Will the next billion-dollar company come from South Los Angeles?
Access to capital is an issue with a lot of Black businesses. At the Urban Tech Connect, entrepreneurs were able to meet with venture capitalists.
By Jason Lewis
Facebook was created on a college campus by a teenager and his friends. Instagram was launched after a couple of computer programers secured a $500,000 loan from a a venture capitalist investment firm. Two years later they sold it to Facebook for $1 billion.
Technology is not the wave of the future, because that future is upon us now, and there are several organizations that are ensuring that South Los Angeles does not miss out on business opportunities that the rest of the world is taking advantage of.
Plug in South L.A. is one of those organizations.
“I created Plug in South L.A. with the goal of creating a tech echo system in South L.A.,” said Derek Smith, digital marketing evangelist and branding expert. “Basically, L.A.’s economy is changing by the day, and we’re seeing L.A. grow as a tech capital. That’s an exciting thing, but the unfortunate part about it is that the growth isn’t reaching all parts of the city in terms of education and opportunity. Plug in South L.A. was created to help South L.A. become a part of L.A.’s growth as a tech center.”
South Los Angeles can greatly benefit from being a part of the tech industry.
“It’s important for African Americans and Latinos to be involved in the tech industry because that’s where a lot of the wealth creation is happening at this present time,” Smith said. “Technology is changing by the second. When you look at the startups who are going on to create multibillion-dollar companies, they don’t look like the people in South L.A. We want to change that. We think it’s important that we help pipeline the talent that we know exists in our community to help build impactful and powerful companies that not only have a presence on a regional stage, but on a global stage.
“If we can support more founders (entrepreneurs) coming out of communities such as South L.A., who look like African American and Latino founders, we can create a local ecosystem that helps us solve some of the problems that plague communities like South L.A. When you look at food deserts, homelessness, and unemployment rates, technology has an impact that tackles these problems.”
S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, math) programs are being heavily pushed in South Los Angeles, so there are many teenagers and young adults who have the skill set to compete in the technology fields. The key now is to equip them with business skills so that they can generate revenue.
“We want to make sure that the talented people in South L.A. have the tools and resources to cultivate and develop their ideas,” Smith said. “To be a part of this innovation wave in Los Angeles, and more importantly across the country and in the world.”
Technology is not limited to the tech field, as most small businesses use it to sell products, services, and attract new customers.
Plug in South L.A. recently held the Urban Tech Connect at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. Panel discussions featured tech entrepreneurs, corporate executives, software engineers, investors, and local politicians, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors member Mark Ridley-Thomas.
While technology was the main theme of this event, business strategies were also heavily discussed, and venture capitalists were on hand to meet with entrepreneurs.
“In our community, I don’t think that we’re exposed as much to what venture capital is and how it works,” Smith said. “So it’s important that entrepreneurs and early stage companies that are in the process of building understand where and how venture capitalists fit into their long-term grown plans. They need to be connected to venture capitalists because with the funding that comes from those type of companies, we can see 10-times growth of that company. That benefits South L.A.”
Plug in South L.A. provides mentoring for entrepreneurs, which is extremely valuable in terms of running a business, securing funding, finding talent, and marketing the product or service. They also host Lunch and Learn, where entrepreneurs can pitch their ideas to a group of successful business owners and venture capitalists.
“The goal of the Lunch and Learn is to help the founders navigate their roadmap to get to their next milestone,” Smith said. “This is a group of minds coming together to lend their expertise and experience to help the founder overcome a hurdle or zero in on an opportunity.”
Along with networking events throughout the year, Plug in South L.A. has a membership program, and they have a blog that has tech and business articles. For more information about Plug in South L.A., visit their website at www.pluginsouthla.com, and follow them on Instagram and Twitter.
By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — Business founders, budding entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and tech fans converged at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center May 17 for the Urban Tech Connect conference where stakeholders in the industry delivered advice for entrepreneurs hoping to take their businesses to the next level.
“Urban Tech Connect is a critical meeting of the minds,” said Derek Smith, founder of Plug In South L.A., which organized the event.
Smith said he is working to bridge the technology gap between entrepreneurs in the inner city and the growing opportunities that exist in technology.
“South L.A. is a tech desert,” Smith said. “We want to pave the way for the next generation of tech and digital media entrepreneurs, harnessing local talent from underserved communities and connecting them with opportunities in the thriving tech centers in neighboring Los Angeles and Orange County.
“We sit on the edge of some incredible tech and entrepreneurial communities and yet there are virtually no resources dedicated to cultivating entrepreneurialism in South L.A.,” Smith added. “We’re going to change that. We are reaching into our local communities to tap the talent we know is there and we’re connecting them with the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. We believe the next Snap Inc. will come from South L.A. and we’re building the community to nurture it.”
Nearly two dozen founders, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists delivered advice to the capacity crowd of more than 500 who traveled from all over Los Angeles to attend the conference.
Former NBA player Matt Barnes was the featured speaker during a chat on “Social Activism, Entrepreneurship and Tech.” He said he took his same relentlessness he was known for on the basketball court and applied it to business. He said that after he retired from basketball he began making investments in everything from artificial intelligence to filmmaking to cannabis.
The former UCLA Bruin who played for 11 NBA teams in a 14-year career is an angel investor in about seven Silicon Valley companies, including an artificial intelligence fund.
“To be a professional athlete is like being struck by lightning, but you have a better chance of becoming an entrepreneur,” he said. “You have to be willing to do the work.”
Barnes recommended that budding entrepreneurs stay curious about technology and urged audience members to attend tech conferences to network and to possibly meet future investors.
Dubbed the “first tech mayor of L.A.,” long-time tech supporter Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti outlined what the city of Los Angeles is doing to support the sustainable growth of startups and established small businesses.
“We started a tech council to look at how we could diversify our tech pipeline to mirror the city’s demographics as to how to bring together disparate entrepreneurs in technology,’’ he said. “Our goal is to open up the city and to help individual companies grow.
‘”If you’re not fully embracing technology, you’ll fall behind,” he added. His advice for entrepreneurs in the audience was to “Speak fearlessly, stay humble, listen carefully, and lead with love.”
At the end of the conference, Smith said he has instituted “Plug-In Lunch and Learns’’ that are designed to help cultivate the next generation of founders and entrepreneurs in Los Angeles.
“Our meetings and workshops take place in South L.A. and around Los Angeles at leading venture capital firms, corporations, entertainment and digital media studios,’’ he said.http://wavenewspapers.com/urban-tech-connect-aims-to-bridge-technology-gap/
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