For the past six-months, the coronavirus has affected billions of people across the world, and continues to make its impact on the U.S., in major states such as Florida, New York, and Texas. Not only have we seen death and illness first-hand, but we’ve seen—in every sense of the word—what it means for our world to shut down in its ability to come together and unite in the war against social injustice. Now, the Dream Maker’s Diversity Fund hopes to change that.
Each day we wake up to headlines on how the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement continues to spark passion and action surrounding much needed “social justice” reform, and related issues of policing, criminal justice reform and the like. These issues are subject to much-needed scrutiny. Indeed, while these issues continue to be front and center, we must also broaden these discussions to include the impact upon economic opportunity, abroad.
What the world needs is a very clear and strong focus on fostering and nurturing Black entrepreneurship, domestic and abroad. Did you know that—much like in the US—in Canada tech start-ups and their venture capital and angel capital partners are overwhelmingly male and white? And to the extent there has been participation by individuals of color, it has typically been members of Canada’s East-and South Asian community?
Canada’s most recent census revealed that approximately 1.2 million Canadians self-identify as Black. Yet in 2015, a survey conducted for Black in Canada, discovered and revealed that there were only 2,000 Black-owned businesses of any significant scale across the country. Indeed, with COVID-19 destroying many economies throughout every industry, that number is still equally as small.
The lack of opportunity for racialized individuals is particularly acute in the tech sector. So how can we encourage Black Canadians to not just participate in the sector in greater numbers, but provide them with the tools and accessibility to the capital necessary to create and grow new sector entrants?
This starts on a local level by venture capitalists looking to change the tale for how venture capital firms can help keep economic opportunities flowing.
Dream Maker’s Diversity Fund–Getting Back to Our Roots
One such venture is the Dream Maker’s Diversity Fund, founded by Isaac Olowolafe, and where luminaries such as Ralph Lean and Jay Rosenzweig sit on its advisory board. Mr. Olowolafe is a highly successful business person in the realm of real estate, insurance, and venture investment. He is also a well respected philanthropist in many areas, including education and health. Olowolafe was just appointed to the prestigious board of Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. Mr. Lean, Chair of Dream Maker, is a prominent lawyer and super-connector. He founded Right To Play, a global organization which protects, educates and empowers children to rise above adversity using the power of play, raising 100’s of millions of dollars for this worthy organization in the process. Mr. Rosenzweig, a human rights advocate, lawyer and super-connector too, is a builder of world class executive teams, and a global expert in diversity inclusion and emerging tech investment. His Rosenzweig Report has received endorsements and supporting quotes from people ranging from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Sheryl Sandberg to Deepak Chopra to Andrew Yang to Van Jones to Alyssa Milano to CEO’s and Chairs of Banks and other major corporations. Other leaders of industry will be announced soon as coming on board with Dream Maker.
And for Canada, this couldn’t be more of a win, as Dream Maker’s Diversity Fund is Canada’s first Black-led Venture Capital (VC) Fund. It’s mission? To #ChangeTheNarrative by increasing access to capital for those previously underserved, including individuals of colour, women, LGBTQ+, immigrants and refugees.
Dream Maker is looking to invest in founders who have historically been disadvantaged and/or businesses whose mission is to benefit groups that have historically been disadvantaged.
The fund is purposely a for-profit VC, one that believes that if opportunities are presented to Black entrepreneurs and other under-served (and under-estimated) communities, success, including economic success, will follow.
Black Innovation Fellowship
Another endeavor, Black Innovation Fellowship (BIF), which launched in May 2019, is the result of a partnership between Ryerson-DMZ, one of the leading tech incubators and accelerators, and Dream Maker Ventures.
The BIF program is by design ambitious. The goal is to have 50 Black-led businesses up and running in the next few years. These individuals would in turn serve as role models and mentors for aspiring members of the community, creating a virtuous cycle of success.
Supported by strong strategic partners, including Shopify, BMO and The Canadian Women’s Foundation, start-ups led by Black entrepreneurs will be provided with the strengthening support of a top university-based incubator network, as well as additional programming, mentorship, events, and connections to industry, capital and an alumni network, to support their success and growth.
Also tied to the BIF is an important initiative which just launched at the end of June: The Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR).
The Coalition’s mandate, according to Isaac, is to connect Black, Indigenous and people of colour to the innovation sector. Comprised of senior members of Canada’s tech, innovation and advanced industry sectors, including Claudette McGowan, Global Executive Officer at TD Bank, who was nominated as chair of CILAR, Armughan Ahmad, President and Managing Partner, Digital, KPMG, among many other members. Both Ms. McGowan and Mr. Ahmad happen to be on the Rosenzweig & Company Advisory Board!
In today’s socio-economic climate, it’s extremely important that we ensure all avenues are open to communities that have historically been blocked out or disadvantaged. It is the right thing to do, and it will benefit society as a whole.