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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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Led by a former SpaceX engineer, First Resonance makes software for aerospace and electric car makers to manage their inventory, supply chain and manufacturing process.
Over the last year, the company has seen revenue shoot up 500% year-over-year and their customer base has doubled, according to the startup. This week, it raised a $14 million Series A to build out its flagship platform, ION.
CEO and co-founder Karan Talati wouldn’t share specific revenue figures but said two of the companies it works with, Santa Cruz-based Joby Aviation and Alameda-based Astra, went public over the last year which accelerated their demand for his company’s products.
“As their needs and their companies grow, our factory operating system is keeping up with them and growing into new needs,” Talati said.
While the three-year old company was originally created to service aerospace manufacturers, Talati and the team decided to target manufacturing across several industries in order to maximize its revenue potential.
“What all these companies have in common is some of these trends of electrification of moving towards (3D printing), to having kind of cyber-physical systems,” he said.
First Resonance’s team has grown from seven full-time employees earlier this year to 20 now, and there’s plans to hire more engineers. The company is based in Downtown LA but continues to work remotely during the pandemic.
Some of the changes coming to the ION platform will include tools to help manufacturing plants manage their supply chains, including allowing them to track inventory, parts purchasing and receipts. ION also has a function that can analyze these and other supply chain data to give builders a forecast of what they need to do in order to meet deadlines.
First Resonance has raised $19.3 million since its 2018 launch following this round. The Series A was led by new investor Craft Ventures, a heavy-hitting VC firm based in San Francisco. Craft Ventures has invested in and sold companies including Dapper Collectives (Brud), Bird, CloudKitchens, financing platform Affirm and Airbnb. The firm was also an early investor in SpaceX, where Talati worked as an engineer for three years. Existing investors Wavemaker Partners, Fika Ventures, Stage VP and Blue Bear Capital, which led First Resonance’s $3.5 million seed round in February, also participated in this round.
Talati said First Resonance isn’t targeting an IPO or sale any time soon, but said Craft is an important new backer because “they have an investment in a fast-scaling software-as-a-service business” like First Resonance.
A work collaboration and inventory management software for aerospace manufacturers — including rocket-part maker Phase Four — First Resonance is poised to take off.
The startup raised a $3.5 million Series A on Wednesday, and will use the funding to expand its footprint in Los Angeles.
Eventually, the downtown-based company wants to be the software behind a new wave of mobility, from jetpacks to air taxis.
First Resonance initially targeted aerospace companies, but has since expanded to other industries, including automotive and robotics. CEO Karan Talati said the company eventually plans to help build air taxis.
"We're bringing on companies even right now that start to get into the kind of blurry lines of what the future of mobility looks like," Talati said.
A screenshot of First Resonance's inventory management software.
The new round of funding will allow the company to double — "if not triple" — its headcount by the end of this quarter and develop its main product, the Ion factory management software, which allows manufacturers to automate and streamline operations.
The funding round was led by Blue Bear Capital, a Beverly Hills-based venture capital firm that looks to invest in automation, artificial intelligence and the industrialization of renewable energy.
First Resonance has now raised a total of $5.3 million since its 2018 launch.
The startup began working remotely last March. Its six-person team is made up of engineers that come from top manufacturers in town including SpaceX, Toyota and NASA.
Blue Bear Capital partners Ernst Sack and Vaughn Blake decided to invest in First Resonance because they saw the long-tail potential for First Resonance's software as the market for electric cars soar and the space market expands.
First Resonance CEO Karan Talati
Manufacturing in both of those areas requires a complex set of processes.
"At the global level, the revolution of next-gen manufacturing is critical to solving the climate and mobility challenges that we'll be facing in the years ahead," Blake said. "First Resonance' software ignites that revolution by enabling the manufacturing workflows required to electrify transport, reach orbit and propel satellites."
The software lets factories automate their manufacturing and manage their supply chains, freeing up more time for engineers to focus on futuristic designs, Talati said. It also uses data visualization and analytics to help builders troubleshoot design issues.
First Resonance is already backed by notable firms including Santa Monica-based Wavemaker Partners and Westwood-based Fika Ventures, but Blue Bear has a foothold in Texas, where aerospace activity and manufacturing are exploding, giving it an edge over other firms. Elon Musk has reportedly moved to Austin, and some of SpaceX's manufacturing has migrated to Boca Chica Village in Texas.
"It's been really great [to access] new customer acquisition or networks, with their extended team in San Francisco as well as Texas," Talati said, noting at First Resonance has plans to expand far beyond Los Angeles' borders.
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