Urban Tech Connect will be virtual affair this year

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By Alysha Conner

Contributing Writer

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — A technology conference designed to bridge the gap for under-represented communities, will rely on the latest technology advances to carry on this, its third year.

Plug In South L.A., a growing tech community in South Los Angeles, will host the third annual Urban Tech Connect Conference in a virtual setting this year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic‘s ongoing threat, the tech conference will be taking place on Zoom Sept. 15-17.

Urban Tech Connect is a platform to educate and empower the next generation of entrepreneurs about the latest advances of technology.

The conference was initially scheduled May 20-21, but the nationwide ban on mass gatherings forced the organizers to cancel.

Derek Smith, founder of Plug In South L.A., and his team felt the need to carry on the event virtually, as a call to action to the recent civil and racial unrest throughout America.

“With the COVID-19 impact on marginalized communities specifically and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, we thought that the content, mission, and focus of the Urban Tech Connect Conference is more relevant now than ever before,” Smith said. “I believe that we all need the information to thrive, and this is what this conference is designed to do. Programs like this are needed in these types of communities now more than ever.”

The three-day virtual conference will be equipped with virtual workshops, panel presentations, roundtable discussions and virtual exhibitions to showcase successful business models.

Virtual office hours also will be offered during the conference so that attendees can personally network with a wide variety of players in the tech ecosystem.

Attendees will be able to gain insights from founders, investors, marketing gurus and other professionals.

Besides being virtual, this year’s conference will also be unique by helping entrepreneurs strategically grow their businesses amid the COVID-19 challenges.

“Our short-term goal is to make sure that we are positioning L.A.’s future with innovation in South L.A. and supporting the talent that exists here already,” Smith said. “We want to make sure they have the tools and resources to be competitive locally, statewide, nationally, and globally.”

African Americans and Latinos will learn how to build competitive and successful tech enterprises and platforms.

Julia Collins, who co-founded a “unicorn” tech company now valued at $2.25 billion, will be one of the conference speakers.   

Besides being the co-founder of Zume Pizza and founder of Planet FWD, Collins is also aligned with the conference’s commitment to supporting and engaging Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).

“The conference is addressing a lot of key topics that people in the BIPOC community face in the workforce, particularly in the tech landscape and as founders,” Collins said.

“What we’re trying to solve is centuries of injustice, so it’s unlikely we can solve a problem of this magnitude this year. However, we can likely galvanize a conference like Urban Tech Connect to bridge the gaps that exist for founders of color in the tech ecosystem and create solutions that can be sustained.”

Collins will speak on day two of the conference in a fireside chat called “Create Company Culture That Unlocks the Magic.”

In a 20-minute lecture, Collins will share her perspective on building inclusive and innovative company cultures that drive excellence.

She also will share details on hard-won lessons she has learned throughout her entrepreneurial journey, including her intentional team-building approach.

“I hope attendees will come away with an increased awareness of the power that they have as BIPOC founders to promote equity and diversity on every level of their companies, including their cap tables,” Collins said.

“I’d also like these founders to walk away with actionable insights on purpose-driven team and culture as well as preserving company values as you scale.”

In addition to the conference’s long lists of veteran tech speakers, it will include dialogues with local public figures committed to building better diversity into Los Angeles’s fabric. 

Brandon “Stix” Salaam-Bailey, Watts rapper and founder of Think Watts Foundation, will join as a panelist during day three of the conference for “The Future of South LA’s Creative Economy” panel.

“Derek reached out to me and told me how the conference brings awareness to tech regarding the communities that I serve,” Stix said. “Inner-city and underprivileged areas are significant to me.

“My goal is to show people that look like me and come from places that I come from, even in the field that I’m in, that you should be involved in the world of tech.”

Stix will take part in a panel alongside county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Jessica Santana, co-founder and CEO of America On Tech.

The 30-minute conversation will discuss South Los Angeles’s creative economy and feature employment, entrepreneurship and government support opportunities.

“Just look at all these tech innovators like Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates,” Stix added. “The goal is to end poverty and encourage people to strive after that same goal. We don’t just have to be athletes and musicians.”

Since the pandemic has slowed down the entertainment scene with mass gatherings restrictions, Stix focused more on his nonprofit, Think Watts Foundation.

Think Watts has been responsible for a wide array of free financial literacy courses, a Weekly Meal program that feeds hundreds of Watts residents, and entrepreneurship training.

Stix plans to launch a Think Watts headquarters later this year. It will function as a hub where residents can receive access to resources and tools like financial literacy assistance, machines to manufacture clothing, a music studio and a coding classroom.

“I’m building a center that’s going to be teaching coding, in regards to C++, Java and python programming, to underserved communities,” Stix said. “It’s vital to get people from communities like Watts, Compton, Inglewood, Long Beach, etc., aware of the booming industry. So, we don’t get left behind again.”   

The Urban Tech Connect Conference is just one of the many initiatives offered by Plug In South L.A. throughout the year.

A membership with the organization will enable aspiring creators to access several services and other opportunities.

Plug In offers members modern and contemporary programs geared towards cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders in South Los Angeles and beyond.

“My vision is to see the tech business community grow and evolve in places like South L.A.,” Smith, the founder of Plug In South L.A., said.

“If we can cultivate local talent and provide our communities with the tools and resources to be creators and innovators, then we really are changing the fabric of our communities.”

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