Techstars LA Class of 2020; What It's Like to Run an Accelerator During a Pandemic

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. 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.

Techstars LA Class of 2020; What It's Like to Run an Accelerator During a Pandemic

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

Pod People

Pod People is a full-service podcast production and staffing agency with a network of over 700 audio professionals across the globe.

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JoyHub 's enterprise software integrates multifamily operator systems into a single, centralized data platform.

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Ayana Therapy

Ayana Therapy

Ayana Therapy provides online therapy for minorities with an emphasis on intersectionality.

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CLLCTVE is a platform connecting college creatives with brands targeting Gen-Z consumers.

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Lactation Lab

Lactation Lab

Lactation Lab provides breast milk analysis and personalized recommendations for mothers to optimize their child's health and nutrition.

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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.

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Shop Latinx

Shop Latinx

Shop LatinX is the leading fashion and beauty lifestyle brand with products designed by and for the Latinx community.

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Sike Insights

Sike Insights

Sike Insights powers remote teams to work better together. Our first product, Kona, is an AI-powered Slackbot that helps you communicate.

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StatsHelix is a B2B gametech company focused on esports and streaming.

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Thrive Education

Thrive Education

Thrive Education provides remote tele-assessments for learning differences (LDs) such as dyslexia, ADHD, and autism.

Contact the founder >>

Meet the Techstars L.A. Class of 2020!

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Patron’s Jason Yeh Says The ‘Future of the Consumer Internet’ Will Look More Like a Game

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
Jason yeh profile picture
Jason Yeh

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Patron co-founder and General Partner Jason Yeh discusses the technology driving internet innovation and a user-centered approach.

“At Patron we describe our thesis as the spectrum of play,” he said. “And so for us, it's kind of thinking about what the future of the consumer internet looks like. We believe that it's going to be more fun, social, interactive.”

As the former head of EU Sports at Riot Games, Yeh was in charge of shepherding the “League of Legends” game to players around the world. Much of his work and experience in that role influenced how he views interactive media and informs his investment decisions at Patron.

“This was just before Zynga had come out,” he explained. “And so it was still pretty counterintuitive to invest in a PC game, or to invest in this kind of idea of a free to play online game.”

Riot Games bet correctly, and their investment in a gaming format that could grow and evolve alongside its players challenged traditional ways of thinking about gaming marketing.

“It changed the course of how people build live services around games, and how you can use this business model to actually scale a really large business,” Yeh said.

But “League of Legends” wasn’t successful right away, and the Riot team worked hard to market their game to the correct audience. In addition to self-publishing the game in “almost every market around the world,” Yeh says he and his team paid close attention to the community of gamers.

“From very early on as a company, we focused on harnessing and being part of the community and using the community itself to help make the game more fun,” he said.

Yeh’s experience at Riot taught him the value of understanding your audience inside and out. Now, on the investment end of things at Patron, he is turning his sights to Web3.

“One thing that we've seen consistently is this idea that — similar to how we viewed gaming as a lens that can make the internet more social and fun — is this idea that Web3 and blockchain can be a technology that allows for a better version of the internet,” he said.

At Patron, Yeh believes in the importance of giving an audience more ownership and personalization in their online experience. He believes the shortcoming of many big media companies like Meta and YouTube is that they are becoming stagnant in improving user experiences and instead focusing their time and resources on advertising.

“If anything, it's like we've spent a lot of our best time and efforts to make advertising more targeted, or to see slightly more specific ads,” Yeh explained. “And so a lot of the core business model around the internet is still, how do I aggregate people's attention?”

Yeh believes that blockchain provides an alternative — a way for companies to get the biggest bang for their buck and users to get the most out of the products. For example, an avid Taylor Swift fan might spend hundreds of thousands of hours listening to the artist, but still, when a new album is released, their listening experience is the same as anyone else.

“One thing that we think blockchain enables is this idea that people can get more credit for the things that they do online, whether it's on chain or off chain,” Yeh continued. “This idea that there should be better ways to segment user bases, and kind of allow them to accrue value for the things that they've already done online to give them a slightly better or more personalized experience.”

In the years to come, Yeh thinks blockchain will continue challenging traditional forms of media to adapt to a more user-centered model.

“I think the most effective companies in the future are going to be the ones that focus not just on like Web3, Web2, but they focus on the internet as a whole.”

dot.LA Social and Engagement Editor Andria Moore contributed to this post.

Click the link above to hear the full episode, and subscribe to LA Venture on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

This podcast is produced by L.A. Venture. The views and opinions expressed in the show are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of dot.LA or its newsroom.

Is This LA Icon the Victim of Crypto Winter?

Daniel Nieblas
Daniel Nieblas is a bestselling author and featured writer for The Startup, the largest publication on Medium. His work covers various topics in technology, including Machine Learning, Autonomous Vehicles, and Cyberterrorism. He is also the Story Coordinator for LA Downtowner, and a Creative Associate of the Ferroconcrete Design.
​Crypto Arena before and after
Staples Center

Around this time last year, you could get a sense of the market fervor that the newly christened Arena embodied. A $700 million dollar naming rights deal had suddenly catapulted a small cryptocurrency exchange from relative anonymity into the global orbit of the house that Kobe built, formerly and often still addressed by fans as the Staples Center.

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LA VCs Weigh In On The Top Venture Capitalists of 2023

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

LA VCs Weigh In On The Top Venture Capitalists of 2023

2022 was a tough year for venture capital. Venture deals fell throughoutthe year as the economic environment became uncertain.

But despite the economic downturn, VCs still flocked to LA’s growing tech and startup scene.

We asked more than 30 investors to share which VCs are the best Los Angeles has to offer. The following list reflects those who received two or more votes.

A few familiar faces popped up, such as Bonfire Ventures’ Mark Mullen and TenOneTen’s Minnie Ingersoll, who both received the most votes in previousyears. This year, Mullen topped the list with six votes, while Ingersoll and M13’s Anna Barber both came in second with three votes.

The below results are listed according to the number of votes received. In the case of a tie, the names are listed alphabetically by last name.

Here are LA’s top VCs of 2022 according to their peers:

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Freelance Copywriter

Seed Health (Biotechnology)