Startup accelerator driven to bridge minority gap

Offers workshops, working space, mentoring to digital businesses founded by women, people of colour

Yohannes Tadesse left his job at IBM as an I.T. sales specialist in 2010 and started CitySqoop, a platform that allows sporting event organizers to reward people with discounts and perks for attending events and sharing them with friends on social media.

On Nov. 20, Tadesse was one of a group of entrepreneurs who presented their business ideas to investors at the inaugural Demo Day of Driven Accelerator Group, a non-profit organization designed to help digital startups founded by women and people of colour.

The event marked the end of a 12-week program, which offered Tadesse and founders of four other startups weekly workshops, working space and mentoring.

“Each accelerator brings something different to the table,” Tadesse said. “There are accelerators [where] there is essentially a formula based on past experience as to the types of entrepreneurs that would succeed.

“The purpose of Driven is to not have that predisposition.”

There is that glass ceiling that everyone knows but no one really addresses it. Instead of complaining about it, we actually did something about it.

—Tamar-Melissa Huggins

The accelerator was created to help address what Tamar-Melissa Huggins, founder and CEO of Driven, saw as an imbalance.

“The numbers prove that women and people of colour consume a lot of digital media, but we are not the ones creating it,” she said.

A lack of both interest and opportunity have led to the under-representation of minorities in the digital technology industry, said Huggins, a public relations specialist.

“There is that glass ceiling that everyone knows but no one really addresses it,” she said. “So instead of complaining about it, we actually did something about it.”

Even as Driven prepares for its next startup cohort — the accelerator is set to begin accepting applications on Nov. 27 — Huggins is working on another project. By September 2013, she said she hopes to launch a gaming incubator that will allow youth from Toronto’s 13 priority neighbourhoods, such as Kingston-Galloway and Jane-Finch, to experiment with video game development.

“We are going to use a series of design challenges to help them understand building a game and think of gaming and technology as a career choice,” Huggins said.

Next year is set to be an eventful one for Tadesse, too. He and his team continue to build the product and are preparing for CitySqoop’s launch early in 2013.

“Demo Day was a milestone,” Tadesse said, “but it’s still business at the end of the day.”