Through the Nobellum Innovator Program, Nobellum formed a unique multi-year partnership with the University of Toronto (UofT) to help launch at least 100 Black-owned technology startups by 2025 by providing training and funding opportunities.
Ellis was a senior business systems analyst for a tech company when she realized that Black representation in tech spaces was worse than in other corporate areas.
“I'm usually the only Black person in boardroom meetings and definitely the only Black woman in the room. Yet, the recruiting process doesn't encounter many Black people. This is because most Black people don't apply,” says Ellis as she explains the challenges of hiring Black talent and Black entrepreneurs.
Through her consultancy work with the Black community, Ellis has found that most Black people don't think about making a career in tech and digital spaces because they are scared of math.
“There is a misconception that you need to be good at math. Besides, it doesn't help that there aren't many Black role models in the tech space,” she says before adding, “The overhead costs of running a website can break the bank for most Black startups and may even inhibit them from starting. But these are simple skills that will take your business and your career very far if you can put together a quick website. If you understand logic and reasoning, you can make it in the tech world.”
Ellis wants to bust the myth that one needs to be good at math or computer programming to make it into tech. Her personal experience is a living example. Technology never crossed Ellis’ mind because she ran from math every day of her life. After graduating from university in law and history, Ellis interned at law firms, spoke with lawyers, and tried to familiarize herself with the space. But it didn’t take her long to realize that scouring books upon books of law was not for her. So she left that line of work and pivoted into project management. Then, again, after some time, she switched to software engineering.
Where tech meets the non-tech
Nobellum believes in the future of technology in any industry. Ellis says that nowadays, employers are looking for people with a background in the subject area and a layer of familiarity with technology. So, she strongly recommends that regardless of industry, one should think about pairing their profession with technology to excel in their business.
“Technology is all about making sure that we're future-proofing these businesses. It is important to think digitally and where the industry is heading. This is where tech meets non-tech,” says Ellis, explaining the concept of tech meeting non-tech.
Ellis planned a pitch competition in 2019—a hackathon that she put together for Black people to start thinking about tech without feeling intimidated.
Initially, the goal was to raise funds for Black startups. But after a while, she wanted to help these businesses beyond just the startup phase. That was when the whole George Floyd incident took place.
Ellis was upset by the incident, but she was also moved by how the world reacted in support of the Black community. That time, she began listening to Dr. Claude Anderson. She came across a memorable speech where he mentioned that if Black people were respected by society and had a strong economy, they wouldn't become victims of police brutality.
“How could we throw our weight around and demand change when we don't have a robust business economy?” asks Ellis.
She firmly believes that the Black community needs more businesses to support policies and changes in the long run, and that’s when she decided to create Nobellum Enterprise. Through Nobellum, Ellis wants to drive socio-economic development in the community and Black representation in the tech space by building technology-enabled businesses.
Nobellum’s programs are available to everyone, but the focus is on attracting more young people to enter the tech space.
In March 2022, Nobellum launched the Nobellum Innovator Program in collaboration with the University of Toronto Scarborough campus to deliver training, mentorship, and incubation programs in business, technology, and entrepreneurship for aspiring entrepreneurs who identify as Black. The initiative aims to launch a minimum of 100 Black-owned companies by 2025 to create bridges and pathways for long-term systematic changes.
The Nobellum Innovator program has three sections:
(1) A series of skills-building workshops which prepares participants for the pitch competition
(2) The Innovathon pitch competition where entrants provide a submission of their business pitch
(3) The Innovator Bridging program where the winning participants receive funding of up to $20,000 to transform their business ideas into an actual business and gain unprecedented access to mentorship and various resources.
All the training and mentorship are administered from an Afrocentric lens. “We are bringing people from the Black community to teach Afrocentric leadership and ingrain Black culture in these businesses so they can compete with white-dominated spaces. This has never been done at the university before,” Ellis explains.
In addition, as they build their businesses, the program participants will become eligible for various services, including the free digital marketplace called Nobel-Hub that Nobellum is building.
Nobel-Hub aims to connect Black-owned young entrepreneurs to a community of service providers in the Black community specializing in Business-to-Business services essential to new startups.
“The participants must spend their funds on Black business because we want to change how that money is being spent historically across Black communities,” Ellis confirms.
Just as important is accountability. The participants will not receive all of the funds at once. Instead, they will receive a small amount, with the rest enclosed in a trust account connected to the Nobel-Hub app.
The Nobellum Innovator program is free and inclusive. There are no age restrictions, minimum requirements, or work experience needed. Interested individuals must fill out the registration form and come to the pitch.
“We are breaking down barriers. We don't want to say that you have to be privileged enough to afford a university education to change your life. The program is open to everyone in the world. You don't need any experience, you don’t have to be a tech person, and you don't even have to be in Canada. You could be anybody with passion, determination, and drive to succeed,” explains Ellis.
The five-year partnership fund with the university has reached $150,000. Ellis is aiming to grow the funds to $1 million to further her mission of helping Black entrepreneurs. The fund will be distributed over the next five years and Nobellum has pledged to contribute $90,000 in kind to the funds.
The Nobellum Innovator program has two mandatory workshops on July 11th and 18th to prepare participants for the pitch.
Registration for the first-round program is ongoing until May 2022. To register visit the Nobellum website.
Finally, Ellis wants the Black community to be aware of a few things: “The new gold rush isn't gold but information, data, and text. This is our opportunity to take a stance and change what the next 100 years will look like.”