As a Black man in venture capital, the last few months have been eye opening. The national conversations about social justice led to an increased awareness of the challenges faced by underrepresented founders and funders in our industry. People and organizations have since stepped up to create pathways to invest in more founders from underrepresented backgrounds. And I couldn’t be more happy to see this happen.

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But I’ve noticed something else taking place on the sidelines. Many onlookers view investing with a representation lens as a constraint, rather than a thoughtful investment strategy. They know just as well as we do that founders from diverse backgrounds represent a tiny percentage of venture backed startup founders, but their belief is fund managers focusing here are limiting their opportunities. …

My introduction to venture capital came a little over a decade ago by way of a few active investors who were regularly blogging. Though at the time I didn’t know these investors personally, it’s safe to say their blogs were essential to me breaking into the industry. That’s where I learned the thought process, adopted the language, and realized that many of the skills required to be a successful VC overlapped with skills I previously developed working with small business entrepreneurs throughout my career. …

What happens when you put out a call for innovative entrepreneurs in South Los Angeles?

Grid110 usually accepts between 15 and 20 Los Angeles based companies for each cohort. But since South LA represents only 8% of LA’s population, we questioned whether we would be able to fill a cohort our first time out. The challenge was compounded because we only had a few weeks to promote the program, instead of our typical application window of a few months.

Close to a hundred applications later we heard the answer loud and clear. There is an abundance of innovative entrepreneurs in South LA actively seeking quality support and community. Even in this time of uncertainty, they are eager to rebuild our local economy with new models that fit the times. …

Cities and states across the country have begun to issue guidance on reopening businesses. While this is a major step toward restoring local economies, it is difficult to imagine things going back to the way they used to be before Covid-19. Our personal and professional habits are evolving as we become acclimated to a new normal. This means the rules are being rewritten across every industry, which presents a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs bringing innovative products and services to market.

As it turns out, revolutionary companies are disproportionately founded during challenging times. In the last recession we got Airbnb, Uber, Square, and Slack. In fact 57% of today’s Fortune 500 companies were founded in a time of economic distress. This is not a coincidence. …

Last April, I wrote about what Nipsey Hussle meant to his community just after his passing. I concluded by saying he “doubled down on investing in his community because he knew it would inspire others to do the same. It worked. I hope to do the same.”

Since then I started On Purpose Ventures (OPV) alongside Ajay Relan and Karim Webb, two well respected South LA entrepreneurs. We each have long known that talent, creativity and ambition are abundant in our community. Unfortunately, there’s been limited access to capital, resources, and guidance. …

In October of 2009, exactly 10 years ago, Mark Zuckerberg introduced the world to Facebook’s motto, “move fast and break things.” It was a breakout year for a startup with unprecedented growth, so the entire tech industry was paying close attention. As a result, “move fast and break things” was a concept that spread like gospel. Looking back today, I don’t think there’s any phrase that better captures the ethos of the tech industry over the last decade.

But as that motto was passed down from startup to startup, year after year, the message became more distorted. “move fast” ushered in an era that rewarded growth at all costs, even when it meant a company spending more than it makes on each customer. It has reached a point that this year only 24% of companies that filed to go public reported positive net income. That’s the lowest rate in the 20 years since the dot com bubble era. …

It has been a rough couple weeks since the City of Los Angeles was rocked by the death of Nipsey Hussle. It hit me hard and I haven’t stopped thinking or talking about Nip since last Sunday’s news.

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Since his passing, most media coverage eulogized him as an entertainer who just came off a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. It’s a meaningful milestone, but that description misses his most important contributions to the city. His music combined stories from the streets with thoughtful insights about personal and community wealth. …

Reading Recap: February 2019 Edition

The best part of posting recaps of my recent reads are the one-on-one, offline conversations that are sparked from them. I love talking to people who have also enjoyed the same books, as they often highlight insights that I missed or present an opposing perspective that expands my own.

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I had two recent favorites, the first of which was Principles by Ray Dalio. Dalio created the successful investment firm Bridgewater. The first part of the book was about Dalio’s life, the rest was a very thoughtful approach to developing a high performing organization. …

It’s been just over a year since I wrote about betting my career on LA tech. Since then, it’s become clear to me that my work as a VC and my efforts to further develop our city are inseparable. I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to bring out the best in LA. Today is a major step in that process.

I’m proud to announce that I have been named Chairman of the Advisory Committee for PledgeLA, a collective commitment from the tech community to better reflect and support the creativity and diversity of Los Angeles.

In October of 2018, VCs across the city came together to launch PledgeLA alongside Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Annenberg Foundation. …

In October of 2016 I walked into a maximum security prison alongside more than 70 SoCal founders and investors. It my first experience with Defy Ventures, a non-profit that empowers the incarcerated through entrepreneurship. We came as volunteers to offer guidance on the business ideas of the inmates, or as Defy Ventures describes them, Entrepreneurs In Training (EITs).

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VCs and EITs at California State Prison in Lancaster

The program was so powerful I came back in 2017 for a second visit and brought my own group of friends from the tech and VC community to volunteer. It was an unforgettable experience for everyone who joined me. But of all the days events, memory that stuck with me the most was the number of the EITs who told us with great sincerity, “this is the best day of my life.” Aside from something like a wedding, it is so rare to have the opportunity to be a part of the best day of someone’s life. …


Austin Clements

Partner at Slauson & Co. || MD at Grid110 || Chair of PledgeLA

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