The global nonprofit Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) is now a charity partner for the Urban Tech Connect // Forward conference September 15 – 17, 2020.
NFTE activates the entrepreneurial mindset and builds startup skills in young people from under-resourced communities. The organization focuses on entrepreneurship education as a path for inclusion, racial equity, social justice, and prosperity. Since 2007, NFTE Los Angeles has reached more than 20,000 local youth ages 11 to 18.
Currently Covid-19 poses enormous risks to local students’ education, finances, health, and wellbeing. Donations to NFTE provide key resources for the organization’s teachers so they can implement a blended learning approach, a flexible digitally-enabled curriculum, and a peer-to-peer professional development model. These funds also help teachers prepare for the Los Angeles Unified School District to start online this fall.
Urban Tech Connect // Forward, the premier tech conference focused on Latinx and African American founders, is returning for a third year — this time virtually. The best entrepreneurs and VCs in the industry will be there to share unique insights and offer founders support to develop smart plans, raise funds, grow their businesses, and gain traction. Learn more here.
Startup founders and VCs keep missing out on a significant market segment, OVO Fund investor Ilse Calderon wrote recently in TechCrunch. Entrepreneurs who solve problems for this group have the potential to “create companies with venture-like returns,” she predicted.
A member of the Hispanic community herself, Calderon calls this audience the “Hypercultural Latinx,” a second-generation Hispanic who is 100% Hispanic, 100% American, and frequently identifies as Gen Z or a young Millennial.
“As an investor, I often find myself reduced to frustration with the lack of founders and investors committed to exploring audience segments outside cookie-cutter ones,” she wrote. “If you are more driven by quantitative data, know that paid spend targeting this Hypercultural Latinx could result in lower click cost rates and higher engagement.”
In the US, the average age of a Hispanic person is 28 compared to 42 for their white counterparts — and that increase in prime spending years means dollars for businesses, according to Calderon.
For our regular curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, we’re finding out why the tech community has been so slow to embrace this group:
“A technologist can come from any place and look like any of us,” Irma Olguin Jr., the co-founder and CEO of startup Bitwise Industries wrote in Fast Company recently.
Latinx founder Olguin knows firsthand. She heads up a tech ecosystem headquartered in Fresno that works to develop a diverse and representative workforce, create community, and design technology to help people and businesses. Bitwise offers training through Geekwise Academy, develops software, and invests in commercial real estate. Last year the company secured $27 million in venture funding.
“Teaching people to code, taking folks from a story of poverty and seeing if they could enter into the technology industry, that was the foundational pillar for Bitwise,” Olguin told Forbes staff writer Ruth Umoh.
In this edition of the Plug In South LA Beat, our ongoing curation of must-read innovation and tech news, we’re drawing inspiration from Olguin’s remarkable story and her startup’s pivot during the pandemic:
The financing gap between Black-owned and white-owned businesses in the United States has long been enormous. Now an article in Vogue Business shows that the pandemic is making the divide worse.
Although some Black-owned businesses saw a bump in sales following the BLM protests nationwide, startup founders of color continue encountering systemic issues around access to investment.
“Covid-19 has refocused public attention to the challenges that have long afflicted Black entrepreneurs in the US and especially their struggle in accessing capital,” news editor Annachiara Biondi wrote. “Aside from bank loans, Black-owned businesses are also less likely to receive venture capital and investment from angel investors, with Black entrepreneurs receiving less than 1% of VC capital.”
Biondi spoke with a number of startup founders who have come up against these hurdles, including Mented Cosmetics co-founder KJ Miller. “[Funding] is difficult for everyone, but it’s doubly difficult when there are so few people who look like you sitting across that table in the venture capital world,” she said.
For this Plug In South LA Beat, our regular curation of must-read innovation and tech news, we’re taking a closer look at the imbalance — and how Covid-19 could actually become a catalyst for positive changes:
For the first time, women of color are leading a venture capital fund. Started by five top investors, the fund focuses on founders, ecosystems, products, and services with significant opportunity for growth that traditional VCs historically overlook.
Noramay Cadena, Daphne Dufresne, Juliana Garaizar, Karen Kerr, and Lorine Pendleton are the Portfolia Rising America Fund lead investors. They’re looking for early and growth-stage companies in the US led by people of color, LGBTQ founders, or both, Pendleton told Mary Kathleen Flynn for a Q&A with Mergers & Acquisitions.
“Our first investment was in MoCaFi, a Newark, New Jersey-based fintech startup founded by African-American entrepreneur and former JPMorgan Chase commercial banking executive Wole Coaxum,” Pendleton said. “Our second investment, which we have not publicly announced yet, is a Series C in a women’s tele-medicine network with holistic care provided in 20-plus specialties and 30 languages.”
In today’s Plug In South LA Beat, our regular curation of must-read innovation and tech news, we’re finding out how this pioneering VC fund could help drive innovation where it’s needed most:
The Covid-19 crisis has exposed broadband deserts throughout America. Now, two Black executives are working to increase access in rural and urban areas by launching an infrastructure impact fund.
Black Enterprise reported that Morris Clark and Otis Ellis, both former executives at S&P 500 companies, started the new Epiphany Community Impact Fund.
“We are focusing on the full spectrum of infrastructure shortcomings that have resulted from a systemic lack of investment in underserved communities,” Clark and Ellis told the news outlet. “We are currently considering opportunities in broadband access and reliability, as well as transportation and education infrastructure.”
This edition of the Plug In South LA Beat, our curation of must-read innovation and tech news, delves into the state of high-speed internet access in America and how targeted investment could make a difference:
Black Lives Matter protests are boosting sales for Black-owned businesses in Los Angeles and across the country, according to recent news articles. Restaurants and shops in particular are experiencing higher demand.
A Google document that lists 300 Black-owned restaurants in LA helped drive a big bump, LAist found. Danielle Mullen, who owns Semicolon Bookstore in Chicago, told Black Enterprise that she went from selling 3,000 books in a week to 50,000. OneUnited, America’s largest Black-owned bank, received more than 40,000 new accounts over the past month, Dalvin Brown wrote in USA Today.
“Lists of local retailers, artisans, and manufacturers have been circulating on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, helping Black-owned businesses raise their profile at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the economy,” the Associated Press reported, adding that Google searches for “Black owned businesses near me” reached a record high in the US.
For today’s regular curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, we’re taking a closer look at what this tech-driven interest actually means for the business owners:
VCs systematically overlooked African-American and Latinx founders when Plug In South LA started six years ago. In response, we launched a unique intensive accelerator program last fall that supports promising entrepreneurs from underserved communities with guidance from successful mentors and advisors.
A diverse group of five bright founders recently emerged from our six-month Plug In South LA Accelerator Program. This first cohort forged new connections and gained smart strategies to scale up their businesses. They’re primed to disrupt categories such as e-commerce, wellness, and digital media. But they still need support to get there.
Rewriting the Rules of Startup Success
The 2019–2020 Accelerator Program grew out of our successful Lunch & Learn series. We carefully selected five founders who had already launched and were in the process of raising funds.
Numerous experts participated in highly curated mentoring sessions that shaped the five founders’ progress. These mentors and advisors represent the best of LA’s tech ecosystem. They included OPV partner Austin Clements, Disney SVP Sonya Joo, Silicon Valley Bank director DeMarcus Williams, Joymode co-founder and CEO Joe Fernandez, DNABlock CEO Anthony Kelani, HopSkipDrive VP of strategic development Qiana Patterson, WhatThe FAQ founder Reagan Sirengo, and Wolverine Angels founder and managing director Shane Kelly.
Verizon, the Nike Foundation, and Silicon Valley Bank served as program partners.
Pioneering Founders Rise to the Challenge
Customized sessions designed to help the founders grow their businesses met them where they were in their development. During the program, all five founders made enormous strides despite the Covid-19 crisis and economic downturn.
Jibril Jackson secured seed funding and plans to launch his Hyve platform this fall. Micah Jackson, whose Esqapes Immersive Relaxation pairs carefully crafted virtual environments with soothing massage, signed his first paid members and a license deal in Washington State.
Benjamen Janey saw a 129% increase in online conversions for his tech-driven socially conscious apparel company Spooler due to marketing, UX updates, and sales initiatives geared toward artists that lead to new funding opportunities. Ron Johnson closed a seed round, hired a customer success manager, and increased his software-as-a-service company’s customer base.
Remy Meraz raised capital and rethought user experience for her behavioral health platform Me Tyme Network. She established a partner to build UX and front-end development, and launched a pilot for 100,000 users.
“I truly feel that the Plug In South LA team is 100% vested in our success beyond the program,” she said.
Boosting Tech Innovation in South LA
Although these founders made remarkable progress, the odds are still stacked against them. Less than 2% of the venture funding available makes it to Black and Latinx founders, according to research cited by Crunchbase.
The wealth gap also means that founders of color rarely have an opportunity to devote all of their time to scaling up. Jibril, Micah, Ben, Ron, and Remy demonstrated expertise in their respective areas of business. They are coming out of the Accelerator Program with new focus, but many of the persistent hurdles to accessing capital remain.
We can do something. For the next three months, Plug In South LA is challenging venture capitalists and corporate executives in our community to help these fantastic entrepreneurs focus on disrupting their categories.
Here’s how to participate:
Check out the founder’s platform and technology.
Review the founder’s pitch deck and provide feedback.
Introduce the founder to a potential customer.
Connect the founder with an angel investor.
Put the founder in touch with an entrepreneur who raised Series A funding.
Speak with the founder about a specific challenge or opportunity.
Our 90-day Challenge begins now. Let’s shine a light on innovation in South LA and give these business leaders the boost that they deserve.
Plug In brings together entrepreneurs, founders, VCs, innovators and emerging talent for conversations and networking focused on creating a community and hub for innovation in South LA. Come join our kick off Tech Summit & Digital Media program in our movement to identify and accelerate the beautiful in tech and digital media.
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