Urban Tech Connect // Forward 2022 Beta


First Founders Emerge from Plug In South LA’s Accelerator Program Ready to Disrupt

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.

Last fall we welcomed the Accelerator Program’s first cohort: Hyve founder Jibril Jackson, Esqapes Immersive Relaxation founder Micah Jackson, Spooler, Inc. founder Benjamen Janey, Gro Lens founder Ron Johnson, and Me Tyme Network founder Remy Meraz.

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.

To join us, please get in touch: info@pluginsouthla.com.


Plug In South’s LA Response to the Death of George Floyd

Dear Plug In South LA Community,

After everything that happened in the first half of 2020, we first and foremost hope that you are safe and healthy. Plug In South LA began as a proactive effort to support a Brown and Black founders pipeline into the tech ecosystem, and help develop similar ecosystems in overlooked and underserved communities, accelerating the next generation of talent.

Recent events are warning signs that we take seriously. We are horrified by the murder of George Floyd last weekend, Breonna Taylor’s death in March, and the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in February. We are disgusted by the lack of national leadership to bring our country together to move forward. We are shocked by the injustices we are witnessing.

We can no longer sit back and watch the poor and disenfranchised suffer from a double standard in the judicial system. Yesterday Plug In South LA observed Blackout Tuesday. That meant we were not posting to social media or engaging in business as usual. Beyond Tuesday, we will be questioning how engaged we are in platforms that don’t serve us well.

We continue to look for innovative ways to help the South Los Angeles community — and communities like ours — get through these difficult times. We support the organizations that are strategically focused on facilitating peaceful protests. We can work with our elected officials to reform our legal system. Let’s put pressure on CEOs, news organization executives, district attorneys, and community leaders to unite around implementing policies and laws that prevent senseless deaths from ever happening again.

If you’re able to peacefully protest and use your voice, please do. We can support the people on the front lines of change. Organizations you can support and ways to get involved are listed below. Collectively, we can move mountains.

We hear you. We see you. We love you. We stand with you.

—Team Plug In South LA

Stand Up and Support Your Community




Startups UTC 2019

Meet 4thMVMT’s Karim Webb at Urban Tech Connect

Karim Webb is CEO of 4thMVMT, a Los Angeles based firm that seeks, vets, trains, finances and partners with individuals from “underserved communities” to own and operate competitive retail businesses. 
The primary goal of 4thMVMT is to cultivate human potential through empowering people, providing new solutions, and fostering well-being while building community, improving outcomes, and engaging culture in an authentic and impactful way.

Webb’s entrepreneurial experience and history of engagement within “at-risk youth” in Los Angeles has lead him to his true life purpose, philanthropic work promoting leadership development and entry-level employment as a gateway to a fulfilled life. 
Karim believes opportunity and progress do not just happen but that working toward creating even the smallest ripple is capable of causing a wave of positive results. And under his leadership, Webb’s Team Members have learned to activate possibility in their lives by exercising their muscle of excellence.

Webb is also Co-Owner and Operations Partner of PCF Restaurant Management, a multi-unit franchisee of Buffalo Wild Wings. Beyond Buffalo Wild Wings and 4thMVMT, Karim is an advisor to the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA) and holds a number of Board positions including the California Community Foundation, the Brotherhood Crusade, Everytable, and the Living Through Giving Foundation: Hashtag Lunchbag.

Startups UTC 2019

Meet AI LA Community’s Todd Terrazas at Urban Tech Connect

Todd Terrazas is a social entrepreneur, collaboration catalyst, and the President of the AI LA Community. Prior to creating AI LA, Todd founded Brainitch — a social enterprise developing an emergency response system for music festivals and large gatherings. The company evolved into custom development for clients where he pioneered the use of chat bots for musicians and live events, and created a consumer research chat bot named H.A.N.S. Todd exited his company to pursue a more meaningful endeavor: the AI LA Community.

AI LA was founded because of a combination of frustration and inspiration. There aren’t enough intellectual conversations focusing on how technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) will impact our lives, society, and industries. More so, this caliber of conversation is usually accessible to only the elite and not the general public. After a series of successful events, Todd realized he was good at and greatly enjoyed bringing people together to discuss technology and philosophy under one roof. Today, the AI LA Community is a California non-profit pursuing 501(c)(3) status with a mission to build a more informed and collaborative world in which humans use AI harmoniously and transparently in everyday life. Todd is a graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, where he focused on entertainment business and short-form storytelling.

Startups UTC 2019

Meet J.P. Morgan’s Nate Moyer at Urban Tech Connect

Nate Moyer is a finance professional at J.P. Morgan with over 12 years of experience in the financial services industry. In his current role, Nate focuses on high-growth, high-potential business in the technology and consumer sectors and brings the depth and breadth of products and services that J.P. Morgan offers. Throughout his career, he has advised businesses at all stages of business lifecycle from mature Fortune 500 companies to innovative start-ups.

Previous to his role at J.P. Morgan, Nate worked at Bank of America as a client manager for public and private companies in Los Angeles. Before that, he was an Investment Banking Senior Associate at Wells Fargo Securities, and a Director at FTI Consulting, a public, global financial consulting firm.

Nate received his B.S. in Accounting at Arizona State University where he graduated with honors within the Barret Honors Program and an M.B.A from UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Nate lives in Santa Monica with his wife Erica. He is an outdoor enthusiast and spends most of his time outside of client meetings playing squash, skiing, hiking and enjoying Santa Monica beaches with his wife. Nate volunteers his time for the Santa Barbara School of Squash, a sports and education non-profit serving youth in need.

Startups UTC 2019

Meet Alexandra Freyer at Urban Tech Connect

Alexandra Freyer is a senior associate in SVB’s Santa Monica office, where she works on the Early Stage Practice team to provide the personalized service that positions LA-area technology and innovation entrepreneurs to meet and exceed their goals.

Alex’s knack for business development and passion for adventure make her a perfect fit for SVB. As a Tanzanian safari consultant in 2010, she increased her employer’s revenue by $1.2 million within her first 10 months on the job. She also developed the Boston office of LivingSocial Adventures from its inception. From there, she took on a position as an account executive for the New York–based Clinton Global Initiative, where she brokered worldwide partnerships for socially responsible initiatives and secured millions of dollars in memberships and sales to Fortune 100 corporations, celebrities, social impact companies and NGOs.

Alex also worked as manager of executive operations for online advertising technology company true[X] Media, where she participated in the rebranding and restructuring that preceded its successful $200 million acquisition by 21st Century Fox in 2014. The innovation-driven startup mentality at true[X] served as the ideal training grounds for the SVB Santa Monica office, which she joined in 2016.

Alex earned her bachelor’s degree in government with a minor in theater and dance from Colby College in Waterville, Maine. Through its semester abroad program, she studied world politics at the University of Cape Town and volunteered at a refugee center in South Africa. Shortly after graduating in 2009, she completed the rigorous certification process at the India-based Himalaya Yoga Valley Centre. She has taught private and group classes in Newport Beach since 2014.

When she’s not working in the fast-paced world of tech startups or leading students into the reflective universe of yoga, you’ll likely find her pedaling a bike, playing a piano or dancing.

Startups UTC 2019

Meet Kelly Perdew at Urban Tech Connect

Kelly is the Managing General Partner of Moonshots Capital – an early stage VC fund that invests in early stage technology companies and leans in heavily in veteran founded companies. He is a co-founder & Managing Partner at DuMont Project – a consultative agency that helps accelerate the growth of direct to consumer brands. Prior to DuMont Project he was the CEO of Fastpoint Games, a venture-backed leading developer of live data-driven games for the fortune 500 brand set.

After winning the Season 2 of the NBC hit show, The Apprentice, Kelly served as an Executive Vice President in the Trump Organization in New York, where he managed several real estate projects and worked directly for Donald Trump for the year following the show.

Kelly is a nationally recognized speaker on leadership, technology, career development and entrepreneurship. He earned a BS from the US Military Academy, West Point, a JD from the UCLA School of Law, and an MBA from the Anderson School at UCLA. Kelly served in the US Army as a Military Intelligence Officer and completed Airborne and Ranger training. Kelly is author of “Take Command: 10 Leadership Principles I Learned in the Military and Put to Work for Donald Trump,” that provides guidance on how anyone can develop their leadership capabilities and he donates a percentage of the royalties to the USO and was host of GI Factory on the Military Channel. He has also served as a national celebrity spokesperson for Big Brothers/Sisters and The National Guard Youth Challenge Program. Kelly received a Presidential Appointment from President Bush to the President’s Council on Civic Participation and Service in 2006 and was re-appointed in 2008.

Kelly also serves as an investor, advisor and/or Board member for Scopely, Bitium, ID.me, Arx Pax, Thrively, Lettrs, DuMont Project and a dozen others and was previously an advisor or board member for LinkedIn (LNKD), eteamz (ACTV), Pandora (P), Ustream (IBM), and Harvest.ai (AMZN). He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Dawn, stepson Hunter, and twins – Grant and Grace.

Startups UTC 2019

Meet Reagan Sirengo of Zoom Group at Urban Tech Connect

Reagan is re-imagining the future of internal tools that help people work effectively at Zillow Group. He’s determined to have a positive impact by transforming how people use and measure tools to effectively increase operational excellency and increase delight by creating meaningful experiences through design thinking. He considers design thinking to be his weapon of choice in thinking through interaction models and new possibilities.

Previously, he helped IBM’s hybrid cloud team ship amazing experiences; he co-led the design and launch of Johnsons & Johnson’s Acuvue web and mobile apps digital experiences for Japan, Russia and Hong Kong markets; he led the design, User research, and launch of the UNICEF’s children ad Aids web and mobile experiences; and he led the design of the US #1 fasted growing company, Loot Crate’s end to end digital experience for pop culture subscription box.

Reagan thrive on learning new things — he enjoys exploring new paths to familiar places, seeing things from a fresh perspective, and talking to people.

Startups UTC 2019

Meet Alex Rubalcava of Stage Venture Partners at Urban Tech Connect

“Alex is a General Partner and Co-Founder of Stage Venture Partners. With experience in both public equity and venture capital investing, Alex has been a professional investor since 2002. He started his career as an analyst at Anthem Venture Partners, a leading venture capital firm in Santa Monica. While Alex worked at Anthem, the firm backed startups including TrueCar, Myspace, and Android.

After Anthem, Alex launched a long/short equity fund, which he ran for nearly ten years. In addition to his investing work, Alex was an active board member at several nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles. He was appointed by Mayor James Hahn to the Los Angeles Animal Services Commision. Later, he served on the board of KIPP LA Schools and South Central Scholars.

Alex serves on the board of Stage portfolio companies Sightline Maps, Balto Software, SPIDR Tech, and WhiteFox Defense Technologies. Previously, he served on the board of WhereTo.

Alex is a 2002 graduate of Harvard University.”

Startups UTC 2019

Stefanie Thomas of the Impact Fund to join Urban Tech Connect

Stefanie joined Impact America Fund in 2015 to combine years of transactional experience with a passion to drive more equitable capital in venture. Emerging as a voice of “Black Women VCs” (Fast Company), Stefanie has centered her efforts around network effects that propel the work of bootstrapped entrepreneurs—an ode to her father who overcame tremendous challenges as a low-income business owner.

Prior to IAF, she co-founded Quarterback Impact while also managing fund development for an impact investment evergreen project. In 2014, a 6,000 mile road trip to work with entrepreneurs across the US led to her deepened involvement in building more inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems in order to amplify the economic imperative for venture investment in overlooked markets. Before the switch to venture, Stefanie served as a Vice President in Citigroup’s global banking division. She received her M.B.A. from the Ross School at the University of Michigan and her B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.