LA’s growth in the global tech scene should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the progress Silicon Beach for the past couple years.
Yet for all the headlines that areas like Santa Monica, Venice, and Playa Vista grab, downtown LA has been attracting a strong base of up & comers, including Nasty Gal, Hyperloop, Nationbuilder, FEM Inc, and Seedling.
Add to that a growing number of entrepreneurs and startups, and all signs point to promising growth all around City Hall. The area’s latest addition, Grid110, seeks to boost activity in the area by offering free office space and mentorship to qualified companies.
All this started in the spring of 2014, when startup and small business lawyer Stephen Kane was campaigning for neighborhood council in downtown, and met a number of DTLA leaders who would become Grid110‘s founding board of directors.
Says Kane, “We all live, work, or play here, and as entrepreneurs ourselves we noticed that access to space, mentors, and resources such as fiber internet and capital were the biggest issues we faced. After several conversations and meet-ups we realized we were on to something big, and it was our duty to be advocates for other entrepreneurs downtown, connect the dots, and build a solid DTLA startup ecosystem.”
The then-named DTLA Tech Task Force met officially in June 2014, and over time evolved into Grid110, named after the freeway, which runs the entire length of LA county.
“The Mayor’s office has been our biggest cheerleader from the beginning, and has helped open many doors for us in the way of advisors, fiscal sponsorships, and building partners. They were pivotal in brining on Kara Nortman from Upfront Ventures to our first advisory board,” says Kane of LA’s City government.
Now, a year later, Grid110 signed a lease on Brookfield’s Gas Co Tower (Brookfield is DTLA’s largest property holder, owning 47% of Class A office space on Bunker Hill).
After a detailed application and interview process, 5 companies were chosen to participate in the first program, based largely on their innovation in the fashion space and their commitment to downtown LA.
Grid110’s inaugural companies are direct-to-consumer fine jewelry e-commerce site Vrai & Oro, customizable tech accessories company Casetify, tuxedo rental platform SimpleTux, textile SAAS B2B platform Shapeshifter, and Team Tassy, which is working alongside sister-startup Thread to eliminate poverty in Haiti through job creation around sustainable textiles.
Says board member (and one of the seven Grid110 co-founders) Audrey Bellis, “The idea to start with fashion-tech companies was strategic. One of our goals was to innovate on existing industries within downtown. Fashion is a massive industry in LA, bringing in $1B in revenue and importing $46B in apparel. Downtown LA has more garment workers than Paris, NY and Milan combined. However, despite the designs and brands that are prevalent in downtown, we lack innovation. Our goal with this first space was build a tech hub around that existing ecosystem, thus re-vitalizing and empowering older industries in new ways.”
Grid110 provides six months of free space, mentorship, and access to capital without taking any equity from its member startups; the hope is to connect sub-communities and build a larger ecosystem. According to Kane, “We ask nothing in return of the companies other than a commitment to building their business in Downtown. In this way we can foster and provide a supportive culture for startups while also supporting the evolving downtown LA ecosystem.”
During that six month period, member companies participate in Grid110’s professional development curriculum, which includes Monday morning growth meetings with board members, regular workshops with skilled professionals across various industries, and access to top-notch mentors. It is the hope of Grid110 that these companies either increase their revenue or receive investment, in order to grow into their own DTLA office space.
“In putting together programming for the companies we really tried to understand what stage each company is in and then we are building a specialized group of mentors that can get them to the next stage” says Justin Wolske, member of the founding team and board of directors for Grid110, who has been coordinating the program side of the organizations efforts.
After the 6-month mark, companies are welcome to stay in the space for a small under-market per-person fee. A Demo Day in January will showcase the accomplishments of Grid110 and its initial batch of member startups.
And says Bellis of future plans, “We’re already in talks to open other spaces, and have interest from various building partners.”