LA Venture: Touchdown Ventures Partner Beth Kearns on ‘Corporate Innovation’

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.
​Beth Kearns
courtesy of Touchdown Ventures

In the early days of the internet, Beth Kearns jokes that she was the only person in her organization with an AOL account.

“They were like, ‘Oh, well, you know, you just graduated college. So you'll be the one who can access the internet. You'll figure it out.’”

Her interest in technology and how it could change the entertainment industry propelled her through 20th Century Fox's film, TV and mobile divisions, and got her a seat at the table when the organization was considering a partnership with Netflix and, later, a joint venture called Hulu.

Now at Touchdown Ventures, she advises corporate clients about how to manage their venture outreach and streamline their investment programs.

On this episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, Kearns discusses the entertainment industry’s fraught relationship with tech, the seemingly incongruous notion of “corporate innovation” and how partnerships with startups can benefit corporations.

“When I first got to 20th Century Fox, those new technologies were terrifying to the senior executives, where it was like an existential threat that was looming over,” Kearns said. “And so what we focused on was content protection.”

The industry was extremely concerned that what happened to the music industry with the rapid expansion of Napster could soon happen to them. Executives didn’t consider the possibilities of new technology until much later.

“I think it wasn't until Netflix had really, really taken off that I think everybody got shaken more to the core,” she said. That’s when the discussion turned more toward “‘Okay, we have to rethink this a little bit’,” Kearns said.

Kearns worked with Touchdown for three years while at 20th Century Fox on various projects. She said the studio was considering how to prepare for the future, including whether to set up an accelerator or in-house incubator. When they considered whether to create a venture arm, they looked at how Touchdown’s resources could help the company set up a much for effective venture investing program.

“The challenge was, were we going to see the best deals, because we weren't necessarily seeing all of the deals,” Kearns said. “Touchdown has now over 50 people, and we work across all different types of industries. Any of our corporate partners are tapping into that breadth.”

Now at Touchdown, Kearns helps startups and corporates work together. When working with large enterprises, she says it’s crucial for startups to be clear about what they want from a corporate partnership.

“The biggest piece of advice that I can give [a startup] is being really clear about what it is you want from the corporation, or how you would envision partnering with the corporation because then someone can figure out who the right person is to talk to,” she said.

Kearns also teaches a class at UCLA on “corporate entrepreneurship and innovation,” which, she said, seems like an oxymoron to many, but makes sense when you think about what corporations need.

“They want to be able to try and see where the ball’s going,” she said. “And that's hard to do when you're doing your day-to-day job. And you have deadlines and quarterly reports, and things like that.”

Her class focuses on four building blocks that corporations can use to advance industries: research and development, business development (partnerships), venture investment and mergers and acquisitions. Corporations’ scale gives them the ability to experiment and expand quickly.

Kearns is now leading Touchdown’s newest fund, focused on agricultural technology.

She said the firm looks closely at crop production and precision ag—both of which contribute to the fund’s overall focus on sustainability. Touchdown is working with farming cooperatives CHS and Growmark to see how tech ranging from the supply chain to digital twins can transform farming.

“I think the thread that goes throughout my career is really curiosity,” Kearns said. “As you can see from the fact that now I'm doing ag tech and admitting you know, that I don't know everything. But you know, there's a skill set that I can bring to different industries. That keeps me going.”

Kearns said bridging the gap between small startups and large corporations requires strong communication skills. From the corporate side, she said companies need to be willing to listen to startups who can transform their operations. From the startup side, entrepreneurs need to be aware that coming in too aggressively can cause friction. Both sides need to build trust to create a roadmap that benefits all parties.

“There is an emotional intelligence that's really important around innovation,” she said.

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.

dot.LA reporter Kristin Snyder contributed to this post.

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Why Pierced Media Is Betting on Creators To Be The Next Generation of Podcast Stars

Nat Rubio-Licht
Nat Rubio-Licht is a freelance reporter with dot.LA. They previously worked at Protocol writing the Source Code newsletter and at the L.A. Business Journal covering tech and aerospace. They can be reached at
Why Pierced Media Is Betting on Creators To Be The Next Generation of Podcast Stars
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It’s no secret that men dominate the podcasting industry. Even as women continue to grow their foothold, men still make up many of the highest-earning podcasts, raking in massive paychecks from ad revenue and striking deals with streaming platforms worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

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NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System
Evan Xie

NASA’s footprint in California is growing as the agency prepares for Congress to approve its proposed 2024 budget.

The overall NASA budget swelled 6% from the prior year, JPL deputy director Larry James told dot.LA. He added he sees that as a continuation of the last two presidential administrations’ focus on modernizing and bolstering the nation’s space program.

The money goes largely to existing NASA centers in California, including the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory run with Caltech, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

California remains a hotspot for NASA space activity and investment. In 2021, the agency estimated its economic output impact on the region to be around $15.2 billion. That was far more than its closest competing states, including Texas ($9.3 billion) and Maryland (roughly $8 billion). That same year, NASA reported it employed over 66,000 people in California.

“In general, Congress has been very supportive” of the JPL and NASA’s missions, James said. “It’s generally bipartisan [and] supported by both sides of the aisle. In the last few years in general NASA has been able to have increased budgets.”

There are 41 current missions run by JPL and CalTech, and another 16 scheduled for the future. James added the new budget is “an incredible support for all the missions we want to do.”

The public-private partnership between NASA and local space companies continues to evolve, and the increased budget could be a boon for LA-based developers. Numerous contractors for NASA (including CalTech, which runs the JPL), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman all stand to gain new contracts once the budget is finalized, partly because NASA simply needs the private industry’s help to achieve all its goals.

James said that there was only one JPL mission that wasn’t funded – a mission to send an orbital satellite to survey the surface and interior of Venus, called VERITAS.

NASA Employment and Output ImpactEvan Xie

The Moon and Mars

Much of the money earmarked in the proposed 2024 budget is for crewed missions. Overall, NASA’s asking for $8 billion from Congress to fund lunar exploration missions. As part of this, the majority is earmarked for the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to land a woman and person of color on the Moon’s south pole.

While there’s a number of high-profile missions the JPL is working on that are focused on Mars, including Mars Sample Return project (which received $949 million in this proposed budget) and Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover, JPL also received significant funding to study the Earth’s climate and behavior.

JPL also got funding for several projects to map our universe. One is the SphereX Near Earth Objects surveyor mission, the goal of which is to use telescopes to “map the entire universe,” James said, adding that the mission was fully funded.

International Space Station

NASA’s also asking for more money to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), which houses a number of projects dedicated to better understanding the Earth’s climate and behavior.

The agency requested roughly $1.3 billion to maintain the ISS. It also is increasing its investment in space flight support, in-space transportation and commercial development of low-earth orbit (LEO). “The ISS is an incredible platform for us,” James said.

James added there are multiple missions outside or on board the ISS now taking data, including EMIT, which launched in July 2022. The EMIT mission studies arid dust sources on the planet using spectroscopy. It uses that data to remodel how mineral dust movement in North and South America might affect the Earth’s temperature changes.

Another ISS mission JPL launched is called ECOSTRESS. The mission sent a thermal radiometer onto the space station in June 2018 to monitor how plants lose water through their leaves, with the goal of figuring out how the terrestrial biosphere reacts to changes in water availability. James said the plan is to “tell you the kind of foliage health around the globe” from space.

One other ISS project is called Cold Atom Lab. It is “an incredible fundamental physics machine,” James said, that’s run by “three Nobel Prize winners as principal investigators on the Space Station.” Cold Atom Lab is a physics experiment geared toward figuring out how quantum phenomena behave in space by cooling atoms with lasers to just below absolute zero degrees.

In the long term, James was optimistic NASA’s imaging projects could lead to more dramatic discoveries. Surveying the makeup of planets’ atmospheres is a project “in the astrophysics domain we’re very excited about,” James said. He added that this imaging could lead to information about life on other planets, or, at the very least, an understanding of why they’re no longer habitable.

Three Wishes Cereal Co-Founder Margaret Wishingrad on ‘The Power of No’

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

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Provided by BHE

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