Watch Our First 'Female Founders Stories' Event with WeeCare and DropLabs
On Thursday, July 16, dot.LA kicked off the first in our series of "Female Founders Stories," with the aim of holding candid conversations with the minds behind some of the city's most innovative startups.
Chief host and correspondent Kelly O'Grady spoke with WeeCare Co-founder & CEO Jessica Chang as well as DropLabs Founder & CEO Susan Paley about their "aha" moments and experiences as women leading L.A. startups.
Chang said the inspiration for WeeCare came from advice her friends gave her while she was still pregnant: sign up for childcare now.
It wasn't until she started touring daycare centers that Chang realized why they were so insistent. Most daycares came with a one to two year waiting list. And the cost? Sometimes up to $3,000 per month. Chang felt a looming sense that the lack of options would force her to choose between family and work.
That's why she started WeeCare, a startup to help teachers, new moms and caregivers to set up and manage home daycares.
Chang, whose background is in finance and private equity, became a preschool owner and operator during the first phase of her plan. "It took me running three preschools to really understand the inherent nature of what was happening in the world of childcare," she said.
The company began as a childcare marketplace, a sort of one-stop solution for families looking for and managing the daycare process. At the same time, WeeCare offers a "business in box" solution for providers.
Female Founder Stories: WeeCare and DropLabs www.youtube.com
Susan Paley's experience was much different. As the first CEO for Beats by Dr. Dre, she already knew a good deal about the industry she was aiming to disrupt.
Her company, DropLabs, focuses on the "feeling" of sound by adding an immersive layer to media experiences, whether that's watching a movie, listening to music or playing video games. It also makes wired-up sneakers that she says allows 'your whole body to become a speaker cabinet'.
"It's getting people to feel, to connect," Paley said. "It could be that first concert, your first concert you loved so much, and playing that music to transport you to that."
"I'm hoping this becomes a ubiquitous way to experience digital content, which is not going away" Paley added. "Even when COVID goes away, we'll still be completely wired to get all of our consumption on screens. Most of what we're ingesting is two-dimensional and we're three-dimensional beings."
Watch the full conversation in the video above and sign up for our newsletter to get updated on our next event.
About the Speakers
Susan Paley is the founder & CEO of DropLabs
Susan Paley, Founder & CEO of DropLabs
Susan Paley is the founder and CEO of DropLabs, a first-of-its-kind tech company on a mission to enable the world to feel sound from the ground up. With their first release, a sneaker called the EP 01, DropLabs integrates audio technology and footwear to deliver a truly immersive audio-sensory experience you can feel throughout your entire body. Over the course of her 20+ year career in consumer technology, Susan has been the driving force behind some of the most innovative consumer products. Most notably, Susan was the initial CEO of Beats By Dre, where she successfully guided all aspects of the company's unparalleled growth to make it the #1 headphone provider globally.
Jessica Chang is co-founder & CEO of WeeCare
Jessica Chang, Co-Founder & CEO of WeeCare
WeeCare is the easiest way for teachers, new moms and caregivers to start and manage a successful home daycare. We're addressing the $28B home childcare market, offering startup services to navigate the daycare licensing process and providing a business-in-a-box toolset to simplify operations, generate additional revenue and delight parents. Founded by a team of moms, preschool owners and successful technology founders, WeeCare is creating affordable, quality daycares accessible to all families.
Before WeeCare's founding, Jessica worked in finance and operations and gathered experience in early education through owning Los Angeles preschools.
Kelly O'Grady, Chief Host and Correspondent
Kelly O'Grady is dot.LA's chief host & correspondent. Kelly serves as dot.LA's on-air talent, and is responsible for designing and executing all video efforts. A former management consultant for McKinsey, and TV reporter for NESN, she also served on Disney's Corporate Strategy team, focusing on M&A and the company's direct-to-consumer streaming efforts. Kelly holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. A Boston native, Kelly spent a year as Miss Massachusetts USA, and can be found supporting her beloved Patriots every Sunday come football season.
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California is the world's largest legal pot market, generating nearly $3.1 billion in spending in the Golden State alone. But cannabis-related businesses in the U.S. live in a legal-limbo, operating in this strange gray area between federal laws that make marijuana illegal and states that have decriminalized its use and sale entirely. This has led to sometimes difficult choices, workarounds and issues with which the cannabis and cannabis-linked companies are forced to contend.
dot.LA dove into this tenuous landscape during a virtual panel discussion on Tuesday with experts in cannabis compliance and legal issues, asking them: Is the green rush over? The consensus seemed to be that no, it isn't, but this first wave of "reckless money," likely is.
Tuesday's conversation on the current state and future of California's marijuana marketplace capped off the conclusion of dot.LA's five-part investigative series examining the rapid rise and rapid fall of L.A.-based Genius Fund, a one-time $164 million cannabis company. Today that money is gone and their Russian oligarch investor is dead.
Hilary Bricken, Partner of Harris Bricken
Hilary Bricken, Partner of Harris Bricken<p>Since joining Harris Bricken in 2010, Hilary has earned a reputation as an exceptional and fearless business law attorney. Hilary's clients—start-ups, entrepreneurs, and companies in all stages of development—value her bold approach to business strategy. Hilary also appears before city councils and community forums, where she advocates tirelessly for her clients.</p><p>In 2017, the American Bar Association (ABA) named Hilary one of the <a href="https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2017/07/aba_young_lawyersdi/" target="_blank">top 40 young lawyers</a> nationwide and before that <a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/news/2013/12/14/newsmakers-of-2013-deal-makers.html" target="_blank">The Puget Sound Business Journal</a> named her as one of only seven deal makers of the year. She was by far the youngest and the only private practice attorney to garner this honor. Hilary was also named one of "<a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/print-edition/2015/09/11/2015-40-under-40-hilary-bricken.html" target="_blank">40 Under 40</a>" leading businesspeople by the PS Business Journal. In every year since 2014, Hilary has been chosen as a "Rising Star" lawyer by Super Lawyer's magazine.</p><p>Major media outlets like the New York Times, VICE, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Business Insider, CNN, Rolling Stone, Forbes, MSNBC, and Bloomberg all have turned to Hilary for her on-the-ground perspective on cannabis laws. Hilary's <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0M4Fse1Ioaw" target="_blank">Tedx talk</a> on "big cannabis" (see below) has garnered more than 50,000 views and she also authors a weekly column for <a href="https://abovethelaw.com/tag/hilary-bricken/" target="_blank">Above the Law </a>on marijuana policy and regulation.</p>
Tanya Hoke, Managing Director of Galen Diligence
Tanya Hoke, Managing Director of Galen Diligence<p>Tanya has more than a dozen years of experience managing investigative due diligence for clients in industries ranging from pharmaceuticals and manufacturing to financial services and consulting. She has been advising investors in the cannabis industry since 2015, and focuses on issues relating to fraud, money-laundering, compliance, and corporate governance. Tanya is a Certified Fraud Examiner, a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist, and a licensed private investigator. She has served on the National Cannabis Industry Association's Banking & Financial Services Committee and the State Regulations Committee. Tanya received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Swarthmore College and a Master of International Business degree from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, where she serves on the MIB Alumni Advisory Board.</p>
Brad Rowe, Director of Compliance, Operations and Regulations Analyst of Rowe Policy Media
Brad Rowe, Director of Compliance, Operations and Regulations Analyst of Rowe Policy Media<p>Brad has designed, implemented and delivered a dozen public policy research projects over the last six years through his time running BOTEC Analysis, at UCLA and with Avenu/MuniServices Cannabis Compliance and Support Services and Rowe Policy + Media. Brad is Lecturer of Public Policy at UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and recently started teaching Cannabis Policy and Society, the first of its kind in the country. </p><p>He serves as Advisor to the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, coordinating the Criminal and JuvenileJustice Research team and the California Cannabis Data Collection Project. He sat on the CommunityAdvisory Committee for the Los Angeles County Department of Health's impact assessment on cannabis. </p><p>In 2020 Brad has taken on the cannabis "dosing problem". To help naive and legacy consumers dose new cannabis products predictably and reliably. The HowHi App Data Project provides evidence based insights into the Quality, Duration and Amplitude of the cannabis experience. The variables are crowd-sourced via experiential self-reports on iOS and Android interfaces. </p>
Andrew Freedman, Senior Vice President at Forbes Tate Partners
Andrew Freedman, Senior Vice President at Forbes Tate Partners<p>Andrew brings vast experience from his three years as the State of Colorado's first Director of Cannabis Coordination. During this time, he developed distinctive experience effectively implementing voter-mandated legalized adult-use and medical cannabis while protecting public health, maintaining public safety, and keeping cannabis out of the hands of children.<br><br>Andrew's role in developing a successful operating model for cannabis regulation and stakeholder collaboration was identified as one of the reasons for the State of Colorado's success in implementing adult-use cannabis legalization by the Brookings Institution. Governor Hickenlooper has gone so far as to praise Andrew's work while on national television, stating, "Andrew Freedman, who came in and helped us once it was passed . . . [has] done a remarkable job of creating a regulatory framework."<br><br>Andrew has received national recognition for his leadership. Men's Health Magazine named him one of the 30 most influential health influencers of the last 30 years. He was recognized as one of Fast Company's "100 Most Creative People in Business" in 2016. He has been featured on 60 Minutes, NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Governing Magazine, and dozens of local stories throughout the nation and internationally.</p>
Tami Abdollah, Senior Reporter at dot.LA
Tami Abdollah, Senior Reporter at dot.LA<p>Tami Abdollah is dot.LA's senior technology reporter. She was previously a national security and cybersecurity reporter for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. She's been a reporter for the AP in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and for L.A.'s NPR affiliate KPCC. Abdollah spent nearly a year in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor. A native Angeleno, she's traveled the world on $5 a day, taught trad climbing safety classes and is an avid mountaineer.</p>
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Valence is trying to be more than just a LinkedIn for Black professionals. It's trying to narrow the wealth gap, with help from algorithms.
The social networking platform for Black professionals launched last year and has already attracted 10,000 members. It just got a $5.25 million boost from a Series A round led by GGV Capital.
It's now aiming to get to 100,000 members over the course of the year. Part of that effort will mean hiring engineers and developers who can help refine its database and allow members to make meaningful connections beyond their alma maters, locations and shared employers.
Valence is developing a "customization engine for people in their career journey," said CEO Guy Primus, who took the helm in June.
"We want to take the data a level further and be able to customize again the reason for the interactions, as opposed to just a first level connection or a geography or a school," he said.
"We want to be able to have some type of algorithm for why people connect and not just, you know, the superficial reasons that most people connect."
The former chief executive of the Virtual Reality Company said he is looking at how Valence can use its existing data set to build out a platform that connects people along their lines of interest and other factors that aren't always clear from the kind of standard resume fare found on LinkedIn.
Valence is positioning itself as a tool for corporations looking to diversify their ranks, but it's also establishing itself as a platform for founders.
Last month, the company launched a funding network that connects investors with rising Black founders, curating investment opportunities for pre-seed stage entrepreneurs.
The effort dovetails with its mission to narrow the wealth gap and open up opportunities.
Valence points out that only 3% of Silicon Valley's workforce population is Black, there are 3 Black CEOs in the Fortune 500, and just 1% of venture-funded startup founders are Black.
That helps explain why Black Americans make up nearly 13% of the population, but have only 3% of its wealth.
Sean Mendy, a founding partner at Concrete Rose Capital in the Bay Area, helped facilitate many of those funding connections for Valence. What surprised him was just how early entrepreneurs were in their company development, but he said it made perfect sense given the lack of capital access Black Americans had.
"Traditionally it's been difficult for Black professionals to take the lead in starting companies because of the lack of capital," he said.
Fuller, a general partner for Upfront Ventures, which participated in the round and helped incubate the company, co-founded Valence out of frustration with the lack of networks startups and others had to black talent.
"The goal of creating a fluid bridge between Black Talent and economic opportunity and development couldn't be more important in today's world," said co-founder Kobie Fuller in announcing the round.
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Hours before Dmitry Bosov, or "Dima," died alone in a Moscow suburb on May 6, allegedly of suicide or an accident, he chatted with family members over video. Even as his former cannabis company was sold to a new owner and he was overtaken by concerns about the novel coronavirus pandemic in Russia, he still seemed happy to family members, who wrote about his demeanor the night of his death in an online tribute.
The Russian coal magnate had gambled on Genius Fund, an ambitious Culver City-based cannabis startup that had plans to dominate the industry. But after investing roughly $164 million, he appeared to have walked away, at least temporarily, from the dream of a viable U.S. cannabis company.
When his former Genius Fund associates learned of Bosov's death shortly afterward, they were all "shocked," according to former employees interviewed by dot.LA.
Bosov's son called Genius Fund executive Ari Stiegler the next day crying. "It was super sad," Stiegler said.
A string of bad investments, power struggles and lavish spending had nearly brought Genius Fund to its knees. A lawsuit filed against Bosov and his company alleges funds were "commingled," that there was a lack of "any coherent business plan" and that the investor "concealed and misrepresented" his ownership, raising questions about what his investment intentions were.
Editor's Note<p>The story is pieced together from interviews with more than 40 former employees and business associates, active and retired county officials, as well as federal and county law enforcement; state court records, arbitration, arrest and corporate records in the U.S. and Canada; other public records in six California counties; Genius Fund corporate records and emails. Some former employees and business associates spoke to dot.LA on condition that their names not be mentioned out of fear of reprisals.</p><p>This is the fifth and final story in our "Green Rush" series. Read more:</p><p><a href="https://dot.la/genius-fund-collapse-2646865907.html" target="_self">Part 1: Rise and Collapse of LA's Genius Fund</a> | <a href="https://dot.la/genius-fund-cannabis-startup-2646866270" target="_self">Part 2: Growing Pains in Plumas County</a> | <a href="https://dot.la/cannabis-products-genius-fund-2646866366.html" target="_self">Part 3: A Line of Failed Products</a> | <a href="https://dot.la/green-rush-genius-fund-2646866354.html" target="_blank">Part 4: What Happened in Adelanto</a></p>
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