Debra Lee Leans Into Project to Help Black Women Founders, Funders

Rachel Uranga

Rachel Uranga is dot.LA's Managing Editor, News. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.

Debra Lee Leans Into Project to Help Black Women Founders, Funders
Photo courtesy of www.jonesworks.com

Former BET Networks chief Debra Lee found it lonely at the top as one of the only women of color in the C-suite, so more than a decade ago she created Leading Women Defined.

After leaving the Viacom-run network in 2018, the executive leaned into her project. And she's looking to expand the invite-only gathering of powerful women that draws players like Michelle Obama and Hillary to a larger pool of founders, funders and others.


Lee hosted on Tuesday the first fireside chat at Blackbird, a new co-working space for women of color in Culver City, where two top female tech executives talked candidly for an hour about their journey from humble roots to executives, investors and founders.

"The demand for leading women has grown, we want to provide opportunity for connection, action and elevation among black women and our allies," Lee told the more than hundred women gathered. Lee, who is based in Los Angeles, suggested last month at the Upfront Summit in Pasadena that was exploring an investment fund to support women of color in tech. She has declined to elaborate further on those comments, but similar events could help develop a strong network for her efforts.

The event dubbed "Tech Femme Supremacy: The intersection of innovation and advocacy," offers some insight into the direction she may be heading. The chat between founder and chief executive of tEQuitable, Lisa Gelobter, and Tekedra N. Mawakana, chief operating officer at the former Google self-driving car project Waymo, was as much about dispelling some of the mystery around venture capital as it was a discussion about self-worth.

For an hour, the two talked candidly about their own struggles to redefine themselves in a rarefied venture world often populated by white men of means.

Mawakana, a former eBay and Yahoo executive who now is a limited partner at the Operator Collective, admitted that for several years she was handing over investment funds to ventures that didn't align with her values. Often tapped to consult for venture firms, she found that she wasn't reaping the full benefits of her work.

"I was like, 'Why do I keep doing these meetings?' I'm doing the meetings as a favor to the venture people. But the reality is I'm setting myself up to be a dooer. And what I want to be is an investor, who gets paid when the organization that's looking for my help succeeds. And so I pivoted," Mawakana said.

"I realized that nobody was going to change the way I valued myself, that I was going to have to change the value to myself," she said.

Gelobter, who served a stint as Chief Digital Service Officer for the Department of Education in the Obama administration and later helped launch Hulu, said she didn't realize it was all about raising capital when she entered accelerator Y Combinator. The two found a receptive audience in a room largely filled with black women, including investors from top flight firms and founders looking for funding.

Many identified with Gelobter and Mawakana, who often found themselves dealing with issues their male or white counterparts didn't have to.

About $136.5 billion in U.S. venture funding was spent last year. All female founders claimed only 2.6% of that, according to PitchBook. And the number for women of color was even slimmer.

Gelobeter said that growing up she didn't know or understand that investment and entrepreneurship were about wealth creation. "From where I come from, that's not a thing that I knew or had an understanding and the truth is like, I'm still struggling with it," she said. "That's not why I got into this, I wanted to make change."

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rachel@dot.la

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Cadence

This Emergency Alert Nonprofit Saw Over 75,000 Incident Reports During the SoCal Storm

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.

This Emergency Alert Nonprofit Saw Over 75,000 Incident Reports During the SoCal Storm
Evan Xie

The ruthless storm that’s pitched Southern California into a torrential downpour this week is also putting Los Angeles’ emergency alert systems to the test.

While the National Weather Service for Los Angeles’ flash flood warning isn’t currently in effect, at least two more storm systems are expected to touch down later this week.

And the more it rains, the more evident it becomes that Los Angeles lacks a cohesive central alert system for the City of LA that can warn residents in real time if they need to evacuate or relocate.

Enter the Los Angeles Incident Tracker, a nonprofit that launched this June with the goal of sending residents real-time alerts about weather-related incidents at their address. Doing business as LAIT911, the desktop and mobile app is a free service that collects data from several raw 911 feeds, including LA Fire, the LA County Fire Department and California Highway Patrol to provide a digital fire blotter.

This past week, the demand for information during the storm skyrocketed, with over 75,000 incident reports viewed by nearly 10,000 people since the storm began less than a week ago, according to LAIT911 operations director and founder Jonathan Martin. Martin said 50% of its user registration in the past week came from Jan. 9 alone, when the LA Department of Public Works’ headquarters Downtown recorded nearly six inches of rainfall.

The incidents are automatically added to LAIT911’s app dashboard. Once data is received the individual incidents are verified (usually by at least 2-3 freelance volunteers who are online at any given time monitoring local alerts). LAIT911 copies live dispatch information, and all following real-time alerts, into its app, and adds relevant safety information from both its own databases and third parties. The app also rates how severe each incident is to determine whether or not to send out alerts.

And though there’s no shortage of apps designed to track earthquakes, or wildfires, there’s only a handful of disparate systems that residents can use for emergency weather alerts.

“The [current citywide] alerting system right now is antiquated [so] there's not much public insight into what's going on in the city,” said Martin. “Sometimes there's no rhyme or reason why one incident will get an alert and one won't, and unless you're actively monitoring it, you really won't notice if it's relevant for you.” Which is why Martin wants to focus a bit more on the geo-targeted alerts rather than the kind sent out by the city that affects everyone.

That said, Martin is working on a partnership with the County Assessor’s Office to integrate some of their data to show users not just where a building incident occurred, but what kind of structure it is. In addition, Martin is trying to partner with the City’s Emergency Management Department, which puts out alerts for only major disasters.

One of those people was dot.LA senior editor Drew Grant, who said she found the “moment by moment updates” helpful after discovering the app this week, and noted that the LAIT911 interface was easier to make sense of than intel from a typical police scanner.

Right now the web app, which is into Google Maps’ API, is free to use on computers. Martin said he’s working on developing its own map feature that it can improve on as needed.

It’s easy to set up too. You just plug in your mobile phone number and address and LAIT911 will send alerts in your area straight to your device.

For people who want extra capabilities there is a subscription option in addition to the free web app. Pricing for the subscription ranges from $10-$17 per month, and it gives users access to LAIT911’s mobile app, advanced incident searching and instant notifications via Slack.

The free version of LAIT911 is, however, more than comprehensive. 90% of the information comes from raw 911 dispatch feeds, while about 10% is provided by a team of 10 volunteer incident reporting analysts, who review the calls and verify their legitimacy.

In case of power outages, there is also a backup. Martin said LAIT911 uses a data center run by Amazon Web Services in Northern California, which has so far been “incredibly resilient.” But, if that center were to go dark, it would take “maybe 30 minutes max” to transfer to another data center and get back online, he said.

“The real reason I made LAIT911 was just for my own nerdiness to analyze the data and how fires work and try to predict wildfires,” Martin added. Besides extreme weather, one of LAIT911’s focuses is on safety incidents surrounding the LA Metro.

So who are LAIT911’s competitors? Martin considers emergency alert app Citizen his primary rival. But he said, “I can confidently say that we don’t have any competitors that have the same amount of data.”

https://twitter.com/samsonamore
samsonamore@dot.la

Israeli Battery Company Storedot Opens R&D Facility in Irvine

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Israeli Battery Company Storedot Opens R&D Facility in Irvine
StoreDot

StoreDot, an Israeli company specializing in high performance lithium ion and solid state batteries, announced today that it has opened a research and development facility in Irvine, CA. The expansion aims to make the company attractive to the region’s strong academic talent pool and establish a US presence that may catch the attention of automakers in search of battery options for the future.

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