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For a Dot-Com, Five Years Makes You an Elder Statesman

August 02, 2000|BOOTH MOORE

For an Internet company, five years is an eternity, which is why NetNoir.com, the grandaddy of all African American-oriented lifestyle Web sites, is celebrating its fifth anniversary in six cities this summer. The party stopped Monday night in Los Angeles at the Sunset Room, where more than 400 20- and 30-something entrepreneurs and dot-commers gathered to sip champagne, schmooze and listen to the sweet sounds of neo-soul artist Jill Scott.

NetNoir was launched June 19, 1995, by former Los Angeles entertainment lawyer David Ellington, 40. The site has a magazine format with features about health and fitness, relationships and black issues in the news, plus shopping--books, clothing and furnishings with an Afrocentric focus. NetNoir also offers networking tools--chat rooms and message boards. The site, 20% of which is owned by America Online, has more than 350,000 registered users and gets 10 million hits a month, Ellington said.

"I visit the site to check out what's new and make contacts," said 27-year-old Kemi Ajakyi, who founded Pasadena beauty products company Spa Thyme Inc. in 1999.

Kevin Ross, 37, the L.A. Superior Court judge and former radio talk show host, said that most of the people he deals with daily don't even own computers, "so to see this site still around after five years is great."

Discussion about black Internet companies has often focused on "the digital divide" that purportedly separates computer owners from non-owners and is often cast in racial terms. But Ellington bridles at the notion that the disparity is based on race rather than economics. "I have fought against the media portraying it as a black and brown issue," he said. What he is concerned about is the dearth of African Americans employed in technology industries. In 1997, he founded OpNet (http://www.opnetwork.org) which places young people in paid internships with Internet companies.

"A lot of times, these companies end up hiring their interns, who then get stock options, which lead to wealth creation," he said. "I'm not interested in job programs and training, which seem to be the basis of all governmental programs; I'm interested in wealth creation. That's what leads to independence." (Some proceeds from NetNoir's six-city party tour will support OpNet.)

Even as the party began to wind down and the business of exchanging cards moved to the valet line, Bonique Edwards, 27, was hanging at the bar. Edwards, who just left her job as marketing manager for Culver City-based CarsDirect.com, was trying to make job contacts. NetNoir isn't a site she often visits, but, she added, "it's important we support each other."

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Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has an ingenious new product: a travel coffee mug ($34.95) that plugs into a car cigarette lighter to keep coffee warm through the longest commutes.

Now someone needs to figure out how to make the mug into a phone, so we can sip, drive and gab at the same time.

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Booth Moore can be reached at booth.moore@latimes.com.

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