Downtown Los Angeles-based HopSkipDrive, a mobility startup that aims to be a kid-friendly Uber service for school-age students, won startup of the year at dot.LA's second annual startup awards.
Winners were announced at the dot.LA Summit. Judges voted for their picks for the most-deserving companies and individuals in six categories, including rising entrepreneur, top rising startup and entrepreneur of the year.
"It's such an honor to be included among all the impressive companies nominated for this award," Katrina Kardassakis, HopSkipDrive's vice president of business operations, said during her acceptance speech. "We are a youth transportation solution on a mission to create opportunity for all through mobility, and so we're focused on serving vulnerable populations, including kids in the foster care system, kids experiencing homelessness and kids with special needs or anyone who needs a little extra care to get where they need to go."
Kardassakis added that HopSkipDrive is currently focused on providing a potential solution to the ongoing shortage of bus drivers across the country, which is leading to backlogs in getting kids to and from school as the transportation industry struggles to retain workers and rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.
Finalists for the 2021 Startup of the Year Award included Universal Hydrogen, a company that's working to make planes that run on clean energy; Long Beach-based Rocket Lab, a reusable rocket manufacturer and small satellite launcher that looks to compete with SpaceX; ChowNow, a commission-free online ordering platform for restaurants and Crexi, a platform for streamlining commercial real estate transactions.
Check out the full list of nominees and winners for dot.LA's 2021 Startup Awards below.
Pivot of the Year: Potion
This award celebrates a startup's ability to revamp by changing its business model and strategy in the face of adversity.
- Potion — Winner
- Struct Club
Social Justice Award: Grid110
This award recognizes a company or individual who has made the biggest impact on driving social justice to create a positive, significant and sustainable impact.
- All Voices
- SoLa Impact
- Hacker Fund
- Grid110 — Winner
Rising Entrepreneur: Krista Berlincourt
This entrepreneur is new in the LA startup scene and has emerged as a forward thinking innovator and leader. Despite his/her age, the Entrepreneur of the year has a pioneering spirit and a promising future.
- Clash App, Brandon McNerney
- Lolly, Marc Baghadjian and Sacha Schermerhorn
- Kona, Sid Pandiya
- Kensho Health, Krista Berlincourt — Winner
- Seed, Ara Katz
Rising Startup: Invisible Universe
Sponsored by TriNet
This startup is less than two years of age from incorporation and has shown major development based on market growth, innovation and impact of products and services. This newcomer has the greatest potential to disrupt its market and global tech community.
- Invisible Universe — Winner
- Launch House
Entrepreneur of the Year: Alex Israel
This entrepreneur has a fearless spirit while their partners, teammates and clients are inspired by their vision on a daily basis. They have made notable achievements this past year in regards to funds raised, sales, impact of product and leadership in the tech ecosystem.
- Heather Hasson and Trina Spear, FIGS
- Cathy Zoi, EVgo
- Alex Israel, Metropolis — Winner
- Dakota Semler, Xos Truck
- Jason Wilk, Dave
Startup of the Year: HopSkipDrive
This company has shown the greatest development over the past year based on innovation and impact with goods and services. This startup has the most promising potential for an exit and potential to reach unicorn status.
- HopSkipDrive — Winner
- Universal Hydrogen
- Rocket Lab
When Krista Berlincourt was dealing with health issues due to a hormonal imbalance, she wasn't getting the answers she wanted from her doctors.
Instead, she turned to holistic medicine, and the success of that experience led her to start Kenshō Health, a Los Angeles-based startup that offers a searchable referral service to help patients find holistic medicine healthcare providers.
Kenshō Health announced Thursday that it raised $3.5 million in a seed funding round that was led by KB Partners and included Company Ventures and Gaingels.
Kenshō Health co-founder Krista Berlincourt
Kenshō's platform matches patients to licensed holistic healthcare providers. It includes over 2,000 providers so far, who provide services ranging from acupuncture to therapy to chiropractic care.
Holistic medicine is a form of treatment often based on traditional medicine combined with modern medicine. Providers seek to find cures for long-term ailments by looking for the root cause of health problems, rather than finding short-term fixes.
The complementary and alternative medicine industry is projected to grow over 20% per year between 2021 and 2028, according to research from the Grandview Research CAGR.
Even so, Berlincourt said it is difficult to find providers because the majority of holistic healthcare providers are private practice and decentralized. Kenshō, she said, is like a phone book — a platform that doesn't otherwise exist in the holistic medicine industry.
"Today, [finding providers] is like walking down the street and hoping that you might meet someone," she said. "But with [Kenshō], you effectively have a matchmaker."
The platform also makes it easier for users to find providers that fit their lifestyles, a feature that became their focus after hearing from underrepresented users who wanted to find providers who had shared experiences with them. A transgender person of color, for example, would be able to use their platform to find a provider who is also a transgender person of color, she said.
"When you're trying to find a doctor, you're trying to find a person that resonates with you, who you trust to heal you," she said.
Berlincourt said several hundred thousand people have used Kenshō, which gets the bulk of its revenue from partnerships with healthcare plans and health care networks. It will begin charging booking fees and other transaction fees beginning in the fall and is planning to launch full-feature telehealth features to its platform around that time.
Berlincourt said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, people have begun to shift toward holistic healthcare, in combination with traditional medicine, to address their medical ailments. She is hoping that Kenshō will help accelerate this shift.
"We just have some old and entrenched systems that really need updating, and technology's a really easy way to do that," she said. "I think it's important for consumers and for the country that we move this mountain forward."
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From helping save beehives to healing the human body, some of L.A.'s most innovative companies are helmed by female founders. Who stands above the pack? We asked the region's top VCs participating in our recent dot.LA sentiment survey to weigh in.
Ara Katz, a serial entrepreneur and founder of probiotic company Seed tops our list. Katz found a niche in a multi-billion dollar industry, but she acknowledges that this past year has been especially tough for women, as the pandemic forced millions to drop out of the workforce.
"It is not lost on me what a privilege it is to be building a company as a female founder and mother given how impactful the pandemic and the past year has been on women and mothers in the workforce," said Katz. "My best advice to founders is to build with abandon — it is contagious, amplifying and makes it all meaningful."
Nationally, female-founded or co-founded companies earned less than 3% of all venture capital in 2020, according to data from Pitchbook. Although women founders say they still face issues of sexism and encounter more obstacles than their male counterparts, there are signs of improvement. In the first quarter of this year, women entrepreneurs reeled in $9.8 billion in capital investment nationally – an all-time high in quarterly investments over the past 12 years.
In Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Ana, $544 million was poured into female founded startups alone over that time.
Therese Tucker, founder of fintech company BlackLine, which also made our list, said that it's important for women to find people who believe in them as they build their companies.
"Don't be intimidated by condescension," Tucker said, "Look for people you can actually partner with who 'get' your business."
And just as importantly, founder of health platform Kensho, Krista Berlincourt, said stay true to who you are.
"It is not easy. And you'll be surrounded by men, so just find the people who get you and your vision, hold onto them tight, and go for it. Then remember that soft is strong. You don't have to 'crush it' to be successful," she said. "Be you. Be flexible. Soften. Grow. That's the only thing that has ever worked," Berlincourt added.
Here's the complete list:
Ara Katz, Seed
Ara Katz is the co-founder and co-CEO of Seed, a Venice-based probiotic company designed to improve health and digestion. Katz's experience as a breastfeeding mother led her to explore the importance of microbes and their impact on bodily health. Among other leading roles, Katz was co-founder and CMO of ecommerce marketplace Spring, which was sold to ShopRunner in 2018. She was also on the founding team of Beach Mint, an e-commerce company for fashion and lifestyle brands.
Claire Schmidt, AllVoices
Claire Schmidt aims to empower workers through AllVoices, an anonymous reporting and management platform, which allows employees to report issues in the workplace. The LA-based company has raised a total of $4.1 million with investments by Crosscut, Greycroft, Halogen Ventures and dot.LA founder Spencer Rascoff. Inspired by the the MeToo movement, the platform lets employees alert management to problems like discrimination, harrasment, or work bias. Prior to roles at AllVoices, Schmidt was vice president of technology and innovation at Fox properties and senior director of giving at Thrive Market, an e-commerce platform for organic products.
Ariel Kaye, Parachute
Ariel Kaye used her design and brand background to launch Parachute in 2014. Parachute is a direct-to-consumer bedding brand based in Culver City. The startup has raised over $47 million in funding to date with investments by H.I.G Capital, Jaws Ventures and Brilliant Ventures. The brand avoids chemicals and synthetics in their products putting an emphasis on sustainability.
Therese Tucker, BlackLine
Therese Tucker is the founder and executive chair of BlackLine, an LA-based platform for accountants that takes on repetitive or complicated tasks. BlackLine pulled in nearly $352 million in revenues in 2020, and expects to grow that to at least $410 million this year. Ranked among Fortune's '50 fastest growing' women led companies in 2016, the company also received first place in G2's "Best Finance Products of 2021" ranking.
Sophia Amoruso, Nasty Gal
Southern California native Sophia Amoruso is the founder and former owner of Nasty Gal, a multi-million dollar clothing store originally started on eBay. Nasty Gal was sold at a value of $20 million, including $15 million in debt, to BooHo in 2017. Amoruso's newest project is an eight-week entrepreneurship course called Business Class, which aims to help female business leaders begin or grow their small businesses. The New York Times bestseller author of#GIRLBOSS, she detailed her entrepreneurial story that was later made into a Netflix series.
Madeline Fraser, Gemist
Madeline Fraser is the CEO and founder of Gemist, a mobile app that allows users to design a ring and try it on at home before they buy. Fraser used her experience in growing tech-startups to create one of her own. The sustainable jewelry brand raised $1 million in funding in its first seed round in 2019 and last year was backed by De Beers Group Ventures, Hawke Ventures and Monique Woodward last year for an undisclosed amount.
Krista Berlincourt, Kensho
Berlincourt is the CEO and co-founder of Kensho, an Los Angeles-based health platform and guide to natural medicine. Kensho provides users with specialized wellness services from surfing to acupuncture. The company has raised $1.3 million and is backed by top investors like CrossCut Ventures, Female Founders Fund and Evolve Ventures. Prior to creating her own company, Berlincourt worked in public relations at venture-backed Simple.
Katherine Power, Who What Wear
Katherine Power co-founded Who What Wear 15 years ago out of frustration with a fashion industry that was often out of reach for many. The brand focuses on providing affordable and size-inclusive fashion. She is now CEO of Clique Media Group, a parent company that oversees Who What Wear and other consumer brands. As of 2017, Clique Media Group raised over $15 million in funding with investments by Amazon, Greycroft and e.ventures. Power was also listed in Fortune's 40 under 40 in 2016.
Cat Chen, Skylar
Cat Chen is the founder and CEO of Skylar, a fragrance and body care brand. Chen developed a hypo-allergenic and cruelty free fragrance after being dismayed by the lack of clean ingredients in high-priced perfumes. The company founded in 2017 has raised a total of $11 million backed by Amplify, FirstMark Capital and GingerBread Capital. Prior to Skylar, Chen was was an executive of operations at The Honest Company, where she helped grow the company to $300 million of revenue in her four years there.
Shivani Siroya, Tala
The founder and CEO of Tala, a Santa Monica-based consumer credit smartphone app, Shivani Siroya created the company to assist people in underrepresented markets. Tala uses advanced data science to provide personalized financial services, such as disbursing loans to people with no formal credit history. The startup has raised over $217 million in funding by top investors, and has since been mentioned in TedTalks, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. Siroya's company is valued at an estimated $750 million dollars as of 2019, and was deemed one of the top FinTech companies in the world by Forbes.
Lead image by Ian Hurley.
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