October’s Community Spotlight features Abdel Ali, Derrick Raphael, and Josh Olawade, the dynamic Co-Directors of recently launched BLCK VC Canada.
Abdel Ali is a Venture Capitalist turned entrepreneur currently working on building the future of EV charging in Canada through his CleanTech startup called Kiwi Charge. Aside from being a strong Venture Capital investor, he is also a prolific community builder, having worked as a Venture Investor with Relay Ventures, where he helped create the fund’s $450M Fund of Funds (Realize Capital Partners).
Derrick Raphael is an experienced social entrepreneurship visionary, startup leader and venture capitalist. He’s worked in the not for profit and community development sectors over 20 years and is the Co-Founder and CEO of ICON Talent Partners (ICON). His experiences as the part of the founding teams of two early stage venture capital firms has proven impactful as he looks to impact, scale and support the development of more global startups launched by individuals from equity seeking groups such as those led by women, BIPOC communities, immigrants and others.
Joshua Olawale, CFA is a tech financing professional currently serving at CIBC Innovation Banking. In his position with the Originations team, Joshua sources, executes, and manages credit investments in various sectors, ranging from AI applications to vertical SaaS platforms. Outside of CIBC, Joshua has pursued an MSc in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Bath and also contributed during the 2015 European migrant crisis, assisting in translation efforts.
Pen Howell: What inspired your journey into VC?
Josh Olawale: With my background in banking, I think what got me interested in venture was that I met a lot of smart people in VC who seemed to really enjoy what they did. I had a passion for technology and it seemed like if you were willing to work hard and had that passion, you could really do a lot here. Also, I’m just a nerd when it comes to finance and technology.
Derrick Raphael: For me, the journey into VC started long ago. In terms of background in the US, I’m a licensed attorney. So I was working in one of the larger law firms here in Canada, specifically focusing on their emerging tech group. I began to notice that a lot of the various startup deals we were doing seemed really interesting to me. Then, when I looked at the folks that were deploying capital, I was like, “that looks even more interesting.” I decided that I wanted to get on the other side of the aisle, so I something that’s fairly untraditional in venture: I applied on LinkedIn. As we know, this is a very insular ecosystem where people tend to know people and get an introduction, but for me, that wasn’t necessarily how it worked. It was also fairly unconventional that my first role in VC was in the country I didn’t live in — I was living in Canada, but working for a firm based in the United States.
Abdel Ali: My journey into venture capital was shaped by a blend of experience, passion, and the right opportunities. I spent years honing my skills in finance before pursuing an MBA at the Schulich School of Business. It was there that I expanded my network and landed internships with several VC firms, thanks in large part to Chris Carder, the Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Schulich and mentors like Derrick Raphael, and Lise Birikundavyi. By graduation, I was at a crossroads with offers from Canada’s top private equity and VC firms. I chose VC because of my passion for partnering with brilliant entrepreneurs to tackle the world’s major challenges. I’ve always had the entrepreneurial itch, but I was cautious, knowing the risks involved. Venture capital gave me an inside look at what makes a top entrepreneur and the qualities investors seek. Today, I’m channelling that entrepreneurial spirit with my venture, Kiwi Charge. We’re addressing a significant gap around EV charging infrastructure, making it easier to embrace sustainable transportation.
PH: How did you initially learn about BLCK VC? What inspired the idea for BLCK VC Canada?
Derrick: Being American, I’ve heard about black VC almost since its inception. Years ago, when I moved to Canada in 2015, I started having inquiries with Frederick (BLCK VC’s co-founder). And I was like, “hey, Frederick, what are you trying to do? Are you trying to do something here in Canada?” I think we had our inflection point when Frederick moved over to Wellington and connected me with his colleague Ahmed Ismail in the Toronto office, who then helped galvanize everybody else. From there, he handed the proverbial football to the three of us.
Abdel: My introduction to BLCK VC came when Ahmed proposed the idea of launching its Canadian chapter. Initially, I was skeptical about finding enough people in the ecosystem, wondering if we could even gather a handful around a dining room table. But we started from an email thread to a WhatsApp group to where it is now. We started to learn more and more about other people in different firms, at various stages in their VC journey, and in different parts of the country. We quickly found out that people were yearning for a space to share their successes, failures, challenges, deals, and, ultimately, a place to connect with colleagues. It can get lonely in this space, and VC sometimes seems like a closed bubble. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and that is what BLCK VC seeks to change by amplifying our members’ impact within the VC landscape.
PH: What is your vision for BLCK VC Canada now that you’ve launched?
Abdel: So, much of the work that BLCK VC has done in the US addresses the same challenges here in Canada. Programs like the Black Venture Institute & Breaking Into Venture really address a core gap that’s the same here in Canada. But one of the things we want to make sure we’re very mindful of is really connecting with members across Canada and identifying the challenges that are unique to our ecosystem, from coast to coast. We would love to have members across the country and, eventually, be able to have chapters in different cities. We’re starting the groundwork to build that. So we’re in the early stages, it’s gonna be a long journey, but it’s nice to have BLCK VC in the US that we can collaborate with and co-create with and hopefully leverage some of the resources for Canadian members over the short term.
Josh: I’d also add that there was a very clear focus on a data driven approach that BLCK VC in the US has. I think we try to take as much of that as possible because our belief is that when you have more capital providers of color, you’re gonna have more founders and exits of color. And the data proves that out. And so we want to also take a data driven approach.
PH: How can people get involved?
Abdel: We’re working on the website, which allows members to learn more about Black VC Canada, some of the programming that we have lined up, and to join the ecosystem. There’s also an opportunity to create a profile within our website and connect with other members, almost like a social media platform within the BLCK VC website. Of course, Derrick will kill me if I don’t say LinkedIn. Follow us on LinkedIn and help amplify the posts that we share periodically. If you’re a member of the Canadian ecosystem and you want to help with the operations, we’re actively looking for members to play an active role in the operations side of things and lead various initiatives. Finally, if you are an organization that aligns with our mission, we are always looking for sponsors and partners to work with. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for our incredible partners: CIBC Innovation Banking, BKR Capital, Black Opportunity Fund, Canadian Venture Capital & Private Equity Association (CVCA), Rally Assets and Torys LLP. So reach out to us with ideas, suggestions, or any way you can support.