The Speakers

Mark Ridley Thomas

Los Angeles County Supervisor, Second District

Since he was overwhelmingly elected in 2008, and reelected in 2012 and 2016 to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Mark Ridley-Thomas has distinguished himself as an effective leader for more than two million Second District residents. He is a board member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission and LA Care, the nation’s largest publicly operated health plan.

Prior to his election to the Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas served the 26th District in the California State Senate, where he chaired the Senate’s Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development. While in the Senate, he served as Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus in 2008 and led the Caucus in unprecedented levels of cooperation and collaboration with counterparts in the Latino and Asian-Pacific Islander Legislative Caucuses.

Mark Ridley-Thomas was first elected to public office in 1991 and served with distinction on the Los Angeles City Council for nearly a dozen years, departing as Council President pro Tempore. He later served two terms in the California State Assembly, where he chaired the Jobs, Economic Development, and Economy Committee and served the Assembly Democratic Caucus. His legislative work addressed a broad range of issues with implications for economic and workforce development, health care, public safety, education, budget accountability, consumer protection and civic participation.

He is widely regarded as the foremost advocate of neighborhood participation in government decision-making by virtue of his founding of the Empowerment Congress, arguably the region’s most successful 26-year initiative in neighborhood-based civic engagement. Ridley-Thomas’ political career was preceded by a decade of service as the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles (1981-1991).

The Supervisor graduated from Manual Arts High School (Class of 1972) and then earned BA and MA degrees along with secondary and adult education credentials from Immaculate Heart College. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas went on to receive his Ph.D. in Social Ethics from the University of Southern California focusing on Social Criticism and Social Change.

He is married to Avis Ridley-Thomas, Co-Founder and Director of the Institute for Non-Violence in Los Angeles. They are the proud parents of Sinclair and Sebastian, both Morehouse Men. Sinclair earned an MBA degree at USC’s Marshall School of Business, works in the investment banking industry, and resides in San Francisco with his wife Shaunicie, an attorney, and 1-year old son Duke Flynn. Sebastian formerly represented California’s Fifty-forth Assembly District (12/05/13-12/31/17). He will now turn his attention to political empowerment, millennial civic engagement, and training a new generation of leaders throughout the state of California as Chief Strategist for the African American Voter Registration, Education, and Participation Project beginning in March of this year.

Julia Collins

Planet FWD, Founder + CEO

Julia Collins is a serial entrepreneur who realized food was her calling as a young girl in San Francisco where it was the epicenter of her community. She’s spent her career building food companies, having launched brands such as Mexicue, Murray’s Cheese Bar and Harlem Jazz Enterprises, the company responsible for the award-winning restaurant, The Cecil. She later went on to co-found Zume Pizza where she became the first black woman to co-found a unicorn company. When she became a mother, she knew she needed to find a way to bring delicious food to people in a way that helped heal the planet for everyone including her son.

Today, Julia leads Planet FWD, a company on a mission to tackle climate change by expanding regenerative agriculture adoption. The company is building a software platform for regenerative agriculture alongside a climate-smart snack brand that will be bringing its first product – a cracker – to market later this year.

In addition, Julia serves on the board of Black Girls Code, sits on the advisory council for Launch with GS, serves on the All Raise operating committee and is an EIR for Cleo Capital. She is an active angel investor focused on funding female entrepreneurs and BIPOC founders.


Diishan Imira

Mayvenn, CEO & Founder

Diishan Imira understands the importance of building from the ground up and economic empowerment. Founded in 2013, Imira went from selling hair from the trunk of his car to raising $36 million in venture capital from Andreesen Horowitz, Serena Williams, Jimmy Iovine, and Essence Ventures to transform Mayvenn into a $30 million-per-year virtual hair-salon and beauty supply business.

George Azih

LeaseQuery, Founder & CEO

A financial authority specializing in technical accounting and accounting research, George has served as an auditor for banks, insurance companies, and brokerage firms. Prior to LeaseQuery, he performed Accounting Research and Technical Accounting for a Fortune 500 company, where he specialized in lease accounting, sale-leaseback transactions, build-to-suit arrangements, debt restructurings (modifications and extinguishments), asset retirement obligations and purchase accounting. His previous experience also includes working as a Senior Auditor at a CPA firm, where he specialized in audits for financial institutions.

George is a leading expert on lease accounting. He has been quoted in Bloomberg multiple times and has spoken about lease accounting for numerous groups, including Georgia Society of CPAs, Institute of Managerial Accountants (IMA), Financial Executives International (FEI), Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), Corenet Global Summit, and the National Conference for the Accounting and Finance Women’s Association (AFWA).

A member of the American Institute of CPAs and Georgia Society of CPAs, George graduated from the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia with a BS in Accounting.


Travis Holoway

Solo Funds, Co-Founder & CEO

Travis Holoway is the Co-Founder and CEO of SoLo Funds, a mobile lending exchange that connects lenders and borrowers for the purpose of providing more affordable access to loans under $1,000. SoLo was created to disintermediate the predatory payday lending system. Today, SoLo is one of the fastest-growing fintech companies in the country. Prior to founding his company, Travis built his career in the financial services industry as a financial advisor. It was then that he discovered a major disconnect between the wealthy clients he met with daily in comparison to the 78% of Americans that live paycheck to paycheck. He felt that there were many pain points being experienced by individuals in the middle and lower ends of the financial spectrum that were being ignored and desperately needed to be addressed. Travis has been quoted in various publications and websites, including Forbes, American Banker, Black Enterprise, PYMNTS, and the LA Business Journal. Travis resides in Los Angeles, CA. In his free time, you can find him at brunch, sneaker shopping, or listening to podcasts about business and popular culture.

Jonathan Shieber

Tech Crunch, Senior Editor

Jonathan Shieber is a writer and editor at TechCrunch. 

Rodney Williams

Lisnr, Co-Founder & CCO

Isa Watson

Squad, CEO & Founder

Isa Watson is the Founder and CEO of Squad, an app that helps people build their offline and IRL community. Using a proprietary algorithm, the app forms ‘squads’ of people and facilitates their in real life meets. Squad was an Inc 30 under 30 company and has also been featured in TechCrunch, Forbes, Bloomberg, Fast Company, Bustle, Crunchbase, and Entrepreneur. The company is backed by notable Silicon Valley VC firms and has raised upwards of $4mm. Prior to founding Squad, Isa was a VP of Digital Strategy at JPMorgan Chase in New York and Hong Kong. Before joining JPMorgan Chase, Isa worked at Pfizer both as a research chemist and as a data scientist.

Isa earned an MBA from MIT Sloan, a MS in Pharmacology from Cornell University and a BS in Chemistry from Hampton University where she was an American Chemical Society and National Science Foundation Scholar. For 3 years, Isa was the youngest appointed member of the MIT Sloan Executive Alumni Board, where she helped advise MIT administration on key strategic priorities for the school.

Melissa Hanna

Mahmee, CEO & Founder

Brentt Baltimore

Greycroft, Senior Associate

Based in the Los Angeles office, Brentt’s responsibilities include sourcing, evaluating, and executing venture stage investment opportunities.

Prior to joining Greycroft, Brentt led business development at Operator Inc., a venture stage company in the conversational commerce space and worked on technology commercialization at Numenta Inc., an artificial intelligence research company. Brentt also worked at Detroit Venture Partners, where he led investment diligence and supported portfolio companies. Brentt started his career in investment banking at Credit Suisse in Los Angeles, focusing on leveraged buyouts and debt financing transactions.

Brentt received an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a BA from Claremont McKenna College.

Cassie Betts

VSEDC, Lead Tech Consultant & South LA Best Buy Teen Tech Center

Cassie Betts, a leading advocate for women- and minority-owned businesses, was homeless at the age of 19. Through several resources and local organizations, she was able to go from sleeping on bus stop benches and cardboard boxes to acting and modeling in Coca-Cola® commercials as well as TV & film. She graduated from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and maintained a lucrative career in the fashion industry. Cassie founded a fashion-tech company called in 2013 out of the South LA Incubator through Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation (VSEDC) as well as Silicon Beach’s Stubbs Alderton & Markiles Preccelerator. District2 helps to connect fashion designers with local apparel manufacturers. She is also a founding member of Black Women in Tech, co-produces Urban Tech Connect – an annual tech conference headed by Plugin South LA, and is a volunteer pitch coach and Lead Consultant for the Vermont Slauson Economic Development (VSEDC) YEC- Youth Entrepreneurial Challenge. Forbes dubbed her “The Woman Turning South LA into Startup Land”. She is the catalyst and visionary behind the South LA Best Buy Teen Tech Center opening Summer 2020 with VSEDC in partnership with Annenberg Tech, and PledgeLA. Cassie is dedicated to increasing diversity in tech and utilizing high-level technical training to combat the ill effects of gentrification.

Austin Clements

OPV, Managing Director

Austin Clements is Managing Director of OPV, an early stage venture capital firm created to address the unmet investment needs of small business owners and the technologies that support them. He was previously a Principal at TenOneTen Ventures and began his career in investment management with AllianceBernstein. He also founded Pi Digital Media, an LA based firm which developed web and mobile applications for SMBs.

Austin serves as the Chair of PledgeLA, an initiative created by the Annenberg Foundation and the Mayor of Los Angeles to promote civic engagement and diversity within the tech community. He also serves on the board of and the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. Austin received his MBA from NYU Stern and his BA from Morehouse College.


Rapper, Record Producer, Songwriter, & Entrepreneur

“Brandon “Stix” Salaam-Bailey (born July 13, 1983) is an American rapper, record producer, songwriter, and entrepreneur. Salaam-Bailey, was born and raised in Watts, Ca, having started off as a full-time dancer in 2002, creating one of the most popular dance movements in the world called “KRUMP.” The new dance craze eventually went mainstream after it hit the big screens from world renown director David La’Chapelle’s “Rize””.
During mid-2006, Stix and partner, Nicholas Gouche, developed a worldwide rap battle league called “The Pit” where the battle rap careers of Dizaster and Daylyt were born. The Pit in just a short time, immediately became LA’s most popular and top hip-hop event. The PIT amassed support from some of the west coast’s most notable artist like Kendrick Lamar, Problem, YG, Glasses Malone, Roscoe, Mistah Fab, J-Doe, Gizzle (Bad Boy), and BadLucc (Diamond Lane) to name a few. The Pit also received support from artist outside of the western region like Nas, Redman, and Young Jeezy.

In 2012, his determination and will to succeed would later lead him to work with and executive produce pop rapper Iggy Azalea on her first mixtape Ignorant Art. Stix became instrumental in the early stages of the Iggy Azalea brand. Along with hyping up crowds on stage with I-G-G-Y, Stix would go forward and executive produce Iggy’s “Glory” album with rap legend TI, and “Trap Gold” with FKI’s 1st down and edm producer Diplo.

Billboard’s cover story music executive Sarah Stennett, hired Stix to join her Turn First / First Access roster of A&R’s in late 2014. Stix would develop, executive produce, and oversee projects from artist Bishop Nehru, Zernell Fontaine, and Laurel. Stix would also lend his services as a songwriter/record producer to exclusively produce and write for artist like Rita Ora, Zayn Malik, Ellie Goulding and other Turn First / First Access artist. During the end of Summer 2015, pop star Iggy Azalea tweeted that she was back in the studio with her good friends Stix, and the collective D.R.U.G.S to work on her 2017 release “Digital Distortion”. The first leak “Azillion” received over 1 million views on Soundcloud in 2 days and the first official single “”Team”” debuted #42 on the Billboard Hot 100, IGGY’s highest debut of her career.

In 2016, Stix was Tanqueray Ten and Ciroc’s official music program ambassador for their liquor spirit. Stix’s superior ability to perform secured him a slot as the opening act on the Puff Puff Pass Tour 2 behind Westcoast legend Snoop Dogg. Other acts on the tour included Dogg Pound, Warren G, & Bone Thugs and Harmony. Stix was also selected for Pepsi Co’s ‘Stubborn Soda’ series campaign. Pepsi highlighted Stix’s story on how he managed to become a successful entertainer. Keep your ears and eyes open for the Watts City native and watch the journey as history is being made.

Today, Stix is the official ambassador for LAFC (Los Angeles Football Club) and the LA Clippers. Stix has created the theme song for both teams and has launched multiple community activations over the last year. Stix has recently created the Thinkwatts Foundation a 501c3 company who’s main objective is to develop resources and create opportunities for low income and underserved communities. To date, the Thinkwatts Foundation has partnered with various companies like Adidas, LA Clippers, WSS, Banc of California, and Planet Fitness to refurbish over 16 outdoor basketball courts, 1 indoor basketball gym, 1 renovated fitness room inside Drew Middle School in Watts , a 5 week financial literacy course covering money management, credit building, and the introduction to investing along with donating over 100+ pairs of shoes, groceries to over 100 families, and more.

Karla Ballard

Ying, Founder & CEO

Karla Ballard Williams is Founder and CEO of YING, a peer to peer skill sharing and global time sharing platform engaging organizations in a complimentary currency that supports community and individual benefits. YING helps groups and communities to facilitate on demand skill exchanges to assist with tasks between members. The platform has a b2b enterprise engagement for NGO’s and Corporations as well creating a plug in play sharing ecosystem for any affinity group.

Ms. Ballard Williams was formerly SVP of Participant Media’s TAG division, a social-action agency working with brands, foundations and the public sector to ignite compelling campaigns that drove impact in vulnerable communities. Prior to joining Participant Media she was with Ogilvy & Mather as the SVP and lead for The IMPACT Studio working on projects that ranged from the State of California to Sony Pictures Television. Previously Karla worked at One Economy Corporation where she led a vital division of a $51 million BTOP grant focused broadband adoption and became and appointee to the Federal Communication’s Committee on Diversity in Media. In addition, she created and led corporate relationships with partners such as Comcast/NBC, Verizon, Participant Media, Sprint, City Year and others. She is a current advisory board member of Blue Star Families, Co-Chair of Shareable, Hashtaglunchbag, and USC’s Next Gen Council for Stephen Spielberg’s SHOAH Foundation. She’s been a visiting speaker at Harvard, UCLA and Georgetown University and is a former board member of the nation’s second largest Community College, Northern Virginia Community College. Karla is also the co-founder of the first Urban League in the state of Delaware, The Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, and served as the first female national president of the National Urban League Young Professionals. In 2012 Karla was awarded in NYC the Keeper’s of the Dream award bestowed by Reverend Al Sharpton from the National Action Network.

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