Techstars LA Class of 2020; What It's Like to Run an Accelerator During a Pandemic
Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior reporter, covering venture capital. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks. Follow him on Twitter.
When the founders who lead the ten young startups selected for the 2020 Techstars LA class begin their three month accelerator program Monday, they won't be gathering in the Mid-Wilshire office and shaking hands as every other class has done. Like the rest of us, they will be working at home because of the coronavirus. Dinners, meetings, socializing, and mentoring sessions will all be online.
"A big part of the magic of the program is the relationships that are from proximity and from everyone working together in the same space and so what we're doing is we're endeavoring to create as much as that connection in the virtual world as possible," said Anna Barber, managing director of Techstars LA.
Barber is a big fan of Post-it notes and remembers several occasions where she's helped a founder arrive at an epiphany during a whiteboard session. That will not be possible this time around, but Barber wanted to try to replicate the experience as much as possible, so last week she and program manager Alex Karevoll rented a U-Haul truck and delivered whiteboards, Post-its, markers, and snacks to the new class, crisscrossing the city from Santa Monica to Encino and East L.A.
"We wanted to bring the Techstars experience to people at home," said Barber. "It was cool to see the different parts of L.A. that people are coming from."
Coronavirus means many elements of Techstars will be different this year, though the basics remain the same; Ten startups will receive three months of intensive mentoring and then present at a Demo Day in October (which Barber still hopes will be in-person). Techstars invests $120,000 for a 6% cut of equity.
Techstars LA companies have gone on to raise an average of more than $2 million of outside capital after the program. Standouts from the previous three classes include Slingshot Aerospace, Blue Fever, Stackin, Fernish, Liquid, Dash Systems and Finli.
The health and wellness category is dominant in this year's class with teams tackling teletherapy for intersectional communities, cancer care coordination, breast milk testing to optimize infant nutrition, and remote evaluation of ADHD and learning differences. Media and e-commerce companies include an esports analytics platform, a podcasting services provider, a platform for college creatives to connect with brands, and a fashion and beauty marketplace for Latinx consumers.
Nine companies include women, Black or Latinx founders, with six in the CEO seat and there are six mixed gender founding teams. Barber says diversity has always been important for Techstars LA, both because it is vital for building the kind of inclusive ecosystem she wants in L.A. and also it is simply good business.
"I've always been a believer in the idea that diversity produces better investing outcomes," said Barber.
Barber usually narrows down the ten selections from hundreds of applicants with lots of face-to-face meetings to get a feel for founders, but this time she has met almost none of them.
"It was a challenge for me," said Barber. "I am a founder-focused investor and so much of that is about getting to know people and build a strong personal relationship with them and also understanding who they are and what motivates them and I feel like it's very hard to make those connections over video."
Despite the limitations of running a remote accelerator, Barber is trying to find the silver linings, such as being able to get speakers and mentors who would not ordinarily have the time to fly to L.A. She is also using Sococo, an online platform that simulates a virtual office.
"If you want to talk to someone, you can just enter the room in the virtual office that they are in and talk to them," Barber said. "It takes longer to build connections in a remote setting, but we can still do it," she said.
All but one of the startups in this year's class is headquartered in Los Angeles. Some like, Thrive Education, the remote provider of ADHD and learning differences, only recently relocated from the Bay Area.
"We think it's important for us to be based in LA," said Jack Rolo, Co-Founder & CEO of Thrive Education. "A lot of startups, if they have the choice, are wanting to locate outside of the Bay Area. L.A. is expensive but it's still cheaper than living in the Bay Area. It will help us have a longer runway."
Rolo is hoping to come out of Techstars in a position to raise a seed round in October. "Our product works but it's not polished just yet," he said. "We want it to be perfect."
CLLCTVE, which is the platform for college creatives to connect with brands, is relocating from Syracuse this week.
"We're very excited for L.A.," said Kelsey Davis, founder and CEO of CLLCTVE. "When you think of diversity and creativity, L.A. is a representation nationally of that space."
Davis says Techstars LA was the only accelerator she seriously considered. "For us it just felt so right," said Davis.
Davis, 23, who is Black, wore a sweatshirt during an interview with dot.LA conducted via Zoom with the phrase "Black tech. Green money" emblazoned across the front. She says she is pleased to see the tech world finally having long overdue conversations about race and she says she won't squander the opportunity. Her goal is nothing short of building a LinkedIN for Generation Z.
"Now that we're here we have to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work together," said Davis. "If I'm given half of what everyone else is given, I'm going to take it twice as far."
Get to Know Techstars' 2020 Class
Pod People is a full-service podcast production and staffing agency with a network of over 700 audio professionals across the globe.
JoyHub 's enterprise software integrates multifamily operator systems into a single, centralized data platform.
Ayana Therapy provides online therapy for minorities with an emphasis on intersectionality.
CLLCTVE is a platform connecting college creatives with brands targeting Gen-Z consumers.
Lactation Lab provides breast milk analysis and personalized recommendations for mothers to optimize their child's health and nutrition.
Preveta is transforming cancer care by arming clinicians with data and insights to improve outcomes, and blazing a trail for providers to deliver value-based care.
Shop LatinX is the leading fashion and beauty lifestyle brand with products designed by and for the Latinx community.
Sike Insights powers remote teams to work better together. Our first product, Kona, is an AI-powered Slackbot that helps you communicate.
StatsHelix is a B2B gametech company focused on esports and streaming.
Thrive Education provides remote tele-assessments for learning differences (LDs) such as dyslexia, ADHD, and autism.
Meet the Techstars L.A. Class of 2020! www.youtube.com
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Join us at 11:00 a.m. PST August 4th for the next dot.LA Strategy Session on "The Future of Sports."
The Rams and Chargers are set to play in a brand new $5.5 billion stadium in Inglewood this season that is being billed as the most technologically advanced in the world. Meanwhile, Dodger Stadium just completed a $100 million update and L.A. will be getting a new pro women's soccer team, Angel City, in 2022 backed by high profile VC's and celebrities.
Julie Uhrman, Founder and President at WFC LA (Angel City)
Julie Uhrman, Founder and President at WFC LA (Angel City)<p>Founder and president of Angel City, the consortium who received the rights from the NWSL to officially bring a women's soccer team to Los Angeles in 2022. </p><p>Uhrman was named head of media at Playboy in 2018 after serving as Lionsgate's GM of over-the-top ventures, overseeing the company's Tribeca Shortlist, Comic-Con HQ, Laugh Out Loud in partnership with Kevin Hart and Pantaya. </p><p>Prior to joining Lionsgate, Uhrman worked at VR vendor Jaunt as head of platform business development. She was the founder and CEO of OUYA, an Android-based game console for living room, which raised $8.6 million through Kickstarter and then went on to secure venture funding from Kleiner Perkins and Alibaba before the company was acquired by Razer in 2015. Previously Uhrman held executive roles in digital and game companies including IGN Entertainment and Vivendi Universal.</p>
Kevin Demoff, Chief Operating Officer at Los Angeles Rams
Kevin Demoff, Chief Operating Officer at Los Angeles Rams<p>Kevin Demoff is in his 11th year as chief operating officer with the Rams. In this capacity, Demoff serves as the team's top front office executive and liaison to owner and chairman, Stan Kroenke, on all organizational matters.</p><p>Demoff was recognized by the Sports Business Journal as one of its "Forty under 40" class members of 2016 and in 2010 he was named one of the "NFL's 10 Future Power Brokers" by Sports Illustrated.</p><p>Prior to joining the Rams, Demoff spent the previous four seasons (2005-08) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he served as a consultant before being named senior assistant in 2006. In this capacity, Demoff assisted General Manager Bruce Allen in contract negotiations, salary cap management, strategic planning and both college and pro scouting. During his tenure with the Buccaneers, the team captured NFC South titles in 2005 and 2007 while posting a winning record in three of his four seasons.</p>
Ben Bergman, Senior Reporter at dot.LA
Ben Bergman, Senior Reporter at dot.LA<p>Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior reporter, covering venture capital. Previously he was a senior reporter/host at KPCC, a producer at Gimlet Media and NPR and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times. Bergman was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. He enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.</p>
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