Business Startups

DMZ Startups and Alumni Surpass $1-Billion in Funding

GraphicGraphic of money and stars to represent the DMZ surpassing $1 billion in funding for startups and alumni.

The latest milestone from the DMZ is both an impressive feat and a reflection of Canada’s growing tech and startup ecosystem.

For the last 11 years, the Ryerson DMZ has helped foster the success of hundreds of startups—194 of which have now collectively raised over $1 billion (CAD) in funding.

What began as a small student co-working space in 2010, has transformed into a leading incubator for tech startups. Through the DMZ’s numerous programs, founders are given the opportunity to join an unparalleled community of entrepreneurs while connecting with the resources needed for their business to succeed. 

The $1 billion mark in DMZ’s startups and alumni funding is a huge achievement for the incubator and serves as a testament to the tech potential in Canada. 

“Canadian tech startups are becoming increasingly successful and competitive,” says Executive Director of the DMZ, Abdullah Snobar. “To double down on these trajectories and continue to generate top-tier tech businesses, the ecosystem needs to be able to support funding for early-stage founders. This is a huge milestone for Canada—and it’s just the beginning”

The support for early-stage founders is where the DMZ excels. Having had over 500 startups come through its doors, the incubator lends itself as a launchpad of sorts for the future of Canadian business. And through its Black Innovation Programs and Women Founders Fast Track, the DMZ is committed to supporting historically underrepresented founders.

Hitting the $1 billion mark is exciting, but Snobar notes that the number of jobs DMZ alumni have created is equally impressive: over 4,200. Alumni of the incubator include the likes of jewelry e-commerce giant Mejuri, fintech company Borrowell, and AI-driven customer service platform Ada, to name a few.

What DMZ alum pushed the funding to the new milestone? That would be Snapcommerce. The messaging platform is a branch off of Snaptravel and promises to be the future of mobile commerce. The Series B funding round of $107 million (CAD) didn’t just help reach the $1 billion mark, it was also the largest single funding round of a DMZ alum to date!

CEO and Co-Founder of Snapcommerce, Hussein Fazal, remembers his days at the DMZ fondly.

“The DMZ was actually our very first office, back when it was just myself and Henry,” says Fazal. “ It was a great place to work at. It had great energy, and great cooperation and help from the staff of the DMZ. And it was great to be around other startups and have that startup vibe.”

Hussein Fazal and Henry Shi, Co-Founders of Snapcommerce at their first day at the DMZ in 2016.
A group picture of the Snapcommerce team with Steph Curry.
The Snapcommerce team in 2019, pictured with basketball star Steph Curry, who was a Series A investor in the company.

Fazal and his co-founder, Henry Shi, were able to grow the business quite quickly, which meant moving out of the DMZ within eight months. And although their time was was brief, it’s a great example of what the DMZ can do for early-stage startups. 

For companies like Snapcommerce that outgrow the DMZ and find further success, they’re always willing to help other startups within the incubator. Fazal credits the strong sense of community within the DMZ for the camaraderie amongst founders. Before the pandemic, Fazal enjoyed going to the DMZ and talking with up-and-coming companies.

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“I think with the overall network at the DMZ, everyone wants to give back,” he says. “That’s part of being a good entrepreneur—being able to give back and help out.”

And there is no shortage of new companies to help out. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic closing the downtown Toronto doors and having the DMZ go virtual, the incubator program had a 35 percent increase in applications last year.

By going digital, the physical need to be in Toronto to participate was eliminated, allowing companies across Canada to participate. Going virtual also allowed the DMZ to launch partnerships in Tokyo and the Caribbean, connecting their founders to resources across the world.

More than anything, Snobar credits the growth within the Canadian startup ecosystem for the increase of interest in the DMZ and entrepreneurship as a whole. Back when the DMZ opened in 2010, he says that people were skeptical about entrepreneurship and all of its possibilities. That notion is long gone.

“Now entrepreneurship has become normalized. As a matter of fact, it’s actually become the preferred option for a lot of young professionals who are incredibly successful or who have a lot of knowledge and building technology,” says Snobar. “They don’t want to just go and work for the next corporate. They actually want to make their own impact and they want to build a legacy around it.”

In addition to celebrating the $1 billion milestone, Snobar looks forward to continuing to help the Canadian startup ecosystem flourish. And no matter where and how the incubator grows, the DMZ will continue to focus on its values: Equity over everything; Founders first; and Be great, in everything it does. 

As for when the next $1 billion in funding will happen for DMZ startups and alumni, Snobar is sure it will be sooner rather than later.

“It took us 11 years to hit $1 billion. I’m willing to say that I’m confident we’ll see the $2 billion mark in less than a quarter of the time.” 

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