LA Tech Updates: Microsoft Reportedly Looking to Buy TikTok; HBCUvc and PledgeLA's New Partnership

Here are the latest updates on news affecting Los Angeles' startup and tech communities. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for more.

Today:

  • Trump could order ByteDance to divest of TikTok today, Bloomberg reports
  • HBCUvc and PledgeLA offer $5,000 grants to founders from HBCUs

        HBCUvc and PledgeLA offer $5,000 grants to founders from HBCUs 

        HBCUvu, a non-profit increasing racial diversity in venture capital, has partnered with PledgeLA to provide $5,000 grants to startup founders from historically Black colleges and universities. The program, dubbed the The Summer Lab Fund, is now accepting applications through August 6.

        Supported by Crosscut Ventures, the fund will award equity-free grants to technology and tech-enabled startups founded by HBCU students and alumni. Selected startups will also receive mentorship and support from participating sponsors as well as access to HBCUvc and PlegeLA networks.

        The funding opportunity, launched last week, is managed and operated by the current cohort of PledgeLA VC interns who were matched at firms across Los Angeles in a 10-week program.

        PledgeLA is a cohort of tech companies and VC firms created by the Annenberg Foundation and the mayor of Los Angeles. Last week, the organization released results from its annual survey on diversity in tech companies across the city.

        Current intern Evan Hamilton told dot.LA the plan is to establish the Lab Fund as an annual project. Although it only has three spots now, he said, if demand is high enough they will look to raise more funds.

        "What I really hope for, as a result of this, is to encourage that pipeline of investors to go to HBCUs to find interesting entrepreneurial talents because as we've seen many times, most folks are in hoodies coming from Stanford," Hamilton said.

        "Five thousand dollars is a nominal amount of money, but what it does is give someone that ability to say, 'I am an entrepreneur, I have been funded,'" Hamilton said. "It really doesn't take a lot to validate a lot of the thoughts, feelings and opinions that people have. If we're doing this correctly, we're going to help these companies grow, even the ones that aren't able to receive funding."

        He said it hopes to dispel preconceived notions and encourage investors to look toward HBCUs for talent.

        After applications close on August 6, interns will form an investment committee to present and review the interested companies, which come from industries including entertainment tech, retail, education services and sports. Winners of the fund will be announced August 14.

        PledgeLA intern Liza Katsman hopes the thinking behind this initiative will one day extend beyond the HBCU ecosystem. She pointed out that entrepreneurs of different backgrounds - that had largely been excluded from tech companies - bring new perspectives and ideas that can turn into successful products or services.

        "Diversity and inclusion is not just the right thing to do," Katsman said. "It's the smart thing to do."

        dot.LA is a member of PledgeLA.

        Trump and Microsoft Are Looking at TikTok 

        Amazon Tells Employees to Delete TikTok, Then Claims Directive Was Sent in Error

        Microsoft is in talks to buy TikTok as President Donald Trump plans to ban it, various media reported Friday.

        TikTok has come under increasing pressure from the administration that Chinese Internet company ByteDance is sharing data with Beijing and has threatened to ban it.

        Bloomberg reported the Trump administration had planned to order ByteDance to divest of the Culver City-based company as early as Friday.

        Microsoft could alter the question of ownership. It's unclear how advanced the talks are.

        The White House could immediately be reached for comment.

        But in an emailed statement a spokeswoman for TikTok said, "While we do not comment on rumors or speculation, we are confident in the long-term success of TikTok."

        Trump's move would not come as a surprise. He told reporters on Friday: "We're looking at TikTok, we may be banning TikTok. We may be doing some other things. There's a couple of options."

        Earlier this month, Trump suggested he would ban the app as punishment over China's handling of the coronavirus. Those comments came after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News that the United States is considering whether to restrict TikTok and other social media apps amid concerns that information was being shared with China's communist government.

        "We are taking this very seriously and we are certainly looking at it," Pompeo said.

        In March, another Chinese company, Beijing Kunlun Tech sold the West Hollywood-based gay dating app Grindr for more than $600 million after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States forced it to divest.

        Two months later, Beijing-based parent company ByteDance appointed Kevin Mayer, once widely considered Bob Iger's heir apparent at The Walt Disney company, to head TikTok in a move that would help distance itself from its Beijing parent company.

        TikTok, has around 30 million active users and has increasingly become a favorite of advertisers to sell their products among the youth-oriented social media app.


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        Snap shares soared after CEO Evan Spiegel touted the company's highest Q3 growth rate since 2017. The outspoken executive used Tuesday's earnings call to highlight the social media platform's efforts to engage users "following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor."

        The upbeat earnings report sent its stock soaring 20% in after-hours trading.

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        VENN leveled up in its quest to become the 24/7 streaming network for gaming on Tuesday, announcing it has closed a $26 million Series A financing round. The Playa Vista-based company has also turbocharged its leadership and distribution network.

        The Videogame Entertainment and News Network launched in August with $17 million in seed funding. That round was led by Bay Area gaming fund BITKRAFT, which also co-led the Series A — this time with Nexstar Media Group, a NASDAQ-listed telecoms company headquartered in Irving, Texas.

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        • L.A.-based Genies is expanding beyond creating and managing avatars for celebrities; consumers can now create their own avatars on partner platforms that use Genies' software development kit.
        • Initial partners are Gucci and Giphy, with more expected in the coming months.
        • Genies' pivot is an effort to capitalize on the 'digital goods economy' and the ascendance of the metaverse.

        Justin Bieber made Crocs cool again earlier this month, when he partnered with the footwear company, known more for function than fashion, to release a limited edition pair that reportedly sold out in 90 minutes.

        Imagine now that those shoes were meant to be worn not on human feet, but on the pixels of a consumer's digital avatar.

        This is the vision of L.A.-based Genies, which announced Tuesday it is now integrating its avatar-creation technology into other companies' digital platforms via an updated software development kit (SDK).

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