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LA Tech Updates: Panic Buying is Broadening Soylent's Reach; Curative Sends Tests to Texas

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  • Watch: Curative Sends 240K COVID-19 Tests to Texas
  • Pandemic Panic Buying is Bringing Soylent a New Kind of Customer

        Pandemic Panic Buying is Bringing Soylent a New Kind of Customer

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        Pandemic panic buying is opening up a new customer base for Soylent.

        The meal replacement startup says it saw a spike in new online customers in March and April when COVID stay-at-home orders began.

        "It's a completely different consumer than what you might think about — the gamer, techie, Silicon Valley profile," CEO Demir Vangelov told dot.LA "That validates the strategy we've had to expand the profile of our consumers and reach into different demographics."

        That panic-buying trend, the company said, coupled with Soylent's move into some traditional retail outlets is changing who they're selling to.

        Soylent debuted in 7-Elevens in July 2017. As demand in traditional brick-and-mortar stores expanded, they added more national chains in October 2018, including Walmart and Target. Walmart remains their best-performing retailer.

        Now, the Los Angeles-based company is working to keep those shoppers in the Soylent community.

        "Some of these [customers] bought 20 boxes of powder, a significant amount of food," Vangelov said. "It was very interesting to see how many of those folks are actually going to stick with us."

        In June, Soylent released two new flavors, banana and creamy chocolate, and revised their original recipes to include fewer carbs and a lower sugar content per bottle.

        "It was a nice way to follow up on all these new consumers," Vangelov said. "March and April were the crazy months when people were buying and over-buying. In May, we saw stable consumption. Now, we're starting to see an extremely strong performance in the retail channels."

        Watch: Curative Sends 240K COVID-19 Tests to Texas as Infections Spike 

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        Fred Turner, the twenty-something leading the charge behind coronavirus testing across L.A., posted video on Twitter Tuesday showing 240,000 tests getting ready to head to Texas to support the state's COVID response.

        The tests, produced by Turner's company Curative Inc., will land at 11 Texas A&M System universities across the state, according to Texas TV news station KBTX. About 15,000 tests will be shipped to campuses each month, a plan that offers students, faculty and staff access to testing free of charge.

        On Wednesday, California reported its highest daily count yet of coronavirus cases, reaching 11,000 confirmed infections. Texas saw its highest daily increase on Tuesday, reaching 10,859 cases.

        Curative has been supplying L.A. with their FDA-approved saliva-based test since March. According to the company's studies, Curative's product has a 10% false negative rate — a sensitivity as good if not better than the nasal pharyngeal swab tests, dot.LA's Rachel Uranga reported in her interview with Turner.

        Turner, an Oxford dropout, stepped down as head of Shield Bio in January and moved to Southern California for an opportunity to build a lab for coronavirus tests. He now operates labs out of San Dimas and Washington D.C.

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        California is the world's largest legal pot market, generating nearly $3.1 billion in spending in the Golden State alone. But cannabis-related businesses in the U.S. live in a legal-limbo, operating in this strange gray area between federal laws that make marijuana illegal and states that have decriminalized its use and sale entirely. This has led to sometimes difficult choices, workarounds and issues with which the cannabis and cannabis-linked companies are forced to contend.

        dot.LA dove into this tenuous landscape during a virtual panel discussion on Tuesday with experts in cannabis compliance and legal issues, asking them: Is the green rush over? The consensus seemed to be that no, it isn't, but this first wave of "reckless money," likely is.

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        When the founders who lead the ten young startups selected for the 2020 Techstars LA class begin their three month accelerator program Monday, they won't be gathering in the Mid-Wilshire office and shaking hands as every other class has done. Like the rest of us, they will be working at home because of the coronavirus. Dinners, meetings, socializing, and mentoring sessions will all be online.

        "A big part of the magic of the program is the relationships that are from proximity and from everyone working together in the same space and so what we're doing is we're endeavoring to create as much as that connection in the virtual world as possible," said Anna Barber, managing director of Techstars LA.

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