Startups The PISLA Beat

Tope Awotona’s Tech Startup Calendly Valued at $3 Billion

A new $350 million investment in the tech startup Calendly pushed the company’s valuation over $3 billion. It’s a big milestone for founder and CEO Tope Awotona, who poured his life savings into the business about eight years ago.

Awotona grew up in Nigeria and moved with his family to the U.S., where he majored in management information systems at the University of Georgia and went on to work for several tech companies. Difficulties scheduling meetings led him to create Calendly.

Last year Fortune designated him a unicorn founder — one of very few Black tech entrepreneurs with a company valued at $1 billion. In today’s Plug In South LA Beat we’re finding out why Awotona’s Atlanta-based startup is taking off:

How Atlanta’s Calendly Turned a Scheduling Nightmare Into a $3B Startup

Photo: Calendly founder and CEO Tope Awotona. Credit: Calendly

Startups The PISLA Beat

Jay-Z’s New Fund Invests in Black- and Minority-Owned Cannabis Businesses

Rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z launched a new corporate venture fund to invest in Black- and minority-owned cannabis businesses. He’s already raised $10 million for the fund through a historic acquisition of two California-based cannabis companies.

“We were the ones most negatively affected by the war on drugs, and America has turned around and created a business from it that’s worth billions,” Jay-Z told the Wall Street Journal. Founders of color in the industry continue to face significant hurdles.

Jay-Z wants to see that change. In addition to creating his own cannabis line, his entity acquired CMG Partners and Left Coast Ventures, completing the industry’s largest-ever special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), a non-traditional way to take companies public.

For our article curation series, the Plug In South LA Beat, let’s find out whether Jay-Z’s fund could help tip the scales:

Jay-Z Raises $10 Million for a Fund Designed to Invest in Minority-owned Cannabis Businesses following the Industry’s Largest-ever SPAC

Photo Credit: Rich Thane, Flickr Creative Commons

Startups The PISLA Beat

Netflix VP Opens Up about the Company’s Inclusion Strategy

Netflix just released a first inclusion report detailing representation within the streaming company — and plans to increase it. The driving force behind this push is Vernā Myers, vice president of inclusion strategy.

“If you look in the same places, you find the same people,” she told Wendy Lee in a Los Angeles Times Q&A. “The work for us is to look for excellence in places that we haven’t looked before.”

Part of Myers’ approach involves deploying an “inclusion lens” so that employees start to ask whose voice is missing and who is being excluded.

In today’s Plug In South LA Beat, our curation of relevant innovation and tech news, we’re getting closeup on how Myers is taking the inclusion lens to new levels:

Inviting New People to Make Stories. How this VP Is Pushing Netflix to Diversify

Photo: Vernā Myers. Credit:

Startups The PISLA Beat

Report Reveals Huge Revenue Gap for Black Women Entrepreneurs

A recent report confirms what many in the startup world already knew to be true: the revenue gap for Black women entrepreneurs has been widening.

Even though women of color are starting businesses at a faster rate than any other demographic, a report commissioned by American Express found that the revenue disparity is actually increasing. Black Enterprise’s Charlene Rhinehart pointed out that this means Black female founders earn an average revenue of $24,000 per firm compared to $142,900 on average for all the women-owned businesses surveyed.

Today in our regular curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, we’re taking a hard look at the latest numbers — and which resources for founders could help:

Black Women Entrepreneurs Earn $24,000 Average Revenue, According to Report

Photo Credit: Brandy Kennedy on Unsplash

Startups The PISLA Beat

Apple Invests $20 Million in VC Firm Harlem Capital

Tech giant Apple is investing $20 million in early-stage venture capital firm Harlem Capital as part of the company’s broader $100 million effort to address racial equity and justice.

The VC firm has a goal to invest in 1,000 diverse founders over the next 20 years. “We’re always trying to get capital in the hands of people in proportion to the population,” managing partner Jarrid Tingle told CNBC.

Although Black and Latinx founders only received 2.3% of the billions of dollars of funding invested in startups last year, the Harlem Capital leadership team sees that changing dramatically.

In today’s curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, we’re learning about the firm’s strategy for addressing the gaping VC funding gap — and why the partners are optimistic about bridging it:

Apple Invests $10 Million in Venture Capital Firm Focused on Diverse Founders

Photo: Harlem Capital’s leadership. Credit: Harlem Capital

Startups The PISLA Beat

Killer Mike Develops a Black- and Latinx-owned Digital Banking Platform

Michael Render, better known as the rapper Killer Mike, was a tween when he first learned about the stock market from his mother and grandfather. He told CNN that this early experience helped him understand what it means to put aside money for the future.

After witnessing how the financial system has failed so many in the Black and Latinx community, Killer Mike, his longtime friend Ryan Glover, and Ambassador Andrew Young came together to co-found a new digital banking platform. They called it Greenwood after the thriving Black business district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that destroyed during a massacre in 1921. The banking platform topped 100,000 signups last fall and is set to launch later this year.

For today’s curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, let’s see how Greenwood might finally bridge the gap in access to financing:

Racial Inequality in Banking is a Huge Problem. Killer Mike Thinks He Has a Solution

Photo: Greenwood co-founders (left to right) Killer Mike, Amb. Andrew Young, and Ryan Glover. Credit: Greenwood

Startups The PISLA Beat

Tech Startup Kanarys Makes History with $3 Million Seed Round

The first diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) technology company founded by Black female entrepreneurs, Kanarys, just closed a $3 million seed round led by Zeal Capital Partners.

Co-founders Mandy Price and Star Carter launched Kanarys a couple years ago as a tech platform that allows companies to measure DEI, evaluate efforts, and optimize them. Currently they measure DEI insights on nearly 1,000 companies in the U.S. through verified employee reviews, corporate policies, and organizational data.

For today’s curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, we’re discovering how the co-founders turned their firsthand workplace experiences into the largest DEI platform in the country:

Kanarys Boosts Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Platform Following $3M Seed

Photo Credit: Christina @, Unsplash

Startups The PISLA Beat

How This Young Black Tech Entrepreneur Raised $4 Million

Even before the pandemic hit, University of California, Santa Cruz student Vernon Coleman wanted to disrupt social networking with an egalitarian app called Realtime for young Millennials and Gen-Z. The shift to remote learning inspired 23-year-old Coleman to rethink connectivity.

He and Realtime co-founder Kevin Robertson dropped out to work full-time on their app, an invitation-only video chatting service set to launch this year. Instead of aimless scrolling or algorithm-based nudges, the entrepreneurs want to create a space that encourages users to be present and focused on the moment.

“If you look at most social networks and communities, they’ve been built by pretty much the same person,” Coleman told Business Insider’s Dominic-Madori Davis. “People either break the cycle or join within the cycle.”

Being different paid off. Late last month Realtime raised a $4 million seed round led by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian’s new Seven Seven Six venture fund. Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler, former Tinder CPO Ravi Mehta, and Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin also invested, Davis reported.

For today’s curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, we’re learning more about Coleman’s winning fundraising strategy:

Meet One of the Youngest Black Entrepreneurs in Tech, Who Just Raised a Seed Round Topping $4 Million that included Alexis Ohanian

Photo: Realtime co-founder and CEO Vernon Coleman (right) with co-founder and CTO Kevin Robertson (left). Credit: Realtime

Startups The PISLA Beat

Collab Capital Invests in Black-Led Music Licensing Tech Startup

Collab Capital, a collaborative fund that helps Black founders build sustainable, innovation-centered businesses, recently invested in the music licensing tech startup Music Tech Works. Co-founded by music and media industry veterans Jarrett Hines and Bryson Nobles, the company makes tools to facilitate music licenses.

The investment in Music Tech Works represents Collab Capital’s second to date. “They are tackling a very specific problem for a large evergreen market by replacing antiquated processes with an easy-to-use software solution,” managing partner Barry Givens, who spoke at Urban Tech Connect 2020, said in a public statement.

Givens, along with fellow managing partners Justin Dawkins and Jewel Burks, seek to build the biggest fund for Black founders, shrinking the national racial wealth gap in the process. Currently less than 1% of VC capital goes to Black entrepreneurs.

Music Tech Works has one of the largest rights holder databases in the world with more than 60 million songs, according to the company. Their first product is a music copyright research platform called that connects people who want to license music with the rights holders who can grant them a license.

For this curation of must-read innovation and tech news, the Plug In South LA Beat, we’re discovering how the startup could accelerate digital content creation:

Collab Capital Expands Portfolio with Investment in Music Tech Works

Investment Firm Collab Capital Backs Black-Led Tech Startup Leading the Future of Music Licensing

Photo: From left to right, Collab Capital managing partners Justin Dawkins, Jewel Burks, and Barry Givens. Credit: Collab Capital