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.