City of Toronto commits $250,000 to expansion of Black Innovation Fellowship

WoC in Tech

The Black Innovation Fellowship (BIF), a DMZ program designed to provide Black tech startup founders with more equitable entrepreneurial opportunities, has received a $250,000 commitment from the City of Toronto.

“We are thrilled to see that the City of Toronto is committed to supporting and advancing Black-owned businesses.”
– Abdullah Snobar, The DMZ

The commitment is part of BIF’s targeted $1 million expansion, which was first announced in June. The expansion is intended to reduce barriers to success for founders who face heightened challenges in growing their businesses. The program also gives startups the support needed to extend their financial runways.

The City’s donation, which comes via its Business Incubation Program, will contribute $50,000 to BIF per year over the next five years. The DMZ declined BetaKit’s request to reveal the program’s total funding to date.

“We are thrilled to see that the City of Toronto is committed to supporting and advancing Black-owned businesses, which will strengthen Toronto’s position as an inclusive, prosperous tech hub and the most diverse city in the world,” Abdullah Snobar, executive director of the DMZ, told BetaKit. “As we work towards our $1 million program expansion for the Black Innovation Fellowship, I hope to see this support continue among other government jurisdictions across Canada.”

BIF launched in May 2019 with the support of Dream Maker Ventures, BMO, Shopify, and the Canadian Women’s Foundation. The goal of the program is to encourage Black entrepreneurship and advocate for racial equity. DMZ works with early-stage startups, providing them with access to programming, mentors, and connections to industry and capital.

RELATED: Shopify partners with DMZ, Dream Maker Ventures for Black entrepreneurs initiative

To date, 10 startups have been accepted into BIF, including five with Black woman-identified founders. Companies in the program include FitDrive, DayaLens, Trebble,, and AirMatrix. In the next year, BIF intends to accept more than five times the number of startups currently in the program.

“Technology is a key tool that cuts through all industries,” Isaac Olowolafe Jr., founder of Dream Maker Ventures and BIF founding partner, told BetaKit. “With the City of Toronto’s support, the DMZ will help transform more Black-owned businesses into tomorrow’s tech superstars.”

In addition to the City of Toronto, BIF has also received commitments from Ottawa couple Harley Finkelstein, COO of Shopify, and entrepreneur Lindsay Taub, as well as BlueCat Networks co-founder Michael Hyatt and his wife Vanessa Luna Hyatt, who is a lawyer. Ryerson University has also pledged to match donations of up to $500,000.

“With the current worldwide situation, a global health crisis that has disproportionately impacted equity-seeking and racialized communities, and the greater recognition of systemic anti-Black racism, it has never been more important to support Toronto’s Black community, and in this case, Black entrepreneurs,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory.

Image source Unsplash. Photo by Christina @

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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