PledgeLA, Grid110 Seeking Second Cohort of Black and Latinx Startup Founders in LA

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.

A cohort from the Grid110 startup bootcamp.
Courtesy of Grid110

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Despite Black- and Latinx-led startups raising record amounts of funding in 2021, the fact remains that the startup scene—and the venture capital industry that funds it—remains overwhelmingly white. Of the $330 billion raised by U.S. startups last year, the amounts received by Black and Latinx founders remained in the low-single digits.

Miki Reynolds encountered that gulf firsthand in 2014, when she found herself unemployed in Los Angeles after the software company she worked for shut down. She recalled struggling to connect with other—mostly white and male—folks in the tech ecosystem. “As a woman in tech, a woman of color, I just felt like I didn't identify with the community.” In 2015, Reynolds founded Grid110—a no-equity, no-cost accelerator program designed to create a space in the industry for people like her.

The early-stage startup accelerator has since helped launch over 200 companies, 72% of which are led by founders of color. They include SÜPRMARKT, Los Angeles-based low-cost organic grocery company; Wordsmyth, a Los-Angeles-based tech-enabled platform for companies to discover and hire Black and diverse writers; and Shop Latinx, an online marketplace.

Grid110 founder Miki Reynolds alongside colleagues.Grid110 founder Miki Reynolds alongside colleagues.Courtesy of Grid110

Now, Grid110 is once again partnering with PledgeLA—a local tech industry initiative sponsored by the Annenberg Foundation and Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office—on the Founders Fund, an incubator aiming to increase diversity, racial equity and community engagement in the L.A. tech scene. In order to apply, a startup must be headquartered in L.A. County, have raised no more than $250,000 in funding to date and have at least one of its founders identify as a member of the Black and or Latinx communities.

Applications for the cohort, which will consist of 20 startups, close April 10. The program will last 12 weeks and includes training, support and access to one-on-one advising.

Reynolds said this program is “a direct response to the racial wealth gap—specifically, significant gaps in access to capital that Black and Latinx entrepreneurs face here in Los Angeles.”

Founders Fund alum Ezinne Iroanya-Adeoye, of skincare startup SKNMUSE

Founders Fund alum Ezinne Iroanya-Adeoye of skincare startup SKNMUSE

Courtesy of Ezinne Iroanya-Adeoye

The first Founders Fund cohort in 2021 specifically catered to the South L.A community and received over 200 applications. Reynolds anticipates that this time around, the program will receive twice as many candidates now that it has expanded its reach to wider L.A. County. Like last time, PledgeLA has committed to offering each founder in the program a $25,000 cash grant.

“I had never been in an accelerator where people that looked like me were prioritized,” Founders Fund alum Ezinne Iroanya-Adeoye, of skincare startup SKNMUSE, told dot.LA. “And I knew that the barriers that I was facing as a Black immigrant in America were different from other counterparts, and I wanted to express that in a safe place.”

For Reynolds, that’s exactly what the incubator is meant to achieve.

“We feel like it just better reflects the city of Los Angeles and its demographic here, but also the startup ecosystem that we would like to see,” she said. “There’s an opportunity to invest in underrepresented communities and founders, who are becoming the majority-minority here in Los Angeles.”

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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.