An art history major who grew up on the Westside now sees incredible beauty in startups.
Christopher Hameetman has, in recent years, served as president of the Los Angeles Network of Tech Coast Angels (TCA). TCA has several chapters spanning Southern California, and, starting this January, Hameetman will serve as chairman of the entire organization.
Angels invest in early-stage companies. Though many of these companies fail, once in a while one does very well indeed, which can make the overall effort financially worthwhile.
Hameetman said working with entrepreneurs provides intrinsic rewards even when deals don’t work out. It’s exciting to be part of the adventure, he said.
Angel investing is a way of giving back – or paying it forward – said Hameetman, who has done well with his own entrepreneurial endeavors. He likes helping others succeed.
Members of the Tech Coast Angels provide far more than just money, according to Hameetman. The advice, experience, connections and wisdom can be invaluable, said TCA’s new chairman. Young entrepreneurs in particular can benefit from the mentorship.
Hameetman was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug at an early age, buying his first building while still in high school. He attended Duke, studied art history and returned to LA to get his law degree at UCLA.
He practiced transactional law at the start of his career working on some notable projects in Los Angeles, from the Century City Mall to the Howard Hughes Center to the redevelopment of the Sunset Strip.
During this time he also began investing in early-stage companies, and one deal in particular went on to become a huge success, further fueling Hameetman’s passion for the startup space.
He now devotes a substantial amount of time to being an investor/mentor; involved with over 20 startups. Hameetman has done deals in financial tech (“fintech”), biotech, medtech, edutech, digital media, consumer goods, machine learning, SaaS and robotics.
Parents of artists take note: Hameetman thinks being an art history major was a very good thing. The subject taught him to think in abstract ways, he said, which contributes to creative problem solving, both in law – and now, in putting together deals.
Hameetman is currently most passionate about a startup called “Somabar,” an automated bartending appliance dispensing perfectly-mixed cocktails. Why? Because it hits hard on all the prerequisites for disruption. Hameetman says Somabar is “better, faster and cheaper” than current bartending practices. And this technology touches on multiple multi-billion dollar industries.
Simply press the “Manhattan” button on your phone or tablet Somabar app, and 10 seconds later, your cocktail will be ready – perfectly mixed and measured. The Somabar app comes pre-loaded with the full 300 cocktail International Bartenders Association Menu.
Somabar’s initial market is enterprise: restaurants, hotels, lounges and bars. Some nights, bartenders, who require an average of two minutes to make each drink, can’t keep up with demand. Somabar is the perfect solution for these establishments, allowing for professional cocktail service in a fraction of the time, increasing both revenue for the establishment and tips for the staff from happier, better served customers.
And recent changes to California law allow restaurants with only beer and wine licensing (as well as unlicensed hair salons and beauty parlors!) to serve certain low-proof cocktails; yet most don’t have the expertise or manpower to provide these professional drinks. Thanks to Somabar, they are now able to offer a robust cocktail menu without hiring a bartender or increasing staff.
In the future, upon the launch of its home consumer version of its machine, Somabar plans to incorporate programmability for “responsible drinking.” Upon the consumer’s election, the software could track such drinker’s consumption and ask the individual if it’s time to slow down, cut back on alcohol content – or even stop for the evening if they reach their self-imposed limit.
Hameetman is also working closely with another startup, Neural Analytics, which is building a device that will help detect strokes and other traumatic brain injuries in the very early stages. This device could become standard equipment in all hospitals, doctors’ offices and ambulances, according to Hameetman – much like defibrillators are now.
In one of its prime use-cases, ambulance personnel, equipped with the Neural Analytics device, would be able to detect a stroke while on the way to the hospital, with emergency room staffers ready to go with the right treatment the moment the ambulance arrives. If a stroke is detected in that first “golden hour,” the odds of recovery go way up, according to Hameetman. With stroke, time loss is brain loss.
“Entrepreneurship is really good for society,” according to Hameetman. Today’s innovators, he said, are already working to solve tomorrow’s problems. There are so many exciting new developments taking place, he noted, that “it’s a great time to be an investor.”
One thing he really likes about Tech Coast Angels is that no matter what kind of deal gets pitched to the group, there will invariably be a TCA member who has some experience in that particular industry. That makes due diligence go much faster and smoother.
Some TCA members might not understand a particular technology or industry, Hameetman explained, but if just one member with deep experience in the field suggests a proposal is a good idea, that builds confidence among fellow members of the group to move forward and learn more.
Southern California is beautifully poised to become an entrepreneurial powerhouse, said Hameetman. Southern California has many outstanding universities, lots of money and the Hollywood influence is very important when it comes to industries that thrive on creativity, he added.
Online gaming, augmented reality and virtual reality are some examples, said Hameetman. And anything having to do with TV, movies or online transmission of content can benefit from a Southern California presence, he added.
Tech Coast Angels has over 300 members. The group has invested almost $200 million in over 300 deals. TCA was recently named by “Pitchbook” as Southern California’s most active investor group. TCA portfolio companies have gone on to attract an additional $1.6 Billion in capital, post-angel round.
For more information about Tech Coast Angels, go to techcoastangels.com.