A16z’s Megan Holston-Alexander on Building Generational Wealth in the Black Community Through Tech

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
A16z’s Megan Holston-Alexander on Building Generational Wealth in the Black Community Through Tech
Photo Courtesy of Megan Holston-Alexander

On this episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, A16z Partner Megan Holston-Alexander, who heads the company’s Cultural Leadership Fund (CLF), discusses how she uses her network to bring Black leaders to the tech space, as part of an effort to help build generational wealth in those communities.

One of the most influential venture firms around, A16z, also known as Andreessen Horowitz, has $33.3 billion in assets under management. Its Cultural Leadership Fund has two main missions: “connecting the world’s greatest cultural leaders” with the best technology companies and getting young African Americans interested in tech.

Holston-Alexander’s team focuses on bringing Black athletes, entertainers, musicians and C-level executives — that she labels as “cultural leaders” — into the tech industry. “And CLF gets to provide an on-ramp to that,” she said.

Black culture informs many of the trends in tech, Holston-Alexander said, but the industries that benefit from those trends don’t always reflect the communities that are on the vanguard—be it in music, fashion, ecommerce or elsewhere.

“And what we wanted to do is transform that and convert that cultural leadership, quite frankly, into ownership into these companies,” Holston-Alexander said. “It's really great that we're on the front line of the greatest dancing trends, etc. But how do we get ownership in the things that we're, quite frankly, helping build in the background?”

So far, A16z’s CLF has invested in 300 startups through its first two funds and recently announced Fund III.

Adding value to these investments can mean reaching out to cultural leaders for positions that A16z-funding are looking to fill, or working with Black executives, celebrities or innovators who are interested in a particular field in tech, and making introductions to the companies working in that space.

“We’ll go and tap into our network and say, ‘Who do we know that fits into [a startup’s] need?,” she said. The CLF works to make the introduction.

She added that the new fund has been selective with the limited partners (LPs) invested in it. They’re looking for Black LPs who are not only cultural leaders but who are also engaged and deeply interested in the areas the CLF has targeted.

“The age of the disengaged celebrity investor is over, right?” she said. “Very early on, it was okay to just kind of lend your name to things right to help kind of help things blow up.”

Now, the CLF wants to make sure funders are invested intellectually as well as financially.

“We'd rather bring somebody into the fund to maybe write a smaller check, but [who] is more willing to engage and pick up the phone when a founder calls.”

Holston-Alexander grew up in Montgomery, Alabama—one of the centers of the Civil Rights Movement, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. established his church and Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.

“This concept of civil rights and equity has been in the water that I drink since I grew up as a child,” she said. “And even in 65 years, when you think about progress, when it comes to income and wealth, and generational things being passed down, there hasn’t been much change.”

Her background informs her work at the Cultural Leadership Fund, she said — in particular her focus on bringing young Black workers and entrepreneurs into the industry.

“We have seen technology really, in the last 20 years, become a source of wealth generation, and one of the clearest paths to wealth generation,” she said “And so we want to be sure that we're tapping into that, and getting people into this industry early.”

Engagement and Production Intern Jojo Macaluso contributed to this post.

Click the link above to hear the full episode, and subscribe to LA Venture on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System
Evan Xie

NASA’s footprint in California is growing as the agency prepares for Congress to approve its proposed 2024 budget.

The overall NASA budget swelled 6% from the prior year, JPL deputy director Larry James told dot.LA. He added he sees that as a continuation of the last two presidential administrations’ focus on modernizing and bolstering the nation’s space program.

The money goes largely to existing NASA centers in California, including the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory run with Caltech, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

California remains a hotspot for NASA space activity and investment. In 2021, the agency estimated its economic output impact on the region to be around $15.2 billion. That was far more than its closest competing states, including Texas ($9.3 billion) and Maryland (roughly $8 billion). That same year, NASA reported it employed over 66,000 people in California.

“In general, Congress has been very supportive” of the JPL and NASA’s missions, James said. “It’s generally bipartisan [and] supported by both sides of the aisle. In the last few years in general NASA has been able to have increased budgets.”

There are 41 current missions run by JPL and CalTech, and another 16 scheduled for the future. James added the new budget is “an incredible support for all the missions we want to do.”

The public-private partnership between NASA and local space companies continues to evolve, and the increased budget could be a boon for LA-based developers. Numerous contractors for NASA (including CalTech, which runs the JPL), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman all stand to gain new contracts once the budget is finalized, partly because NASA simply needs the private industry’s help to achieve all its goals.

James said that there was only one JPL mission that wasn’t funded – a mission to send an orbital satellite to survey the surface and interior of Venus, called VERITAS.

NASA Employment and Output ImpactEvan Xie

The Moon and Mars

Much of the money earmarked in the proposed 2024 budget is for crewed missions. Overall, NASA’s asking for $8 billion from Congress to fund lunar exploration missions. As part of this, the majority is earmarked for the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to land a woman and person of color on the Moon’s south pole.

While there’s a number of high-profile missions the JPL is working on that are focused on Mars, including Mars Sample Return project (which received $949 million in this proposed budget) and Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover, JPL also received significant funding to study the Earth’s climate and behavior.

JPL also got funding for several projects to map our universe. One is the SphereX Near Earth Objects surveyor mission, the goal of which is to use telescopes to “map the entire universe,” James said, adding that the mission was fully funded.

International Space Station

NASA’s also asking for more money to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), which houses a number of projects dedicated to better understanding the Earth’s climate and behavior.

The agency requested roughly $1.3 billion to maintain the ISS. It also is increasing its investment in space flight support, in-space transportation and commercial development of low-earth orbit (LEO). “The ISS is an incredible platform for us,” James said.

James added there are multiple missions outside or on board the ISS now taking data, including EMIT, which launched in July 2022. The EMIT mission studies arid dust sources on the planet using spectroscopy. It uses that data to remodel how mineral dust movement in North and South America might affect the Earth’s temperature changes.

Another ISS mission JPL launched is called ECOSTRESS. The mission sent a thermal radiometer onto the space station in June 2018 to monitor how plants lose water through their leaves, with the goal of figuring out how the terrestrial biosphere reacts to changes in water availability. James said the plan is to “tell you the kind of foliage health around the globe” from space.

One other ISS project is called Cold Atom Lab. It is “an incredible fundamental physics machine,” James said, that’s run by “three Nobel Prize winners as principal investigators on the Space Station.” Cold Atom Lab is a physics experiment geared toward figuring out how quantum phenomena behave in space by cooling atoms with lasers to just below absolute zero degrees.

In the long term, James was optimistic NASA’s imaging projects could lead to more dramatic discoveries. Surveying the makeup of planets’ atmospheres is a project “in the astrophysics domain we’re very excited about,” James said. He added that this imaging could lead to information about life on other planets, or, at the very least, an understanding of why they’re no longer habitable.


Behind Her Empire: Margaret Wishingrad On Creating A Low Sugar Cereal Brand

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Behind Her Empire: Margaret Wishingrad On Creating A Low Sugar Cereal Brand
Provided by BHE

On this episode of Behind Her Empire, Three Wishes founder and CEO Margaret Wishingrad talks about creating brand awareness and shares the key component to running a successful business.

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‘Commerce at The Curb’: LA’s Rideshare Debate Heats Up

Maylin Tu
Maylin Tu is a freelance writer who lives in L.A. She writes about scooters, bikes and micro-mobility. Find her hovering by the cheese at your next local tech mixer.
Connie Llanos, Jordan Justus and Gene Oh
Justin Janes, Vizeos Media

Three years ago, Los Angeles went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, cities like L.A. are struggling to hold on to pandemic-era transportation and infrastructure changes, like sidewalk dining and slow streets, while managing escalating demand for curb space from rideshare and delivery.

At Curbivore, a conference dedicated to “commerce at the curb” held earlier this month in downtown Los Angeles, the topic was “Grading on a Curb: The State of our Streets & Cities in 2023,” a panel moderated by Drew Grant, editorial director for dot.LA.

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