In 2018, Isaac Olowolafe Jr., founder of diversified asset management company Dream Maker Inc., launched Dream Maker Ventures. Focused on providing venture capital funding to tech companies founded by entrepreneurs from marginalized groups – such as women, people of colour and people with disabilities – Dream Maker Ventures is an important part of the Dream Maker Inc. family, which works in verticals like real estate, property management and development.
For Olowolafe Jr., launching a venture capital arm was about anticipating the impact that tech companies would have in Toronto. From construction to sales to property management, technology has a major impact on all areas of asset management. “We thought, as more companies set up and more tech companies build up and expand, they’re going to need services that we offer, from housing to commercial space,” said Olowolafe Jr. “Or, do we want to be involved in helping to build out the tech ecosystem and actually invest in them? So we said, let’s do the latter.”
Olowolafe Jr. acts as a general partner of Dream Maker Ventures, with Newton Asare as a partner and Danielle Graham as principal. Since its launch, Dream Maker Ventures has launched several initiatives in an effort to become a better partner for entrepreneurs. In November 2019, Dream Maker Ventures launched a program through the Dream Legacy Foundation, its thought leadership arm, to help partner organizations develop entrepreneurial support programs. Partner organizations include The Centre for Indigenous Innovation and Technology, Access to Success, Venture Out, Jumpstart and Scale Without Borders. Dream Maker Ventures also runs the Black Innovation Fellowship, a $1 million program with Ryerson University that provides funding annually to Black entrepreneurs.
As part of an asset management company, Dream Maker Ventures can provide unique perks to its startups. Olowolafe Jr. said that the company has advertised its portfolio companies like Second Closet – which provides storage space to people and allows them to pay only for what they use – to its condo tenants owners and occupants.
“Our venture company is able to invest in companies that we could plug into our real estate businesses to not only give them market traction right off the bat but also allow them to fine-tune their products and services with a partner,” Olowolafe Jr. said.
Toronto is a crowded real estate market, with CBRE reporting in August 2019 that the office vacancy rate is 2.4 percent, a new record low. In September 2019, RBC Economics said in a report that the pace of building new housing must increase to meet increased demand in Toronto and Vancouver. “The right level (and mix) of rental supply is crucial to stabilize rent,” the report reads. “Housing policy that ultimately raises a market’s vacancy rate to, say, something closer to four percent has a good chance of generating meaningful rent relief.”
While housing and affordability are ongoing and complex problems, this is also an area that Dream Maker Ventures tries to help entrepreneurs with. The firm has a DreamSuites program, which offers furnished housing to its entrepreneurs. DreamSuites are available in areas like Yorkdale, the East end, and downtown Toronto. Olowolafe Jr. says its latest DreamSuites offering is a boutique, multi-purpose building by Pearson Airport. The building will act as a space for both tech entrepreneurs and corporates with meeting rooms and hotel rooms. “The idea is to do multiple of those within key areas across the GTA and across Canada,” Olowolafe Jr. said.
Overall, investing in other companies is an important investment in the business. By working with startups, Dream Maker Inc. can also gain insight into emerging technologies and how they can help improve operations. For example, portfolio company Gimme360, which allows users to build augmented reality experiences without coding experience, can be used within Dream Maker Inc. real estate projects to help them sell properties faster. “I think it’s given us a great advantage, as it’s allowed investors that have invested with us to see that we’re looking at where the market is going and not reacting to the market,” said Olowolafe Jr.
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Jessica Galang is a tech journalist who has been tracking the Canadian tech ecosystem for the last several years. In the past, she was news editor at BetaKit and a reporter at The Logic, interviewing hundreds of entrepreneurs in emerging industries.