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How a Financial Summit Avoided Being Boring

The Upfront Summit in Los Angeles featured a 25-piece orchestra playing movie scores, a slam poet, and access to the Oscars' backstage area.

By Alesandra Dubin February 24, 2016, 7:45 AM EST

The summit provided attendees unique access to the Oscars venue, with breakout sessions in dressing rooms, production rooms, and on the stage’s hydraulic lift. 

Photo: Scott Clark Photo

Santa Monica-based venture capital firm Upfront Ventures hosted its annual Upfront Summit tech conference—a free and invitation-only event—on February 4 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. The program brought together hundreds of entrepreneurs and tech investors, plus thought leaders and influencers, in a lively format not typically associated with the financial sector.

Setting the summit apart from events hosted by other venture capital firms based in Silicon Valley or New York, Upfront Ventures approaches its program with three goals: First, to showcase the power of the Los Angeles tech community to its investors and to other venture capital firms that attend from outside the city. Second, to position the firm as the top venture capital firm in town. And third, to emphasize the firm’s Los Angeles location and proximity to the creative and entertainment communities.

For the third year, RG Live produced the event, working with the firm’s principal, Jordan Hudson. The diverse crowd of attendees included Kevin Spacey, Chamillionaire, Big Boi, and Magic Johnson, alongside Mayor Eric Garcetti and Amazon’s business development senior vice president, Jeff Blackburn.

“The summit grew out of our goal to bring a new approach to the traditional annual meeting that we as a venture capital firm have with our limited partners,” Hudson said. “To us and many of our L.P.s, judging from attendance, the format had become mechanical and boring. [So] instead, we wanted L.P.s to see us in the wild and experience the excitement within our portfolio and community first hand.”

Hudson said that perspective led to the summit’s current format, which “has become a platform for us not only to engage L.P.s, but also to showcase to the nation’s top investors and industry leaders what's most exciting and unique about our portfolio, the L.A. technology community at large, and ultimately our brand.”

First and foremost for the producers was to locate a venue that would be difficult for most attendees to otherwise access on their own. (Last year, the event took over the Paramount Studios lot.) The team also prioritized incorporating nontraditional entertainment elements to provide an insider look at how the city’s tech and creative hubs interact.

To that end, highlights of the day included a 25-piece live orchestra, which played famous movie scores for the crowd and a Star Wars-inspired opening that kicked off the day. Attendees were also given exclusive backstage access to the Dolby—home of the upcoming Oscars—with breakout sessions in dressing rooms, production rooms, and even on the stage’s hydraulic lift.

Top local food trucks—Kogi Barbecue, the Lime Truck, the Grilled Cheese Truck, Baby’s Badass Burgers, and Coolhaus—were on hand for a farmer’s-market-inspired lunch on the Dolby’s loading dock. After a finale performance by slam poetry artist IN-Q, the stage curtain raised and guests celebrated on the Dolby stage with a reception and dinner catered by Wolfgang Puck.

“What makes L.A.’s technology community unique extends from what makes our city unique. We're the creative capital of the world, with more people employed in art, design, and media than any other major metro in the U.S. We're the second-largest city in the U.S. and have tremendous ethnic diversity. We also graduate more engineers and have more entrepreneurs per capita than anywhere else in the country,” Hudson said, explaining why he thinks financial events in Los Angeles seem different from similar events in other cities. “It's always been important to us that our event feature these qualities prominently. And, of course, being in the heart of the entertainment industry, we have the ability to deliver a production value that you don't typically see at these types of events.”

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