March 1, 2024

entrepreneurship@UBC and CABL BC showcase BIPOC Leaders & Entrepreneurs in Tech: Voices of Change

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In honour of Black History Month, the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (BC Chapter) and entrepreneurship@UBC held a joint event, "BIPOC Leaders & Entrepreneurs in Tech: Voices of Change". The event included networking, designed to help strengthen Vancouver’s vibrant community of black innovators and industry leaders. This was followed by a Keynote with Lekan Olawoye, founder of the Black Professionals in Tech Network (BPTN), and then a panel featuring perspectives from a few of Vancouver’s exciting black founded startups, student group, and an investor, sharing their journeys and experiences around company building, community support and what resources have helped them along the way. 

We were able to capture some highlights from the panel discussion and have shared some of their insights below. 


Ayissi Nyemba, CEO & Co-Founder EMKAO Foods

Giorgia Markos, UBC Black Students Union

Marlon Thompson, Chief Experience Officer, Spring Activator 

Paschal Okwundu, CEO & Co-Founder, Binta Financial

How should BIPOC communities help build an ecosystem that can inspire the next generation? What can we do as a community to help build the next generation of mentors?

Giorgia Markos: “I feel like spaces like this are really inspiring for me, just seeing all the different educational backgrounds and businesses and knowledge from here. That includes the business you can pour into, whether that you want to share it through networking events or other types of mentorship. UBC has certain BIPOC centered unions, such as the Black Student Union, who have targeted network events, which is really cool because you can connect with people in the profession that you want to pursue. So mentorship is a great option and I feel like a lot of people in these spaces have the knowledge to do that.”

How has your lived experience, your experience as an immigrant modified the ventures that you’ve built? How does your lived experience not only influence inspiration, but actually influence how you run and build your business?

Paschal Okwundu: “Personally, it was exciting for me to come to Canada. But when I first landed, it was a very rough experience. I was trying simultaneously to begin a rigorous MBA program and at the same time trying to put my finances together. I still have friends who move from London to Canada and tell me they’re dealing with the same problem that I did. People are always talking about immigration – whether it’s good or bad, but the bigger question we aren’t talking about at all is that there are a lot of challenges that they have to deal with that the news doesn't capture. I thought that there is a huge opportunity within the immigrant community, as they have not been able to access the full potential to access capital financing. I thought that this is an area that we can step into because I have experience.”

Ayissi Nyemba:  “When I arrived in Vancouver, I really felt like this was the place to be. I just saw so many opportunities and I'm a go-getter so for me it was an incredible experience because I came from where I was nothing – because I was young, because I was a black woman, because nobody knew me and because I didn't have a professional title in chocolate (her venture).  Then, you know, when I arrived, it's not just about making chocolate – It's about running a business. What do you do when things go sideways? So I just felt that I had more and more choices here, and I just kept pushing.”

What’s your experience with accelerators? Do you have any advice for upcoming ventures?

Marlon Thompson: “I have a lot of experience with accelerators, both running them and being a participant of sorts in other ways. For me as a founder, I took part in the Gradient Spaces Program for founders who are apart of LGBTQ+ community and I think that something important that accelerators can do for a lot of people is help fill knowledge gaps. Also, I think if you could find that community of other ventures that are at the same stage as you or working in the same space as you are, that’s really important. Personally, in my experience, I think that lawyers can benefit you in the beginning. They were actually one of the most important advisors I had along my journey. My lawyer when starting out my venture went above and beyond to help me think about certain really important decisions that I needed to make up front around how to structure things and how to bring on investors and shareholders.”

What’s the student experience been like - ETHỌ́S LAB and UBC Girl Code in helping you to filter knowledge of the space/environment you want to work in and the knowledge of the technology solutions that BIPOC young professionals may be able to build?

Giorgia Markos: “Seeing different ways that people intersect with one another through these two programs really allowed me to see the diversity at work. Getting to work with the kids in the program who were all ages 7 - 12 allowed me to bring my own experiences as a woman of colour, a woman in STEM and just a woman in general. I was able to really connect with them – being able to see young girls who look and work like me being able to have access to these things. I was able to really connect with them hands on and see them build games from scratch – something I did not know how to do when I was their age. I think that also having a community where you can go and see like-minded individuals was really fascinating and motivational to see. Those things really reminded me of why I want to work with youth and people in general and how it is important to understand different backgrounds and not just if someone is younger or older than you.”

To learn more about how e@UBC is supporting UBC's community black founders and innovators, please reach out to Abigail Okyere


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entrepreneurship@UBC propels UBC innovations out into the world through venture creation, providing UBC students, researchers, faculty members, alumni and staff with the resources, networks, and funding they need to succeed.

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