In June 2021 Lise Birikundavyi launched the first institutionally backed, Black woman-owned venture fund in Canada. And it is reportedly the only one.
Canada has fewer than one in ten venture funds with a woman as a managing partner. Birikundavyi is principal and fund manager for Black Innovation Capital.
Black Innovation Capital is a $10 million VC fund that invests in Black-led tech startups. It is backed by white-owned BDC Capital, Canada’s largest and most active early-stage venture capital investor. While BDC Capital is the lead investor for Black Innovation Capital, other limited partners include RBC, Globalive Capital, and TELUS Ventures.
Birikundavyi launched the fund with angel investor Isaac Olowolafe.
“Any business we invest in must be Black-led — that’s at least 25 percent of ownership or executive management — and an early-stage tech company. We expect the teams will come from various backgrounds because, within Black communities, you tend to see many different backgrounds and perspectives,” Birikundavyi told Women of Influence.
“When I decided to start this adventure with Isaac Olowolafe to found Black Innovation Capital, it felt similar to my work in Africa — despite it being a completely different market,” Birikundavyi told Women of Influence.
She added, “The fund was about economic empowerment, working with a population that is not receiving the funding it should, and wanting to help them create wealth that can be reinvested in the community. For us, it’s not about one community versus another; it’s about the greater participation of all communities in the VC space. It’s about diversity and inclusion and everyone contributing to a better system.”
The firm will invest in Black startups based in Canada, 10 percent of its portfolio companies are expected to be global.
“Black entrepreneurs are underfunded and underrepresented in the North American venture capital and private equity markets,” said Olowolafe in a press release. “Unfortunately, this information is not tracked in Canada, but we know the situation is critical. Our goal is to raise 10 million dollars to help Black-founded tech companies thrive.”
Burundi-born, Montreal-raised Birikundavyi worked in finance internationally — from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to Argentina and China — for several institutions.
While working in Argentina, Birikundavyi said she learned about the idea of social entrepreneurship.
“I liked the idea of doing good while building capacity and making money. I realized that this was real empowerment — supporting the creation of role models in different societies by giving them the means to build something on their own, which would have a ripple effect in their communities, without anyone feeling indebted as the financial benefit would be shared,” Birikundavyi told Betakit.
Soon she had the desire to venture out on her own, trying out social entrepreneurship.
“I decided I would try to create my own pathway in impact investing with an outlook for emerging markets. I went on to do my MBA in Shanghai with three goals: learning Mandarin, creating a solid network, and understanding the China-Africa relationship. Everything I did there was around impact investing, and I took the opportunity to craft my next steps carefully,” she shares.
Now she’s looking for a Black-owned company to help get its start.