Founder Focus: Michelle Wang & Jie Li, Cofounders of Lair East Labs
A coast-to-coast partnership announced in June between Lair East Labs and Sunstone Management has been activated with nine startup companies working in the 2022 Lair East accelerator cohorts.
Those companies are located all around the world — a continuation of Lair East Labs’ commitment to creating a global network of innovators connected with American and Asian markets. With Sunstone’s financial support, the initial investment for start-ups has increased — and the West Coast has become part of the network of potential investors and potential customers.
Lair East Labs is based in New York City, while Sunstone Management’s headquarters is in Irvine, Calif., with a footprint stretching up and down California. Sunstone was created in 2015 to help venture capitalists invest in diverse early-stage start-up companies; Lair East Labs started in 2017 as an accelerator dedicated to helping start-up companies take the next step towards global success with expertise, connections and investment.
And, according to Lair East cofounder Michelle Wang, the two have identical philosophies in regards to business development.
“I met John (Shen, Sunstone cofounder) in March, and we connected right away,” Wang said. “Their interest in early stage investment … they hold similar beliefs in backing those founders who what to make a difference in the world through innovation.
“It’s been very smooth from the beginning to now,” she added. “They have been very generous (with time and money) with our founders.”
Sunstone has emphasized support for minority- and women-owned startups, along with socially aware innovation at the Long Beach Accelerator at Cal State Long Beach, with partnerships at UC Irvine and other partners in California. It was easy to extend that philosophy to the East Coast, according to John Keisler, Sunstone’s CEO and Managing Partner.
“Sunstone believes in diversified, founder-focused investment and Lair East Labs is unique in its pursuit of that ideal,” Keisler said when the partnership was formed. “We are thrilled to be partnering with LEL in an effort to bridge young innovators, mentors, investors, and startup founders in both U.S. and overseas markets.”
Jie Li, Lair East’s Director of Operations & Partnership, talked recently about what makes the New York City accelerator special.
“There are really three things we do to set us apart,” he said. “First, we have a lot foundation internationally, particularly in China and southeast Asia. We can help navigate international markets, international hiring.
“Second, we stay close to the founders in the early stages. We help navigate, we’re hands on,” he added. “Third, we help develop different resources, new resources. We develop long-term relationships with them (founders).”
Wang said Lair East’s choice of New York City as its headquarters was intentional. While the network of labor, material and some sales is international, the base of the business is the United States.
“It gives us a secure and supportive hub,” Wang said. “The partnership with Sunstone gives us an outlet on the West Coast, giving us a really strong market.”
Li added that he was born in China, but moved to the United States to go to school, then stayed. The immigrant attitude of wanting to make the most of the opportunity and make a difference in the world is a key with Lair East Labs and the founders they support, he said.
“We really want to give something back,” he said. “We’re doing things to help the environment, we’re emotionally involved, we’re passing it on.”
The comments echo those of Sunstone’s Shen, whose mantra is giving people — and particularly immigrants — the opportunity to live the American Dream.
And the founders of the current Lair East Labs cohort are experiencing the United States, coming to New York City for workshops, mentoring and networking. The big climax will be a Demo Day on Dec. 8.
Lair East Labs provides cohort members with weekly speakers and talks on launching, managing and growing startups; incubator space in New York; workshops with Lair East partners; office hours with Lair East management and mentors; $350,000+ of free hosting credits for cloud providers, developer tools and platforms; as well as office space.
Previous cohorts of startups have received up to $75,000 in early investment from Lair Labs East investors. Thanks to Sunstone Management’s participation, this cohort can get up to $150,000.
Here are the new cohort members:
- LocalAway, a first-of-its-kind digital social shopping platform.
- SINC, a simple-to-use SaaS product that simplifies managing a mobile workforce.
- BallBox, a platform that brands use to sample and sell products in kiosk environments.
- Equal Time helps companies in virtual meetings with data analytics and an AI-Coach.
- Rene Health, a health & safety tool that provides protection for domestic or international trips.
- Clearing Bank, a banking solution tailored for short-term rental operators.
- anthym pioneers the Connection category in the workplace and beyond to help organizations inspire their people.
- Design with FRANK, a design platform with building material and home goods databases.
- NeuronSpike, developing brain-inspired AI processor IP blocks and software APIs.