Top Black entrepreneurs and Collision tech conference

By Lincoln DePradine

Wes Hall and Isaac Olowolafe Jr.

Isaac Olowolafe Jr. and Wes Hall are two of the Black community’s – and Canada’s – most successful entrepreneurs.

The two, whose assets are valued at millions of dollars, had some advice for people who recently met at a “fireside chat’’ of the City of Brampton’s Economic Development Office (EDO).

“You’re never too old to learn; to be successful, to do something very different,’’ said Jamaican-born Hall, who has made a successful career as founder of Kingsdale Advisors.

Through Kingsdale, Hall spearheaded a series of deals such as Enbridge’s $37 billion merger with Spectra Energy; Agrium and Potash Corporation’s $36 billion merger; and Tim Hortons’ $12.5 billion merger with Burger King.

Hall, who also is owner of a leading national environmental and industrial services provider, as well as founder and chairman of the Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism and the BlackNorth Initiative, was one of the main speakers at the EDO’s “Countdown to Collision’’.

It’s a buildup to a June 20-23 Toronto conference, “Collision’’, which has been dubbed “the Olympics of Tech”.

Collision will include speakers’ presentations, panel discussions and showcases. Among confirmed speakers are Dragon’s Den star Michele Romanow of Canada; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; and NBA player Spencer Dinwiddie of the Dallas Mavericks.

Clare Barnett and Isaac Olowolafe Jr.with city staff.

Organizers of this month’s Collision tech conference, scheduled for Toronto’s Enercare Centre, say they expect in excess of 850 investors and more than 33,000 attendees.

Participants, they claim, would be able to “connect with who you want to meet to drive your business forward’’.

Bloomberg, the US-based business and financial news outlet, has described Collision as “one of the world’s biggest tech conferences.”

It’s the third time the City of Brampton has hosted an event to coincide with the annual Collision conference.

Olowolafe, who joined Hall in delivering remarks in Brampton, explained that before achieving success in business, he made two decisions he referred to as “scary’’, because he lacked any friends or mentors with whom he could have consulted and sought advice.

At 28, “I decided that I wanted to be a real estate developer and builder in Toronto,’’ he said. “It was a scary decision but it was my first major decision.”

Olowolafe’s “second major decision’’ was taken seven years ago, he said, when he launched out as a venture capitalist. He became founder and general partner of Dream Maker Ventures, a Toronto-based, early-stage venture firm.

From Left Kareem Bonner, Wes Hall and Clare Barnett

A key to achieving one’s goal is to remain focused, said Olowolafe.

“I think it’s having a long-term vision but understanding there will be short-term losses, short-term struggles, but believing in the end result,’’ he said.

The outcome of the EDO get-together, which included a networking opportunity for budding business entrepreneurs in Brampton, was welcomed by city officials such as Gwyneth Matthew Chapman and Clare Barnet

“In my role at the city, we are focused on having hundreds of Black youth attend the conference to increase exposure to new careers in technology and entrepreneurship.  Inclusion and exposure go a long way,’’ said Chapman, senior advisor in Brampton’s Black, African and Caribbean Social, Cultural and Economic Empowerment and Anti-Black Racism Unit.

Chapman hosted the conversation with Olowolafe and Hall, and Barnet said Brampton was “honoured’’ to have the two men as speakers.

“Their inspiring stories demonstrate resilience, determination, and the ability to stay focused on their dreams,’’ said Barnet, Brampton’s EDO director.

“The evening was brilliant and inspiring and a reminder to our young people that they too have what it takes to succeed and can achieve any goal they pursue,” Barnet added. “Both men started with a dream for a better life for themselves and others.  This inspired a level of inner conviction that – despite the odds and barriers they faced – they were committed to achieve. Appreciated for their status and influence in the community, they continue to create more economic opportunity for others and create opportunities to mentor and support Black youth.’’