The Collision Tech Conference has taken over Toronto this week, and some underrepresented groups are being highlighted as part of the four-day event.
Black businesses are starting to thrive in tech, mainly due to the community that’s been created. Eldon Holder, the VP of Philanthropy and Social Innovation with the Dream Legacy Foundation, is proud to say their work has been a big part of that.
“The Black Innovation Connections program is all about focusing on one thing your business needs and drilling down to prepare your business for investment,” said Holder. “So whether it’s sales, whether it’s fundraising, maybe it’s marketing. You come to us. We look at diagnostics, and we support your business and one of those specific coaching streams.”
Tee Tash is one of the businesses.
“These are NFT space NFC cards. The first of its kind,” said founder Stephen Oruwari. “The ability to put whatever an artist like a musical artist can create on one card. Like music, videos, website, everything you can consolidate into one little card.”
“Dream Legacy Foundation they’ve seen my innovation and the work I do, so they brought me to this to show people a little bit about what I do,” added Oruwari.
Holder said this year, they are focussing on their Dream Hub.
“It’s the first Black-owned boutique hotel that is designed to support black tech founders. We have co-working spaces. We have suites for them to stay in, and they can use the entire space to host clients and meetings with her overall investors and we’re right by the Pearson airport.”
“We’re talking about business helping Black tech entrepreneurs and we’re hoping that being the first large Black organization at a not-for-profit level will create space for more,” added Holder.
Founder of Future Capital, a group of investors, Marlon Thompson said it’s incredibly important to take advantage of the opportunity for high diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“At Future Capital, our vision is really to diversify the decision-making tables within tech. How we do that is we work with early-stage investors new and emerging investors in particular, with an emphasis on underrepresented folks,” said Thompson.
“When we look at how our investors or community make decisions around which companies to invest in [and] which start-ups to support, it just looks totally different. Different from the rest of the industry and incredibly important to have that diversity,” Thompson added.
The narrative about the tech industry being a “boy’s club” is also quickly changing with the number of women taking on key roles increasing from year to year.
“We wanted to create a really safe space and welcoming space. For us, it’s a really proud moment to be here at Collision. We know that this year we have increased 10 per cent in attendance and 40 per cent of our speakers are women,” said Carmen Antiqueria Mayo, who is the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Program Manager with Web Summit.
Techstars CEO Maëlle Gavet, who has over 3,000 companies in her portfolio, said it’s very critical to ensure women are well represented.
“For us making sure that there is true diversity, including gender diversity, is really important,” said Gavet.
While strides have been made for women in tech, Gavet said it’s not enough.
“I think the first thing to do is to tell women that they are opportunities in tech. We have 7,000 alumni and 8,000 mentors worldwide, so what we do for women is to give them access to all of that so that they can have an even greater chance of success.”
Many women CityNews spoke with at the conference shared that representation was a huge driving force for them in the industry.
“Both my cofounder Rach and I remember when we started our careers, not seeing ourselves represented in positions of leadership or in the spaces we were working at, and it’s discouraging when you don’t see that, so it’s important for us to connect women to mentors and leaders that look like them and they can see the opportunities out there for them,” said Monday Girl co-founder Istiana Bestario.
Another co-founder, Nicole Jansoon of AltaML, said women bring a different perspective to a company.
“Our company focused on making sure we have diversity. I do believe that females coming up need to see a strong female in control and at the top because then they can see themselves there.”
Thursday is the last day of the conference and features over 7,000 start-ups, many of which are from Toronto.