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Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.
Techstars Los Angeles hosted its annual Demo Day on Thursday, featuring a cohort of 12 startups from across the world that are working in health care, space, ecommerce and more. The event capped a three-month accelerator program that all of the companies attended in person in Los Angeles, allowing a virtual audience to discover the seed and pre-seed ventures searching for funding and potential partners.
While the startups spanned from commerce to quantum computing, many of them had one thing in common: data collection. All of us are familiar with what data collection means for consumers: Spending just a couple days with my new cat-owning roommate, for instance, once spiraled into a deluge of kitty litter ads whenever I scrolled through my phone. For the startups, data collection means opportunities for creating solutions that can save companies money and help ease bottlenecks.
Showcases like Demo Day usually demonstrate the kinds of technology that investors think will have resonance in the market. The cohort’s health tech ventures, as an example, were largely spurred by issues in the health care system that were exposed by the pandemic.
Matt Kozlov, managing director of Techstars L.A. and a longtime investor in these industries, told dot.LA he specifically looked for companies that didn’t need to raise that much money—either by bootstrapping, becoming profitable early on or a mix of both. The startups leave the program with a $20,000 investment from Techstars; in return, Techstars gets a 6% stake in each company.
Rwazi, a Mauritius-based startup and Techstars L.A.’s first investment in Africa, was one of the presenting companies tapping into consumer habits of the developing world, which contributes $5 trillion to the global economy every year but lacks comprehensive data because a lot of digital transactions are not traceable.
The seed-stage company aims to collect and share consumer data from regions that conduct a large portion of transactions through cash. Using Rwazi, companies can analyze customer data like which demographics are buying their products, and the company’s “mappers” collect that information from small and large businesses and share it through the platform. Rwazi, which currently operates in Africa plans on expanding into South, Southeast Asia and South America. Joseph Rutakangwa, CEO of Rwazi, called that region alone a “$40 billion opportunity.”
Then there’s Pear Suite, a Seattle health startup serving the elderly population. Health care organizations lack data about patient behaviors that may allow them to provide preventative care before a grandparent falls ill or ends up in the emergency room, adding money to the already expensive health care economy. Pear Suite collects and leverages patient data that healthcare organizations can use to predict and avoid potential issues down the road.
Lastly, San Francisco-based Squid iQ came onto the scene after the pandemic’s upheaval of the antiquated hospital system, where ventilators and beds could not keep up with demand for care, and physicians had to make difficult decisions about who to treat. Poor medical equipment inventory has long plagued hospitals who deal with an array of emergencies and sometimes can’t locate a life-saving device. Squid collects data on the type of technology, how long it has been used as well as where it is located when not in use. The process may allow health care staff to spend more time caring for patients and help hospitals save money.
By and large, health care has fallen behind on optimizing data collection for the purpose of improving care, reducing costs and saving lives. Data collection, in some cases, is a game-changer—and it will be interesting to see if industries operating with archaic technology will embrace these startups, or if these new companies will hit the same bottlenecks as the ones before them.
- Watch Techstars LA's 2020 Class Demo Day ›
- Techstars LA Unveils Health Care Spring 2022 Accelerator Class ... ›
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Culver City-based health care startup Regard, which uses AI-driven software to help physicians accurately diagnose patients, has raised $15.3 million in Series A funding.
Pasadena-based Calibrate Ventures and Colorado-based Foundry Group led the investment in Regard, formerly known as HealthTensor. Other investors that participated in the round include TenOneTen Ventures, Susa Ventures, Brook Byers of Byers Capital and Dropbox CEO Drew Houston. The new funding will be used to grow Regard’s team and customer base, the company said in a press release.
At a time when the clinical health care workforce is suffering from burnout and attrition in the wake of the pandemic, Regard’s technology looks to alleviate some of the pressure on health care workers. The startup’s AI-enabled software is integrated directly into a provider’s system and uses an algorithm to analyze patients’ medical records, allowing physicians to more easily diagnose them.
Since launching its flagship product in 2020, Regard’s technology has been used on more than 30,000 patients, according to the company. The startup charges health care providers around $500 to $700 per month for access, co-founder and CEO Eli Ben-Joseph told dot.LA, with its customers including Torrance Memorial Medical Center, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and roughly a dozen other hospitals across the U.S.
“We’re building something that’s a game-changer for doctors,” Ben-Joseph said. “It’s helping them catch medical conditions that they would have missed. So regardless of market conditions, we’re able to have value and I think investors saw that and got excited.”
Co-founders from left to right: CEO Eli Ben-Joseph, CTO Thomas Moulia, and COO Nate Wilson. Courtesy of Regard
Founded by pre-med students Ben-Joseph, Nate Wilson and Thomas Moulia in 2017, Regard got its start through Cedars Sinai’s Techstars-backed accelerator program. It was at the accelerator program that Ben-Joseph observed physicians’ workflows and saw the need for a product like Regard’s; he recalled noticing how doctors would constantly pop in and out of a patient’s room, shuttling between the patient and a computer where they could enter data and notes.
“I think that’s why so many doctors are burning out now, as they just don’t have software that really enables them,” Joseph said.
Ben-Joseph—who coupled a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering from MIT with a master’s in computer science from Stanford—noted that Regard’s technology can automatically detect up to 50 of the most common medical conditions, including heart failure, diabetes, obesity, depression and anxiety.
“We have a 90% accuracy rate at the minimum,” he said. “Physicians will look at our software and accept it, but it’s not perfect. We tell physicians to treat it like the relationship [with a] medical student.”
This week in “Raises”: A local healthcare startup secured funding to help grow the team and deploy its software to more physicians and hospitals, while Black-led, seed-stage venture capital firm surpassed its goal for its second fund.
Homelister, the Santa Monica-based digital brokerage and real estate startup, raised a $10M Series A funding round co-led by M13 and Homebrew.
L.A.-based cybersecurity firm Inspectiv raised an $8.6 million Series A funding round led by StepStone Group.
Foresite Technology Solutions, a Costa Mesa-based technology platform that offers IP management to the construction industry, raised $8 million in funding led by Gallant Capital.
L.A.-based virtual dressing room StyleScan, which uses AI and augmented reality for its virtual dressing room fashion SaaS, raised $1 million in new funding led by Clearbrook Capital.
Santa Ana-based online health care provider platform Sensible Care, raised a $13 million Series A funding round led by Volition Capital.
MaC Venture Capital, an L.A.-based, Black-led, seed-stage venture capital firm, raised $203 million for its second fund from repeat investors like Goldman Sachs, ICG Advisors, StepStone, the University of Michigan, the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation.
Raises is dot.LA’s weekly feature highlighting venture capital funding news across Southern California’s tech and startup ecosystem. Please send fundraising news to Decerry Donato (email@example.com).
San Pedro-based Braid Theory is one of the growing number of accelerators in the country looking to grow the so-called blue economy, which spans a range of ocean-related industries and is estimated at $2.5 trillion a year.
The accelerator is accepting online applications until July 18, with its second-ever program kicking off in August.
This year’s focus will be different from the typical accelerator: Startups in this group will test their products directly with companies active in the ocean economy for four months, collecting data on what works, what doesn’t and further developing proof of concept. Braid Theory will help these startups come up with their business plan and pitches, and connect them to investors and potential partners in the field. In return, it takes an equity warrant that can be converted after three years.
The startups joining Braid Theory typically span industries like port logistics, aquaculture and energy, all of them aiming to test their technologies and untapped opportunities of the burgeoning industry. The accelerator’s goal is to bring those companies from pre-revenue into commercialization.
And all of them are looking to solve challenges within the blue economy ecosystem, many of which have also been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With 31% of all goods floating across the ocean to and from the U.S. pass through the Port of L.A. and the Port of Long Beach, COVID-19 strangled supply chains and increased the volume of goods handled at L.A. 's premiere dock by nearly 16% between 2020 and 2021. This created numerous logistical challenges for the dwindling workforce at the nation’s busiest ports while increasing emissions.
“The thing that we're trying to think about are ways in which we can leverage biological systems and software to make more immediate changes in markets that have a low barrier to entry,” Braid Theory co-founder Jim Cooper said of accelerator’s approach to addressing a wide range of climate and logistical issues.
Cooper founded Braid Theory with his colleague Ann Carpenter after the pair left PortTechLA, a maritime and logistics incubator that shuttered in 2016. The two wanted to create an accelerator for port and ocean startups that went beyond logistics and took into account other promising sectors of the ocean economy, including sustainable fish and plant cultivation as well as tools to make the shipping sector more efficient.
Jim Cooper co-founded Braid Theory with his former colleague from PortTechLA, Ann Carpenter.Image courtesy of Braid Theory
Accelerators like Braid Theory are attempting to fill a void in the blue economy ecosystem. Despite being home to several universities with robust maritime research centers and a giant port infrastructure that could be better optimized, few startups survive in Los Angeles due to a lack of early stage funding, according to a 2020 report from the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation. The accelerator provides funds and lab space and investor connections to nascent startups tackling a wide range of ocean-related problems.
The same report found that ocean startups, particularly early-stage ones, have a difficult time getting funding to accommodate the need for expensive lab equipment like centrifuges, chillers and pipettes. Startups in the blue economy space are primarily funded through federal and state dollars, NGOs and philanthropies, and competitions. But while angel funding has historically been slow to trickle into blue economy startups, some are starting to take note of the size of the market. In the first cohort, eight out of 12 startups received federal funding and investor funding with the help of Braid Theory.
The accelerator’s first graduating class included Florida-based Tampa DeepSea Xplorers, which makes seafaring autonomous vehicles that can scrape the bottom of the ocean and collect data faster for researchers to use as they study climate change impact or source for different medicines. Irvine-based ReCreate Energy is another graduate, which sources algae to create a more sustainable bio-crude oil that can be used at gas and oil refineries. While FlashQ, a Canada-based AI platform, is trying to reduce truck congestion and the emissions caused by them at the port by creating a scheduling platform that optimizes waiting and shipment times.
“The key is the opportunity, the opportunity was there,” Mimi Carter, a biotech investor with the Pasadena Angels, said of the business opportunities in the ocean market. “We saw a market that was unaddressed and is still an emerging market.”
A cluster of cranes at the Port of Long Beach.Photo by DJANA 575/ Shutterstock
To Carter’s credit, L.A. County boasts 75 miles of coastline that the LAEDC expects by 2023 will produce more than $80 billion in regional output, make roughly $50 billion in gross county product, and create over 200,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to a 2020 report. And, according to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, economic and job growth in this sector relies heavily on the creation and implementation of new technologies, making angel investors necessary players in bolstering the ocean economy.
“Not only do we want to be investing in a sustainable product, but someone we count as a first mover,” Carter said of her investment approach. Already, groups like the Pasadena Angels and Techstars L.A. have made investments in the space. Reece Pacheco, a blue economy angel investor, is quietly working on a new venture fund around the blue tech space that hasn’t been announced yet.
“What we're starting to see is there are entrepreneurs who are either coming up through these research firms, or there are entrepreneurs who have cut their teeth elsewhere but care about the ocean,” Pacheco said.
There’s also Braid Theory’s neighbor (and landlord), AltaSea, the nonprofit research hub that has facilitated a number of partnerships with companies across the world.
“We do want to become the leading destination for the blue economy in terms of technology, finance, the education pathways it takes for students to get into these jobs in the future, and then the actual workforce development for the jobs of the future,” said Terry Tamminen, the new CEO of AltaSea.
Braid Theory’s makeshift shipping container-turned-lab is next door to a slew of other startups and projects in the blue economy space. USC researchers are incubating bubbling cauldrons of kelp that could create biofuels and alternative food sources. While Oceanographer Robert Ballard, who found the Titanic wreckage in 1985, set up a sea exploration program a few doors down.
“The ocean is more than a destination for tourists and a place for Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough to go diving,” Tamminen said. “It's actually something right at our doorstep that we need to protect for our own survival, but it’s also an economic opportunity.”
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