Wonder Ventures is Looking to Fund 3 New L.A.-Based Startups Within a Month

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.

Wonder Ventures is Looking to Fund 3 New L.A.-Based Startups Within a Month
"We thought this was an opportunity to put our money where our mouth was," said Dustin Rosen, managing partner of Wonder Ventures, who is overseeing the initiative along with investor Abha Nath.

One early-stage venture capital fund is launching a new initiative Tuesday: Helping Los Angeles entrepreneurs who have suddenly found themselves out of work as the coronavirus pandemic sideswipes the job market and freezes the amount of money flowing into startups.

Wonder Ventures, the Santa Monica-based firm that's carved a niche by writing checks to young companies below the radar of bigger VCs, has committed to fund at least three Los Angeles founders in the next month with checks starting at $100,000. The new WFH program -- which stands for Wonder from Home -- is aimed at those newly laid off from tech companies who have an idea they want to pursue.


"Those people are stuck at home by law and a bunch of great talent is not working, which creates an opportunity," said Dustin Rosen, managing partner of Wonder Ventures, who is overseeing the initiative along with investor Abha Nath.

Indeed, as unemployment has ripped through the U.S. economy and sent small businesses scrambling, there has been a great amount of uncertainty about whether venture investors are still eager to write checks. Many investors have been trying to project an air of normalcy, publicly insisting that they are still writing checks as the world reels from the novel coronavirus.

Whether they actually are – especially to companies not already in their portfolio – is another matter. Rosen saw this as "an opportunity to put our money where our mouth was."

Though Wonder Ventures has promised a minimum investment of $100,000, he says the check could very well be considerably larger given that the firm's average investment is between $250,000 to $500,000. The firm has deployed some of the $15 million of seed funding it secured in 2018 to startups such as financial services firm Tala and storage company Clutter.

Wonder has also partnered with the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP to incorporate and draw up funding documents for free. Interested founders simply have to complete a five-minute online application and will be selected on a rolling basis from now until May 3rd.

To apply, teams must meet three criteria:

  • There must be a minimum of two full-time co-founders who do not have other full-time roles.
  • One team member must be in L.A.
  • At least one member must be a full-stack developer.

Wonder Ventures aims to be the first institutional money into very young companies, making about 5-7 investments a year. With conferences cancelled and coffee chats out of the question, scouting new companies has become considerably more difficult during lockdown.

"We pride ourselves on meeting a ton of talent and it's hard to meet people right now," Rosen said. "This is an attempt to meet more founders because some of our traditional ways of doing that aren't feasible."

Rosen hopes that the ideas they fund now can one day blossom into the next iconic L.A. brands, when the coronavirus is a distant memory.

"We believe that these tough times will produce great companies," Rosen wrote in a blog post. "The best founders are not deterred by pandemics, but instead, are encouraged to make a better world. These founders are not hanging their heads because of a lay-off or furlough, but are enthused to take off and build their dream idea."

https://twitter.com/thebenbergman
ben@dot.la

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

Cadence

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.

Read moreShow less

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.

Read moreShow less

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.

RELATEDEDITOR'S PICKS
LA TECH JOBS
interchangeLA
Trending