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Thursday, Aug 11, 2022

Inglewood Meeting Place Fosters Startups

Sip & Sonder, in the heart of Inglewood, isn’t just any coffee shop.

Since launching in 2017, the neighborhood meeting spot has become a hub for budding entrepreneurs and venture capital leaders in the community.

Co-founders Shanita Nicholas and Amanda-Jane Thomas, both corporate lawyers by day, have spent their off hours hosting talks by local venture investors and pitch sessions for startup founders seeking feedback on their business plans.

“We are building a community in our space,” Nicholas said.

Entrepreneurs who have pitched their plans at Sip & Sonder include Ayinde Alakoye of mobile radio app Nedl, Olamide Olowe of prescription skin-care delivery service Topicals, Gabrielle Wilson of serum developer Peeko Box and Halima Wyatt of online beauty-products marketplace Bemix.

The speaker series has welcomed local investors and business leaders such as Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton, DeMarcus Williams of Silicon Valley Bank, Austin Clements with Century City-based TenOneTen Ventures and Delane Parnell, founder and chief executive of Santa Monica-based esports platform PlayVS Inc.

Big idea

Nicholas and Thomas, both East Coast natives, met five years ago in New York while working at the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. Nicholas, now 32, handled derivatives litigation while Thomas, 33, worked on mortgage-backed securities.

Within a few years, the women relocated to Los Angeles where they joined different law firms — Nicholas works at Stubbs Alderton & Markiles and Thomas is with Zuber Lawler & Del Duca.

In 2017, they launched their coffee shop side project on Inglewood’s Market Street. The cafe is outfitted with stylish and cozy seating and end tables stacked with books by Maya Angelou, Zadie Smith and Zora Neale Hurston.

Customers begin lining up early to get their morning fix.

Sip & Sonder is part of a growing revitalization in Inglewood’s main business district, where renovations of a boarded up Fox Theatre will soon be complete and a new Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority rail station is slated to open.

And just a few blocks away, Inglewood’s new sports and entertainment venues are taking shape. The Los Angeles Clippers have announced plans to build an 18,500- seat basketball arena and entertainment complex along West Century Boulevard. Inglewood will also soon become home to the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers football teams once the Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park is completed next year.

Inglewood Mayor James Butts Jr. is enthusiastic about the future of Market Street. New retail and housing developments are in the works, and the city plans to add a 5G cellular network — one of the first in Southern California.

“What is exciting about Market Street is the anticipation of new stakeholders, like Sip & Sonder and the Miracle Theater opening recently,” Butts said. “These businesses are anchors on Market Street and will be reminiscent of the old downtown Inglewood.”

New energy

Nicholas, a New Jersey native, said she was attracted to Inglewood because it has the same vibrancy as Brooklyn. “It’s a place for collaboration and creativity,” she said.

Just west of the coffee shop, construction has begun to convert an old bank building into the new home of the L.A. Philharmonic Association’s Youth Orchestra Los Angeles. The free music education program serves nearly 1,000 students from across Los Angeles.

Sip & Sonder also is building a production studio for recording artists and others in the back of its building — another creative hub Nicholas and Thomas are hoping to nurture in the community.

“This will make this all marketable,” Thomas said.

Sip & Sonder has also formed a nonprofit arm called the Sonder Foundation, which runs the L.A. Black Investors Club. The club provides a platform for local venture capital investors.

Earlier this year, Nicholas and Thomas decided to pause their efforts with the investors club in order to focus on the coffee shop business. They said they plan to resume their nonprofit work in September, hosting “fireside chats” with investors and more pitch competitions for startup businesses.

For the time being, the coffee shop is doing its part to foster community — simply by serving up hot drinks and pastries in a comfortable setting.

“I love the energy here,” said Sip & Sonder barista Tray Duplessis.


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