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Let’s recognize the contribution of Black entrepreneurs

5-minute read

February is Black History Month and it’s a great time to recognize the remarkable contribution Black entrepreneurs are making to communities across Canada.

Over the years, I have worked with many Black entrepreneurs, and my own professional experiences have made me all the more impressed by their determination to overcome obstacles and build thriving businesses.

That’s why I’m proud BDC is well advanced in the creation of an action plan to better support Black entrepreneurs by providing them with financing and business advice, and by encouraging the growth of a vital Black entrepreneurship ecosystem in Canada.

We want to help more entrepreneurs to join the ranks of success stories like Marc Lafleur, CEO of Kitchener, Ontario’s TruLocal, a booming online meat vendor, and Frantz Saintellemy, President and Chief Operating Officer of LeddarTech, a fast-growing Quebec City company that designs and develops specialized microprocessors for the auto industry.

We know Black entrepreneurs often need support to get their businesses on a sustainable growth path.

Black business owners, along with women, Indigenous, visible minorities and LGBTQ2+ entrepreneurs, have traditionally faced more challenges in starting and growing businesses, including more difficulty accessing capital.

Pandemic exacerbates challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation, according to research from Statistics Canada. The research found that businesses owned by visible minorities, Indigenous people and women had their COVID-related requests to financial institutions rejected more frequently than the rate for all businesses.

I know what it’s like to face professional challenges. When I came to Canada from Nigeria in 2002 with my wife and two young children, we were searching for peace, security and opportunity. We found those things but getting started in our new home wasn’t easy.

In Nigeria, I had been a branch manager at a large bank, a position that came with a chauffeur-driven car. In Toronto, despite my experience and two university degrees, I was told time and again I needed Canadian experience to get a position. In some cases, my difficulties finding a job went beyond my resumé to what I perceived to be racism.

Determined to succeed

Nevertheless, I was determined to succeed. I told myself if I could put up with an icy Toronto winter, I could put up with anything. Finally, I landed a job with the Royal Bank as a teller. At 35, I was truly starting over from scratch.

It was humbling, but banking is an industry where your performance is quantifiable. You either surpass your targets or you don’t. I worked hard and moved up quickly. Eventually, I was recruited to join BDC as Business Centre Manager in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough.

I am now a Vice President and proud of the fact that BDC is committed to doing more to support Black entrepreneurs in overcoming barriers to their success. We have sought input from our partners, employees and entrepreneurs on how to best to move forward on this issue.

An early step in our efforts was the signing of the BlackNorth Initiative CEO pledge. This initiative of the Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism commits BDC to specific actions and targets to end anti-Black systemic racism and create more opportunities for the Black community.

Companies that signed the pledge commit to seven goals, including hiring at least 5% within their student workforce from the Black community and having at least 3.5% of executive and board roles being held by Black leaders by 2025.

Mentorship and networking are key to success

Over the years of working with Black entrepreneurs, I believe there are some fundamental practices that can make the difference between success and failure for them.

The first one is to find a mentor. I have benefitted from mentoring during my career, and I have mentored many entrepreneurs. I believe guidance from someone who has successfully navigated the challenges of running a business can be invaluable in the development of an entrepreneur. If you are 18-39, a great place to find both financing and a mentor is our partner organization, Futurpreneur Canada.

It’s also important to network in an organized way by joining business organizations and getting business training, especially in financial management.

A good credit score is key to getting a loan

When it comes to obtaining a business loan, you need to build a good credit score and prepare a solid loan proposal. If you have the resources, you might want to buy an existing company that already has a proven business model, operations and customers.

Most important of all is to have clear goals for yourself and your company, and the determination to overcome the inevitable difficulties and stay the course.

Consider certifying as a minority supplier

Becoming a supplier to large companies and organizations can be a great way to quickly grow your business. Many organizations, like BDC, have supplier diversity programs that can provide you with additional visibility when bidding for projects.

Certifying as a diversity supplier will also give you access to exclusive networking opportunities and can be a great way to access the U.S. market.

Contacting organizations like the Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council, which BDC supports, can be a good first step to consider when looking for procurement opportunities to help your business take the next step.

No matter what direction you choose, BDC will be here to help. We are taking steps to ensure we understand the reality of Black entrepreneurs and we want to make a difference, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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