Sramana Mitra: LinkedIn was a perfect channel to scale that company.
Amir Banifatemi: LinkedIn was a perfect channel. It had Initial property and strong momentum and growth into a much, much larger ecosystem globally. Another example which we’re still working on is Momentum Machine, a hardware company. It is based in San Francisco and builds robots to create hamburgers. You can order your burger the way you want it down to the right meat, with the right crispness, with more or less tomato or avocado. You can pretty much, on your way, order it on your phone. When you arrive, it is all ready for you and there’s no human intervention.
That company is creating a lot of buzz because people are saying, “You’re going to get people out of job” So this is a company that is moving forward and has a lot of momentum. I think they have a short store in San Francisco. We did not work with them a lot because they moved very quickly out of Southern California and we got some connections with them. The intention of our investment and with the conversation we had with the founders was a good handshake and a good understanding.
Some other examples include people working on sleep apnea. They’re trying to provide health insights for individuals in a global way and not just for the wealthy that have a Fitbit, but for anyone that has access to some form of data capture. It could provide support in terms of stress and in terms of sleep disorder and cardiac conditions.
Another example is a company deploying vision capability, not to solve heart problems with an MRI machine or MRI images, but to provide the capabilities to smart phones. The idea is that anyone in the world can have a app that can probably detect early signs of blindness and other issues without having to go to a doctor.
The scale is interesting because besides being humanitarian, the log data is such that if you can have so much data – even though you might not have 100% accuracy – and give people some sign of early detection, you could basically help someone and that’s just something that has value. These are examples that I’m just giving you here and there, but these are some examples to show the way we think.
Sramana Mitra: Yes, that’s exactly what I wanted. So last question Amir, you also operated with the Tech Coast Angels. Is that still going on? Are you completely focused on K5 Ventures?
Amir Banifatemi: I’m still nvolved. Tech Coast Ventures is the largest venture group in the USA. It goes from Santa Barbara to San Diego. We’re about 340 members, so every member is an angel investor. But every member is also active as a CEO Founder.
We have an investment group that also invests in association members owning a company. The goal is really to support Southern California with mentorship and good money. Collectively, we have invested about close to $200 million and generated syndication north of $2 billion.
Sramana Mitra: What is the focus?
Amir Banifatemi: The focus is everything. We have all the chapters. We have life science, industry, energy, and consumer goods. We also have media because of the variety of members. I was the President until 2 years ago. I’m still a Board Member but I’m still active as an angel. I still go to meetings and meet with entrepreneurs.
The idea of Tech Coast Ventures is to support the ecosystem first, and by syndication, work with other regions. So we do work with other regions of the USA or even internationally. We are starting international now through syndication only. To support with mentorship, each angel investor invests individually and personally, so there’re no less-crowded champ tables.
Sramana Mitra: And what is your analysis of Southern California’s ecosystem right now? It has come a long way. How do you synthesize the trends and the development of the ecosystem?
Amir Banifatemi: For sure, Southern California as a whole represents probably as much wealth and potential compared to Northern California. There are different centers. There are the universities of course – CalTech, UCLA, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and also large corporations working in media and entertainment, real estate, and in gaming and sports.
There’s a growing interest in Southern California because of the weather. We’ve much larger funds now. There have been a number of visible exits. Oculus started in Irvine and was acquired by Facebook. Gaikai was acquired by Sony and then you have a number of examples of recent IPOs.
All these basically are showing that Southern California is a force to be reckoned with. Entrepreneurs definitely are talented. We don’t have the consistent ecosystem of Northern California yet, but it’s just changing gradually.
Because of success, more people are becoming partners in firms and becoming angels. More entrepreneurs give back again by investing into this whole cycle. The whole southern California ecosystem will be a vibrant one and probably a place that many people will come and start businesses.
There is less mobility. People are not switching from one company to another. People have a better salary. I’m very hopeful about California in general and I’m happy to be here in support. But if you think local and global problems, your mind is everywhere. You don’t attach yourself to a geography.
Sramana Mitra: And today the location matters less.
Amir Banifatemi: Exactly, you basically support your own ecosystem right where you live. You want to basically nurture it. You want to be supported so this is a priority as well.
Sramana Mitra: Wonderful conversation, Amir. Thank you for being with us.