When Matt Kozlov, TechStars Los Angeles' Managing Director, evaluates startups, he looks for a few key qualities in a company's leadership: humility, passion, resilience and the ability to accept coaching well.
"We believe that an A-plus team can turn a C-minus product into a really successful venture," he said. But the inverse, he said, isn't always true.
The 12 companies chosen for TechStars LA's 2021 Accelerator includes a social network platform for traders, a startup making a wristband that detects strokes and an app to handle small claims court cases.
Kozlov, who took the helm in February, is also taking his inaugural TechStars Los Angeles class in-person after the accelerator went remote during the pandemic.
"Nothing is better than an in-person experience for the mentors and founders," he said. "We are planning this year to bring the best of both worlds."
Kolzov, who spent the last two years working from home with "little" human interaction, is looking forward to swapping ideas across a table. TechStars LA is also in for other changes. The class will be held at an office space in Culver City, where most of the mentorships and instruction will take place.
But with LA County's new mask rules and an unpredictable virus, he's braced for the prospect of returning restrictions if COVID-19 cases rise.
"We've done it before, and we have to, we'll do it again," Kozlov said.
Kozlov said making sure the startups are racial diversity was a major area of focus for the accelerator. Many of the companies are led by Latino, Black and Asian American founders, and a majority of the businesses have women in their leadership.
"In terms of diversity, we really set that as a requirement when constructing this cohort," Kozlov said. "We wanted to make sure that the community of TechStars that we're bringing into this portfolio represents the community of LA."
Chelsie Hall, the co-founder of ViralMoment, said she's looking forward to collaborating with other startups and has already benefited from TechStars' network.
"The program hasn't even started yet, and they've already connected us to people who are just absolute experts in the space," said Hall, whose company helps brands identify internet trends.
The TechStars LA Accelerator's 2021 class will receive three months of training mentoring. Each company will receive $20,000 in exchange for 6% equity in the company, as per TechStars' usual accelerator agreements.
Here's a preview of this year's class:
Born out of Yale University, Alva Health wants to help people identify strokes sooner with a wristband that helps detect "the silent killer." Strokes are among the top leading causes of death worldwide. Detecting a stroke early is often a key way to improve survival rates and reduce side-effects for stroke victims.
"It's kind of a problem that has not been solved," said Sandra Saldana, CEO and co-founder of the Houston and New Haven based startup.
Butterfly Labs wants to make at-home lab testing easier for telehealth companies.
Based out of Los Angeles, Butterfly's software provides telehealth companies access to labs, testing and results that can be shared with patients via their portal and mailing services. So far, they have partnered with 10 labs to offer blood and other tests.
Cheres is a social network for stock tracking.
The platform allows users to see what their friends and followers are investing in. The app has pre launched and already has thousands on its waitlist, according to the company.
Founder Cimeran Kapur created Communikind, an app that lets families track their behavioral health history and health data. She developed the app after finding out she had cancer while in medical school. Available on both the iOS and the Google Play Store, the app also lets users share data with physicians.
Kapur created the app to give patients more control over their medical histories.
Led by Shiloh Johnson, a former accountant, ComplYant sells software that helps businesses keep track of tax deadlines, bills and other paperwork.
Erdos Ventures buys small e-commerce businesses. Based out of Canada, Erdos generates an offer within 14 days and lets owners choose between fully selling the company or sharing profits.
Based out of India, Eunimart offers machine learning and AI-based tools to help companies manage their businesses across major ecommerce platforms, including Shopify and Amazon.
The company primarily operates in Asia and the Middle East and is aiming to expand into the U.S.
Lightbox wants to combine the online and in-person shopping experience. The company's main product is a smart, 43-inch touchscreen that connects in-store shoppers with their online accounts.
Co-founder Sumant Yerramilly is no stranger to the program; he went through Techstars Boston in 2009, where he worked on Amp Idea, a company that designed an interactive touchscreen for taxis. The company was later acquired by Verifone Transportation.
PeopleClerk is an app that lets customers prepare small claims lawsuits and file the correct paperwork online. It operates in all 58 California counties and is hoping to expand into other states.
PeopleClerk co-founder and attorney Camila Lopez said it takes 30 to 40 hours and multiple court visits just to navigate the court system, which is often exacerbated by filing the wrong paperwork or missing a step in the process.
"If you watch a small claims hearing, you will see that people are showing up with evidence everywhere," Lopez said. "It's kind of a mess, and you're leaving money on the table."
Renno is an online business that aims to streamline the home renovation process. Led by former real estate consultant and CEO Khalief Brown, the company's app lets customers design a renovation, get pricing quotes and find contractors.
SanityDesk is a software aimed at "solo-preneurs" and small businesses. The software helps businesses improve their web presence, marketing strategy and customer relations management.
ViralMoment wants to make it easier for companies to better understand what's trending on the internet so it can make its own "viral moment."
The company uses Artificial Intelligence to generate reports on what people are saying about a company online based on images, videos and memes posted online.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Complyant founder Shiloh Johnson's name. It also clarifies Cimeran Kapur is the sole founder.
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From her home office in downtown, Miki Reynolds is trying to build an accelerator that looks like Los Angeles.
Reynolds, a tech and digital marketing veteran, founded the nonprofit Grid110 six years ago as an incubator for fashion tech brands. But she soon expanded to help a range of founders find their footing in L.A.'s tech and startup scene. Unlike most accelerators, it doesn't take equity in each company.
"There is no marching towards a demo day performance or presentation," Reynolds said of the 12-week virtual accelerator. "It's really allowing the founders themselves to describe what they're looking to accomplish. Then we try to see how we can help them get there."
Of the 200 companies she's put through the program, 70% are led by women and 70% by a founder of color. Following her mission also means expanding the industry's scope beyond Santa Monica and Venice, the once-default hubs for new companies and investors.
Grid110 runs three to four programs each year. The 15 startups chosen for this round represent a range of industries. Among them is the San Pedro-based biotech company Spira, which uses gene editing on algae to make food dyes and Folkicks, an online marketplace of shoes and clothing for Mexican folk dancers.
Founders in the accelerator hail from across the city from Highland Park to Culver City.
And, Reynolds said, her accelerator is one that "better reflects the city of Los Angeles and the world that we know it as."
"We recognized that most of the community and the events and co-working spaces — even the venture community — were largely centered on the Westside," she said.
Here is a look at Grid110's 21st cohort:
Barterr wants to make sneaker trading safer, easier and fairer.
The company acts as a middleman between two users hoping to trade shoes. After agreeing on a trade, users send the shoes to Barterr, which then uses a third-party to authenticate each shoe before sending the shoes to their new owners.
Founder Terrence Whaley told dot.LA that many shoe collectors want to trade their shoes through local Facebook groups or other sneaker forums, but are dissuaded either because they don't know how or receive poor offers.
Barterr hopes to set itself apart from a crowded sneaker marketplace industry with its algorithm to help users identify fair trades, he said.
"People don't know what equal value is," he said. "We want to basically be the single source of truth for what an equal and fair value trade is."
The company currently offers a desktop app, and plans to release IOS and Android apps within the year.
Founded by Claudia Barrera and Laura Barrera, two sisters born in Los Angeles and raised in Mexico, BurritoBreak sells small, grab-and-go $2 burritos targeted to both essential workers and office workers in Downtown LA.
The company, which has one brick-and-mortar location and two sidewalk vending locations, was inspired by the food stands the two saw in Mexico that sold food that was both affordable and fresh.
"That's something that was missing here," Claudia Barrera told dot.LA. "And I feel like it's missing all around the country."
Founded by Shahira Marei, Dirty Cookie makes edible shot glasses made out of cookies. The glasses, lined with an interior layer of chocolate, are meant to hold any liquid, from milk to alcohol.
Folkicks wants to help Mexican-Americans who perform Folklorico, traditional Mexican folk dances, reconnect with their Mexican roots. Founded by Rafael Valero, the company sells made-in-Mexican footwear and dancewear to Folklorio dancers in the U.S.
South Gate-based FYBRAA aims to prevent clothes from reaching the landfill. Founded by Erica Dwerlkotte, the company picks up unwanted clothes for a $5 fee and either resells the clothes on Poshmark or repurposes the clothes as fabric.
Founded by Noah Wossen and Trevor Brown, Gthr is a social media network aimed at cyclists. The company's IOS app lets cyclists find riding partners with similar riding habits, message other riders in the area, post photos and log rides.
Jazz Hands For Autism
Founded by Ifunanya Nweke, Jazz Hands For Autism is a Culver City-based nonprofit that helps musicians on the autism spectrum get their foot in the music industry through job placement programs, music learning programs and concerts.
Kif & Co
Founded by Linda Hsu and Caroline Brain, Kif & co sells probiotic fermented soft drinks.
Mina Health bills itself as a one-stop shop for menopause. The company sells at-home menopause test kits, which it says is less expensive and easier to use than lab-run tests. Mina Health is also aiming to provide menopause treatment services.
After successfully paying off six-figures of student loan debt in two years, founder Aja Dang understands the importance of planners and journals. Her company, MSTRPLN, sells digital and physical planners aimed to help professionals plan their personal, professional and financial lives.
Of The Night
Two friends started Of The Night in the throes of the pandemic to help party animals quarantined at home let loose.
Now, the Los Angeles-based company is hoping to take their party packages nationwide. Founded by Blake Harrison and Courtney Nichols, Of The Night sells "party packages" that include drinks, costumes and activities meant to provide a one-night experience for customers.
Each package is centered around a distinct theme – previous themes have included a garden gnome-themed package and a Prince-inspired Valentine's Day package. The packages are also popular among LGBTQ community, Harrison said, in part because of how eccentric each package is designed to be.
"Frankly, that's who we know and who we are, we've always been involved with the queer space so it was a no-brainer," Harrison told dot.LA.
The company, which first blossomed in Los Angeles, is hoping to grow its market in other major metropolitan cities and begin to tailor their packages to post-pandemic life. Now, Nichols said, the company is also aiming to target people who feel overworked.
"So, everyone," Harrison added.
Founded by Ashley Xie, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, Rooted Fare wants to help immigrant chefs bring traditional cultural sauces to the market. Rooted Fare partners with immigrant chefs to help them market and commercialize their sauces, and sells the sauces on their site.
Founded by Halleemah Nash, Rosecrans Ventures offers career counseling and job placement opportunities for underrepresented early-career workers.
Named after Rosecrans Avenue, a street that runs through Nash's hometown of Compton, the company also works with organizations to help workforces improve their diversity including PUMA, the California Department of Correction and the American Chemical Society.
An increased focus on diversity, Nash told dot.LA, will help empower a Generation Z workforce that is more diverse than previous generations.
"The idea of coaching and placing and empowering meaningful workforces for the underrepresented I think is necessary if we really want to get real about what the future workforce is going to look like," she said. "It's them."
Based out of San Pedro, Spira uses CRISPR gene editing technology on algae to make dyes for cooking and clothing. Company founders Elliot Roth, Surjan Singh and Pierre Wensel say their process is less resource intensive than other methods to create dyes.
The Petal Effect
The Petal Effect is a Los Angeles-based boutique flower company that sells customizable flower arrangements. Founded by Tobore Oweh, the company offers deliveries, home and office subscription services and other floral installations.
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This week on L.A. Venture, hear from Anna Barber, who left her position as managing director at Techstars in December to become a one of five investing partners at M13. Barber is the first repeat guest on the L.A. Venture podcast.
M13 is a venture engine that helps emerging founders launch and scale their brand. The company provides capital, mentors, assets and resources new businesses need to succeed. It focuses on Series A Investments.
Barber says her work for M13 has been both interesting and different than her time with Techstars. She shared how she enjoys the opportunity to work with companies both big and small, and how she is able to help large companies narrow their focus, while helping small companies broaden their reach.
Barber works with the Launchpad accelerator to help startups in their earliest stages, as part of a corporate partnership with Pepsi Co. and Proctor & Gamble. She also said M13 is partnering with Pepsi Co. to launch five new companies.
Core to M13 Ventures is a collaborative spirit, she said.
"We're trying to do the hard work here of being able to really, truly unlock the value of what everyone — every single partner and every member of the team — came in the door knowing."
She also shared why she found M13 appealing:
"It's a venture engine focused on the future of consumer that has a big voice in the market, and a big impact on the future of consumer behavior."
For Barber, it is critical to recognize her strengths. She describes herself as "people- and relationship-oriented" and tries her best to use her skills to advance "the thesis of the fund" which "is founders are the best position to help founders."
Barber also highlighted her work as a partner with The Fund LA, which writes $50k checks to L.A.-based startups and entrepreneurs — small and large — that are focused on community building.
Barber shared her personal investing philosophy, her latest work with M13 and her excitement for the future of L.A. tech.
Anna Barber is an investing partner at M13.
"There has to be an emotional connection. And so the process of finding an emotional connection for those founders, to some of the ideas that we developed, it's a messy, human process... I don't believe you can dedicate five-plus years of your life to building a company If you don't have a deep, personal passion." —Anna Barber
dot.LA Engagement Intern Colleen Tufts contributed to this post.
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