Skip to Main Content
The Review

Hear from DMZ’s first-ever unicorn founder for his advice on building a billion-dollar company


Category Archives: Founders

Hear from DMZ’s first-ever unicorn founder for his advice on building a billion-dollar company

Co-founder and CEO of brand interaction platform Ada, Mike Murchison, spilled the entrepreneurial tea at DMZ’s Founder Dinner earlier this month, sharing lessons learned from scaling the first-ever DMZ unicorn company the ground up.

Empowering brands to automate customer interactions, Ada brings a VIP experience to every customer and employee through its platform. Since 2018, Ada has increased its revenue by 764% and in 2021, raised its Series C at a valuation of $1.2B, officially achieving unicorn status.

The first in-person DMZ Founder Dinner since 2019, the events are designed to bring the larger DMZ founder community together for an evening of food, drinks and connections.

We thought we’d share some of Mike’s insights and how he built the first-ever DMZ unicorn company for other founders looking to build the next big thing. Watch his full founder talk below to learn more about Ada and Mike’s journey, or keep reading for a recap of the tips and learnings Mike shared with the audience during his talk.

Entrepreneurship is a deeply personal experience

“We in this room are all united by this shared dream of building something important, big and world-changing. The journey that we’re all on is a very, very unique one, but we’re all unified in that shared ambition.”

The value of improving your rate of learning

“I think the single most important thing I’ve learned over the course of this journey has been a deep inward focus on improving my own rate of learning.

I think that’s one of the things I so admire about the community here at the DMZ, is that we’re all committed to learning. We’re all highly curious people who are eager to learn new things.

I encourage you to ask yourself, ‘What is piquing my curiosity? What problem am I facing that may seem insurmountable that I may be able to learn something new from?'”

Founders have a responsibility to support one another

“We all have a responsibility as founders to support one another in our own growth. I encourage everyone making progress themselves to share it with others.

We’re not competing against one another, we’re supporting one another. We all win when a startup in our ecosystem succeeds.”

Mike Murchison talking with another guest. - DMZ Founder Dinner recap

Sometimes the easiest path IS the right path

“I was dealing with a hard problem and someone asked me, ‘What if it wasn’t hard? What if it was easy?’

I’ve grown up and trained myself into thinking I need to do the hardest things, and what I’ve learned in the course of building Ada is that sometimes the easiest path, where you’re feeling the pull, is actually the right path.”

Don’t take yourself too seriously

“Looking back, something I would’ve done differently is not taking myself so seriously.

I wasted a lot of energy thinking about what the ideal path was meant to look like. I wish – earlier on – I would’ve let go of my perception of the right path and been more excited about the path that was unfolding before me.”

DMZ card that says "Changing entrepreneurs' lives." - DMZ Founder Dinner recap

Want to have a front row seat at the next DMZ Founder Dinner to hear from other founders who have made it? Apply to our upcoming Incubator cohort kicking off this fall at

Meet 13 up-and-coming tech startups in the DMZ’s Pre-Incubator

Our newest Pre-Incubator cohort is in full swing, and we are thrilled to present the 13 tech companies that we have hand-selected to take their businesses to the next level. For the next six weeks, the DMZ will help these founders validate their business idea, establish a minimum viable product and build a roadmap for implementation to launch their startup.

Our Pre-Incubator founders get the chance to participate in peer-to-peer sessions, founder roundtables and expert-led workshops, receive 80+ membership benefits valued at $470,000+, have one-on-one support from our DMZ Program Leads and much more. Post-graduation, they will be on track to launch their startup within three months and generate revenue within six, allowing them to kick-start their entrepreneurial journey!

We are delighted to share that our new cohort of startups have a global reach, with startups across Canada, the United States, Brazil, Estonia and Africa.

So, without further ado, please welcome our incoming cohort of cutting-edge companies:

Newest cohort of DMZ Pre-Incubator tech startups

Newest cohort of DMZ Pre-Incubator tech startups: bestauction

BestAuction is a digital platform designed for individuals and SMBs to manage the procurement process and initiate digital cross-collaboration.

Troop Impact

Woman Founders stream
Newest cohort of DMZ Pre-Incubator tech startups: troopTroop Impact is a social impact tech platform for SMBs that allows businesses to meet the social responsibility demands of employees and customers by voting monthly on where their company’s social impact dollars will be allocated.


Black Innovation Program stream
TechFusion is an accessible digital banking platform for credit unions, cooperatives and savings groups, targeted toward the unbanked and underserved in Africa.


Newest cohort of DMZ Pre-Incubator tech startups: SensaiotechSensaioTech is an end-to-end fire risk assessment solution that is able to monitor and predict when and where a wildfire will occur using artificial intelligence.


Black Innovations Programs stream
PaySync is a financial technology services company developing financial solutions for employee wellbeing and productivity.


Black Innovation Program stream
Gander is a B2B, subscription-based, AR and 3D modelling API plug-in service designed to allow customers to virtually interact with products on e-commerce sites.


Zewallet allows customers to scan a QR code to tip, split and pay a bill at the end of their meals, benefitting both customer experiences and merchants in cost and time efficiency and in increased revenue.


Woman Founders stream and Black Innovation Programs stream
Newest cohort of DMZ Pre-Incubator tech startups: Za NihezaZaNiheza is a dual booking software and travel marketplace that empowers verified operators to list and sell quality experiences online to travellers.


Black Innovation Program stream
Sleekscore is a financial technology company that seeks to assist those who are either unfamiliar with credit or inadequately served by traditional financial products to build and improve their credit scores while getting into the habit of saving money.


Black Innovation Program stream
Scooli is a one-stop-shop digital solution for educators that minimizes the time teachers and administrators spend on redundant administrative tasks.

Frenzy Brands

Frenzy Brands

Woman Founders stream
Frenzy Brands extends a child’s understanding of the stock market, business and investing with a focus on learning through play.


Black Innovation Program stream
LeaderTree is a single integrated platform that enables effective leaders,

teams, collaboration and results through assessments, training, coaching and tools to understand strengths, needs, tendencies and preferences.


Woman Founders stream
Data CalculusDataCalculus is an automated software that acts like a personal computer but for the purpose of advanced data analytics and machine learning for the mass market.


If you are an early-stage tech founder and are interested in joining the DMZ Pre-Incubator alongside amazing peers like these, check out more about the program and its selection criteria here. Our next cohort kicks off September 2022!

Revolutionizing insurtech: How Baoba is providing customized insurance products with efficient returns across the globe

To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’, a blog series dedicated to putting women founders centre stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins!

We hope to push women-founder stories forward and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

This week, we had the pleasure of chatting with Kata Ludvig, the Founder of Baoba, to learn more about her startup and how she’s modernizing the insurance industry to keep up with expectations of the 21st  century customer.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you founded Baoba?

I spent my early career working across various Fortune 500 companies, including Mercedes, Red Bull and Walt Disney. I was first exposed to the world of startups when I co-founded BankZee, a family banking solution for Generation Zers and their parents. I then led Flight Refund as CEO, a legal aid solution for travelers and also consulted for location intelligence and deeptech company Datapolis where I spearheaded business development in Singapore. It was only last December I finally decided to take the plunge and found my current startup Baoba.

It was actually during my time at Flight Refund, where we dealt with delay-related airline compensation cases, that I saw the need for flexible travel protection as an aftermath of the pandemic. Three weeks after I had joined the company as CEO, over 90% of planes were grounded due to the pandemic. This is when the significance of financial protection and the need for flexible insurance really hit me and it inspired me to radically rethink insurance products beyond airline delays. Users today don’t have access to personalized insurance coverages – it’s still a one-size-fits-all product. In a world where we customize almost every aspect of our lives, insurance coverage was falling behind.

Airplanes on tarmac - How Baoba is revolutionizing insurtech

What exactly is Baoba’s mission?

Baoba is on a mission to change the way insurance is sold – we believe that the insurance industry needs to catch up to the expectations of the 21st century customer.

Baoba is offering what today’s customers need – a personalized and automated on-demand service that can insure. By providing personalized insurance that can adapt to our customers’ habits and lifestyles, we hope to become the global ecosystem orchestrator for intermediaries and resellers for on-demand insurance needs.

Despite Baoba being an early stage startup, you’ve already set up shop in Canada, the United States and Hungary. How has your experience been working across global markets? How important was it for you to have a global presence?

The decision to break into new markets was not only a conscious decision made by the company, but a necessity due to the nature of the industry. Our distributors and insurance partners operate internationally, so we had to make our products available globally and adopt a multi-market mindset from the get-go. We have an international team scattered across the world spanning Hungary, Italy, Turkey, France, Costa Rica and the United States.

While working globally has its benefits it also has its difficulties as well, including administering payroll and working across timezones. Public facing efforts also need to be managed more carefully, like public relations in different countries and multilingual customer support.

Our global presence is also extremely important from an investment perspective. Being a CEE (Central and Eastern Europe) Founder, it’s tough to break into the North American market. However, we’ve been able to attract talent, partners and angel investors from all over the world. I have no doubt that the DMZ will play a huge role in supporting us as we break into new markets and finesse our North-American go-to-market strategy.

The insurtech market has skyrocketed globally, projected to reach nearly $190 billion CAD by 2030. Could you tell us a little about the momentum the industry is facing?

It’s easy for millennials and Gen Zers to take personalized products and services for granted, as this has become the norm. Today, almost every aspect of our lives is customizable, and the financial and banking industries have been cashing in on this movement.

Insurance at its core is a hassle for most of us, as a result of inconveniences such as manual claims processing, lengthy documents, confusing language, unclear conditions, and long payout processes.

Insurtechs have not only recognized that there is an issue to solve, but have also identified opportunities to improve the insurance value chain. This ranges from improving claims processes, to AI and machine learning-driven solutions, to data-driven fraud detection and customizable insurance products.

Girl working at computer - How Baoba is revolutionizing insurtech

Baoba recently announced a partnership with Blink Parametrics to roll-out a flight-delay solution. What exactly does this new partnership mean for Baoba?

Our partnerships with Blink Parametric enables us to further expand our client portfolios with valuable, automated and on-demand travel insurances that are supported by claim processing and real-time pay-out solutions. This is our sweet spot – where world-class insurtech and customer experience collides.

Now our partners can connect to our platform with a single API to embed parametric products or sell standalone products.

What advice would you give founders looking to break into the insurtech space?

  • Think fresh – A background in insurance isn’t necessary, having a novel idea and asking the right questions are your way in. Someone who has worked in the industry for say, 20 years might be too comfortable to shine light on a new perspective that reflects the needs of the current market.
  • Know your purpose – Narrow down a clear value proposition and strategy, and focus on building that. As you grow, you will be presented with many opportunities and emerging innovations in various areas of the industry. It can be very tempting to differentiate and try to tackle several areas, but you don’t want to take away from your core offerings, values and promises.
  • It’s a small world – Despite being a global industry, insurance industry insiders are well-connected through incumbents, insurtechs, challengers and investors. It’s crucial to network and build strong relationships, as well as have a solid unique selling proposition.

What’s next in store for Baoba?

Baoba’s next steps include closing an upcoming seed round of $1.5M USD and expanding into North America. We are also looking for niche talent working at the cusp of data science and insurance to help us flesh out an intricate product strategy and bridge our minimum viable product with our five year vision.

Head over to Baoba’s website to learn more about how Kata is revolutionizing the insurance industry.


Want to learn more about how you can help Baoba on their journey? Reach out to their team at

Meet the DMZ’s Spring ‘22 startup cohort

DMZ’s Incubator is a market validation and traction program that helps venture-backable pre-seed and seed-stage startups execute their go-to market strategy, acquire lighthouse customers, gain media exposure, explore global expansion, preparing for the next round of funding, and much, much more.

Out of hundreds of the high-calibre startup founders that applied from Canada and around the world, the DMZ hand-picked 11 tech companies to join a new 18-month cohort in the Incubator. 

This cohort has startups joining from Vancouver, Canada to Budapest, Hungary, across diverse industries like logistics, insurtech, fintech, proptech, and more.

Introducing our Spring ‘22 Incubator cohort:


AssetFlo is building the next generation of location products to help the supply chain increase visibility with a single device that works everywhere and eliminates costly infrastructure.

Baoba is creating street-smart insurances by combining location intelligence with technologies to create geo-triggered coverages. Baoba’s vision is to become the #1 global ecosystem orchestrator for on-demand insurance needs and the platform for connecting a fragmented market.

Carmodity partners with car dealerships to provide lease-financing to customers in a debt-free and interest-free model.

Cozii Technologies provides sustainable residential and commercial properties management services. Their flagship product Cozii Proptech allows residential landlords to manage their rental properties from anywhere in the world.

Lightster is a mobile platform that enables tech startups to build instant user communities for input and co-creation, and rewards users for their time with exclusive access and cash.

Businesses, governments, and individuals share many important documents every day. myLaminin uses Blockchain to deliver security, convenience, and control to the document issuer, document holder, and third-party document verifiers.

Reyts is a marketplace that allows individuals to swap currencies seamlessly and securely.

SizeWize offers an AI-backed fit recommendations eCommerce app that ensures online shoppers can buy the right size online, providing reduced returns, increased conversion, increased AOV, targeted marketing and optimal supply chains. 

ShiftRide is a car subscription service allowing people to subscribe to cars listed by owners and dealerships in the community. Every subscription comes with maintenance, insurance options, and flexible terms that suit any lifestyle.

VRapeutic is an Ontario-based UNICEF Innovation Fund portfolio software house specializing in developing therapeutic and rehabilitation solutions, with a focus on virtual reality (VR) for learning and developmental challenges.


If you are an early-stage tech founder interested in joining DMZ’s Incubator, check out more about the program details and selection criteria here.

The biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs in the last year

It’s no secret that wins in the startup ecosystem are tough. Whether it’s securing a grant, closing a round of funding or landing your first big sale, making it takes grit and determination. But, do you know what’s even harder? Doing it all as a Black entrepreneur. 

Black founders face systemic barriers in accessing lucrative entrepreneurship opportunities in Canada. Starting and growing a business is hard, and as a result of the added challenges and obstacles Black founders have to deal with, Canada’s startup ecosystem has a massive underrepresentation of Black-led ventures. 

In light of Black History Month, the DMZ wanted to share the biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs in the last year. While the wheels of change are beginning to spin, we recognize much more still needs to be done and are committed to empowering Black founders with the coaching, mentorship and resources needed to take their business to the next level. 

So, let’s dive into some of the biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from the last year.

Tunde Omotoye won $20,000 at the DMZ’s inaugural Black Innovation Summit

Black Innovation Pre-Incubator Alumni

CEO and Co-Founder of HumanSquad, Tunde Omotoye, came in 1st place winning $20,000 at the DMZ’s inaugural Black Innovation Summit.

HumanSquad helps newcomers navigate immigration and their career paths by connecting them to licensed immigration consultants in Canada.

“Before joining the DMZ’s Black Innovation Pre-Incubator, we didn’t understand concepts like ‘user journey’ or ‘OKRs’. Now, we understand customer profiling and engagement, and key client-related key performance indicators to look out for that can impact our bottom line and boost our top line.” – Tunde Omotoye, CEO and Co-Founder of HumanSquad

Lola Adeyemi secured $180,000 on Dragons’ Den
Biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from last year: Lola Adeyemi

AMEX Blueprint Alumni

Lola Adeyemi, Founder and CEO of It’s Souper, pitched her hearty and spicy Afro-fusion soup and sauce line on the iconic CBC show Dragons’ Den.

Recognizing the void for ready-to-eat Nigerian packaged foods, Lola was inspired to bring West African herbs and spices to the North-American market.


TruLocal acquired for $16.8 million

Biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from last year: Marc LafleurTruLocal, a market-leading, locally sourced meat subscription service in Canada, was acquired by Canadian e-commerce Emerge Commerce for $16.8 million.

Founder and CEO Marc Lafleur introduced local farmers, producers and suppliers to the power of e-commerce, connecting them with thousands of loyal, health-conscious consumers across the country.



Tony Colley named a top social impact founder

Biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from last year: Tony ColleyBlack Innovation Program Social Impact Stream Alumni

The Founder and CEO of Be One to Give, Tony Colley, was recognized as one of Future of Good’s top 21 social impact founders. The list recognizes founders working on a promising solution for a more equitable, sustainable, caring post-pandemic Canada.

Be One to Give is a food redistribution app for businesses that eliminates avoidable food waste in daily operations.


The Urban Guide secured a partnership with the City of Toronto

Black Innovation Program Social Impact Stream Alumni

Biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from last year: Peter OdlePeter Odle, Founder of the Urban Guide, secured a partnership with the City of Toronto, for a special city-based game called ‘ShowLoveTO Urban Game’. The game encouraged players to use their mobile devices to explore Toronto on New Year’s eve and win prizes.

The Urban Guide is a digital solution that uses self-guided city tours to reconnect people to their cities.


Adewunmi Akingbola awarded the Diana Award

Black Innovation Pre-Incubator Alumni

The Founder of HealthDrive Nigeria, Adewunmi Akingbola, was awarded the Diana Award, which recognizes inspirational youth from around the world who have demonstrated their ability to inspire new generations to serve their communities.

HealthDrive Nigeria, an initiative in the South West of Nigeria, aims to raise awareness, test and vaccinate people against Hepatitis B.



SmartTerm expanded its services to Canada and is now serving Canadian clients 

Black Innovation Incubator Company

SmartTerm, an education management platform, officially expanded into Canada.

Their solution digitizes school processes leading to improved efficiencies for governments, school administrators, teachers and students.


“Being able to incorporate our business in Canada was one of our biggest achievements with the DMZ so far.” – Jayme Hoyte, Co-Founder of SmartTerm.

Reeddi selected as a finalist for Prince William’s Earthshot Prize

Black Innovation Pre-Incubator Alumni

Launched by Prince William and the Royal Foundation, the Earthshot Prize is the most prestigious global environment prize in history. Further, the prize aims to turn the current pessimism surrounding environmental issues into optimism, by highlighting the ability of human ingenuity to bring about change.

Founder of Reedi, Olugbenga Olubanjo, was a finalist for the award; his solution provides portable rechargeable battery units to consumers from a vending machine powered by solar panels.


Reyts,Welkom-U and Be One to Give secured their chance to pitch at the DMZ’s upcoming Black Innovation Summit

Black Innovation Program Social Impact Stream Alumni

oluwatosin-tosin-ajibola-e in grey blazerAyobami Macaula and Abimbola Adegbite, Co-Founders of Reyts, Oluwatosin Ajibola, Founder of Welkom-U, and Tony Colley, Founder and CEO of Be One to Give, from the DMZ’s Black Innovation Program Social Impact Stream came out on top at their cohort’s demo day.

abimbola in maroon coatWhile all of the startups are working with a social mission and purpose, the three companies are zeroing in on different societal issues. Reyts is a marketplace that allows individuals to swap currencies in a seamless and secure way. Welkom-U focuses on improving the experience of immigrants to Canada so they can become contributing members of society faster, and Be One to Give is a food redistribution app for businesses that eliminates avoidable food waste in daily operations.

The three companies will have the chance to pitch their startup for funding at the DMZ’s annual Black Innovation Summit.

“Trying to launch a payment service with [Black] skin is almost impossible and because of the help of the DMZ we are so close to our goal after one-and-a-half years of trying, trying and trying. It’s hard to [be told] no, and it’s hard [to be told no] because of who you are. We are now 1 email away from everything we have been working towards.” – Ayobami Macaula, Co-Founder and COO of Reyts

The celebration of Black founders in the ecosystem doesn’t end here. On February 24th the DMZ will be hosting its second annual Black Innovation Summit to showcase Black innovation in Canada. Plus, we’ll be giving away $50,000 in total funding to Black-led startups at the DMZ.


Want to tune in to see the next generation of Black founders pitch at the DMZ’s Black Innovation Summit? Register here

Learn more about the DMZ’s Black Innovation Programs here.

Podcast advertising: Your startup’s next secret weapon

To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’, a blog series dedicated to putting women founders center stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins!

We hope to push women-founder stories forward and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

For this week’s feature, we handed the reins to Rand Abou Ras, the Founder and CEO of uCast and expert in startup development, to learn about podcast advertising and why more startups should be turning to the underrated advertising method.

Guest blog: By Rand Abou Ras, Founder and CEO of uCast

Podcast advertising is not new, but it has become increasingly popular as more people have turned to podcasts as their choice of media throughout the pandemic. I’m sure my fellow podcast junkies have heard a GoDaddy or Better Help ad once or twice while listening to their favourite series.

Podcast advertising is a great way for startups to get visibility. In this blog, I’ll share more about how podcast advertising works, why startups should consider leveraging it, and how uCast makes podcast advertising easy.
podcast station with imac headphones and microphone

Podcast advertising 101

There are a couple of different models to consider when exploring podcast advertising rates.

  • CPM (Cost Per Mille), the most common model, is a host-read ad that’s determined by the show’s number of listeners and their rate per 1000 listeners. A CPM campaign is shown to generate the highest conversion rate over time because of its direct ‘host-to-consumer’ approach.
  • CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) is an affiliate model that larger retail and consumer brands most commonly use. With CPAs, a podcaster is paid a commission for every sale they secure through the use of promo codes. While this may be seen as a ‘safer’ avenue, results show that CPA models lead to low conversions.
  • Hybrid is the ideal model for startups that are new to the space and are looking to experiment. The hybrid model consists of a CPM fee and commission for each secured sale. So, startups would be paying a fixed fee for the campaign, and commission on each conversion made by the host.
  • Programmatic advertising is a model that automates the buying and selling of online ads. This is the same model YouTube adopts for their ad campaigns. Ads are inserted into the podcast audio randomly for each individual listener based on their demographics.

Startups and podcast advertising

Podcast listenership is growing at a steady pace, and the pandemic has supercharged its growth. Podcast advertising is a great way to get your message in front of an audience who will actually listen. Today, 78% of podcast listeners approve of podcast sponsorships and 67% can accurately recall the brands featured.

Podcasting has created a community amongst consumers and offers a personalized experience, making it the ideal environment to target ads to your audience. Plus, it’s still in its infancy, which diminishes ad avoidance and competition. For startups, it’s one of the most cost-effective and best-converting forms of advertising. Other advantages include story-telling capabilities, cross-promotion opportunities, and high audience engagement.
two women sitting at a podcast table with a microphone and laptop with flowers in the background

Where uCast comes in

 uCast is a marketplace and ad management platform for podcasters and advertisers to launch ad campaigns quickly, safely, and accurately. Our mission is very straightforward; we aim to simplify how podcast advertising works today.

It should be easy for podcasts to sell ads, and it should be even easier for advertisers to find the right podcast to advertise on. We plan to be the go-to marketplace for podcasters and advertisers of any size and on any budget.

Our platform uses a matchmaking algorithm to connect the right advertiser to the right podcaster with the highest ROI potential. With the majority of existing solutions solely focused on maximizing revenue, uCast helps advertisers maximize ROI, and addresses common pain points for advertisers and podcasters like ghosting, lack of communication, ‘scammy’ behaviour, and trust.

We are redesigning the podcast advertising process. uCast is designed to instill trust, communication, and provide a ‘podcast-advert’ fit. We focus on matching campaigns with podcasts that will generate the highest ROIs based on numerous factors. Furthermore, we are investing in a rating system for podcasters and adverts to provide transparency for both parties.

Join uCast’s waitlist to access over 15,000 podcasts, and get your first two episodes for free by filling out this form.


You can also head over to our website to learn more, or reach out to Rand directly here.

10 gift ideas we love from BIPOC-owned businesses

Looking for the last gift on your holiday shopping list this year? The DMZ’s Holiday Gift Guide will help you cross off any last minute presents, and support small BIPOC-owned businesses from across Canada!

Here are our top picks for the holiday season that we guarantee will bring a huge smile to your loved ones faces.

Girl Gang Strong

This holiday season, gift the teen in your life Girl Gang Strong’s Christmas holiday gift box! The Girl Gang Strong boxes feature 5-8 specially curated self-love, self-care goodies including skincare products, phone accessories, stationery, and jewelry.

Mahara Mindfulness

Featured on Oprah 2021’s Healthy Living List, and POOSH, the Human Being Journal by Mahara Mindfulness is perfect for the busy go-getter seeking mindfulness practice to help decrease stress and enhance well-being. With guided questions rooted in the fundamental pillars of a happy life, the 12 month guided journal provides a deeper sense of being. Plus, the DMZ community is eligible to receive 15% off!  Use the code ‘DMZ15HBJ’.

Organic Bytes

For the foodie in your life, why not get them a sweet treat from Organic Bytes? Their cakes are free of refined sugars and white flours, making them the perfect zero-guilt option for the holiday season. Plus, they offer vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and lactose-free options!


It’s Souper

It’s Souper’s afro-fusion gourmet soup and sauce line is the perfect gift to share among food enthusiasts.From meat lover’s chili to vegan roasted carrot and paprika soup, their delicious recipes made with high-quality ingredients have been featured on Dragon’s Den and Go Solo.

New Pie Co.

Give the gift of baked goods this season! Made for pie lovers by pie lovers, New Pie Co. offers handcrafted pies, cinnamon buns, thai iced tea meringue, ube swirl buns, and more. Their mission? Create a memorable pie experience through creative flavours and thoughtful presentations!

Blair and Jack

For the skincare guru on your list, Blair and Jack offers physician-developed skincare products specifically formulated for men. Receive a 10% discount by signing up for their subscription service at checkout!


For the health nut on your list, check out NeoJuicery’s cold-pressed, never pasteurized, micronutrient juices. Made with local and organic ingredients sourced from Ontario, their juice packages support fasting goals, boost immunity, reduce inflammation, and are 100% zero waste!

Najj Hair

The perfect gift for any fashionista looking to refresh their look, Naij Hair offers luxury ready-to-wear hair extensions and wigs. Designed for Black women, by Black women, their wigs arrive fully customized and can be heat styled and coloured.

Wabanaki Maple

Authentic indigenous maple syrup, Wabanaki Maple, offers a wide range of maple products that offer a twist on familiar tastes. Their products are naturally refined, offering three signature flavours, each handcrafted and aged in small batches!

Floofy Pooch

Shopping for a pet parent? Check out Floofly Pooch’s dog accessories. From leashes,bandanas, harnesses, collars and more, there’s something for everyone’s furry friend! From now until Christmas, Floofy Pooch is offering 20% off all dog bundles. 

Looking to harness your entrepreneurial spirit in 2022? Applications for the DMZ’s Incubator and Pre-Incubator programs are now open.


Head over to the DMZ’s website for full eligibility requirements and program information

Startup culture post-pandemic: What’s changed, and why we’re excited

Hear from founders at the DMZ and Entrepreneur First about how the pandemic influenced the startup world, and what the future of business and work looks like moving into our new post-pandemic norm

The pandemic transformed entrepreneurship and the professional work environment as we know it.

But now as restrictions lift and the world shifts into its “new normal”, we’re coming into a clearer vision for the future of work. That certainty brings a huge sigh of relief to many founders, and they’re excited to hit the ground running. Entrepreneurs, by nature, need to be able to connect in a physical presence – that’s ultimately how the world’s greatest innovations come to be.

Four founders at various stages of startup growth reflect on their experiences as entrepreneurs over the last couple of years and share why going back to the office is helping them grow and evolve their startups’ working styles.

three startup founders sitting at the DMZ in a meeting looking at a laptop

The pandemic spurred a wave of first-time entrepreneurs

A new study this past June revealed that one in five Canadian entrepreneurs started their business within the past year. Those who started their business during the pandemic did so due to reasons like having more spare time, financial pressures from the pandemic, and being laid off.

entrepreneur first logoThe desire to create impact through entrepreneurship rather than travel a more traditional career path resonated with Grigoriy Kimaev, a Ph.D. graduate. His interest in entrepreneurship piqued further when he heard about Entrepreneur First (EF), a talent investor that runs cohorts in six cities across the globe with a location in Toronto as of last year. 

Fast forward to this year, Grigoriy is now a Founder-in-Residence in EF’s second cohort, following through on his entrepreneurial ambitions.

Grigoriy credits his desire to build a business to the profound societal change brought on by the pandemic. “People and companies were far more eager for change during the height of the pandemic than in low-stress times… I felt I’d hate myself if I didn’t try to build a venture,” Grigoriy said. 

Despite the uncertainty of the pandemic, Grigory was excited to embark on the entrepreneurial journey at EF with like-minded people who were equally ambitious and ready to build.

Back to environments that spark innovation and productivity

Those who became entrepreneurs during the pandemic had a unique experience. While many had more spare time to devote towards building a business, remote work and isolation had their disadvantages. For one, entrepreneurship can be a lonely endeavour. But beyond that, building a startup in the early stages requires collaboration, networking, and access to mentors. 

Furthermore, it’s no easy feat for small teams to be productive in a virtual arrangement, especially when they’re new. Some aspects of running a business simply can’t be replicated in a remote setting. Building team spirit, forming peer-to-peer connections, and managing people in general can pose challenges when done virtually, and that’s why so many startups founders have eagerly awaited a return to normalcy. 

headshots of founders from entrepreneur first toronto
This year, MaRS became EF Toronto’s home. For Grigory, the atmosphere of the office has helped him feel recharged, being surrounded by enthusiastic and motivated fellow founders. Grigory describes it as a “spirit of innovation” that’s immediately felt after passing through EF’s doors. If you’ve got a great business idea and you’re ready to find a co-founder like Grigory, Entrepreneur First is currently accepting applications for their next cohort until December 12. 


Working IRL (in real life) with your team is essential when growing a company from the ground up

Like Entrepreneur First, the DMZ was eager to welcome founders back this fall after nearly a year and a half of being closed, and DMZ founders have also felt the immense benefits of being able to work on their startups, alongside their teams and other founders, in a physical presence.

Two Co-founders, Sarah Rennick and Cherry Xu, had been living three time zones apart when building and launching their company Alli during the pandemic, Sarah in Toronto and Cherry in Vancouver. Once the DMZ re-opened, Cherry hopped on a plane and made the trek across the country to finally be able to work with Sarah face-to-face.

“I wanted to work with Sarah in person and be able to meet the broader DMZ community,” explains Cherry. “It’s always exciting to meet others who are risking so much to pursue their passion.” 

Cherry adds that her move has helped productivity and having a sense of connection with others. “Working in the office is conducive to not only productivity, but it helps me mentally as well. Zoom can be draining and the human connection gets missed. Meetings are a lot more enjoyable in person.”

“Try as you might, organic conversations that happen in the office just don’t happen the same via scheduled calls!” Sarah adds.

One founder who decided to adopt a hybrid work model is Leonard Ivey, Founder of Softdrive. “Our team sees value in both the remote and in-person working environments,” explains Leonard, who was eager to start working in the DMZ space on a regular basis upon its re-opening this fall. 

founders sitting at desk pods working in the DMZ
“The DMZ’s atmosphere lends to increased productivity in many ways for the team, and communication is a lot easier when you’re a small team in a startup that’s growing rapidly. But as we expand our team at Softdrive, we also want to enable remote work and empower our team with a flexible work model.”

Creating smart co-working solutions that work 

Nimbus Learning, Mero Technologies and SingleKey met during their time at DMZ’s Incubator back in 2019. This past summer, the three companies made a decision to split co-working space as they came back to the office with their teams. William Liu, a Co-founder and the CEO of Nimbus Learning, shares how it’s been a game-changer in helping each startup thrive.

“Obviously, there are the cost benefits. Rent is quite a bit more affordable when you have three companies splitting the cost of the office space,” William explains. “Beyond that, I’ve seen growth happen amongst all employees of the three companies that share the space.” 

He also points out that working in the same space with other like-minded individuals promotes knowledge sharing. “Our teams – sales, client success, and marketing –  share ideas, processes, tools, and strategies with their counterparts at the other companies,” says William. He mentions that having late-night conversations with the founders of the other two companies has been tremendously helpful and an opportunity to share insights. 

four founders around a table talking at the dmz
“I think it’s a perfect setup for any startup that’s not quite ready to have their own dedicated space, but still wants a co-working space that’s cozier than something like a WeWork,” he adds.

At the end of the day, founders know that a certain kind of magic happens in a startup environment that can’t be experienced through a computer screen. 

The DMZ has welcomed founders back to the space, and we’re ecstatic to say the least. Truly, there’s nothing like watching our founders build connections, reach milestones, and hit new levels of success, especially in person. We’ve now introduced a hybrid model, giving founders the flexibility to access the DMZ’s programming both in person and virtually. 

If you’re a tech founder ready to validate your business model, raise your first round of funding, and scale your startup, learn how DMZ’s Incubator can help.

If you’ve got a great business idea and you’re ready to find a co-founder, Entrepreneur First is the place to meet your match and hit the ground running. Don’t miss the chance to apply for Entrepreneur First Toronto’s third cohort. Applications are open until December 12, 2022. 

These social impact startups are changing the world for the better

Introducing the Black Innovation Program Social Impact Stream and its inaugural cohort of startups

Social entrepreneurship has become a rapidly-growing approach to business, and for a good reason – social entrepreneurs are pioneers focused on tackling some of the world’s biggest societal issues. 

Together, Unilever Canada and the DMZ have launched the Black Innovation Program’s (BIP) Social Impact Stream: a 6-month business incubator program designed to support Black entrepreneurs with a social mission. The program allows entrepreneurs to tap into lucrative industry connections and growth resources to build on their existing solutions and ultimately drive impact in Canadian communities.

Over the course of the 6-month program, socially-driven organizations are equipped with the tools, mentorship and community needed to generate company growth while accelerating their ability to create meaningful change and contribute to their core mission.

Hear from the founders of companies in the inaugural cohort of the BIP Social Impact Stream on how they’re working to drive social impact, and what they’re hoping to achieve for their organizations over the course of the program.


B12Give creates a circular economy redistributing lost or wasted surplus food along the supply chain to food-insecure communities and support agencies across Canada. Tony Colley, the company’s Founder and CEO, explains that B12Give leverages a sustainable, tech-based solution to lower the overall cost of food waste, reduce GHG emissions, and reduce the overuse of our natural resources while feeding millions.

The company has big plans they’d like to accomplish over the next six months. According to Tony, the company hopes to scale the app across the GTA, expand its executive team, activate partners with locations in different markets, and secure an angel investor.


Detailing Knights provides an eco-friendly and waterless mobile auto detailing and car cleaning service. In terms of driving impact, Ryan Knight, CEO, explains the company’s purpose goes beyond just car detailing.

“What we are most proud of is our Youth Entrepreneurship training program, which empowers youth coming out of detention an opportunity to run their own detailing business while exploring various areas of entrepreneurship.”

Ryan explains that the company’s next objectives include creating a roadmap for a new product line and upskilling their current team. “Doing this helps us bring in support to fine-tune our operations in preparation for licensing our brand outside of Ontario, across Canada, and into the U.S.”


EduCare’s global mission is to improve graduation outcomes for students with disabilities through a tech-enabled platform that connects colleges/universities and health care providers. Fowzia Mahamed, the company’s Founder, explains that the company provides an opportunity for schools to improve graduation rates for students with disabilities. 

The company hopes to develop its knowledge base in building a go-to-market strategy, including a pilot for licensing the software as a service platform in collaboration with colleges/universities and community health centres.

Over the next six months, Educare aims to set up a pilot with two colleges and community health centres and to license a beta version of the EduCare software as a service platform.


eimhe is a wellness management platform for the workplace. Jefferson Roc, the company’s Founder, hopes to increase emotional intelligence amongst people and their communities.

“I applied to the BIP Social Impact Stream because I believe our concept can help solve challenges around mental illness and addiction. We want to fill the gaps in our go-to-market strategy and ensure we cover our blind spots.”

Jeffer explains that the company’s next milestones include bringing their MVP to market, conducting their first proof of concept and securing $150K in non-dilutive grant funding.


Jesina Studios works with refugee women in Toronto to design and develop handmade, customizable, and high-quality home decor and gifts.

“We believe this program will help us provide stable employment and professional development for refugee women who typically experience employment barriers in Canada,” explains Samantha Simunyu, one of Jesina Studios’s Co-founders.

The company hopes to refine its product offering, develop a go-to-market strategy and build meaningful relationships with other social innovators throughout the program. 


MakeRoom empowers marginalized and emerging artists with the resources to reach broader audiences and funding opportunities through various means, including projection installations.

Trevor Twells, the company’s CEO and Founder, explains that MakeRoom’s main mission is to provide funding and exposure for emerging BIPOC artists in particular.

The BIP Social Impact Stream will help the company scale up its regular operations to have more venue partners. The company aims to finalize its advertising revenue model, make industry connections to create advertising partnerships, and receive mentorship that will advise the founding team on how to reframe these partnerships and discover other monetization models.


OffTech aims to make high-quality education accessible to students in rural Canada in areas with no broadband connection. “We applied for the BIP Social Impact Stream because we believe the mentorship, connections, and tools we’ll receive from this program will offer valuable insights into the feasibility of our proposed solution.” says Ayman Abdulkadir, Co-founder of OffTech.

Over the next six months, OffTech hopes to validate its solution of making high-quality education accessible in rural Canada.


Outlit helps to educate the next generation of banking clients and ultimately aims to drive impact by helping new immigrants obtain financial freedom and a higher quality of life. Josh Earle, the company’s Founder & CEO,  explains that he applied to the BIP Social Impact Stream “to connect with, and learn from, like-minded entrepreneurs that are trying to represent the underrepresented collective of people.”

The company aims to fully launch its product, obtain over 250 users, and partner with nonprofits, schools, and financial institutions over the next six months.


Redeem Clothing Recycling is a for-profit company that provides a platform to donate used clothing items from the comfort of users’ homes.

Oghenemine Jarikre, the company’s Founder, diverts clothing waste in Canada and upcycles them into fashion accessories on the company’s platforms. Oghenemine hopes to increase human capacity, raise funding and improve donations through the program.

“I applied for the program to learn more about growing and running my startup. I believe the DMZ can provide the visibility my company needs, the right partnership, resources, and funding,” explains Oghenemine.



Reyts builds inclusive fintech solutions via a marketplace that allows users from minority communities to access and exchange underserviced currencies in a seamless and secure way.

Through the Black Innovation Program Social Impact Stream, Reyts hopes to bring the application to life by tapping into more financial services that can bring much-needed change to the payments space for immigrant communities. 

According to Ayobami Macaulay, the company’s Co-Founder, Reyts aims to regularize its compliance stance in Canada, onboard a banking partner and a payment service provider, and onboard the company’s first 1000 users within the next six months of the program.


Solooble is a mobile app that helps users monitor their financial commitments in real-time to keep on track with saving goals and never miss another bill payment. Lemuel Barango, the company’s Co-founder, hopes to reduce financial anxiety among Canadians.

“I applied to Black Innovation Program to contribute to, and benefit from, a network of Black innovators trying to drive social impact,” Lemuel explains. The company’s business goal for the next six months is to increase its user base to 500 users.


The Urban Guide (TUG) is an app that offers semi-virtual games and self-guided city tours that strengthen the urban cultural connection. The SaaS product enables rapid learning using gamification and predictive self-guided walking tours to enhance the familiarity of new cities and reduce culture shock.

Peter Odle, Founder of TUG explains he hopes to broaden his business knowledge, obtain the tools necessary to validate TUG, and surround himself with a group of Black entrepreneurs who embody a success mindset.

The Urban Guide hopes to grow their international Black business network by 200%, secure 5 additional institutional customers, and enhance the app UX to facilitate easier onboarding and user accessibility within 5 seconds.


We Funded It provides Afro Canadians with financial and mentorship resources for educational and entrepreneurship development. “I want to gain access to the DMZ network and raise funding to drive my organization forward,” explains Diana White, the company’s Founder and President. “We also hope to apply for charity status with the Canadian government and develop a corporate sponsorship program.”

We Funded It drives social impact by making finance-free funding and tailored mentorship accessible to improve economic empowerment, mental health, and overall well-being in Canada’s Black community.

Welkom-U provides pre-arrival settlement services to drive retention and grow the population of newcomers using technology. Tosin Ajibola, the company’s Co-founder & CEO, explains that fertility decline and population out-migration have resulted in a rapidly aging population in Atlantic Canada.

“We are using our technology and resources to attract a younger demographic, facilitate and encourage retention, and ultimately aid population growth,” explains Tosin. “As a Black-identifying tech and social entrepreneur, I’m hoping to network and understand how BIPOC are fairing in metro cities, and learn how to incorporate my findings in emerging cities in Canada.”


Interested in learning more about the BIP Social Impact Stream and keeping up with these companies? Read more here.


Supporting moms and dads through the ups and downs of parenthood: How Alli Therapy is taking a parent-centric approach to mental health

On Wednesdays, we startup.

To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’, a blog series dedicated to putting women founders center stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins!

We hope to push women-founder stories forward and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

This week, we sat down with the Co-Founders of Alli Therapy, Sarah Rennick and Cherry Xu, to learn more about Alli Therapy’s tailored mental health solutions for parents, and their thoughts on the massive growth in the mental health space. Plus, we had the chance to connect with one of their certified therapists, Michelle Winterburn, MSW, RSW, to unpack some of the biggest misconceptions about parenting therapy and more.

Alli Therapy is an online emotional and mental health tool to support families through the journey of parenthood, with more than 34 million parents in North America living with mental health issues their mission is to support moms and dads through all stages of parenthood.

Sarah Rennick, Co-Founder & CEO of Alli Therapy

Before founding Alli Therapy, Sarah founded Mama Mobile, an in-home wellness service company for moms and moms-to-be. Unfortunately, as a result of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, Mama Mobile had to cease operations. Wanting to still support the community of parents Sarah had fostered, she reached out to her clientele to gain a better sense of what they felt parents alike needed help with.

“I reached out to the Mama Mobile community to gain a better understanding of what parents actually needed — to see what services or solutions would make their lives easier as they moved through parenthood, said Sarah.

This is how the idea for Alli Therapy came about. While the majority of digital mental health and therapy solutions out there provide great services that are highly needed, rarely do these solutions offer services designed specifically for parents.

“20% of mothers today have postpartum depression, and 57% of parents say parenting is a top source of anxiety,” said Cherry. “A lot of parents experience mental health problems, yet we only ever highlight the rosy side of parenthood. We want to destigmatize therapy for parents, and highlight that everyone has the same doubts when it comes to parenting.”

Cherry Xu, Co-Founder & CTO of Alli

Cherry was also working in the wellness space before founding Alli Therapy, and was introduced to Sarah while she was leading Mama Mobile. Recognizing the opportunity in service marketplaces and being a mental health advocate herself, Cherry pitched herself as a Co-Founder to Sarah, and the rest was history!
Alli Therapy provides an all-in-one solution for busy parents to connect with a therapist that best suits their needs. With the use of matching technology, users are connected with therapists that are not only a great fit for the user’s stage of parenthood, but also their personality.

“We provide all of our users with a free intro session to ensure they feel comfortable with their matched therapist, ” said Sarah. “You’d be surprised at how many people abandon therapy due to a lack of fit, and making sure our users felt good about their matched therapist was really important to us.”

“20% of mothers today have postpartum depression, and 57% of parents say parenting is a top source of anxiety,” said Cherry. “A lot of parents experience mental health problems, yet we only ever highlight the rosy side of parenthood. We want to destigmatize therapy for parents, and highlight that everyone has the same doubts when it comes to parenting.”

The mental health startup landscape is beginning to see a real shift as funding has reached a record $852 million USD globally in the first quarter of 2021, nearly twice the amount raised during the same period in 2020. Cherry attributed the industry’s momentum to the rise of mental health awareness.

“We’re seeing high profile celebrities speak up about their own experiences with mental health, and while we still have a ton of work to do, the stigma is slowly beginning to lift. People like Meghan Markle, The Duchess of Sussex, and Simone Biles, the US olympic champion, are opening up about their experiences, and this sparks conversations around mental health, while also demonstrating that we all face our own challenges, and asking for help is okay.”

Sarah added that seeing TalkSpace, one of the largest providers of online and mobile therapy in the world, IPO earlier this year really solidified the need for mental health services and the opportunity for startups to innovate.

Alli Therapy prides itself on having therapists that actually speak parent. Users can find individual or couples’ support with therapists who specialize in all types of parenthood challenges.

Michelle Winterburn, MSW, RSW, Alli Therapist

Michelle Winterburn, one of Alli Therapy’s therapists, highlighted that stigma and financial restrictions are some of the biggest barriers when it comes to parents accessing mental health services.

“Many people think seeking therapy means they are a failure. Although we have come a long way in shifting the perception of mental health and wellness, the stigma persists.

Finances are always a consideration, especially with a new family. All Alli therapists are licenced and registered, making their fees reimbursable through most extended healthcare plans or as an eligible medical expense on taxes. Therapy may be more affordable than you think.”

Michelle believes Alli Therapy’s approach when it comes to helping parents is truly unique. She highlights three main pillars that differentiate their services from other mental health providers: specificity, accessibility, and affordability.

“The journey of parenthood comes with unique challenges at each milestone. Alli Therapy supports clients from pregnancy planning to empty nesters, which can be a 16-20 year journey. All of our therapists have a special interest in helping parents and have taken additional training in helping parents navigate parenthood related challenges.

It can be hard to find specialized clinics in rural areas. We make specialized therapy accessible to anyone, regardless of location. Further, getting out of the house takes a lot of logistics and planning for parents. Alli Therapy makes it easy for them to have sessions from the comfort of their own homes.

Lastly, Alli Therapy is committed to not leaving any parent behind. We don’t want anyone to not seek therapy due to budget constraints. To accommodate clients on parental leave who may not have insurance, we offer a sliding scale option to offer our services to those who cannot afford the full price.”

Michelle also stresses that seeking parenting therapy does not equate to failure. “This is a huge misconception in the space, but we are all interconnected, and sometimes we need to seek help as much as we are giving help.

As parents we are always giving. When the pandemic hit, we had to continue to give –  but without the support of others in the ways we once had. This takes a heavy toll on many of us, and having a safe space to talk about the highs and lows of parenting with a skilled, non-judgmental, therapeutic lens can make a huge difference for so many.”


Want to learn more about Alli Therapy’s personalized support for parents? Check out their website to learn more.


Alli Therapy is looking to fuel their growth to provide more parents with the services they need. Interested in teaming up with Alli to improve mental health support for parents? Reach out to Sarah Rennick and Cherry Xu!

« Older Entries

Newer Entries »