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After more than a decade working in the corporate world on the East Coast, Derek Smith returned home to a flourishing tech scene that largely excluded people like him.
"I realized that the incredible tech wave sweeping Los Angeles left behind communities from my neighborhoods growing up in South L.A." he said.
That inspired him to create the Urban Tech Connect (UTC) and Plug-In South LA. More than six years later, the Urban Tech Connect conference aimed at plugging African American, Latinx and other underrepresented communities into the greater tech ecosystem of founders, angel investors, venture capitalists, tech influencers and industry leaders is in its fourth year.
The event will run May 18 through May 20.
It came out of his other vision, Plug In South LA, a network of founders, funders and tech professionals in a part of L.A. that has been historically overlooked.
The conference aims to build that network, featuring panels led by investors discussing their latest projects, founders sharing how they made their ideas a reality, and top Black and Latino entrepreneurs advising on how to tap into knowledge and capital.
"I decided to prioritize creating a tech ecosystem for local young Black and Latinx people to gain awareness of all the potential pathways to create wealth, and be creators and owners, not just consumers," Smith said.
The pandemic has forced the conference to go virtual, but Smith believes this makes UTC all the more necessary.
"In a time when we're all exhausted staring at our computers all day, our workshops and learning sessions are opportunities to bring the community together," he said.
As part of the event, Los Angeles-based Snap Inc. will host a workshop on augmented reality and how to create your own lens.
Lidia Medina, 28-year-old investor at VamosVentures, said she's looking forward to hosting office hours titled "Uncovering New Opportunities in Venture Capital," where she hopes to provide investors and founders with guidance for how to break into the space.
"I'm really excited for UTC and the potential to make the space a little bit less fragmented," Medina said.
Suma Wealth CEO Beatriz Acevedo is one of the conference's keynote speakers. Her "master class" is titled "How I Raised a $1 Million Pre-Seed Round."
"I'm excited to see peers in la lucha," she said referring to the Spanish phrase often used to describe the grind; "I'm hoping to inspire other founders starting out and hoping to be inspired by founders more ahead in their journey."
Participants said the George Floyd protests last summer sparked a year of introspection on the lack of representation at the top of many of the country's most successful companies.
"We've made inroads towards ensuring that underrepresented people have a seat at the table," Smith said. "However, we still have a long way to go to make the American Dream a reality for those not privileged with the information or capital."
VamosVentures investor Lidia Medina agrees that there's been a greater effort towards funding diverse founders and tech companies.
"At VamosVentures, which is a fund aimed at supporting diverse Latinx entrepreneurs, we doubled the amount raised over the last three years in the first three months of 2021, raising $25 million," said Medina. "It's not a coincidence, but rather has to do with the current culture."
Each day offers either a workshop or office hours aimed at giving young entrepreneurs and tech professionals practical steps for getting ahead. Tickets range from $25 for general admission to $100 for full access to panels and all workshops, office hours and networking sessions. Attendees can also get a $50 ticket for access to just panels and office hours.
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