In the United States, 7.4% of tech workers are Black (compared with 14.4% in the broader private sector). And in Canada, Black representation in the industry is even lower at just 2.6%. The same 2016 study by the Brookfield Institute found that Black employees were also the lowest paid. Less than 1% of venture-backed startups are led by Black founders.
Andre Charoo, C100’s Co-Chair and Founder & Managing Partner at Maple VC, sat down with three exceptional Black Canadian tech leaders living in the United States to share their personal and professional experiences on both sides of the border and how they are helping raise participation rates for Black talent in tech.
We’re also shedding light on a few Canadian-led programs that are working to raise these numbers and create generational impact on Black entrepreneurship and representation in tech.
SVP, Corporate and Business Development at HubSpot
From: Toronto, ON
Now: San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Meet Andrew: Oversees HubSpot’s acquisitions, investments and strategic partnerships, where he has built HubSpot’s partnerships function into one of the SaaS industry’s most active and successful business development groups. Prior to joining HubSpot, he held posts at Jawbone, McKinsey & Co, and Merrill Lynch. Andrew also chairs the TechSF workforce investment group, a workforce initiative providing access and educational experiences to job seekers in the Bay Area. Listen to Lindsay’s story and experiences at Howard University, an elite Historically Black University (HBCU) in Washington, D.C., here.
Alma Mater: Harvard Law School, Harvard Business School, and undergrad at Howard University.
Andrew spearheaded the creation and launch of Howard University’s Center for Digital Business, created in partnership with HubSpot.
The Center for Digital Business at Howard University, an elite Historically Black University (HBCU) in Washington, D.C., aims to educate, invest in job readiness, and recruiting efforts by creating linkages between talent and businesses.
“The Center for Digital Business is this edifice that we now have on campus is dedicated to digital business opportunities for the next generation of Black leaders.” Lindsay, being a Howard Alumnus himself, shares the motivation behind this new Center and how HubSpot could play a part in creating opportunities to amplify the impact in the Black community in America.
Lindsay’s View on Canadian Exceptionalism
“In Canada, there’s still this view of the collective whole. If my brother or sister succeeds, I succeed. It actually leads to the rising of the social safety net. That is something that Canada has maintained a belief in, despite this incredible diversity of people. That’s a place where Canada should share some of its exceptionalism with the rest of the world.”
Explaining Black History Month to his Daughters
When asked how he celebrates Black History Month, Lindsay shared that he feels a little conflicted about it.
“The push is to ensure that Black History is incorporated as a part of broader history, but to have 28 days to discuss Black history alone, often leads institutions to push all Black history into one month. I have two daughters right now and I’m not teaching them Black History Month, because the inevitable next question is, ‘what is every other month?’”.
SVP, Brand Marketing at Endeavor and Former Global Head of Content & Lifestyle at Apple
From: Toronto, ON
Now: Beverley Hills, CA
Meet Justina: Born and raised in Toronto and daughter to Nigerian immigrants, Justina Omokhua plays a vital role in driving marketing efforts across Endeavor’s portfolio that spans across sports (UFC, Euroleague), media production, and distribution, top talent agencies (WME, IMG), and more. Previously, Omokhua served as the Global Head of Content Strategy & Lifestyle Marketing at Apple and has worked for brands like Pepsi, Nokia and L’Oréal . Omokhua has also served as a delegate to the United Nations Social Impact Summit and currently serves on the advisory boards for I.D.E.A Labs and Power Strides Career & Executive Coaching. Hear how Omokhua navigated through her exciting professional journey.
Alma Mater: York University and Rutgers University
PSA for companies: reflect internally and listen to your teams
With plenty of companies who have spoken out about their commitments to support Black talent, Omokhua shares that, while this is important, organizations should spend more energy ensuring that change is actually implemented.
“I want you to take the time to reflect internally. Ask the question of the people who actually work there. How do they feel? What do they need? That is way more important than what me, as an outsider who doesn’t work at your company, sees. If the people who work there don’t see it and feel it, then it doesn’t matter.”
“I’ve never felt more Canadian, than being in the United States”
Omokhua shares how her national pride has deepened since having moved to the United States, the warm reception Canadians receive around the world and her pride for Canada’s educational system
“It’s the idea of access — Canadians have access to learn and once you have that, it can’t be taken away from you.”
How the Black Experience Shapes One’s Professional Journey
Reflecting on her professional experiences on both sides of the border, Omokhua highlights her encounters with systemic racism, from being taught at the age of 9 that she’d likely have to work harder than her peers to being the only Black Woman in the boardroom. She also discusses the particular challenge of communicating the experience of navigating a world that doesn’t like you, to someone that doesn’t look like you.
Founder & CEO, ARTERNAL
From: Toronto, ON
Now: Los Angeles, CA
Meet Sean: Born in Jamaica and raised in Toronto, Sean is a serial entrepreneur blending his computer science background with an entrepreneurial spirit modelled by his mother who ran a maid-service business. Sean is the Founder and CEO of ARTERNAL, a CRM designed to help art dealers and sales directors better streamline sales processes and nurture key relationships. Hear Green’s story on growing up in Canada and his entrepreneurial journey.
Alma Mater: B.A.Sc. York University (Computer Science) and Western University (Computer Software Engineering)
Creating opportunities for Early-Stage Black Founders through the Transparent Collective and a new venture fund focused on Black-led businesses.
You may have seen this statistic before: just 1% of VC-backed founders are Black. Sean serves as a Mentor and Advisor at the Transparent Collective, a non-profit aimed at supporting early-stage minority founders through mentorship, coaching and introductions. Sean teamed up with Transparent Collective’s Co-Founder, James Norman, to form a powerhouse team of investors focused on helping Black founders cross the chasm from seed to Series A.
“If you look like us, our goal is to cut you a check if you map to the same DNA that we map to — hard work, determination, grit, and hustle. You have a product and you have traction. That’s where we want to play… helping black founders cross the chasm of seed to Series A.”
Green aims to relay that same energy to fellow Canucks, too, especially to Black founders back home.
“If you’re a founder who has grown up in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Waterloo, Vancouver — wherever you are, and you look like me, I’m going to give you a pipeline to the Valley.”
Maintaining the Momentum for Black Talent in Tech
When Andre asked Green about whether or not the gap is closing “between talk and action” to support the Black Community, Green stressed the importance of the near future, “I am seeing a lot of talk, but what will materialize? That’s key. If we’re putting in our voices, let’s also put in that muscle to shift the needle.”
Initiatives to know about in Canada
C100 is proud to partner with organizations that are actively working to raise participation rates for Black Canadians in tech. Two of these organizations include Ryerson DMZ and Real Ventures.
DMZ’s Black Innovation Programs (BIP)
The Black Innovation Programs (BIP) a first-of-its-kind program in Canada providing support to startups led by Black founders. In 2019, Isaac Olowolafe Jr., Founder and General Partner at Dream Maker Ventures, came to the DMZ with the idea to create an environment where founders could thrive and find high-caliber mentors and the right connections to industry and capital. “Until recently, there haven’t been many programs in Canada created to help early-stage Black tech founders overcome the unique barriers they experience”, shares Abdullah Snobar, Executive Director of the DMZ.
“Creating that early access to entrepreneurial education for young Black innovators is critical and plays a huge role in developing a diverse tech ecosystem. If we can inspire Black youth to engage in entrepreneurship early on and give them the tools needed to succeed in business, we can foster a healthy pipeline of tech and startup talent that will go on to be a part of the next biggest made-in-Canada tech ventures.
Representation matters, and we certainly still have a long way to go to achieve it in the tech ecosystem. At the DMZ, we are of the mindset that there is always more that we can do, and more that we can learn. We will continue building on the success of the Black Innovation Programs for years to come.”
— Abdullah Snobar, Executive Director, DMZ.
To date, the DMZ’s BIP has supported 12 Black-founded companies through the Black Innovation Fellowship, 76 founders across three cohorts of the BI Bootcamp, and over 400 aspiring entrepreneurs through the BI Launchpad. To fuel its continued success, DMZ announced a $1 million program expansion in June 2020 and $1.2 million from the Ontario Government in February 2021.
Rep Matters, supported by Real Ventures
Rep Matters is an interview series dedicated to providing space for leaders to discuss the Black experience within the Canadian startup community and serve as a catalyst to increase Black participation in tech and VC. In this series, Phil G. Joseph, a Black Montreal-based changemaker, dives deep with Canadian leaders across the tech industry, from VC fund managers like Andre Charoo and Isaac Olowolafe Jr. to startup founders like Brent Ho-Young and Janelle Hinds. Check out Rep Matters here.
Real Ventures is an early-stage venture capital firm that backs entrepreneurs and builds the ecosystems in which they thrive. Supporting game-changing Canadian startups, Real believes that VCs should play a role in accelerating the creation of world-class tech ecosystems by providing support beyond the companies for whom it writes cheques. Real’s portfolio includes the likes of Mejuri, RenoRun and MindBridge (all 48Hrs Alumni).
Interviews conducted by Andre Charoo, Co-Chair at the C100 and Founder at Maple VC. Editor: Lauren Howe, C100. For feedback, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.