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DMZ Announces Expansion of Black Innovation Fellowship

July 13, 2020


On June 23, Ryerson University’s DMZ announced a $1 million expansion to its Black Innovation Fellowship (BIF), and almost immediately received an outpouring of support from various sources in first week following the announcement. The BIF has already raised more than $400,000 of its $1 million goal.

A number of corporate and tech leaders have shown their support by donating hundreds of thousands of dollars, including Spotify Chief Operating Officer Harley Finkelstein and his wife, entrepreneur Lindsay Taub, and entrepreneur Michael Hyatt and his wife, lawyer Vanessa Luna Hyatt. In addition, Ryerson University committed to matching all major donations up to a total of $500,000.

“It’s remarkable to see the impact of the Black Innovation Fellowship in its first year,” said Abdullah Snobar, executive director of the DMZ. “This additional support will allow us to keep the momentum going for BIF. We look forward to unlocking more opportunities for early-stage Black start-ups, and we encourage tech leaders to join us in fighting for underrepresented founders’ rights within Canada’s start-up landscape.”

The BIF’s expansion will provide start-ups with financial support, strengthen programs, and work to eliminate barriers to success for founders who face greater impediments to business growth. The additional funding will also be applied to initiatives that immerse Black founders in a space that is catered to their particular needs.

Currently, the BIF has accepted 10 companies into its program, including five led by Black women-identifying founders, such as FitDrive, Trebble FM and AirMatrix. The BIF aims to partner with more start-ups over the next year, announcing its plans to support 30 new Black founders by May 2021.

“We really appreciate that the BIF is not separate, it is seamlessly integrated into the DMZ. We do not need separate programs, we just need space held for us,” said Alexandra McCalla, co-founder of AirMatrix. “There is so much history here. There may only be two Black people in your office, but it’s really important for you to take the time to think about how their experiences are different from yours”.

The BIF started in May 2019, in collaboration with Shopify, BMO, Canadian Women’s Foundation, and co-founder of Dream Maker Ventures, Isaac Olowolafe Jr., who helped lead the BIF with an initial $200,000 contribution.

“As a son of African immigrants, my parents constantly stressed the importance of learning and collaboration – the education I received in this city has always inspired me to pay it forward”, said Olowolafe. “Creating the Black Innovation Fellowship with Ryerson felt like another great way to uplift the next generation of entrepreneurs”.

The BIF has the underlying goal of strengthening Black entrepreneurship, and advocating for race equity, which have historically been absent in the tech start-up space.

Author: Farrah Kudus


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