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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.
We asked L.A.'s top VCs to tell us which female founders they have their eyes on as part of our Q1 sentiment survey.
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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GoodRx earned dot.LA's top 2020 Startup award on Wednesday, beating out the popular sneaker reseller GOAT, the meditation application Headspace, mobile gamer Scopely and viral-video app TikTok.
"GoodRx started in Los Angeles, and will always be a Los Angeles-based company," said co-CEO Doug Hirsch. "We're so excited about the support we've received over the last decade from both entrepreneurs and investors and just incredible people that make up the ecosystem here in California and specifically in Los Angeles."
GoodRx was the first Los Angeles tech company to go public this year. It's mission to lower the prices of prescription drugs for Americans has made it one of the most-downloaded medical apps in the country.
"We're excited for the future and we appreciate the recognition," he said.
dot.LA wrapped up its inaugural Summit with the 2020 Startup Awards that honor the ingenuity and creativity propelling the startup scene in Southern California. More than 120 nominations were received from dot.LA's audience. The winners were chosen by a blue ribbon panel of judges, along with more than votes from the public.
Other winners included Entrepreneur of the Year, Tala CEO Shivani Siroya, Curative for Pivot of the Year, Blavity CEO Morgan DeBaun for Rising Entrepreneur, Openpath for Rising Startup and Social Justice Award went to Act One Ventures partner Alejandro Guerrero.
"We wanted to use this opportunity to shine a light on some of the most exciting, most driven and most world-changing people in companies in our world today," said dot.LA CEO Sam Adams.
Pivot of the Year: Curative Inc.
Curative was founded earlier this year by Fred Turner, an Oxford dropout. His company was then based in the Bay Area and tested for sepsis before it pivoted to provide COVID testing. As the pandemic emerged, he established a lab in San Dimas with the help of local venture capitalists that would eventually become Curative's home base. The company's saliva- based tests now account for about 10% of all testing nationally and Curative has an exclusive deal with the city of Los Angeles to provide testing.
"On behalf of our CEO Fred Turner and everyone who just want to thank you," said Curative spokesman Pasqualle Gianna. As you know, we pivoted from sepsis testing to COVID testing."
Quantgene: The company typically offers AI-powered blood test systems for early cancer detection but now provides COVID testing and logistics for those going back to work.
Swoop: The startup focused on group transportation but developed software that limousine charter operators and their suppliers, could utilize during the pandemic as regular business dried up.
PRISM Bags: This company planned to launch their signature product, a woman's work bag but as the pandemic beared down created one suited that included mask pockets.
WELL Health Inc.: Funded and engineered the Rapid Release Program in March '20, which allowed health systems to manage urgent COVID-19 patient communications at scale.
Social Justice Award: Alejandro Guerrero
More than 20 VCs have signed onto to Act One Ventures partner Alejandro Guerrero's Diversity Rider Initiative.
The firms have pledged to add language in term sheets submitted to startups that they will make their "commercial best efforts to offer and make every attempt to include as a co-investor in the financing" at least one Black check writer or other underrepresented group."
Guerrero is the child of Mexican immigrants who said he often found he was the only person of color in the room when investment deals north of six figures were being made. He said he was inspired by the George Floyd protests and the push the industry to recognize long-standing inequities.
Candace Walker, Co-Founder of Just US app: Created a hands-free voice control app that notifies your designated contacts when you've been stopped by police.
Derek Smith, Founder of Plug-In South LA: Created a tech startup community and accelerator program for entrepreneurs from under-represented backgrounds; produced the Urban Tech Connect conference.
Lolita Taub, Co-Founder and GP at The Community Fund: First-generation Latinx operator and investor that launched a $5 million early-stage fund to invest in community-driven companies.
Miki Reynolds, Executive Director, Grid110: Leads a no-equity, LA-based accelerator for underrepresented founders
Rising Entrepreneur: Morgan DeBaun
Morgan DeBaun is the founder and CEO of Blavity Inc., a leading news company and media brand for Black millennials and Gen Z. The outlet has been a leading voice for diversity. She launched Blavity in 2014; it now reaches over 30 million millennials a month.
Cristina de la Peña, CEO & founder of Synapbox
Jessica Nouhavandi, co-CEO of Honeybee Health
Ksenia Yudina, CEO of UNest
Robert Luo, CEO & founder of Mi Terro
Rising Startup: Openpath
The property-tech firm provides s touchless-entry activated by one's mobile device to doors, gates, elevators and lobby check-ins.
James Segil and Alex Kazerani co-founded Openpath in 2016 along with Chief Technology Officer Rob Peters, Chief Security Officer Samy Kamkar, and Chief Revenue Officer Phil Goldsmith.
The company recently raised $35 million and has seen their value proposition become all the more useful in the post-pandemic era.
"I'm incredibly honored and humbled to be here amongst so many great entrepreneurs and great companies here in L.A.," Kazerani said. "On behalf of about 450,000 Openpath users and our entire team, we really want to thank dot.la"
Pipe: A platform that offers non-dilutive financing to SaaS companies through an instant cash advance against the full annual value of software subscriptions.
PlayVS: Connects online games with official school administration and branding, elevating Esports from hobby to school-sponsored activity.
Outer: A direct to consumer outdoor furniture brand.
Wave: An entertainment technology company that turns performers into digital avatars and puts them on virtual stages.
Entrepreneur of the Year: Shivani Siroya
Shivani Siroya is the CEO and founder at Tala, a fintech company that offers microloans to people that often don't have a formal credit history. The company has extended $1 billion in microloans to 4 million customers in emerging markets and was last valued at $700 million. Siroya has been named one of Forbes' "40 under 40."
Alex Canter, CEO and co-founder of software company Ordermark
Andrew Peterson, CEO and co-founder of Signal Sciences
Doug Hirsch and Trevor Bezdek, co-founders and co-CEOs of GoodRx
Imran Khan, fo-founder and CEO of Verishop
Startup of the Year: GoodRx
The prescription-discount app GoodRx became one of the first Los Angeles tech companies to go public this year.
Co-founded by former Facebook executive Doug Hirsch and Trevor Bezdek, the Santa Monica company makes money by collecting fees from pharmacy benefits managers.
GoodRx is the most downloaded medical app in the United States and boasts 70,000 pharmacies on its platform. It's also profitable. The company earned $54 million in profit for the first six months ending in June, up from $31 million over the same time last year.
The company expanded into telehealth with the purchase of Heydoctor in 2019.
GOAT: Fast-growing global luxury shoe and apparel retailer.
Headspace: A meditation app that recently raised $100 million in debt and equity.
Scopely: A mobile video game company that acquired FoxNextGames from Disney in January.
TikTok: The video-sharing platform was the top grossing app on iOS App Store globally in Q2 2020.
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