BIPOC women entrepreneurs pitch their businesses that leverage their unique perspectives


On April 5, 2023, six leading BIPOC Women entrepreneurs from across Alberta pitched their businesses to a sold-out crowd of investors, tech founders, and innovation enthusiasts. The second event in Innovate Calgary’s inclusive innovation portfolio series focused on celebrating the contributions that BIPOC Women founders make to Alberta’s burgeoning tech industry. The crowd heard about companies solving a range of problems and featuring technology including robotic arms, digital marketing apps, advances in fashion, job finder applications, gamified community-building tools for Gen Z and many more. The company that came out on top was UpRow, a tech solution aiming to eliminate immigration fraud and improve the immigration experience globally. This virtual marketplace and social media platform connects immigrants and potential immigrants with verified immigration professionals. 

The first-place winner and people’s choice pitcher, Kelise Williams looks to grow her business 

“I’ve been working on UpRow for the last two years and up until now, the company has generated over $100,000 in revenue, along with having close to 3000 persons on our minimum viable product (MVP). I feel like now is the time where I need to really start fundraising, networking and collaborating to propel UpRow to another major milestone to achieve the next level of success and the pitch competition seemed to be the perfect opportunity to do so.” Kelise Williams, founder of UpRow. 

During her pitch Kelise spoke about her journey to Canada and being a victim of immigration fraud that resulted in homelessness, confusion and isolation her first few weeks in Canada. Having settled here for a few years now, she hopes to use that experience to help newcomers settle faster, be safer and avoid being scammed while trying to start a new journey in Canada. 

Learn more about UpRow

“BIPOC women founders are leveraging their unique experiences and perspectives to build their value propositions within a competitive market. There is clearly demand for pitch events and activities like this that help support them on their journey. We are excited to invite the community to celebrate and support these entrepreneurs with us” says Jerome Morgan, Senior Innovation Manager and project lead for the BIPOC Rural Tech Founders event series. 

Congratulations to the other top pitchers: 

Second Place went to Kajal Dattani, cofounder of VOTO. VOTO is an innovative engagement platform that helps businesses anticipate what consumers want through interactive campaigns. They incentivize consumers to engage by embedding Calls to Action with charitable giving triggers. Using this method VOTO has increased lead generation by 4X compared to [the 3-5%] industry average and secured pre-sales. 

Learn more about VOTO

Third Place went to Alicia Nahmad Vazquez, founder of MI Toolbox. MIToolbox aims to futureproof the construction trades, diversify the industry and make it more inclusive. MI Toolbox’s proposition includes the hardware, software and a microcredential training program. By digitizing onsite construction, we upskill local labour, use local materials, incentivize young talent to enter an industry otherwise seen as outdated, contribute to local economies, and enable more people to enter the industry. 

Learn more about MIToolbox

Other top pitchers included:

Finalists from left to right: Prasanthi Naidoo, Ranique Mclaughlin, Kajal Dattani, Alicia Nahmad Vazquez, Sheena Virmani and Kelise Williams.

Competition centers people to support ventures

The BIPOC Women in Tech Pitch Competition took a unique approach in that it aims to foster an encouraging environment centered on people and support. The top six of the twenty-three applications pitched at the event and received cash price with additional business support from Innovate Calgary and several ecosystem partners. The event featured wrap-around services from Calgary’s ecosystem and would not be possible without contributions from our partners: Calgary Innovation Coalition, Black Business Ventures Association, Platform Calgary, Mindfuel, Catapult Calgary, Edmonton Unlimited, Black Canadian Women in Action, The 51, Haskayne School of Business, Immigrant Education Society, Alberta Black Stakeholders for Social Economic Collaborative, Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, Start Up TNT, Rainforest Alberta. 

This is the second event of the BIPOC Rural Tech Founders event series, the first being the Black Founders in Tech Pitch Competition. The third event will focus on celebrating rural innovators and founders. Subscribe to our newsletter to be notified of the details when they become available and learn more about the Social Innovation Hub. 

If you are looking to partner with us on other initiatives in the BIPOC Founders event series, connect with Jerome Morgan, Senior Innovation Manager, Social Innovation. 

Connect with Jerome Morgan