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.
Baron Davis, Entrepreneur, Athlete & Investor
Baron Davis, Entrepreneur, Athlete & Investor<p>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. </p><p>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. </p><p>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. </p>
Mark Suster, Managing Partner at Upfront
Mark Suster, Managing Partner at Upfront<p><br>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.</p>
Emily Slade, Co-Founder & COO of Valence
Emily Slade, Co-Founder & COO of Valence<p>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.<br><br>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.<br><br>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.</p>
Kelly O'Grady, Chief Correspondent & Host and Head of Video
Kelly O'Grady, Chief Correspondent & Host and Head of Video<p>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.</p>
Ben Bergman, dot.LA Senior Reporter
Ben Bergman, dot.LA Senior Reporter<p>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.</p>
Sam Adams, dot.LA Co-founder & CEO
Sam Adams, dot.LA Co-founder & CEO<p>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.</p>
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UNest, a mobile app that helps parents build college nest eggs for their kids, announced Wednesday it has acquired Littlefund, a similar app that will double UNest's user base to over 60,000 people. The integration will also make it so extended family members and friends can contribute directly to a UNest account on behalf of a child.
"Both are applying a modern, technology-driven approach to making financial solutions more affordable, accessible and user-friendly for a new generation of parents," said Ksenia Yudina, chief executive officer and founder of UNest, in a written statement. "Our teams share the same values and there is a lot of synergy in terms of vision and demographics."
Yudina, who was previously a senior executive at Capital Group, said she got the idea for UNest after seeing that her millennial friends having babies did not know how to invest in college savings plans and were put off by the stacks of paperwork that traditionally have been required.
UNest makes the investing simpler. It charges users a $3 monthly advisory fee for the service that funnels cash into 529 plans, an investment tool that provides tax breaks for college savings. It also offers trust accounts for minors.
The deal comes after UNest closed an oversubscribed $9 million Series A financing in June at a $25 million, post money valuation, according to Pitchbook data. The round was led by Anthos Capital, which also made an introduction to NBA All-Star Baron Davis, who ended up becoming an investor in the company and a brand representative.
UNest, which is headquartered in North Hollywood, launched in February and says it has seen "rapid growth" in users during the pandemic as the savings rate increased and families focused on long-term savings goals.
Following the completion of the acquisition, Littlefund founders Mimi Chan and Isaac Dressman will join UNest as head of experience and head of research and development, respectively. They are currently based in San Francisco but are planning to relocate to L.A. when employees can go back into the office.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
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