Dream Maker Ventures launches diversity program for underrepresented entrepreneurs

Toronto-based Dream Maker Ventures is launching a new partnership model with the Dream Legacy Foundation, the new philanthropic thought leadership arm of parent company Dream Maker Corporation, which will focus on entrepreneurial programming for founders in marginalized communities.

“It’s time to change the narrative and leave no room for excuses.”
– Danielle Graham

The Diversity Program initiative will see Dream Maker Ventures working with five partner organizations to offer new early-stage entrepreneurial programming tailored toward tech founders in five underrepresented communities: Indigenous people, persons with disabilities, members of the LGBTQA+ community, refugees, and newcomers to Canada.

The initiative is aimed to go beyond social impact investing and is intended to offer support and showcase the competitive advantage of entrepreneurs from traditionally underrepresented groups.

The Diversity Program Partners include: The Centre for Indigenous Innovation and Technology (Indigenous), Access to Success (People with Disabilities), Venture Out (LGBTQA+), Jumpstart (Refugees), Scale without Borders (Newcomers).

The Diversity Program will support new programs within these five pre-existing organizations. Dream Maker Ventures will act as a founding partner to some programs, like the Access to Success bootcamp, which launched in October and simply partner on other existing programs, such as with Scale Without Borders.

The Dream Legacy Foundation will be responsible for providing hands-on support, such as collaborative co-programming, will submit and manage proposals and funding, and support program managers through quarterly advisory meetings. The Diversity Program’s five partners will be responsible for directly managing the individual programs, owning the day-to-day activities.

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“We know that diversity brings not only diverse perspectives and diverse solutions to some of the most challenging problems, but we know that it’s also good for business,” Eldon Holder Jr., executive director of the Dream Legacy Foundation, told BetaKit. “If we don’t include a wide variety of businesses in the ecosystem, we actually hinder our ability to adapt and come up with innovative solutions. We’re excited to be able to build an ecosystem that is inclusive of all of our top talent.”

Holder told BetaKit that the idea for the Diversity Program stemmed from the success of Dream Maker Venture’s Black Innovation Fellowship and Communitech’s Fierce Founders, which was founded in part by Dream Maker Ventures principal Danielle Graham.

“If we don’t include a wide variety of businesses in the ecosystem, we actually hinder our ability.”
– Eldon Holder Jr., Dream Legacy Foundation

The Black Innovation Fellowship is a $1 million program awarded annually to 10 startups led by Black entrepreneurs in Ryerson’s incubator network, and Fierce Founders consists of two bootcamps a year, as well as an accelerator providing $500,000 annually to early-stage female-led startups. Holder said the Dream Legacy Foundation wanted to see more of those types of programs in other communities, in order to include and increase access to capital for diverse entrepreneurs and founders – something that has been an ongoing struggle.

The first program to launch as part of the Diversity Program initiative is the Access to Success Program, which will focus on those with disabilities. Access to Success is a coalition of graduate business schools supporting MBA students with disabilities. Through this partnership, Access to Success will organize the program, facilitate outreach, source funding, recruit experts, coordinate investors and founders, and attend Diversity Program Partner advisory meetings.

The philosophy underscoring the partnership program is to showcase the contributions that underrepresented groups can make to the Canadian economy. Holder said the Dream Legacy Foundation wants to achieve this by promoting social finance and entrepreneurship and by rolling out programs that help organizations gain access to capital, with a specific focus on the social impact.

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Graham explained to BetaKit that this means tailoring programs to each community by helping provide what they need in the ecosystem to thrive.

“Our approach is defined by the participants and our pedagogy is all about ‘personalized programming,’ which balances a group’s need to appreciate a topic with an individual’s need to deep dive, which is particularly important for marginalized and underrepresented communities,” Graham said.

“We want to take initiative by working together on initiatives for these communities, by these communities.”

Dream Maker Ventures and the Dream Legacy Foundation are both arms of Dream Maker Corporation, a Toronto-based investment and asset management company focused on real estate and insurance. Dream Maker Corp. was founded by Isaac Olowolafe Jr., a real estate entrepreneur, philanthropist, and venture capitalist.
 

Dream Maker Ventures, which is currently raising a $75 million diversity fund, will serve several functions through the partnership with Dream Legacy Foundation. The venture organization will source the funding necessary to run the programs, the sum total of which is not currently being disclosed. The firm will also provide a network of experts and speakers to host workshops and support entrepreneurial programming as mentors, speakers, or pitch judges. Dream Maker Ventures also plans to monitor and review the programs’ graduates for potential investment opportunities and help facilitate discussion and partnerships with other investors.

“We need programs to support greater diversity on the venture side to level set where these founders are at with their ventures. Diversity is more than women … we have a pipeline we can point to so there are no more excuses for not investing in people – it’s time to change the narrative and leave no room for excuses,” said Graham. “There are proven benefits [to being diverse] including knowledge sharing, peer support, power in numbers, and leadership skills development. We want to take initiative by working together on initiatives for these communities, by these communities.”

The Dream Legacy Foundation has already seen interest from other organizations to support the Diversity Program. OneEleven has already signed on, offering in-kind support of over $110,000 in space, programming, and mentorship for the initiative. MaRS, Invest Ottawa, Communitech, and the DMZ at Ryerson University have also committed to signing letters of support for the initiative, although none have yet committed funding or dedicated space to the initiative.

“[Those programs] give us a great example of what has worked and what hasn’t worked so that we can develop models that are responsive to the needs of those communities,” said Holder.

Photo courtesy Becca Lemire Photography

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Writer, globetrotter, drone pilot & David Attenborough enthusiast