The inaugural class of 15 entrepreneurs participated in a 12-week business program at the Brotherhood Crusade.
By Blake Carter
Vision Lab South LA envisions a future where the digital divide doesn't exist. While tech fields hold the jobs of the future, every small business uses technology in several ways, and entrepreneurs who are not tech savvy can easily be left behind.
“We’re helping entrepreneurs who have ideas to move their ideas from infancy to becoming a business, and from a youth tech workforce development perspective, we want to make sure that we’re providing access to information to those who are interested in tech careers, or those who are interested in making a pivot to technology,” said Dawn Comer, director of Technology Inclusion, Mayor's Office of Budget and Innovation.
Garcetti’s office, in partnership with the city’s Economic and Workforce Development Department, Brotherhood Crusade YouthSource Center, and UCLA Extension, created this program in 2022 to give people who have business ideas the resources and connections to start or maintain existing small businesses. The 12-week curriculum helps entrepreneurs gain skills around refining their business ideas, understanding how to put together a business pitch, and understanding resources for funding.
Historically Black communities in Los Angeles have been underfunded and under-resourced in many areas, including small business and technology resources.
“Los Angeles is the most entrepreneurial city in the world,” Garcetti said. “But our key industries and our amazing institutions sometimes feel like they’re thousands of miles away depending on the color of your skin, the language that you speak, and the zip code where you reside. This program is going to change that. This is about teaching people how to be entrepreneurs and also networking them with their city. The city of L.A. has so many resources. We have the third busiest airport in the world; the busiest port in the hemisphere; the largest municipal utility. We have business source centers. We spend billions of dollars of city tax money, and we want to spend it on local businesses. So the point of this is to help people hone their pitch, grow their network, and understand technology to accelerate their ideas and also the wealth in our communities.”
Comer also emphasizes the need to have a program like this in a Black community.
“It’s important that we’re having this in South L.A. because South L.A. is one of the areas where we know that there is a higher percentage of residents who may not have broadband connectivity in their homes, and we know that just having access to a computer is a lifeline,” she said. “Technology is a part of every aspect of business; whether you’re using it for business operations or whether you’re using it to reach customers.”
Los Angeles has been going through massive changes, including in Black communities, which has led to gentrification issues. A program such as Vision Lab South LA gives long-time residents an opportunity to work and continue to live in their own community.
“It’s a new day in South Los Angeles,” Garcetti said. “We just invested over a billion dollars in a new rail line. We helped businesses not only stay alive but thrive. We have Destination Crenshaw coming up to celebrate African American history, art, and culture. And we have the Olympics coming up in 2028. This is a moment for South L.A. of unprecedented investment. We just have to make sure that it reaches everybody. And as a city we’re not succeeding if everybody’s story isn’t there. For me, I don’t just care about the great new startup in Venice; I want to see that happen right here along Crenshaw.”
The inaugural group has entrepreneurs who are running businesses in a wide range of industries, and they all use technology.
“Technology is a part of every aspect of business,” Comer said. “Whether you’re using it for business operations or whether you’re using it to reach customers. We have various businesses (in this program). We have an artist who is interested in using a digital platform to share her work and to help other artists share their work via the metaverse. We also have businesses who are interested in setting up tech centers. We have a business who is interested in helping musicians take advantage of working in a smaller business footprint in respect to sharing their music capabilities.”
One of the students is Mary Harris, who owns Mary Harris Originals, which is an art company that sells paintings and hosts art shows.
“I’m here because they’re helping me bridge the technical divide between the art world and our people,” Harris said. “Having a meta verse gallery is my plan, and they’ve helped me bring that idea into fruition.”
One of several skills that Harris has learned is how to better utilize networking opportunities.
“Connections to the right people, and it’s propelled the people that I’m working around to invest more into what I have going on,” she said. “Also, just learning about the amount of access in the tech industry that’s available to people of color. Just to know that we have advocates on our side who have been fighting for us to get a space. I’ve gained the most from the relations and the content of the business lessons that are being taught.”
For more information about Vision Lab South LA, visit www.visionlab.la and follow them on social media.