Encouraging diversity in tech is something that many in Canada’s startup ecosystem have been vocal about. Whether it’s a hackathon or a series of panels, events focused on supporting diversity in tech, such as Moving the Dial, are providing Canadians with a space to promote diversity within the ecosystem.
The latest of these events was ILM (Innovate, Lead, Mobilize) Innovation Weekend in Toronto, a two-day hackathon to encourage Muslim and non-Muslim university students and recent grads to develop innovative solutions to address different needs in the Muslim community.
“We’re starting to see events like this attempt to solve some of the diversity issues.” -Robleh Jama, senior product manager, Shopify
At ILM Innovation Weekend, held on Jan. 21 and Jan. 22, 52 participants gathered at Ryerson University’s Launch Zone to spend the weekend hacking, designing, and prototyping projects that tackled problems in industries like media and education. On Saturday, participants formed teams and received mentorship on analytics, marketing, and app development from members of startups like Prospect and Shoelace.
On Sunday, 14 teams pitched their ventures to a panel of five judges to win a top prize of $1,500. Among the judges was Ali Asaria, the founder and CEO of Tulip Retail, a mobile platform to help retail stores provide customers with omnichannel experiences; and Robleh Jama, the former CEO and founder of Tiny Hearts and currently a senior product manager at Shopify.
Shabbar Manek, a co-founder of ILM, said that with many Muslim students turning to careers in engineering and science, the aim of ILM Innovation Weekend was to spark and foster the spirit of entrepreneurship and creativity within the Muslim community.
“We created ILM with the mission of fostering entrepreneurship and innovation in the Muslim community and our first aim at doing that was this innovation weekend,” said Manek. “We really wanted to bring a bunch of people together and provide them with the resources necessary to start a venture and solve a problem. We want people to be excited about entrepreneurship and be open to the idea that you can make something and make the world fall in love with it.”
Seerah Box, a subscription-based service providing educational material for kids, took home the top prize; Grasshopper, an app dedicated to making fundraising easier won the second place prize of $1,000; and Faraj, a mobile service that helps seniors access necessary services, won the third place prize of $500.
Jama, whose company was recently acquired by Shopify, said he enjoyed the themes and issues participants were addressing in their pitches. He added that he has seen a peak in events that promote diversity and growth for Canada’s ecosystem.
“The participants were impressive and you could tell that a lot of thought and work went into the prototypes and pitches,” said Jama. “I also appreciated where these ideas were coming from. In general, they were very altruistic and the products showed a lot of potential. I think it’s a good sign that the tech community is growing and we’re starting to see events like this attempt to solve some of the diversity issues.”
In the long-term, ILM is hoping to host more events, such as innovation weekends in other cities like Waterloo and Montreal, mentorship workshops, and startup meetups.