Fresh strides, more needed to support diversity in innovation

Posted: July 15, 2020

By Carol Moreira

In a month dominated by discussions on racial diversity in the innovation community, Halifax-based startup Bursity revealed big plans to increase minority attendance at U.S. universities and colleges.

Bursity Co-Founder and CEO Charles Milton

Whereas the COVID-19 pandemic saturated the news in April and May, the innovation and startup segment in greater Halifax in June focused on diversity and inclusivity. The antiracism movement has affected all sectors of society, and innovators and entrepreneurs throughout Halifax are asking soul-searching questions on how their sector can improve racial diversity.

Bursity is a social venture whose online platform helps post-secondary students identify and apply for scholarships, and its first target market will be African-Americans.

“We want to create more diversity on university campuses, as well as – post-graduation – more diversity in the workforce,” Co-Founder and CEO Charles Milton told startup news site

Milton said the company will launch first in the U.S. because of the greater number of scholarships there. Bursity has compiled a list of 1.5 million U.S. scholarships.

Eventually, the database will include Canadian scholarships and be open to students of all backgrounds. Bursity recently received a $25,000 investment from the Volta Cohort. It is also participating remotely in Calif.-based accelerator The Founder Institute. The Institute is helping Bursity validate product-market fit and prepare to pitch to investors.

Elsewhere, ideas to boost the diversity of the city’s – indeed the region’s – entrepreneurial community hit the news last month, along with medical and other innovations that address COVID-19.

Ross Simmonds, the Founder of Halifax-based Foundation Marketing, called for detailed data on diversity within the community.

Ross Simmonds

“We need to look at data with specifics with regards to race and look for information on what communities are underserved, underrepresented, underfunded and ultimately missing out on the tech explosion – aka, this generation’s industrial revolution,” Simmonds told Entrevestor.

Minority founders face extra hurdles, including lack of funding and role models, said Alexandra McCann, Executive Director of ONSIDE, a non-profit that collaborates with stakeholders to develop innovation-driven entrepreneurship.

Alexandra McCann, Executive Director of ONSIDE

McCann said female-led businesses generate more revenue per dollar invested, but are underfunded. She cited U.S. statistics from Crunchbase that showed that in 2019, teams that had at least one female co-founder received just 13 percent of venture capital investment.

McCann called for targeted efforts to increase diversity within angel and VC organizations and among groups that support startups. Entrepreneurs need to understand that diverse leadership allows companies to better compete internationally, she said.

McCann lauded the Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund and its $20 million Sandpiper Ventures fund for increasing the number of women investing and receiving investments.

The Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund was also named East Coast representative for the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism, a new national group dedicated to advancing the interests of non-white entrepreneurs by influencing policy at institutions. Its membership includes executives from influential companies such as accounting firm KPMG and computer expert Cisco Canada.

“Sandpiper is proud to represent the East Coast in this coalition to enable diverse communities to participate in our future economy and drive real change in Canada,” said Danielle Graham, who oversees the Sandpiper Fund.

TD Canada Global Executive Officer Claudette McGowan has been nominated the coalition’s chair, while Toronto incubator MaRS will offer “support and ecosystem access.”

TD Canada Exec, Claudette McGowan

Akram Al-Otumi, whose roles include CEO and Founder of Halifax-based Spritely Technologies Inc. called for funding, initiatives and data to boost participation in the innovation economy by minority populations.

Akram Al-Otumi, CEO and Founder of Halifax-based Spritely Technologies Inc.

“Digging deeper than just the number of minority-owned businesses to explore structural factors like ownership, funding and participation in programs will be essential,” he said.

Entrevestor principal Peter Moreira dug into his site’s databank and found that Black and Indigenous communities from Atlantic Canada are under-represented in the region’s startup sector.

Examination of 554 regional startups revealed that 0.7 percent of them have Black Co-Founders or CEOs who were raised in Canada, and 1.6 percent have Indigenous Co-Founders or CEOs. Figures from Statistics Canada show that people identifying as Black account for around 1.4 percent of the Atlantic Canadian population, while Indigenous people account for around 5.5 percent.

The investigation revealed that visible minorities who have immigrated to the region head a bigger proportion of startups: around 13.4 percent. Data for immigrants as a percentage of the population was not available.

Of the 554 ventures examined, Entrevestor found four had a Black founder and/or CEO. Nine companies were led by Indigenous people. The data showed that 74 of the 554 ventures were headed by people from Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, suggesting the region may be better at supporting immigrant entrepreneurs than those from local minority communities.



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