The Great Billionaire Bore-Off Continues in Los Angeles

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.

Inside Virgin Hyperloop
Courtesy of Virgin Hyperloop

Hoping to heat up its competition against rival Boring Co., Virgin Hyperloop relocated to new digs in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, signing a four-year lease at the ROW DTLA in the Arts District.

Virgin Hyperloop, founded by Sir Richard Branson in 2014, had a head start on Musk, who formed The Boring Company in 2017 after outlining his own plans for hyperloop transport three years prior. Both firms are trying to create high-speed transportation tunnels that people in high-density metro areas could use daily, snapping their cars (or, if you’re Boring Co., just Teslas, of course) onto skates that shoot them through underground channels at hundreds of miles per hour.

Virgin Hyperloop moved just one mile away from its previous base in Downtown L.A., adjacent to the L.A. River. The new 49,862-square-foot office setup at ROW DTLA will see Virgin occupying the former American Apparel building, owned by the clothier until it filed for bankruptcy in 2016.

Currently the building is at the confluence of several distinct areas of Downtown Los Angeles; the city’s historical Fashion District, the ever-trendier Arts District packed with posh offices and eateries, and the infamous Skid Row, where much of L.A.’s unhoused population lives.

Virgin Hyperloop’s head of human resources Benjamin Savage said in a statement Monday that their “new headquarters in this vibrant area represents a new beginning for the company.” He added that “the space is designed to support our transition from technology to product development.”

Branson’s hyperloop promised passengers it could ferry them on high-speed underground rails from Los Angeles to San Francisco in under an hour by 2030. It plans to get the needed safety certifications by 2025. The company ran its first passenger test in November 2020 and is currently running tests at a facility in Las Vegas, where Musk’s firm also completed a commercial use tunnel for the city’s Convention Center this July.

Musk actually moved the Boring Co. out of Hawthorne in late April, opting for headquarters in Pflugerville, Texas, where the company plans to build a new 80,000 square-foot warehouse to support operations.

The Tesla CEO has been accused of using the Boring Co. as an elaborate ruse to disrupt plans for a high-speed rail in California (oh, and to sell flamethrowers). “Musk and the Kochs, both trying to halt a transition away from automobiles,” Paris Marx, a technology writer for Time Magazine, alleged in August 2019. It remains to be seen if Musk intends to make good on his promises to deliver high-speed hyperloop trails throughout the West Coast, or if Branson’s firm will beat the Boring Co. to the finish line.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect Boring Co.‘s new headquarters in Pflugerville, Texas.

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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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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.