Technology is transforming every type of business. Entrepreneurs can learn how to take advantage of the tech wave and how to finance their businesses by attending Plug in South Los Angeles’ Urban Tech Connect Conference on May 16 at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.
By Jason Lewis
Technology continues to grow at an exponential rate. It’s no longer the wave of the future, because that future is upon us now. We mostly see the advances on our mobile phone, as the latest apps make simple life tasks extremely convenient.
While most people have the latest technology in the palm of their hand, many entrepreneurs are catching the tech wave so that they can produce better products and deliver better services. But one issue for Black communities is that they have been mostly consumers of technology, instead of reaping the financial benefits from it.
There are several organizations that are ensuring that South Los Angeles does not miss out on business opportunities that the rest of the world is taking advantage of. Plug in South L.A. is one of those organizations, and they are hosting the Urban Tech Connect Conference on May 16 at the Nat Holden Performing Arts Center.
“I created Plug in South L.A. with the goal of creating a tech echo system in South L.A.,” said Derek Smith, digital marketing evangelist and branding expert. Smith is a graduate of Hamilton High School. “Basically, L.A.’s economy is changing by the day, and we’re seeing L.A. grow as a tech capital. That’s an exciting thing, but the unfortunate part about it is that the growth isn’t reaching all parts of the city in terms of education and opportunity. Plug in South L.A. was created to help South L.A. become a part of L.A.’s growth as a tech center.”
Urban Tech Connect is a conference that brings entrepreneurs together with technology experts and investors who can help fund small businesses.
“This conference is designed to help underrepresented minorities really move forward and close that gap in technology fields,” said Sheila Marmon, Founder & CEO of Mirror Digital Inc. Marmon is from South Los Angeles. “One of the most important ways that the conference does that is by showing examples of success. There’s a saying that I love that says, ‘You can’t be it if you can’t see it.’ So showing young entrepreneurs and students people who look like them, people who have had successful careers in a technology company, or people who started their own app, helps the young people be able to think broader and think about what they can accomplish. A lot of the innovation in technology has come from young people. And our kids, Black kids and Latino kids from underrepresented communities, are really driving culture. So they know what’s hot. If we give them the skills to turn their ideas and creativity into tech enabled products, there is nothing that can stop them."
Financially, South Los Angeles can greatly benefit from being a part of the tech industry.
“It’s important for African Americans and Latinos to be involved in the tech industry because that’s where a lot of the wealth creation is happening at this present time,” Smith said. “Technology is changing by the second. When you look at the startups who are going on to create multibillion-dollar companies, they don’t look like the people in South L.A. We want to change that. We think it’s important that we help pipeline the talent that we know exists in our community to help build impactful and powerful companies that not only have a presence on a regional stage, but on a global stage.
“If we can support more founders (entrepreneurs) coming out of communities such as South L.A., who look like African American and Latino founders, we can create a local ecosystem that helps us solve some of the problems that plague communities like South L.A. When you look at food deserts, homelessness, and unemployment rates, technology has an impact that tackles these problems.”
With the entertainment industry being in Los Angeles, many tech companies have flocked to this city.
“Los Angeles is really becoming a technology hub,” Marmon said. “Entertainment and technology are converging. L.A. is the place for that, because L.A. has traditionally been a home for entertainment. As technology (firms) start to stake a claim in that space, and they want to build out their entertainment capabilities, they’re looking at Los Angeles as the optimal place to go. So we’ve seen big investments from Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. All of those really large tech companies are right here in Los Angeles now.”
S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, math) programs are being heavily pushed in South Los Angeles, so there are many teenagers and young adults who have the skill set to compete in the technology fields. The key now is to equip them with business skills so that they can generate revenue.
“We want to make sure that the talented people in South L.A. have the tools and resources to cultivate and develop their ideas,” Smith said. “To be a part of this innovation wave in Los Angeles, and more importantly across the country and in the world.”
Technology is not limited to the tech field, as most small businesses use it to sell products, services, and attract new customers.
“This conference is relevant to people who are from a wide range of backgrounds, age ranges, and professional industries, because we’re talking about how technology is changing the way that we do business in every type of sector,” Marmon said. “We have technology leaders that are focused on consumer products in financial services, or consumer products in payments for a service, or technology products in heath care. So technology is transforming every type of business, so regardless of what type of business you’re in, technology is going to touch what you do.”
While technology is the main theme of this conference, business strategies are also heavily discussed, and venture capitalists will be on hand to meet with entrepreneurs.
Access to capital is an issue with a lot of Black businesses. At the Urban Tech Connect, entrepreneurs were able to meet with venture capitalists.
“In our community, I don’t think that we’re exposed as much to what venture capital is and how it works,” Smith said. “So it’s important that entrepreneurs and early stage companies that are in the process of building understand where and how venture capitalists fit into their long-term grown plans. They need to be connected to venture capitalists because with the funding that comes from those type of companies, we can see 10-times growth of that company. That benefits South L.A.”
Plug in South L.A. provides mentoring for entrepreneurs, which is extremely valuable in terms of running a business, securing funding, finding talent, and marketing the product or service. They also host Lunch and Learn, where entrepreneurs can pitch their ideas to a group of successful business owners and venture capitalists.
“The goal of the Lunch and Learn is to help the founders navigate their roadmap to get to their next milestone,” Smith said. “This is a group of minds coming together to lend their expertise and experience to help the founder overcome a hurdle or zero in on an opportunity.”
Along with networking events throughout the year, Plug in South L.A. has a membership program, and they have a blog that has tech and business articles. For more information about Plug in South L.A., visit their website at www.pluginsouthla.com, and follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.