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Unlocking success: 4 tips from Black women tech leaders


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Unlocking success: 4 tips from Black women tech leaders

Insightful lessons on financial planning, personal empowerment, purpose-driven leadership and a hustler mindset.

In collaboration with
Black Women Talk Tech, DMZ held an evening designed to highlight the success of Black women in tech by bringing together the ecosystem to spark conversations on how to empower founders best. 

Black Women Talk Tech provides Black women with a platform to voice ideas and access support. Today, it’s become the largest gathering of Black women tech entrepreneurs, inspiring countless others to follow in their footsteps and make their mark in the tech industry. DMZ was thrilled to partner with them for their debut event in Canada.

Here’s a breakdown of the event’s key takeaways for Black women in tech navigating the ecosystem:

  • Plan for financial readiness
  • Harness your personal experiences
  • Identify your north star and go for it
  • Develop a hustler mindset

Our esteemed panel featured a lineup of accomplished individuals:

Here’s what they had to say.

Plan for financial readiness

When it comes to entrepreneurship, financial readiness is everything. Giselle Melo, Founder and General Partner of
MATR Ventures, encourages entrepreneurs to get a head start on financial planning. From understanding your runway to knowing when the optimal time is to seek funding, meticulous planning and financial readiness enabled Melo to launch MATR Ventures in 2021.

By following her lead and having a strong grasp of your finances and where you head as an entrepreneur, you’ll be positioned to turn your dreams into a reality when the timing is right.

Harness your personal experiences

Having established her name in the pharmaceutical industry, Brenda Ahenkorah, the Founder and CEO of
My Well Self, was disappointed to see the lack of support and resources available during her own personal health challenges. After conducting extensive research herself, Brenda realized that she needed to take matters into her own hands and launched My Well Self.

Brenda’s success with My Well Self is a testament to leveraging our personal stories as sources of innovation and motivation to fuel our entrepreneurial pursuits.

Identify your north star and go for it

As the Executive Director and Venture Partner of
League of Innovators and Venture Partner of Capital M Ventures, Melissa Allen’s lesson stems from her own experience that led her to transition from the corporate world to entrepreneurship. As a financial advisor, she noticed that her clients — who were women of colour — faced steeper financial challenges than their counterparts. Recognizing that those who thrived often had side hustles, Melissa saw an opportunity for impact, which motivated her to step into entrepreneurship.

For Allen, her driving force comes from a desire to influence positive change and ensure equitable representation at decision-making tables. She emphasized the importance of having a guiding north star to turn to when the journey gets tough, and obstacles are thrown your way. 

Develop a hustler mindset

Ehizogie Agbonlahor, the Founder and CEO of
Anutio, shed light on the importance of developing a hustler mindset. A mindset that can be broken down as unwavering determination and relentless resourcefulness, Ehizogie identified a gap in career guidance tools and decided to develop Anutio. 

Embracing a hustler mindset involves resourcefully leveraging all available means, as demonstrated in her case by tapping into the expertise of her brother’s AI skills to build the platform and by doing everything she possibly could to get her first 500 sign-ups.

Ehizogie teaches us a very important lesson here — avoid waiting around for opportunities; instead, actively seek and create them. 

Feeling inspired? Embark on your entrepreneurial journey with DMZ. Our Black Innovation Programs equip Black founders with the tools, resources and community to succeed. Learn more at and apply today.


Tackling Canada’s supply chain challenges head-on

Learn how these DMZ startups are harnessing AI to build world-leading supply chain solutions

It’s no secret the world is grappling with some
serious global supply chain issues. Since the onset of the pandemic, supply chains everywhere have been impacted – leading to product shortages and jacked up prices. 

You’ve probably noticed there are a few things on your holiday shopping list that are out of stock. Retailers and businesses everywhere are feeling the squeeze, and it’s only going to get worse if we don’t look to innovative tech-powered solutions. 

So, what is going on and what are we doing to help Canada ease some of its supply chain chaos? We’re glad you asked. 

Since March 2020, the world has experienced multiple waves of lockdowns, meaning factories everywhere have had to shut down for weeks or even months at a time. This has led to massive bottlenecks in our supply chains, with manufacturing disruptions and shipping delays. 

To say our supply chains are in utter havoc would be a gross understatement, but if there’s anything we have learned about our DMZ startups, it’s that they love a good challenge. 

We sat down with startups from our Supply AI Program to get their take on what’s going on and to learn more about their AI-powered solutions that are working to help.

A high-tech and low-cost provider of industrial and infrastructure construction materials, Material Supply leverages technology to make it effortless for buyers to get the best prices. 

Headshot of Andrew Allen, the Founder and CEO of Material Supply
Andrew Allen, Founder and CEO of Material Supply

Andrew Allen, Founder and CEO of Material Supply, points to the slow rate of technological adoption as one of the biggest challenges in supply chain management today. 

“The rate of adoption to more efficient technologies and antiquated business models is too slow today.” 

By offering a complete and easy-to-use procurement solution that creates efficiencies from manufacturer to end user, Material Supply is working to pioneer how we tackle global supply chain challenges.

“The rate of adoption to more efficient technologies and antiquated business models is too slow today.”

The first automated consulting management system uniting consultants and clients, Indie Tech gives procurement teams the tools to monitor, manage and mitigate supplier risk by tracking the performance of their suppliers in real-time.

Sophia Stone, Founder and CEO of Indie Tech, attributes a lot of today’s supply chain management issues to data and transparency. 

Headshot of Sophia Stone, the Founder and CEO of Indie Tech
Sophia Stone, Founder and CEO of Indie Tech

“The keys to the future of the industry rely on better and more transparent ways of viewing data and managing suppliers across tiers with greater insights.”

Sophia highlights that the tools and quantitative framework Indie Tech provides for risk managers is working to solve supply chain issues by empowering users to act proactively. “We help suppliers better manage their risk, before they see disruptions.”

“The keys to the future of the industry rely on better and more transparent ways of viewing data and managing suppliers across tiers with greater insights.”


Netwila is an integrated freight application platform and service that leverages AI for forecasting, operations, and asset deployment.

Headshot of Bob Vuppal, the Co-Founder and VP of Products and Technology of Netwila
Bob Vuppal, the Co-Founder and VP of Products and Technology of Netwila

Co-Founder and VP of Products and Technology, Bob Vuppal, highlights the global pandemic has not only put stress on our supply chain networks but has exacerbated existing problems.

“There’s no real easy way for companies to manage their operations across transportation forms and geographies, primarily due to fragmented networks and legacy systems. We save our companies money, increase data management across nodes and modes, support operational management of data, contracts and shipping, and manage out-of-stock.

“There’s no real easy way for companies to manage their operations across transportation forms and geographies, primarily due to fragmented networks and legacy systems.”

While the world’s global supply chain crisis is a result of pandemic lockdowns, now is the time to take action to not only resolve existing issues in the network, but embrace new AI-powered solutions to ensure its resiliency to future disruptions.


If you are a Canadian AI venture creating world-leading supply chain technology and are interested in joining the DMZ’s Supply AI program, check out eligibility requirements and program information here.

Our next cohort starts in February 2022. Applications are open until January 23rd at 11:59p.m. EDT. 

Winners announced for the DMZ and Penny Appeal Canada’s Hack Against Hate

Find out more about the teams of young Canadians who took home a collective $20,000 in cash prizes to further pursue their business ideas in the Hack Against Hate Challenge

There’s been a sharp rise in hate crimes across Canada these past few years, and it’s time to put a stop to it. In fact, Canada has
seen a record high in police-reported hate crimes since 2009.

As Canadians, we tend to think our country doesn’t have these sorts of issues – but we must recognize the shortcomings in our systems, and collaboratively work together to develop solutions that mitigate hate in an effort to make our world a more safe, inclusive, and happy place to live.

In the wake of the rising number of hate crimes, the DMZ and Penny Appeal Canada teamed up to launch Hack Against Hate.hack against hate graphic The 4-day national competition took place between November 23rd and 26th and challenged young Canadians to brainstorm and build a prototype for a digital solution that combats hate crimes. At the end of the Hack Against Hate competition, a panel of judges picked the top 4 teams to each receive $5,000 in cash prizes.

The hackathon kicked off with 40+ teams. Each team went through professional training and mentorship on building and pitching a tech solution. Participants received hands-on support to ideate and build innovative anti-hate tech solutions and took part in expert-led workshops on design thinking, product development, UX/UI, customer discovery, pitching, and more.

Last Friday, the DMZ and Penny Appeal held the finals where the winners presented their solutions. The finals were open to the public and featured speakers from the DMZ and Penny Appeal Canada, as well as keynote speaker Nabeela Ixtabalan, the Executive VP of People and Corporate Affairs for Walmart Canada.

Naveed Tagari, Programs Specialist at the DMZ, and Nabeela Ixtabalan, Executive VP of People and Corporate Affairs at Walmart Canada

The DMZ awarded $20,000 in funding to help teams kick-start their solutions. While all of our winning teams were comprised of high school students, their solutions to put a stop to hate crimes were anything but juvenile. 

Check out the winning teams!


Team Members: Arya Peruma, Harshul Gupta, and Peter Lee

PROtectABot is an AI-powered bot that filters hatred and educates users on harmful content on social networking platforms. 

“Discord is a very popular social networking app that has over 150 million monthly users. However, it does not have built-in or external systems to prevent hatred from spreading,” highlighted Arya.

“Discord is a very popular social networking app that has over 150 million monthly users. However, it does not have built-in or external systems to prevent hatred from spreading.”

Harshul explained how Discord played a large role in the deadly 2017 Charlottesville protests, as it was used to coordinate logistics and encourage violence for the rally. “Though at the time Discord cracked down on hate crimes, there is no real-time personalized moderation in Discord, which is exactly what we were hoping to tackle with this project.”

Social media icons


Team Members: Harsehaj Dhami and Samantha Ouyang

Pridect is a solution working to ensure pride parades are safe spaces. The app uses safe zone mapping and distress signalling. 

Haresehaj highlighted the rise in hate crimes at pride parades, and how some members of the LGBTQ+ community are left feeling scared to attend.  “So many different people from different backgrounds come together to unite for the pride they have for themselves. But it can be dangerous. Hate crimes at pride parades are at an all-time high.” 

“There is no tangible solution currently that is working to improve safety at pride parades. But we want to change that with our app. Parade-goers and organizers will now be able to obtain the utmost safety.”

“There is no tangible solution currently that is working to improve safety at pride parades. But we want to change that with our app. Parade goers and organizers will now be able to obtain the utmost safety.”


Team Members: Adam Omarali, Eamonn Lay, Colin Hill, and Navid Farkhondehpay

Specula is working to make people aware of racial biases before they post on social media platforms to reduce harmful psychological effects to others.

“Race is one of the biggest biases that lead people to commit hate crimes, and physical hate crimes are way more prevalent than online crimes,” explained Adam

Adam also spoke to how a lot of physical hate crimes today are actually driven by psychological bias. “Our explicit and implicit biases are shaped by the media. They impact how we view things. At some point, if you can express hate, these biases can come out in physical crimes.”

A man holding a sign at a rally that says, 'hate is a virus'.


Team Members: Gabriel Bernal, Ryan Chan, Aryan Jha, Yelim Kim

Unhate is an AI tool that helps detect hate speech online and can be integrated into consumer apps and educational services.  

Gabriel spoke to the rise of hate speech and its unfortunate prevalence online around the world. 

“The internet was supposed to be something that would connect the world, but instead it’s leading some people to their death. This is exactly why we felt compelled to solve this problem.”

Unhate leverages over 100,000 categorized real tweets to train its AI models, allowing it to be extremely accurate with its services.

“The internet was supposed to be something that would connect the world, but instead it’s leading some people to their death. This is exactly why we felt compelled to solve this problem.”

Itching to transform your innovative idea into a real-life solution? Follow the DMZ on Instagram and Twitter for announcements on future hackathons!

DMZ’s holiday gift guide: 8 unique ideas you haven’t thought of yet

Still working through your holiday shopping list? Stuck on deciding what to give your loved ones this holiday season? We’ve rounded up a collection of one-of-a-kind gifts for every person on your list. 

Here are 8 unique gift ideas you probably haven’t thought of yet.

For the interior design enthusiast

Daakor portfolio. Image of a living room
Give the gift of interior design and help someone experience the luxury of having their space professionally designed. 

Daakor’s experts in interior design are passionate about helping clients turn their visions for their home into a reality. From start to finish, Daakor’s interior design is personalized to your tastes, time and budget. 

Give a Daakor Design Plan to help your loved one take out the hassle of furnishing their home and help them create a space that looks and feels like a sanctuary.

For the foodie or dinner party host

From deluxe charcuterie baskets filled with gourmet goodies to smaller baskets filled with sweet and savoury snacks, FreshSpoke has curated delicious gift baskets at a variety of price points. 

Best of all, FreshSpoke’s products are all made locally, so you can spread joy while supporting farmers and food artisans. These gift options are wonderful corporate gifting ideas but also great for friends and family. Gift cards are also available in any denomination.


For the news buff

If you have that friend or family member who is constantly keeping tabs on the news, gets sucked into polarized politics or is an avid follower of conspiracy theories, the Ground News Premium plan is for them.

Ground News has tools that enable you to objectively see the political coverage bias of any story on the internet, and easily access a myriad of different perspectives on that very same story. 

Ground News is unveiling its new and most comprehensive package, the Premium plan. With the Premium plan, you or your loved ones can identify bias in the news (whether you read it in-app, online or on your Twitter feed) and get a balanced all-sides view of the news.

For the content creator or music lover

staats product
Staats makes personalized Spotify and Apple Music song plaques and Creator Awards – perfect gifts for music lovers, budding content creators, and loved ones.

The company’s journey started on the App Store building a custom trading card maker, and along the way they developed some amazing products to share with the world. These gifts have become viral trends! Today, in the Staats app, users can customize these items and purchase them, but the company also sells them separately on Etsy.



The gift that gives back

Rumie is changing lives just 10 minutes at a time. One in six young people are unemployed as a result of COVID-19. Rumie aims to replace the time youth spend on social media each day with an engaging learning platform that delivers transferable life and career skills. 

This holiday season, donate on behalf of a friend, colleague, or family and give a gift to a whole world of young learners. A donation will contribute to Rumie’s 2021 goals: Create 250 Bytes, fill 1 million jobs, and reach 1 million youth. 

For the sentimental friend

video collage
When people receive a surprise group video gift, they universally love it, and are often drawn to tears. However, there’s a lot of effort and technical skills involved to create one.

Celebrate makes it easy for anyone to create, collect and share a group video. The app guides the users through the entire process, giving them easy-to-use editing tools, avoiding much of the complexity of full-featured general purpose editing apps.

Key features of Celebrate include an invitation wizard guiding users to create a compelling request that includes video, text, suggested topics, and due date, and an Editing Suite to add text, music, GIFs, cards, pictures and do basic editing.

For the homeowner
person shovelling

Think Uber, but for snow removal! LocalStudent is an online platform that connects customers to students that can help with various services, changing the way that students find work. 

This winter, LocalStudent is offering on-demand snow removal. Support students looking for work while giving your loved one the ability to sleep in and skip shovelling the driveway on cold winter mornings.

Buy a gift card or get a free quote today at


For the best (worst!) dressed

Want an effortless way to get a man a perfect gift? Get him a
gift card. Mannr is a luxury personal styling and delivery service for men. Mannr allows users to conveniently shop with the help of a dedicated professional stylist and get personalized options available from any brand.

This holiday season, Mannr’s has an exclusive offer for gift cards: buy a $300 gift card and get $350 worth of services, or buy a $500 gift card and get $600 worth of services.

Are you a DMZ member with a product that makes a great holiday gift? Let us know and we’ll add you to our gift guide.

What’s it like being a “parentpreneur” during the pandemic?

For parent founders working full-time from home, managing a company while raising kids has been one of the more trying aspects of the pandemic.

Between handling screaming children while on conference calls at home and dealing with the stress of sending kids back to school, parents with young children haven’t had it easy this pandemic. Remote working as a result of COVID-19 has greatly affected life at home as we know it, and in some cases, has completely changed family dynamics and parenting styles.

Most entrepreneur parents, or “parentpreneurs”, have the privilege of working from home, even in the absence of a pandemic. That doesn’t mean keeping kids home for remote learning has been easy.

DMZ founders share their experiences while working from home with kids. Inevitability, there have been challenges – but parents have also seen some surprising silver linings come out of it. 

If you’re a parent in a similar situation, you might find comfort in hearing that no family has perfected life during a worldwide pandemic. Hear what these founders are saying!

The switch to distance learning and remote working

Tweepsmap’s Samir Al-Battran, Founder & CEO and Erin Heywood, Manager of Operations, are a parent duo with three school-aged children. As soon as the pandemic hit in March, Tweepsmap had already begun remote work. Samir and Erin felt prepared ahead of their school’s shutdown and, all things considered, were appreciative of their situation as parents.

“We’re lucky. Not everyone has the luxury to work from home or has a business that can continue without much disruption,” explains Erin. She adds that it helps that her children have two tech-savvy parents and enough devices in the home to make distance learning physically possible for three kids in one household.

Zeze Peters, Founder & CEO of is also a parent of three: two school-aged children and a newborn. He claims that parenting during the pandemic has been both amazing and tricky – something that many parents can relate to: “Before COVID, my wife and I were complaining that we didn’t have enough time to spend with our kids. Mid-school year, we got our wish – but not on great terms.”


Balancing work and family life

Kate Mansouri, Founder & CEO of Pennygem has had her hands full in 2020. For Kate, it’s been a year of firsts – she’s growing her first startup and has become a mother for the first time. Most of the Pennygem team consists of women that have children, so as a leader, Kate has been understanding of parenting struggles during a pandemic. 

“It’s been tough for them. Sometimes parents are sitting in a meeting, their kids walk in and ask a million questions and they have to turn the camera and microphone off to attend to the kids. It can be tough to stay on track and be productive having your kid around,” Kate explains. “I, myself, have to wake up at 5:00 a.m. every day. My most productive times are from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., and then in the evening when my baby goes to bed.”

For Samir and Erin, working for the same company has both its benefits and drawbacks. “The challenge is that kids are screaming while you’re trying to have a call with a customer, so it’s been different – and Erin can’t work as much as she could before because she’s taking a lot of the load from our children being at home.”

Zeze’s sentiments are similar, stating that client meetings and managing a team has been a little tricky with the kids home from school. “Sometimes they’ll come in and join my meetings, which actually doesn’t always bother me, but it does break your workflow. There’s a concept in technology called context switching: going from business work to funding work, to team management work, writing technology, to responding to emails and then, of course, dealing with kids. A context switch takes your mind from one mode to another mode. Working from home, my daily productivity went through the floor. As an early-stage startup, every hour matters, especially when I’m leading a team,” Zeze says.

Plans for this school year

In August, provincial governments and school boards across the country began announcing plans to send kids back to the physical classroom this fall for the 2020-2021 school year. The COVID-19 pandemic posed yet another dilemma for parents. While at-home work productivity would surely improve, the potential spread of the virus amongst kids is something parents have to take into consideration.

While Kate has a newborn baby and doesn’t yet have to make a decision on whether to send her child to school, she knows most of the parents on her team have found it difficult balancing family and work life, and will likely be opting to get kids back into a routine. “I think [the parents] would be taking the option of having kids go back to school. It’s been very tough on some of them. Many moms are looking for ways to take their children back to daycare or school, even if it’s part-time,” Kate explains.

Erin and Samir say they’ve made the decision to keep their three kids home for remote learning, at least for the start of the year. Erin mentions that, in continuing remote learning, there will be bumps in the road – but it won’t feel like the same emergency it was in the Spring for her three kids. “The school has a set mandated time for teacher-led learning every day. The kids will have to be in front of a computer, and some people are complaining about screen time – but frankly, this is the choice you’re making for your child if you decide to keep them home.” Erin also says that if class sizes were smaller, they would consider sending their children back to school. But with potentially 25-30 in a classroom, there won’t be much physical distancing.

Samir mentions that the decision to keep kids home will help with the consistency of their learning. “We’re thinking about sustainability. If things get bad again and schools shut down, it would be disruptive to their school year. If we get them online from the beginning, at least they will have more stability in their learning.”

Zeze and his wife have also opted to keep their two school-aged children in the virtual classroom for now. “As good as the intention is to have teachers bear the brunt of the cleanliness for large periods of the day, it’s just hard to be perfect,” Zeze explains. “There are hundreds of kids. With COVID, even though small kids may not have strong symptoms and develop issues, it may not be the same for their parents and grandparents.”

In it for the long haul? Parenting WFH tips and silver linings

As the digital workplace and classroom may very well be our reality for the next while, we asked founders if they have tips to offer other parents for improving work-life balance and family dynamics in the current environment. Parents also explain that amidst the pandemic, they have seen some benefits to keeping the family at home – and have been embracing the silver linings that have come with it.

Erin and Samir are grateful that they even have the ability to work from home and spend more time with the family. In terms of tips for keeping the family happy and productive, Erin adds: “Each case is different, every child is different. You can’t listen to what everyone is telling you. Try to come up with a solution that works for your own kids, your company and your life. It’s important to listen to your kids and what their needs are.” As an example, given the government’s social bubble restrictions, Erin and Samir have been flexible with allowing their daughter to spend more time than usual socializing with friends online. 

A practical solution for Zeze’s family was to establish a consistent daily routine in which his kids finished school work first thing in the morning. “Before they did anything else, they had to get their school work done early in the morning. By about 10:00 a.m., they would be done for the day. My wife and I could get back to being productive with our own work.”

As a founder whose team has been working in a digital format since the company’s inception, Kate doesn’t plan to bring her startup into an office setting post-pandemic – at least not full-time. Her team sees great value in Pennygem’s remote working policy. 

Kate explains that some mothers on her team have appreciated the extra bonding time at home with children. “My hope is to provide them with an opportunity to have meaningful input, but at their own convenient time. It’s working really well for us. We’re very flexible,” Kate adds. “The situation was a big eye-opener for a lot of people. We were required to work from home all of a sudden, and many of us have discovered that it’s working. It’s tough, but you learn to work around it.

Zeze adds that a silver lining to this crisis has been that his family is making special memories that they will cherish forever. “The kids have picked up arts and crafts, they paint now too. We’ve been having barbecues together, we’ve built a farm full of fruits and vegetables which the kids have helped plant and harvest. Every day when they go out to play, it’s cool to look out the window and see them playing in the backyard. It makes us feel happy.”

If you’re a parentpreneur working from home with kids, share your experiences and tips with the DMZ on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn!

Organizations that prioritize 2SLGBTQIA+ initiatives throughout Pride Month, and beyond

It’s June – Pride Month – and although this year’s celebrations are inevitably looking a little different due to a worldwide pandemic, that doesn’t change the fact that 2SLGBTQIA+ communities around the globe are coming together virtually to celebrate the freedom they have to be themselves. Both Pride Toronto and Ryerson, among several organizations, have moved annual activities to a digital format.

At the same time, Pride this year also comes at a time where cities around the world are protesting the death of George Floyd, police brutality and systemic racism, reinforcing the connection of both movements and the importance of intersectionality. It serves as a reminder of Pride’s roots of protesting inequalities, and also as a time to acknowledge the historical roles that Black activists played in the fight for gay rights. 

DMZ pride flag

Equity over everything

At the DMZ, our number one value is equity over everything. While diversity in Canada’s tech ecosystem is improving, it has a long way to go. We reinforce our commitment to equity and inclusion by levelling the playing field for diverse founders coming into our programs. Not everyone begins at the same starting line, which is why we provide tailored support to ensure every founder who walks through our doors succeeds – regardless of their sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, gender or ability. 

“At the DMZ, our focus is on the people behind the products and helping them successfully build their business. We recognize the experiences and challenges that 2SLGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs have are unique, meaning those individuals may require different approaches or types of support” explains Vanessa Shiu, DMZ’s Manager of Administration, Diversity & Inclusion. “When we develop our programs and services, our team consistently asks the question, ‘how do we make sure we are being inclusive’ and ‘how can we break down barriers for diverse founders’. Above all, we make sure we listen to our founders’ experiences and their feedback to inform us how we can help with their unique challenges.”

From day one of our programming, we also support our startups in making diversity a priority across all areas of their own business – from recruiting talent to building product offerings. We’re proud to see the value that diversity carries amongst the startups that come through our programs.

Off2Class, a DMZ alumni startup that combines interactive ESL lesson content with the power of a student management system, is a great example:

“Diversity for us is a business imperative. We service clients in 100+ countries. If our workforce wasn’t diverse, we simply wouldn’t be able to scale to the extent we have.” Kris Jagasia, Founder of Off2Class explains. “Our team is made up of newcomers, LGBTQ+ individuals, females, Muslims, Hindus and white males! We also show our dedication to diversity and inclusion by representing diverse individuals on our blog.”

We reached out to our greater community to ask organizations about their ongoing initiatives supporting the 2SLGBTQIA+ community – and not just during Pride month, but also year-round.

The Fasken Pride Network

Fasken, a DMZ Professional-in-Residence (PiR) and full-service law firm with offices in Canada, the U.K., South Africa and China, is committed to diversity in the workplace year-round. Diversity is a key element in the success of the Firm, helping to foster inclusiveness and encouraging innovation. Overseeing this effort is the Firm’s Diversity Committee. In recognition of its importance, the Committee is co-chaired by the Firm Managing Partner.

The Fasken Pride Network was established to encourage internal, client, and prospective client development of 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion and community development. Fasken openly encourages Firm members, clients, friends and any interested community members to attend and participate. Every June the Firm hosts an award-winning educational and networking event to bring the community together – it’s the highlight of the month, one that everyone looks forward to.

“Diversity and inclusion are our strength, and we welcome talented professionals from all backgrounds, races, origins, beliefs, and orientations to be part of our community,” says Marc Rodrigue, Partner and member of the Pride Network.  “Though we recognize Pride especially in June, with the support of our clients and staff, we support our shared Pride all year.”


In 2015, DMZ PiR
Goodmans was the first major law firm in Canadian history to enter a float in Toronto’s annual Pride Parade, an event witnessed by millions across the country and around the world. As a firm, they’ve never looked back.

Goodmans is committed to showing their True Colours, always.

“Whether it’s showing sector leadership as a founding member of the Law Firm Diversity and Inclusion Network (LFDIN), to upping the ante with the firm’s annual Pride celebrations, throughout the year, Goodmans collective love and support for the LGBTQIA+ community and culture of inclusivity is at the core of everything they do.” – Goodmans

While 2020 plans have now evolved to a virtual experience, Goodmans will be celebrating throughout June with special Pride events that can be accessed by all members of their community, including their families. These Pride events include children’s activities; a Drag Queen story-time and a Pride related science lesson, themed virtual cooking master classes, meet-ups framed within a virtual day in the life of Pride, and unique video initiatives. 

Venture Out

DMZ has partnered with Venture Out (VO) on events and initiatives to celebrate Pride and bring awareness to the tech startup ecosystem. VO is Canada’s largest tech non-profit organization connecting members of the LGBTQ+ community with the expanding technology sector, including entrepreneurs, start-ups, role models, career opportunities, and professionals. 

“VO’s commitment to the LBGTQ+ community means presenting content beyond the sanitized Diversity & Inclusion narrative that often permeates these spaces and exploring more impactful, unignorable topics, such as the intersection of race and class, climate change and surveillance capitalism.” 

The organization’s annual tech conference, which has been a success over the last three years and has grown to attract over 650+ attendees, 45+ sponsors and 10+ community partners, was postponed due to COVID-19. 

VO is participating in several Pride month activities, including:

  • June 22: TechProud – Small Business & Digital Skills Week in collaboration with Google, LinkedIn, and Microsoft | Register here
  • June 26: Pride 2020 – Designing for all: Why Accessibility Matters in collaboration with General Assembly 
  • TBD:  Senior LGBTQ+ Leadership in collaboration with Venture Out’s parent organization, StartProud, and RBC 

Learn more and find out how you can participate here.

Earlier this year, VO also hosted “Let’s Talk Employee Resource Groups” and an LGBTQ+ Career Fest for students and professionals.

Through the eyes of an entrepreneur

Andrew Wells is the CEO of Pinch Financial, a DMZ alumni, tech founder and member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community – he explains he’s been fortunate to have felt supported by employees, investors and commercial partners throughout his entrepreneurial journey. “There is a strong kinship amongst LGBTQ founders in Toronto as we appreciate the privileges we have are the result of the hard work that was put in by those that came before us. There’s a sense of shared responsibility that comes with this and we do what we can to support one another as a result.” Andrew explains. 

Andrew also explained initiatives that have truly made a positive impact in the community. “When I worked at RBC, we had an incredibly impactful LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group (ERG). In addition to creating a sense of community and togetherness, the ERG was also responsible for creating awareness throughout the organization of matters that were important to our community.  What made the ERG efficacious was its access to senior leadership. Change within any organization requires top-down leadership, so having the ear of RBC’s c-suites made all the difference.”

Can the DMZ help amplify the diversity and inclusion work your organization is doing? If you’re a partner or DMZ alumni, reach out to us at

5 questions for tech entrepreneurs

Our world has fundamentally changed, and the future of business has changed with it. As entrepreneurs, our biggest concerns from eight weeks ago, such as “How do I manage my dilution?”, have been replaced with “How do I survive the next month?”

Then, capital was freely available and we had a good handle on customer behaviour. Now, investors have sidelined themselves to take care of their companies and customers have done a complete 180. We no longer operate in the old state of normal, and there’s little point in looking back.

If you’re a tech startup founder, this might well be your first economic crisis – even your first market cycle change. Stress levels are high and difficult decisions need to be made every day.

What is an entrepreneur to do? Where to focus efforts? What questions should be asked? To survive or even thrive in the new normal, entrepreneurs must be asking themselves five questions:

1) What is my legacy approach and how is it hindering me?

Think back to when you started your company. Was it you and your cofounder working around a kitchen table? That’s when your legacy approach was first formed. How you made decisions together, how you defined your priorities, how you structured your company. Then you grew from a team of four to eight to 16. Your organizational structure was solidified, and your early culture was born. As you went from your series A round to your B round, you gave investors different rights and you established different classes of shares. All of this defined how decisions would be made and who had a seat at the table.

Now is the time to reassess this legacy approach and consider how it might be hindering you. Does it take a week to get a decision from your board when it should only take a day? Is your reporting structure causing needless frustration? Do some stakeholders have too much say in your day-to-day? Are you handcuffed by a certain process? All of these issues can bog you down and get in the way of decision-making.

Time is in short supply. It should be measured in days, not weeks or months. All your time should be spent on anticipating the future, preserving optionality and extending your runway, not on dealing with old issues that don’t serve the new normal.

2) How can I increase my speed and agility?

Entrepreneurs that come out of this crisis intact will take time now to increase their speed and agility.

In the absence of a crystal ball, the best thing they can do is maximize their ability to turn on a dime. Swiftness and flexibility will also help you maximize your cash runway and give you optionality – two critical factors that will determine who survives and thrives.

Don’t forget, many great iconic companies were born in times of crisis – General Motors, General Electric, Google, Apple, Microsoft. These companies weren’t created during market highs, but times of extreme stress. They knew that by staying speedy and nimble, they’d be able to go where the puck was headed.

3) What stays and what goes?

COVID-19 is already forcing society to question what’s essential and what’s not. It’s shown us our dirty habits and wastefulness. We’re wondering whether norms developed decades ago, like maintaining a sprawling office instead of allowing employees to work from home, are still relevant.

Now is the time to adopt a lifeboat strategy: Take what you need and leave what you don’t. As we paddle to safety, we have a unique opportunity to jettison what was bogging us down – to clean up our balance sheets, look at our options, extend our runways, reassess our table stakes. 

4) How should I use the time now to think through the next wave of innovation?

Governments have acted quickly to help Canadian companies extend their cash runways. They’ve given entrepreneurs time to think through next moves. This is a big opportunity for Canada’s tech sector: Although we punch above our weight class in discovery and innovation, we’re well below where we could be in terms of commercialization.

Difficult as is it, this crisis will lead us into a new economy founded on innovation. This will create enormous opportunities in emerging industries, such as telemedicine, patient-centred digital health, AR/VR and digital experiences, online learning and education, business continuity technology and virtual event management.

Looking to the future, we should expect that there will be more crises of this scale. Another pandemic is possible, even likely. The impacts of climate change will continue to be felt. Our world is changing rapidly and now is the time to think big and innovate fast.

5) Who can I turn to for good advice?

For the past 11 years, we’ve been living in a bull market cycle – for many entrepreneurs, the only cycle they’ve experienced. The new normal can be intimidating.

Now is the time to find the right advisors. Someone who can be a true sounding board and co-pilot. The best advisors may not default to existing board members since investors can sometimes make suboptimal decisions in order to protect their slice of the pie. Entrepreneurs should look for people who have gone through difficult market cycles before, people who understand how not to cling to the bubble. Seek out support that you think will move your company in the right direction.

In conclusion, now is the time to take action. Not tomorrow — today. If you don’t make hard decisions now, your company might become a victim to another – one that’s faster or more agile. Right now, clinging to the past is your biggest boat anchor. It may be hard to see, but the future is your biggest opportunity. You can do this. And where you can’t, the right people can help you through it.

The fine art of the humble brag


To thrive in a competitive global marketplace, Toronto-based startups must embrace the humble-brag, says Abdullah Snobar, executive director of the DMZ, a world-leading, not-for-profit tech accelerator in downtown Toronto.

“Sales is the biggest segue to success” he explains. It’s going to help make a start-up a global enterprise down the road.”

But the sales pitch often doesn’t come naturally to tech startup founders, many of whom got into the game because they saw a consumer problem and had the know-how to build a technological solution.

“If you look at Canadian culture, we’re not known to be assertive,” he says. “So for entrepreneurs, it’s about embracing the humble brag. Not being arrogant, but being proud of what you’ve been able to accomplish.”

That’s why the DMZ launched a sales accelerator in 2016. Designed to help tech businesses become global enterprises, it helps companies grow from startup to scale-up.

Capital Follows Sales

The program focuses on developing an aggressive sales method, building a sales-oriented team, providing marketing support and equipping founders with the leadership skills they need to create global impact.

Throughout a four-month period, world-class mentors assess a startup’s needs and customize a growth strategy that encompasses all aspects of the business.

The capacity to create revenue is what startups need now, says Snobar. The program helps founders realize that capital follows sales.

“For us, this is a new narrative” he says. “Toronto has been in an episode where we’ve been helping a lot of early-stage companies come to life, become market ready…Now they need to acquire customers that can get them to scale.”

The DMZ ranked #1 in the world

Located at Yonge and Dundas Square, the DMZ at Toronto Metropolitan University was ranked as the top university-based incubator worldwide by UBI Global in 2018.

It’s home to as many as 70 startup companies at any given time, providing open-concept spaces on six floors of an office tower that looks out over the square.

Each quarter, six startups are accepted into the sales program. They relocate their teams to set up shop in an environment that’s meant to create a sales mindset – complete with a gong to bang when a deal gets made.

Starting in 2019, the accelerator is expected to expand significantly, quadrupling the size of the quarterly cohorts.

Mentorship makes a difference

The DMZ’s sales program helped Casalova an online real estate marketplace that streamlines the processes of buying or renting a home, scale up in 2017.

The company now boasts a downtown headquarters and a staff that includes a team of independent sales agents. Thanks to a $2.5-million investment from Aviva Ventures, a U.K. – based fund, Casalova is on track for more growth in 2019.

“Our business wouldn’t be where it is today without the DMZ” says Ray Jaff. Casallove co-founder and CEO, pointing to the accelerator’s community of startups, accountability structures and introductions to investors as factors in the company’s success.

But what really helped Casalova crack the code of scaling was mentorship from the DMZ’s coaches, who were embedded in the business and helped the company refine day-to-day practices as well as leap large hurdles.

“It was helpful to have access to people who had been there, done that,” says Jaff. “I knew I could try to learn on my own, through trial and error, or I could have a 30-minute sit-down and save months and thousands of dollars in lost time.”

Exposure to a global marketplace

Participants in the accelerator program attend events with founders from across the region and intimate workshops with industry leaders. They also go on a two-week, multi-city road trip to key global markets such as New York and San Francisco for curated, one-on-one meeting with customers and investors.

The overarching goal is to create a competitive sales mindset so startups can reach their full potential. If they’re acquired, they can earn what they deserve.

“The mindset has changed,” says Snobar. “Whereas before it was a major milestone to be acquired for a million dollars, now the stakes are higher. Now we’re saying: Let’s become a sales behemoth.”


Becoming a Cybersecurity Hero

Technology continues to evolve at a cheetah-like pace and Canadian companies are helping to shape its future. But within this era of seemingly infinite technological breakthroughs, the challenge has become the need to safeguard companies (and us!) from cyberattacks. And it’s tough because the better companies (and us!) get at protecting themselves, there always seems to be a new threat knocking on the door.

This means, in Canada and around the world, there is a need for more innovators in the field of cybersecurity. Basically we need more cybersecurity heroes.

“It has become incredibly important to protect personal and customer data and because of that we need some great players to make possible change happen” said Abdullah Snobar, Executive Director of the DMZ, at the launch of CanHack 2018.

Partnering with the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), the DMZ at Toronto Metropolitan University helped to foster the next generation of cybersecurity experts through CanHack, a competition exclusively for Canadian high school students. It’s just one of the ways RBC is supporting and creating meaningful work opportunities for students in the cybersecurity space.

CanHack is challenging students over the course of two weeks to work with industry experts and learn cybersecurity skills, an essential set of capabilities in today’s commercial sector.

Adam Evans, VP, Cyber Operations and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at RBC emphasizes that major businesses are becoming more and more digitized, creating a dire need to digitally protect customers. As a result, organizations like RBC have to change the way they hire. Companies don’t necessarily need individuals with the technical skills to solve the cybersecurity issues of today.

“Companies are looking for people…with the critical thinking skills who can solve really hard problems really quickly”

Developing problem solving and analytical skills was at the core of CanHack; students didn’t necessarily need advanced computer programming skills to participate. The competition’s problem sets were spread across four levels, with critical thinking and innovative problem-solving at the core of every problem set. Winners will be announced on November 27, 2018.

To find out more about cybersecurity, the newly launched Canadian Centre for Cybersecurity is actively protecting important government services against digital assaults and a wealth of cybersecurity information can be found at the Cybersecurity Awareness Month website.

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