Saying they dream of a Canada where there are Black-owned “gazelles and unicorns,” the Dream Legacy Foundation and DMZ announced a new three-month coaching program. The program is designed to support high-potential Black founders in accelerating startup growth.
FedDev Ontario and the Black Entrepreneurship Program Ecosystem Fund are supporting the program with a $3 million investment. The funding is part of the first round of applications from the Black Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Fund, which were approved in 2021; 30 black businesses from across Canada received nearly $59 million from the over $100 million available in the federal fund.
The Black Innovation Connections program (Connections) will provide Black founders with a coaching program customized to address their unique needs and the business barriers Black-led startups often face.
The DMZ’s Black Innovation Programs (BIP) was established to provide Black-led startups with the strengthening support of a top incubator network, as well as the programming, mentorship, events, and connections to industry and capital DMZ’s BIP programs received $1.2 million from the Ontario government in 2021.
The newly launched Connections program will focus on helping Black founders establish product-market fit, attract talent, and secure investment funds.
Participating founders will receive a $5,000 business grant upon acceptance into the program. The program’s inaugural cohort will kick off on February 14, with 15 selected Black-led tech startups.
In addition to the $5,000 grant, participating founders will receive peer-to-peer and mentorship sessions, exclusive access to DMZ events, access to office and hotel space, loan assessment opportunities, and pitch opportunities through BKR (formerly known as Black Innovation Capital).
“We dream of a Canada in which there are Black-owned gazelles and unicorns,” said Isaac Olowolafe Jr., founder of the Dream Legacy Foundation.
While unicorns are well known as companies with a valuation of over one billion dollars, gazelles are not heard about as often. Gazelles are said to be nimble startups that more than double their revenue every four years and are defined more by their growth than their size.
“As an entrepreneur, I understand the barriers that budding Black founders in Canada face in growing their businesses,” Olowolafe Jr. said. “Through our entrepreneurship programs and partnerships, Dream Legacy Foundation seeks to help eliminate these barriers, scale Black-owned businesses and drive inclusivity in Canada’s early-stage entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Through its Black Innovation Fund, BKR invests in Canadian pre-seed and seed-stage technology companies founded by Black entrepreneurs. BKR closed an additional $4.5 million CAD for its venture capital fund focused on Black tech entrepreneurs in Canada in February.
Principal and fund manager Lise Birikundavyi, as well as founder and managing partner Olowolafe Jr., founded BRK. BIC was established as a result of a collaboration between the DMZ and Dream Maker Ventures. The two organizations have previously collaborated to support Black entrepreneurs, including through the DMZ’s BIP.
Numerous reports have highlighted the need for more support and representation for Black individuals in tech. During the pandemic, reports showed that underrepresented professionals in Canada’s tech community have been more adversely affected by the pandemic.
A 2021 report shed more light on the consistent inequities for Black women and other women of colour in leadership.
At the same time, more programs designed to aid Black founders have been created in the last couple of years. Microsoft for Startups Canada entered into a partnership with Dream Legacy Foundation in 2020 in order to support diverse founders in the Canadian tech ecosystem.
At a regional level, the innovation hub Volta, the Black Business Initiative (BBI), and Indigenous business lender Ulnooweg joined forces to provide workshops and skills development training to underrepresented entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada.
Announcing the new coaching program, Janey Buzugbe, head of the Black Innovation Programs and Partnerships at the DMZ, said: “Support from the Government of Canada will help the DMZ and Dream Legacy Foundation empower the next wave of Black-led startups through coaching, mentorship and financial support — resources that have been systematically inaccessible to the Black community for far too long.”