A new series of events gives Alberta’s black tech entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their businesses to investors and connect with their peers in the industry.
Innovate Calgary, the University of Calgary’s innovation firm and business incubator, kicked off the Black Founders in Tech series in November. At its first event, seven black tech leaders pitched their ideas to a host of investors and peers, with competitors presenting cash prizes and business support to help move their companies forward.
It was the first of a series of events that will continue until 2023.
Some of the company founders who participated said that a black-focused event is an important symbolic and celebratory move. They also said that the series of events gives them a platform to showcase their businesses and what makes their contributions to the industry unique.
“We listened to BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of colour] founders, and they said, ‘We want to be celebrated and not just be a corner of the innovation ecosystem,'” said Jerome Morgan, senior innovation manager at Innovate Calgary.
Morgan said more than 22 people from across the province applied to participate in the first Black Founders in Tech event.
Create a more inclusive innovation industry
Pitches for the event came from founders of companies focused on oil and gas, construction, housing, as well as from the world of sports and fundraising companies.
“More than anything, we realized there were more founders in the ecosystem that we didn’t know about, and it’s about how we support them,” Morgan said.
“When you do inclusive innovation, it’s a better future for everyone, and people who feel like there’s a place for them was the most important thing.”
Morgan said it’s also important to recognize the challenges BIPOC business owners face that other company founders might not have to think about.
“The journey of a diverse entrepreneur is a little different, especially when you’re first or second generation. A key component is that you don’t necessarily have the relationships in the ecosystem. And you may not have that uncle or dad or that person to write you your first check,” he said.
The founders who competed and submitted their ideas said the event was as much about connecting with and championing the black tech community as it was about prizes and the potential to attract investors.
“It was really nice to be in a room full of peers. It was amazing to be in a space with people who see you for who you are and understand the same limitations that you all have within the industry,” said Ange Paye, co-founder of software company Voto, a charitable giving-focused engagement platform for businesses that want to campaign alongside charities.
“Just seeing what other BIPOC people are doing in the city is something you’re not aware of, so it was an amazing experience and definitely scary because it’s like ‘This is my people,’ but it was amazing,” he said. .
‘Representation definitely matters’
Paye said event participants were paired with mentors prior to the launch, along with a coach who helped them prepare to perform before a packed audience.
“It really shows how many of us are here and how many of us want to make a difference,” Paye said.
He said the series of events is also about giving up-and-coming young technology leaders a platform to aspire to in the future, as well as a valuable networking opportunity to share experiences, relationships and ideas with other potential technology leaders and investors. All ages. and racing.
Sean Hervo placed third in the pitch competition, selling his company PrePad, which reduces well pad planning times for oil and gas producers through a drilling and completion simulator, challenging in-house software solutions used by many producers.
“Representation definitely matters,” Hervo said. “I don’t think about it much, but if I can inspire a kid who looks like me and now he believes that he can be an entrepreneur or a co-founder, then that’s great.
Hervo said the competition was “validating and rewarding” and allowed him to make further connections with the investment community.
“In [the] industry there aren’t that many colorful faces in a room, and it was great. You could feel the love and energy there. We were high fives and cheering each other on.”
Other successful launches included a digital platform called Road Aider that connects people in need of roadside assistance with service providers, along with an app called Elev, which makes renting easier for students, helping them find a home and build driving scores. credit by paying rent on time.
November 1 was the first in a series of events that will showcase the work and ideas of BIPOC and rural tech founders from across the province.
The BIPOC founders will be the focus of the second event of the new year.