Virtual Reality L.A., women founders, Tispr among week's L.A. tech highlights

Flying with pterodactyls. Skiing down Mammoth Mountain. Zapping robots. It was all possible on Saturday at the Virtual Reality Los Angeles expo.

Hundreds of people crowded into a small ballroom at the Los Angeles Convention Center to try those experiences and more on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear and other VR devices that wrap a digital display around one’s head.

The Gear has been on sale since fall, and the Rift recently became available for pre-order. With the emerging technology set to become more noticeable this year, app vendors are stepping up quality. Three highlights from the Expo:

— VirZoom aims to make exercise less tedious by virtually transporting exercise-bike users to cool scenarios, such as riding Pegasus or steering a race car. Games within the settings encourage users to pedal faster.

Sixense Motion has combined handheld controllers with motion sensors to bring real-world hand actions into a virtual scene. There’s competition, including from Oculus, but Sixense’s demo of picking arrows out of a quiver and firing them with a bow was no less thrilling.

— Survios pitted two players in separate 10-foot-by-10-foot boxes in the robot-crushing game “Raw Data.” The players held fake guns that synced up with the virtual action. The headset-wearing players were tethered to a harness in their box so they didn’t run into walls. The big set-up offered a preview of what gaming arcades could look like fairly soon.

Female founders. The number of Los Angeles startups that received funding last year after previously raising a seed investment doubled last year, according to Female Founders Fund. And five of those 42 L.A. start-ups had a female co-founder. It’s a higher proportion than the San Francisco Bay Area produced. The slight edge for women in L.A. also translates to more capital, according to an analysis by research firm PitchBook.

Coupons. Software firm Honey Science Corp. has raised $4.8 million from 16 investors, according to a regulatory filing. Chief Executive George Ruan said the funds would help the company accelerate mobile development. Honey also moved to downtown Los Angeles from Pasadena, aiming to pick up more employees from the Westside. Honey’s software automatically adds relevant discount codes to checkout pages of online shops.

Contract workers. BuddyHOPP Inc. has raised nearly $3.6 million from a handful of Germany-based investors to develop Tispr — short for talented independent skilled persons — an app that helps people find one-off contract jobs such as deep-sea diving or wood carving. Chief Executive Sebastian Gyr sees Tispr as an Etsy-like search engine for people, referring to the popular craft goods marketplace app. The company has taken over a former dance studio in Santa Monica, Gyr said. He chose the name because of the negative stigma associated with “freelancers” and “contractors.”

New news. Two websites whose articles pop up on a lot of Facebook feeds — Opposing Views and America News — are now under the banner of Los Angeles-based Render Media Inc. The new company is led by Chairman Eytan Elbaz, known for helping his brother develop the foundation for Google’s huge advertising business, and Chief Executive Vic Belonogoff. Elbaz’s brother, Gil, was an early investor in Opposing Views. The news website changed hands several times before coming under the Render shell this year. Food website Food Please and online video production company Watch This also are a part of Render. Together, Render’s websites get 28 million visitors a month.

Free cameras. Virtual-reality camera maker Jaunt VR is loaning cameras to the USC School of Cinematic Arts for the next three years to help introduce film students to the new medium. They’ll also get access to editing tools and work with the Palo Alto company to develop new projects. The Jaunt Cinematic Virtual Reality Lab will be led by professor Candace Reckinger.

Another pop. Cellphone service provider FreedomPop announced $50 million in new funding, less than a year after picking up $30 million. The company offers a free tier and then charges for additional services. It’s aiming to gain customers in Europe, Asia and South America. Last week, the company began offering U.S. customers 200 megabytes of free data across 24 other countries, mostly in Europe.

Elsewhere on the Web. Snapchat plans to open an engineering office in Seattle next month with room for up to about 50 people, according to GeekWire. At home base in Venice, Snapchat continues to fan out across more buildings. The Seattle office will join outposts in New York City and London. 

USC is launching a new academic program to bring journalists and engineers together to develop new ways to tell news, according to Campus Technology. Officially, students would earn a master’s degree in “communication infomatics.”

UCLA’s Anderson School of Management is getting a new program designed to help students build companies, according to the Daily Bruin. The Anderson Venture Accelerator program will give students and professors 10,000 square feet of working space.

Co-founded by Lina Chen and Naomi Ladizinsky, video game maker Nix Hydra has generated more than 14 million downloads of a game that lets players take care of a virtual egg, according to L.A. Weekly.

Forty-five corporations launched programs last year to provide a mix of funding and mentorship to start-ups, bring the total number of corporate accelerator initiatives to 117 worldwide, according to industry consultant Future Asia Ventures. The Dodgers and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center were among Southland organizations that introduced accelerator programs last year. 

Mobile game developer Supercell's new mobile battle game "Clash Royale" gives popular game app “Vainglory” a run for its money, according to a former Supercell employee who analyzes the two.

Los Angeles-based game company VC Mobile Entertainment, reportedly funded by Chinese technology company Tencent, has released a new mobile called “Creature Quest,” according to TouchArcade.

In case you missed it. Santa Monica-based laundry service app Washio is among the many tech companies, including Uber and GrubHub, facing lawsuits from a Boston attorney over their use of independent contractors. Speaking of Uber, its low-cost UberX service can now pick up passengers at LAX. Snapchat, Zynga and other mobile app companies are pushing fancier ads; online publishers such as Demand Media are keeping pace. New features including video calling may be coming to Snapchat soon. At USC, women now outnumber men in a video-game-design graduate program.

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