The BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) Foundation in Lethbridge, Alta., is one of two organizations receiving federal funding to support the growth of Black entrepreneurship in Alberta.
Edmonton’s Canadian Imperial Advantage is receiving $2.8-million while BIPOC Foundation is getting $2.6-million.
“We know that the Black population is our fastest growing population in Western Canada, and we also know that Black entrepreneurs are under-represented on the national level,” said Minister responsible for Prairies Economic Development Canada Daniel Vandal.
“It’s something that is going to create jobs and diversify the economy in Western Canada and Canada, for that matter.”
The funding is provided through the Black Entrepreneurship Program’s National Ecosystem Program.
Clement Esene, executive director of BIPOC Foundation, said the money will be going toward the organization’s Black Founders Hub to support Black-led businesses in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, through the use of digital tools.
“It’s a 10-week accelerator program where the entrepreneurs will go through an intake process and they will get help with mentorship, they will get help with training, the right coaching,” he explained.
The non-profit will be able to assist Black-led businesses in accessing funding and connect with investors, something Esene said isn’t always an easy task.
“There is obviously unspoken biases in the system that immigrants have to face,” he said.
“The best time for this to have happened was maybe five or ten years ago. The next best time is now.”
Business owner Stephen Onyango agreed that people of colour aren’t always on a level playing field.
Originally from Kenya, Onyango studied as a international student for several years before opening Legend Productions in Lethbridge in 2015.
He said the first couple of years were difficult.
“If I had funding then, I probably would be somewhere higher than I am right now,” he said.
Along with the expected challenges of starting a new business, he said there were instances of prejudice.
“I show my face a lot so (people) don’t get surprised when I show up to the shoot,” he explained, stating he’d been turned down in the past when clients met him in-person.
“I go to all these (business events) and I’m the only black person there,” Onyango said. “There’s not many people of colour.”
He hopes the funding can help others like him to further their success.
“Black history is built every day,” he said. “There is history, things that have happened to get us to where we are right now, but we are still making history right now.”