Homeless at the age of 19, Cassie Betts has a riveting life story. She shares memories about befriending “questionable characters of the night,” with the tech-savvy inner-city youth she trains in her technology academy Made In South L.A. (MISLA), initially launched from the janitor’s closet of a South Central Los Angeles charter school.
Betts has evolved, going from sleeping on bus stop benches and cardboard boxes in Honolulu, Hawaii, to acting and modeling in commercials, TV, and film in Los Angeles, to now blazing her own path in tech, while taking along anyone who believes that South L.A. produces geniuses, high-level entrepreneurs, and leaders who make an impact and change for better.
Born in Inglewood, CA, Betts, who often prefers to go by Cassie, is a charismatic, self-proclaimed serial “Techpreneur” who dedicates her life to increasing diversity within the tech industry through youth and community training. Betts, the engine behind the company’s aggressive and edgy moves, said, “the key to building generational wealth in disinvested communities lies in technology and multimedia.”
She heads Technology & Innovation at Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation (VSEDC) and is the catalyst and visionary behind VSEDC’s South L.A. Best Buy Teen Tech Center, powered by Annenberg Tech. When asked why she fought to have a tech center built in South L.A., Betts explained, “We have to train our communities to be creators, not just consumers. We have to teach our youth to own, create, control, and financially benefit from our narratives, as opposed to letting outsiders re-write and profit from our stories.”
The road to becoming a Techpreneur was no easy feat. Flashback to 2015, the spark that would ignite the flame that would become VSEDC’s ShopLove campaign was ignited. While dining at Truxton’s in Westchester with her longtime mentor and now President and CEO of VSEDC Joe Rouzan, Betts was introduced to Renee Moncito.
Rouzan introduced Betts as he always did by saying, “This is Cassie Betts … the next Black woman billionaire.” He asked Renee, who previously owned a $10 Million company, to help him mentor Cassie.
Flash forward to 2020, VSEDC mobilized to create the Legacy Program. The program was created as a call-to-action to support South L..A.’s legacy businesses, along the Crenshaw corridor and throughout the greater South Los Angeles area during the global pandemic.
Through VSEDC’s Legacy Program, 30 small businesses received coaching, resources, and opportunities to help take their businesses to the next level.
Betts is particularly proud of the digital marketing arm of the Legacy Program in which she oversees. With the support of grant funding from SBA Prime, Chase, LISC, and Pacific Premier Bank, VSEDC enlisted Cassie’s creative brand agency MARTY, along with numerous local business consultants to service the businesses.
MARTY is a South Central-based creative agency co-founded by Josh Sykes. MARTY hires youth and community members from MISLA’s Technology Training Bootcamps to help grow VSEDC’s small business clients.
Moncito, who is now VSEDC’s director of Programs, stated, “To create a legacy, you have to be intentional. This campaign’s intent is to develop the mindset of transmitted, consistent awareness of what’s in our community. By shopping Black, Brown, and local, we are shopping with the deliberate intent of building wealth in our communities and therefore, Shopping Love!”
The 14 portfolio businesses of the ShopLove campaign are included in a powerfully poignant promo video starring, Stix of Think Watts. Stix and the business owners recited lines from Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still, I Rise.” South L.A. holiday shoppers looking to shop locally, can buy gift cards at 50% off for a limited time at https://shoplove.vsedc.org, a platform built by MARTY.
With initiatives and partnerships like these, the digital divide will narrow, rewriting the narrative as South Central Los Angeles continues to rise.
VSEDC’s South L.A. Best Team Tech Center plans to have its grand opening in the latter part of January. Currently, the coding bootcamps are virtual.
For small businesses interested in participating in VSEDC’s next cohort of Legacy Businesses, can register at https://vsedc.org/start-here/. Adult learners looking to participate in MISLA’s next tech bootcamp can register at https://www.misla.org/html/bootcamps.html.
To support local businesses, visit shoplove.vsedc.org