Network for Black entrepreneurs in Hamilton and Windsor created with federal grant of $1.9 million

Dr. Bonny Ibhawoh, Claudius Thomas, Helena Jaczek, Filomena Tassi, Lisa Hepfner, Ashleigh Montague, Leo Nupolu Johnson, and Yvonne Pilon at the funding announcement for the the Southwestern Ontario Black Business Network. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

The federal government is investing upwards of $1.9 million to help support Black entrepreneurs and business owners in Hamilton and Windsor, Ont.

On Tuesday, Minister Helena Jaczek of FedDev Ontario announced the funding for Empowerment Squared, a non-profit that supports newcomer, racialized and marginalized communities, to create the Southwestern Ontario Black Business Network.

“We understand that many Black entrepreneurs in our country continue to face barriers to success, including a lack of access to capital, resources, networks and opportunities,” said Jaczek.

The service will provide advisory services, mentorship, entrepreneurial training and networking opportunities for up to 275 Black entrepreneurs and create 80 new jobs.

Leo Nupolu Johnson, founder and executive director of Empowerment Squared, said the funding will help Black business owners and entrepreneurs invest back in their communities.

Story continues below advertisement

“As a community, the Black community, there are two sides to the challenges we face: one side is the fighting side, and I often like to say the other side is the building side. So we stand up, we fight against injustices and different kinds that we have to deal with, but I’m pleased that we can be partnering with the Canadian government to draw some energy to the building side, which I believe has been neglected for far too long.”

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

He said the goal will be to leverage this funding and ideally look at expanding beyond the target beneficiaries in the two regions of Hamilton and Windsor, with the first cohorts coming on board in September.

When asked about whether the network could see more investment from the federal government in the future, Jaczek said that’s something they’ll be assessing on an ongoing basis, depending on how successful it is with this startup grant.

“We’re not just handing out money left, right and centre — we’re totally focused on results. And a lot of what FedDev does with a lot of its programs is this kind of ongoing analysis to see what has worked, where we can scale up.”

One organization that was started to help promote Black business owners in Hamilton is BLK Owned, which was co-created by Ashleigh Montague, who got her own start in Empowerment Squared when she was a child.

Story continues below advertisement

Montague said the non-profit conducted a feasibility study last year, asking Black entrepreneurs about the struggles they face, and heard that many of them were young, under the age of 45, and only about a third had an annual revenue of over $10,000.

Access to resources and skills development were also hard to come by, according to the study, and Montague said that’s what prompted them to focus on helping Black entrepreneurs create sustainable businesses.

“We look forward to working with Empowerment Squared and the community to build out the amazing ecosystems of entrepreneurs that will plant roots in this region and strengthen our communities,” said Montague.

“As a Black entrepreneur, I can say I am excited for the potential of this funding and look forward to this continued productive relationship with the Canadian government and future supports which will allow for sustainable growth and success in years to come.”

Sponsored content