Office Hours: AnnenbergTech’s Calvin Selth on LA’s Efforts to Broaden Its Tech Sector

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

Calvin Selth
Courtesy of Calvin Selth

AnnenbergTech's Calvin Selth joined this episode of Office Hours to talk about bringing inclusion and diversity to L.A.’s tech community.

An offshoot of the Annenberg Foundation, AnnenbergTech works with the tech community in L.A. to create more opportunities for philanthropy and to increase civic participation among companies and individuals. Selth leads ops and program management for one of the organization’s most ambitious efforts: PledgeLA, a collective of more than 220 tech companies, VC firms and the L.A. Mayor's Office.

In his role, Selth collects data to help promote diversity and inclusivity in Los Angeles’ growing tech sector

“I joke with folks that we're called PledgeLA, [but] the decision was to do more than ‘pledge’,” Selth said. “Really [we] have to be focused on action, not just being a big list of excited organizations, but to focus on accountability.”

Part of that effort is regularly collecting hiring and funding data from the companies who work with PledgeLA, to hold them accountable for reaching their diversity goals.

So, how’s that going?

"I'd say, okay–with cautious optimism," Selth said

In 2020, following the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed, companies across the U.S. promised to do better in terms of their commitment to diversity and inclusion. That included venture capital firms in the region.

“The conversation… was really around more capital and access to entrepreneurship in the Black community,” he said

Data showed there was an increase in the amount of capital provided to Black founders that year, while the amount provided to Latinx founders stayed flat, and funding to women-led startups went down.

“It shows that we have sort of a fitful attention span,” Selth said, adding that companies can change when they can focus on the moment, “but if that doesn't reflect processes that are easy for the firm to sustain when they're busy, it's not likely to recur.”

Selth said he thinks many companies do their best to try to be “colorblind” or “unbiased” when hiring. That ideology, he said, can actually get in the way of creating a workforce that reflects the community.

"If you're looking at your product management team, and you know that that doesn't reflect the talent pool here in L.A., I think it requires facing a little bit of that discomfort to say, 'We might actually need to write down a goal about how many women we might like to see on our team'," he said.

Selth also knows that people may not want to feel like they're just fulfilling a quota. He stressed the importance of outreach efforts to make sure that candidates in the pipeline come from diverse backgrounds.

Selth saw some of this firsthand as a bilingual teacher for the Teach for America program, where he worked with high-poverty students in Long Beach, eventually becoming an ambassador for the program for area universities.

"It taught me a lot about the challenges that youth are facing in that specific community. Issues of immigration, poverty, access to high quality education, how that impacts career opportunities," said Selth.

Want to hear more episodes? Subscribe to Office Hours 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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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.