Startups The PISLA Beat

Attorney Turned E-Commerce Founder Shares Successful Pivot

Attorney Alisia Ford was struggling to find skincare products made from natural non-toxic ingredients that would work for her darker hue when she realized this represented a big hole in the beauty market. She responded by creating an e-commerce platform to fill it, Black Enterprise reported recently.

Ford is the founder and CEO of Glory Skincare, which personalizes clean skincare products for a customer’s hue and then delivers them directly to the door. Although the brand began as a side hustle that Ford focused on around her day job, its growth meant making a decision.

“I left my career as an attorney, and I have never looked back,” she told Black Enterprise. “I am so glad that I took that leap because it has given me the opportunity to pursue this journey wholeheartedly and not have to juggle career responsibilities.”

For our regular curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, we’re learning more about Ford’s transition from full-time attorney to full-time entrepreneur:

How This Attorney Created an E-Commerce Platform Dedicated to Clean Skincare Products

Photo Credit: Glory Skincare on Facebook

Startups The PISLA Beat

PayPal Invests in Local VC Firm Slauson & Co.

PayPal plans to invest more than $50 million in eight Black- and Latinx-led venture capital firms, the New York Times reports. One of the firms is Slauson & Co. in Los Angeles, founded by Austin Clements.

This new investment “certainly moves the needle in terms of what we’re trying to do,” the longtime Plug In South LA mentor and Urban Tech Connect speaker told the paper. Clements was a principal at TenOneTen Ventures prior to starting Slauson & Co. with Ajay Relan, who was previously a GP at Century City-based Queensbridge Venture Partners, according to the Los Angeles Business Journal.

Over the summer PayPal vowed to put $530 million toward supporting Black-owned businesses and minority communities in the United States. By investing in the VC firms, the company hopes to “provide crucial capital to entrepreneurs at a stage that PayPal itself can’t,” the Times article said.

For our regular curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, we’re spotlighting this big win for South LA:

PayPal Invests in Racial Equality

PayPal Invests in Local Black, Latino VCs

Startups The PISLA Beat

How the Tech Industry Fails Black and Latinx Talent — and What to Do About It

We’ve heard tech industry leaders promise to do something about their lack of diversity for a while now. Two recent Fast Company articles, written by pros with firsthand knowledge of the issue, explore what it will take to create lasting change.

Michael Ellison, CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit CodePath, noted that the share of Black technical workers at Facebook, Google, and Microsoft is still below 4% at each company.

“The root cause is not just the low number of Black students who are trained in software engineering, which makes up about 6% of all computer science graduates,” he wrote. “The problem comes down to our whole system for training, finding, and retaining underrepresented engineers.”

Pervasive barriers to entry remain throughout the fintech industry as well. Lauryn Nwankpa, head of social impact at LA-based fintech company Dave and a speaker at Urban Tech Connect 2020, detailed ways for industry pros to foster diverse talent and put their insights into practice.

“Fintech companies can be the solution if they do it right,” she wrote. “A new breed of neobanks and tech-driven financial services companies have an opportunity to change the deeply entrenched racism that plagues our financial system.”

In today’s Plug In South LA Beat, our regular curation of must-read innovation and tech news, we’re taking a deep dive into how the tech industry’s current system fails Black talent — and the ways that we can transform it:

This is How Big Tech is Failing its Black Employees

I’m a Black Woman in Fintech. My Industry Has to Overcome its Racism to Survive


Plug In South LA Accelerator Program Graduates Collaborate on Mental Health Initiative

Startup founders Benjamen Janey and Remy Meraz first connected through Plug In South LA’s 2019–2020 Lunch & Learn Accelerator Program. Although the two entrepreneurs each have different business focuses, they recently collaborated on a mental health initiative that plays to their strengths.

Remy founded the behavioral health platform Me Tyme Network to help employees think, feel, and work better. Ben’s background in the music business led him to start the tech-driven socially conscious apparel company Spooler. Both entrepreneurs were in the first cohort of the Accelerator Program, which wrapped up in July.

The program helped Remy raise capital, rethink user experience, establish a partner for UX and front-end development, and launch a pilot for 100,000 users. Ben reported seeing a 129% increase in online conversions due to marketing, updates to UX, and sales initiatives geared toward artists.

“Participating in the Accelerator Program has been valuable in so many ways, and one of those was the opportunity to collaborate with our fellow founders,” Remy said recently.

Plug In South LA supports Black and Latinx entrepreneurs from marginalized communities by not only connecting them with funding opportunities, but also with fellow founders who can help them grow and scale their businesses, said Lunch & Learn Accelerator Program manager Molly Crete. “We’re incredibly proud to see founders helping founders,” she said.

Spooler and Me Tyme came together around an important social cause, Remy and Ben said. In recognition of World Mental Health Awareness Day on October 10, the founders collaborated on a new T-shirt collection for the on-demand clothing store HDLV-USA.

Each shirt for men and women in the collection is emblazoned with statements that include “be kind to your mind,” “emotional intelligence matters,” and “mental health is wealth.”

“Our shirts were designed as conversation starters to help break down the stigma around mental health, especially in the Black and Brown community,” Remy said.

Ben agrees. “Events this year have changed the world as we know it, perhaps forever,” he added. “It is imperative that people, particularly from our communities, continue to collaborate and support each other whenever possible. If we do not, no one else will.”

You can support the founders and their collaboration by purchasing the T-shirts here. Use METYME to receive a 10% friends and family discount.

Startups The PISLA Beat

The Plug In South LA Beat: Two LA Entrepreneurs Receive $100,000 from Google’s Black Founders Fund

Google For Startups announced that 76 Black-led startup founders were selected to receive non-dilutive cash awards from the Black Founders Fund, which launched over the summer. Two founders in Los Angeles are among the entrepreneurs receiving capital to help their businesses grow.

NanaEfua Afoh-Manin of Shared Harvest Fund and Dante Tolbert of Florence Technologies each received $50,000 from the Google accelerator, L.A. Biz reported.

“Original consideration was based on the founder’s application, their startup’s size as well as readiness for funding,” the news outlet noted. “Google said it only considered companies with less than $3 million in total funding and weighed other variables like demonstrable funding need.”

Florence Technologies is a demand labor marketplace for the healthcare system designed to help licensed nurses find nearby open shifts right away. The Shared Harvest Fund platform connects professionals with pro bono opportunities to earn relief from student debt burdens. Afoh-Manin, an emergency room physician, is also working on a portal called myCovidMD to connect residents with telehealth resources in real time.

In our regular curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, we’re taking a deeper dive into the Google accelerator’s new $5 million Black Founders Fund — part of a broader $175 million economic opportunity investment — and getting to know the recipients:

Google for Startups funds 2 Black founders of L.A. startups

Google Is Providing Cash Awards to 76 Startups through a Racial Equality Initiative Announced in June

Black Founders Fund: Meet the Recipients

Photo: NanaEfua Afoh-Manin, MD, founder of Shared Harvest Fund.

Startups The PISLA Beat

The Plug In South LA Beat: Mark Your Calendar for Black Entrepreneurs Day

Daymond John wants to give Black business owners a boost. The FUBU founder and CEO, who also co-stars on the show Shark Tank, plans to bring expert advice directly to entrepreneurs through an upcoming free livestreamed event.

Black Entrepreneurs Day is set to start at 4 pm PST on Saturday October 24, 2020. The agenda includes one-on-one conversations with Shaquille O’Neal, Gabrielle Union, Jamie Foxx, and LL Cool J about their entrepreneurial journeys. In addition, Daymond John will speak with serial entrepreneur Robert Johnson, Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton, JP Morgan Chase’s Brian Lamb, and Elicia Azali, chief revenue officer at the General Insurance.

A panel called “Bridging the Digital Gap” showcases resources for entrepreneurs, according to Black Enterprise.

“The event will offer guidance and inspiration to the next generation of rising entrepreneurs,” Black Enterprise reported. “Plus, it will provide $175,000 in bottom-line financial support via its ‘NAACP Powershift Entrepreneur Grant’ created in partnership with the NAACP. The funding is expected to be broken into seven grants totaling $25,000 each.”

For today’s Plug In South LA Beat, our ongoing curation of must-read innovation and tech news, we’re checking out the lineup for Black Entrepreneurs Day and marking our calendars:

Jamie Foxx, Gabrielle Union, Shaq, Robert Johnson and More to Headline ‘Black Entrepreneurs Day’ Hosted by Daymond John

Photo: Daymond John. Credit: Black Entrepreneurs Day on Facebook

Startups The PISLA Beat

The Plug In South LA Beat: Black Founder Turns Drone Hobby into Six-Figure Business

Dwight Neptune became interested in drones as a high school student studying electrical engineering. Now 22 years old, he turned his hobby into a startup that’s on track to reach $100,000 in sales this year, CNBC reports.

Neptune is the co-founder and CEO of Beagle Drones, which specializes in producing user-accessible first person view — FPV — drones. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been messing around with tech and it just stuck with me,” he told CNBC. “I saw FPV as the entryway to building really cool tech products.”

The business has taken off. After three semesters in college, he left school to work on the company full time. During the first half of 2020, the company sold more than $37,000 worth of drones, according to CNBC. Neptune raised $20,000 in early round investments, and told the outlet that he’s currently in the process of raising $1 million at a $4 million valuation.

In today’s Plug In South LA Beat, our curation of must-read innovation and tech news, we’re taking a look at how the co-founders got started, what their first customer taught them, and why Beagle Drones could become a billion-dollar company:

How This 22-Year-Old College Dropout Started a Drone Company On Track for $100,000 in Sales

Photo: The Neo 2 from Beagle Drones. Credit: Beagle Drones on Facebook


Your Urban Tech Connect 2020 Essential Resources Guide

We learned so much at Urban Tech Connect // Forward 2020. Dozens of speakers shared useful resources with attendees throughout the engaging three-day virtual conference.

Speakers welcomed new connections — via LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and their company websites — the full list of experts is here. Plus, plug in with all the mentors who participated in Office Hours.

The Plug In South LA team took notes during each session, saved info from the live chat, and compiled several presentations that speakers asked us to post after the conference. We’ve got you covered.

Tools Speakers Use (Besides their Own)

Squad founder and CEO Isa Watson revealed which apps she uses the most. Fellow speakers also weighed in, highlighting their favorite tools. They said that these make collaboration easier: Calendly for meeting scheduling, Whereby for video meetings, Community text messaging, and Clubhouse for project management for software teams. There’s also the vector graphics editor and prototyping tool Figma, and Sketch for collaborative product design.

DeMarcus Williams, director of Silicon Valley Bank’s Early Stage Practice, brought up platforms Adalo and Bubble, which make it easier to build apps without code. Glide can turn spreadsheets into apps. Additional tools that garnered praise: Lunchclub for curated one-on-one professional connections, Substack for monetizing subscription newsletters, and the Ense social platform that connects human voices to listeners.

Learn the Lingo

The prospect of fundraising can be daunting enough, but then there’s all the jargon surrounding it. At Urban Tech Connect 2020, speakers took time to define terms, making sure everyone was on the same page. For example:

  • SAFE stands for simple agreement for future equity and is a great tool for fundraising, says Ying co-founder and CEO Karla Ballard Williams
  • GP is general partner
  • LP is limited partner
  • CDFI stands for community development financial institution

For Your Reading List

Speakers referenced news articles, books, and other long reads:

Insightful Podcasts

Add these podcasts to your list, if you haven’t already listened to them: the Starting Greatness with Mike Maples, Jr. from the VC firm Floodgate, Black Tech Unplugged created by Deena McKay, and the Only Black Girl on Mars, a Black female perspective on navigating corporate America from Andrea Afua Kwamya.

Speaker Presentations

Alexandra Zatarain, the co-founder and VP of brand and marketing for smart mattress startup Eight Sleep, gave a Founder Bite talk about how to navigate these uncharted times: Design and Market Your Startup with Purpose (PDF)

Jordan Patapoff, startup solutions architect at Amazon Web Services, led a workshop for CTOs and engineering VPs on optimizing cloud infrastructure during the pandemic: Six Ways To Reduce Your AWS Bill (PDF)

Zuhairah Washington, SVP of global strategic partners, lodging and vacation rentals at Expedia Group, spoke with Urban Tech Connect co-host and LMB Group CEO Lauren Maillian about leading with humanity and courage to create an inclusive culture for her closing fireside chat. Here are the slides she referenced: HumanKindness Leadership (PDF)

Connect with the Community

In wrapping up the conference, Plug In South LA founder Derek Smith urged us to take a look at where we are and consider how to make a difference locally.

One way to do that is by supporting our community partners and getting involved. If you’re a founder, check out Pledge LA’s Fund for South LA Founders, LACI’s programs, Grid110, Sabio Labs’ free resources for coders, Techstars LA, and Bixel Exchange’s upcoming webinars. For investors, tune in to TedxCrenshaw’s virtual annual conference on Saturday October 3 and Pepperdine University’s Most Fundable Companies Showcase.

Urban Tech Connect 2020 charity partner Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) builds startup skills in young people from under-resourced communities. Learn more about their response to Covid-19 and donate here.

Stay in touch with Plug In South LA and learn about our upcoming programs by contacting program manager Molly Crete directly.

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