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Italian EV Battery Maker’s CEO Plans Major Gigafactory in Imperial Valley
The founder and CEO of Italian battery manufacturer Italvolt announced plans today for a new $4 billion gigafactory in Southern California’s Imperial Valley that should produce enough batteries to supply 650,000 electric vehicles annually.
Italvolt CEO Lars Carlstrom said he’s formed a new company, Statevolt, that will build the 54-gigawatt-hours (GWh) facility with the help of Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR), a California-based lithium extraction company that will supply the factory’s lithium and geothermal power. Statevolt is still “undertaking due diligence” on the exact location of the facility, which should be “one of the largest” battery factories in North America upon completion, it said.
“The development of lithium-ion batteries is crucial for the U.S. to meet its goals to transition to net zero [carbon emissions],” Carlstrom said in a statement. “Today, we face a significant shortage in the amount of lithium that is required to meet the demand for electric vehicles.”
Carlstrom added that Statevolt’s partnership with CTR is “pioneering a new, hyper-local business model,” which said “will offer Statevolt a significant advantage in producing lithium-ion batteries at scale.” CTR will supply the gigafactory’s lithium from its nearby Hell’s Kitchen Lithium and Power development, which is slated for completion in 2023.
That would give the battery maker an advantage at a time when lithium prices have climbed due to a global supply chain squeeze exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as growing demand for electric vehicles—and, in turn, lithium-ion batteries to power EVs.
Instead of traditional open-pit mining or evaporation ponds, CTR extracts lithium from geothermal brine—extremely hot, salty water located in abundance underneath the Imperial Valley’s Salton Sea. The brine is pumped to the surface and then purified to extract lithium-containing salts. CTR says the process, when done correctly, could have “near-zero” carbon emissions.
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In Los Angeles—like the startup environment at large—venture funding and valuations skyrocketed in 2021, even as the coronavirus pandemic continued to surge and supply chain issues rattled the economy. The result was a startup ecosystem that continued to build on its momentum, with no shortage of companies raising private capital at billion-dollar-plus unicorn valuations.
In order to gauge the local startup scene and who’s leading the proverbial pack, we asked more than 30 leading L.A.-based investors for their take on the hottest firms in the region. They responded with more than two dozen venture-backed companies; three startups, in particular, rose above the rest as repeat nominees, while we've organized the rest by their amount of capital raised as of January, according to data from PitchBook. (We also asked VCs not to pick any of their own portfolio companies, and vetted the list to ensure they stuck to that rule.)
Without further ado, here are the 26 L.A. startups that VCs have their eyes on in 2022.
Whatnot was the name most often on the minds of L.A. venture investors—understandably, given its prolific fundraising year. Whatnot raised some $220 million across three separate funding rounds in 2021, on the way to a $1.5 billion valuation.
The Marina del Rey-based livestream shopping platform was founded by former GOAT product manager Logan Head and ex-Googler Grant LaFontaine. The startup made its name by providing a live auction platform for buying and selling collectables like rare Pokémon cards, and has since expanded into sports memorabilia, sneakers and apparel.
Boulevard’s backers include Santa Monica-based early-stage VC firm Bonfire Ventures, which focuses on B2B software startups. The Downtown-based company fits nicely within that thesis; Boulevard builds booking and payment software for salons and spas. The firm has worked with prominent brands such as Toni & Guy and HeyDay.
GOAT launched in 2015 as a marketplace to help sneakerheads authenticate used Air Jordans and other collectible shoes. It has since grown at a prolific rate, expanding into apparel and accessories and exceeding $2 billion in merchandise sales in 2020. The startup sealed a $195 million funding round last summer that more than doubled its valuation, to $3.7 billion.
The Best of the Rest
Nielsen competitor VideoAmp gathers data on who's watching what across streaming services, traditional TV and social apps like YouTube. The company positions itself as an alternative to so-called "legacy" systems like Nielsen, which it says are "fragmented, riddled with complexity and inaccurate." In addition to venture funding, its total funding figure includes more than $165 million in debt financing.
Seizing on the NFT craze, Mythical Games is building a platform that powers the growing realm of “play-to-earn games.” Backed by NBA legend Michael Jordan and Andreessen Horowitz, the Sherman Oaks-based startup’s partners include game publishers Abstraction, Creative Mobile and CCG Lab.
FloQast founder Michael Whitmire says he got a “no” from more than 100 investors in the process of raising a seed round. Today, the accounting software company is considered a unicorn.
Nacelle produces docuseries, books, comedy albums and podcasts. The media company’s efforts include the Netflix travel series “Down To Earth with Zac Efron.”
A platform for virtual concerts, Wave has hosted performances by artists including Justin Bieber, Tinashe and The Weeknd. The company says it has raised $66 million to date from the likes of Warner Music and Tencent.
Sherman Oaks-based Papaya looks to make it easier to pay “any” bill—from hospital bills to parking tickets—via its mobile app.
Based in Marina del Rey, LeaseLock says it’s on a mission to eliminate security deposits for apartment renters.
Emotive sells text message-focused marketing tools to ecommerce firms like underwear brand Parade and men's grooming company Beardbrand.
Based in Long Beach, Dray says its mission is to “modernize the logistics and trucking industry.” Its partners include Danish shipping company Maersk and toy maker Mattel.
Coco makes small pink robots on wheels (you may have seen them around town) that deliver food via a remote pilot. Its investors include Y Combinator and Silicon Valley Bank.
HiveWatch develops physical security software. Its investors include former Twitter executive Dick Costollo and NBA star Steph Curry’s Penny Jar Capital.
Whatnot competitor Popshop is betting that live-shopping is the future of ecommerce. The West Hollywood-based firm focuses on collectables such as trading cards and anime merchandise.
Founded by former SpaceX engineer Karan Talati, First Resonance runs a software platform for makers of electric cars and aerospace technology. Its clients include Santa Cruz-based air taxi company Joby Aviation and Alameda-based rocket company Astra.
Founded by Crowdstrike and Microsoft alums, Open Raven aims to protect user data. The cybersecurity firm’s investors include Kleiner Perkins and Upfront Ventures.
When an actor faces the camera and speaks directly to the audience, it’s known as “breaking the fourth wall.” Named after the trope, Venice-based Fourthwall offers a website builder that’s designed for content creators.
The Non Fungible Token Company creates NFTs for musicians under the name Unblocked. Its investors include Jay Z’s Marcy Venture Partners and Shawn Mendez.
Backed by Mayo Clinic Ventures, Safe Health develops telehealth software and offers tools for enterprises to launch their own health care apps.
Intro’s app lets you book video calls with experts—from celebrity stylists, to astrologists, to investors.
With the tagline “Land the package, not the plane,” DASH Systems is a Hawthorne-based shipping company that builds hardware and software for automated airdrops.
With a focus on sustainability, Ettitude is a direct-to-consumer brand that sells bedding, bathroom textiles and sleepwear.
Along similar lines as Unblocked, Afterparty creates NFTs for artists and content creators such as Clay Perry and Tropix.
Heart to Heart is an audio-focused dating app that “lets you listen to the story behind the pictures in a profile.” Precursor Ventures led the pre-seed funding round.
Frigg makes hair and beauty products that contain cannabinoids such as CBD. The Valley Village-based company raised an undisclosed seed round in August.
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- Investment giants BlackRock and Fidelity led the funding for “Mountain,” which has offices in Culver City and helps brands advertise through TV streaming apps.
MNTN, an adtech company specializing in the growing connected TV or “smart TV” market, has raised $119 million in a Series D funding round co-led by BlackRock and Fidelity.
Funds and accounts managed by BlackRock and Fidelity collectively invested $110 million, MNTN (pronounced “Mountain”) said Tuesday. The company—which is headquartered in Austin, Texas but has an office in Culver City—had previously raised more than $82 million, according to PitchBook data, from investors including Baroda Ventures, Greycroft Partners, Mercato Partners, Qualcomm and Rincon Venture Partners.
MNTN sells software that lets brands buy connected TV ads and track their performance in real time. The company expanded into the creative process last year when it acquired actor Ryan Reynolds’ Maximum Effort Marketing, the advertising agency behind viral ads for Match and Mint Mobile. Reynolds is now MNTN’s chief creative officer.
Connected TVs, also known as smart TVs, feature streaming apps that allow viewers to access services like Netflix and Hulu directly through their television. The connected TV ad market grew nearly 60% last year, to $14.4 billion, as consumers continued to ditch traditional cable for online streaming, according to Insider Intelligence. There was also more advertising space available thanks to the launch and expansion of ad-supported streaming services, such as NBCUniversal’s Peacock and ViacomCBS’s Paramount+.
MNTN claims its platform makes running connected TV ads as simple as advertising through online search engines or social media, allowing clients to reach audiences at streaming networks including CNN, Discovery+, ESPN, Hulu and Food Network. With its recent acquisitions of Maximum Effort and video creation platform QuickFrame, the firm now offers creative production services, as well.
In a statement, MNTN CEO Mark Douglas said the company “could not ask for a bigger vote of confidence” than the backing of BlackRock and Fidelity, two of the world’s largest institutional investors. The Series D round will help MNTN invest in its “platform, products and people,” CFO Patrick Pohlen added.
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.