First Virtual Bioscience Forum Addresses Urgent Health and Racial Crises

Scientists, engineers and executives from Los Angeles-based bioscience companies painted a vivid virtual picture of the industry’s racial inequities as well as the ability to save lives while creating jobs within the booming bioscience industry.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and BioscienceLA hosted the first ever virtual Bioscience Forum: Advancing Diversity and Equity.  The virtual Forum brought together thought leaders in the life sciences and healthcare industries to discuss steps to reverse healthcare disparities, increase minority representation, provide local jobs, and combat the world’s most vexing and urgent health crises.

“Not only is our country in the middle of a significant reckoning over its history of racism and injustice, but this reckoning is occurring during a pandemic that has not shown any signs of relenting,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.  “In the push for testing, vaccines, and therapies, bioscience will play a significant role in any path forward, but the truth is communities of color are significantly underrepresented in the life science industry, and innovations to solve our most vexing crises will suffer as a result.”

African Americans account for less than 4% of the bio sector workforce.  The numbers are even more discouraging at the executive level with less than 1% of African American representation. For the Latino community, just 5% are represented in non-executive roles and 3% in executive roles.

Years ago, bioscience did not have as strong of a presence in Los Angeles County, especially in the Second District, making it more difficult for constituents to connect with the job opportunities arising from the industry’s steady growth. But five years ago, that changed with a motion in 2015 by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. Following the motion’s approval, the Board of Supervisors directed the County to study key industries for job growth and economic development. The result was the development of a Countywide Bioscience Initiative that included a goal to create a workforce pipeline to diversify the industry.

“The County recognizes the moral imperative of this mandate for equality and to that end we have funded and helped develop the Bio-Flex program,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. Bio-Flex, a first-in-the-nation apprenticeship training program, was launched in partnership with the South Bay Workforce Investment Board, Cal State Dominguez Hills, West LA College and the bioscience industry itself, including companies such as Bachem, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Takeda to prepare persons of color and the economically disadvantaged for jobs in the bioscience industry.

“Bio-Flex is an employer-driven system,” said South Bay Workforce Investment Board Executive Director Jan Vogel.  “It is a career pathway program allowing students to get on the job training.”

“I learned the value of job readiness and explored the intersections of business, chemistry and biology,” said Bio-Flex graduate Aria Fulton who is now pursing a degree in biology at Loyola Marymount University.

This year’s Forum was part of the comprehensive countywide effort to increase local opportunities in the field of bioscience, which is increasingly important during the current economic downturn. In March of this year the County announced the first Bioscience Investment Fund through a public private partnership with bioscience investment firm MarsBio.

“Supporting a cohesive innovation ecosystem requires a coordinated approach to funding, space, and talent, among other areas,” explained David J. Whelan, Chief Executive Officer of BioscienceLA. “The County’s commitment to growing the entire sector has jumpstarted so many related initiatives, including BioscienceLA, and the momentum is increasing rapidly. Diversity and inclusion can accelerate innovation, and we look forward to continuing today’s conversations.”

While this was the first virtual forum, it is the third event of its kind in the County.  Last year’s in person forum was held at that hot-house of high-tech innovation, Google’s Spruce Goose Hanger. Last year’s forum highlighted how artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the medical field, with much of that transformative energy taking place in Los Angeles County.  And this year’s virtual forum was just one week after the first Los Angeles County Youth Bioscience Summit, focusing on ways Los Angeles County has invested in bioscience, highlighting strategies to be competitive for entry-level jobs and the various ways a degree in the life sciences touches a wide range of industries. Over 200 students from high schools and community colleges in Los Angeles County were in attendance.

“Our mission today is to explore ways that we can change this picture for a more inclusive tomorrow,” concluded the Supervisor.

Governor’s Homekey to Create Hundreds of Affordable Apartments in LA County

Governor Gavin Newsom announced the latest round of funding for Homekey, California’s innovative, nation-leading $600 million program to purchase and rehabilitate housing – including hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings and other properties – and convert them into permanent, long-term housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

To date, Los Angeles County is set to receive $60 million to purchase eight motels with a combined total of 631 rooms. Each room will be converted into affordable apartments with supportive services and rent subsidies funded through the County’s Measure H and state and federal sources.

“Behind every allocation we make for Homekey is the story of a Californian who will no longer have to sleep in a tent, in a car or on the street,” said Governor Newsom. “The partnerships with local leaders and their innovative approaches to homeless solutions are inspiring. From helping victims of domestic violence, to LGBTQ youth, to seniors, we’ve seen bold proposals that help a cross section of Californians struggling to find permanent housing.”

“I applaud Governor Newsom for his unwavering leadership and investing much needed resources to combat this crisis within a crisis – homelessness amid a pandemic,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who championed Measure H and whose district will have three Homekey sites.
“Project Roomkey enabled LA County to bring 4,000 vulnerable people indoors in just months – an unprecedented accomplishment that protected their health and that of the larger community while simultaneously providing a lifeline to struggling businesses,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “We are ready for the next phase, Homekey. We have eight motels lined up to be converted into affordable apartments with services, a key component of our COVID-19 recovery rehousing plan.”

The Governor also announced a partnership with Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit dedicated to developing affordable housing, to distribute $45 million in funding – $20 million from Blue Shield of California and $25 million from Kaiser Permanente – to support operating subsidies for Homekey projects. This funding will provide critical support to local jurisdictions to ensure that those housed through this initiative receive critical services like case management, job training, substance abuse counseling and more.

Building on the success of Project Roomkey, Governor Newsom in July announced the availability of $600 million in funding for Homekey, the next phase in the state’s response protecting Californians experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness, following approval by the Legislature as part of the 2020-21 annual state budget. Of that, $550 million will be provided to cities and counties by California’s direct allocation of the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief Funds, with an additional $50 million provided by the state to supplement the acquisition and provide initial operating funds. The Homekey funds are being expended in compliance with federal regulations in response to COVID-19.

HCD began accepting applications for Homekey on July 22, 2020. Additional awards are expected weekly until all $600 million has been awarded. The response from local governments and housing providers was significant – demonstrating the strength of these state-local partnerships. By the application deadline of September 29, a total of 147 applications had been received from 73 entities statewide, with over $1 billion requested.

Youth in Bioscience, Pathways to Success

The COVID-19 pandemic is a constant reminder of just how integral medicine and the life sciences are to the health and well-being of our society. Currently, workers in the bioscience industry are working hard on developing vaccines, therapies, and technologies to respond to the ensuing pandemic. As we look toward the future, the bioscience and biotech fields will only grow in a post-pandemic environment—and that is why it is so important to familiarize youth right here in Los Angeles with the possibilities the growing local bioscience industry has to offer.

The Second District held its first Los Angeles County Youth Bioscience Summit on Friday, October 9th. The Summit consisted of panel discussions and interactive lab experiments meant to expose youth to the fields of life sciences.

“The Youth Bioscience Summit gave a platform to share resources for students to build a career in the life sciences. This event shared valuable information to enrich the next generation of bioscience workers with the expertise, skills and experience needed to thrive in the field,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has been a champion of providing opportunities for work and learning in the life sciences and related fields.

Additionally, the event focused on the different ways Los Angeles County has invested in bioscience, highlighting strategies to be competitive for entry-level jobs and the various ways a degree in the life sciences touches a wide range of industries. Many of the participants were students from high schools and community colleges located in Los Angeles County.

Originally, bioscience did not have as strong of a presence in Los Angeles County, especially in the Second District, making it that much more difficult for its constituents to connect with the job opportunities arising from the industry’s steady growth.

But five years ago, that all changed with a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. Following the motion’s approval, the Board of Supervisors directed the County to study key industries for job growth and economic development. The result was the development of a Countywide Bioscience initiative that included a goal to create a workforce pipeline to diversify the industry. The Summit was part of this effort to expose young people to opportunities to work in the field of bioscience, which is increasingly important to do as we face the current economic downturn.

The event gave youth, at all levels, an understanding of the growing LA County bioscience landscape, the steps to take advantage of in career pathways, and hear directly from employers on workforce opportunities. While the Summit is just scratching the surface of what bioscience has to offer, the Second District continues to encourage youth to explore and consider what a future in bioscience can look like beyond the Summit.

Click here for the full agenda and resource guide. View 60-minutes of the Summit in its entirety below:

Great Plates to Fill A Great Need

Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

As COVID-19 continues to threaten the health of vulnerable populations, food security, employment, and small businesses, the Great Plates Delivered Program delivers on providing relief and hope in all these aspects. Recognizing the positive impact this program is having on the community, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas visited Sage Plant Based Bistro in Culver City to shine a light on the restaurant’s contributions to the community and this important program.

Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

Los Angeles County’s Great Plates Delivered Program is helping residents who are elderly or have pre-existing conditions, or heightened vulnerability to COVID-19, and might be fearful of or face barriers to visiting grocery stores. That’s where Sage Plant Based Bistro comes in. Sage is now participating in the first-in-the-nation program, launched by Governor Gavin Newsom as a meal delivery service for California’s older adults. The County of Los Angeles administers this program locally as a partnership between the Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services (WDACS) Department and Unite Here, and Local 11’s Hospitality Training Academy (HTA).

“With more than one million meals delivered since the program started in late April, it’s safe to say tens of thousands who would have been at-risk for contracting this virus were kept out of harm’s way,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “In addition to providing an essential economic stimulus to local businesses struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

“Thanks to the Great Plate program, we have been able to stay afloat and bring our coworkers back. As a result, they too can provide for their families. And are able to at least have the basics,” said Luna Sanchez Kitchen Manager at Sage Plant Based Bistro and Brewery.

WDACS provides three meals a day to 1,500 individuals across Los Angeles County by utilizing HTA’s network of hotels and commercial kitchens. The County has recently expanded the program to include local restaurants.

“They are very appreciative and love the food, some of them are not vegan and wouldn’t have tried this food if it wasn’t for this program.” said Luna Sanchez, Kitchen Manager at Sage Plant Based Bistro and Brewery. “It has helped people open their eyes to some other healthier options.”

For those in need of food and not able to afford groceries, please visit www.lafoodbank.org to find the food pantry nearest you.  

Urban Tech: The Future of South Los Angeles’ Creative Economy

The third annual Urban Tech Connect Summit just concluded after hosting a three-day virtual conference. The focus of this year’s summit was connecting Black and Latinx tech company founders to resources scale and grow their startups in a pandemic-stricken economy and environment.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas participated in a panel entitled “The Future of South Los Angeles’ Creative Economy” to explore ways to ensure more local talent from communities of color can access high-income and high-growth career opportunities.

“In this difficult economic downturn, cultivating the Creative Economy requires supporting small businesses, start-ups, and entrepreneurs at large,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas who has led efforts to launch $100 million in grants to small businesses, micro-entrepreneurs, and non-profits through the LA COVID-19 Regional Fund.

Recognizing the severe impact of the pandemic on the creative economy, the LA COVID-19 Regional Fund has reserved $10 million in grants specifically for musicians, artists, and non-profits. Furthermore, LA County is investing $14.3 million for wifi, hotspots, and computers in efforts to bridge the digital divide and help residents gain access to virtual learning and online public services.

Though Los Angeles as a whole is considered a global epicenter of the creative economy, South Los Angeles’ contribution is significant—and there are significant opportunities, which could help provide economic stability for an uncertain future.

“When I talk about the creative economy, I view it as an opportunity to leverage our assets—intellectual, physical infrastructure, and geographic advantages,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas when discussing creative economy industry growth in South Los Angeles. “Diversity is our comparative advantage and for me, I feel a responsibility to make sure we are opening up pathways.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas discussed innovative partnerships to open these pathways, highlighting PlugIn SouthLA, TECH Leimert, and Leaders Up as key partner organizations to foster creative talent and energy locally. These partnerships in tandem with the County’s forthcoming workforce development program for a film and digital media apprenticeship program aims to harness talent and provide opportunities in minority communities, particularly oriented toward at-risk youth.

The arts have also provided much-needed healing to vulnerable communities. Homeboy Industries and the Actor’s Gang were organizations highlighted by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in improving the quality of life for justice-involved individuals through their programming, demonstrating the arts are powerful far beyond their contributions to culture and bolstering the economy.

The panel also discussed the factors needed to support early-stage founders and startups in the South Los Angeles community, nurturing its innovators equitably as compared to other regions of Los Angeles.

America on Tech CEO Jessica Santana and Thinkwatts Founder Brandon (STIX) Salaam-Bailey joined Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in the discussion moderated by dot.LA Reporter Rachel Uranga.

“Understand what entrepreneurship is and how to set yourself up to be a legitimate company,” said Thinkwatts Founder Brandon (STIX) Salaam-Bailey speaking to new entrepreneurs. “And own your intellectual property.”

“In order for young people to believe that there is space for them in innovation, they need to see people in their communities engaged in innovation,” said America on Tech CEO Jessica Santana. “We need to give young people the tools and champion these tools so they know there is a pathway for them.”

Attendees for this virtual event ranged from startups, founders, and funders to students and entrepreneurs. The event provided these attendees with timely strategies and solutions from some of the industry’s leaders including Baron Davis Enterprises Founder Baron Davis and Share Ventures CEO Hamet Watt.