From her home office in downtown, Miki Reynolds is trying to build an accelerator that looks like Los Angeles.
Reynolds, a tech and digital marketing veteran, founded the nonprofit Grid110 six years ago as an incubator for fashion tech brands. But she soon expanded to help a range of founders find their footing in L.A.'s tech and startup scene. Unlike most accelerators, it doesn't take equity in each company.
"There is no marching towards a demo day performance or presentation," Reynolds said of the 12-week virtual accelerator. "It's really allowing the founders themselves to describe what they're looking to accomplish. Then we try to see how we can help them get there."
Of the 200 companies she's put through the program, 70% are led by women and 70% by a founder of color. Following her mission also means expanding the industry's scope beyond Santa Monica and Venice, the once-default hubs for new companies and investors.
Grid110 runs three to four programs each year. The 15 startups chosen for this round represent a range of industries. Among them is the San Pedro-based biotech company Spira, which uses gene editing on algae to make food dyes and Folkicks, an online marketplace of shoes and clothing for Mexican folk dancers.
Founders in the accelerator hail from across the city from Highland Park to Culver City.
And, Reynolds said, her accelerator is one that "better reflects the city of Los Angeles and the world that we know it as."
"We recognized that most of the community and the events and co-working spaces — even the venture community — were largely centered on the Westside," she said.
Here is a look at Grid110's 21st cohort:
Barterr wants to make sneaker trading safer, easier and fairer.
The company acts as a middleman between two users hoping to trade shoes. After agreeing on a trade, users send the shoes to Barterr, which then uses a third-party to authenticate each shoe before sending the shoes to their new owners.
Founder Terrence Whaley told dot.LA that many shoe collectors want to trade their shoes through local Facebook groups or other sneaker forums, but are dissuaded either because they don't know how or receive poor offers.
Barterr hopes to set itself apart from a crowded sneaker marketplace industry with its algorithm to help users identify fair trades, he said.
"People don't know what equal value is," he said. "We want to basically be the single source of truth for what an equal and fair value trade is."
The company currently offers a desktop app, and plans to release IOS and Android apps within the year.
Founded by Claudia Barrera and Laura Barrera, two sisters born in Los Angeles and raised in Mexico, BurritoBreak sells small, grab-and-go $2 burritos targeted to both essential workers and office workers in Downtown LA.
The company, which has one brick-and-mortar location and two sidewalk vending locations, was inspired by the food stands the two saw in Mexico that sold food that was both affordable and fresh.
"That's something that was missing here," Claudia Barrera told dot.LA. "And I feel like it's missing all around the country."
Founded by Shahira Marei, Dirty Cookie makes edible shot glasses made out of cookies. The glasses, lined with an interior layer of chocolate, are meant to hold any liquid, from milk to alcohol.
Folkicks wants to help Mexican-Americans who perform Folklorico, traditional Mexican folk dances, reconnect with their Mexican roots. Founded by Rafael Valero, the company sells made-in-Mexican footwear and dancewear to Folklorio dancers in the U.S.
South Gate-based FYBRAA aims to prevent clothes from reaching the landfill. Founded by Erica Dwerlkotte, the company picks up unwanted clothes for a $5 fee and either resells the clothes on Poshmark or repurposes the clothes as fabric.
Founded by Noah Wossen and Trevor Brown, Gthr is a social media network aimed at cyclists. The company's IOS app lets cyclists find riding partners with similar riding habits, message other riders in the area, post photos and log rides.
Jazz Hands For Autism
Founded by Ifunanya Nweke, Jazz Hands For Autism is a Culver City-based nonprofit that helps musicians on the autism spectrum get their foot in the music industry through job placement programs, music learning programs and concerts.
Kif & Co
Founded by Linda Hsu and Caroline Brain, Kif & co sells probiotic fermented soft drinks.
Mina Health bills itself as a one-stop shop for menopause. The company sells at-home menopause test kits, which it says is less expensive and easier to use than lab-run tests. Mina Health is also aiming to provide menopause treatment services.
After successfully paying off six-figures of student loan debt in two years, founder Aja Dang understands the importance of planners and journals. Her company, MSTRPLN, sells digital and physical planners aimed to help professionals plan their personal, professional and financial lives.
Of The Night
Two friends started Of The Night in the throes of the pandemic to help party animals quarantined at home let loose.
Now, the Los Angeles-based company is hoping to take their party packages nationwide. Founded by Blake Harrison and Courtney Nichols, Of The Night sells "party packages" that include drinks, costumes and activities meant to provide a one-night experience for customers.
Each package is centered around a distinct theme – previous themes have included a garden gnome-themed package and a Prince-inspired Valentine's Day package. The packages are also popular among LGBTQ community, Harrison said, in part because of how eccentric each package is designed to be.
"Frankly, that's who we know and who we are, we've always been involved with the queer space so it was a no-brainer," Harrison told dot.LA.
The company, which first blossomed in Los Angeles, is hoping to grow its market in other major metropolitan cities and begin to tailor their packages to post-pandemic life. Now, Nichols said, the company is also aiming to target people who feel overworked.
"So, everyone," Harrison added.
Founded by Ashley Xie, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, Rooted Fare wants to help immigrant chefs bring traditional cultural sauces to the market. Rooted Fare partners with immigrant chefs to help them market and commercialize their sauces, and sells the sauces on their site.
Founded by Halleemah Nash, Rosecrans Ventures offers career counseling and job placement opportunities for underrepresented early-career workers.
Named after Rosecrans Avenue, a street that runs through Nash's hometown of Compton, the company also works with organizations to help workforces improve their diversity including PUMA, the California Department of Correction and the American Chemical Society.
An increased focus on diversity, Nash told dot.LA, will help empower a Generation Z workforce that is more diverse than previous generations.
"The idea of coaching and placing and empowering meaningful workforces for the underrepresented I think is necessary if we really want to get real about what the future workforce is going to look like," she said. "It's them."
Based out of San Pedro, Spira uses CRISPR gene editing technology on algae to make dyes for cooking and clothing. Company founders Elliot Roth, Surjan Singh and Pierre Wensel say their process is less resource intensive than other methods to create dyes.
The Petal Effect
The Petal Effect is a Los Angeles-based boutique flower company that sells customizable flower arrangements. Founded by Tobore Oweh, the company offers deliveries, home and office subscription services and other floral installations.
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On this week's episode of the L.A. Venture Podcast, hear from Marlon Nichols, a founding Managing General Partner at MaC Venture Capital. MaC Ventures is seed-stage venture fund prioritizing investments in underrepresented founders.
Nichols shared how he got started in venture: After initially picking up the business at Intel Capital, he became a Kauffman fellow, where he is currently on the board. He left Intel to pursue his "cultural investing thesis" and became the founder of Cross Culture, and then MaC Venture Capital.
Nichols emphasized the positive culture at MaC Venture Capital, saying that he and his team share a "glass half full" mentality.
He also discussed the things he thinks set the fund apart; namely, a vast and diverse network built across entertainment, sports and the major advertising and global advertising agencies. He talks about MaC's operations capabilities, and how it can refine product storytelling.
Nichols said "I've seen great technology companies just, like, struggle to tell the world why their technology matters."
He also discussed leading MaC Venture Capital's recent investment in Pipe, a startup that helps companies scale without debt. When he invested, the company was valued at $13 million. In less than a year it's grown to be valued at $2 billion.
In the rest of this episode, Marlon shares about his background growing up as a Jamaican immigrant, and how his blue collar mentality is cornerstone to his investment philosophy.
Marlon Nichols is the founding managing general partner at MaC Venture Capital and a Kauffman fellow who also serves on its board of directors.
"We tap into those folks— call them influencers—who are tastemakers and we try to find common links throughout these people and throughout the world. Once we see something that's popping up over and over again, that tells us that there's there's something interesting happening here that we should pay attention to." —Marlon Nichols
dot.LA Engagement Intern Colleen Tufts contributed to this post.
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Last fall, Fika Ventures partner Eva Ho and LATech.org Executive Director Sean Arian helped lead entrepreneurship programs for preselected high school students in working class and immigrant communities in the San Fernando Valley.
What they quickly discovered was that the existing type of entrepreneurship programs and coding bootcamps lacked an exposure to all the non-computer, science-based career offerings in the tech industry.
Many students were uninterested in tech because they didn't know enough about it.
"I also grew up in the same community. I grew up low income. My parents were immigrants from Africa. There was nobody to help me decide what kind of career I would do," Ho said. "I don't think I would've landed in tech without mentors. I didn't know how to network or the opportunities."
The predominately white male tech industry has been under pressure to diversity its ranks, with companies like Snap Inc. and others issuing annual diversity reports. According to their latest diversity report, 84.6% of tech executives are white, and 84.3% are men.
So Ho and Arian regrouped and they came up with a concept: Why not broaden the program to include elements of the tech industry beyond computer science? They also decided to focus on students beyond high school.
Last fall, the duo created the Fika Accelerator, a sort of short apprenticeship with the aim of offering students a paid opportunity to develop skills, understand the tech industry and get a shot at an internship at some of the region's best known tech companies like Snap and Cornerstone OnDemand.
Primarily funded by Los Angeles County, the 120-hour course runs over a seven-week period, after which Fika will evaluate their job readiness and recommend students to selected companies for internship interviews.
The first two weeks of the program will focus on product design, the third and fourth weeks will focus on marketing, the next two weeks on sales, and the last week on career development. Students are required to develop a product, then a marketing plan, then sales plan and lastly a final project.
"I'm about to graduate so I'm trying to figure out other ways to go around the education system," said Trinity Willard, UCLA fourth year with a double-major in Public Affairs and African American Studies.
She developed an interest in product development after working on her Fika Accelerator capstone project.
"They go into so many different parts of the tech space that I learned product development's behind the scenes and brainstorming work is the stream within tech I'm most interested in," said Trinity. "It's the foundation for everything."
The pipeline for internships narrowed last year as most companies either reduced or shut down their internship programs during the pandemic,. Fika aims to open those opportunities back up for its students.
Cornerstone OnDemand, Blackline and Snap, Inc. are just a few of LATech.org's member companies that have taken interns from past programs, along with smaller companies like Q&A and Open Path.
Ho and Arian envision a long future for Fika Accelerator.
"If L.A. were a nation, it would be the 19th largest economy in the world. We could be doing this program for all ages ranging as young as a 6th grader all the way to graduate students," said Ho. "The potential to impact thousands of people is real. We have big dreams for this. This is just the start."
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