WATCH: Is South LA the Next Tech Hub?

South L.A. has long produced arts and cultural icons and influencers — from actress and producer Issa Rae to two-time NBA All Star Baron Davis. It's now also home to an emerging network of founders and a recent wave of investment. But is it Los Angeles' next tech hub? Much will depend on access to capital, infrastructure and a shift in how it's perceived. That's the takeaway from Wednesday's dot.LA's strategy session, "Is South LA the next tech hub?" with Mirror Digital CEO Shelia Marmon, PLLAY Labs, Inc. CEO & co-founder Shawn Gunn and America on Tech founder and CEO Jessica Santana.

"We have to have a place to tell our own stories and define our own narratives, and that is so important," said Marmon, who grew up in South LA and was at the early network meetups in Leimert Park where the seed for Plug In South L.A. were sown. The group provides a network for founders.

Building those networks are key for Black and Latino entrepreneurs who have historically been excluded from the inner circle of largely white, male tech and venture capital circles, making it more difficult to raise money and get ideas off the ground.

Just 1% of venture-backed founders were Black in 2018, according to a study led by Silicon Valley Bank. Another survey by the National Venture Capital Association and Deloitte found on 3% of investment partners are Latino and another 3% Black.

South Los Angeles is largely Black and Latino and has a long history of segregation and poverty. The South LA region spans 28 communities and 50 square miles, bordered by the Alameda Corridor, Imperial Highway, Baldwin Hills and Interstate 10.

"It's easy to tell a young person, 'Oh, just go to Santa Monica and go to this conference or, you know, go somewhere like that.'" said Gunn, who has founded several companies and recently raised $3 million for PLLAY, a game wagering platform. "You're not always felt welcome there, right? Or you have all your defenses up. So when you see people, men and women that kind of look like you, and are potentially going down a path that you want to go down...That means a lot."

Like a lot of founders of color, Gunn said, the task felt nearly impossible and he looked outside traditional venture capital firms for funds. In Los Angeles, where Hollywood, sports and tech collide, there's opportunity.

"There are high-net worth individuals that are starting to open up to the concept of becoming early-stage investors," he said.

To his point, Rae and Davis are both investors. The slain rapper Nipsey Hussle was also working on real estate investments in the region when he was killed. Gunn said there's also crowdsourcing and accelerators.

Grid110, a nonprofit that runs an accelerator focused on minority founders, this year created its first South LA cohort.

Jessica Santana, who trains youth in South Los Angeles schools, said that these options help but the narrative must also be changed.

"Generational poverty has obviously taken a toll on the way that (the youth) seek opportunities in their own communities," she said. "What we do is helping young people reimagine the way that they see technology in the first place, so that they can see themselves as creators of it and not just the ones who, you know, are on the platform."

Now she said, she'd like to see more people opening the doors to hiring and writing checks.

For more, watch the video.

This event is in partnership with Plug In South LA & Urban Tech Connect // Forward 2020.


Strategy Session: Is South L.A. the Next Tech Hub? www.youtube.com

Speakers

Sheila Marmon, Founder & CEO of Mirror Digital

Sheila Marmon, Founder & CEO of Mirror Digital 

Sheila Marmon has a passion for the launch and operation of new businesses in the digital media industry and has created innovative platforms for over 20 years. As founder + CEO of Mirror Digital, an interactive media and advertising company, she helps Fortune 500 brands tap into the fastest growing U.S. consumer base - the multicultural market. Sheila has executed over 450 digital campaigns in this space for clients including AT&T, Clinique, Disney, Ford, General Motors, Intel, Macy's, Netflix, Procter & Gamble, Universal Pictures and other leading brands and advertising agencies.

Sheila has been featured in leading publications including the Financial Times, and Media Post; she was also profiled in a cover story for Minority Business Entrepreneur Magazine. She serves on the Boards of The American Advertising Federation, A Better Chance, and Cate School and she is also a founding member of the Council of Urban Professionals. Sheila has received The Network Journal "Forty Under 40" Outstanding Achievement Award, the Code Breaker Award from Digital Diversity Network, and has been named a Catalyst in Media & Entertainment by the Council of Urban Professionals.

Shawn Gunn, CEO & Co-Founder at PLLAY Labs, Inc.

Shawn Gunn, CEO & Co-Founder at PLLAY Labs, Inc.

Shawn Gunn has successfully exited from five technologies companies during his career as an executive, investor and entrepreneur. Today, he is co-founder and CEO of PLLAY Labs, an artificial intelligence-driven behavioral data and wagering platform focused on the broader video gaming industry, and former founder and CEO of Persona, a personal data security and monetization platform.

Jessica Santana, Founder & CEO of America on Tech

Jessica Santana, Founder & CEO of America on Tech

In 2014, Jessica co-founded America On Tech (AOT) which is an organization that creates pathways for students into degrees and careers in tech. Their work has been featured in major media outlets such as Forbes, CNN, Wells Fargo, Sirius XM Radio, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, BET, Black Enterprise, AlleyWatch and The Network Journal. AOT has offices in NY and L.A.

She has presented and spoken to over 100+ different audiences that include SXSW Edu, TechCrunch, Google for Entrepreneurs, White House, Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg. Her commitment to philanthropy and community engagement is evidenced by her world travels and work in parts of Europe, China and South America to work with nonprofits, private companies and social enterprises that better local communities and economies. She is a board member or PowerMyLearning and the Office of Multicultural Advancement at Syracuse University. She graduated with undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting and information technology from Syracuse University.

Rachel Uranga, Reporter at dot.LA

Rachel Uranga, Reporter at dot.LA

Rachel Uranga covers the intersection of business, technology and culture. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.

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Today:

  • Fidelity Seeking to Unload Bird Shares at a Loss
  • Warner Bros.' 2021 Films Will Be Released in Theaters, HBO Max Simultaneously
  • Plug-In South LA Opens New Accelerator Cohort for 2021

    Fidelity Reportedly Seeks To Unload Bird Shares at a Loss 

    Escooter Unicorn Bird Seeks to Unload Santa Monica HQ upload.wikimedia.org

    Fidelity Investments is attempting to unload some of its shares in Bird Rides Inc. at a loss, according to a report published Wednesday night by Business Insider.

    The move comes after dot.LA reported in October that the mutual fund giant has marked down the value of its Bird investment by 17% since the beginning of the year.


    As a private company, Bird does not have to share its financials. Nor do the venture funds that hold most of its shares. However, Fidelity is required to account for shares at their fair market value so it provides a rare glimpse into the company's health.

    But a source close to the matter said the sale should not be seen as any indication of Bird's financial performance. The shares represent less than ten percent of Fidelity's position and the intended sale is the result of a new portfolio manager taking over who does not want to invest in pre-IPO companies, the source said.

    Neither Bird nor Fidelity would respond to dot.LA's request for comment.

    Bird became the fastest company in history to reach unicorn status in 2018 and achieved a $2 billion valuation less than a year later. But as the pandemic hit, it abruptly laid off 406 employees via a Zoom call and was forced to remove its fleet from city streets just as it was gearing up for its normally lucrative summer season.

    dot.LA reported in October the company put its Santa Monica offices up for sublease less than a year after completing a costly renovation.

    Bird has maintained the pandemic has been a positive as riders prefer scooters over crowded buses and subways. It says it is seeing riders take longer trips than they did before the pandemic.

    Last month, Bloomberg reported Bird is looking to go public via a blank-check company. Bird said it had no plans to go public "this year," which did not exactly rule out a SPAC sometime in the near future.

    ​Plug-In South LA Opens New Accelerator Cohort for 2021

    Plug In South LA's Accelerator Program is returning in 2021. The outfit is looking for 10 Black and Latinx founders who have proof of product-market fit and traction. The organization, founded in 2015 by Derek Smith, aims to build a network for Black and Latinx founders in South Los Angeles.

    Last year was the inaugural accelerator program funded by Verizon, Silicon Valley Bank and Nike. The 2019 cohort hosted five startups including Spooler, a tech-based clothing design startup that credits the program with helping to increase revenue two fold since March. During the program, the company received a contract to launch a Sesame Street active wear product line.

    The last day to apply for the program is Dec. 9

    Warner Bros.’ 2021 Films Will Be Released in Theaters, HBO Max Simultaneously

    Warner Bros. will be streaming all its 2021 theatrical releases on HBO Max in a blow to already struggling theater chains as the pandemic continues to reshape Hollywood.

    The AT&T-owned studio's 17-film slate, including "Godzilla vs. Kong," "Mortal Kombat," "The Suicide Squad" and "Matrix 4," will be available on the streaming platform exclusively for one month, starting when they are released in theaters and then will disappear from the platform.The move comes shortly after the company announced it would bring its expected blockbuster "Wonder Woman 1984" directly to HBO Max.


    "We're living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group," said Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, in a statement released on Thursday. "No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021."

    Sarnoff said the model is a temporary one, but the decision will reverberate across an industry that has taken away screening exclusivity from theaters and reshaped how studios function.

    "With this unique one-year plan, we can support our partners in exhibition with a steady pipeline of world-class films, while also giving moviegoers who may not have access to theaters or aren't quite ready to go back to the movies the chance to see our amazing 2021 films," Sarnoff said. "We see it as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors."

    AT&T's decision to favor its streaming service over theaters comes in response to the pandemic, but it also aligns with CEO John Stankey's public comments that he wants to center his company's strategy around streaming. It's part of a broader blueprint meant to goose AT&T's broadband business, which led the company to acquire Time Warner in 2018 for $85 billion. Comcast, AT&T's chief broadband rival, is pursuing a similar game plan with its own streaming service, Peacock, which falls under its subsidiary NBCUniversal.

    AT&T last month announced layoffs at WarnerMedia to focus the company around HBO Max. Elsewhere, Disney — which logged nearly 74 million paid subscribers to its Disney Plus streaming service last quarter — has refocused on that format. It's another example of a shift toward streaming that was already underway but which has been accelerated by the pandemic.

    CrowdStrike shares surged more than 13% Thursday after the Sunnyvale-based cybersecurity company once again reported blockbuster earnings. The stock is now up 184% this year, eclipsing the 38% gain for the rest of the Nasdaq.

    CrowdStrike's blistering performance is a big win for March Capital, the Santa Monica venture firm focusing on enterprise software founded by Jim Armstrong, Jamie Montgomery, Gregory Milken and Sumant Mandal in 2014.

    Read more Show less

    Warner Bros. will be streaming all its 2021 theatrical releases on HBO Max in a blow to already struggling theater chains as the pandemic continues to reshape Hollywood.

    The AT&T-owned studio's 17-film slate, including "Godzilla vs. Kong," "Mortal Kombat," "The Suicide Squad" and "Matrix 4," will be available on the streaming platform exclusively for one month, starting when they are released in theaters and then will disappear from the platform.The move comes shortly after the company announced it would bring its expected blockbuster "Wonder Woman 1984" directly to HBO Max.

    Read more Show less
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