Anastasia S. Tarpeh-Ellis is the Managing Director of Backstage Los Angeles. This is the first in a series of stories introducing the Backstage Accelerator team in LA.
Setting the Stage
We announced Backstage Accelerator in September 2018, and were off to the races. Within a few weeks, 3 of our city teams were staffed, announced, and even featured on our website. For Backstage Los Angeles, there was a longer journey. Backstage has a remote team, but several of our Crew live in the greater Los Angeles area. It seemed likely that local Crew would be involved in the new Accelerator program, but to what extent was still unknown. Arlan and Christie, Backstage Co-founders and Investment Partners, approached a few of us for the Managing Director (MD) and Director roles.
The timing wasn’t initially right for me though. I was still getting used to my full-time role after joining Backstage a few months earlier. As a Program Manager for the Accelerator HQ team, I was supporting the city teams based in London, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Los Angeles. This was an exciting opportunity that included traveling to each city to experience their tech ecosystems and spearheading the overall program. I was excited to broaden my scope beyond the LA tech scene, and unsure of the timing of accepting such a daunting responsibility at this stage in my career. So, I declined the role.
Now don’t get me wrong — I love the LA tech scene. In 2015, I dove into the tech ecosystem here and have made many meaningful connections since then, some of which I’ve detailed in the post “My Startup Journey and the Power Moves that Defined It”. During 6 plus years of living in LA, I co-founded my company, bosa, worked as a program fellow for GRID110 during their first accelerator cohort back when they focused on fashion tech companies, and have met so many founders I’ve become a friend and advisor to. The tech scene here has grown tremendously over the years and I’m glad to be a part of that growth.
An external search for an LA MD commenced, but by the top of 2019, it was still in-progress. The afternoon of January 2, 2019, we were returning to the first day back to work in the new year. I got an email from Christie, who by then was leading Accelerator overall, asking if I’d reconsider the Backstage LA MD role. She reiterated that I was a great fit considering my exposure to the LA tech scene as a founder and with accelerator program experience.
Earlier that same day, on a team call, we each took turns sharing a word or theme of focus for 2019. For my word, I chose “increase”. Often in Black Christian churches the word “increase” is used to ask for Jesus’ favor over our lives. So phrases like, “increase my territory,” are used. Unbeknownst to me, I spoke life into my career, or “territory”, to increase in the morning, and by the afternoon it was happening! I could no longer ignore what seemed to be a calling. I couldn’t decline the offer and ignore my blessing. On that day I witnessed, “what is for you is for YOU.”
It felt like the email smacked me in the face and sent me into a deeper vetting mode. I called my support system and took a closer look at the bigger picture.
Facing My Fears
It was time for me to listen to my own advice…
Recognize your potential — when others see something in you, let that encourage and propel you toward your goals instead of dismissing what you are capable of achieving.
Face your fears — take advantage of the opportunities you have to face your fears, as they often lead to growth.
The leadership team at Backstage is exceptional at recognizing potential and empowering each of us to operate beyond what we may think we’re capable of. Honestly, working at Backstage means daily growth and stretching in the best ways. A huge thank you to Arlan and Christie for extending the offer to me and for entrusting me with the responsibility to lead the inaugural Backstage Los Angeles program.
Accepting this role challenges me to face the fear of being more visible. Here’s where I admit that I’m a bit of an introvert. 🤓 I love working in the background, but I’ve known for a while that my comfort zone would eventually fade away. Last year, I spoke on a couple of panels and did a few interviews and really enjoyed it, which gave me a preview of what’s to come. It has been a prayerful process to encourage myself to show up fully for those speaking engagements, but when I do, the important work gets done. When people see someone they can closely identify with making moves and doing things they aspire to do, that goes a long way. Representation matters. (Shout out to Nipsey Hussle for doing just that. 🏁 💙 ✊)
During the search for an external MD, Amiah Sheppard was selected as a Director, and soon Greer Engonga stepped up as the second Director to help move the program forward. They were both analysts on our deal flow team, from LA, and have a pulse on the local tech scene. Having current Crew on the LA team in place weighed heavily in my decision to accept the MD role. I have the utmost respect and lots of love for both Amiah and Greer and the work they’ve done toward our mission. Their involvement really sealed the deal for me.
I’m committed to creating a legacy of generational wealth, and inspiring others to do the same.
A Unique Opportunity
This long journey to recruit our LA Accelerator team presented a unique opportunity. No other Backstage Accelerator team is staffed by 1 or more Backstage Crew veterans, all women, all people under the age of 30, and all Black people. In reference to representation and stepping up to the challenge in order to impact others, I couldn’t deny the power of this team.
In both my personal life and my work, I’m committed to creating a legacy of generational wealth, and inspiring others to do the same. Working at Backstage, I get to strive toward that legacy every day. What’s a more tangible way to do that than by working day-in and day-out with 6 companies led by underrepresented founders in LA? And who better to do this impactful work with than 2 other phenomenal, young, Black women?
The Three Black Aunties of Los Angeles
I’m honored to introduce Amiah Sheppard and Greer Engonga, the Directors of Backstage LA. Working alongside these dynamic ladies is a dream come true! Check out why they chose to be a part of the “Three Black Aunties” of Los Angeles, as we’ve since dubbed ourselves.
“I get to be a curator of what innovation will look like for our generation, and that responsibility greatly informed why I took this position.” - Amiah Sheppard, Director
“Being involved with Backstage Los Angeles allows me to demonstrate other ways to define success and establish generational wealth outside of the entertainment industry.” - Greer Engonga, Director
Amiah and Greer will share more about why they chose to join the Backstage Los Angeles team in this series. We’re about a quarter of the way through the program so far and it’s already been an amazing, invigorating, and enriching experience to work with an awesome team and such talented founders. Truly an honor! I’m so glad I didn’t pass up this unique opportunity.