On June 16, five teams took part in the U of T PRIDE Pitch competition, where they pitched their entrepreneurial ideas to judges in the hopes of potentially winning a first place prize of $3,000 or a second place prize of $2,000 to develop their innovations. The event welcomes pitches from LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs at U of T and was held over Zoom this year. Each team had at least one LGBTQ+ student and at least one current or recent U of T student.
Since its establishment during Pride month in June 2020, the PRIDE Pitch has aimed to empower U of T’s LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs by ensuring their efforts are recognized, rewarded, and promoted in an entrepreneurial space.
Providing opportunities and building community
PRIDE Pitch is the brainchild of ICUBE UTM, an on-campus incubator and accelerator with the vision of realizing a community where, as their website puts it, “entrepreneurship is an opportunity open to all.” ICUBE’s Assistant Director Ignacio Mongrell told The Varsity that ICUBE has always been keen to support minorities and underrepresented groups interested in entrepreneurship — especially those belonging to the LGBTQ+ community.
“I’ve been part of [Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce], and I’ve seen a lot of problems that people from our community face,” Mongrell stated. “It’s harder for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs to get investment. Sometimes, investors are hesitant, or they might have biases against people in our community.”
When Mongrell presented the idea for PRIDE Pitch to departments across U of T in 2020, he received tremendous support for the idea, including funding for the $5,000 in cash prizes for the winners.
Reflections from participants
Contestants felt that the PRIDE Pitch helped facilitate LGBTQ+ entrepreneurship. In an interview, contestant Maya Saggar told The Varsity, “Any opportunity to get in front of an audience, and to win money to support your ideas [is] going to be helpful.”
“Just seeing people like yourself, doing something that you might want to do later, is awfully encouraging. And that in itself speaks volumes,” said Kyle Wang, another contestant.
Though the $5,000 prize is awarded only to winners, the competition can be a valuable networking opportunity for all participants.
“During a few of the pitches, [I heard] people offering to introduce people to others. I’ve actually connected with one of the other pitch presenters, we’re meeting [one-on-one] and we’ve never met before. It’s been a really great way to create community among the ecosystem,” said Saggar.
Mongrell added that even if contestants didn’t win the top prizes, the event was still a great opportunity for them to connect with the judges who were all successful entrepreneurs. “Many of [the judges] were very interested in the startups and the ideas that our participants have,” he explained.
Next year’s PRIDE Pitch
Creators of the PRIDE Pitch look forward to expanding pitch marketing next year.
“We only found out about [PRIDE Pitch] from a long email chain. If we didn’t read that email, we would’ve missed the pitch,” Wang remarked. “[They should prioritize] getting the word out to graduate departments, university undergraduate departments… so that nobody misses out on the opportunity.”
When asked what they would expect from a future PRIDE Pitch, contestants believed the event could go even further in creating an inclusive on-campus environment for the LGBTQ+ community.
“I was surprised that more of the entrepreneurs did not distinctly say how their business supported [LGBTQ+] communities… for me, [the event could benefit from] not only supporting an LGBTQ+ entrepreneur, but seeing how the [entrepreneur’s] pitch could support the community as well,” said Saggar.