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

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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The Influencer-to-Podcaster Pipeline Is Ready to Explode

Nat Rubio-Licht
Nat Rubio-Licht is a freelance reporter with dot.LA. They previously worked at Protocol writing the Source Code newsletter and at the L.A. Business Journal covering tech and aerospace. They can be reached at
The Influencer-to-Podcaster Pipeline Is Ready to Explode
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It’s no secret that men dominate the podcasting industry. Even as women continue to grow their foothold, men still make up many of the highest-earning podcasts, raking in massive paychecks from ad revenue and striking deals with streaming platforms worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

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NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System

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 and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System
Evan Xie

NASA’s footprint in California is growing as the agency prepares for Congress to approve its proposed 2024 budget.

The overall NASA budget swelled 6% from the prior year, JPL deputy director Larry James told dot.LA. He added he sees that as a continuation of the last two presidential administrations’ focus on modernizing and bolstering the nation’s space program.

The money goes largely to existing NASA centers in California, including the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory run with Caltech, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

California remains a hotspot for NASA space activity and investment. In 2021, the agency estimated its economic output impact on the region to be around $15.2 billion. That was far more than its closest competing states, including Texas ($9.3 billion) and Maryland (roughly $8 billion). That same year, NASA reported it employed over 66,000 people in California.

“In general, Congress has been very supportive” of the JPL and NASA’s missions, James said. “It’s generally bipartisan [and] supported by both sides of the aisle. In the last few years in general NASA has been able to have increased budgets.”

There are 41 current missions run by JPL and CalTech, and another 16 scheduled for the future. James added the new budget is “an incredible support for all the missions we want to do.”

The public-private partnership between NASA and local space companies continues to evolve, and the increased budget could be a boon for LA-based developers. Numerous contractors for NASA (including CalTech, which runs the JPL), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman all stand to gain new contracts once the budget is finalized, partly because NASA simply needs the private industry’s help to achieve all its goals.

James said that there was only one JPL mission that wasn’t funded – a mission to send an orbital satellite to survey the surface and interior of Venus, called VERITAS.

NASA Employment and Output ImpactEvan Xie

The Moon and Mars

Much of the money earmarked in the proposed 2024 budget is for crewed missions. Overall, NASA’s asking for $8 billion from Congress to fund lunar exploration missions. As part of this, the majority is earmarked for the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to land a woman and person of color on the Moon’s south pole.

While there’s a number of high-profile missions the JPL is working on that are focused on Mars, including Mars Sample Return project (which received $949 million in this proposed budget) and Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover, JPL also received significant funding to study the Earth’s climate and behavior.

JPL also got funding for several projects to map our universe. One is the SphereX Near Earth Objects surveyor mission, the goal of which is to use telescopes to “map the entire universe,” James said, adding that the mission was fully funded.

International Space Station

NASA’s also asking for more money to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), which houses a number of projects dedicated to better understanding the Earth’s climate and behavior.

The agency requested roughly $1.3 billion to maintain the ISS. It also is increasing its investment in space flight support, in-space transportation and commercial development of low-earth orbit (LEO). “The ISS is an incredible platform for us,” James said.

James added there are multiple missions outside or on board the ISS now taking data, including EMIT, which launched in July 2022. The EMIT mission studies arid dust sources on the planet using spectroscopy. It uses that data to remodel how mineral dust movement in North and South America might affect the Earth’s temperature changes.

Another ISS mission JPL launched is called ECOSTRESS. The mission sent a thermal radiometer onto the space station in June 2018 to monitor how plants lose water through their leaves, with the goal of figuring out how the terrestrial biosphere reacts to changes in water availability. James said the plan is to “tell you the kind of foliage health around the globe” from space.

One other ISS project is called Cold Atom Lab. It is “an incredible fundamental physics machine,” James said, that’s run by “three Nobel Prize winners as principal investigators on the Space Station.” Cold Atom Lab is a physics experiment geared toward figuring out how quantum phenomena behave in space by cooling atoms with lasers to just below absolute zero degrees.

In the long term, James was optimistic NASA’s imaging projects could lead to more dramatic discoveries. Surveying the makeup of planets’ atmospheres is a project “in the astrophysics domain we’re very excited about,” James said. He added that this imaging could lead to information about life on other planets, or, at the very least, an understanding of why they’re no longer habitable.

Behind Her Empire: Margaret Wishingrad On Creating A Low Sugar Cereal Brand

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

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On this episode of Behind Her Empire, Three Wishes founder and CEO Margaret Wishingrad talks about creating brand awareness and shares the key component to running a successful business.

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