iNovia launches Empower Initiative to support founders from underrepresented groups in tech

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To help early-stage founders get support and resources, iNovia has launched the Empower initiative, an office hours program designed to make the firm’s expertise more accessible to founders of all backgrounds.

iNovia launched the program to reach founders outside of their personal networks, acknowledging that some founders can get access to capital thanks to their strong networks, while others may face more systemic barriers. While the program is open to founders of all backgrounds, the firm hopes that founders from underrepresented groups in tech — including women, people of colour, people with disabilities, and people from the LGBTQ+ community — will especially benefit.

“The easy thing for us to do would be to sit back and let issues of diversity sort themselves out. Instead, we realized that we have the potential to actually affect change in a positive way, and we are committed to doing that,” said Karamdeep Nijjar, partner in Toronto.

The team is setting aside time with founders to coach them on challenges, share feedback, and evaluate for investment.

“One of the greatest assets we have is our network, so we recognize that community, access, and a sounding board is a critical pillar of strength.”

“We know that the problem of diversity in tech is a huge, entrenched issue. We also understand that if companies don’t start to tackle the problem when they’re small that the ability to overcome and become fully diverse from a race, gender, sexual orientation standpoint can become almost insurmountable once they grow,” said Sarah Marion, senior analyst at iNovia. “Through that lens, and because we are in a position of funding startups, we know that our impact can snowball and that doors opened now can mean exponential change over time.”

The firm decided to launch the Empower initiative after looking at its own challenge. The firm has been investing in Toronto and Montreal companies for the past 10 years, but saw that only 23 percent of its current portfolio includes founders from underrepresented groups in tech.

“As we see ourselves as a ‘people first’ fund, we have come to see how — without specific emphasis to break through engrained barriers — we may be inadvertently perpetuating a cycle that is ultimately limiting for many people,” said Chris Arsenault, managing partner of iNovia. “One of the greatest assets we have is our network, so we recognize that community, access, and a top-notch sounding board is a critical pillar of strength for successful startups.”

The firm’s research showed that mentorship, community, and capital were the key barriers preventing high-potential founders from succeeding. The program is open to founders in Montreal and Toronto, though the hope is to expand across Canada.

“As an early stage fund, we see immense potential in people and technology every day — we see disruption of old industries day in and day out. And so we know that when the right doors are opened for motivated individuals, the future may look unlike anything we can even imagine right now. We see this project as helping lay the groundwork for that possibility to take hold,” said Salima Ladha, head of talent and people at iNovia, who is leading the initiative.

Applications are open here.