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 Co-Founder of Zume Pizza”

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.

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.

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 &Co-Founder

Brentt Baltimore

Greycroft, Investor

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 District2.co 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, Founding Partner

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 HBCU.vc and the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. Austin received his MBA from NYU Stern and his BA from Morehouse College.

Stix

Thinkwatts, Founder

“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.

Alexandra Zatarain

Eight Sleep, Co-Founder & VP of Brand & Marketing

Alexandra Zatarain is the Co-founder and Head of Brand and Marketing of Eight Sleep, the world’s first sleep fitness company. Eight Sleep has raised over $65M in venture funding and has helped over 30,000 people get sleep fit with its hardware and digital products. In 2017, Alexandra was named by Forbes to the 30 Under 30 list in Consumer Technology, and was also recognized by New York Business Journal as a Woman of Influence. In 2019 she was a finalist for Booking.com Technology Playmaker of the Year Awards. Alexandra is also an angel investor in female founded companies as a scout for Cleo Capital. She was raised in Tijuana, Mexico and now lives in New York City.

Baron Davis

Baron Davis Enterprises / Slic Sports / Business Inside the Game, Founder

Baron Davis is a two-time NBA All-Star, serial-entrepreneur, investor and creator of thought-provoking content and platforms.

During his years in the NBA, Davis was constantly listening, learning, networking, and connecting both on the court and off which ignited a successful post-NBA business career. Through the process of being his own agent he failed forward fast in the role of being a business owner. He decided to use his platform and the knowledge he gained to support others, with impact and purpose investing he funded entrepreneurs and start-ups that he believed in, also adding supporting and strategic roles as advisor, investor or brand ambassador.

“One of my favorite things about this funding round is the way NBA player Baron Davis got involved. He was an actual user of the product and reached out to the company via the app to find out how he could get involved and speak to the executive team.” Nan Wang, CEO – Sleeper

He continued to see opportunities and gaps in several industries and when he couldn’t find companies that filled those gaps, he created them. Davis is the founder of several companies, including Sports and Lifestyle in Culture (SLiC), Business Inside the Game (B.I.G.), The Black Santa Company, and No Label; each with the objective of combining creative talent with original publication and production to develop and provide educational and empowering stories that appeal to global audiences of all ages. SLiC creates original content that showcases the lifestyle of athletes, entertainers, and artists. B.I.G. is a management services operator that focuses on black and minority founders, whose mission and impact investments are to close the wealth gap while creating next gen leaders. The Black Santa Company is a subsidiary of Uwish which celebrates diversity in storytelling through engaging content and high-quality products. Baron has also invested in the LAUFND Foundation which is a company that brings athletes and local heroes together.

Davis was one of the original investors in Vitaminwater and helped launch Thrive Market. This year he invested in Kitu Super Coffee, an organic ready-to-drink coffee company. His most recent venture is an investment in a College savings App called UNest where he is the Brand Ambassador. Davis has also invested in Hims, Bungalow, Sleeper and Vidy.

These companies that Baron has invested in are a part of the B.I.G. factory and accelerator. As an investor, Baron has explored different industries with the idea that Sports touches all things which includes Consumer, Media, Technology, Health and Education.

Baron has been in the media and tech space since 2004. These companies include Ibeatyou.com which was acquired by Photo Bucket in 2006. NOC which was acquired by Vice Sports in 2008 and Woven/Uproxx which was acquired by Warner media.

Davis also served as producer of several acclaimed documentaries including “Crips and Bloods: Made In America,” “30 for 30: Sole Man,” and “The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce.”

Davis currently resides in his hometown of Los Angeles where he plays his most important role, Dad to his two kids.

Hamet Watt

CEO, Share Ventures

Hamet Watt is a serial founder and investor. He has been part of Upfront Ventures and True Ventures, two top quartile venture capital firms, and has cofounded and exited three venture capital-backed companies. Re-imagination has been a common thread throughout his career – reimagining advertising and media with NextMedium, wellness with bLife, movie-going with Movie Pass, and the entrepreneurial model itself, today with Share Ventures.

Share Ventures is a venture studio – efficiently building venture scale businesses focused on human performance in the future of living and working. At Share, Hamet and team are creating new business concepts, enabling traction, providing seed funding and driving acceleration through strategic partnerships with top influencers, corporations and investors.

Additionally, Hamet serves as a Board Partner at Upfront Ventures and as a Senior Advisor at Boston Consulting Group’s Digital Ventures.

Sheila Marmon

Mirror Digital, CEO

Sheila Marmon has a passion for the launch and operation of new businesses in the digital media industry and has created innovative platforms for over 20 years. As Founder + CEO of Mirror Digital, an interactive media and advertising company, she helps Fortune 500 brands tap into the fastest growing U.S. consumer base – the multicultural market. Sheila has executed over 450 digital campaigns in this space for clients including AT&T, Clinique, Disney, Ford, General Motors, Intel, Macy’s, Netflix, Procter & Gamble, Universal Pictures and other leading brands and advertising agencies.

In addition to entrepreneurship, Sheila’s multi-faceted media career includes leadership roles in operations, new ventures, and finance at Time Warner, Morgan Stanley and Essence Communications. Key to her success is the union of broad operating experience, innovative digital strategy, and a deep passion for the multicultural consumer market.

Sheila has been featured in leading publications including the Financial Times, and Media Post; she was also profiled in a cover story for Minority Business Entrepreneur Magazine. She serves on the Boards of The American Advertising Federation, A Better Chance, and Cate School and she is also a founding member of the Council of Urban Professionals. Sheila has received The Network Journal “Forty Under 40” Outstanding Achievement Award, the Code Breaker Award from Digital Diversity Network, and has been named a Catalyst in Media & Entertainment by the Council of Urban Professionals.

Sheila received a B.A. from Princeton University, cum laude and an MBA from the Harvard Graduate School of Business. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband Steven F. Heuer.

Cavel Khan

Tumblr/Automattic, Chief Revenue Officer

Cavel Khan is the CRO of Tumblr responsible for global sales and sales strategy company-wide. Prior to Tumblr he was the SVP of Client Partnerships, North America at VICE. In his role he oversaw sales and account management teams for the region. Cavel Khan was a Senior Manager on the CPG vertical at Twitter. He led a team responsible for building partnerships and growing revenue with Twitter’s largest CPG advertisers across the US. He also led the CPG Mid-Market sales channel in a similar capacity. Before joining Twitter he spent 8 years at Microsoft in multiple roles. First, as part of the Client Services Organization, building out the East Coast search teams supporting Bing. He then focused on building advertising partnerships across Microsoft’s display, mobile, and gaming platforms. He is a 2019 recipient of the America on Tech Innovator and Disruptor Award for Sales. He is also a 2020 Advertising Club of New York ICON Award recipient. He earned his MBA in Marketing from Zicklin School of Business in New York.

Cavel served as Chair of the Advisory Board of ADCOLOR, a non-profit focused on diversity in advertising. He is also a board member of the Community Roots Charter schools in Brooklyn. He lives in Brooklyn with his family.

Henri Pierre-Jacques

Harlem Capital Partners, Managing Partner

Henri Pierre-Jacques is Managing Partner of Harlem Capital Partners where he focuses on fund strategy, partnerships, value-add opportunities and financial analysis. He was presented awards for Forbes 30 Under 30, Inc 30 Under 30, EBONY Power 100, Root 100, Crain’s New York Rising Star and Business Insider Rising Star. He has also been featured in WSJ, CNBC, TechCrunch, Black Enterprise and PitchBook.

Previously, Henri was a Private Equity Investment Professional at ICV Partners, where he evaluated and conducted due diligence on mid market buy-out opportunities. Prior to ICV, he was an Investment Banker in the Real Estate, Gaming & Lodging Group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, where he completed mergers & acquisitions, debt refinances and various strategic alternatives. Henri sat on a non-profit board, Management Leadership for Tomorrow, for two years.

He received his MBA from Harvard Business School and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and minors in Political Science and Business Institutions from Northwestern University. Henri is a Haitian-American originally from Detroit, MI. For fun, he plays basketball and travels around the globe with family and friends.

Lo Toney

Plexo Capital, Founding Managing Partner

Lo is the Founding Managing Partner of Plexo Capital, which he incubated and spun out from GV (Google Ventures), based on a strategy to increase access to early-stage deal flow. Plexo Capital invests in emerging seed-stage VCs and invests directly into companies sourced from the portfolios of VCs where Plexo Capital has an investment. Investors in Plexo Capital include Alphabet (holding company of Google), Intel Capital, Cisco Investment, the Royal Bank of Canada, Kapor Capital, the Hampton University Endowment (Cambridge Associates client), the Ford Foundation, family offices, and technology executives.

Prior to founding Plexo Capital, Lo was a Partner on the investing team at GV, where he focused on marketplaces, mobile, and consumer products. Before GV, Lo was a Partner with Comcast Ventures, leading the Catalyst Fund and worked with the main fund focusing on mobile messaging marketplaces.

He also worked with Zynga as the GM of Zynga Poker with full P+L responsibility For Zynga’s largest franchise at the time. During his leadership, web bookings increased by over 150% with margin expansion. Lo has also held executive roles with Nike + eBay as a startup funded by top tier investors.

Lo received his M.B.A from the Haas School of Business (University of California at Berkeley), where he completed the Management of Technology program, a joint curriculum program with the College of Engineering. Lo received his B.S from Hampton University in Virginia.

Jessica Santana

America On Tech, Inc., Co-Founder & CEO

AOT’s mission is to prepare the next generation of technology leaders. AOT provides students with access to the development, mentoring, networking and professional experiences that prepare them for degrees and careers in technology. Their work has been featured in major media outlets such as Forbes, CNN, Wells Fargo, Sirius XM Radio, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, BET, Black Enterprise, AlleyWatch and The Network Journal. AOT has offices in NY and LA.

Prior to AOT, Santana worked as a technology consultant for global brands such as JPMorgan Chase, Accenture and Deloitte. She has been named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and NYN 40 Under 40 Rising Stars list. In 2020, Causeartist named her 1 of 37 Social Entrepreneurs to watch and EdLoC named her a Compass Leader in Ending Generational Poverty.

Among her accolades, Jessica is an Ashoka Emerging Innovator, Pahara Institute Next-Gen Leader, Wells Fargo Millennial Activist, JPMorganChase Global Enterprise Technology Leader, Morgan Stanley Emerging Leader, Deloitte Future Leaders Apprentice​ and one of 50 Visionary Women L​eaders to Watch by Innov8t​iv Magazine. She has received prestigious fellowships with REDF, Camelback Ventures, Points of Light Civic Accelerator and 4.0 Schools. Jessica was also one of the inaugural technology anchors on Univision, part of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community and formerly served as an Entrepreneur in Residence at General Assembly.

She has presented and spoken to over 100+ different audiences that include SXSW Edu, TechCrunch, Google for Entrepreneurs, White House, Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg. Her commitment to philanthropy and community engagement is evidenced by her world travels and work in parts of Europe, China and South America to work with nonprofits, private companies and social enterprises that better local communities and economies. She is a board member or PowerMyLearning and the Office of Multicultural Advancement at Syracuse University. She graduated with undergraduate and graduate degrees in Accounting and Information Technology from Syracuse University.

Keisha Howard

Sugar Gamers, Founder

Infectiously passionate about the worlds of video games and geek culture, Keisha Howard is a leader who has created a compelling and engaging vision and inspires others around it. A two time TEDx Speaker, Keisha is able forsee what lies beyond the horizon for the video game and e-sports industries. She regards video games as more than just entertainment, but a system of ideas and processes that can move and inspire people to action.

Keisha started Sugar Gamers over 10 years ago while pursuing a career in high-rise real estate development. She started this media tech company without outside resources or funds, yet is able to create unorthodox solutions to the seemingly countless problems that exist while bootstrapping an entrepreneurial endeavor. She’s created a unique community, united not only by common interests in gaming and geek culture, but by the mission of promoting diversity and inclusiveness in a space that often suffers from the lack of it.

Her journey has afforded her the opportunity to work with brands like SYFY, Watchmojo, AT&T, HBO, Nintendo, HTC, Microsoft, Google and more.

Eyram Tawia

Leti Arts, Co-Founder & CEO

Eyram is the cofounder and CEO of Leti Arts. As a game developer, Eyram believes that Africa can make a salient contribution to the world of game development and preserve culture through this. He has pioneered developing the gaming industry in Africa with Leti Arts. Eyram believes preserving cultural diversity through gaming and entertainment is very important and aims to prove this by creating world class games and comics using African talent.

Ryan Wilson

The Gathering Spot, Co-Founder & CEO

Ryan Wilson is the Co-Founder and CEO of TGS Holdings, a consumer lifestyle and hospitality company based in Atlanta, Georgia. The company’s holdings consist of The Gathering Spot, a private membership club and A3C a music, tech, and film conference and festival.

At the age of 24, Ryan and his business partner raised private capital from investors to open their first Gathering Spot location. The club in Atlanta has established itself as a home for Atlanta’s creative class, business professionals, and entrepreneurs and regularly hosts some of Atlanta’s most notable and culturally impactful events. Responsible for the company’s overall management and strategic vision across all holdings, Ryan is also leading the club’s physical expansion to Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and forthcoming markets.

Ryan has been recognized as the Small Business Person of the Year by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, has been named as one of the country’s most influential African-Americans in The Root 100 and the Ebony Power 100, named one of “Atlanta’s 500 most powerful leaders” by Atlanta Magazine, received the award for Atlanta’s Best Influencer by WXIA-TV, and was the recipient of the John Lewis Emerging Leader Award by the 100 Black Men of Atlanta. Ryan has also been featured in notable national publications such as Fast Company, Forbes, Inc, Black Enterprise, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Huffington Post, and USA Today. He has given keynote presentations at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities including Georgetown University Law Center, the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth University, and The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

A native to Atlanta, Ryan is currently an active participant in several Atlanta civic and community organizations. He most proudly serves on the board for Hands on Atlanta, Usher’s New Look, The Atlanta Business League, and Peace Preparatory Academy. Ryan graduated from Georgetown University and Georgetown University Law Center.

Tony Barnes

Retro Ninja, Founder & Developer

Tony Barnes, has been making video games for over three decades, starting as a solo developer on the Apple II, C64 and his favorite; the Atari home computers. With talents in art, music, code and design, Barnes has created and maintained franchises, revived cult classics and expanded original and licensed IP’s, with such high profile titles including; The Strike Series, Star Wars: Episode III, Star Trek DS9: The Fallen, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, Medal of Honor 2010, and Strider 2014.

Franchise builder, firefighter and vision holder; many of Tony’s products have garnered awards and praise and Tony himself has been given the auspicious honor of The Jerry Lawson Lifetime Achievement Award.​

In 2020, Tony Barnes formed RetroNinja, to give himself an unfettered outlet for the types of games he enjoys creating. Focusing on arcade-oriented action/adventure games, Tony intends for RetroNinja to be the go-to for visceral action experiences.

Jennifer Loo

Tala, Chief Financial Officer

Jen Loo joined Tala as its first Chief Financial Officer in November 2018 and brings a unique blend of business, finance, and legal acumen through executive experience at high-growth companies in a variety of industries. She has held CFO at Reformation, a vertically-integrated sustainable fashion brand, and mitú, a digital media brand focused on creating a platform for Latino voices, and was VP Finance at LegalZoom. Jen holds an MBA from UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, a J.D. from NYU, and a BS/BA in Business Administration and Economics from UC Berkeley.

Steven Wolfe Pereira

Encantos, Co-Founder & CEO

Steven Wolfe Pereira is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Encantos, PBC (“Encantos”).

Encantos is on a mission to become the most impactful entertainment-driven edtech company in the world. By using entertainment and technology to reimagine education focused on 21st century skills, Encantos is creating direct-to-learner family brands that both kids and parents love.

An award-winning B-Corp aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to build a better world for both people and our planet, Encantos’ family brands include the Emmy-nominated and 2x Kidscreen award-winning #1 bilingual preschool brand Canticos, the food-focused Issa’s Edible Adventures, the Day of the Dead-inspired resilience brand Skeletitos, and the adventure-based travel brand Tiny Travelers.

Encantos brings its brands to life via digital and physical offerings including apps, books, consumer products, music, subscription services, videos and more. Encantos has received industry awards and accolades from the AP, ASU GSV, CNN, Common Sense Media, Forbes, Kidscreen, Kirkus Reviews, NBC News, The New York Times, NPR, Parents Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Romper, School Library Journal, Univision and USA Today. Headquartered in Culver City, CA, Encantos is a proud Latinx-led and women-owned public benefit corporation that puts diversity, equality, and inclusion at the heart of everything it creates.

An Emmy-nominated executive producer, Mr. Wolfe Pereira was named by Adweek as one of the “”50 Most Indispensable Executives in Marketing, Media and Tech”” as well as one of the top Chief Marketing Technology Officers. Mr. Wolfe Pereira has served as the Chief Marketing Officer of Datalogix (acquired by Oracle), Neustar (acquired by Golden Gate Capital) and Quantcast. Mr. Wolfe Pereira has also held executive roles at Publicis Groupe, Univision and Akamai Technologies. He began his career in finance at The Blackstone Group, Salomon Smith Barney (Citi) and Violy, Byorum & Partners.

A passionate supporter of women, diversity and STEAM education initiatives, Mr. Wolfe Pereira serves as a board director of the Ad Council, the Kapor Center’s SMASH program and the Latino Community Foundation. He earned a B.A. from Tufts University, was a Fulbright Scholar and completed the Greater Boston Executive MBA Program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. A Dominican-American born and raised in New York, Mr. Wolfe Pereira now lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.

Charles Babb

Fairchild Consortium, CEO and Chief Creative Officer

Charles is an entertainment industry production professional that has an affinity for entertainment and technology. He has worked across a number of entertainment industries including music, comics (manga), television, film, and games. From working on manga, digital media, television, and films at TOKYOPOP, Charles was able to assist in increasing the popularity of manga in the early 2000s. After studying video game design and production at the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, he, as a producer and/or designer, worked on and shipped over eight video game titles published by Warner Bros., Activision, Sony PlayStation, and Koei Tecmo. Charles stepped back into the world of anime when he became the Global Anime Creative Producer at Netflix. Leaving anime to chase a dream building theme parks, Charles became a Creative Producer for Universal Studios – Creative building Interactive experiences for theme parks.

In 2014, Charles and some of his amazing colleagues launched Fairchild Consortium to create inventive and innovative interactive entertainment experiences for core games, augmented, virtual and mixed realities. At Fairchild Consortium, Charles is the chief executive officer or dot connector over the small telecommuting studio that has more than 10 developers with outsource houses working on tools and content for the emerging industry.

Beyond his own creative endeavors, Charles is managing Blacks In Gaming (BIG), a video game focused professional organization that delivers training and assistance to Blacks working in the gaming industry.. He’s involved in many community activities. Charles is an active mentor in the Ambition program at the Environmental Charter High School, The Links of San Fernando Valley chapter mentoring program, and Cultural Policy graduate of the Art for LA – ACTIVATE Program.
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/charlesbabb
TEDx Wellington Talk: https://youtu.be/3_bgJpiDP6c
CatalystCreativ Talk: https://youtu.be/XGqBEGnb0Bw

Janice Bryant Howroyd

Act-1, CEO & Founder

Businesswoman, entrepreneur, educator, ambassador, author, and mentor – Janice Bryant Howroyd is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the ActOne Group, an award-winning, global talent and workforce technology enterprise. Her professional accomplishments include Presidential appointments (U.S. Ambassador for the Department of Energy’s
Minorities in Energy, U.S. International Trade Advisory Commission Board, and the Board of Advisors for the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities) plus recognition from worldrenowned business organizations like Forbes and BET, who selected her as their first-ever Entrepreneur of the Year. Through it all, Janice stayed true to her professional mantra: “Never compromise who you are personally to become who you wish to be professionally.”

Janice is a tireless advocate for education and has dedicated her resources to funding scholarships and serving on several boards, including the Harvard’s Women’s Leadership Board of the Kennedy School of Government, her alma mater North Carolina A&T State University, University of Southern California, and many others. Her passion for science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is rooted in her belief that STEM will be one of the great equalizers in 21st-century employment and has led her to work with Girls in Tech, a non-profit that works to create STEM opportunities for underserved communities. In this way, JBH is doing her part to ensure a future that includes everyone.

Shawn Gunn

PLLAY Labs, Inc., Co-Founder & CEO

Shawn Gunn has successfully exited from five technologies companies during his career as an executive, investor and entrepreneur. Today, he is Co-founder and CEO of PLLAY Labs, a Artificial Intelligence driven behavioral data and wagering platform focused on the broader video gaming industry, and former Founder and CEO of Persona, a personal data security and monetization platform.

Janice McNair

EZ Texting, CFO

Janice McNair is a strategic finance executive who thrives on scaling organizations and driving growth initiatives. She has more than 20 years of finance and operating experience with Fortune 500, growth, and startup companies. Prior to joining EZ Texting, McNair launched an independent consulting firm focused on corporate finance, business launch, and strategy in the digital media, ad tech, gaming, and technology industries. As a VP in Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs, she closed more than 20 financing, merger, and strategic transactions for technology, entertainment, media, and telecommunications companies. She started her career at J.P. Morgan. She has a B.S. in Finance and Economics from Boston College in Finance and Economics and an MBA degree from Harvard Business School.

Sarah Kunst

Cleo Capital, Inc., Managing Director

Sarah Kunst is the managing director of Cleo Capital & a contributing editor at Marie Claire Magazine. She has served as a senior advisor at Bumble where she focused on their corporate VC arm Bumble Fund and on the board of the Michigan State University Foundation endowment.

Kunst has been named a Future Innovator by Vanity Fair, Forbes 30 Under 30 and a top 25 innovator in tech by Cool Hunting. She has been recognized for her work in Business Insider as a 30 under 30 Women in Tech and Top African-American in Tech & Pitchbook Top Black VC To Watch and honored as a top woman in VC by the Wall St. Journal and named a top DealmakeHer by the National Retail Federation. She was also named a coach for the Cartier Women’s Initiative.

James Andrews

Authenticated Antler, Founder & Venture Partner

James Andrews is the founder of Authenticated Ventures, a venture advisory designed to build better companies, launch new ideas and illuminate influential people through experiences, content and investment advisory. At the center is The Authenticated, a 300+ membership community made up of influential creative entrepreneurs, brand builders, investors and innovators in culture. The Authenticated has a city tour, mobile / web platform and creates content and community opportunities. Post COVID, The Authenticated has created weekly “virtual Jeffersonian dinners” and produces monthly salons and summits in live stream on a number of topics and themes.

Andrews previously founded Social People a strategic digital agency that was acquired in 2013. Social People worked with clients Nike, Beats By Dre, The Grammy Awards, CNN, Equinox and Lexus on global social media initiatives. In 2009 Andrews created #BeatCancer an online movement to raise awareness for Cancer research. Launched over a dinner idea #BeatCancer garnered the 1st ever Guinness World Record for social media mentions and raised $70,000 for in 24hrs via Twitter.

Before launching Social People, Andrews was VP, Ketchum PR and built their global social media practice area for clients Monster.com, FedEx, GeekSquad, Nokia, and Wendy’s. In 1999, Andrews built and sold email newsletter SoulPurpose.com to Urban Box Office, a digital entertainment company. At the center of the NYC dot-com boom the company went on to raise $40m and hire 320 employees in 15 months. Soul Purpose and Andrews were both featured in the Wall Street Journal. Andrews formative years were spent as a senior marketing executive at Columbia Records in the mid 90’s, helping develop artists like Nas, The Fugees, Destiny’s Child and Lauryn Hill become household names.

James Andrews has been a keynote speaker globally in Dubai, Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi, Sao Paulo, and Norway and was named to the Ebony Power100 list. James Andrews attended UCLA, grew up in Palo Alto, CA and is on the board at Alliance College Ready Public Schools, the largest charter school network in Los Angeles, Muse School in Malibu, CA and Uncharted Play, a NYC renewable energy company based in Harlem and involved in a number of early stage smart city developments in Africa.

Jeff Cherry

Conscious Venture Partners, LLC., Managing Partner

Jeff is the Founder/Executive Director of Conscious Venture Lab, and CEO of SHIFT Ventures, an accelerator and venture capital fund for companies that are operating at the intersection of profit and purpose. He is an evangelist for the transformation of capitalism, attempting to reshape cities and lives through a more human-centered form of work.

The fund invests in companies that use societal purpose as the foundation for long-term sustainable value. Jeff is a frequent speaker on the topic of impact investing and new models of business. He has recently had the honor to present at The University of Maryland, The Darden School at the University of Virginia, Yale University, Columbia University, The Booth School at the University of Chicago, and The University of Baltimore.

Jeff is a recovering NCAA DIII Football player, and a martial artist with a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and extensive experience in Krav Maga.

Lauryn Nkwanpa

Dave, Head of Social Impact

Lauryn Nwankpa is the Head of Social Impact at Dave. With a Masters degree in Social Entrepreneurship from USC Marshall and over a decade of experience, she marries Dave’s financial goals with social impact strategies that span public policy, strategic partnerships, and industry best practices.

Lauryn embeds sustainable, scalable impact practices across Dave that drive stakeholder value while empowering marginalized communities by increasing their access to key resources. She is also on the board of the Santa Monica Tech Council, an early-stage start-up advisor through the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, and a mentor for the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

Lena Wasikowski

Warner Media, VP of Global Client Relations & Content Distribution

Lena Wasikowski is Vice President of Global Client Relations and Content Distribution for WarnerMedia. She leads the team responsible for ensuring Warner Media content (including Warner Bros., HBO and Turner) is distributed globally via B2B channels and D2C business (HBO Max).
 

Wasikowski provides strategic oversight of the organization’s content delivery, client operations support, next generation content servicing initiatives and operations strategy. Her team ensures client success and accelerated content delivery through the development, implementation and optimization of advanced, efficient operations protocols in close collaboration with internal stakeholders, such as content post-production and mastering. 
 

In addition to her work at WB, she is the Chair of the DEG (Digital ntertainment Group) Tech Ops committee, which plays a lead role in the creation and establishment of servicing protocols for industry standard specs and next generation technologies. 
 

Prior to her current role, Wasikowski served as Vice President, Global Content
Distribution and Operations Strategy for Warner Bros. and previously, Executive Director, Client Relations and Digital Media Operations. 
 

Wasikowski brings nearly 20 years of strategic and operational leadership to WarnerMedia with previous management roles at major internet service providers and technology companies. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Management and a Masters of Business Administration.
 

Wasikowski is passionate about advocating for inclusion and equity at WarnerMedia and beyond. She has lead efforts for various initiatives at Warner Bros Technology that focused on Kids and diversity by partnering with Steamcoders and Girls Who Code program. She has participated in several diversity and inclusion speaking panels on the subject and supports mentorship programs in connecting diverse talent with media organizations.

Shelly Bell

Black Girl Ventures, Founder

Named as one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top 100 Powerful Women in Business, Shelly Bell is a computer scientist, system disruptor and business strategist who moves ideas to profit while empowering people to live to build and foster better relationships. She connects entrepreneurs, investors, and corporations in order to diversify their talent pipeline, increase equity and grow their brands.

Jessica Brillhart

USC Institute for Creative Technologies, Director of the Mixed Reality (MxR) Lab

Jessica Brillhart is the Director of the Mixed Reality (MxR) Lab at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. Prior to her appointment, she was the Principle Filmmaker for Virtual Reality at Google and spearheaded efforts in exploring the technology and language of the mediums of virtual reality, augmented reality, and intelligent systems.

Brillhart received her degree in Film and Television Production from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and Computer Applications at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. She has presented keynotes at SXSW, Google IO, Oculus Connect, FMX, Sonar+D, Fast Company’s Innovation Festival, and the Aspen Ideas Festival. Brillhart has worked as an advisor for Sundance New Frontiers, the Independent Film Project (IFP), and Electric South; and has been a judge for such organizations as World Press Photo, ADC Young Guns, and the Tribeca Film Festival. Brillhart was recognized by MIT Technology Review’s 35 Under 35 in 2017 and is a past recipient of the Advanced Imaging Society’s Distinguished Leadership Award.

Known for her pioneering work in the immersive space, Brillhart has made a wide range of award-winning experiences and platforms, collaborating with partners such as Bose, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Elvis Presley Enterprises, the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, Frank Gehry, the Montreal Canadiens, Yo-Yo Ma, Google’s Artists and Machine Intelligence team, and (unofficially) the Weather Channel. Her work continues to explore the experiential potential of emergent technologies, the stories these technologies and mediums can tell, and the language that helps us tell them.

Gregorio Rojas

Sabio, Head Instructor of Software Engineering & Co-Founder

Software/Startup veteran leading the technical training and MVP development at Sabio. You can find me often at Hackathons where I enjoying watching many of developers beat out established industry professionals.

You can find me hosting meets up out of our https://www.meetup.com/Learn-To-Code-in-Los-Angeles/ group but also speaking at a variety of industry and academic events.

Luis Martinez

We Tha Plug, Founder and CEO

Luis Martinez, MSOL is the Founder/CEO of We Tha Plug. We Tha Plug ” works with early-stage Pan-African & Latinx founders and startups from Ideation to Pre-Seed phase. We Tha Plug is also a global community of Pan-African, Latinx and other underrepresented founders, Venture Capitalist and Angel Investors in the Startup, Tech & Innovation space. We provide a global ecosystem that gives founders access to startup fundamental education, mentorship, programming & resources. Luis has won many awards for his work including recently being a nominee for the Top Tech Awards which recognizes the most outstanding Technology leaders in San Diego. Luis is also a Chapter Director of Startup Grind San Diego which is the largest independent startup community, actively educating, inspiring, and connecting more than 1,500,000 entrepreneurs in 450 cities.

Talib Graves-Manns

Knox St. Studios / Partners in Equity / Black Wall Street Homecoming, Co-Founder

Talib is a serial impact entrepreneur driven to create equitable communities + innovative products. Former Google Entrepreneur-in-Residence, and Founder of CDFI-backed HBCU Entrepreneurship Center, Knox Street Studios, Life on Autopilot and Black Wall Street Homecoming

Allen Woods

Mortar, CoFounder & Executive Director

Allen Woods is a devoted husband, father and entrepreneur – in that order. A lifelong Midwesterner, he’s never allowed the size of a city to place a limit on the size of his dreams. Allen is the creative force behind the MORTAR brand, as well as a business consultant and training facilitator for incoming students.

His determination (or stubbornness – as his mom would call it) has allowed him to develop a resiliency that has grown with him on his entrepreneurial journey. Recognized as a 2016 Cincinnati Business Courier 40 under 40 Business Leader, 2017 John F. Barrett Entrepreneur Vision Award and 2017 Echoing Green BMA Fellow, Woods is also a sought-after public speaker who recently shined on the TEDx stage. As a brand strategist and designer, Allen assisted directly in the growth of hundreds of small businesses and personal brands across the globe.

When Allen isn’t at MORTAR, he’s probably somewhere with his wife, Kyla, planning or recording the next episode of their relationship podcast, Permanent Plus One.

Candice Matthews-Brackeen

Lightship Capital, General Partner

We are in the process of updating Candice Matthews-Brackeen’s bio. Please check back for updates!

Jason Foster

Destination Crenshaw, Chief Administrator

Jason Foster is the Chief Administrator for Destination Crenshaw. In this role, Jason’s main responsibilities are to oversee the administration and operations of the nonprofit, manage the organization’s finances and reporting, communicate with and support the Board of Directors, and serve as the organization’s point of contact for public agencies, vendors, and key community partners.
Prior to Destination Crenshaw, Jason served as the Director of Strategic Partnerships at River LA and worked with community partners, corporate representatives, and LA County residents to create collaborations with Verizon/RYOT, Lucky Brand Jeans, and others. He also served in civic engagement, digital communications, and administrative roles while at River LA.

Before moving to Los Angeles, Jason worked as a Community Organizer & Project Manager for Impacct Brooklyn (previously Pratt Area Community Council) in Brooklyn, New York. At Impacct, Jason managed two multi-unit affordable housing projects through construction and received a New York State Proclamation from State Senator Eric Adams for his work in the Nostrand Avenue community for his role as a Community Organizer & Advocate.

Jason holds a Bachelor of Business Administration, Finance from Howard University in Washington D.C., as well as a Master of Business Administration from the Metropolitan College of New York. Jason is a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, Beta Chapter, and is happily married with two young children.

Jordan Patapoff

Amazon Web Services (AWS), Solutions Architect

Jordan works on the Startup team at AWS as a Solutions Architect where he helps early-stage companies design and scale their applications. His primary focus is working with companies participating in accelerators like Y Combinator, Techstars, and StartX. Prior to joining Amazon, he co-founded Clyp, a Techstars-backed company that he helped scale to millions of monthly users.

Noramay Cadena

MiLA Capital, Managing Partner

Noramay Cadena is an engineer, entrepreneur, investor, and former nonprofit leader. She’s the Cofounder and Managing Director of Make in LA, an early-stage hardware accelerator and venture fund in Los Angeles. Since launching in 2015, Make in LA’s venture fund has invested over $1.5MM in seed-stage companies who have collectively raised over $25MM and created jobs across the United States and in several other countries.

Prior to co-founding Make in LA, Cadena spent over 10 years in aerospace with The Boeing Company. Her roles included technical oversight, shop floor operations management, and program management with profit and loss accountability over budgets of $20MM+ and the delivery of complex technical systems.

In the community, Cadena is active civically and in the nonprofit sector. She co-founded the Latinas in STEM Foundation in 2013 to inspire and empower Latinas to pursue and thrive in STEM fields and led the organization through 2015. She also serves on the Housing Authority Commission of Los Angeles and is a founding board member for a newly approved K-8 charter school in Los Angeles.

Cadena holds an MBA, a Master’s in Engineering Systems and a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering – all from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She’s been a featured speaker in many platforms across the country including TEDx and the World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship – her talks and recognitions cover technical achievement, leadership, and overcoming obstacles. She’s also received numerous awards and recognitions including being named one of the top 26 women engineers to watch in 2016 by Business Insider, one of the top 20 Latinos in Tech by CNET in 2014 and receiving national awards by the Society of Women Engineers and Great Minds in STEM.

Noel Watson

TrueCar, CFO

Noel Watson is the Chief Financial Officer at TrueCar Inc., responsible for leading TrueCar’s financial operations including accounting and investor relations.

Prior to joining TrueCar, Noel spent thirteen years with Boston-based TripAdvisor, the world’s largest online travel platform, where he gained deep experience in two-sided digital marketplaces with complex revenue and acquisition models. In his most recent role as VP Finance & Chief Accounting Officer at TripAdvisor, Noel oversaw the company’s global accounting operations and corporate financial planning and analysis function.

He began his career as a CPA at Arthur Andersen and subsequently held management positions at Boston based technology firms ArrAy Inc. and Way Systems prior to joining TripAdvisor in 2006.

Noel holds a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Bryant University.

Ed Reyes

Executive Director, River LA

Ed P. Reyes is the Executive Director of River LA where he spearheads the organization’s efforts to revitalize all 51 miles of the LA River. Ed Reyes brings two decades of experience working in the public sector and improving the quality of life for all Angelenos, having served on the Los Angeles City Council for 22 years, 10 years as Chief Planning Deputy for District 1 and 12 years as City Councilmember. Both in his tenure on City Council and beyond, Ed has been a staunch advocate and champion for the Los Angeles River. During his time in City Council, and with the support of his Council colleagues, Ed established the Ad-Hoc River Committee to revitalize the Los Angeles River and served as Chair for 10 years.

As chair of the Los Angeles River Ad Hoc Committee, Ed brought a renewed focus to the once-ignored Los Angeles River. He championed a multidisciplinary focus to promote a multi-purpose role along the river corridor and secured more than $3 million to create a neighborhood-driven plan that included enhancing water quality, environmental protection, increasing open space and improving flood control.

In 2007, Ed led a comprehensive community participation process that led to the adoption of the City of LA’s Los Angeles River Master Plan. The plan focuses on a regional strategy to address the deterioration of natural habitats while enhancing flood control capacity.

Ed was appointed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis as an LA County Park Commissioner and by then-Governor Jerry Brown to the governing board for the Designated Local Authority for Former Community Redevelopment Agency overseeing the transfer of assets and land use authority from the Community Redevelopment Agency. He is currently appointed to the Measure W Committee to facilitate the goals for implementing stormwater harvesting.

The Moderators

Ruth Simon

Wall Street Journal, Senior Special Writer

Ruth Simon is a New York-based senior special writer for the The Wall Street Journal, where she covers small business and entrepreneurship. She previously was a senior special writer for the Money & Investing section covering consumer lending, a senior special writer for the Real Estate group covering mortgages and housing, a senior special writer for Personal Journal and a reporter for the Money & Investing section. Ms. Simon won a 2019 SABEW Best in Business Award for her coverage of the impact of the labor squeeze on small business.

Before joining the Journal, Ms. Simon had worked for Money magazine in New York for more than seven years. She began as a staff writer in January 1991, later became a senior writer and was named associate editor of the magazine in February 1996. She was with Forbes magazine from October 1983 to December 1990. She started as a reporter and researcher in New York and later became a staff writer in Chicago and New York, respectively. She began her journalism career in 1981 as editor of People & Taxes in Washington, D.C., and moved to the National Law Journal in Washington as a reporter in May 1982.

Ms. Simon was part of a team that was a finalist for a 2014 Society of American Business Editors and Writers award for small business coverage. She was also part of a team that won a one-time National Press Foundation award for coverage of the 2013 federal government shutdown. Ms. Simon was part of a team of Wall Street Journal reporters that won a “Distinguished Business Reporting” award in 2008 from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association for a package of stories on the subprime mortgage crisis. In 1995, she won the Award for Excellence in Financial Writing from the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants. In 1994, she was a finalist in both the Gerald Loeb Awards for Excellence in Financial Writing and in the Deadline Club Awards from the New York City Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In 1996, she was a contributor to “The Money Book of Personal Finance.”

Ms. Simon attended Vassar College and received a bachelor’s degree, cum laude, from Yale University.

Jonathan Shieber

Tech Crunch, Senior Editor

Jonathan Shieber is a senior editor and writer at TechCrunch. He previously worked as a reporter covering venture capital and private equity investment in the U.S. and China at Dow Jones & Co. with work published in Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.

Barry Givens

Collab Capital, Managing Partner

Barry Givens is Managing Partner of Collab Capital where he funds and supports Black founders that value optionality, profitability, and ownership. He is also Managing Director for the Cox Social Impact Accelerator powered by Techstars in Atlanta where he focuses on companies making a positive impact on people, communities, and the environment

Eric Elder

OW! (Online World) Entertainment, Founder

Moderator for Building the Black Video Game Studio of the Future

Eric started his career as a 2D animator at MTV on Beavis & Butt Head and then moved to LA to work on King of the Hill & The Simpsons. When not working as a professional animator he spent 15 years working with the Art Institutes as an Instructor, then as an Academic Director and created the most successful Video Game production training programs in the system.

He founded OW! (Online Worlds) Entertainment in 1997 to create virtual worlds for movie & TV properties.

For the past few years he has been focused on the emerging AR/VR industry managing productions, designing pipeline models, game/experience design, strategic planning and developing studio pitches for AR & VR based on major Hollywood IP.

He is currently spends most of his time as a Media Arts Consultant designing training programs and production pipelines for animation, video game & XR production. He is also actively a speaker at various industry related events.

Misty Gaither

Indeed, Senior Manager Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Business Partners (Global)

Misty Gaither is the Director of Global Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Business Partners and directly supports the Senior Technical Leaders at Indeed; primarily focused on removing bias and barriers from systems and processes, advising on how to build more inclusive products and building a culture of Inclusion and Belonging. Misty spent the majority of her career in various sales leadership roles while working for Altria Group and JPMorgan Chase up until a few years ago when she pivoted into D&I by way of Business Development at a Non-Profit startup focused on Racial Equity and Inclusion in
tech. Leading Business Development efforts at Code2040 gave Misty an inside look at the Talent Attraction, HR, and D&I operations at some of the most coveted tech companies in Silicon Valley and led her to go “in-house” to work on D&I at Twilio. Misty’s
cross-industry experience contributes to her wealth of knowledge and unique approach to developing strategies that will incorporate DI&B into the infrastructure of the company.

Misty is a natural connector and relationship builder. She is familiar with being one of the “only” in the room, has an innate ability to engage with leadership, and isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions and present her recommendations for solutions. She leverages being the “only” in a room as her superpower and is passionate about implementing change through education and awareness about the innumerable topics surrounding DI&B.

Misty is a proud alumna of Florida A&M University, School of Business and Industry where she earned her degree in Business Administration with a Marketing concentration, an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., and the Founder of HBCU No Regrets, a consultancy focused on educating tech companies about the historical significance and importance of including HBCUs in their talent acquisition strategies. Misty is a dog mom to a 7-year-old Yorkie (Dash), an active Godmother of 3, enjoys fitness, traveling, shopping, brunch, and spending time with family and friends.

Derek Smith

Plug In South LA Accelerator, Founder

Derek Smith is the Founder of Plug In South LA. In addition to Plug In South LA, he is digital marketing evangelist and branding expert by trade, Derek has worked with many leading global brands. With a primary focus on digital media trends, he has developed a keen understanding of the complex relationship that exists between advertisers and brands. Derek has consulted and worked with some of the world’s most prominent brands, among whose number are Corbis Images, SAB Miller Breweries, NBA, Microsoft Advertising, Nestle , 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 enjoys good food and unplanned travelling adventures. He is also a former board member at Sustainable South Bronx.

Mack Kolarich

Different Funds, Chief Product Office

A serial entrepreneur and startup community leader, Mack leads Different’s product design and development as well as its fund due diligence team. He leverages his deep expertise and networks in 50+ global startup ecosystems to help source and assess funds for Different. In addition to his work at Different, Mack cofounded Startup Angels with Leslie Jump after meeting her at an entrepreneurs summit in Rio de Janeiro. Together, they have taught investor workshops in 30+ markets around the world.

Previously, Mack cofounded SceneSquid (a SaaS marketing tool), Startup Jackpot and GetSpontaneous. As a global and corporate facilitator with Startup Weekend, Mack has run entrepreneur programs across the globe and helped pioneer the organization’s corporate innovation program — working with organizations like Booz Allen Hamilton, Coca Cola and the World Bank.

In a prior life, Mack worked with the U.S. International Trade Administration and as a backcountry ranger for the National Park Service. He loves mountaineering, quality outdoor gear, and good design. He has a B.A. in Political Science / Political Economy from Carleton College.

Jake Sally

Head of Development, RYOT, A Verizon Company

Jake Sally (b. 1990, Denver/CO) is an XR industry-leading Emmy nominated producer, public speaker and champion of independent artists dedicated to building the pipeline, vernacular and stories of the emerging VR/AR ecosystem for audiences worldwide. Jake oversees content development at RYOT, Verizon’s internal content innovation company, focused on creating content formats of the future, technical pipelines and storytelling techniques as 5G networks begin to be widely available to consumers. Jake works with artists and technologists to alter and improve the way stories are told with next-generation technology including VR, AR, artificial intelligence, projection mapping, physical installations, 5G and motion capture. His work has led to speaking opportunities both public and private for institutions including MIT, Johns Hopkins, USC, Mobile World Congress, SXSW, Emmy Television Academy Foundation, and the Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Story Lab among others. His work has appeared at Super Bowl LII (2018) and is part of textbooks used at USC such as Crafting Stories for Virtual Reality. His most notable project at the moment is working in partnership with TIME Magazine to digitally recreate the historical March on Washington complete with a photoreal Martin Luther King who will deliver the iconic “I Have a Dream Speech” to guests as part of a large scale traveling virtual reality museum exhibition on the civil rights. He was also the creative producer for the United Nation’s first use of projection mapping in the General Assembly as part of their Climate Action Summit held to galvanize world leaders to fight climate change like never before.

Zuhairah Washington

SVP, Expedia Group

Zuhairah is a multi-dimensional technology executive who is living a life of purpose: opening doors to wealth and career equality and advocating for those who aren’t at the table. Zuhairah is a Senior Technology Executive, Board Member, and Angel Investor who delivers billion-dollar outcomes for start-ups to Fortune 500 leaders such as Expedia Group (NASDAQ: EXPE) and Uber (NYSE: UBER). She brings 15+ years of experience in hyper scalability across complex B2B and B2C marketplaces, navigating digital transformation and crafting people leadership strategy. She has been featured in The Washington Post, Fast Company, Forbes and Entrepreneur Magazine and recognized as one of the 100 Most Influential Black Executives in Corporate America by Savoy Magazine.

Brianne Garrett

Reporter at Forbes & Editorial Lead for For(bes) The Culture

Brianne Garrett is a reporter at Forbes covering budding entrepreneurs of color, women and leadership—and, when she can, food. She is also the editorial lead for Forbes’ For(bes) The Culture community aimed at creating equitable business pathways for Black and Brown professionals. Originally from Bay Shore, Long Island, N.Y., she spent her undergrad years at Boston University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to joining Forbes, she worked at Wine Spectator where she covered wine, food and pop culture.

Chris Denson

Author, Host, Innovation Advocate, Crush Industires

Chris Denson is an award-winning innovator, marketer, recovering comedian, and host of the “Innovation Crush” podcast, with over 750,000 subscribers around the world. Having been a guest speaker, curator, and attendee at 100’s of industry events, Chris is an expert at uncovering the best thinking and commonalities across a diverse array of cultures. Applying his expertise to the likes of the White House, Art Basel Miami, WeWork, The United Nations, and Omnicom Media Group, his work has been featured in Adweek, Forbes, the New York Times, and Inc, to name a few. He is also the author of the Amazon #1 bestselling book, Crushing the Box: 10 Essential Rules for Breaking Essential Rules, a series of personal and professional examinations of what it takes to be an innovator.

Debra Langford

Executive Director of Business Development, Advancing Black Pathways, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Debra L. Langford is an executive with experience in corporate initiatives, creative production and strategic consulting experiences in global entertainment companies and independent media organizations. Debra is nationally recognized for her expertise as a strategic networking leader and creator of successful outcomes in diversity initiatives.

Debra is the Business Development Executive Director of Advancing Black Pathways, the bold, new JP Morgan Chase initiative powered by the global breadth of the firm to make our economy work for more people.

Debra serves on the Advisory Boards of the American Black Film Festival, Digital Diversity Network, Coalition of Urban Professionals, USC Black Alumni Association, and the Los Angeles Chapter of Dress for Success. Debra is a founding board member of the media and entertainment group, Colour Entertainment, a network of ethnically diverse executives in all creative areas of film and television development and production. Debra is a member of the Women in Film organization.

John Iman

Head of Gaming and Entertainment, Snapchat

John Imah is an award-winning entrepreneur known for innovative ideas and business savvy. He has been employed at some of the world’s biggest tech companies (e.g., Facebook/Instagram, Snapchat, Amazon/Twitch) and worked with top agencies, celebrities, and influencers. John currently serves as an executive at Snapchat, where he leads and oversees Snapchat’s Gaming and Entertainment strategy, partnerships, and business development. He is also a tech advisor for startups and many of Hollywood’s A-list celebrities, such as Kevin Hart, Martin Lawrence, The Boondocks’ creator Aaron McGruder, and many more. In prior years, John co-founded two start-up companies that were privately sold.

Tiffany Lewis

Executive Director, J.P. Morgan Asset Management

We are in the process of updating Tiffany Lewis’ bio. Please check back for updates!

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