Urban Tech Connect aims to bridge technology gap


May 24, 2018

By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Business founders, budding entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and tech fans converged at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center May 17 for the Urban Tech Connect conference where stakeholders in the industry delivered advice for entrepreneurs hoping to take their businesses to the next level.

“Urban Tech Connect is a critical meeting of the minds,” said Derek Smith, founder of Plug In South L.A., which organized the event.

Smith said he is working to bridge the technology gap between entrepreneurs in the inner city and the growing opportunities that exist in technology.

“South L.A. is a tech desert,” Smith said. “We want to pave the way for the next generation of tech and digital media entrepreneurs, harnessing local talent from underserved communities and connecting them with opportunities in the thriving tech centers in neighboring Los Angeles and Orange County.

“We sit on the edge of some incredible tech and entrepreneurial communities and yet there are virtually no resources dedicated to cultivating entrepreneurialism in South L.A.,” Smith added. “We’re going to change that. We are reaching into our local communities to tap the talent we know is there and we’re connecting them with the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. We believe the next Snap Inc. will come from South L.A. and we’re building the community to nurture it.”

Nearly two dozen founders, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists delivered advice to the capacity crowd of more than 500 who traveled from all over Los Angeles to attend the conference.

Former NBA player Matt Barnes was the featured speaker during a chat on “Social Activism, Entrepreneurship and Tech.” He said he took his same relentlessness he was known for on the basketball court and applied it to business. He said that after he retired from basketball he began making investments in everything from artificial intelligence to filmmaking to cannabis.

The former UCLA Bruin who played for 11 NBA teams in a 14-year career is an angel investor in about seven Silicon Valley companies, including an artificial intelligence fund.

“To be a professional athlete is like being struck by lightning, but you have a better chance of becoming an entrepreneur,” he said. “You have to be willing to do the work.”

Barnes recommended that budding entrepreneurs stay curious about technology and urged audience members to attend tech conferences to network and to possibly meet future investors.

Dubbed the “first tech mayor of L.A.,” long-time tech supporter Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti outlined what the city of Los Angeles is doing to support the sustainable growth of startups and established small businesses.

“We started a tech council to look at how we could diversify our tech pipeline to mirror the city’s demographics as to how to bring together disparate entrepreneurs in technology,’’ he said. “Our goal is to open up the city and to help individual companies grow.

‘”If you’re not fully embracing technology, you’ll fall behind,” he added. His advice for entrepreneurs in the audience was to “Speak fearlessly, stay humble, listen carefully, and lead with love.”

At the end of the conference, Smith said he has instituted “Plug-In Lunch and Learns’’ that are designed to help cultivate the next generation of founders and entrepreneurs in Los Angeles.

“Our meetings and workshops take place in South L.A. and around Los Angeles at leading venture capital firms, corporations, entertainment and digital media studios,’’ he said.

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