With New ‘Friends & Family’ Program, Grid110 and Slauson & Co. Want to Level the Startup Playing Field

Francesca Billington

Francesca Billington is a freelance reporter. Prior to that, she was a general assignment reporter for dot.LA and has also reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.

The 12-week accelerator provides a diverse group of 20 founders from the Grid110 and Slauson & Co. program.
Image from Grid110

Before pitching to investors and venture capital firms, some founders will scrape together capital from people they know—a category of early-stage funding known as the “friends and family” round.

But most founders—especially those from communities that are underrepresented in tech—don’t have access to such a moneyed personal network. For those without backing from friends and family, getting that initial investment can be a grueling, sometimes impossible, task.

Grid110, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, wants to help level the playing field.

The incubator launched its first national “Friends & Family” cohort this month for 20 early-stage startups through a partnership with Slauson & Co., an early-stage venture capital firm based in L.A. and focused on economic inclusion.

“We felt that there was an opportunity to kind of reframe this concept of ‘friends and family,’ and not just from a capital standpoint,” Grid110 CEO Miki Reynolds told dot.LA. “The capital is very much needed, but there’s also this access to networks and resources and education.”

Neither Slauson nor Grid110 will take equity in the 20 startups. Instead, they’re giving each founder a $20,000 non-dilutive cash grant, with the chance to earn more throughout the 12-week virtual program. The accelerator will provide the cohort’s entrepreneurs with mentorship and coaching from executives including Sequoia Capital partner Jim Goetz, former TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot and Jonah Peretti, Buzzfeed’s co-founder and CEO.

A map of the startup companies in Grid110 and Slauson & Co.\u2019s Friends & Family program.A map of the startup companies in Grid110 and Slauson & Co.’s ‘Friends & Family’ program.

Geotz, Ron Conway of San Francisco-basd seed fund SV Angel, the Annenberg Foundation and the Schultz Family Foundation all donated capital to finance the cohort. The program received nearly 600 applications from 38 states, making it Grid110’s first national cohort. It is also an exceptionally diverse cohort; each company has a founder who identifies as Black, Latinx, Asian or Pacific Islander, while 75% have a woman founder.

“There’s so much under-accessed value in some of these communities that, if given the right investment and guidance, you can really see the return a lot of VCs are looking for,” said Kibi Anderson, whose startup Wordsmyth—which helps media, film and advertising firms hire writers of color—is one of five L.A.-based companies in the program.

Not every member of Grid110’s cohort is necessarily tech-focused. Other L.A. companies include the South L.A. grocery market Hank’s Mini Mart and Thimble, a brand of numbing patches designed to reduce patients’ pain and anxiety during procedures involving needles.

“There’s a lot of pressure to raise from VCs,” said Thimble CEO Manju Dawkins, whose company raised pre-seed funding late last year. “That’s good for a lot of companies, that may be good for us, but it’s difficult.”

A look at the statups in Grid110's 2022 cohort

Grid110 2022 cohort

Here are the startups in the Friends & Family Winter 2022 cohort:

  • The app 1000 MORE helps users track upcoming bills, contact their local representatives and crowdfund advocacy efforts in disenfranchised communities.
  • Beautiful Curly Me designs toys and accessories and sells books and other content for young Black and brown girls.
  • The paper goods company By Ms James sells greeting cards, art prints, posters and other home and office decor.
  • Cadenzo’s web-based platform connects local musical artists to venues where they can set up bookings.
  • CEREMONIA is a lifestyle brand selling handcrafted home decor and accessories using natural and locally-sourced materials.
  • The online marketplace Church Space helps churches earn income by renting out their buildings as on-demand event, worship and meeting spaces.
  • El Camino is a travel company offering group tours for women.
  • FELOH [Fell•Oh] is an online beauty community and digital marketplace for inclusive beauty brands.
  • Fil2R makes sustainable, reusable water filters for home use.
  • Gen Z-focused FRONTMAN sells cosmetics and skincare for men.
  • Hank’s Mini Mart is a family-owned market in South L.A.’s Hyde Park using food and art to engage with the local community.
  • Otis Dental offers subscription-based oral care that lets customers make impressions of their teeth at home for custom night guards and whitening kits.
  • Revival helps users buy back their debt at the same rates that they were sold to debt collection agencies.
  • The men’s grooming brand Sons of Hollis sells grooming tools and haircare products for men with coarse, curly, kinky or wavy hair.
  • THIMBLE develops anxiety- and pain-reducing products like numbing patches for common needle procedures.
  • Unoma Haus is designing and building off-grid van conversions for rent or purchase.
  • Direct-to-consumer design service WESTxEAST makes custom-fit South Asian clothing.
  • Wordsmyth is a tech platform enabling companies to hire writers of color, as well as an online community for those writers to connect with one another.

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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.