Plug In South LA's Founder Pivots to a Virtual Experience to Connect Black and Brown Communities
Photo Credit: Plug In South LA / Derek Smith
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Plug In South LA's Founder Pivots to a Virtual Experience to Connect Black and Brown Communities

Plug In South LA has been using its platform to bring together innovators, entrepreneurs, founders, emerging talent, and more for networking that focuses on creating a hub for innovation for years. As they gear up for their third annual Urban Tech Connect Conference, we had the chance to sit down with founder and LA native, Derek Smith to discuss what attendees can expect for their “Forward 2020” theme this year!

For the first time ever this year’s conference will be completely virtual. From Sept. 15-17, attendees will have the opportunity to hear keynotes, talks, and panels on the virtual mainstage, plus attend virtual one-on-one office hours with venture capitalists, angel investors, and tech executives to learn more about opportunities in tech.

Smith gives us a sneak peek as to what attendees can expect and the “why” that continues to drive him to create spaces like these for Black and Brown communities that need it the most.

How He Got His Start in the Tech Space

“My passion has always been at the intersection of technology and content and/or media,” Smith said. “Over the past two decades, I’ve always been at the cutting edge of innovation of platforms and software.”

While his career began in advertising, Smith shares his interest in tech has always been there, for more than 10 years. Smith also says it was the rise of social and digital media that was a gamechanger.

“We all interact and communicate with the help of technology,” he said, which prompted him to take a deeper interest in technology platforms and software.

Moving away from his home of LA and being immersed in the tech scene in New York fueled his passion to return home to address what he says was a disconnect between the tech space and neighborhoods like South LA, an area vital to his upbringing.

Effects of COVID-19 on the UTC: Forward Conference

Now more than ever, we continue to see innovation at its peak as many companies and people are making the pivot to virtual experiences. Things are no different for Smith and his team as they prepare for next week’s conference.

“The real challenge is not being able to meet and convene in a physical location or space,” said Smith.

While it’s a challenge, there’s an upside to putting on a virtual conference. He said it allows them to bring a community of speakers, mentors, and advisers together without having to leave the house.

“People can join from the comfort of their own home and connect with the community at the click of a button,” Smith said.

He revealed having a virtual conference has opened up doors for them to connect with individuals in their South LA community that they would not have been able to connect with.

Selection Process For Speakers & Panelists

“We really have a great line up of really compelling conversations that I think will impact people,” he said. “I think people will walk away feeling empowered and with the knowledge to move forward with their businesses and ideas in the new COVID way of life.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Plug In South LA

Smith says that they aimed for speakers with a connection to South LA or communities like it. He wants attendees to hear from those who are working to build and says the team deeply cares to ensure the panelists see technology as a way to advance marginalized communities.

“We want to showcase success to younger people who may not believe that they can build and grow the next Snapchat,” Smith said.

He emphasized the importance of showing them what success in tech looks like through their lineup of speakers and founders.

Mindset You Need to Have to Attend

“Attendees need to see themselves as creators and not necessarily consumers,” said Smith.

He said it does not necessarily mean you have to be an entrepreneur, but he says having a creator mindset is a plus.

“In our communities, we have a lot of creators, however, we want to see more ownership for those who create from communities like South LA,” he said. “We want to be sure that Black and brown folks are represented in that bucket of creator/owner.”

For more on how to register and attend The UTC: Forward Conference visit their site here.