Urban Tech Connect 2020 Wraps with Inspiring Call To Action

What an incredible journey. Urban Tech Connect 2020 brought together an amazing group of people over the past three days. The virtual conference proves that Black and Brown founders and tech pros are building innovative ecosystems nationwide.

“During the conference we got to see what the future looks like,” says Plug In South LA Founder Derek Smith. “Our communities are the idea of possible. We are all part of this story.”

Day 1 began with inspiring talks, fundraising insights straight from VCs, informative workshops, a next-gen tech showcase, and live judging for our pitching contest. Everyone really brought it for Day 2, which included energetic discussions on a range of pressing issues facing founders in our community.

In case you missed anything, here are the highlights from Day 3:

Understand how a VC makes money. Diishan Imira, the co-founder and CEO of Mayvenn, is known as the Black Hair King of Silicon Valley. He raised $41 million in capital for his business, but cautions fellow entrepreneurs against romanticizing stories about raising big capital. He learned as much as possible about the business of venture capital, which is something he said many founders don’t do. Imira also used his experiences living abroad in China to acclimate to Silicon Valley.

Leverage social media. DeMarcus Williams, director of Silicon Valley Bank’s Early Stage Practice participated fielded questions about early stage entrepreneurship for an Ask Me Anything session. One question was how to get attention from investors. “As an entrepreneur you have to make a name for yourself in order to stand out from the noise,” he said. “And social media is one of the most efficient and effective ways to do this.”

Drumroll please… The judges for our startup pitching contest were unanimous in their winning pick. Congratulations to Corey Mack of the Aura Project, a low-cost Covid-19 ventilator. Check out the winning pitch video on Instagram.

Lessons from the pandemic. CFOs united for a panel on scaling up fundraising. They agreed that investors, VCs, and startup founders all learned a lot of lessons from Covid-19 on how to navigate through challenging times. The pandemic reminded many about “general corporate hygiene” — practices that we’re supposed to do anyway, but that we become less attuned to when things are good, said Janice McNair, the CFO of EZ Texting.

It all starts with the creative economy. The panel “Cultivating South LA’s Creative Economy for the Future” produced a powerful conversation with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, America On Tech CEO Jessica Santana, and Brandon “Stix” Salaam-Bailey, rapper and founder of the Think Watts Foundation. Stix connected the dots between the creative economy and reforming social injustices to produce significant change. Santana encouraged everyone on the panel and in the audience to adopt a “design with” approach to communities rather than a “design for” one.

Take heart. Zuhairah Washington, SVP of global strategic partners, lodging and vacation rentals at Expedia Group, explored the question “Are you brave enough to build an inclusive culture?” with Lauren Maillian. Courage is rooted in Latin for “heart,” Washington pointed out. “It’s not about superheroes being fierce, but individuals speaking openly and honestly about what’s on their minds, and expressing their whole hearts,” she said. “We have to start to nudge ourselves in the direction of courage.”

Continue to connect. Derek Smith encouraged UTC participants to use the network function in the virtual conference platform Hopin. Get in touch with Plug In South LA through the website. Connect on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Become a mentor. Join our Lunch & Learn accelerator program, which we’ll be resuming.

“Look at where you are and think about how you can make an impact in our local communities,” Smith said in closing.

Many thanks to co-hosts Bonin Bough and Lauren Maillian, and all of our office hours participants, speakers, sponsors, and partners for making Urban Tech Connect 2020 a success. Stay well. Stay involved. Stay in touch.

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