snap Pledges $3.5M to Fund Augmented Reality Creators to Kick Off Its Lens Fest

Snap's third annual Lens Fest kicked off Tuesday with a multi-million-dollar bang.

The three-day event convenes Snap's community of external lens creators who use Snap's Lens Studio development toolkit to design augmented reality (AR) filters – which Snap calls lenses – for Snapchat users. That community will be the beneficiary of Snap's announced $3.5 million investment, which will be used to "continue Snap's commitment to funding opportunities for Lens Creators." The company promised to release more details early next year.


This year's Lens Fest is the only to be held virtually rather than at Snap's Santa Monica office and the first that is open to the general public, rather than being invite-only.

To Clay Weishaar, an L.A.-based visual effects artist, that's a welcome change. Weishaar began tinkering around with Lens Studio shortly after it launched about three years ago, while he was working under film director Ridley Scott as part of a writers' room envisioning science-fiction concepts. During his lunch hour, Weishaar would use Lens Studio to make some of those ideas more tangible. For him, it was an eye-opening experience about the power of AR.

"Working in AR is a direct line from your imagination into the physical world," Weishaar said.

He uploaded some of his creations onto Snap but didn't think much of it until a company representative called him out of the blue and told him one of his Lenses was trending.

"I didn't even know what a 'lens' was. I was like, 'trending?'" he recounted. "I remember talking to her and learning there's this big community around lenses and the work that I create can be shared with millions of people. It was all completely new to me. From that moment on I was hooked in terms of creating lenses."

He joined Snap's Lens Creator program and accepted an invitation to the company's inaugural Lens Fest.

"I was blown away," he recalls. "As a creator in L.A., you can often feel like you're in a silo in your own world, especially in AR. What Snap did was – and I still don't know how they did this to this day because it is so authentic – they created this global community of creators from all over the world, from Germany, Japan, all over, and started getting people together who are excited about AR."

Lens Fest - Snap's Global AR Festival on Dec 8-10

The Benefits of Being a Snapchat Lens Creator

Being part of Snap's official Lens Creator community, which counts tens of thousands members who've collectively designed over 1.5 million lenses, offers several benefits to creators like Weishaar.

He says he personally doesn't focus on making money directly from his lenses but appreciates the early access that he gets to Snap's AR features. It gives him a creative leg up and, he says, enables him to design work he's proud of as an artist, like a lens that transforms L.A.'s iconic Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard into a structure with a hot dog pagoda, ice cream cone turrets, and a donut gong.

It's also helped Weishaar build a 297,000-strong global following on Instagram, which in turn has led to his designing lenses for brands. He's formed his own AR design studio, Wrld Space, and his early access to Snap's latest tools enables him to offer a valuable service to companies looking to reach Snap's audience.

"I can be working with a brand and know early what's coming out, and once it's out I can create a lens for them that uses technology that separates them from other brands," he said.

Several other L.A.-based AR studios count themselves among Snap's Lens Creator program, including Blnk and Paper Triangles.

Snap Lens Fest

How Snap Benefits By Keeping Lens Creators Happy

For Snap, providing lens-building tools to outsiders isn't some altruistic giveaway.

"It's low-cost, differentiated content," said Laura Martin, a media analyst at boutique investment bank Needham & Co.

Low-cost content is obviously attractive to a company. But it's the differentiation – lenses are apparently harder to copy than Snap's hallmark disappearing-messages feature – that helps Snap earn money through its lenses, by attracting brands.

"You can only do a lens on Snap," Martin said. That is, brands who want to do a sponsored lens can't just go to any social platform. And Snap's readily accessible pool of lens creators makes that decision easier.

Having a trove of fun lenses also helps Snap attract and retain users. The company claimed on Tuesday that lenses made by its creator community have been viewed more than 1 trillion times. Snap has previously said that over 75% of its some 249 million daily active users use lenses every day.

That engagement drives up advertising revenues and decreases churn.

"If you keep finding cool lenses, you're more likely to go back tomorrow and the next day," Martin said. "It keeps people in the Snap ecosystem longer."

That's particularly attractive to brands who want to reach a young audience, as Snap claims to reach 90% of 13-24 year-olds in the U.S.

Although revenue from sponsored lenses isn't as substantial as the ads Snap inserts into its platform, Martin said lens campaigns can serve as a gateway for brands to get to know Snap , and can open doors to future revenue-generating opportunities.

"It attracts them in a differentiated way," she said. "They have to talk to Snap about doing this because they're the only one that does it. And now Snap has them in a dialogue."

In that way, lenses play a key role in Snap's ongoing quest to reach profitability.

"They sit in a really nice intersection of creative and commercial," Martin said.

Snap Lens Fest

Accelerating AR

Events like the Lens Summit can have more impact, however, than filling Snap's coffers or inspiring more quirky creativity. To Weishaar, expanding knowledge of how to create AR offers potential for social good, too.

He recalls his travels, on Snap's dime, to MIT and Stanford campuses to facilitate hackathons using the company's AR tools, alongside its machine-learning design kit. At one event, Weishaar said he was moved by a group of students who used the tools to design a camera program that could identify spine curvature in elderly people that could signal a high risk of falling. Catching that early and intervening could save lives.

"It's so exciting to see this technology go out into the hands of more people," Weishaar said, "because they start solving real-world problems and start figuring out ways to better humanity."

Snap Lens Fest runs from December 8th through 10th. You can still register here.

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Sam Blake primarily covers media and entertainment for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA

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🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

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