By being named to the Globe and Mail’s inaugural list of 50 Canadian Changemakers, Charles Milton hopes he can shine a spotlight on the dearth of domestic Black entrepreneurs in the Nova Scotian startup community.
Milton, the Co-Founder and CEO of Halifax-based Bursity, was one of three Atlantic Canadian tech founders named to the national newspaper’s list of Canadians who are making a difference on Friday. The others are Sam Poirier, Co-Founder and CEO of Fredericton-based Potential Motors, and Mathew Zimola, Co-Founder and CEO of ReelData AI in Halifax.
Milton was born in Nova Scotia, raised in Montreal and returned to Atlantic Canada as an adult. He said he would never have known about the startup ecosystem if he hadn’t learned about it as a mature student and that many Black students only learn of opportunities like starting businesses if they can attend post-secondary education.
“From my perspective, I feel as if Nova Scotia is not an environment that makes members of the Black community feel like they can be successful in this area,” said Milton in an interview. “That bothers me because there are a range of Black inventors who have contributed greatly to the internet around the world.”
Bursity’s website, which is now being beta tested, offers a searchable database that helps post-secondary students from racialized communities apply for scholarships or bursaries. Later, Milton and his Co-Founder Edward Ma plan to introduce a feature that will automate the application process, allowing users to apply for more scholarships than would be possible if they were required to apply manually.
Milton said he feels strongly about helping Black and minority students to finance post-secondary education, partly for the benefits of education itself. But he also believes it exposes young people to opportunities, like learning about entrepreneurship, which can change people’s fortunes.
While the startup community has many people of colour who are running businesses, there is an under-representation of Black IT entrepreneurs who were born and raised in Nova Scotia – who Milton refers to as domestic Black Nova Scotians. He is among the growing number of people sounding the alarm about this and taking action to change it.
While he’s encouraged by the announcement in September that the federal government and eight financial institutions will provide $221 million to support Black-owned businesses, Milton waits to see how things play out.
“Though things are looking better for Canadian founders with the $221 million being released, we still have to see where that will go,” said Milton. “Locally, I’m seeing that some initiatives are taking seed and I’m very happy so see it. I just hope those initiatives can grow.”
Zimola was named to the Changemaker’s list for his leadership of ReelData, which is using artificial intelligence to improve on-land aquaculture. Founded by Dalhousie University computer science grads Zimola and Hossein Salimian, ReelData has developed software that analyzes video from inside aquaculture tanks to determine the biomass and health of the fish stock, and ensure the fish are getting just the right amount of food. ReelData received higher honours than any other Canadian company at the MassChallenge accelerator in Boston last summer.
Fredericton’s Sam Poirier co-founded Potential Motors while a student at University of New Brunswick. Potential Motors is working on a software product called RallyAI that it says will change the driving experience. Driving currently relies on the driver controlling how the car moves or stops through mechanical systems, but Potential is working on software that would oversee the power, steering and braking in each wheel. That means that if one wheel hits a patch of ice in the winter for example, the others will react accordingly to stabilize the vehicle.