Collide Capital’s Aaron Samuels on Creating Blavity Media for Black Millennials and Gen Z

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.

Collide Capital’s Aaron Samuels on Creating Blavity Media for Black Millennials and Gen Z
Courtesy of LAV

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Collide Capital founder and managing partner Aaron Samuels discusses the importance of storytelling and talks about how his career journey led him to venture capital.


Collide Capital is a venture capital firm that just closed its first seed stage fund of $66 million. The fund is focused on investing in intersectional founders.

“We primarily look at three main buckets,” Samuels said. “We look at enterprise SaaS, we look at the regenerative economy and we look at Gen Z.”

Samuels says that working as a scout for Lightspeed, Canaan, Pear VC and Flybridge gave him and his partner Brian Hollins the start that they needed for Collide Fund I. He also has many Silicon Valley funds as LPs.

“I think that because of that actual LP relationship, it just makes the conversation a little bit more fluid for sharing deals,” Samuels said. “Many of these funds will invest up until the Series B and several of them even at a later stage. So because we are focused primarily on seed and a little bit of pre-seed, oftentimes, we can find deals a little bit earlier in the pipeline and then we share our top performers with those funds.”

Prior to starting Collide with Brian Hollins, Samuels served as a strategy consultant for Bain & Co. — the only Black employee in his cohort, the cohort above him, and the cohort below him. Coming from his undergraduate at Washington University, he was no stranger to existing in predominantly white spaces. But in school, he had a strong community he could turn to.

“Washington University in St. Louis is also a primarily white institution,” he said. “But the Black community there was very strong…It represented the total cacophony of all of the conversations that were happening in the Black community and that experience of sitting there seeing other Black people having them move toward one another and actually support each other, we call that Black gravity, or ‘blavity’ for short.”

Samuels said that when he and his friends found themselves in primarily white corporate spaces years later, they longed for that same sense of community.

“We started asking ourselves, is there a way that we can replicate that feeling that we had as undergrads to the rest of the world?” he said.

The lack of diversity and color in these corporate spaces inspired Samuels to create Blavity, the largest global Black media company for millennials and Gen-Z.

Samuels launched the company in 2014 and said it was bootstrapped up until they reached their millionth user. It was at that point when Blavity started gaining interest from VC funds.

Unfortunately, Black founders are still underfunded and underrepresented today. That’s why Samuels feels it’s important for Collide and Blavity to be in these spaces and to help drive change.

“The reality is the numbers have not been increasing for the number of Black founders that are getting invested into,” Samuels said. “Despite all of the media and all the attention that is being called to it.”

He added, “I do believe that there are rooms that things happen in that I’m not yet invited to,” he said. “But what I can also say is that the communities that I am a part of are really most of the underrepresented people in VC — Black people in venture, women in venture, latin folks in venture, queer folks in venture — There’s not a lot of us so we have to look out.”

In addition to his role as a venture capitalist and founder, Samuels is also a recognized spoken word artist. As someone who grew up in relatively radical activist spaces, Samuels understands the importance of storytelling and that’s why he held writing workshops for youth.

“I think it’s actually a pretty natural conclusion,” Samuels said. “I started as an artist because as a young, angsty teen that was learning about racism for the first time. I think it made me mad… But I think part of the anger also comes from an inability to do anything about it and you feel so powerless…and I think that the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve observed the power that I do have to potentially make change.”

While Samuels is a VC, he still finds ways to implement the use of storytelling in his current role by sharing his knowledge with the founders in Collide’s portfolio.

“A lot of founders struggle with this [storytelling], especially founders that come from a more technical background,” he said. “It's not just about the numbers. In fact, it rarely is. It's about the story that you're telling. VCs are pretty smart, they're pretty savvy, they can see through if somebody's trying to tell them a lie.”

Samuels is a believer that the best endings to a story are both surprising yet inevitable. As a VC, his advice for founders is similar.

“Meaning you want to look at this pitch and say this is happening,” he said. “If this person doesn't create this technology or this company, somebody else will and the world is definitely moving in this way…And I think if you can create a pitch that leaves people with those two dual emotions, at the end of it, it can really, really, really strike a chord in the heartstrings of the person who's listening.”

dot.LA Reporter Decerry Donato 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.

This podcast is produced by L.A. Venture. The views and opinions expressed in the show are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of dot.LA or its newsroom.

🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

🔦 Spotlight

Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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  • Penguin Random House agreed to acquire comic book publisher Boom! Studios from backers like Walt Disney Co. - learn more

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.


Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110

Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab

Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor


Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo


Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect


MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


KidsX

The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health


Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP


Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space



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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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