Startup Next Los Angeles, a TechStars program, graduated its most recent class this week. To date, the previous Startup Next classes have raised over $25 million and have been accepted into some of the top accelerators in the world.
The program culminated in a demo day, where the startups pitched their products to a panel of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. For many, this was the first step towards seeing their hard work payoff, and for several, their next steps involve something they probably didn't imagine when they joined the cohort two months ago.
We caught up with the new grads and asked them about the program. Here's what they had to say:
BluAgent Technology runs a comprehensive trucking safety compliance platform.
NV Drones provides flight analytics and reports for commercial drones.
What was your lightbulb moment? Our lightbulb moment came late last year. In any drone operation, 'logging' all the things that you do with your drone is a substantial part of your time. We saw that everything about this logging process was manual. Where you flew, how you flew, what equipment you flew, are all things that are either being entered into Excel spreadsheets or clunky pieces of software. Manual input means two things: 1. It's time-consuming and prone to being forgotten. 2. The data you get is inaccurate.
We saw that there is a big opportunity to automate this "logging" process and also analyze key pieces of data through software in order to give operators insight into their operations and equipment in a way they never had before. This type of software is something that every drone operator needs, regardless of the vertical they occupy.
What has Startup Next been like to your team and its development? Startup Next has been invaluable for us to share our experiences and learn from its network of entrepreneurs and mentors. Entrepreneurship can feel like you're on an island, and having other entrepreneurs around you who have either been through what you've been and/or are going through it right now, is so important to have.
What's next for your startup? NVdrones is launching its product, NVDash, as well as making a big partnership announcement by the end of June. We're looking forward to growing our customer base and continually learning how we can serve them better.
Equity Directory is an invite-only network of entrepreneurs and startup talent exchanging work for equity.
What was your lightbulb moment? Each of us had built and launched startups before, had hired freelancers and had worked as a freelancer at various points in our careers. We each have stories of lessons learned and repeatedly saw those around us struggling to navigate those early stage hires when equity was involved. But, our real lightbulb moment occurred when we put up a landing page and saw the overwhelming and almost immediate response. Before building anything, we had over 3,000 people signed up, requesting access to Equity Directory. After experiencing that, we knew that this business was something that needed to exist.
What has Startup Next been like to your team and its development? Startup Next was an extremely valuable experience for our team, one that we are truly thankful for. While the continuous pitch practice and feedback has certainly helped us prepare for our upcoming fundraise, the relationships we were able to to create with high caliber, pay-it-forward members of the LA startup community was by far the most valuable benefit of the program.
What's next for your startup? We’re in the process of rolling out partnerships with some of the largest startup networks in the United States and look forward to announcing the details soon. Beyond that, we’ll continue to invite quality talent and startups into our private beta as we further develop and test our product over the next few months.
Founded by Nathalie de Ceglie, Natuza makes making fresh gourmet steamed cooked meals accessible in minutes with its Nespresso like device.
What was your lightbulb moment? Winston Churchill said, "You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” As a startup CEO, my role is to transmit information about Natuza to multiple audiences — my team, customers, the media, suppliers and investors. It was in Startup Next that we learned that we not only had to gather information to convince our audiences, but also highlight the value of Natuza in a relevant, useful and specific way without hesitation and against the timer. We are in the business of selling and creating our business, not just our product.
What has Startup Next been like to your team and its development? Startup Next LA brought a critical perspective on the message we are trying to spread and helped us to fine-tune this message once a week during the six sessions.
Even if you have a great product, a real structure and you know how to sell it, it is not always easy to find a listening ear to talk to. Networks (mentors, investors, large companies, partners) to whom Startup Next LA introduced us brought a real value.
What's next for your startup? Natuza keeps working to create strong foundations for success in our advanced technology, premium food selection, quality, presence and processes.
Natuza's team is stronger and we are continuing to seek out highly talented individuals to join us as we revolutionize the way people eat.
Another goal is to keep building a strong loyal community who know and appreciates Natuza, because customers’ satisfaction will always remain our priority.
Tesloop provides city-to-city travel in semi-autonomous electric vehicles.
What was your lightbulb moment? When Elon Musk told Haydn, our founder, that in three years you'd be able to fall asleep in your car and it would take you to your destination, it was clear the industry would transform. When every review started coming in with five stars, we knew we'd achieved product/market fit.
What has Startup Next been like to your team and its development? Interesting, challenging, and unusual.
What's next for your startup? We are opening new routes, and getting more cars, and continuing to build the first sustainable transportation network.
Wellstart Health is a telemedicine platform for chronic disease prevention and reversal.
What was your lightbulb moment? I have always been super passionate about health and about turning sick care into true healthcare that addresses the root causes of chronic disease. I think when retail clinics like CVS MinuteClinic started popping up a few years ago, I started to realize that this could be a venue for making prevention and disease reversal accessible to more people. Then I later pivoted to make the whole model digital. But the core mission still remains.
What has Startup Next been like to your team and its development? Startup Next has been a total whirlwind, it's added a ton of value and the mentorship really expanded my horizons and pushed me both to think bigger while also getting more granular at the same time. As a founder, you kind of think you've thought of everything, and then you get into the program and it helps you realize there are a zillion new things you need to consider. It's been an awesome experience.
What's next for your startup? WellStart ran our first pilot program a few months ago and had stellar outcomes. The next thing is to run our next trial with a larger sample size, and continue to prove out the model — if we can replicate our results that'll set us up for a lot of opportunity in the marketplace.
WhizTutor is a marketplace that allows parents to book an in-person tutoring session from qualified and background checked tutors.
What was your lightbulb moment? Justin Clark, our CEO and cofounder, was trying to help his brother Brett Clark (also a cofounder) with finding clients to tutor. Justin was researching the tutor industry and found that there were many problems with the market. He came up with an idea to create a marketplace of tutors for almost any subject.
The idea to build mobile and web applications stemmed from using other on-demand platforms. Six months later WhizTutor was launched. Now a student goes on the app or web platform, types in a subject location, subject and a list of tutors pops up. WhizTutor helps students save time and money by offering affordable prices as well as the ability to meet the client at any location they desire.
What has Startup Next been like to your team and its development? For us the Startup Next program has been absolutely amazing. Working with more than 20 mentors, current startup entrepreneurs and investors has been an extremely rewarding experience. As a team we are pushed to get our platform launched, and without Startup Next we probably would have never been able to do it so quickly.
We learned a lot about launching a successful startup, how to pivot, pitch, about investment opportunities, legal issues and building partnerships. There were six other startups in the program, and we all helped each other out when the opportunity arose. Our greatest take away was the relationships we built throughout the program. Those established relationships open the door to a community full of contacts and support that really help a startup succeed.
What's next for your startup? Getting more users!!! Over the next three months we will continue to establish our brand and gain users. We will continue to pitch investors to close our current round. Data collection and market analytics are very important to us, and we will continue to analyze every part of our market and make any necessary pivots. WhizTutor has a long road ahead and for us to continue to grow and succeed we will need to build strategic partnerships.