Black tech entrepreneur event series celebrates diverse perspectives and future leaders

A new series of events gives Black Alberta tech entrepreneurs the opportunity to showcase their businesses to investors and connect with industry peers.

Innovate Calgary, the University of Calgary’s innovation enterprise and business incubator, launched the Black Founders in Tech Series in November. Its first event saw seven black tech leaders pitch their ideas to a large crowd of investors and peers, with contestants offering cash prizes and business support to help drive their businesses forward.

It was the first in a series of events that will continue through 2023.

Some of the company founders who attended said a black-focused event is both an important symbolic and celebratory gesture. They also said the series of events gave them a platform to showcase their companies and what makes their contributions unique to the industry.

“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 director of innovation 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 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 feeling like there’s a place for them was the most important thing.”

Morgan said it’s also important to recognize the challenges faced by BIPOC business owners that other business 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 thing is that you don’t necessarily have the connections in the ecosystem. not that uncle or dad or that person to write you your first check,” he said.

Jerome Morgan of Innovate Calgary says celebrating and showcasing Black-owned businesses in a deliberate way is exciting and important work. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Founders who were able to compete and pitch their ideas said the event was as much about connecting with and advocating for the black tech community as it was about pricing and the potential to woo investors.

“It was really nice to be in a room full of peers. It was great to be in a space with people who see you for who you are and understand the same limitations you all have in the industry. said Ange Paye, co-founder of software company Voto, an engagement platform focused on charitable donations for businesses that want to campaign alongside charities.

“Just seeing what other BIPOC members are doing in the city is something you don’t know about, so it was a great experience and really scary because it’s like ‘These are my people. “, but it was amazing,” she said. .

“Representation really matters”

Paye said event attendees were matched with mentors before the launch, as well as a coach who helped them prepare to present in front of large audiences.

“It really shows how many of us are here and how many of us want to make a difference,” Paye said.

She said the series of events also aimed to provide promising young tech leaders with a platform to aim for in the future, as well as a valuable networking opportunity to share experiences, relationships and ideas with others. other potential leaders and investors of all ages. and races.

Sean Hervo placed third in the pitch competition, selling his company PrePad, which cuts well planning times for oil and gas producers via a drilling and completion simulator, challenging the in-house software solutions used by many producers.

“Representation really matters,” Hervo said. “I don’t think much about it, but if I can inspire a young person who looks like me and now believes they can be an entrepreneur or a co-founder, then that’s fantastic.

Sean Hervo was a finalist in the first Black Founders in Tech event and says representation is important for current and future industry leaders. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Hervo said the competition was “validating and rewarding” and allowed him to build closer ties with the investment community.

“In [the] industry, there aren’t a lot of colored faces in one room, and that was pretty cool. You could feel the love and the energy in there. We clapped our hands and encouraged each other.”

Other successful pitches include a digital platform called Road Aider that connects people in need of roadside assistance with service providers, and an app called Elev that makes it easier for students to rent, helping them find housing and build credit scores by paying rent on time.

The November event was the first in a series of events that will showcase the work and ideas of the founders of BIPOC and rural technologies from across the province.

The founders of BIPOC will be at the center of the second event of the new year.