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Meet the 10 Startups in Techstars' 2021 Space Accelerator Class
Techstars' Space Accelerator took off this week with its third class of space-related companies that make everything from AI-powered smart cameras to technology that can anticipate celestial collisions.
The 10 startups selected for the competitive four-month program are based across the U.S. and Australia and will work with Techstars on a mostly remote basis.
All are developing technology with multiple uses in space and will receive a $120,000 investment in addition to access to Techstars' expanding network of mentors.
That network includes aerospace experts at the Pasadena-based NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Participating companies include Lockheed Martin, Arrow Electronics, SAIC and Israel Aerospace Industries.
"Alumni from our previous cohorts are launching space systems and infrastructure, raising tens of millions of dollars in venture capital as well as receiving lucrative contracts from both government and commercial customers," said Jonathan Fentzke, the program's managing director.
The program will culminate in a demo day on Sept. 2 where the startups will show off their work in hopes of winning potential investors or clients.
Fentzke noted that while no companies in this year's cohort are based in LA, Techstars still has partners mentors and investors based here.
"As it turns out the four companies in California out of 10 are not based in L.A. today, but will likely have a presence over time," Fentzke told dot.LA.
Here's a look at the 10 companies selected for this year's Techstars Space Accelerator.
LOCATION: San Clemente, Ca.
CEO: Graeme Rae
Founded by maritime engineer Dr. Graeme Rae, Hyperkelp is building buoys that aren't your average fishing bobber. Its tech can collect and transmit data about the surrounding ocean and incoming payloads from space. The company says its goal is to create a network of the buoys around the ocean to help aerospace launch companies stream data from anywhere around the world.
LOCATION: San Francisco, CA. and Tel Aviv, Israel
CEO: Ohad Levi
Hyperspec.ai makes smart cameras that run on artificial intelligence. The company's CEO Sravan Puttagunta previously worked in HP's engineering department. In a nutshell, Hyperspec's cameras are made to create accurate mapping and object tracking in real time, with the goal of being used on self-driving cars and other autonomous vehicles.
LOCATION: Sydney, Australia
CEO: Dr. Andri Mahendra
Nicslab develops technology called the "source measurement system" that uses quantum computing to help organizations optimize their internet speeds and make them faster. Its current clients include the University of Oxford, HP Labs and Mitsubishi Electric.
LOCATION: Indianapolis, In.
CEO: Aaron Pierce
Pierce Aerospace makes software that helps autonomous drones identify objects and payloads. It argues that this software is critical to the development of the drone industry -- after all, it can be pretty scary if a drone goes rogue because it can't see where it's going. In 2019 the company received a roughly $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to continue work on its flagship product, the Flight Portal ID system, which the DoD wants to use on its Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
LOCATION: Rockville, MD.
CEO: Michael Rowny
Pixspan develops a system that lets large files be transferred from different storage locations (like hardware or the cloud) at rapid speeds -- sometimes up to 5 times faster than average, it reports. It's compatible with several app programming interfaces, the main one being Amazon Web Services.
LOCATION: San Mateo, Ca.
CEO: Dave Krauthamer
QuSecure is a security company that focuses on protecting government and corporate systems from hacks. Specifically, its software works to keep encrypted data from being stolen and decrypted by quantum computers, which can steal and read valuable information at rapid speed. Its customers include Google and Amazon.
LOCATION: Alexandria, Va.
CEO: Eric Ingram
Scout -- also known as Scout Space -- develops software that helps spacefaring companies visualize what's going on in the great beyond and avoid casualties, like crashes with other spacecraft, satellites or debris. The company was founded in 2019 and says its name is an acronym for helping Spacecraft Observe and Understand Things around them.
LOCATION: San Diego, CA.
CEO: Mike Flanigan
As the name suggests, SeaSatellites is building unmanned vessels that work as satellites for the ocean and have a wide array of potential uses, from environmental data collection to communications. Similar to their skyward counterparts, SeaSatellites' tech can be controlled from anywhere and are designed to carry payloads on long missions.
LOCATION: Denver, CO.
CEO: David Mitlyng
This company's name is Greek to us -- literally. A nod to the Greek god of opportune time, Kairos, is an appropriate name for this startup using quantum mechanics to bring GPS-type technology to areas of the globe without internet access.
LOCATION: Boston, MA.
CEO: Katie Willgoos
Thermexit is the only company in this year's Space Accelerator cohort that's led by a woman. CEO Katie Willgoos joined the company in March and helps the company create and sell its main product, Theremexit Pads, which are tiny thermal sensing sticky pads that can be placed on circuit boards and inside computers.
Correction: An earlier version of this post stated this is Techstars' second space accelerator cohort. It's the accelerator's third such class. It also, misnamed the CEO of Hyperspec.ai.
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Starting today, Glendale’s most meme-able outdoor mall, The Americana at Brand, will be home to the Amazon Style store—the ecommerce giant’s first foray into brick-and-mortar apparel retail. We got an early sneak peak inside the new digs (located on the corner with Sprinkles Cupcakes, next to H&M and the Apple store) and were able to try out some of its tech-enabled features, which—as ever with Amazon—seek to make the act of shopping as easy as possible.
1. It’s Bigger Than It Looks—Even From the Inside
The floor is massive—laying out original products from Amazon’s own apparel lines alongside name brands like Theory, Adidas and Calvin Klein, as well as several other lines that have up until now only existed online. But the actual store is much larger than the two floors that most customers will only ever see.
Amazon Style is just the front—the homepage, if you will—behind which a large warehouse facility keeps a gigantic surplus of inventory. A floor-to-ceiling glass window on the main floor gives shoppers just a peak behind the scenes, as employees help load industrial-sized elevators with racks of goods to send upstairs to the dressing rooms.
2. Online Shopping IRL
When perusing the store’s bouquet of cottagecore maxi dresses, Kendall & Kylie blazers and, yes, a whole section dedicated to Y2K apparel, one doesn’t just pick an item off the rack and take it with you while you shop. Instead, each rack has a barcode that you can scan via the Amazon Shopping app, which has your sizes pre-loaded from previous purchases. (You can opt for a different size if you choose.) That cues an AI-enabled algorithm to start searching through the store’s warehoused catalog and zip the desired item over to the second floor, where the dressing room provides its own glimpse into the future of shopping.
The store also boasts a version of The Drop, an Amazon staple that allows online customers to shop entire influencer-curated collections for a 30-hour flash window.
3. Changing Stations of the Future—Today
Your phone also acts as your keycard to get into your personal dressing room. To prevent waiting, you are put in a virtual cue the moment you scan your first item; should the Amazon app prompt that your room is ready while you’re still shopping, a tap of your screen allows you to hold your spot in the queue while freeing up the room for someone else. (And if your phone dies while you’re waiting, Amazon says a Style employee on the floor will be happy to help you keep your place in line, or hook you up with a charge.)
Amazon Style’s dressing rooms offer a tech-enabled twist to trying on clothes.Image by Joshua Letona
The changing room is like its own parlor trick. Designed to look like a walk-in closet, one wall has a full-length mirror and a giant touchscreen while another has all the clothes you scanned in your style and size preference. Expect to see a few surprises in there, as Amazon’s algorithm picks out other stuff you might want to try on based on your picks. It would be spooky if it wasn’t so convenient—an IRL mashup of the online retailer’s “Recommended Based on Your Purchases” and “Frequently Bought Together” features.
If an item doesn’t fit quite right or you want to see how a skirt looks in blue instead of black, just tap the touchscreen to request a variant. Or an entirely new outfit, as the screen makes available everything in the facility. Then just bring it down to checkout—perhaps the wildest part of this ride.
4. Palming the Bucks
Checking out of Amazon Style’s flagship store is what really blew my mind—although apparently it’s because I haven’t been to one of the Amazon Go, Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods locations where cashless checkouts have been an option in select stores since 2020.
I assumed you could just walk out the door with your purchase, because I watch "Saturday Night Live" sketches for news. While the Go payment option isn't available at Amazon Style, there are several checkout options to keep the experience as frictionless and non-cumbersome as possible.
One way is to take the clothes you want out of the dressing room and go directly to Amazon’s palm-enabled checkout kiosks. That’s right: Register on the spot for an Amazon One account, and you need merely to wave your hand over a little black device that reads your palm and charges your on-file payment method. It’s super convenient for everyone except $10 boardwalk psychics, who just may be put out of business by such technology.
For the more traditional set, you still have the option of paying via credit card or cash.
Shoppers can check out of Amazon Style with the wave of a palm. Image by Joshua Letona
5. Supply & Demand & Return
Amazon Style’s brick-and-mortar location opens up a variety of new ways to shop, return and exchange clothing. For instance, you can order a load of clothes online and pick them up in the store; anything you don’t want can be returned in the store without you ever having to print a shipping label.
See something you like but don’t have time to try it on? Just scan the barcode, pick it up at the front of the store and pay on your way out without ever going into a dressing room.
The Amazon Shopping app also boasts a Deals feature, which automatically sorts for the best price on items to help customers either save money (or believe they are).
While Glendale is home to the only Style store so far, Amazon isn’t ruling out more locations. With fewer retailers able to afford rents on America’s main strips and shopping malls, Amazon’s resources—and its unique position at the intersection of tech and retail—make it easy to envision more Style stores on the horizon.
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On this episode of Office Hours, host Spencer Rascoff spoke with John Chambers, founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures, about how investors executives should approach the souring economy. The discussion was held at this year's Montgomery Summit, an annual gathering of over 1,000 senior-level investors, thought leaders and technology executives in Santa Monica.
Chambers served as the chairman and CEO of the technology conglomerate Cisco Systems, Inc. during the recessions of 2001 and 2008. Cisco survived both crises, he said, because it was quick to make tough decisions.
“This is where leadership is lonely,” Chambers said.
He described making the decision to lay off staff while sitting alone on his roof in 2001. In the next several months, Cisco would lay off 7,584 employees.
“That was pain,” he said, adding that because he made the decision early, the company was able to help many employees find jobs. “It was the worst year of my business career. It was really, really hard. But the opposite is true. Most of my competitors never came back and a large number of them just didn't survive.”
Chambers said he sees the signs of a slowing economy coming into focus, adding that there are five or six variables at play. The one he has his eyes on is inflation—a problem, he said, the current generation of leaders in government and business haven’t had to deal with before.
“The biggest issue in my opinion is can the Fed get us in for a soft landing, right? All I want is—like the guy in Florida—I want the plane to get down, it can bounce down the runway as many times as it wants.”
There are a few factors, he suggested, that make this downturn different. Foremost, is that technology is the firmly entrenched in all industries—whether it's healthcare, manufacturing or even government work—and few companies will cease investing in new tech.
“We're mainline, front and center,” he said. “There's a lot of money available, and there's nothing like helping you through a crisis like having money available.”
Chambers said executives should view the crisis as an opportunity to reconsider the company’s values. Companies should allocate resources to areas where they can get the most out of their funding and consider taking advantage of the lower prices to acquire rivals.
“I think this is a natural shakeout in an industry where it was getting too hot. There were 20 startups for each key idea,” he said. “A lot of the top tech companies actually broke away during downturns. So I see it as an opportunity to break away in your planning for this year.”
For companies needing to make tough decisions, Chambers said executives have to put themselves in the position of their employees as they make decisions and be clear about what they plan to do and why.
Navigating such situations is what makes leadership difficult, he said, but moments of crisis can also shape the future of a company.
“Be transparent. Don't hide,” he said. “Don't waste the crisis. Deal with the world the way it is not the way you wish it was.”
dot.LA Editorial Intern Kristin Snyder contributed to this post.
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Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.