On October 20, the Black Founders Network (BFN) celebrated its second annual Demo Day, an event which also marks the network’s second anniversary. Demo Day served as a showcase for the 10 business ventures in BFN’s 2023 “accelerator cohort,” which are early-stage startups launched by Black-identifying U of T community members from a variety of sectors. 

The program aims to connect Black-identifying startups and their founders with mentors, funding, and networking opportunities. “We witnessed remarkable connections and collaborations among our founders and the broader community,” wrote Justina Kanza, BFN’s program coordinator, in an email to The Varsity.

The event featured $50,000 worth of prizes for participating start-up founders. 

A journey through innovation 

Kicking off the event, attendees had the opportunity to walk around and see tabling displays of the 2023 accelerator cohort’s start-ups, which ranged across artificial intelligence (AI), finance, health care, and sports conditioning.

After some opening remarks from Program Manager Efosa Obano, the cohort’s entrepreneurs had the opportunity to pitch their startups to a panel of judges representing the Black Opportunity Fund, the Spring Investing Collective, and the BDC — a loaning service and investor for Canadian entrepreneurs. All participants had the chance to win awards for their startups. The pitches were marked with inspiring stories, moments of laughter, and rounds of applause.

Throughout this portion of the event, attendees, members of the BFN, and the cohort’s entrepreneurs also had the opportunity to network with investors and other Canadian entrepreneurs, all while indulging in delicious traditional African and Caribbean snacks — and believe me, when I say they were delicious, I mean they were really delicious!

Empowering content creators 

The BFN People’s Choice Award went to OneCliq, founded two years ago by Tanika McLeod and Nathan Knight. The award grants OneCliq $10,000 in non-dilutive funding — which means that the funding was awarded by itself, not in exchange for a portion of McLeod’s and Knight’s business. 

OneCliq co-founder Tanika McLeod presents at the Friday event. Sami Khdair for The Varsity

OneCliq is an AI assistant that helps users create and curate content on social media, blogs, and newsletters. One of its functions is to take long videos and written content, and curate clips and excerpts of that content to use as promotional materials. The service has produced over 20,000 videos for its users, according to OneCliq’s website. 

A solution for international money transfers

Tomisin Salam’s FiatMatch won the BFN Top Venture Award, securing $5,000 in non-dilutive funding. 

FiatMatch seeks to tackle a global problem that people face when transferring money internationally: being taken advantage of by what the company calls “manipulative” messaging from money transfer services that do things like charge hidden fees. 

The startup aims to address this problem by connecting its users to offers from multiple money transfer services, as well as other verified users who can facilitate international money transfers. The platform aims to make the fees associated with using various money transfer services more transparent. 

FiatMatch markets itself toward immigrants, especially those who move abroad to support their families in low-to-middle income countries. “As an immigrant myself, I understand the importance of financial support for families and the peace of mind it brings to know that loved ones are taken care of,” reads Salam’s manifesto posted on the startup’s website. 

“Think about Amazon — buyers and sellers come together, all on one platform… that’s exactly what we do with money transfers,” Salam told the audience in his pitch at the Friday event.

So far, Salam noted in his pitch, FiatMatch has facilitated over 1,000 transactions representing more than one million dollars, and accrued 21,700 pre-registered users. 

Claiming more space in the startup world

Demo Day concluded the second year of the BFN’s Accelerator Program, which was launched alongside the network’s founding in 2021. 

Kanza noted that the event was marked by “a shared commitment to fostering Black excellence in entrepreneurship.” This goes to the network’s purpose of closing remarkable disparities in funding and other opportunities between Black-owned and non-Black-owned businesses in Canada.

U of T community members who identify as Black can apply to next year’s BFN Accelerate Cohort. The BFN is also running a Career Advancement Program to help connect Black individuals with hiring opportunities. The BFN will also be holding the Black Career Conference in January 2024 to share industry insights and hold workshops for Black students and entrepreneurs.