Diversifying Tech; Discussing Derek Smith’s Plug In South Los Angeles and How He’s Equalizing the Tech Industry for Black and Latinx Communities


Taking startups and professional careers to soaring heights through next-level networking, Plug In South LA empowers founders and entrepreneurs to nurture relationships with potential partners through meaningful exposure.

Smith started this company around 2014 when he noticed the tech industry rise throughout the city of Los Angeles.

“The LA tech scene was starting to grow and expand around the entire city, from Santa Monica to Pasadena,” shared the Plug In South LA’s founder in an interview with the LAWT. “But, I noticed that none of this activity was spilling over to South LA – Crenshaw, Leimert Park and Inglewood in particular.”

That was when Smith brought his company to life. “I thought, here we are in the one of the biggest and greatest cities in the country where a lot of young folks are so into the tech community yet so far from it. I wanted to be a part of that community of folks creating tech ecosystems and startup ecosystems.”

The playing fields for minority-owned business in tech is extremely unbalanced. With “the amount of venture capital going into tech companies operated by black folks [being] less than three percent” when Smith started his company.

“Almost 10 years later, it’s not at four or five percent. It hasn’t increased much,” shared Smith.

However, with the help of Black Lives Matter and their protests in 2019, Smith told LAWT that there’s been more activity in diversifying this industry.

“With the Black Lives Matter movement, and everything that’s come out of that, there’s been more of a focus and interest in diverse entrepreneurs. But the reality is, when you look at enterprise, the story by Black and Brown families who are rooted in the innovation economy, it is so hard for them to secure early-stage investment to really grow and scale their businesses.”

The entrepreneurs and tech start-up founders in the 2022 accelerator (Courtesy Photo)

This led Smith to really call out this hurdle in the tech industry.

“Diverse founders don’t always have the same sort of venture capital to bootstrap and grow their companies, putting them at a big disadvantage.”

He continued with, “So part of what we do at Plug In is also connect different stages of founders with investors and corporate executives and subject matter experts that can help navigate the marketplace when it comes to positioning and figuring out how to operate their business upscale and successfully.”

Connections are primarily made through their cohort accelerator programs, which has helped fund and grow some of the most dynamic start-up and early-stage businesses and business owners in Black and Latinx communities.

Plug In South LA has recently launched their third accelerator program in the beginning of April. This cohort will develop the vision of entrepreneurs in health care tech, edtech, fintech, cleantech, fashion, media, and gaming, and aims to level the playing field by providing minority-owned businesses with resources that will assist in narrowing the funding gap that’s compared to traditional Silicon Valley access.

Smith shared that Plug In South LA will only accelerate entrepreneurs and their company through this program. 

“California Health Care Foundation is one of our partners, and they’re looking to invest up to $40,000 in a pilot. The other thing that we’re doing that’s a little different is that our founders meet weekly as a group and they also meet with investors and other successful entrepreneurs on a weekly basis to sort of troubleshoot and address some of the challenges and opportunities that they’re dealing with. So, this program’s a bit more rigorous than how we’ve operated in the past.”

The third Plug In accelerator will provide its cohort of entrepreneurs and founders with tools to scale their businesses and position themselves to raise crucial funding. The accelerator also includes a 13-week intensive session to help founders succeed on all aspects of growth, from deal-making and partnerships to pilot programs, investor management, strategic development, and more. Founders in the cohort already have raised upwards of $1-to-2 million in financing, from seed to early-stage rounds.

(Courtesy Photo)

The entrepreneurs and tech start-up founders in the 2022 accelerator will include Dr. NanaEfua Afoh-Manin of Shared Harvest Fund (healthcare tech), Dr. Steven Moyo of Welfie (healthcare tech), Rodney Bell of Butterfly Health (healthcare tech), Kameale Terry of ChargerHelp! (cleantech/sustainability), Ashley Williams of RIZZARR (media), Kyra Peralte of The Traveling Diary (media), Leonard Tatum of Tatum Games (gaming), SergeAmouzou of Finpro (fintech), Zef Neemuchwala of Be A Maker Club (edtech), and Mitchella Gilbert of Oya Apparel (fashion). 

Mentors in this year’s program include executives from CHCF, Gunderson, California Health Care Foundation as well as other industry leaders who will be available for consultations and office hours including Courtside Ventures, RareBreed Ventures and Zeal Capital Partners among others.

Plug In South LA also created and runs Urban Tech Connect, a prominent annual business conference that equips tech company founders from African American, LatinX and under-represented communities in Los Angeles and beyond with a platform to plug in to the greater technology ecosystem and to network with other founders, VC’s, angel investors, tech influencers and industry leaders.

Derek Smith shared that programs like this — that foster the potential of people like him — is  what makes his job worth it. “I think we have a lot of talent. We’ve really become an innovation hub and are connecting with a lot of other innovation hubs around the city,” Smith said.

“We have the ability to increase the number of engineers and tech developers and programmers in our local community, if we can successfully roll out enterprises that are having like a big impact, not just on South L.A. only, but across the entire country and globe, as well.”

For more information on Plug In South LA, Derek Smith and their Tech Accelerator Programs visit: https://pluginsouthla.com.

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