The Telfer School of Management’s 2023 Young Achiever’s Award is bestowed annually upon remarkable alumni under the age of 40 who are making extraordinary contributions to their communities and professions. This year’s recipient, Eric Agyemang (BCom’15), embodies both vision and accomplishment as he continues merging his game-changing social impact prowess with his financial business acumen. Eric is a first-generation immigrant to Canada, entrepreneur, investor, community leader, and award-winning international trade professional, dedicated to empowering immigrants and meaningfully investing in their businesses.
From Ghana to Canada – Creating Meaningful Impact
Eric’s road to Canada began long ago before he moved permanently to the country in his early twenties. As a teenager, he “fell in love with Canada through volunteering,” he shared in an interview. Originally from Ghana, Agyemang explained that his first trip to Canada came as part of the Canada World Youth (CWY) volunteer program. CWY is a leading international non-profit that provides youth leaders in different countries with international work experience through community-driven development projects focused on creating sustainable change in communities around the world. Through CWY, Agyemang left Ghana for Souris, a small town of 1,000 people on Prince Edward Island. He was there with 8 other Ghanaian high school graduates and their 9 Canadian student counterparts. Agyemang’s first impression of Canada was far from the metropolitan pace of Vancouver or bustling Toronto, but he was hooked.
After returning to Ghana, he set to work right away on finding new opportunities to create change internationally. After working and volunteering abroad in Dublin, Ireland for several years, Agyemang returned to Canada in 2009, this time for good.
As a Young First-Generation Immigrant, Agyemang Focused on Education
Agyemang first went to Algonquin College to pursue international business as an international student. Recalling his own challenges immigrating to Canada, Agyemang remains deeply grateful to his family for their unwavering support and friends who helped him through the most difficult transition. He knows well so many do not arrive with any form of support network. “For my close friends, their stories were not the same,” says Eric, noting the lack of support or means to advocate for yourself common to many, which continues to fuel his desire to pay his “blessings” forward and meaningfully support other first-generation immigrants in their own journeys.
It’s this unrelenting commitment to pragmatically lifting others up while maintaining an excellent academic record that also led to Agyemang achieving multiple awards and accolades, including the School of Business Award at Algonquin College, and was named one of Canada’s Top 25 International Business Students in 2013. He also won the Forum for International Trade Training (FITT) International Business Plan award in 2012. Before graduating from Algonquin, Agyemang also landed the role of President of Algonquin’s International Student Association.
This student experience led to deeper questions: how do we more proactively engage with the unique skill sets and experiences of immigrants arriving in Canada? How do we help smooth out that transition and get them better access to opportunities and actualize their full potential?
The Telfer Career Session that Led to His 1st Big Break
Agyemang went on to get his Bachelor of Commerce in International Management at the University of Ottawa, graduating with honours in 2015. He recalled feeling like he was always looking for his first big professional break. It was at Telfer’s career session, that he wasn’t even sure if he should attend or not, that he met someone from Export Development Canada (EDC), an interaction that changed the entire trajectory of his career, and arguably his life, forever. That interaction eventually led to him being invited to apply to the EDC-FITT Student Internship Program, for which he was selected in 2014, securing his first Canadian position in international trade.
“Telfer played an incredibly pivotal role in my career,” says Eric, describing Telfer as the bridge that enabled him to take his career to the next level. By opening doors, enabling a chance for him to meet someone at EDC, and make a meaningful connection, Telfer ushered in a new era for Agyemang with the top tier employer in the Canadian international trade market. He also fondly recalls the opportunity to complete an international exchange at Sweden’s Lund University, further learning about Scandinavian culture and allowing him to form life-long friendships with fellow classmates.
Agyemang Has Learned to Seize Every Moment – Literally
Continuing his education with an MBA from Queen’s University while working for EDC, Agyemang was tasked with interviewing a business leader for an important group project. While pondering whom he would select and how at work one morning, EDC’s CEO Mairead Lavery came into the elevator with him. Although in his heart he felt like this was his moment to say something and ask her to participate in his group project, he hesitated and Lavery got to her floor and began to walk out. At that moment, Agyemang realized he risked losing this chance and mustered up the courage to stop the elevator door in its tracks and ask her permission to interview her for his MBA project. In keeping with her reputation for championing students and young professionals, Mairead agreed right away and they worked together on an incredible interview. That experience and the insight garnered from learning of Mairead’s own journey into business leadership became one of Agyemang’s best memories of his MBA program, not to mention formative in how he saw responsive C-suite leadership choose to collaborate. Eric will be the first to tell any young professional to take it from him and “Take every opportunity and make the best of it – even if you have to stop the doors of opportunity from closing – literally.”
After completing that MBA from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, with a certificate in Social Impact, Eric most recently completed a Sustainable Finance Certificate from Cambridge University. “In our family, we may have encouraged education a bit too strongly, but I hope to continue learning for my entire professional career,” he adds.
An Award-Winning International Trade Professional & Community Advocate
Deeply committed to creating meaningful social change, Agyemang turned to international trade and community-based volunteering — using his lived experiences to help better serve underrepresented communities and business owners alike.
For nearly a decade, Agyemang worked in international trade and finance at EDC, mentored by many, including fellow uOttawa alumna Justine Hendricks who won the prestigious R. Trudeau Medal in 2017. As a Strategic Alliances Manager, Agyemang’s work at EDC most recently focused on supporting Canadian exporters seeking to break into international markets, and his clients included not only large-scale corporations with over $100 million dollar revenues but also tech startups and SMEs, allowing him to work on EDC’s strategic partnerships with some of the nation’s top innovation and startup hubs.
Outside of work, Agyemang focused on giving back: he is a career mentor, speaker, and case competition judge for Telfer students. He serves the Ottawa community diligently in various volunteer capacities, focusing his efforts for the past 8 years mainly with the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO), where he is currently completing his final consecutive term as the President of their Board of Directors. Agyemang is also an Angel Investor with Ottawa’s Capital Angel Network. By any measure, it is unsurprising that in 2022, Agyemang also received the University of Ottawa’s Award of Excellence for Community Service from the uOttawa Alumni Association.
Agyemang is Focused on Bridging Canada’s Innovation Gap by Empowering Immigrant Entrepreneurship
“We’ve got an innovation gap in Canada, not to mention a labour shortage. Canada does an amazing job attracting some of the best talent and well-educated people but there is a vast underutilization of this talent in the immigrant community,” says Eric. “We are not fully accessing the vast immigrant entrepreneurship expertise, who can bring a much-needed global perspective to problem-solving, tech innovation, and creatively addressing modern concerns. Not just to integrate them into Canada’s existing business market, but to actively help them maximize their own professional excellence. What if we give Canadian immigrant entrepreneurs better initial investments, enable them to open their own doors to rooms that would otherwise have stayed locked, and give them capital to scale those businesses? What would Canada look like then? As a nation, we have barely scratched the surface of the immigrant community’s potential. And the time is now to get to that good work.”
And he’s got the numbers to back it up — by 2036, 30% of Canada’s population will be represented by immigrants, which was at 20.7% in 2011. Plus, immigration accounts for almost 100% of Canada’s labour force growth and roughly 75% of Canada’s population growth comes from immigration, mostly in the economic category. And this is not an accident — qualitatively speaking, first-generation immigrants exhibit a lot of qualities you look for in a founder: resilience, perseverance, adaptability, and the ability to start again (and again). Not to mention the technical skills — 54% of university-educated STEM graduates in Canada are first-generation immigrants. In the USA, companies valued at 1 billion and more, more than 55% were created by first-generation immigrants.
Agyemang Sets His Sights on Empowering Immigrants through Directed Venture Capital
In a bold move, Agyemang has recently left EDC to actively pursue his dream of creating a business from the ground up focused solely on bridging the investment gaps faced by Canadian immigrant entrepreneurs, empowering Canadian innovation, and breaking down systemic investment barriers impeding immigrant-owned and led businesses. That is just what he has done in founding Maple Bridge Ventures.
Believing wholeheartedly in the importance of tapping into the incredible Canadian immigrant talent pool, Agyemang is now 100% devoted to his new venture capital firm which is supporting immigrant founders. As the Managing Partner, Agyemang is now actively investing in other game-changing immigrant founders to unlock the next wave of global innovation.
In the next 10 years, Agyemang’s mission is to invest in 100 game-changing immigrant founders in Canada.
In the End, Paying it Forward Matters
“The greatest ‘why’ I do the things I do, and I want to contribute as much as I can is because of my humble beginnings,” says Agyemang. “I take the opportunities and support I’ve been given very seriously — my story wouldn’t be what it is now if it wasn’t for the people who took a bet on me early on — those people made my dreams come true.” Agyemang continues to dig deeper, asking himself every day, “What can I do to make a real difference? How can I really capitalize on what I have to make a real impact?” Embodying this true desire to make the world a better place is this venture capitalist’s personal ethos, present in the work he’s done at EDC, and in his investing contributions. Agyemang’s commitment to success goes deeper than simply the bottom line; he is focused on solving real problems and making real changes in everything he does.
From a community-leader business in Ghana to a Canadian venture fund which will help many immigrants just like him, Eric Agyemang is the exemplary Young Achiever of the Year. We are proud to call him an alumnus of the Telfer School of Management.
We cannot wait to see all the success unfold before Agyemang-backed immigrant-led businesses and Eric himself at Maple Bridge Ventures. This one is certainly one to watch.