The Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region (CCAWR), in collaboration with members of the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Waterloo Region and Wellington County, has developed LiftOff, the region’s first and only Black-led incubator and accelerator program.
Funded by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, LIftOff, which has a vision of catalysing long-term prosperity and well-being through community innovation, was created with the goal of helping to improve Black communities through entrepreneurship.
The 12-month program provides coaching, mentorship, networking, and other business support for Black early-stage and growth entrepreneurs. Dr. Trevor Charles, executive director of LiftOff, professor in the Department of Biology, and director of the Waterloo Centre for Microbial Research says there is a need to increase representation from racialized groups within entrepreneurship communities.
"We're developing and offering programming along with the help of our partners in the Waterloo entrepreneurial ecosystem, that's really tailored to members of the Black community who want to start and develop a business,” he said.
No stranger to entrepreneurship, Charles is also the founder, CEO, and CSO of the bioscience start-up Metagenom Bio Life Science. He believes that Waterloo Region, with its long entrepreneurial history, strong start-up ecosystem support, and leading post-secondary institutions, is the perfect location for LiftOff.
“I don't think there's any other place in Canada where you have the same concentration of entrepreneurs and organizations that can work as a community,” he said. “We have Conestoga Entrepreneurship Collective that we're able to work with to adapt programming. We have Waterloo Region Small Business Centre, we have the University of Waterloo’s Velocity, and we have Laurier Women's Entrepreneurship Centre. You can't really find that mix of entrepreneurial wealth anywhere, probably in the world.”
Candidates can apply if they identify as Black and have an idea for a business. With over 2.9 million dollars in funding available, the incubator hopes to work with about 40 individuals or teams per year. Charles encourages the business community of the Waterloo Region and Wellington County to engage with and support the LiftOff entrepreneurs.
To learn more about this project, please visit LiftOff.