Today we’d like to introduce you to Mariko Lochridge.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Mariko. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Where to begin? I was born in Buffalo, New York but moved to my mom’s hometown of Tokyo, Japan to complete my high school and university education. After a short-lived career in entertainment, I was recruited into journalism, first as an entertainment reporter for the Japan Times and later as a video journalist for Reuters Television. Since then I’ve worked for Agence France Presse, AJ+, Scripps and done media consulting for adidas, Le Cordon Bleu and Rakuten (the Japanese Amazon). I moved to Los Angeles in 2016 to work for a Japanese television network, Nippon Television and have been in the US for two years now.
Breaking news journalism has taken me all over the world including South America, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, the United States and of course Japan. It’s been a blessing to have so many people share their best, but mostly worst moments of their life with me, often after knowing me for only a few minutes. However, after awhile I became frustrated with cutting stories for the 5 ‘o’ clock news and the next day moving onto the next city’s story. What happened to the people I’d met after the tragedy they faced? It was probably the Las Vegas shooting in 2017 that was my breaking point, and that’s when I decided to quit breaking news journalism and return to freelancing. I wanted to switch gears from global to local and focus on community issues.
Literally, on the same day, I made my decision I was asked to interview for the position of a business counselor with the Asian Pacific Islander Small Business Program (API-SBP). I’d be working in Japanese speaking communities of small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. API-SBP works in language (Korean, Mandarin, Japanese, etc,) with API communities to offer support that some of the other federally funded programs are not able to provide because of language and cultural barriers. I concentrate my outreach into Nikkei communities but work with any small business owner or aspiring entrepreneur regardless of their cultural background. Nikkei is an umbrella term that encompasses all generations of Japanese lineage in the United States including both native English and non-native English speakers.
Shortly after starting I realized I was basically doing the same thing I had been doing as a breaking news journalist. I was performing triage without addressing the long-term issues in the small business community. I wanted to incentivize the program and create practical solutions for younger aspiring entrepreneurs. Many of them were very savvy e-commerce businesses but unable to take the risk of investment in a brick and mortar because of the skyrocketing rents for retail spaces in Los Angeles. That didn’t mean they weren’t interested, they just didn’t feel the risk was worth the investment even if they did recognize the need to connect with customers in real life.
I took this feedback to my supervisor and told him that a free retail pop up space would not only be a great way for these new businesses to test market their product and meet their customers face to face but we could also introduce the Little Tokyo community to these younger businesses and their consumers. Two weeks later I was told that I was in charge of a retail space on 1st street. I would be part of a year-long community control project to activate First Street North in Little Tokyo. My takeover is slated for September 2018, December 2018 and January 2019.
It’s crazy how much can happen in such a short span of time but I strongly feel that everything I’ve been working on and learning in the last ten years has brought me to this point. It’s overwhelming and exciting all at the same time but it feels like the right direction.
Has it been a smooth road?
It’s one thing to have a great idea but another to have to carry it out. It’s both a blessing and curse to have people with the resources ready to support you. On one hand, I can do anything I can imagine, on the other hand, I can do anything I can imagine… lol… And there’s only one of me, at least until they provide me a team.
While there’s a lot of accelerators and incubators out there there’s no template we can all copy and paste for success. In a lot of ways this Los Angeles SmallBizcubator program is like starting a new business, I have this amazing product but no one knows about it. So step one became let people know it exists. Outreach, outreach, outreach, became my mantra and every day I try to tell at least 5 people about this program in hopes that they’ll tell five more.
While I call it a ‘Bizcubator’, or business incubator, in reality, this is a community project. I’ve been gleaning a lot of knowledge from the community activists, organizers and planners that have come before me and/or are my contemporaries. In an effort to amplify my message I’ve sought out community planners who either want to support because they love the idea or because its goals align with theirs, usually its a combination of both. I was SO lucky to have Randy Masada and Justin Saka of Little Tokyo Vibes reach out and agree to help me with a launch party. Little Tokyo Vibes is a long time community organizer in downtown that throws parties and has a mailing list of the most amazing people in and supporting the API small business community.
Having LTVibes agree to co-host the launch party was huge. On May 10th we held a discussion and mixer at the Hotel Indigo, the response was phenomenal with over 200 RSVPs that ACTUALLY SHOWED UP. In Los Angeles having most of your guest list show up to a free event is the equivalent of winning the lottery. And now I have a mailing list! WINNING!
So, as you know, we’re impressed with @LASmallBizcubator – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
For the purposes of this interview I’ve asked to be referred to as the @LASmallBizcubator but this program is made possible by many stakeholders including but not limited to my own company Lochridge Collaborations, the Little Tokyo Service Center, Sustainable Little Tokyo, API-SBP, Metro and Little Tokyo Vibes. When I first launched my own company years ago in Japan it was meant to be a matchmaker for intersections between cultures and communities. And while I’ve done a lot of other kinds of work since then I like to think there’s always been a part of that community building messaging in everything I do.
I’ve split my life between Japan and the US, and at one time I was changing cities weekly for nearly 64 weeks. Not only did that help me fine-tune my packing skills but it also taught me a lot about how to learn a stranger’s story in the shortest time available. Every day I probably have to meet anywhere between 2-200 new people and my brain is constantly trying to figure out how to get everyone to their goals in the most effective way possible.
What do an MMA fighter and a barista have in common? I don’t know yet but I’m sure there’s an amazing intersection there. Or what about connecting people in different countries plus language barrier? Or my personal favorite is two Americans that grew up in completely different communities figuring out how to help BOTH their communities prosper. For me, the biggest issue that comes up in matchmaking is one party benefiting more than the other so I work very hard to not only find capitalists with a heart but entrepreneurs that complement instead of competing with one another.
I love seeing two people with supposedly ‘nothing in common’ connecting and learning from one another and I believe that innovation is always born of the most unlikely of partnerships.
Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
In all honesty, I disliked Los Angeles for a long time. I found it overpriced, lonely and difficult to navigate. I’ve also found the extreme poverty shameful for an international renown city in a first world country. And then I realized if I felt that way then others probably did too, so I began to look for productive ways to make the city a little less overwhelming.
First, it was selfishly for myself to battle my isolation but little by little I realized I was also addressing the needs of others. I started my first Los Angeles based community organizing project in 2016 when I joined the board of the Asian American Journalists Association’s Los Angeles chapter. I created six-member events in one year and realized that there were resources in Los Angeles there were rare or didn’t exist at all in most other parts of the country.
Incredibly intelligent and driven journalists, professionals at the top of their game that would donate their time for mentorship, free movie screenings almost daily, active API community activist groups and so much free art! And while I don’t know if LA will ever be home the way Tokyo was, it’s definitely a place where a community can have a positive national impact.
- Address: 341 1st Street Los Angeles, CA 90012
- Website: https://www.ltsc.org/small-business-assistance/
- Phone: (213) 473-1658
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lasmallbizcubator/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NotInAnOffice/?rc=p
- Other: https://www.eventbrite.com/o/little-tokyo-service-center-10015669329
Jesse Koester of Sunshine Pictures LLC