Watch: 2020 Year in Review with Baron Davis, Mark Suster and Emily Slade

Sarah Favot

Favot is an award-winning journalist and adjunct instructor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She previously was an investigative and data reporter at national education news site The 74 and local news site LA School Report. She's also worked at the Los Angeles Daily News. She was a Livingston Award finalist in 2011 and holds a Master's degree in journalism from Boston University and BA from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.

Watch: 2020 Year in Review with Baron Davis, Mark Suster and Emily Slade

The pandemic and social unrest of 2020 accelerated change at a rapid pace for individuals, corporations and communities, L.A. business and tech leaders said during a virtual panel discussion. They predicted 2021 will be an opportunity for tech growth.

Upfront Managing Partner Mark Suster, Valence co-founder and COO Emily Slade and entrepreneur, athlete and investor Baron Davis spoke to dot.LA during its final Strategy Session event of the year. The challenges of 2020 were a common theme.


Suster said he sees the economic recovery as being K-shaped rather than U or V-shaped where half of the economy is doing better than it ever has, while the other half is doing worse.

"It's really, sadly, exacerbated inequalities in our system because the people that are doing better are knowledge workers and remote workers, and the people doing worse are the people who have to have their earnings from being in person," he said. "So, one thing I didn't anticipate was what we've basically done is accelerate societal change that would have taken five or eight or 10 years into one year."

Working from home is a change that the pandemic brought that Suster doesn't see going away. He expects people will work from home two or three days a week. He also said he is "bullish" about VR as the pandemic is pointing towards remote collaborative working.

One of the takeaways of Airbnb's and DoorDash's successful IPOs last week was how important and pervasive tech companies have become in today's market, Suster said.

"It sets up the opportunity of what we expect in the next 10 years," he said. "The second thing it speaks to is the sheer demand there is for public stocks because there's been a six, seven, eight-year period of time where these great companies raised billions of dollars in the private markets and weren't public. And now a lot of them are shifting to becoming public companies."

Valence, which connects Black professionals with capital, mentorship and professional development, saw its community membership double this year amid the social unrest following the death of George Floyd. Companies had been thinking about diversity and inclusion before this summer, but the protests brought "a sense of urgency and the awareness and understanding across the board," Slade said.

She said they saw strides this year towards diversity and inclusion in the L.A. tech and startup community, although the steps companies took in response to the movement varied.

She outlined three things that companies can do in 2021 to achieve diversity and inclusion goals: have diverse people on recruiting teams; spend money, time and attention on retention of new employees and promote Black and diverse leadership within the company.

"Being a part of a moment like this is actually really inspiring — to be able to say that we were in a time where so much change is taking place and that we didn't just stand by, that we participated," she said.

Davis, a former L.A. Clipper, said when he was involved in the early L.A. tech scene, he advocated for a name other than "Silicon Beach" to differentiate the community from Silicon Valley.

A native Angeleno, he'd like to see what he called "L.A. Unified," not the school district, but a community of innovation and inclusivity.

"For me it's really about unifying the city so we understand how to pay it forward, how to pay it back and how to build a modern city and a smart city where everybody can participate and everybody can share," Davis said.

He wants to create a structure for opportunities for young entrepreneurs, especially women, people of color and those in the LGBTQ community. And he's hopeful that the pandemic can create a unique moment for innovation.

"Right now, L.A. is, I keep saying, it's in its infancy, especially due to COVID," he said. "Obviously our school systems were failing, our educational systems need to be rewritten, so COVID has given us all these opportunities for these young minds to come and create and build. So, I think the opportunity for all of us is to seek, find, deliver and give access and use some of the things that we have, as the privilege, to share and build opportunities for the unprivileged."

Baron Davis

Baron Davis, Entrepreneur, Athlete & Investor

Baron Davis, Entrepreneur, Athlete & Investor

Baron Davis is a two-time NBA All Star, serial-entrepreneur, investor and creator of thought-provoking content and platforms. During his years in the NBA, Davis was constantly listening, learning, networking, and connecting both on the court and off which ignited a successful post-NBA business career.

Davis is the founder of several companies, including Sports and Lifestyle in Culture (SLiC), Business Inside the Game (B.I.G.), The Black Santa Company and No Label; each with the objective of combining creative talent with original publication and production to develop and provide educational and empowering stories that appeal to global audiences of all ages. Davis was one of the original investors in Vitaminwater and helped launch Thrive Market.

Davis also served as producer of several acclaimed documentaries including "Crips and Bloods: Made In America," "30 for 30: Sole Man," and "The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce."Davis currently resides in his hometown of Los Angeles where he plays his most important role, Dad to his two kids.

Mark Suster

Mark Suster, Managing Partner at Upfront

Mark Suster, Managing Partner at Upfront 


Mark Suster has been a managing partner at Upfront since 2007, where has led notable investments in companies including Bird, Invoca, Density, Nanit and Maker Studios (acquired by Disney). He previously was the founder & CEO of two successful enterprise software companies, the most recent of which was sold to Salesforce.com, where Mark became VP of products. Prior to being a founder, Mark was a software developer at Accenture while living and worked in Europe, Japan and the U.S. Mark is a graduate of UCSD and has an MBA from the University of Chicago.

Emily Slade, Co-Founder & COO of Valence

Emily Slade, Co-Founder & COO of Valence

Emily is the co-founder & COO of Valence, a new tech platform and community incubated by Upfront Ventures focused on connecting Black professionals with mentorship, job opportunities and capital.

Previously, she was the global head of growth/partnerships at Working Not Working, the platform connecting the world's top creative talent with companies looking to hire them, She built the "Work in Progress" initiative there. That effort launched with the acclaimed food-recovery program "FoodFight" that supports tens of thousands of homeless people. They launched FoodFight with a focus on turning foodie-hotspot Abbot Kinney Blvd in Los Angeles into the first zero-food-waste street in America during their beta, and now FoodFight is a feature within the Postmates app in 19 cities with 3000+ participating restaurants donating food to homeless shelters.

Throughout her career, she's focused on helping tech companies and startups scale strategically and authentically, contributing to the $1B IPO & sale of Active Network during her seven-year tenure there. Her side hustle is behind the lens as a co-founder of a travel production company, Pindrop Films, which takes her on photo adventures around the world. She's also worked as a film consultant supporting the development of features including "Man's Search For Meaning" based on the iconic memoir by Viktor Frankl and she is the L.A. chair of The Schusterman Family Foundation.

Kelly O'Grady, Chief Correspondent & Host and Head of Video

Kelly O'Grady, Chief Correspondent & Host and Head of Video 

Kelly O'Grady is dot.LA's chief host & correspondent. Kelly serves as dot.LA's on-air talent, and is responsible for designing and executing all video efforts. A former management consultant for McKinsey, and TV reporter for NESN, she also served on Disney's corporate strategy team, focusing on M&A and the company's direct-to-consumer streaming efforts. Kelly holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. A Boston native, Kelly spent a year as Miss Massachusetts USA, and can be found supporting her beloved Patriots every Sunday come football season.

Ben Bergman, dot.LA Senior Reporter

Ben Bergman, dot.LA Senior Reporter 

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior reporter/ host at KPCC, a producer at Gimlet Media and NPR and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times. Bergman was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. He enjoys skiing, playing poker and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

Sam Adams, dot.LA Co-founder & CEO

Sam Adams, dot.LA Co-founder & CEO

Sam Adams serves as chief executive of dot.LA. A former financial journalist for Bloomberg and Reuters, Adams moved to the business side of media as a strategy consultant at Activate, helping legacy companies develop new digital strategies. Adams holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard College and an MBA from the University of Southern California. A Santa Monica native, he can most often be found at Bay Cities deli with a Godmother sub or at McCabe's with a 12-string guitar. His favorite colors are Dodger blue and Lakers gold.

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

🏰 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

RELATEDEDITOR'S PICKS
Trending