Young, black and in technology? University of Toronto Scarborough Hosts Pitch Competition for STEM-Based Companies

Melisa Ellis is the founder of Nobellum Enterprise, a social enterprise and technology nonprofit that will fund black STEM entrepreneurs selected through a July 9 competition at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

Young black entrepreneurs can pitch great business ideas based on technology – and on Saturday, July 9, Melisa Ellis wants to prove it.

The founder of the nonprofit Nobellum Enterprise and partner, the University of Toronto Scarborough, hosted its first-ever “innovathon,” an on-campus pitch competition that will see four of the ten selected teams receive entry fees.

But the bigger goal of the contest, which 560 people signed up for, is to give black youth and young professionals “the feeling that technology could be for them,” Ellis said in an interview.

“I urge us not to miss this digital wave,” the software engineer added, saying she started the Greater Toronto-based social and tech enterprise after not seeing many black companies applying for contracts.

The 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. UTSC event at the campus’ Highland Hall, 1265 Military Tr., will be graced with slam poetry, authentic Caribbean and African cuisine, and other things that “contain our culture,” as teams present ideas for science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) companies, said Ellis.

Ontario Poet Laureate Scarborough’s Rendell Adjei is writing a piece to perform at the event, which will be streamed live.

UTSC boss Wisdom Tettey and Scarborough-Guildwood MPP Mitzie Hunter are also scheduled to speak.

Ellis noted that high percentages of black international students from Africa and the Caribbean come to STEM programs at universities in Ontario, but black students here are often turned away from those academic-level subjects.

During high school in Toronto, Ellis herself was blasted out of science and math, which the guidance counselors told her were the “hard courses.”

She went to university to study history, but said she later returned after discovering technology as a project manager.

She emphasized that Nobellum, which partners with UTSC and its incubators the BRIDGE and TheHub, would continue to work with black entrepreneurs in the competition, whether they receive money or not.

The social enterprise aims to continue the pitch competition as an annual event, launching 100 Black-owned STEM startups by 2025.