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Fostering Dreams: How Plug In South LA Builds Bridges to Economic Prosperity

ByHuey Yee Ong

Mar 4, 2024
Fostering Dreams: How Plug In South LA Builds Bridges to Economic Prosperity

Plug In South LA, founded by Derek Smith, is making strides toward economic revitalization through entrepreneurship and innovation in southern Los Angeles. Historically underserved and overlooked by the booming tech startup ecosystem, South LA faces significant economic challenges, including limited access to higher-paying jobs. Smith, a native of South LA, witnessed these challenges firsthand and embarked on a journey to establish a startup incubator in 2015. Inspired by his vision to transform his neighborhood, Smith aims to nurture the aspirations of diverse entrepreneurs in the area.

Plug In South LA isn’t just another incubator; it’s a beacon of hope and a catalyst for change, targeting the systemic barriers that have long prevented Black and brown founders from accessing the necessary funds to bring their visions to life. Data from Crunchbase reveals a disheartening trend: funding for Black founders has been on a decline for three consecutive years, hitting a historic low in 2023. Last year, Black entrepreneurs received a mere 0.48% of the total $136 billion in venture capital, amounting to just $661 million. This grim statistic underscores the critical need for initiatives like Plug In South LA, which aims to level the playing field and create a more inclusive startup ecosystem.

The Core of Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA’s program is built around a comprehensive 12-week curriculum, offering:

  • Weekly Workshops: Participants engage in workshops that cover essential topics for startup success, including:
    • Pitch deck development
    • Storytelling
    • Financial planning
  • Industry-specific Mentorship: Entrepreneurs receive advice and mentorship from seasoned professionals in the tech community.
  • Demo Day: The program concludes with a demo day, providing startups the opportunity to present their ventures to potential investors.

Success stories have already begun to emerge from the incubator, illustrating the program’s impact. One notable example is ChargerHelp!, a platform that enables field technicians to efficiently troubleshoot and repair electric vehicle charging stations. Co-founder and CEO Kameale Terry attributes a portion of her company’s success, including a $17.5 million Series A funding round, to the invaluable guidance received during the incubator program. ChargerHelp! has not only secured significant funding but has also contributed to job creation in the community, growing from a dozen employees to nearly 45.

The success of Plug In South LA and its participants is built on the foundation of a supportive network of entrepreneurs of color, who share similar challenges and experiences. This community continues to thrive long after the program concludes, fostering ongoing collaboration, support, and mentorship among its members. Other startups that have benefited from the program include SwayBrands, a platform connecting diverse creators with agencies and brands, and ThriveLink, which leverages AI to connect underserved patients with essential social services.

The Next Phase: Investing in Tomorrow’s Leaders

In the past, the incubator operated on a free model due to funding constraints, but Smith is now poised to introduce an equity-based model to directly invest in the companies participating in future cohorts. This shift will allow Plug In South LA to take a more active role in supporting startups financially, further accelerating their growth and impact.

Smith’s initiative is a powerful example of how entrepreneurial spirit, coupled with targeted support and resources, can drive economic development and create opportunities in communities often left behind. By focusing on the untapped talent in areas like South LA, Plug In South LA not only aims to build successful businesses but also to inspire a movement of entrepreneurs dedicated to uplifting their own communities from within.

As Plug In South LA continues to evolve and expand its reach, the vision of its founder, Derek Smith, stands as a testament to the transformative power of entrepreneurship. It’s a reminder that economic development and innovation can flourish anywhere, given the right support and opportunities. For the residents of South LA, the work of Smith and his incubator offers a glimpse into a future where diversity, equity, and economic prosperity go hand in hand.

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Featured Image courtesy of Plug In Ventures on YouTube

Huey Yee Ong

Hello, from one tech geek to another. Not your beloved TechCrunch writer, but a writer with an avid interest in the fast-paced tech scenes and all the latest tech mojo. I bring with me a unique take towards tech with a honed applied psychology perspective to make tech news digestible. In other words, I deliver tech news that is easy to read.