Here Are the 20 South LA Companies Selected for PledgeLA's First 'Founders Fund' Class

Justino Aguila
A graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School in New York, Justino Aguila is an L.A. native who contributes news, arts, culture and entertainment stories to media outlets such as Billboard, the Los Angeles Times and Netflix Queue, among others.
Here Are the 20 South LA Companies Selected for PledgeLA's First 'Founders Fund' Class

A new Fund for South L.A. Founders announced their first class of 20 Black and Latino entrepreneurs this week. The class represents a cross-section of tech-inspired entrepreneurs from bakers to social media purveyors. The cohort was selected from a pool of about 200 applicants, many of whom struggled during the pandemic era downturn.

The fund was created by PledgeLA to address racial inequity and the economic decimation among communities of color. The monies were awarded to rising, innovative entrepreneurs of color. Also, unlike some accelerators, the fund does not take equity in exchange.


"We want to hear the narrative of how they are building their communities," said Austin Clements, a partner at Slauson & Co., an early-stage venture capital firm "driven by its mission of intentional inclusion."

The program is a 12-week accelerator that begins in January with virtual weekly gatherings, including meetings, lectures and conversations with mentors as a way to help them define the direction of their business goals. Participants get a $25,000 grant.

The businesses involved will be tracked past the initial meetings to measure how many jobs were created and how much money was raised after their initial participation.

"The financing is great," said Craig Bowers, who — along with Samuel Chawinga — grew up in the area and whose South L.A. Beverage Company was picked to be part of the 20 businesses. "But bringing viable businesses to communities such as South Los Angeles is also a way to uplift people who live there. Seventy-five percent of our employees will be from our immediate local neighborhood and we want to provide livable wage jobs."

Bowers and Chawinga's company will ultimately house a craft beverage incubator, a production and packaging structure in South Los Angeles in a 24,000-foot-square facility. Sales from their first beer will go to purchasing Chromebooks for students in South Central, Bowers said.

PledgeLA's Fund for South LA Founders www.youtube.com

PledgeLA's new Fund for South L.A. Founders is a project of AnnenbergTech, the L.A. Latino Chamber of Commerce, SLATE-Z and other community partners with startup capital funding Black and Latino founders based in South Los Angeles who have promise and have not raised much outside capital, according to Clements.

The first cohort of 20 businesses include 24 entrepreneurs, all of whom identify as either a person of color or a woman, according to a spokesperson with the Annenberg Foundation. Nearly 60% of businesses were founded by a woman, and all have connections to South Los Angeles.

The mentors of the program include CEOs of companies like Everytable, FabFitFun, Tala, and The Bouqs — they will provide feedback to support the entrepreneurs achieve their goals. The AnnenbergTech initiative is also funding the 12-week training program with Grid110, a nonprofit accelerator known for serving female entrepreneurs and people of color.

A panel of judges from L.A.'s tech, venture capital, and social impact sectors interviewed the finalists. The 20 businesses receiving the grants and final cohort include:

Coffee Del Mundo: Founded by Jonathan Kinnard, Coffee Del Mundo is a Black & Afro-Latino owned, vertically integrated specialty coffee company based in South Los Angeles.

ComplYant: Founded by Shiloh Johnson, ComplYant is software that helps entrepreneurs manage all of their tax requirements from one dashboard.

Esqapes Immersive: Founded by Micah Jackson, Esqapes allows people to reap the benefits of a mini-vacation by utilizing virtual reality, automation and traditional wellness practices.

Everlaunch: Founded by Michelle Heng and Alma Cook, Everlaunch is an interactive web app helping first-time entrepreneurs overcome fundamental challenges when starting their business.

Fun-Diggity Funnel-Cakes: Founded by Cheyenne Brown and Bernard Nicholson Jr., Fun-Diggity specializes in gourmet funnel-cakes made affordable and accessible all year round.

Guardian Lane: Founded by Kristina Jones, Guardian Lane is the world's first video-sharing platform for children's grief counseling with tele-counseling services for additional support.

GTLA Apparel Development Inc.: Founded by Guadalupe Tlatenchi, GTLA Apparel Development Inc. is an all-phase apparel manufacturer, capable of taking fashion designs from concept to completion.

Guided Compass: Founded by Creighton Taylor, Guided Compass is a comprehensive project and work-based technology platform for education providers and workforce development organizations, helping them onboard career-seekers to fulfilling careers.

JUMPWatts Inc.: Founded by Bryan Ovalle and Arun Gunasekaran, JUMPWatts has developed easy-to-install remote repositioning and parking compliance technology kits for shared micro-mobility vehicles.

La Create Space: Founded by Terell Johnson and Marisa Johnson, La Create Space is a creative co-working, production and meeting space located in the heart of Inglewood, CA.

On The Go LA: Founded by Gabriel Gamez and Enrique Loyola, On The Go LA is a full-service food truck rental company that offers daily rentals, access to high-traffic stops and operational support through an easy-to-use online platform.

Ownors Technologies Inc: Founded by James Jones Jr., Ownors Technologies Inc is an AI-powered analytics marketplace matching top entertainment industry executives with creatives for 1:1 live sessions and managed micro-advances.

Reparations Club LLC: Founded by Jazzi McGilbert, Reparations Club LLC is a retail and community space curated by Blackness, POC and a few good allies in L.A. - radicalizing retail through community and creativity.

Ride FRSH: Founded by Trey Brown and Garrick Mitchell, Ride FRSH is a subscription and retail-based air freshener brand that weaves iconic song lyrics about driving into their designs.

SKNMUSE: Founded by Ezinne Adeoye, SKNMUSE is a premium skincare brand that elevates the beauty experience for Black women.

Snojo: Founded by Nadiyah Ward, Snojo is an on-demand lesson management platform for skiers, snowboarders and mountain resorts.

South Los Angeles Beverage Company: Founded by Craig Bowers and Samuel Chawinga, South Los Angeles Beverage Company is a craft beverage incubator, production and packaging facility.

SÜPRMARKT: Founded by Olympia Auset, SÜPRMARKT is a low-cost organic grocery, making it easy and affordable to eat well in South L.A.'s food deserts.

Tea Botanics: Founded by Denise Pines and Dr. Pei Vuong, Tea Botanics creates premium high-performance life-stage specific, medicinal tea-based beverages and supplements that address what the body and brain needs, focusing on men and women's key concerns associated with aging.

The Honey Block: Founded by Branché Foston, The Honey Block is an online wellness education platform and community for and by Black, indigenous and people of color.

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🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

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.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. - learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

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.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

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.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

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