Built In LA's 50 Startups to Watch in 2018
In 2017, Southern California tech raised nearly $7 billion, launching startups across industries and attracting top talent and funding support from local investors. As Los Angeles and Orange Counties have become the established homes to some of the most innovative startups in the world, the expectations for 2018 are high.
With an eye for fresh funding, top talent and innovative technology, Built In LA has carefully selected 50 young companies — all less than five years old — that we believe will make a significant impact on tech over the next 12 months.
Top LA Startups to Watch for 2018
- Virgin Hyperloop
Founded in 2013, System1 uses technology to improve advertising for both advertisers and consumers via its keyword pay-per-click marketplace. Raising $270 million in September of 2017, the company harnesses technology to analyze billions of data points in order to identify consumer intent across digital channels — social media, native advertising, email, search and more. Now, the Venice-based company is seeking to scale its team to drive further innovation within digital advertising.
It’s safe to say that 2017 was a big year for Hyperloop One. Between raising $135 million in two separate rounds, adding Richard Branson as chairman and successfully setting — and then breaking — the speed record for a hyperloop system, the Arts District transportation tech company is poised to dramatically grow its roster. Additionally, Hyperloop One is set to break its speed record at least one more time and explore opportunities for production in the Middle East, Europe and Russia.
Inspire works to help homeowners and businesses adopt smart energy technologies and cut down on pollution they emit into the world. The Santa Monica startup provides a subscription service that allows users to personalize energy plans, receive the latest smart energy products and control it all from Inspire's app. With total funding at $38 million, Inspire’s mission is to create a brighter energy future.
Since the early days of eBay, millions of people around the world have bought, sold and traded sneakers valued anywhere from under $100 to several thousand dollars. With counterfeits flooding the market, GOAT has created a way to authenticate, facilitate and fix the trade of valuable sneakers. Back in March, the Culver City company closed a $25 million round of funding to move into a new headquarters and grow its mobile sneaker marketplace. For now, GOAT has its sights set on building its LA-based team.
ChowNow helps restaurants reach more hungry mouths by simplifying the online ordering system. The company’s platform caters to both customers and restaurants. ChowNow allows customers to order directly from a restaurant's website or Facebook or Google page. Additionally, the company supports restaurants across a variety of processes, including managing orders and developing new strategies to expand their businesses. This year, ChowNow gobbled up $20 million in funding and expanded its services to over 8,000 clients.
One of LA tech’s best success stories might not be eligible to operate under the banner of “Silicon Beach,” but with a reported $300 million valuation — as of May 2017 — it’s clear that the ServiceTitan’s location isn’t inhibiting the growing company. Founded in 2013 as a summer project for two Glendale natives, the company has famously never had to leave its headquarters to take investor meetings, raising nearly $100 million to date and hiring aggressively.
Launched in 2014, Los Angeles-based PeerStreet was founded by real estate attorney Brew Johnson and Brett Crosby, a former Google executive, to empower investors to invest in real estate loans. With over $26 million in funding, the company platform is designed to change the mortgage finance industry by allowing people and institutions to directly invest in real estate backed loans. Last October, PeerStreet announced it had grown nearly 300% from the previous year and facilitated over half a billion in investments, all with zero losses to the investors to date.
In 2017 alone, FloQast doubled its local workforce, opened an office in Ohio that now boasts 20 employees, and closed a $25 million Series B — and there are no indications the company is taking its foot off the gas. Having just moved into a new 20,000-square-foot headquarters in Sherman Oaks, the accounting software startup is still adding to its roster, though co-founder and CEO Mike Whitmire believes the new office, located just off the 405, will be able to hold his team for another three to five years.
Launched out of the famous Canter’s Deli within the Fairfax District of Hollywood, Ordermark develops a hardware-software platform designed to help small restaurants aggregate deliveries they receive from companies such as ChowNow and Grubhub. The startup provides businesses with a specialized printer — connected directly to the internet — that prints out orders as it receives them, and a platform that helps restaurants grow their digital presence. Headquartered in Santa Monica, the company closed an $800,000 seed round in the middle of 2017 and has installed its proprietary system in a number of restaurants around the southwest.
Culver City-based sustainable fashion startup Reformation closed out 2017 on a high note, adding a $25 million Series B funding round to help scale the company’s tech-based retail consumer experience platform. Currently in the midst of a hiring spree, Built In LA named the fashion tech startup as one of 20 tech companies with Instagram accounts you should follow.
Supporting facility maintenance teams, UpKeep Maintenance Management takes a mobile-first approach, supporting the tracking of work orders and assets to save customers time and money. Boasting well-established enterprise companies among their list of customers, Upkeep has also secured more than $2.8 million in funding to target the 9.9 million maintenance workers in the U.S. alone.
Founded by a team of CalTech and JPL veterans, Virtualitics, which calls Pasadena home, has created a platform that harnesses the powers of virtual reality and machine learning to help financial institutions better analyze their data. Launched in 2016, the company has raised more than $4 million to date and is in the process of completing a closed beta program with two global corporations.
Since launching out of stealth mode with just a few months left in the year, Fair has wasted little time making news in the industry. The fintech startup uses data and analytics to provide an end-to-end app that aims to revolutionize the car buying experience. Users can find a car at an affordable monthly rate, gain approval without a credit check and sign for it all through the app. This year, they looked to expand their data science team and raised $1 billion in debt capital, which the company will use to scale its platform. If 2017 is any indication, big things could be in store for 2018.
With politics and social issues around the globe becoming increasingly interconnected, LA-based ATTN: has evolved into one of the most important media companies in the world. The company is remarkable not for its informative takes on important topics and conversations impacting millennials, but for its innovative approach to informing viewers. Co-founded by Matthew Segal — who at the age of 19 testified in front of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee regarding long voting lines for the 2004 presidential election — the company’s content strategy uses multi-platform video content to tell stories in culturally-relevant, digestible, and engaging formats. In February 2016, the company announced an $18.5 million funding and counts Ryan Seacrest and Troy Carter as investors.
Seriously, a Venice-based mobile game developer, made a name for itself with its addictive “Best Fiends” game, but the company has since developed the series into a $100 million brand, something particularly hard to do in the world of mobile apps. To date, the company has raised $28 million and counts LA-based Upfront Ventures as a backer.
AdColony founder Jon Zweig is back at it again, this time with a company that helps app developers onboard users in a more efficient, cost-effective manner. His startup AppOnboard launched in 2016 and brought in $5 million in funding this year, allowing developers an opportunity to fully test their app and make adjustments before the public launch.
Culver City-based SnackNation has created a way for businesses all over the world to offer their employees healthy snacks to keep them fueled and focused, without the anxiety of consuming the unhealthy sodium and sugar found in traditional snack options. Much more than a food tech company, the startup’s SaaS framework offers its partners a curated monthly subscription service to keep employees happy and engaged. Heading into 2018, the company is aggressively adding to its sales team.
The year was full of big news for hospitality startup, KEYPR. Based in Los Angeles, the company delivers a cloud platform for hotels, casinos and luxury residences that integrates the hospitality experience for guests, staff and management. In June of 2017, KEYPR raked in $19 million in funding and announced a major addition to its leadership team, hiring former Sony and Fox executive Mark Anderson as its chief operating officer.
These days, e-commerce is increasingly popular among shoppers of all demographics. While finding the best deal online is easier than ever, most consumers don’t take into account that the pair of shoes they purchased on Amazon last month for $75 subsequently dropped by $15 a week later. Science-backed startup Earny has created a personal assistant that tracks purchases and requests refunds if a better deal becomes available. Users are able to connect their Amazon accounts to Earny’s platform, allowing the site to track purchases and request refunds when necessary. In December, the company closed a $9 million Series A.
Founded in 2016 by Kevin Nazemi, co-founder and co-CEO of Oscar Health, and Tony DeGangi, formerly of Hunch and eBay, Renew was launched to fundamentally shift the way people view retirement. In fact, the company aims to reduce the stress of retiring by providing a suite of simple-to-use tools that guide users through the complexity of retirement decisions, enabling them to better focus, enjoy and relax during their final years. With $3 million in funding, the startup aims to equip users with information to manage their health, finances and newly-found free time.
Headquartered in the heart of Venice, virtual reality media company WITHIN was founded by music video director Chris Milk and former Googler Aaron Koblin. Formerly known as VRSE, the company is developing technology to make storytelling immersive with VR. Last July, the company closed a $40 million Series B, taking their total amount raised to date to $52.6 million.
Each year brings more growth for the Santa Monica-based tech startup TaskUs. The company utilizes cloud-based technology and boasts an innovation-driving team dedicated to providing solutions for customer care and back office support. Their work has placed them on the Inc. 500 five years straight and helped secure $79.7 million in revenue for 2016. This year, the startup moved into a new 6,000-plus-square-foot office near Santa Monica Airport, which has it poised for even more growth in 2018.
One thing that can bring just about everyone together is a fierce hatred of moving. Founded in 2014, Clutter has developed a service that picks up and stores items for a low, flat rate. When you need that desk or hatrack in a few months, the company will deliver your items, eliminating the hassle of having to move items out of storage. In June, the company closed a $64 million Series C to help launch operations in Chicago and scale its team within currently operational markets.
Here in California, the lack of precipitation is always fresh on our minds, and therefore, the issue of water conservation is gravely important once again. Considering the amount of water being wasted by everything from leaky pipes to a full-scale house flood, Flo Technologies has created a hardware-software platform capable of monitoring water usage, as well as shutting off leaks, protecting the home from damage and saving owners from unnecessarily costly water bills. Launched in 2015, the company has raised $11 million to date, with a $7.75 million Series A coming in November.
Founded in 2014, Divergent 3D is creating a potentially groundbreaking technology that will change the way cars are designed and built. The company’s hardware-software platform provides auto manufacturers access to newer, cheaper ways to develop parts, cutting production time in the process. Last year, the company raised a whopping $88 million in two separate fundings, with the latest coming at the end of November.
Santa Monica-based DroneBase has developed a service that offers companies aerial images, video and data to support everything from observing the migration of dolphins off the coast of California to visualizing building projects on a wide expanse of land. Founded in 2014, the company has raised almost $7 million to date, and recently launched AirCraft, an augmented reality platform that allows pilots to create, edit and share objects. Picture a virtual race course in the sky for all users to see via the app.
Gem seeks to use blockchain to disrupt the “silo mentality” that businesses have developed and instead create a more unified network. Located just off Venice Beach, the startup’s blockchain allows businesses to share data and establish a more transparent relationship. Its goal is to spur newfound teamwork that will create solutions and innovations within industries such as healthcare and supply chain.
El Segundo-based Chef’d had an impressive year. One of a growing number of food tech startups that call LA home, the company has eschewed traditional venture capital investments, instead forging strategic partnerships with companies such as Campbell Soup Company, Smithfield Foods and Fresh Direct, bringing in a total of $35 million in 2017 alone and growing its local team to some 250 employees, good enough for number 62 on Built In LA’s Top 100 tech companies in 2017.
Pasadena-based digital media company BrainJolt is responsible for creating and distributing branded content that reaches 300 million users per month. Specializing in a wide variety of addictive media, the company operates some of the most successful mobile sites in the world. Its flagship site, 22 Words, brings in 18 million unique visitors each month, while MagiQuiz boasts four minutes per visitor and a 12 percent average share rate.
Science 37 has developed a mobile technology platform that can literally save lives. Until recently, clinical trials were mainly conducted by patients capable of commuting to a designated location, but the Playa Vista-based startup has created a way to take the trials to the patients, allowing for companies to diversify their patient-base to accelerate biomedical discovery. Founded in 2013, Built In LA recently took an inside look at what it’s like to work at the company, and why they have a psychologist on staff.
Headquartered in beautiful Newport Beach, Obsidian Security was founded by Cylance veterans Glenn Chisholm and Matt Wolff, and Carbon Black veteran Ben Johnson.. Since launching in 2017, the company — which develops an AI-powered cybersecurity platform capable of executing in hybrid-cloud environments — has raised $9.5 million. Late last year, Johnson, who serves as the company’s CTO, spoke to Built In LA about the potentially disastrous effects repealing net neutrality would have on the startup world.
Irvine-based ConversionPoint Technologies is a proprietary e-commerce platform designed to increase reach, revenue and ROI for brands and advertising agencies. Founded in 2016, the company boasts a media optimization solution that leverages AI algorithmic learning developed to optimize advertisement purchasing, thereby lowering the cost of customer acquisition. Additional tech includes a CRM that features payment processing and customer data management. To date, the company has raised $3.5 million.
True to its name, the goal of Dopamine Labs is help app developers engage and retain their users. The startup utilizes machine learning and neuroscience to add reinforcement API to apps that rewards users as they use it. Founded in 2015, Dopamine Labs has raised $1.3 million to date.
With the recreational use of cannabis now legalized in California, a number of brands who had previously only been able to sell to medical marijuana dispensaries are now free to market their products to all consenting adults. With its series of sleekly-designed vaporizing pens that release exactly 2.25 mg with every hit, it would appear that dosist has an inside track on a demographic of Californians inexperienced — but willing to explore — the now-legal world of cannabis.
Founded just last year, mobile game publisher GameMine burst onto the startup scene with a $20 million Series A and a reported audience of 3.5 million active users across 135 countries. The company, which licenses and acquires games that it then makes available on its subscription-based marketplace, made waves just last month by acquiring Santa Monica-based BlockFraud, a mobile billing fraud protection company that was also founded last year, for an undisclosed sum.
It’s true — 2016 wasn’t a great year for former LA e-commerce giant Nasty Gal. However, after parting ways with the company — which filed for bankruptcy and was subsequently acquired for $20 million — founder Sophia Amoruso was able to turn her attention toward her next venture: Girlboss, a media startup founded way back in 2017. With $3.1 million in funding to date, the digital media company seeks to empower women with its original content.
Hutch has been making waves in LA with its interior design app. Founded in 2015, Hutch utilizes 3D tech to help users design their dream home. Users can upload a picture of the room they wish to decorate and then see how different pieces of furniture and decor appear within the room via the app’s technology before they make a purchase. The startup raised $10 million in funding this year and added Spencer Rascoff, the CEO of Zillow Group, to its board of directors.
Headquartered just south of downtown Los Angeles in Vernon, Local Roots produces a hardware-software platform capable of fitting within a standard shipping container. The containers — or pods — are hyper-efficient, fully-controllable farms, capable of providing the equivalence of five acres of farmland due to the fact that plants are grown on vertical shelving. The company’s technology allows farms to directly change the traditional methods of produce distribution.
On the surface, it might seem misguided to draw comparisons between professional gamers and fighter pilots, but that’s just what Dr. Amine Issa was able to do. While studying the reactions pilots have during oxygen deprivation, Dr. Issa and his team developed new ways to track cognitive ability. Issa, a former professional gamer and coach in his own right, began the research after noticing notable similarities between the reaction times of pilots and pro gamers. His startup, Mobalytics, develops a platform that measures in-game performance to provide pre- and post-game analysis, much in the same way traditional sports teams are starting to provide feedback for professional athletes.
For years, a combination of aspirin, homemade concoctions and naps were how many people dealt with hangovers. Tesla staff product manager Sisun Lee wasn’t any different. However, a trip to visit friends and family in South Korea changed his approach when he observed locals drinking supplements after they imbibed. Lee began researching ways to lessen the effects of a hangover and began collaborating with Dr. Jing Liang, M.D, Ph.D, a USC professor of clinical pharmacy. Their collaboration led to a miracle elixir, confirming their business opportunity and enabling them to set down roots for Morning Recovery in LA.
With more than $22 million in funding and grants to-date, Neural Analytics is using cutting-edge technology to help doctors and scientists make potentially life-saving advances in the field of neuroscience. The company’s use of big data techniques allows their platform to measure, diagnose and track the health of a brain, something the public is learning more and more about as the destructive nature of concussions comes to light.
Launched in 2014, ObEN is combining two industries LA tech is most associated with — augmented reality and the entertainment industry — to make it possible for consumers to interact, both socially and virtually, with their favorite celebrities. To date, the Pasadena-based company’s platform, which uses artificial intelligence capable of simulating a person’s voice, face and personality, has garnered the company more than $13.7 million in funding since launch.
Headquartered in Redondo Beach, Ozobot is an edtech company that develops a hardware-software platform designed to inspire kids to become interested in STEM. The company’s mini robots are controlled by an easy-to-use programming language that is manipulated using a drag-and-drop function on the OzoBlockly app, allowing students to print out colorful lines of paper to get the bots to interact with each color change. Last February, the company closed a $3 million Series A.
Pex acts like a search engine that tracks the life of music and video posted online. The startup provides a platform that can track and provide analytics for videos so that creators and brands can discover what people watch, why they watch and why they share specific types of video content. Its platform has elicited some buzz, bringing in $7 million in seed funding this year.
If it seemed like Built In LA was momentarily transformed into the Elon Musk News Network at the end of 2017, it’s because Musk’s LA-based companies SpaceX and The Boring Company waited until the end of the year to reveal a veritable cornucopia of news. In July, the company broke ground on a tunnel that would connect LAX to Culver City, and closed out the year by revealing its planned routes for LA County, a significant step in alleviating Southern California’s notoriously awful traffic.
While tech companies all over LA offer a list of impressive perks, it’s becoming more evident that as helpful a 401(k) might be, it’s the student loans that are really dragging millennials down. Headquartered on the Third Street Promenade, Tuition.io has created a platform designed to help companies offer student loan repayment as a perk. Last year, the company raised $7 million to scale operations, and not long after, it won big at the second annual Tech In Motion Timmy Awards.
Pups in cities all over the U.S. have surely been wagging their tails with even greater enthusiasm since discovering that they would be treated to additional daily walks. No longer confined to their homes due to the busy schedules of their owners, dogs have been barking their praises for Wag since its launch in 2015. Two years later, the West Hollywood startup is poised for a big 2018. After naming dog-aficionado Olivia Munn as a creative strategist, TechCrunch reported that the startup was seeking a big payday — in the ballpark of around $300 million, according to the report — at some point in the new year.
Although only a little over a year old, Studio City-based e-commerce brand Watch Gang has some pretty stunning numbers to report. With more than 20,000 monthly subscribers, the company’s watch subscription service generates $1.8 million per month with 20 percent month-over-month growth — which was maintained throughout the entirety of 2017 — and 750 percent year-over-year growth. In 2018, the company plans to move into a new headquarters, launch a women’s line and establish a global distribution plan to service subscribers in markets all over the world.
As of January 1, 2018, recreational cannabis use is legal in California, but the cannabis industry has been thriving for some time in a medical capacity. Founded in 2014, WebJoint develops an all-in-one software platform that helps cannabis business owners manage their patients, finances, inventory, staff and website. In preparation for the updated policy, the company closed a $1.5 million Series A back in November.
One of a number of startups turning LA into the capital for podcasting, West Hollywood-based Wondery was founded in 2016 by a long-time Fox executive who stepped down to create a content production and distribution startup. With a portfolio of true crime, fiction and comical shows, the company plans to add at least five new shows in 2018.
About Built In LA's 50 Startups to Watch in 2018
Once each year, Built In LA hand-selects startups that have the vision, team, focus and funding to drive innovation within the tech community. For our 50 Startups to Watch in 2018 list, we chose local companies founded within the past five years that we believe have positioned themselves for rapid growth and scaling in the year to come.