NEXT VENTŪRES Founder Melanie Strong on Taking the Difficult Path

Yasmin Nouri

Yasmin is the host of the "Behind Her Empire" podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.

Each episode covers their unique hero's journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what's possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.

​NEXT VENTŪRES Founder Melanie Strong
Courtesy of Melanie Strong

On this episode of the Behind Her Empire podcast, Melanie Strong talks about being a founding partner of NEXT VENTŪRES, a VC firm that focuses on building sports, health and wellness brands.

Strong has been a lifelong runner, always interested in the world of sports. After 18 years of global marketing and managing at Nike, she had the opportunity to break into the venture capital world.

She started from scratch as a first-time investor and founder.

"I chose the difficult path, which is not to join an established fund, which I had the privilege of having the option to do,” she said. “I decided to start a fund from scratch. That, intellectually, was the kind of challenge I was looking for."

Having spent some time at Visco, a social media startup based in Oakland, Strong made connections with VCs that taught her about the industry. When trying to figure out how to do her first deal or negotiation valuations, she turned to James Joaquin from Obvious Ventures. He became a mentor to her.

"Those are scary moments. And I needed to know that I could call someone who wasn't going to make me feel bad about not knowing," said Strong.

As learning has been a big part of Strong's experience, she also wants to make sure that the founders of the companies she invests in feel her involvement adds something unique to their trajectory.

One of the things Strong looks for in investors is a level of self-awareness. She believed that founders need to know when they've hit their own threshold.

"If I don't get the sense that a founder is willing to do that work… That's a flag that that founder might not be willing to understand when she has hit maybe the threshold of her own abilities when it's time to ask for help," said Strong.

Another thing Strong wanted founders to do is make sure they do their research on investors. A major point she made is seeing investors are open to letting founders talk to their existing portfolio.

"For founders, it's such an awesome time to be in this space,” she added. “Because you have so much power—you really do—and you should feel like you get to choose who is lucky enough to invest in your company."

Want to hear more of the Behind Her Empire podcast? Subscribe on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA Engagement Fellow Joshua Letona contributed to this post.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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Amazon Launches $150M Fund to Back Underrepresented Founders

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is an editorial intern for She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

side of Amazon building
Photo by Bryan Angelo on Unsplash

Amazon Catalytic Capital will invest $150 million to venture capital funds backing Black, Latino, Indigenous, women, and LGBTQIA+ founders at the pre-seed and seed capital stage capital. Their goal is to support developing startups through mentorship and partnership opportunities.

The fund has already funneled money into Collide Capital, Elevate Future Fund, Techstars Rising Stars Fund and Share Venture. Amazon plans to support 10 funds and 200 companies within the fund’s first year.

“We’ve seen incredibly innovative ideas from underrepresented entrepreneurs—from companies offering inclusive health services for women, to startups helping companies mitigate climate impact for underserved communities—and we’re convinced that an inclusive investment strategy leads to better returns and innovation,” said Peter Krawiec, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide corporate development, in a statement.

Share Ventures, a Los Angeles-based venture fund and venture foundry, hones in on tech that measures and enhances human performance. Launched in 2020, the studio invests across health tech, future of work, people tech, fintech, transportation and purpose tech.

Though it is headquartered in Colorado, Techstars has a heavy presence across Los Angeles. The company relaunched its local healthcare accelerator last month and it has backed multiple startups through its accelerator program. Its Rising Stars Fund focuses on providing founders of color with pre-seed venture capital and personalized mentorship.

Amazon’s investment is sure to add to the growing number of funds across Los Angeles specifically highlighting underrepresented groups. L’Attitude Ventures backs Latino entrepreneurs seeking Series A funding, and Jumpstart Nova supports Black healthcare startups. But the L.A. venture capital scene still lacks diversity even as founders of color make waves in the startup world.

Amazon itself has invested in underrepresented founders through the recently launched AWS Impact Accelerator and the Alexa Fund. Its previous investing initiatives, however, have been criticized after Amazon created products similar to those pitched by startups it had considered investing in. In addition, Amazon is grappling with its own internal diversityissues even as its new fund promises mentorship and guidance to diverse founders.

At the very least, Amazon Catalytic Capital aims to bring more attention to startups that often have more difficulty obtaining funds while encouraging others to take similar investing initiatives.