Urban Tech Connect // Forward 2022 Beta


Founder Sarah Agboola Shares Her Struggle to Succeed in LA’s Cannabis Industry

Sarah Agboola is the founder of Golden Bliss Brands in Los Angeles, specializing in the manufacturing of cannabis-infused product lines. Her business focuses on edibles and pain relief creams for the discerning cannabis connoisseur. She has sacrificed money, health, and family to build a dream in a thriving industry that still makes it difficult for Black women like her to succeed. This is her story.

I remember 2017 like it was yesterday. How could I forget the sheer excitement of finally being able to position myself to work and make an impact in the legal cannabis industry? Name a cannabis seminar or conference, and you would likely find me there front and center, soaking up the info, building my network, establishing my brand.

Having the opportunity to own and operate a manufacturing and distribution company in the legal market was a dream come true. Surely this would be my escape from the hustle and bustle of Corporate America, my opportunity to create something of my own that would build generational wealth while serving the community. Having a license meant that I could employ others and work to remove the stigma from cannabis. I could right the wrongs from the War on Drugs that targeted communities of people who look like me.

My dream was to make and sell a brand of premium quality infused cannabis products that would line the shelves of dispensaries and eventually reach the masses. I sought to own and operate my company in the City of Los Angeles.

I did everything right, or at least I thought I did. I spent most of 2017 registering my business, hiring an attorney to have consistent legal representation, creating my pitch, and outlining financial projections. There was no way I was going to fail.

Unfortunately many of my hopes were dashed during the licensing process. I saw the ugly side: overly complicated application forms, unbelievable hoop-jumping, backroom deals, predatory partnerships. Nothing that could have prepared me for the moving timelines and constant disappointments.

The first sign of real trouble came when my California application submission was delayed for nearly eight months. Sure, I was a little upset, but I was certain that the time and money I had invested would end up working to my benefit. I used the extra time to pitch potential investors, update my business plan, and share my vision.

Then more challenges came in 2018. It felt like an Olympic obstacle course. On top of the delayed process, the constant stress led to health issues. By December of that year, I had exhausted more than $150,000 from my savings and my family members. I was crashing on my aunt’s couch and suffered a heart attack.

Finally, on December 28, 2018, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. The city awarded me a temporary license.

This was it — I had finally made it past the hard part. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself. It seemed like finding additional investors would be a breeze now. I could not have been more wrong. My niche in the market was clean green-certified cannabis. The good stuff. However, due to the higher price point and target consumer, investors were reluctant. I saw the potential to create a brand of multiple infused products for the mass market. Investors saw it differently.

Despite my corporate background, proven financial integrity, and a business plan with solid projected financials, it didn’t seem like enough. Potential investors constantly told me that I needed to give up 50% or more of equity, that I should relinquish all control and just leave the decision-making power up to them. Essentially, they only wanted to work with me if they could completely take over my license.

I wish I could say that most of the hurdles came from my White counterparts. Unfortunately many were set by my own community.

Ever-changing local cannabis regulations and delayed timelines prompted groups to start forming that could offer support, advocacy, and real-time information. White men and women formed their own groups. Groups of Black business people offered to help me, but I could see that the deals they presented would be predatory, leaving me powerless. I was left with the impression that no one would be fighting for me or lending real support to Black women in the industry, much less an Afro-Latina like myself.

I wanted investors who believed in my vision and capabilities. I spoke with a wide range of potential investors, from retired athletes to doctors, and but they only wanted to invest in businesses owned by my White counterparts or Black men. Some of these companies — almost all run by White men — were burning through cash, buying unnecessary luxuries and new homes. And these were the smart ones who investors trusted?

Thankfully, with the help of those closest to me, I secured a deposit for a third different building. Yes, you read that right. My two previous properties did not meet the state standard to pass inspection so I had to move locations.

I finally had the money, made the move, and was preparing for inspection when the Department of Cannabis Regulations (DCR) for the City of Los Angeles notified me that they wouldn’t be inspecting companies with building changes until further notice. Another blow. Here I was, three buildings in, living off what was left of my savings, and counting pennies while paying rent at a building that wasn’t scheduled for inspection anytime soon.

A new year brought additional changes to local licensing and Covid-19. In the midst of it all, I was desperately trying to maintain my health and good standing to attract investors. But I’m not Superwoman. I struggled to pay the rent on an empty building that I had to keep in order to maintain my license. So I began seeking alternatives yet again.

I met with several groups and encountered the same song and dance: they didn’t have money to buy in on the license, they wanted to do illegal cultivation to pay rent on the building, they want to help but didn’t have the money, or they brought an “I’m better than you” attitude. Or, worse, they were condescending and had nothing to offer. It felt like an enormous slap in the face from my own community.

Despite securing a city license, a pending state license, having building, insurance and cameras, I still lack investors, joint ventures, and partnerships. Now I’m learning that most investors want to see an already built-out facility and three to six months of working capital. The stakes keep getting higher and I’m running out of funds.

Most women in the local cannabis industry are still seeking funding as tight DCR deadlines approach that could knock us out of business forever. There have been constant changes on short notice, no social equity, no assistance, and difficulty moving buildings. We still lack funding and power. We are constantly aiming at moving goalposts. Yet we must meet the deadlines.

My story hasn’t ended, though. I am determined to keep going. I know it is not too late to keep my brand alive.

If you’d like to support to Golden Bliss Brands, contact Sarah directly at info@goldenblissbrands.com.

Startups The PISLA Beat

Blacktag Streaming Service for Black Creators Raises $3.75 Million

Entrepreneurs Akin Adebowale and Ousman Sahko raised a $3.75 million seed round led by Connect Ventures for Blacktag, their new streaming platform featuring Black creators set to launch next year.

Although advertisers spend $18 billion on digital content aimed at Black audiences, only about 1% of that actually reaches Black creators on YouTube and Facebook, Adebowale and Sahko told the Los Angeles Times.

“We’re not only creating opportunities for artists and creators to monetize their work that is the foundation of our culture, but also creating a place for every fan who has ever scrolled through traditional platforms looking for people who look like them and content that truly resonates, only to come up empty,” Sahko said.

Adebowale and Sahko, who have previously worked with Google, Viacom, Adidas and Spotify as well as artists such as Drake and Kanye West, said that Blacktag will differentiate itself by targeting 18- to 35-year-olds with both free and paid video options. Issa Rae and Common already formed partnerships with the streaming service to release original content.

In today’s Plug In South LA Beat, our regular curation of must-read innovation and tech news, we’re taking a closer look at how Blacktag’s founders plan to disrupt their industry:

Why These Entrepreneurs Created a Streaming Service for Black Creators

Blacktag Wants to Be the Netflix-YouTube Hybrid for Alternative Black Creators

Blacktag, a Platform for Black Creatives, Secures $3.75 Million Seed

Image Credit: Blacktag on Instagram

Startups The PISLA Beat

Kimberly Wilson’s Tech Platform Connects Patients of Color with Unbiased Doctors

Kimberly Wilson experienced the healthcare gap firsthand. After a uterine fibroids diagnosis, she saw four White male doctors: two completely dismissed her pain and the other two said she needed a hysterectomy. Finally she found a Black female doctor in another state who offered proper attention and treatment, Wilson recently told CNBC.

“As a 30-something-year-old, I was completely traumatized by the experience,” she said, adding that she had to travel over 100 miles to find a doctor who actually understood her needs.

In 2018 Wilson founded the app HUED, which connects Black and Latinx patients with culturally competent doctors throughout the United States. The platform currently has more than 400 doctors.

She built the company without VC funding, relying instead on funding from partnerships with brands including Unilever’s Vaseline, according to CNBC. This year Google’s Black Founders Fund invested $50,000 in capital and support to grow the platform.

In this curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, we’re getting a closer look at Wilson’s strategy to diversify the patient-physician experience:

This Founder Created a Tech Platform that Connects Patients of Color to Culturally Competent Doctors

Startups The PISLA Beat

Tech Founder Lorena Soriano Diversifies STEM Companies from Top to Bottom

Entrepreneur Lorena Soriano wants to see more women of color working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. So the Latina community leader founded the software-as-a-service company Every POINT ONE to help leaders in the industry implement better practices.

“We are known for our tagline,” she told the South Seattle Emerald. “Every 0.1% matters when you’re changing the stats in STEM to ensure we have an inclusive future.”

Soriano studied biochemistry at the University of Nevada, spent six years working for Fortune 500 companies, and started Every POINT ONE in 2019. Their pilot program launches soon. Forbes named her a 30 Under 30 Fellow and featured her in their Trailblazer series this year.

“Every POINT ONE taught me that when you step out onto the ledge and accept risk, your goals and ‘why’ can become greater than yourself, leaving no room for imposter syndrome or hesitation,” she told Forbes. “It becomes the best version of starting a new business — entrepreneurship to make an impact.”

For this edition of the Plug In South LA Beat, our regular curation of must-read innovation and tech news, we’re drawing inspiration from Soriano’s approach:

Latina Tech Founder Lorena Soriano Reimagines STEM Inclusivity

Lorena Soriano. Credit: University of Washington

Startups The PISLA Beat

Tech Startup CEO Shellye Archambeau Shares Actionable Advice

Shellye Archambeau rose through the ranks at IBM and became one of Silicon Valley’s first female African-American CEOs. She turned around software startup Zaplet, transforming it into the compliance and risk management market leader MetricStream.

Now her new book “Unapologetically Ambitious: Take Risks, Break Barriers, and Create Success on Your Own Terms” details her strategies for navigating the tech world.

“Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart,” she wrote in a recent article for Inc. Magazine. “Building a company is stressful, scary, and risky, and the odds of succeeding are not in your favor. But after 30 years in the tech industry — 14 of those as one of its first female African-American CEOs — I can tell you that it’s worth it.”

In today’s curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, we’re getting Archambeau’s guidance on how to realize your professional and personal goals:

How to Turn Ambition Into Success, According to One of Silicon Valley’s First Black Female CEOs

Photo: Shellye Archambeau. Credit: Shellyearchambeau.com

Startups The PISLA Beat

How This Latinx VC Advocates for Underrepresented Founders in Tech

Venture capitalist Lolita Taub sees diversity as a funding strength. The first-generation Latinx operator and investor understands what needs to change, having spent more than 15 years in the Silicon Valley ecosystem.

In addition to numerous investment roles, she is the co-founder and general partner at the Community Fund, an early-stage fund that invests in community-driven companies. Taub challenges deeply rooted biases and preconceived notions about startup investing, Forbes contributor Marija Butkovic reported recently.

“In a Twitter poll, I asked founders what characteristic was most important to them and 43.4% of 371 votes said it was ‘empathy,’” Taub told Butkovic. “This year I have been part of a few competitive deals, and if you ask me what convinced the founders to allow me to invest tiny checks, it all had to do with our alignment as humans.”

For the Plug In South LA Beat, our ongoing curation of must-read innovation and tech news, we’re learning about the opportunities Taub envisions for founders who might otherwise be overlooked:

Meet The Latinx Investor Moving The Needle For Underrepresented Founders In Tech

Photo: Lolita Taub. Credit: The Community Fund

Startups The PISLA Beat

Black-Owned Tech Startups Give Restaurant Entrepreneurs Much-Needed Boost

Two Black-owned tech startups formed a new partnership aimed at increasing business for restaurants nationwide led by African Americans, Black Enterprise reports.

Self-service subscription-based deal creation and distribution platform Dashible joined up with the app EatOkra, a guide to Black-owned restaurants. Under the deal between the two companies, restaurants listed on EatOkra can use Dashible’s application programming interface (API) to create deals on the platform starting in New York City this fall. After testing in that market, the founders plan to expand this easier access to restaurant discounts nationally.

“The Dashible API will enable us to work with EatOkra and other third-party platforms to extend our services in ways that would be more difficult to accomplish on our own,” Dashible co-founder Tony Carter told the news outlet.

In today’s regular curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, we’re finding out how the two startups are helping Black entrepreneurs hit hard by the pandemic:

Two Black-Owned Startup Tech Firms Partner to Benefit Black Restaurants

Photo: Chef John Cartel, owner of Cartels Kitchen Seafood & More in Jacksonville, Florida. Credit: EatOkra on Facebook.

Startups The PISLA Beat

GV’s First Black Female Partner Sees Potential in Gen-Z Founders

Terri Burns recently became the youngest and first Black female partner at GV, formerly Google Ventures. The 26-year-old, who joined the firm in 2017, sees enormous potential in the Gen-Z market.

She led the $1 million seed round for the social app HAGS — short for “have a great summer” — co-founded by Los Angeles high school student Jameel Shivji, his sister Suraya, and 19-year-old James Dale.

“Gen-Z is coming of age, entering the workforce, and shaping the world,” Burns wrote in a GV blog post. “They’re hard-working, leaning into chaos, and ready to disrupt traditional systems. How we think about money, culture, politics, and the future is increasingly shaped by this cohort.”

For the Plug In South LA Beat, our regular curation of must-read innovation and tech news, we’re getting to know Burns and her outlook on how Gen-Z will lead the future of investment:

Meet Terri Burns, the youngest and first Black female partner at GV, formerly known as Google Ventures

HAGS: A Lesson in How to Build for Gen-Z

Photo: Terri Burns. Credit: GV

Startups The PISLA Beat

Los Angeles Small Business Owners Share Their Pandemic Pivots

Holding meetings outside, going virtual, acquiring new skills, taking calculated risks — the pandemic is forcing entrepreneurs to pivot to survive. The Los Angeles Times recently highlighted how four local small business owners have adapted to difficult conditions.

One of them is Belva Anakwenze, the principal of Abacus Financial Business Management, a minority and female-owned boutique business management company. She described doing distanced client meetings in her driveway, navigating increasing costs, and embracing new working hours.

“We’re trying to take this thing one month at a time and just see,” Anakwenze told the Times. “Is it going to clear up? Is it going to get worse? So, we’re just trying to buy time and stay as nimble as we possibly can.”

In today’s curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, we’re learning how Anakwenze and other business owners working in Los Angeles are responding to Covid-19 challenges:

Adaptation, Determination, Luck: How Four Small Businesses Are Surviving the Pandemic

Photo: Belva Anakwenze. Credit: Abacus Financial Business Management

Startups The PISLA Beat

Impact America Fund Founder Makes History with $55 Million Close

Kesha Cash envisions a future where “every person of color in the U.S. can participate in the economy fully and on their own terms.” The founder and general partner of Impact America Fund (IAF) just raised $55 million for a second fund to invest in early-stage startups that disrupt systemic racism.

“The close marks one of the largest funds ever raised by a sole Black female general partner,” TechCrunch’s Natasha Mascarenhas reported. Backing comes from 67 limited partners.

Cash and her team at Impact America Fund say they didn’t wait to finish fundraising before they began selecting portfolio companies. The second fund has already invested in 10, including the beauty supply business Mayvenn and mobile lending exchange SoLo Funds. Leaders from both companies spoke at Urban Tech Connect 2020.

In today’s Plug In South LA Beat, our regular curation of must-read innovation and tech news, we’re getting to know more about Cash’s plans for the fund and what this new investment could mean for early-stage startup founders:

Impact America Fund Closes $55M to Invest in Startups Targeting the World’s Overlooked

Trailblazer Kesha Cash Raises $55 Million For Impact America Fund

Announcing Impact America Fund II

Image: Kesha Cash, founder and general partner of Impact America Fund. Credit: Impact America Fund