By Jonathan Bradley
Ryerson University, in collaboration with philanthropist and founder of Dream Maker Ventures Inc. Isaac Olowolafe Jr., has created the Black Innovation Fellowship (BIF) to address the challenges faced by young Black entrepreneurs.
The BIF is the first of its kind in Canada. Olowolafe said that the BIF will support Black entrepreneur-led startups by providing support and mentorship from successful Black professionals, technologists, and startup founders, to connect them to wider networks, including the innovation community, alumni, and investors.
“As a son of African immigrants, my parents constantly stressed the importance of learning and collaboration—The education I received in this city has always inspired me to pay it forward,” said Olowolafe. “Creating the Black Innovation Fellowship with Ryerson felt like another great way to uplift the next generation of entrepreneurs.”
Olowolafe has founded the only venture capital fund in Canada led by a team of Black investors.
He has donated $200,000 to start the BIF. He is working with Ryerson to raise another $800,000 to run it.
Olowolafe said that he welcomes all types of startups to be involved with the BIF, but it will primarily focus on companies within emerging markets, such as PropTech, HealthTech, FinTech, AI, AR/VR, E-Commerce, and E-Sports.
“(I feel) immense honour, pride, and eagerness in both getting it off the ground and hopefully seeing all the different innovative companies that join the program,” he said. “Tech is moving Toronto forward, so I’m very happy to be part of its growth in championing diversity and inclusion for young Black entrepreneurs.”
Olowolafe said that the BIF should help young Black entrepreneurs move past specific barriers they might face, such as accessing seed capital to launch their startup, fewer prominent Black entrepreneurs to look up to, and lower engagement with tech incubator startup programs.
Ann Dulhanty, an entrepreneurship and strategy professor at Ryerson, said that the Black Innovation Fellowship will be helpful for young Black entrepreneurs.
“All support for entrepreneurship is very important, from as many individuals and organizations as possible, as entrepreneurs and new businesses are a major source of new jobs, products, and economic growth in Canada,” said Dulhanty.
The BIF is slated to launch in early 2019, and will run out of Ryerson’s 10 business zones.