In Canada, renowned venture capitalists (VC) are taking full advantage of today’s horrid social climate to make a difference. Back in May, Isaac Olowolafe launched the Black Innovation Fellowship (BIF), a partnership between Ryerson-DMZ, a leading tech incubator and accelerator, and Olowolafe’s investment firm, Dream Maker Ventures.
Supported by strong strategic partners, including Shopify, BMO and The Canadian Women’s Foundation, start-ups led by Black entrepreneurs will be provided with the strengthening support of a top university-based incubator network, as well as additional programming, mentorship, events, and connections to industry, capital and an alumni network, to support their success and growth.
The reality is that Canadian tech start-ups and their venture capital and angel capital partners are overwhelmingly male and white, and Isaac and his partners are pushing for much needed change. To the extent there has been participation by individuals of colour, it has typically been members of Canada’s East-and South-Asian community.
Canada’s most recent census revealed that approximately 1.2 million Canadians self-identify as Black. Yet in 2015, a survey conducted for Black in Canada, discovered and revealed that there were only 2,000 Black-owned businesses of any significant scale across the country. Indeed, with COVID-19 still at large and destroying many economies throughout every industry, that number is still equally as small.
The BIF program is a powerful one and a major asset to the Canadian business landscape.
And Dream Maker’s Diversity Fund itself is now positioned to go next level. It is the venture investment arm of Dream Maker Corp., a Toronto-based asset management firm that works in a variety of verticals including real estate, development, property management, and insurance. Luminaries such as Ralph Lean and Jay Rosenzweig, both lawyers, super-connectors, investors, philanthropists and advocates for social justice and equality have come on board as senior advisors to the fund.
Dream Maker will invest in founders who have historically been shut out or disadvantaged and/or businesses whose mission is to benefit groups that have historically been disadvantaged. Promoting upward mobility is a key mission here. It will be a great contributor to the Canadian economy and society at large.
The idea is to #ChangeTheNarrative by increasing access to capital for those previously underserved, including individuals of colour, women, LGBTQ+, immigrants and refugees.
Also tied to the BIF program is the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR).
The Coalition’s mandate is to connect Black, Indigenous and people of colour to the innovation sector. Comprising senior members of Canada’s tech, innovation and advanced industry sectors, CILAR aims to fuel and fund Black founders to create careers, companies, and products that serve multiple communities, which is paramount towards closing the racial and systemic gap we currently have grown “comfortable” with today.
Statistics show that diversity not only creates a more positive work environment, but can also help companies build better products overall, as well as improve financial performance. A recent Accenture report found that employees’ willingness and ability to innovate is nearly six times higher in companies with a robust culture of equality. And while the Canadian tech community has made attempts to focus on diversity, women, people of colour, and other underrepresented peoples, still only represent a very small number of tech founders and top executives.
Other senior leaders from growing startups, local government, institutional investors, national foundations, major banks, insurance companies, academic institutions, and multinational organizations with a significant presence in Canada, have joined the Coalition. Each has committed as a first priority to help end anti-Black and systemic racism and to hire and support more diverse talent, employees and founders.
This first step, according to the press release, will inform how the Coalition acts to engage other underrepresented groups, including indigenous communities within their organizations and the community at large.
“It’s our responsibility as leaders in this space to do more than just express our support,” said Claudette McGowan, Global Executive Officer, TD Bank and Chair of CILAR. “For real change, we need to steer Canada’s innovation economy towards ensuring equal opportunity for every Canadian, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. We must foster perspectives that reflect our community. This means spearheading initiatives and programs – like this coalition and the Black Innovation Fellowship – that will level the playing field and clear pathways to success.”
McGowan, recently nominated as chair to CILAR, along with Armughan Ahmad, President and Managing Partner, Digital at KPMG believe that COVID-19 has brought about the perfect timing to address these social horrors.
“COVID-19 has created the perfect storm that brought many of the injustices in society to the forefront, such as the destructive forces of racism and prejudice,” Ahmad explained upon last week’s announcement of CILAR. “It is incumbent on every one of us to understand the barriers that exist, and commit to doing our part to eradicating racism in all its forms. As we build the post-COVID new economy we have the opportunity and responsibility to create a more inclusive and just society.”
Good people here are interconnected in the best of ways, and continuously come together in common cause. Claudette McGowan, Armughan Ahmad and Isaac Olowolafe also happen to be on the advisory board of Rosenzweig & Company, Jay’s executive talent management firm. We can learn a lot from this diverse and inspirational group of Canadians – they serve as great role models for humanity at a local level, not to mention great global ambassadors for our planet as a whole.