Startups Urban Tech Connect

Make Valuable New Connections Through the UTC 2021 Platform

Take your business to the next level at Urban Tech Connect // Forward, the premier tech conference focused on Latinx and African-American startup founders. The virtual conference May 18 – 20 is ideal for meeting with experienced experts, honing skills, growing sales, and making valuable new connections.

This year the Urban Tech Connect // Forward platform offers many ways to network with the community. Take a closer look:

Office Hours Fuel Possibilities

Office Hours during all three days will be powered by sponsors including Verizon, PledgeLA, and Salesforce Ventures. Virtual meetings give founders, business operators, and job-seekers in tech and media one-on-one time with experts.

Mentors can help you build and expand your professional network, learn the ins and outs of startup funding, overcome persistent hurdles, and more.

Workshops Produce Ah-Ha Moments

Join fellow founders, entrepreneurs, and students for virtual workshops that will plug you into professional guidance from industry leaders at companies such as Salesforce Ventures, Snap Inc., and Stubbs Alderton. Pros who at the top of their game will lead these deep-dive sessions.

Gain customer relationship management (CRM) platform prowess. Discover best practices for taking your product live, scaling up e-commerce, expanding your business, and engaging customers through smart digital marketing.

Augmented reality enables endless customization and possibilities for artists and developers. Find out how this powerful technology can extend your reach on a large scale. A workshop powered by Plug In South LA will show you how to tune up a pitch deck. Stubbs Alderton will guide you through “The Fundamentals of Funding Your Startup.”

Are you ready to expand your network and plug into new opportunities? Register for the conference here. We look forward to welcoming you.

Photo Credit: Christina @ on Unsplash

Startups Urban Tech Connect

Urban Tech Connect 2021 Spotlights Women Making Waves

We’re just going to say it: Badass women are coming to Urban Tech Connect // Forward. Our list of confirmed speakers and mentors for the three-day virtual conference includes many of the smartest, savviest professionals we know.

Being a female — especially one of color — in the tech industry can seem like a lonely uphill battle. But we’ve got your back. Urban Tech Connect is a chance to hear directly from the women shaking things up and opening doors in entrepreneurship and investing.

Lauryn Nwankpa, head of social impact at Dave, will be one of the conference hosts. Her passion is honing in on strategies that eradicate poverty, increase access to education, and alleviate wealth and income inequality. Tech pros can draw inspiration from Mamuna Oladipo, SVP of product, design, and engineering at Kickstarter and Erika Chestnut, head of quality assurance for the online appointment scheduling software company Calendly.

Speaker Morgan DeBaun built one of the largest media startups and lifestyle brands for Black Millennials with websites including,, and She’ll be speaking with ESPN host Rosalyn Gold-Onwude about what it actually took to grow her business.

Beatriz Acevedo is co-founder and CEO of the new platform SUMA Wealth. She raised a pre-seed round of more than $1 million — and it all came from women. We get to find out how during her live talk with Jessica Salinas, VP of investments at New Media Ventures.

Solving pervasive problems is top-of-mind for Regina Wallace-Jones, who worked for tech companies, including Motorola and Facebook, for years before becoming SVP of product and engineering at the business management software company MindBody.

Investors increasingly understand what it means to have a world-changing startup idea. That’s true of Cheryl Contee, chief innovation officer for The Impact Seat, which invests in women-led and women-of-color led innovative startups, and Juliana Garaizar, a lead investor of the Portfolia Rising America Fund focused on historically-overlooked founders. Speaking of impressive accomplishments, Unshackled Ventures investor Maria Salamanca talks about backing opportunities that bring us all forward.

The conference will also help hone your skills. Learn from Martie Burris, Salesforce’s director of product, and Britney Crooks, senior principal and lead for Accenture’s Global Blockchain and Multiparty Systems Alliance practice.

If you’re not already signed up to attend Urban Tech Connect May 18 – 20, register here. Who’s with us?

Photo: Blavity founder Morgan DeBaun. Credit:

Startups The PISLA Beat

Black-Led Legal Tech Startup Secures $233 Million Investment

San Francisco-based legal tech startup Rocket Lawyer, led by founder and CEO Charley Moore, just raised $233 million to expand internationally and make acquisitions, Forbes reported.

Currently Rocket Lawyer has 25 million registered users. Moore told Forbes that he recently added a new feature called Rocket Evidence that allows users to upload video footage to the app and consult with lawyers.

For our regular curation of must-read tech and innovation articles, the Plug In South LA Beat, we take a look at how Moore grew his business from a simple idea and where the company is headed now:

Legal Tech Startup Rocket Lawyer Raises $223 Million for Expansion

Photo: Rocket Lawyer founder and CEO Charley Moore. Credit: Rocket Lawyer

Startups The PISLA Beat

Audio and Video Commenting Startup Yappa Raises $3.5 Million

Startup Yappa, co-founded by Kiaran Sim and Jennifer Dyer, allows users to make audio and video comments on social media and news sites instead of text-based ones.

“We truly believe that text-based commenting is archaic,” Sim said in a public statement. “Many times comment sections are littered with unproductive toxicity. It’s much harder to be rude if you’re using your voice.”

Based in Marina Del Rey, the company recently raised a $3.5 million Series A. In today’s edition of the Plug In South LA Beat, we find out how Yappa is transforming engagement for online publishers and their audiences:

Black-Owned Tech Company Raises $3.5 Million to Combat Online Bullying

Photo: Yappa co-founders Kiaran Sim and Jennifer Dyer. Credit: Yappa World Inc.

Startups The PISLA Beat

MIT Study Exposes Tactics Used Against Black Women AI Researchers

Abuse aimed at Black women, especially in the field of artificial intelligence research, follows a clear playbook, three MIT professors found. A new study details each step, from disbelief to revisionism.

Katlyn Turner, Danielle Wood, and Catherine D’Ignazio told VentureBeat that their Abuse and Misogynoir Playbook was a response to Google’s treatment of Ethical AI team co-lead Timnit Gebru, but applies to fields well beyond AI.

“This is a process, a series of related things, and the process has to be described step by step or else people won’t get the point,” co-author Wood said.

For today’s Plug In South LA Beat, our regular curation of relevant tech and innovation articles, we dig into what it will take to finally break this vicious cycle:

Black Women, AI, and Overcoming Historical Patterns of Abuse

Photo Credit: Pietro Jeng on Unsplash

Startups Urban Tech Connect

Meet Your Hosts for Urban Tech Connect 2021

Are you ready to disrupt? Urban Tech Connect // Forward, the premier tech conference focused on Latinx and African American startup founders, is coming up May 18 – 20.

Forget about business as usual. This virtual conference is for those who think differently. Gain insights from the best entrepreneurs and VCs in the industry. Build skills. Meet with investors. Come together. Raise the bar.

Plug In South LA founder Derek Smith is excited to announce that Lauryn Nwankpa and McKeever Conwell will be joining him in hosting the conference:

Lauryn Nwankpa
Lauryn is a social impact strategist, startup advisor, and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles.

She’s head of social impact at Dave, the country’s highest ranked personal finance management app. Known as the financial version of David taking on Goliath, Dave empowers Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck with the tools they need to thrive. In her role at the company and as a Social Impact Capital venture partner and advisor, Lauryn focuses on developing and implementing effective strategies to eradicate poverty, increase access to education, and alleviate wealth and income inequality.

“From outreach and advocacy, to philanthropy and community engagement, I bring together critical stakeholders to increase access to key resources leading to the empowerment and self-actualization of marginalized communities,” she says.

Before joining Dave, she led social impact at Headspace, bringing the meditation and mindfulness company’s wellness tools into communities that want or need them, but lacked access.

Lauryn got her professional start in Baltimore working on college access, attendance programs, and community outreach. She received a Bachelor of Arts in comparative human development from the University of Chicago and a Master of Science in social entrepreneurship from the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.

McKeever Conwell
McKeever “Mac” Conwell II is the founder and managing partner of RareBreed Ventures, a Baltimore-based pre-seed stage venture fund that aims to invest early in exceptional founders who are outside of the large tech eco-systems. He is also a board member of the Digital Harbor Foundation and an advisor to the learning platform Osmosis.

Prior to starting RareBreed Ventures, Mac was fund manager for the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO), where he helped find and build startups based in the state. He managed the Minority Business Pre-seed Fund, which was created through a partnership between TEDCO and Harbor Bank Community Development Corporation to address the needs of minority entrepreneurs in Maryland who often lack access to early startup capital.

Mac refers to himself as a “recovering entrepreneur” who launched two startups. One was the gifting platform, technology that he and his team successfully sold in 2014.

He attended Morgan State University, where he majored in computer science. At age 19, he joined a Department of Defense co-op program and obtained a top-secret security clearance. His experience includes working as a government contractor in software development for companies that include Booz Allen Hamilton and Northrop Grumman.

More recently Mac completed Stanford University’s Venture Capital Unlocked invitation-only investor training program for emerging leaders who want to shape the future of the VC industry. In addition to being a guest on Huffington Post Live, Mac has been featured in outlets such as USA Today, the Washington Post, BET, CNN Headline News, and Black Enterprise.

Derek Smith
Derek is the founder of Plug In South LA. By trade, he’s a digital marketing evangelist and branding expert who has worked with leading global brands such as Corbis Images, SAB Miller Breweries, the NBA, Microsoft Advertising, Nestlé, Dove, and Ritz Crackers.

Throughout his career, Derek has held a number of key positions, including that of business development director, brand strategist at Young and Rubicam and Wunderman. He has a Bachelor of Arts in international relations from Morehouse College and a Master of Science from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Lauryn, Mac, and Derek look forward to welcoming you to the fourth annual Urban Tech Connect // Forward. Register for the conference, if you haven’t already.

We’ll see you soon!

Startups The PISLA Beat

Software Engineer Training Startup Formation Raises $4 Million

Formation, a startup that supports diverse software engineers with specialized training and connect them with high-level tech positions, just raised a $4 million seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz.

Sophie Zhou Novati co-founded Formation after holding senior engineering roles at Facebook and NextDoor. She told TechCrunch that coding boot camps tend to have more Black and Latinx students than traditional universities, but only around half the graduates land software engineering jobs — and not very well paid ones at that.

For this curation of must-read tech and innovation articles, the Plug In South LA Beat, let’s see how the startup uses adaptive learning to strengthen the tech talent pipeline:

Formation Raises $4M Led by Andreessen Horowitz to Train Truly ‘Exceptional’ Software Engineers

Photo: Formation co-founder and CEO Sophie Zhou Novati. Credit: Formation

Startups The PISLA Beat

Former Facebook Recruiter Rhett Lindsey Creates Anti-Bias App

Rhett Lindsey saw racial bias and discrimination in Silicon Valley firsthand as an engineer recruiter for Facebook, where “culture fit” hangs over candidates of color like an invisible cloud, he told the Washington Post.

Lindsey left the company in November after only 11 months on the job, and then channeled his experiences into co-founding Los Angeles-based tech startup Fyindr Inc. Along with fellow founders Shazan Ashroff and Bill Mehserle, he created Siimee, a recruitment app that aims to make the recruitment process more equitable and purposeful.

In today’s curation of curation of must-read tech and innovation articles, the Plug In South LA Beat, we dive deep into the problematic system that spurred Siimee:

A Recruiter Joined Facebook to Help It Meet its Diversity Targets. He Says its Hiring Practices Hurt People of Color.

Photo: Fyindr Inc. co-founder and CEO Rhett Lindsey. Credit: Siimee

Startups The PISLA Beat

Arabian Prince’s Social Impact Incubator Launches in LA

A new LA-based incubator co-founded by songwriter, rapper, producer, DJ, and technologist Arabian Prince just launched to support tech entrepreneurs from marginalized communities. Incub8next aims to take startups from concept to seed funding.

“There are people who have never gotten the opportunity but have everything else they need to succeed in business,” Arabian Prince said in a statement. “With my background, I’ve conjured things out of thin air to make money. So I know the struggle.” In addition to the legendary N.W.A. founding member, Incub8next’s team includes Art + Logic co-founder Paul Hershenson, healthcare entrepreneur Matthew Walk, and sales and marketing pro Aj Kang.

For this Plug In South LA Beat, our curation of must-read tech and innovation articles, we find out how the incubator supports startups focused on health and wellness technologies:

Incub8next, a Social Impact Incubator, Launches to Help Underserved Communities

Photo Credit: Christina @ on Unsplash

Startups The PISLA Beat

Digital Banking Startup Greenwood Readies for Service Rollout

Greenwood, the digital banking startup co-founded by rapper Killer Mike, Bounce TV founder Ryan Glover, and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young is getting ready to start serving underrepresented customers.

Named after the Black business district in Tulsa that was destroyed in 1921, Greenwood quickly raised $40 million since launching and recently secured financing from Bank of America, FIS, JPMorgan Chase, PNC, Truist, and Wells Fargo.

In today’s Plug In South LA Beat, we explore what this leap in digital banking could mean for communities and small business owners who have long been ignored by major financial institutions:

Greenwood Prepares to Offer Digital Banking with $40 Million Funding in Place

Big Banks Rush to Back Greenwood, Killer Mike’s Atlanta-based Digital Bank for Underrepresented Customers

Photo Credit: Greenwood