Techstars Aerospace Alums Gather for a Day of Partnership and Project Reveals
Tami Abdollah is dot.LA's senior technology reporter. She was previously a national security and cybersecurity reporter for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. She's been a reporter for the AP in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and for L.A.'s NPR affiliate KPCC. Abdollah spent nearly a year in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor. A native Angeleno, she's traveled the world on $5 a day, taught trad climbing safety classes and is an avid mountaineer. Follow her on Twitter.
Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator's latest class announced partnerships with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Maxar Technologies and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) North America, among others, at Wednesday's long-awaited showcase. It was the culmination of months of focused and sometimes grueling remote work.
The program aims to help companies achieve several years of commercial growth within three months, with mentorship from the accelerator's partners, including the U.S. Air Force, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Lockheed Martin, Israel Aerospace Industries North American (IAI), SAIC and Maxar Technology.
The class of 10 companies come from Los Angeles, Toronto, Poland and states across the U.S. Among them is a company that provides a user-friendly AR/VR platform for use in education and training, a developer of an advanced AI system for data scientists as well as an air contamination and quality monitoring system.
"This is cutting edge development, and we need it for space exploration," said Tom Cwik, who manages the space technology office at JPL.
Because of the pandemic, Wednesday's Demo Day was held over YouTube, rather than in-person at the California Science Center. "It's kind of like the first day of the rest of your life," said the program's managing director Matt Kozlov.
Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator - Demo Day 2020 (Updated) www.youtube.com
Here are some of today's key announcements:
Prewitt Ridge Partners with JPL
Los Angeles-based Prewitt Ridge co-founder and CEO Steve Massey joined forces with his co-founder, Zeke Brechtel, both formerly with SpaceX to build an integrated software platform that aims to remove data duplication, lower the likelihood of error and let companies work faster.
Prewitt Ridge announced that JPL will be its first major external user in the aerospace and robotics space, which is a target market for the company. Massey said the company has been able to gain a deeper understanding of JPL's needs, approaches and challenges through the accelerator program. The company will help with a small research and development project, building the robotic arm for the lunar lander payload — which helps deploy equipment onto the moon's surface.
Urban Sky's Stratospheric Balloon Gets PreSeed Investment
In less than a year, Urban Sky co-founder and CEO Andrew Antonio said the company has "designed, built and flown the first-ever reusable high altitude balloon and collected sample aerial imagery from the stratosphere."
Its microballoon is reusable and reduces the cost of high-resolution remote sensing and weather-related data capture from its stratospheric vantage point.
Antonio announced that Urban Sky oversubscribed its pre-seed round with investments from New Stack, L.A.-based VC firm TenOneTen, Catapult and Techstars. The company also won a $250,000 cash grant from the state of Colorado as a top startup in the state and a small business innovation research contract from JPL to further develop its tech for wildlife monitoring applications. Antonio also said that Maxar has stated its interest in partnering with Urban Sky as an imaging subcontractor. Lastly, Atonio announced the company's first commercial customer and partner, Arturo, to conduct its one-year imaging pilot program over Colorado.
vRotors Gets a Slew of Partnerships
L.A.-based vRotors, which provides a platform that aims to make it easier to control a remote robotic device from a PC, Mac, mobile phone or VR headset, from anywhere in the world.
Co-founder and CEO Neil Malhotra announced vRotors' first partnerships with Dish Network to help with remote tower inspections; with Maxar Technologies to do real-time, high-resolution 3-D map applications; and Honeywell to do remote supervision of its autonomous air taxi fleets. vRotors is also working with IAI to automate the landing process for their next moon mission.
Lux Semiconductors Gets Federal Backing
Co-founder and CEO Shane McMahon announced that Lux, which has developed a flexible silicon wafer to help miniaturize electronics, has raised more than $200 million from major federal agencies including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense.
The company has been collaborating with Oak Ridge National Laboratory on technical matters and is also working on several cooperative research agreements with strategic defense agencies focused on advanced microelectronics. McMahon said the company has received support from five of the top aerospace and defense firms and is partnering with two of them on "joint proposals to embed our electronics into their systems."
Bifrost Will Generate Martian Landscape
Charles Wong, the CEO and co-founder of Bifrost, which helps AI developers generate labelled datasets faster, announced Wednesday that it will be working with JPL to generate synthetic Martian terrain with the aim of helping to achieve the dream of safely landing a helicopter on Mars. Wong said the company is also in talks with Rolls Royce to enable new capabilities in aerospace.
Holos Will Bring Its Virtual Reality Training to the Air Force, IAI
The Madison, Wisconsin-based company Holos aims to "give people agency over the virtual experience" so that they can create immersive education and training environments without having to outsource to a firm.
The company received a $750,000 small business innovation grant from the U.S. Air Force to work on developing a virtual maintenance and repair training system for the F-35 out of Southern California's Edwards Air Force base. It's also contracted to develop a prototype to integrate the command and control of space, air and cyber assets for the U.S. Air Force. Holos also announced that it will be working with IAI to explore developing a next generation multi-domain command and control system powered through AR and VR that can be used for training.
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Los Angeles is home to thousands of founders working day and often night to create a startup that's the next breakout hit.
Who are the most impressive L.A. founders? To find out, we asked our cohort of dozens of L.A.'s to VCs top weigh in.
Andrew Peterson<p>Andrew Peterson is the co-founder and former chief executive of Signal Sciences, a web application security platform that he founded in 2014 and <a href="https://dot.la/signal-science-snapped-up-for-775m-in-big-l-a-saas-exit-2647256430.html" target="_self">was acquired in 2020 by Fastly in a $775 million deal</a>. Signal Sciences protects web applications from attacks and data breaches for clients like Duo Security, Under Armor and DoorDash.</p><p>Prior to starting Signal Sciences, Peterson worked at Etsy, helping the online marketplace with international growth as a group project manager. Etsy <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/3056900/how-three-ex-etsy-employees-turned-their-old-employer-into-a-consumer" target="_blank">reportedly became </a>one of Signal Sciences's first customers. Peterson has also served stints as health information management officer at the Clinton Foundation and as a senior product specialist at Google.</p>
Ara Mahdessian<p>Ara Mahdessian is the co-founder of ServiceTitan, a SaaS product for managing a home services business.</p><p>The inspiration for ServiceTitan, Mahdessian's first company, came from watching his parents start their own businesses in building and plumbing, only to struggle with the logistics behind keeping them running, he <a href="https://www.inc.com/magazine/201906/emily-canal/servicetitan-immigrant-inclusion-diversity-best-workplaces-2019.html" target="_blank">told Inc in 2019</a>. Mahdessian and his co-founder Vahe Kuzoyan met while in college, and worked on several consulting projects before starting ServiceTitan, in hopes of aiding small business owners like their parents.</p>
Evan Spiegel<p>Evan Spiegel is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Snap Inc., the Venice-based company known for its app Snapchat. He's also one of the youngest billionaires in the world, launching Snapchat while still an undergraduate at Stanford. </p><p>SnapChat, the company's app, has recently been taking on rival TikTok <a href="https://dot.la/snap-spotlight-2649022645.html" data-linked-post="2649022645" target="_blank">with a new feature</a> and a program meant to attract creators to its platform. And it is been at the center of a larger national debate on the power of big tech. </p>
Spencer Rascoff<p>Spencer Rascoff is the founder of several companies, including dot.LA. He started his career as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, later leaving to co-found travel website Hotwire. After serving as vice president of lodging at Expedia, he went on to found Zillow, an online real estate marketplace that went public in 2011.</p><p>Rascoff's most recent project is Pacaso, a marketplace for buying, selling and co-owning a second home.</p>
Tim Ellis<p>Tim Ellis is the co-founder and chief executive of Relativity Space, an autonomous rocket factory and launch services leader for satellite constellations. He is the youngest member on the National Space Council Users Advisory Group and serves on the World Economic Forum as a "technology pioneer."</p><p>Before founding Relativity Space, Ellis studied aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California and interned at Masten Space Systems and Blue Origin, where he worked after graduation. He was a propulsion engineer and brought metal 3D printing in-house to the company.</p>
Travis Schneider<p>Travis Schneider is the co-founder and co-chief executive of PatientPop, a practice growth platform for healthcare providers. He founded the company with Luke Kervin in 2014. <br><br>The two have founded three companies together, including ShopNation, a fashion shopping engine that was later acquired by the Meredith Commerce Network.</p>
Luke Kervin<p>Luke Kervin is the other co-founder and co-chief of PatientPop. He is a serial entrepreneur — his first venture was Starbrand Media, which was acquired by Popsugar in May 2008. <br><br>Kervin and Schneider then founded ShopNation, and when it was acquired in 2012, Kervin served as the general manager and vice president at the Meredith Commerce Network for a few years before leaving to found PatientPop.</p><p>Kervin had the idea for PatientPop when he and his wife were expecting their first child, he told <a href="http://voyagela.com/interview/meet-luke-kervin-patientpop-santa-monica/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">VoyageLA</a>. They were frustrated with how the healthcare system wasn't focused on the consumers it was meant to serve. So in 2014, he and Schneider created PatientPop.</p>
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