Dr. Trevor Charles is no stranger to entrepreneurship.  

Charles co-founded Metagenom Bio Life Science Inc. and is the executive director of LiftOff by CCAWR, the region’s first and only Black-led incubator and accelerator program for Black early-stage and growth entrepreneurs. It officially launched in January 2022.   

Liftoff was made possible by Government of Canada funding through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). The almost $3-million contribution from the Black Entrepreneurship Program (BEP) Ecosystem Fund is supporting the Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region (CCAWR) in partnership with the University of Waterloo, Conestoga College, Wilfrid Laurier University and the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre.

Charles’ team oversees a diverse group of businesses across various industries. Since its inception, it has welcomed more than 70 companies through six cohorts, spanning sectors like health care, food services, retail, technology and transportation. 

Referencing the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, Charles notes that the University of Waterloo’s IP policy embraces innovators: “Most universities take an ownership stake in any intellectual property that comes out of research or activities. Yet at Waterloo, the default is that everything belongs to the person who invented it. This practice provides much more flexibility for somebody who wants to build a business based on the creator-owned intellectual property (IP) rights policy they’ve developed.”     

In his experience working with LiftOff, Charles highlights his pride in its community network and the recent move to a new collaborative space in Kitchener’s SDG Idea Factory. 

“We’re forming a network with a purpose,” he said. “At the core, the purpose is to help Black entrepreneurs build their businesses. But along with that, we’ve become embedded within Waterloo Region’s entrepreneurship network.”  

And what a network it is. In addition to Velocity, Charles explains, “The University of Waterloo’s robust entrepreneurship ecosystem includes GreenHouse and the Grebel Peace Incubator. Overall, it is the best in Canada. We’re still pretty small on an international scale, but we’re trying to have as much impact as possible to increase the area’s diversity, representation and participation. Entrepreneurship includes all types of businesses, so we need to be as inclusive as possible.”  

Charles adds that LiftOff is looking beyond the Waterloo region and is interested in exploring opportunities in Guelph. 

LiftOff’s growing community of Black entrepreneurs welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the greater entrepreneurial landscape in the area. An example of this idea in action is the University’s summer camps for kids, including for the STEMpowered camp for Black youth run through Engineering Outreach. Charles said LiftOff quickly connected the University to local Ethiopian and Nigerian community organizations.  

“The University of Waterloo wanted to get in touch with some community organizations they could work with,” Charles said. “It would have been difficult for the University to find them without access to the network we can provide.” The network activation illustrates the value of empowering people from diverse perspectives to contribute to their environment.     

Beyond organizational partnerships, LiftOff encourages networking within the local community. It hosts events known as LiftOff C.H.A.T.S every couple of months and others related to its startups. Their potential impact is reflected in the greater entrepreneurial community. At this year’s Velocity $5K pitch competition, “In the final round, of the eight finalists, three of the pitches were given by Black women. So that’s really quite something.

“In the final round, of the eight finalists, three of the pitches were given by Black women. So that’s really quite something.”

Trevor Charles, Co-founder, Metagenom Bio Life Science Inc. and executive director of LiftOff by CCAW

Trevor Charles

“LiftOff is bound to be influential because it’s not the only organization funded by the federal government. There are programs for Black entrepreneurs across Canada. This reach allows us to participate in conversations that are not just limited to our region and have an impact internationally,” Charles said.   


Black and gold fest

Join us for Black and Gold Fest running from September 23 to September 30, 2023. Celebrate the Waterloo alumni community with a line-up of international and on-campus events. Visit the Black and Gold Fest website to learn more.