The DMZ, the startup incubator housed at Toronto Metropolitan University, has awarded over $35,000 to three startups led by Black entrepreneurs as part of its third Black Innovation Summit. The recipients are Blue Guardian, Gia Health, and Scooli.
This year’s Black Innovation Summit saw less funding given to startups compared to its previous installments.
A pitch competition was held at the summit, where seven Black-founded startups pitched their companies for the chance to secure funding.
Blue Guardian, which secured the top prize of $20,000, uses AI to provide an early detection tool for mental health support. It also won the community choice award, taking home an additional $2,500.
In second place was Gia Health, who received $10,000. The startup plans to provide an AI-driven platform to help families manage and coordinate their in-home elder care.
Scooli, which helps teachers automate their administrative work, earned third place and secured $5,000 in prize money.
The other startups who participated at the pitch competition were Oppos, Aversa, My Well Self, and Joy+.
According to the DMZ, the Black Innovation Summit saw participation from Black-led tech startups, government officials, and tech leaders to highlight “how founders can build during economic uncertainty and how the ecosystem can rally together to support them.”
This year’s Black Innovation Summit saw less funding given to startups compared to its previous installations, however.
In addition to the pitch competition, which regularly awards $35,000 CAD, the DMZ also distributed $15,000 CAD in grants to other “high-potential startups” in 2022, bringing its total contribution that year to $50,000 CAD. The inaugural summit in 2021 saw $49,000 in total funding awarded. Including the community choice award, the DMZ handed out the least amount of money this year, with $37,500.
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Participating startups at the Black Innovation Summit come from the DMZ’s line of Black Innovation programs, including its coaching program named Black Innovation Connections and its Black Innovation Program Social Impact Stream, a business incubator backed by Unilever Canada. The Black Innovation Program also comprises a launchpad, a free skills-development platform for aspiring tech entrepreneurs.
The DMZ offers special benefits to Black-led startups across its pre-incubator and incubator, on top of what all of its resident founders can receive. This includes providing a $5,000 grant to companies with a Black founder in its pre-incubator program, among other support.
When asked why it downsized the total amount of grants for the Black Innovation Summit this year, a spokesperson for the DMZ said it plans to provide additional funding to Black-led startups at pitch events later this year. The summit has awarded $136,500 to Black-led startups since its inception.
The Black Innovation Summit is just the latest event to be scaled back by the DMZ. In April, a representative for the DMZ told BetaKit that it was “shifting gears” on its approach to Demo Day, noting it plans to offer a “more intimate experience” for founders in June.
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In March, the DMZ said there would be over $300,000 in cash prizes for its next Demo Day. The incubator has held demo days in the past, but said that this was supposed to be the first event of its scale. At that time, the DMZ said it looked to bring up to 1,000 people from government, corporate entities, non-DMZ and DMZ startups, venture capitalists, and angel investors. Now, that guest list has been reduced to 200 people. The DMZ said this change is in response to “changing market conditions in the tech landscape and allow us to ensure we remain in touch with founders’ current needs.”
The DMZ said it will continue to host a competition for founders to pitch to a handpicked group of investors and judges for prizes, which it said would be more curated, or carefully selected.
Additionally, the DMZ will have a dedicated space at the Collision conference this year, with a startup showcase stage, networking sessions, and other events to engage with the startup community.
Featured image courtesy The DMZ.