Commerce platform Shopify wants to see Black startup founders in its native base of Canada succeed.
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So it’s teaming up with DMZ, a tech incubator out of Ryerson University in Toronto, to help foster entrepreneurship among Black founders in Canada through a new program that has been dubbed the “Black Innovation Fellowship.”
“We’re committed to changing the face of entrepreneurship because we believe in a future with more voices not fewer,” said Shavonne Hasfal-Mcintosh, diversity and belonging lead at Ontario-based Shopify. “DMZ’s fellowship program will improve access for Black entrepreneurs by providing a new path to success, which is another important way we’re helping independent business owners in Canada turn their big ideas into businesses.”
Shopify and inaugural founding partner DreamMaker Ventures, which was founded by Nigerian-born entrepreneur turned venture capitalist Isaac Olowolafe Jr., are contributing capital to the program, which has a total initial fundraising goal of $1 million.
As part of the initiative, selected founders will have access to “growth mentors, exclusive workshops designed to reflect the experience of Black entrepreneurs and a dedicated workspace in the heart of downtown Toronto.” The participants will also have access to a 350-person network of investors, according to Abdullah Snobar, executive director of DMZ, a business incubator that has worked with 398 startups that have raised nearly $594 million in seed funding since its inception in 2010.
Entrepreneurs addressing “a compelling market or societal need” are being encouraged to apply to the program.
“We realize that in North America, diverse communities still continue to face barriers to access that other communities don’t necessarily face,” Snobar said. “This concept was born to support black entrepreneurs, and help them build, grow and scale companies. It was also designed to help them build meaningful partnerships and not be impacted because of skin color, background, or where they were raised.”
Founders will not be asked to give up equity, Snobar emphasized.
“We want to make it as accessible as possible so it’s completely nondilutive,” he said. “Only 10 percent of our community is made up of people who identify as black founders. We want to see that number double or triple.”
Eventually, the program could extend to the United States, according to DMZ.
In February 2019, we wrote this article on minority founders being overlooked. But fortunately, we’ve also covered other initiatives focused on helping Black or underrepresented entrepreneurs. In 2017, we wrote about the efforts of Austin-based DivInc, a nonprofit pre-accelerator that is holding 12-week programs for women and people of color tech founders. Also, earlier this month, we reported on how HBCUvc – a nonprofit fellowship program providing Black and Latinx students with training and mentorship in venture capital – has teamed up with Intel Capital to strengthen its curriculum and scale its programming. The organization also recently unveiled its inaugural “31 Under 31” list.
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias