Techstars Aerospace Alums Gather for a Day of Partnership and Project Reveals

Tami Abdollah

Tami Abdollah was 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 Aerospace Alums Gather for a Day of Partnership and Project Reveals
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

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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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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Inflation Reduction Act Officially Passes the Senate, Revamping Electric Vehicle Pricing

David Shultz

David Shultz is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara, California. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside and Nautilus, among other publications.

The Capitol at Sunset
Courtesy of Mike Stoll via Unsplash

Over the weekend Senate Democrats officially passed the Inflation Reduction Act in what amounts to President Biden’s biggest legislative win so far. The bill includes a host of broad-spectrum economic policy changes and completely reworks the subsidies for electric vehicle purchases. The law still has to get through the House, but this should be a much smaller hurdle.

dot.LA covered the bill in depth as it neared the goal line at the end of July, and the final iteration doesn’t change much. To recap:

1. The rebate total stays $7,500 but is broken into two $3,750 chunks tied to how much of the car and its battery are made in the US.

2. The manufacturer caps are eliminated, meaning even EV companies that have sold more than 20,000 vehicles are once again eligible.

3. Rebates will now only apply to cars priced below $55,000 and trucks/SUVs below $80,000

With the new system placing a renewed emphasis on American manufacturing and assembly, the calculus of which vehicles cost how much is still being worked out. The most comprehensive (but unofficial!) list I’ve seen has come from Reddit user u/Mad691.

In addition to the EV rebate program, the bill also includes a number of economic incentives aimed at curbing emissions and accelerating the country’s transition to electric vehicles.

There’s $20 billion earmarked for the construction of new clean vehicle manufacturing facilities and $3 billion will go help electrify the USPS delivery fleet. Another $3 billion will go to electrifying the nation’s ports. Then there’s $1 billion for zero-emission trucks and buses.

Now that the bill is about to be codified into law, VC investment in the sector might heat up in response to the new money flowing in.

“I do anticipate more climate funds standing up to invest in EV infrastructure,” says Taj Ahmad Eldridge, a partner at Include Ventures and the director at CREST an ARES Foundation initiative with JFF/WRI that aims to provide training for people in the new green economy. “However, we do see funds being a little more thoughtful on diligence and taking their time to fund the right investment.”

The sentiment seems to be shared across Southern California. ChargeNet CEO and Co-Founder Tosh Dutt says the Inflation Reduction Act “super charges” the company’s effort to build infrastructure across the country.

“This investment accelerates the transition to renewable energy and gives companies like ChargeNet Stations the confidence to expand more rapidly, especially in underserved communities,” says Dutt.

For Rivian, the bill’s passage has left would-be customers in a sort of limbo. Because many of their models will exceed the $80,000 cap for trucks and SUVs after options, customers who’ve preordered are scrambling to sign buyers’ agreements to take advantage of the current EV rebate scheme which doesn’t include price caps. As I noted in the previous article, if you buy an EV before the bill is signed, you’re eligible for the current rebate system even if the vehicle isn’t delivered until 2023. Any existing contracts under the current system will remain valid.

With the legislation seemingly on the fast track to become law, it’s unclear whether or not Rivian will expedite the purchasing process to allow customers to sign the buyers’ agreement before the new rebate program becomes the law of the land. Tick tock!

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