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After being postponed due to the pandemic, Upfront Ventures’ glitzy two-day venture capital conference finally kicked off on Tuesday with a big name: Issa Rae, creator and star of the HBO series “Insecure,” who spoke passionately about her long-standing goal of investing wealth back into the South Los Angeles community where she grew up.
Rae joined Upfront’s Hamet Watt for the day’s first panel to discuss her ventures beyond the world of entertainment. “Insecure” heightened South L.A.’s profile over the course of its five-season run, and since the show wrapped production in 2021, Rae has focused her energies on business ventures and investments designed to benefit the neighborhood and the wider Black community.
In addition to “broke-strapping” companies, in her words, Rae is also venturing into real estate. In partnership with Airbnb, she recently listed a plush South L.A. home on the home-sharing site for a mere $56 per night over Super Bowl weekend, with the goal of letting fans experience her neighborhood.
“On snapping up properties, I'm not on like some monopoly s---, but I am about trying to build an infrastructure here,” Rae said, adding that she has long-term plans to build a film studio in South L.A. that would create jobs for people of color. Just as Koreatown has become a cultural and culinary hotspot “rooted in Korean history,” Rae said she wants the same for South L.A. and the neighborhood’s Black community.
Rae also has her own audio content company, Raedio, which produces podcasts and invests in emerging music artists. And with co-founder Deniese Davis, she launched ColorCreative, a management firm supporting Black creators, in 2014.
Despite Rae’s presence at the Upfront Summit, she was one of only four Black founders or investors on Tuesday’s panels. The conference itself was dominated by white attendees, which speaks to the diversity issues plaguing the venture capital industry at large. One of the day’s Black speakers, Bessemer Venture Partners co-founder Elliott Robinson, noted data from nonprofit Blck VC indicating that only 3% of all VC investors, and only 2% of partners at VC firms, are Black. In turn, Black founders—and Black women founders, in particular—continue to get a disproportionately small slice of the VC funding pie.
But as Rae noted, efforts by her and those like her are a start toward bringing new faces to the funding table. “I definitely want to be known as someone who provided opportunities, but also created an infrastructure for others to do the same,” she said. — Samson Amore
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia may be taking place more than 6,000 miles from California—but for those in Los Angeles’ startup world who rely on Ukraine’s deep pool of tech talent, the conflict is hitting close to home.
Silicon Valley VC juggernaut Andreessen Horowitz may have missed an opportunity to invest early in L.A. gaming and dating apps, but it's now considering a broader slate of investments led by partners like Chen, who moved to L.A. recently to devote more time to discovering local startups.
The Los Angeles-based startup plans to use its new funding to further develop and scale its flagship Replikant software tool, which lets creators make video game-quality 3D avatars and animated content without needing experience in coding or animation.
Counterpart’s software collects data about a company’s culture, regulatory compliance and financial data; it uses that information to determine a company’s risk and, via broker partnerships, works with them to find and mitigate potential liabilities.
What We're Reading Elsewhere...
- Serena Williams’s early-stage venture capital firm, Serena Ventures, raises a $111 million fund.
- Apple pauses sales of its physical products in Russia.
- HBO Max leaps into live sports as part of an 8-year deal with the U.S. Soccer Federation.
- This UCLA-based research project aims to remove carbon dioxide from the ocean to help fight climate change.
- A UCLA professor gets an optical engineering prize for his research on computational imaging and optical sensing.
- Metal 3D printing company 3DEO unveils its new platform.