Skip to Main Content
The Review

You’re invited! Women Founders: Stories of Resilience

Category Archives: Uncategorized

You’re invited! Women Founders: Stories of Resilience

You’re invited to join the DMZ for our annual International Women’s Day event!

On March 8th at 1:00 PM EST, we are bringing together our community once again to highlight stories of resilience after a uniquely challenging year.

Tune in to hear firsthand from inspiring women founders, the hurdles they’ve faced, and how they have thrived through challenging times. Join this hands-on session to engage with fellow entrepreneurs and want to celebrate the achievements of women!


Amoye Henry, Co-Founder of Pitch Better


We’re thrilled to announce our line-up of trailblazing women:

RSVP here to reserve your spot.

Dream of getting acquired one day? Get first-hand insights from a founder who’s done it

Derek Hopfner, DMZ alum and Co-Founder of Founded, gives an inside scoop on the motivation behind building the startup and getting acquired, along with advice founders should consider to achieve a successful exit someday. 

When Founded launched in 2017, co-founders
Derek Hopfner, Shane Murphy and Travis Houlette were driven by the company’s mission to make the legal side of business an effortless experience for entrepreneurs. 

Within a few short years, thousands of dedicated business users joined Founded. Fast forward to this year: the company made the announcement that they had been acquired by RBC Ventures!
In the coming months, the platform will merge with
Ownr, RBC’s existing platform for small business incorporation – but the whole Founded team is staying intact and moving under the RBC Ventures umbrella, together.

Getting acquired is what many young startups hope and dream for one day, but many overlook the meticulous planning and strategic considerations that need to happen at an early stage. We spoke with Derek Hopfner about the experience of scaling Founded, and what startup founders can do early on to position themselves for a successful exit.

Take a look at our Q&A with Derek to hear what he had to say. 

Founded company logo
What does Founded do?

Founded is an online legal platform with a focus on making entrepreneurship easy. When starting a business, there is an endless number of things that entrepreneurs need to think about early on, so taking away the legal components and making it really simple for them was something that was really important to us. 

An entrepreneur can join Founded (soon to be Ownr) and can use the platform to navigate various legal tasks as their company grows. This includes anything from preparing an employment agreement for a new employee to creating website terms of use and privacy policy. You can even create an employee stock option plan, something that’s gaining popularity from startups.

Founded platformIt sounds like the platform is valuable to companies at all stages of growth, not only young startups looking to get incorporated?

That’s true! Many entrepreneurs start their company on Founded, but we also bring on companies that have incorporated elsewhere and want to benefit from using Founded’s technology for legal work going forward. 

A nice way to think of it: there are a lot of programs in the accounting field, like Quickbooks, that help entrepreneurs with the accounting side of things. Founded is like that, but for the legal side of things.

What was the motivation behind creating Founded? Were you ever an entrepreneur who experienced similar challenges with getting legal support?

I’m a former lawyer, so I actually saw it from the other side where I did a lot of corporate commercial work with businesses. Oftentimes, legal work was expensive for startups or they saw it as complicated. They didn’t want to meet in a lawyer’s office – they wanted to do things electronically, quickly and seamlessly.

Two out of the three of our founders are lawyers: myself and Shane. Travis is our CTO and Head of Product, and he had the experience from an entrepreneur’s standpoint. Shane and I saw the problems through a lawyer’s lens. We’ve got a good combo between the three of us!

Founded team
What was the process of scaling the company? Did you have a funding strategy?

We launched in October 2017, so we were in operation for about three years before getting acquired. 

We were really lean on funding. We had some angels that supported us but never completed an institutional round of venture capital funding. We also had support from the Ontario Centre of Excellence and government programs like IRAP.

We grew our sales and revenue and always reinvested it back into the company. That meant hiring for sales, marketing, developers – but we have always had a lean team. 

Our primary marketing strategy involved using Google Ads, high-quality blog content, and partnering with local entrepreneurship centres like the DMZ, MaRS and Enterprise Toronto. That’s really what allowed us to scale. 

We also had a really strong product, so word of mouth helped a lot. People would use the platform, have a great experience, and go on to encourage their friends to use it.

How did joining the DMZ help Founded?

During our time at the DMZ, the company got to a profitable state, which allowed us to continue growing without having to rely on funding.

There are two big things in particular that come to mind that allowed us to do this: we gained a stronger understanding of how to accelerate our sales processes, and learned how to read and analyze our data to then base our strategy around it.

Everything was super helpful – marketing was great, product was great, the programming was really holistic.Founded acquired by RBC

Many founders’ biggest dream is to get acquired and get that big exit. Was getting acquired a goal you were working towards from the early days?

It wasn’t necessarily the goal. When we started the company, we were really driven to make entrepreneurship easy.

When you decide to take money from funders, you have to realize they’re not doing it purely to support you and your goal to build a company – they do expect some sort of return to the investment that they’re making. I think most entrepreneurs realize there needs to be some thought towards an exit strategy.
We had been working with RBC for two years. It was never our goal to get acquired at this exact time – it was pretty organic. 

I think it’s helpful to start thinking about it early on when starting a company. That being said, if you were to ask me five years ago if the largest bank in Canada were to acquire a legal technology company, I would have never imagined that!

What advice would you give a founder that is interested in getting acquired? What are some important things a founder should consider? 

It’s important to understand, early on, what the implications are if you’re taking funding, especially from VCs. Understand how dilution works. Angels are one form of funding, but once you move to institutional funding, there are strong expectations for returns on their investments – to the tune of 10, 15 or even 20 times the initial investment. You need to find a path to hit those metrics. 

Next, in the early stages of building a company, take a look beforehand at the exit opportunities that may exist in your particular industry. It’s not a bad idea to look at each industry and understand the valuation multiples which exist. In most cases, you’re putting your whole life into your business – likely a lot of financial resources. So, if you have two choices that you’re equally passionate about, why not go with the industry that has a multiple exit of traditionally 15x revenue, versus another that might only be 2x or 3x. 

Now that you’ve gone through most of the acquisition process, do you have any important lessons learned to share with other founders?

Be open to business opportunities as you are growing the company because you don’t know where they’re going to lead. I don’t think it was really on our radar that RBC was going to be our acquirer when we started working with them a couple of years ago, but that turned into something real this year. Where you start with a company is not where you’re going to end up, and I think being open and fluid about that is important. 

If you’re having discussions about an acquisition, it’s going to take a lot of your time – a lot more than you’d think. It’s so important to make sure your team is still focused on delivering value each day with the acknowledgement that this acquisition might not go ahead.

Also, don’t put 100% of your time and efforts into the acquisition, or you’ll leave your business behind. You need to continue to drive value to your customers and keep building a strong business. That’s really the best counterpoint to any negotiation. If things fall through, you can then walk away at any time and continue pursuing your business.

startup team communication
When should a founder communicate with their team that an acquisition could be in the works? 

I think it depends on the team and its size. Because of COVID and everything that was going on in the world, we kept our team focused on building the product and helping customers until the later stages of the acquisition.  That was the right decision because of the uncertain environment the world was in

Communication strategies will differ from one company to the next. Do what’s best for your company, for your team, and for the environment you’re in.

Thanks, Derek! Now, what’s next for you and the Founded team? 

We’re all now RBC Ventures employees! The whole team came over, which I’m super happy about. We get to pursue the exact same thing that we were doing before, but with a much bigger budget and more resources.

I’m as excited as ever to continue to deliver on the same mission to help entrepreneurs all across  Canada, and ideally look to new jurisdictions as well.  We’re lucky in that everything is kind of the same for us, but now we just have more opportunities and resources to deliver!

Congrats to Derek and the entire Founded team on your success, and thank you for your commitment to helping entrepreneurs at every stage of their journey. Keep up with Founded over the coming months as it integrates with RBC Ventures’ Ownr to bring the best business formation and legal tools together under one roof.

Tackling the cybersecurity gender gap: Empowering women to lead the way in tech

Hear from RBC leader, May Sarout, on how we can close the gender gap and encourage more young women to get involved in cybersecurity


Don’t miss Women in Cyber, an exclusive panel event hosted by CanHack & Hackergal, coming up on November 18. Keep reading for more details.

The gender gap we see in tech isn’t exactly a novel issue. In the cybersecurity field, women only represent about 20 percent of the workforce. The gap has indeed narrowed in recent years, however, the industry still has quite a long way to go to achieve equitable gender representation.

May Sarout headshotThankfully, organizations like RBC have several initiatives in place to ensure we are closing this gap – from educating young women and launching partnerships like CanHack with the DMZ, to looking inwards at the organization’s hiring practices to ensure there are diverse individuals represented in tech and leadership roles.

As the Senior Director of Cyber Security Strategic Partnerships and Innovation, May Sarout is working hard to increase the representation of women in Canada’s ever-evolving tech sector. May’s passion for advancing gender diversity and empowering young women in tech is clear; her involvement in initiatives like CanHack, participation in tech events and speaking panels and efforts to raise awareness for more women-identified leaders in cybersecurity are collectively making an impact to tackle the diversity gap.

RBC CanHack DMZ event

May shared her insights on the barriers for women in cybersecurity and how young women can get a head start on a successful career in the field. We also asked May what advice she would give tech companies on building diverse teams, and how they can be more intentional about implementing inclusive hiring practices.

Here’s what May had to say.


Why does the cybersecurity gender gap exist?


In my opinion, there are three major reasons why there are fewer women in cybersecurity than there should be. First, there is a huge misunderstanding and misconception about the cybersecurity field, and this leads women to shy away from it. Second, there is a lack of understanding of the variety of roles within cyber, which I will speak to a little later. Lastly, when reviewing job roles, women are generally less likely than men to apply for jobs where they don’t meet every single qualification on a job description – making the number of women in an applicant pool even smaller.


How do we address this gap? What can we do to fix it?


I have a few suggestions, and RBC is already working to address all of them. The first thing we can do to address this issue is create programs that are specifically catered to women.

Another thing we can do to address the gap is to invite more successful women role models to share their journeys on speaking panels and events. This allows younger women in the audience to envision themselves in a similar leadership position and reassures them that they too can be successful in the field. Further to that, it’s important the outreach to young women is there so that they are aware of these events and opportunities in the first place.

We need to be sharing more information about the variety of roles in Cybersecurity. The more that women know about available roles, the more likely they may see themselves in a role.

For the young women-identifying innovators who might be interested in exploring a career in cybersecurity but aren’t sure what their options are, what could a career path in this field look like?


There are so many different paths to take!

On one hand, some career paths may take a more technical route. But on the other hand, some Cyber roles require no technical skills. Effective cybersecurity is about more than the technology alone. We need people in cybersecurity that have a thorough understanding of human behaviour and can take a psychological approach to reducing cyber risk.

There are also roles that are involved in the marketing, education and awareness around cyber, and these roles may require little to no technical skills. These roles might require some domain knowledge, but it’s more important the individual has a marketing or communications background than cyber.

Finally, many roles fall in the middle of this spectrum, including project management, business analysis, quality assurance – every cyber organization needs these roles, and these skills can be transferable from other fields in tech. As long as you have the passion for cybersecurity space, you will likely find a role that’s right for you!


How can young women get involved in cybersecurity early?


There are plenty of initiatives that allow youth to have fun as they learn about cybersecurity. CanHack, the initiative we host in partnership with the DMZ, is a great way for young women to get involved early. It’s a fun challenge that helps participants think critically and use problem-solving skills. Hackergal is another great organization that has opportunities designed especially for girls.

There are also lots of business associations catered to women in cyber that you can get involved with, such as Women in Cybersecurity. Leading Cyber Ladies is another one to check out. Take a look at LinkedIn, there are always events going on related to the industry.

The good thing about the days we’re living in now with virtual events is that you’re not restricted to attending events just in your local area. The world has become much more global, and in a way, it’s opened up more doors!

What advice do you have for tech companies that want to adopt more inclusive practices?


Study after study shows that diverse and inclusive teams are more successful. When it comes to diversity, we shouldn’t focus solely on gender diversity. We should look at all diverse talent, whether it’s gender-based, culture-based, age-based, or experience-based.

The advice I would give to companies would be to set certain goals related to diversity and inclusion. Be mindful of what you want to achieve. Declare diversity and inclusion in your performance targets and make sure you track it and measure it on a consistent basis. Diversity and inclusion have to be prioritized.

It’s important to have diversity and inclusion measures within your hiring process. For example, at RBC we ensure that there is diversity in all teams and across all levels of the organization. Hiring managers must report on how many diverse candidates they interview and whether their chosen candidate was a diverse hire.

Beyond setting targets, it’s also important to make sure you have a culture that fosters diverse hiring. If you want to hire more Black, Indigenous, or People of Colour, you must include members of those communities in the recruitment process. This will allow job candidates to see that they have a place in your organization and feel more passionate and confident about the selection process.

How does your team at RBC take measures to address the gender gap issue that exists in the cybersecurity field?

The purpose of the Cybersecurity Strategic Partnerships and Innovation team is to be a major catalyst in growing and lifting cybersecurity talent, thought leadership and innovation in Canada. We do this by growing the cybersecurity talent pipeline, training programs, advocating for diversity and increasing diversity of available talent, increasing interest of future generations in cyber.

First, we’re addressing the cybersecurity gender gap through RBC’s internal recruitment processes. This is prioritized for all areas of the organization at the Executive Committee level. Our Senior Vice President of Cyber Security is a woman – Laurie Pezzente (who has won Canada’s Most Powerful Women – Top 100 award, among several other awards). Additionally, two of the four Executives reporting to our SVP are also women.

RBC is constantly being recognized for its diversity and inclusion initiatives. It’s not just cybersecurity, either – RBC is focused on promoting diversity in all fields.

We partner with organizations like Ryerson and the DMZ on initiatives such as the Cybersecure Policy exchange and CanHack. We’ve also built the RBC Women in Cyber stream within the Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst.

This year, for CanHack 2021, we set specific targets to increase women’s representation.

Not only will CanHack be offered to Canadian students coast-to-coast, but CanHack 2021 will also be special in that DMZ will run women-only workshops on a number of cybersecurity topics to support women in STEM, and work with organizations like Hackergal to inspire and recruit more female participants to the challenge.

Calling all Canadian high school teachers and community supervisors! Would you like to learn more about CanHack and other cybersecurity opportunities for women?  

Register here to learn more about the 2021 CanHack Challenge.

Join us for the Women in Cyber panel, hosted by CanHack & Hackergal on Wednesday, November 18 at 5:00pm. Register here.

 The panellists will share their experiences as women who are making an impact in the field and address how to collectively create better pathways for women in cybersecurity in Canada.  

Questions related to CanHack? Reach out to Naveed Tagari at

How to pivot with purpose: A Q&A with Hop In’s CEO

Hop In’s CEO and Co-Founder, Erich Ko, proves why adaptability is key to entrepreneurial growth

Hop In is a DMZ Incubator company that provides logistics software services to offer customized corporate shuttle solutions for the daily commute. The startup helps companies retain more talent and access a larger hiring pool while providing employers with a comfortable and efficient commute to work.

Erich Ko is the CEO and Co-Founder of Hop In. What started as a business idea discussed between a few friends has evolved into a startup with a real purpose: to improve economic development issues and make transportation more accessible for workers everywhere.

We asked Erich about what fuelled his interest to become an entrepreneur, his experience in the Startup Certified program, how Hop In was conceptualized and how the company has pivoted its strategy this year.

Here’s what he had to say.


Let’s talk about your personal entrepreneurial journey. When did you join Startup Certified? How did you hear about it? 

I was a student working at
Ryerson’s Legal Innovation Zone Law Practice Program in the same building as the DMZ. By working at the front desk, I was introduced to startups, and through that, I was connected to the Sandbox

Natasha, Sandbox’s then-Director, introduced me to the Startup Certified program. It seemed really cool and had a structured approach. I joined in the Fall of 2017 and wanted to learn as much as I could!

I joined a startup called Curexe at the time. They have since been rebranded as Cevnn Payments.

What was your role within the startup? What areas of the business were you working on?

It started as a marketing role, and I worked on content marketing and organic growth. However, there were only three of us at the time, so I did everything and anything and developed my skills that way.

After that placement was complete, I ended up going back to consult with them for a few months. I helped them grow the team and scale up a little bit as well.

What made you interested in pursuing entrepreneurship?

Before that placement, I had been working for the government for six years. I ran into the “red tape” problem – something that you hear about, but don’t believe it until you see it. I figured that there has to be a faster way and a better way for me to have an impact. I turned to startups. It seems to really be the best way to change something in the world.

I’ve also been restless my entire life! I got in a lot of trouble as a kid and I was doing some things I wasn’t supposed to. Entering the entrepreneurial world helps you channel that energy. I know it sounds cliche, but it really does. 

I can work 40-50 hours straight without sleeping and nobody will say anything (besides my mom!) You’re constantly solving problems; it’s challenging. You never know what the day holds for you, so this was the perfect fit for me. 

This, I know, is what I’m going to do with my life.

Let’s talk about Hop In. What was the story behind creating the company?

I actually grew up with my two co-founders! One of them is my best friend, and our CTO was my brother’s best friend growing up. 

One night while drinking at the bar, we were discussing how we had all lived every problem possible when it came to commuting. That’s when we decided we would try to build an app to solve commuting issues.

Fast forward to today, we’ve snowballed into a bigger problem that we didn’t even know was there in the beginning. There’s a huge economic development issue that is the root of these commuting problems. 

There are these gaps left behind by transit in areas that are outside of the Torontos of the world. Workplaces in these areas aren’t always accessible. We provide a last-mile solution to connect them from the transit system to the workplaces. 

We also realized recently that we can help people from marginalized communities and the shelters, so we are actually working on different job programs to help people get access to better opportunities that they normally wouldn’t have. 

Hop In provides more than just transportation – can you explain how Hop In helps employers?

We help companies expand their hiring pools. One of our companies is Maple Lodge Farms in Brampton. We helped them hire their first employee from Scarborough, which is really not a possible transit route if you don’t have a car, right? That’s the value we add to the companies.

We go to a company and do a needs assessment for free. Employees tell us all about their commutes and schedules. Then, we plug that information back into our internal software system and design customized routes and schedules based on the employees’ needs.

If employers have issues with retention, it’s something that Hop In can also help with. The employer usually covers the cost completely. 

We work very closely with recruitment agencies and staffing agencies. We’re members of the Brampton Board of Trade as well and work closely with all the bodies that contribute towards the development of a city, development of commercial properties, and management of all of those work sites. Hop In works with everybody in that spectrum. 

Our operations are primarily based in the York Region, but currently, we are working on programs with 107 municipalities across Ontario! Our main areas are GTA-focused, and now we are getting out to the rural areas and small towns. 

How does the shuttling aspect of Hop In work?

We work with chartered bus companies that normally do events. For them, working with us is a no-brainer. It’s a new stream of revenue for them, especially during COVID as no one is going to events.

With our bus operators, we are constantly looking at data: tracking rides and optimizing routes. For example, if there were a Raptors game or Leafs game or a parade, we can reroute instantly.

The bus companies we work with are also certified to provide accessible transportation for people with disabilities. We just finished up a pilot with Durham Deaf Services to transport their learners to the facilities.

You mentioned that there has been less of a demand for bus services due to COVID-19. How has the pandemic changed how you operate?

For the first couple of months, everyone was just trying to figure out their place in this world now. We took that time to help those in need. We realized we weren’t going to generate revenue for at least a few months, so we figured we might as well do something productive with the time and help out. 

Hop In paired up with restaurants in Vaughan, Markham, and Brampton and we delivered around 100 meals and free rides to work for healthcare workers. We’ve actually now donated over 20,000 disposable masks across Canada!

We also had to shift the focus of our customer demographics. We had been working with tech companies, but they all started to work from home, so we doubled down on the essential factories and manufacturing facilities that had to stay open.

We did pivot, but nothing too big for us. Our core model stayed the same.

What advice would you give other university students or other aspiring entrepreneurs if they want to start a business?

I have three things. The first one is you just got to go for it. It’s going to be tough, things don’t always go as planned. 

If it’s something you really want to do, then there are a lot of opportunities and you can find help from places like the DMZ. The DMZ taught me so much about design thinking – that was the biggest thing for me to understand how to actually validate this thing!

My second piece of advice is to listen to your customers. I really didn’t understand this point until last year. Build what your customer needs – not necessarily what sounds nice.

The last thing? It’s all about perspective. Especially during times like this – with COVID and the economic crisis happening at the same time – there is always a way. The situation that we’re in is creating a host of problems, but the reason why we exist as entrepreneurs is to solve problems.

A lot of people thought we were dead because we are a transportation company, but we pivoted and we became an essential service to a lot of industries. In times like these, take a look from every different angle and make sure you leave no stone unturned.

I’ll be honest… we are not without our freakouts! But it’s been really, really fun because we’ve just been throwing pasta at the wall and seeing what sticks, right? Every day we are throwing something new out there to see what happens. It’s been kind of fun experimenting that way.


Want to learn more? Visit Hop In’s website and follow them on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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!

Content marketing for startups: How to master your strategy

DMZ guest blog by: Rokham Fard, DMZ EiR

Content marketing: it’s something that almost every company does, but few do it exceptionally well. Regardless, it is a tool that should be a part of every startup’s arsenal.

If your startup has little budget or no online audience, mastering your content marketing via your company website’s blog is a great place to start building your brand awareness and converting your audience into customers. The great news? Your content strategy is something you can learn to master with little to no budget. And – when you do it right – years down the road you will have built promotional assets. 

This article is two-fold: it covers both the creation and promotion of your blog content. Learn how to structure your blog writing, choose an appealing topic, and repurpose your content in your email and social media marketing efforts. Best of all, along the way you’ll get simple hacks you can use to satisfy web algorithms and skyrocket your online engagement.

Your startups’ content strategy can take several attempts of trial and error – but hit that sweet spot start, and you’ll be seeing real return on your efforts. 

Choose a winning blog topic

Picking the right blog topic requires careful consideration. When doing this, you mustn’t improvise and assume the whole world cares about what
you think is top-of-mind for your customers. Selecting a subject matter should be a data-driven process – not hypothesis-driven.

Anchor your topic around a question or problem

Don’t throw all kinds of messages out there and hope one sticks. It’s not about frequency of content. It’s about doing the right one, and then spending a lot more time getting it out there. It’s crucial to vet your topic before you start writing. You need to find out what the external world is asking about the topic you want to write about.

The easiest method to gather information around the world’s questions is to Google it. You’ll want to anchor your blog around a certain phrase or question. Try it: as an example, search “coping with anxiety”. How many people are searching that in a month? In Canada? In the U.S.? If a lot of people are searching for it, you know there is market demand. Your search phrase should have between 1,000 to 10,000 monthly searches for your geographical audience (if your target audience only lives in Canada, try incorporating U.S. searches to reach that 10,000). Another great tool to vet your topic is UberSuggest.

Write the best answer on Google

Once you’ve identified the question you’re going to answer, the magic is to offer a solution to that question or problem that is subjectively better than the first ten results on Google. 

The reality is, almost no one checks the second page of Google. If you are able to be subjectively better than all those ten combined, then your answer will be considered better to the user. Algorithms on Google are fully optimized for that. If you are taking the right steps for SEO, you will eventually rank up. 

Trust is one of the most important aspects required to build a relationship with potential customers and retain existing ones. You build trust by addressing someone’s problem better than they can, then offering them a solution. 

The only way you can do that is if you are a subject matter expert who can offer insights that come from deep knowledge. Companies will oftentimes hire a content writer who is remote and cheap to employ. What happens when you hire someone who doesn’t have expertise in your subject matter? They go to Google, they search your key phrase and regurgitate the same information that the top articles on Google have already written about. Your blog writer should be a subject-matter expert. 

If you can articulate someone’s problem better than they can, that is a great start to building trust and gaining loyal followers.

Re-think the structure of blog writing

If you’d like to write something people are going to read, think of your content as a prescription. We were taught to write using a certain skeleton: the intro and hypothesis, point one, point two, point three and the conclusion. 

These days, and on the web especially, consumers typically don’t have the time to read your essay. They came to your blog to ask a question, to get an answer. 

Adopting a new style of writing by putting the carrot upfront: what will a reader get from this post? Get them on the edge of their seat; give them a promise upfront. Then, move into your solutions: one, two, three. And, at the end, there’s no conclusion per se – it’s a summary. 

The three layers of content within a blog: macro, micro, nano

Young startups often avoid spending the time to produce quality blog content and opt for short-term marketing wins, which will become more expensive in the long run. What many don’t realize is that you can invest more time and resources in creating one blog, and you’ll end up producing content that can be repurposed for various channels over an extended period of time. 

There are three layers of content produced here: the macro, the micro and the nano. Why is it important to distinguish between these three layers? Well, they each provide value to your marketing strategy in different ways. 

The macro is the entire blog post. One of the more frequently asked questions around blog post creation is the length of your posts. Try to write around 2000-2500 words per post. While that may sound like a lot, you must remember how much noise is out there to compete with. Additionally, if you were to cover a topic and only had 500 words to work with, it’s hard to give the subjectively best answer to your reader’s question. I’ll touch on why this is important, and tips for having the subjectively best answer again soon.

Furthermore, a longer blog will also reap benefits from a technical perspective: with richer, denser content, your website’s blog will appeal more to search engines’ machine learning. For example, Google’s semantic analysis is strong enough to understand your content’s focus and will do so more easily with denser content – improving your online search visibility.

Next comes the “micro” layer of content. Your blog post should yield three to five main topics or solutions (which we’ll touch on soon). Each one of those solutions can be thought of as a micro-sized piece of content. Micro content can be leveraged in for your email newsletter, for example. Build a drip campaign using this content where every email covers one of the three to five solutions outlined in your blog post. If you write one article for your blog and have, on average, four solutions in one article, that will equate to four weeks worth of drip campaigns! By the time you have 10 articles, you’ll have 40 weeks of campaigns. 

Finally, the “nano” layer of content consists of the even smaller bits buried within those solutions – they are the bite-sized, action-driven solutions that are derived from each micro. This is the content that will feed your social media. 

Let’s size it up. A macro piece equals three to five micro pieces and about eight to 12 nano pieces. All of a sudden, you have eight to 12 social posts – and for the next month, you have something new every few days for your social channels. 

That’s how you stay top of mind. Re-purpose your content strategically, and you’ll gain the mindshare of your audience.

Promote the hell out of your content

You have a piece of content… now, what do you do with it? 

The general rule of thumb is that 20 percent of your time should go towards creating your content and 80 percent towards promoting. You’ve vetted this idea for your blog and you know there’s demand – now take the time to get your content out there.

With your blog content, you can leverage both long and short term gains. The long term effect is that you’re going to start getting ranked on Google. If you have given the best answer on the internet, you’ll start ranking higher on search engines. The short term gain is that you have content that’s ready to be promoted. Remember, the micro and nano layers within your blog have helped you distinguish this content. You won’t need to think about new topics for your email newsletters, and you won’t need to hire someone to keep your social media alive. Don’t operate in silos – repurpose that content!

Cater to the social platform’s algorithm

Take a look at your LinkedIn feed. You’ll probably notice examples of these nano posts. 

How do you ensure your LinkedIn posts perform well? You have to cater to the platform’s algorithm. LinkedIn’s platform, like many other social platforms, prioritizes 1) relevant content, and 2) engagement. The more your posts play into what the algorithm likes, the more eyes you will get on your social content. If you want more engagement on your posts across social media channels like LinkedIn, here are some hacks to consider.

First, when you create your post based on your nano, never include the link back to the article if you don’t have to. It’s counterintuitive. When someone is scrolling through their LinkedIn feed, do they really want to stop and read a 2000 word article? No. Think about where your audience’s head is at. Your LinkedIn posts should act as nuggets, intriguing them to want to hear more about what you’ve got to say. Second, if you are linking your article within your LinkedIn post, you’re not catering to the platform’s algorithm. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn – each one of these platforms is biased towards keeping the user on the platform. They don’t want a user to leave the platform, they make money by keeping them around. This is another reason to avoid linking out to your website. I’ve seen up to ten times the engagement when I don’t link out to my article. 

If you feel like your post needs a call-to-action, I would suggest signing off with the same hashtag at the tail end of each social media post. This is good for brand awareness, and when someone clicks on your hashtag, they’ll see everything you’ve published. Even more important, the click from the user is a signal to the platform’s algorithm for engagement. 

Something else to consider is that algorithms also have a bias towards posts that use an image. 

Go where your audience already hangs out

If you don’t have a huge audience yet on your brand’s social channels, don’t worry. I don’t recommend trying to build a big audience right off the bat. It can be expensive and you can do it gradually. What I would recommend is for you to go to where your audience already hangs out to promote the hell out of your content. There are two great places to do this for free: Facebook and Reddit.


There are Facebook pages on just about every topic out there. Go to Facebook’s search engine. In the search bar, search using your keyword or the topic you’ve written about. Change the filter to search Pages, and you’ll find Pages who are interested in learning about your topic at hand. Find a page that has at least a couple thousand followers. Look at their newsfeed. What type of content is being shared? Do they give love to any third-party content? If they do, you can message the admin and explain why your article would provide value to their audience. Ask them to share it – you’d be surprised how many times they’ll do it. This can drive more traffic to your own Facebook page, and hopefully, your website too.


Reddit can be a hit or miss as behaviours can be very inconsistent with the users and admins, but it can be a highly effective way to engage your target audience. There are thousands of subreddits about every topic under the sun. You can use Google to find subreddits. Find some subreddits that are relevant, and post your article in those subreddits – but not as you are promoting it. Why is this important? The moment Reddit sniffs that you are self-promoting, they will remove you from that Subreddit. Post it as if you are an observer – as if you stumbled across this resource on the web that you thought was worth sharing. 

Take these Facebook and Reddit tactics into consideration. Try each platform at least once – find a few gems, and in a couple posts’ time, you can come back to these great audiences! A lot of these audiences might convert to subscribers – and who knows – maybe even customers of your business. 

If done correctly, Facebook and Reddit can help your content take off. 

Conclusion: practice makes perfect

Keep in mind that your blogging strategy is an ongoing cycle. Prioritize quality over quantity. There’s no need to produce a new post every week, it
will become exhausting. The more you can invest in promotion, you will end up finding the right audience.

When it comes to perfecting content writing and promotion, there’s not always a one-size-fits-all solution. It starts with getting confident about vetting the right topic for your blog post and structuring your article in a way that’s easy to consume. Once you have a quality article written, learn how to leverage the micro and nano nuggets of information that come out of each blog post. You’ll start to see success in your analytics and get into the rhythm of things.  

While there’s so much more that can be covered, the truth is that strategies are ever-changing as technology becomes smarter and consumer behaviour shifts.  

If you begin implementing the tactics outlined in this article, you’ll get comfortable working in a way that caters to your consumers’ thinking. Take that with you as the digital environment continues to evolve, and you will have greater success in adapting your content marketing to fit the needs of your business.

Basecamp 2020: Hear from the grand prize winners

It’s been yet another successful summer for aspiring student entrepreneurs in Basecamp, DMZ’s eight-week intensive student incubation program helping rising innovators create tech solutions to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. 

It’s also been a summer like never before for Basecamp. This year, due to COVID-19, DMZ transformed the program into a completely virtual format. While Basecamp programming looked a little different than in previous years, the digital structure paved the way for new partnership opportunities with international organizations, allowing the DMZ to host over 40 rising student entrepreneurs from around the globe!

Keep reading to learn more about what made this cohort special, and hear from the winners about their Basecamp experience and what the future holds for their companies.

A 2020 snapshot

Basecamp 2020 received a record-breaking number of applications from high school and university students. Following a competitive application process, 41 student applicants across 26 company teams received acceptance to the program. This year’s cohort represented both high school and university students from several countries around the world – from Canada and the U.S., to Egypt, Syria, and even Japan!

Keeping in line with today’s emerging tech trends, Basecamp companies found themselves exploring a number of diverse and non-traditional industries: medtech, edtech, fintech, cleantech, and more. Teams all shared a common goal: to develop a technology solution that would drive positive impact and address some sort of social, economic or environmental issue that our society is faced with.   

Over eight weeks, teams spent over 160 hours in workshops and with industry mentors to soak in as many new learnings as possible and turn their business idea into a viable startup company. Programming covered everything from problem validation and prototyping, go-to-market strategies, to pitching and storytelling. 

Basecamp finalists

After a jam-packed summer, teams were given the opportunity to present a company pitch to a panel of judges for the chance to take home one of three grand prizes: $5,000 in business grant money and an accounting package from Logan Katz worth up to $13,000. Six finalists were chosen based on having a driven and coachable founding team, a robust business model, a unique market solution, and an effective business presentation, among other determining factors.

The six finalists included: A Friendlier Company, Snowball, ConchShell, Madaki, Project Lightbulb and Anaxa..

Basecamp 2020 grand prize winners

Following the final pitch presentation, the top three companies were selected by a new panel of judges as the Basecamp 2020 winners: ConchShell, A Friendlier Company and Project Lightbulb. Congrats to the winners!

Hear from the winning teams about their Basecamp experience and what the future holds for their companies.

Founders: Jin Schofield and Sarvnaz Alemohammad

ConchShell is a real-time American Sign Language translator that helps the deaf and speech-impaired navigate life independently using a wearable bracelet. The bracelet tracks the user’s actions through sign language and voices a translation out loud for others to hear. 

“ConchShell has developed dramatically since the beginning of the DMZ Basecamp program.  We completed dozens of interviews for customer validation with ASL users, reached out to professionals in the industry, and developed software through DMZ’s various helpful workshops, as well as through connecting with the many amazing and knowledgeable people in DMZ’s Basecamp network. We learned to be bold in our decisions, develop thorough business models and pitches, and make the most of our potential!

In the next year, we intend to complete our first prototype and run, make two iterations of our pilot program, and open limited sales functionality.  We are thankful for the DMZ for all of the guidance and direction we’ve received in the last two months. We could not have done it without the DMZ!” 

– Jin and Sarvnaz, Founders, ConchShell 

A Friendlier Company
Founders: Kayli Dale and Jacqueline Hutchings

A Friendlier Company is creating a smart, centralized reuse system to eliminate single-use food packaging waste. The company gives food service providers reusable takeout containers, and once used, A Friendlier Company handles all reverse logistics, washing, and redistribution for reuse. The containers are lightweight, stackable, and are competitively priced to disposable plastic containers. This zero-waste system generates up to 60% less greenhouse gas emissions than single-use alternatives.

“We’re excited to begin pilots with our reusable takeout system in the Guelph area with prepared meal companies and local restaurants. We have been accepted into Innovation Guelph’s Seeding Our Food Future program which focuses on creating circular economies, like our reuse system. Throughout the fall we will continue expanding and piloting with various food service providers to perfect our reuse system and gain consumer feedback. We are so excited to get started and reduce single-use plastic waste!

Basecamp prepared us to confidently pursue our business full time. The program introduced us to incredible speakers that were experts in fields like marketing, prototyping, personal branding, sales, legal, financing, and pitching. Our biggest takeaway was learning how to tell our story and brand through pitching. We learned that effectively communicating our idea is just as important as the idea itself and is key to our success as a company. The community of young entrepreneurs we worked with was incredibly supportive and inspiring. Thank you DMZ Basecamp!”

– Jacqueline Hutchings and Kayli Dale, Founders, A Friendlier Company

Project Lightbulb
Founder: Colette Benko

Project Lightbulb is a virtual science education that guides students through curriculum outcomes using hands-on experiments that only require paper and materials you will find in the environment. Project Lightbulb believes every child should have access to engaging education that fosters their curiosity and problem-solving skills.

“The next steps for Project Lightbulb will be to continue building our program by developing more experiments so that we are ready to begin piloting in the late fall.

​​​I was very fortunate to meet so many like-minded youth that are working on incredible projects during my time at Basecamp. I am very inspired by my peers and I look forward to working with some in the future. Furthermore, I have learned many important skills and things to take into consideration when building a successful business. Prior to the program, I didn’t realize the importance of having a strong network. Basecamp allowed me to start building that network, learn new skills and continue to grow it as I move forward with Project Lightbulb.”

– Colette Benko, Founder, Project Lightbulb


Thank you!

Thank you to our 26 amazing teams who have accomplished so much over a short period of time and who made Basecamp 2020 a huge success. Congratulations on your achievements! We can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.

CanHack: Why young innovators should consider a future in cybersecurity

COVID-19 and the talent shortage in cybersecurity skills

If changes in technology, growing risks of data overload, and increased usage of Cloud platforms have not already overwhelmed organizations’ IT and cybersecurity teams, they certainly will now. 

COVID-19 has forced a large portion of Canadian employers, from government departments to private sector companies, to make a sudden switch to a remote working model (and for some, a permanent switch). The transition to operating in a remote format has brought about new implications for how organizations will maintain cyber safety since employees are now working in absence of companies’ usual security measures (firewalls, safe IT systems, etc.)

Furthermore, it has highlighted the greater need for more cybersecurity skills in the workforce. Talent shortages have long existed in the cybersecurity landscape, and we can only expect these skills gaps to widen even further as the new reality of remote working sets in. 

CanHack 2019
Our solution: CanHack

At the DMZ, it’s our job to not only help startup founders accelerate their business growth but to also empower Canada’s next generation of innovators who aspire to make a real difference. We develop and execute initiatives like CanHack, our student cybersecurity competition organized in partnership with RBC, to promote cyber literacy and to also address digital skills gaps in the labour market.

DMZ is launching CanHack for a third year. Thanks to continued support from RBC, the program will continue to redefine how secondary education engages with cybersecurity skills and will introduce a brand new cohort of high school students to the challenge. As both partners leverage their strengths to break new ground together, the overarching goal will be to encourage more students to think about pursuing a future career in cybersecurity and computer science. This year, instead of the fall of 2020, the program will begin in Spring 2021 to give teachers more time to onboard their students. (continue reading for more details regarding the new 2021 program date).

How CanHack works

CanHack leverages PicoCTF technology, an online open-source computer security platform established by the Carnegie Mellon University Cylab Security & Privacy Institute. This game-based learning experience creates an interactive and engaging experience where students are tasked with addressing cybersecurity challenges faced by Canadian financial institutions.

The competition and program format allow young innovators to be immersed in a fun and stimulating environment where they gain critical computer security skills, work with experts in the cyber field and compete for cash prizes. Best of all? The program is completely virtual and no prior experience in cybersecurity is required to participate. 

CanHack’s accomplishments to date

Since launching in 2018, CanHack has already:

  • Helped over 4000 high school student participants gain valuable knowledge and experience in cybersecurity
  • Worked with 91 schools in 2019, and 76 schools in 2018
  • Distributed $6500 in competition cash prizes to students and $9500 to schools to help integrate more technology into student lives

CanHack 2019 winners of cybersecurity skills competition
What’s to come? CanHack 2021

As partners, DMZ and RBC have forged a number of firsts in the Toronto tech community over the course of this relationship. CanHack 2021 will be a natural next step for this partnership in empowering a stronger, more vibrant cybersecurity landscape within Canada.

“Cybersecurity has become a major and critical element for all organizations with the acceleration of cybercrime, and the evolving threat landscape.  Expansion of digital services driven by the challenges of COVID-19 and need for the mass enablement of a secure remote workforce, cyber skills have become a key resource to nurture and invest in,” said Matthew Tim, VP Cyber Technology Office at RBC. “By partnering with DMZ and sponsoring initiatives like CanHack, RBC is investing in the future of cybersecurity by encouraging greater participation and interest from the young adults in high schools across Canada. We would like to promote greater involvement and interest in cyber as a career to narrow the skills gap.”

In an effort to increase program accessibility Canada-wide (and plan around COVID-19), we’re taking CanHack virtual this year with all workshops and sessions available online for students and teachers to engage with. In coordination with proper health and safety guidelines, we anticipate running in-person and virtual info sessions and workshops in Fall 2020. The CanHack Challenge Launch Event for PicoCTF will then take place in March 2021.

Besides offering programming to students coast to coast, CanHack 2021 will also be special in that DMZ will run female-only workshops on a number of cybersecurity topics to support females in STEAM and work with organizations like Hackergal to inspire and recruit more female participants to the challenge.

Hear from CanHack participants

A student’s perspective

“CanHack 2019 was very enjoyable for me. I got to learn more about cybersecurity and the different specializations within it, and technology in general. The competition gave me a good chance to compete with my friends and it was actually fun to play the game, see the campus of Ryerson as well as the downtown area. During the cyber expo day, I learned a lot about other people’s experiences and why each company was partnered with the event. I learned that as companies move into a more digital world, they need a good cybersecurity foundation, especially since there is more and more criminal activity around the cybersecurity field. I also listened to a 16-year-old entrepreneur and how she is using technology to change the world. Overall, CanHack was a great program to play in and I hope they can continue to do what they do in the future!”

– High school student from Middlefield Collegiate Institute

An educator’s perspective

“For the last two years, Clarkson Secondary School has taken advantage of the amazing opportunity provided by the Ryerson DMZ and RBC to learn about computer securities. This program has become a mandatory component of the computer science courses for students in grades 10 and 11. Prior to taking part in this event, students in my classes would have had very minimal exposure to cybersecurity or even a linux shell; now students get a full two weeks where they are exposed to this content. There is no way that I would have been able to create anything close to the PicoCTF competition on my own, and it is only through the partnership with the Ryerson DMZ and RBC that Clarkson Secondary School students get this experience.

CanHack allows students to develop a set of skills that goes behind technical know-how: teamwork, collaboration and leadership skills. Additionally, students have become significantly more aware of the impact that cybersecurity has on their daily lives. While the obvious benefit is to students who will study computer science and computer engineering once they leave high school, even students who will major in social sciences are now looking at laws and ethics around computer technology and cybersecurity. I want to personally thank the Ryerson DMZ, RBC, and their sponsors for allowing the students at Clarkson Secondary School to take part in this event over the last two years. Students now come into my classes asking when the competition will start every September.”

– Matthew Arduini, Curriculum Head – Mathematics, Computer Science, and Business, Clarkson Secondary School

CanHack 2019 helping youth get cybersecurity skills
With RBC’s diverse support and DMZ’s relevant programming, combined with the growing demand to bolster digital literacy in cybersecurity among Canadian youth, CanHack 2021 will be positioned to be a top challenge in Canada.

For high school educators across Canada who are interested in bringing more cybersecurity education and opportunities for students into their schools, you can learn more about the format of the program by reaching out to us at

For high school students looking to gain knowledge and experience in the areas of cybersecurity and computer science, stay tuned for more information on CanHack 2021!

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

« Older Entries

Newer Entries »