Watch: 2020 Year in Review with Baron Davis, Mark Suster and Emily Slade

Sarah Favot

Favot is an award-winning journalist and adjunct instructor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She previously was an investigative and data reporter at national education news site The 74 and local news site LA School Report. She's also worked at the Los Angeles Daily News. She was a Livingston Award finalist in 2011 and holds a Master's degree in journalism from Boston University and BA from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.

Watch: 2020 Year in Review with Baron Davis, Mark Suster and Emily Slade

The pandemic and social unrest of 2020 accelerated change at a rapid pace for individuals, corporations and communities, L.A. business and tech leaders said during a virtual panel discussion. They predicted 2021 will be an opportunity for tech growth.

Upfront Managing Partner Mark Suster, Valence co-founder and COO Emily Slade and entrepreneur, athlete and investor Baron Davis spoke to dot.LA during its final Strategy Session event of the year. The challenges of 2020 were a common theme.


Suster said he sees the economic recovery as being K-shaped rather than U or V-shaped where half of the economy is doing better than it ever has, while the other half is doing worse.

"It's really, sadly, exacerbated inequalities in our system because the people that are doing better are knowledge workers and remote workers, and the people doing worse are the people who have to have their earnings from being in person," he said. "So, one thing I didn't anticipate was what we've basically done is accelerate societal change that would have taken five or eight or 10 years into one year."

Working from home is a change that the pandemic brought that Suster doesn't see going away. He expects people will work from home two or three days a week. He also said he is "bullish" about VR as the pandemic is pointing towards remote collaborative working.

One of the takeaways of Airbnb's and DoorDash's successful IPOs last week was how important and pervasive tech companies have become in today's market, Suster said.

"It sets up the opportunity of what we expect in the next 10 years," he said. "The second thing it speaks to is the sheer demand there is for public stocks because there's been a six, seven, eight-year period of time where these great companies raised billions of dollars in the private markets and weren't public. And now a lot of them are shifting to becoming public companies."

Valence, which connects Black professionals with capital, mentorship and professional development, saw its community membership double this year amid the social unrest following the death of George Floyd. Companies had been thinking about diversity and inclusion before this summer, but the protests brought "a sense of urgency and the awareness and understanding across the board," Slade said.

She said they saw strides this year towards diversity and inclusion in the L.A. tech and startup community, although the steps companies took in response to the movement varied.

She outlined three things that companies can do in 2021 to achieve diversity and inclusion goals: have diverse people on recruiting teams; spend money, time and attention on retention of new employees and promote Black and diverse leadership within the company.

"Being a part of a moment like this is actually really inspiring — to be able to say that we were in a time where so much change is taking place and that we didn't just stand by, that we participated," she said.

Davis, a former L.A. Clipper, said when he was involved in the early L.A. tech scene, he advocated for a name other than "Silicon Beach" to differentiate the community from Silicon Valley.

A native Angeleno, he'd like to see what he called "L.A. Unified," not the school district, but a community of innovation and inclusivity.

"For me it's really about unifying the city so we understand how to pay it forward, how to pay it back and how to build a modern city and a smart city where everybody can participate and everybody can share," Davis said.

He wants to create a structure for opportunities for young entrepreneurs, especially women, people of color and those in the LGBTQ community. And he's hopeful that the pandemic can create a unique moment for innovation.

"Right now, L.A. is, I keep saying, it's in its infancy, especially due to COVID," he said. "Obviously our school systems were failing, our educational systems need to be rewritten, so COVID has given us all these opportunities for these young minds to come and create and build. So, I think the opportunity for all of us is to seek, find, deliver and give access and use some of the things that we have, as the privilege, to share and build opportunities for the unprivileged."

Baron Davis

Baron Davis, Entrepreneur, Athlete & Investor

Baron Davis, Entrepreneur, Athlete & Investor

Baron Davis is a two-time NBA All Star, serial-entrepreneur, investor and creator of thought-provoking content and platforms. During his years in the NBA, Davis was constantly listening, learning, networking, and connecting both on the court and off which ignited a successful post-NBA business career.

Davis is the founder of several companies, including Sports and Lifestyle in Culture (SLiC), Business Inside the Game (B.I.G.), The Black Santa Company and No Label; each with the objective of combining creative talent with original publication and production to develop and provide educational and empowering stories that appeal to global audiences of all ages. Davis was one of the original investors in Vitaminwater and helped launch Thrive Market.

Davis also served as producer of several acclaimed documentaries including "Crips and Bloods: Made In America," "30 for 30: Sole Man," and "The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce."Davis currently resides in his hometown of Los Angeles where he plays his most important role, Dad to his two kids.

Mark Suster

Mark Suster, Managing Partner at Upfront

Mark Suster, Managing Partner at Upfront 


Mark Suster has been a managing partner at Upfront since 2007, where has led notable investments in companies including Bird, Invoca, Density, Nanit and Maker Studios (acquired by Disney). He previously was the founder & CEO of two successful enterprise software companies, the most recent of which was sold to Salesforce.com, where Mark became VP of products. Prior to being a founder, Mark was a software developer at Accenture while living and worked in Europe, Japan and the U.S. Mark is a graduate of UCSD and has an MBA from the University of Chicago.

Emily Slade, Co-Founder & COO of Valence

Emily Slade, Co-Founder & COO of Valence

Emily is the co-founder & COO of Valence, a new tech platform and community incubated by Upfront Ventures focused on connecting Black professionals with mentorship, job opportunities and capital.

Previously, she was the global head of growth/partnerships at Working Not Working, the platform connecting the world's top creative talent with companies looking to hire them, She built the "Work in Progress" initiative there. That effort launched with the acclaimed food-recovery program "FoodFight" that supports tens of thousands of homeless people. They launched FoodFight with a focus on turning foodie-hotspot Abbot Kinney Blvd in Los Angeles into the first zero-food-waste street in America during their beta, and now FoodFight is a feature within the Postmates app in 19 cities with 3000+ participating restaurants donating food to homeless shelters.

Throughout her career, she's focused on helping tech companies and startups scale strategically and authentically, contributing to the $1B IPO & sale of Active Network during her seven-year tenure there. Her side hustle is behind the lens as a co-founder of a travel production company, Pindrop Films, which takes her on photo adventures around the world. She's also worked as a film consultant supporting the development of features including "Man's Search For Meaning" based on the iconic memoir by Viktor Frankl and she is the L.A. chair of The Schusterman Family Foundation.

Kelly O'Grady, Chief Correspondent & Host and Head of Video

Kelly O'Grady, Chief Correspondent & Host and Head of Video 

Kelly O'Grady is dot.LA's chief host & correspondent. Kelly serves as dot.LA's on-air talent, and is responsible for designing and executing all video efforts. A former management consultant for McKinsey, and TV reporter for NESN, she also served on Disney's corporate strategy team, focusing on M&A and the company's direct-to-consumer streaming efforts. Kelly holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. A Boston native, Kelly spent a year as Miss Massachusetts USA, and can be found supporting her beloved Patriots every Sunday come football season.

Ben Bergman, dot.LA Senior Reporter

Ben Bergman, dot.LA Senior Reporter 

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior reporter/ host at KPCC, a producer at Gimlet Media and NPR and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times. Bergman was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. He enjoys skiing, playing poker and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

Sam Adams, dot.LA Co-founder & CEO

Sam Adams, dot.LA Co-founder & CEO

Sam Adams serves as chief executive of dot.LA. A former financial journalist for Bloomberg and Reuters, Adams moved to the business side of media as a strategy consultant at Activate, helping legacy companies develop new digital strategies. Adams holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard College and an MBA from the University of Southern California. A Santa Monica native, he can most often be found at Bay Cities deli with a Godmother sub or at McCabe's with a 12-string guitar. His favorite colors are Dodger blue and Lakers gold.

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Cadence

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.

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