DMZ is Ryerson University’s business incubator for early-stage technology start-ups. The incubator, which was launched under the name Digital Media Zone in April 2010, is now offering a Black Innovation Fellowship a program that will help black entrepreneurs in the tech sector.
The DMZ is a world-renowned technology accelerator headquartered in a six-floor workspace overlooking Yonge-Dundas Square. It was ranked as the world’s top business incubator managed by a university in 2018. That designation was made by UBI Global, a Swedish firm that measures and tracks the performance of innovation hubs around the world.
By helping start-ups that show potential to turn into big companies, the DMZ incubator is bridging the gap between entrepreneurs and investors. DMZ also has mentoring programs where leading industry experts guide the start-ups.
A business incubator is a company that helps new and start-up companies to develop by providing services such as management training or office space. It also offers mentorship and helps the company find investors, angel investors or develop financial strategies.
Isaac Olowolafe Jr, a real estate developer and a longtime supporter of the DMZ, held a belief that more Black entrepreneurs should be benefitting from the Ryerson incubator but they needed to be exposed to it, an article in The Star said.
Olowolafe became the driving force behind BIF and his brainchild. He has had success building condos, luxury homes and a boutique airport hotel. Growing up in Woodbridge, he says he was surrounded by people who worked in construction, property development and investment so that path seemed normal to him and that exposure gave him a base of knowledge in the field.
However, he recognized that it is not always easy for fellow Black entrepreneurs to get the capital and support to pursue their goals. He also recognized that his own community was poorly represented within Toronto’s start-up community, according to the article.
He clearly believes in lifting up others while at the top. Olowolafe has kicked in a $200,000 gift through Dream Maker Ventures Inc, the investment arm of his asset-management company, to help get BIF started. BMO Financial Group and Shopify are also on board as founding partners while the Canada Women’s Foundation is also backing the program, which has a fundraising goal of $1 million.
“The biggest reason was that I saw the barriers as a young Black entrepreneur myself,” the 36-year-old Olowolafe told The Star.
Breaking those barriers so that more black-led businesses will be able to taste success will be one of the goals.
“By launching this program Black-led businesses that meet the milestone to get into the DMZ, in general, will be able to get that additional assistance that has helped other companies across different communities grow.” He said.
The DMZ, which is not restricted to current students, has helped accelerate more than 400 companies and raised $625 million in capital funding since 2010. At present, there are 72 companies developing there.