Black Entrepreneurship Program first of its kind in Canada

Egbert Gaye

Black businesses across Canada stand to benefit from an initiative recently announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau totaling about $221 million aimed at helping entrepreneurs access capital and support for new and existing companies.
The prime minister heralds the Black Entrepreneurship Program as the first of its kind in Canada saying it will “help support Black entrepreneurs and create new opportunities for Black-owned businesses, so they are well-positioned for our economic recovery.”

The program hinges on three pillars:

• The National Ecosystem Fund, which will assist Black business owners and entrepreneurs “access funding and capital, mentorship, financial planning services, and business training.” That will come with an injection of up to $53 million from the government.

• The Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund will be a $33.3 million commitment by the government to provide loans of between $25,000 to $250,000 to businesses. And it will be complimented by an additional $128 million in lending support from various banks and financial institutions across the country.

• The program will also include a Black Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, which is expected to collect and process data on Black entrepreneurship in Canada.
Mary Ng, minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade was on hand with Prime Minister Trudeau, on September 9, for the announcement.
In a telephone interview with the CONTACT, the minister spoke about the importance of the government extending a hand to entrepreneurs and businesses that have historically “faced systemic barriers to their success, and the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on them.”
The minister identified “capacity building” as one of the more pressing needs when it comes to supporting Black businesses.
And points to the united front that will be created when entrepreneurs, community organizations and other institutions across the country, start working together to build a “national ecosystem” in which Black entrepreneurs and businesses can thrive.
The announcement states that National Ecosystem Fund to Black entrepreneurs will be delivered by Black-led organizations in conjunction with Canada’s regional development agencies.
And that the government will soon be launching a call for proposals from organizations.
The Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce (CBCC), a Toronto based organization that supports the Black Entrepreneurs and businesses across the country hails the government’s action.
“We’re encouraged by this announcement and proud of our advocacy action in getting this response from the government,” Andria Barrett, the Chamber’s president told the CONTACT.
In June the CBCC presented a proposal to the government asking for an injection of $165 million to assist Black businesses in Canada impacted by the pandemic.
“They were hit extremely hard and as many were being forced to shut their doors, something had to be done.”
Barrett says the next step is to try to get the government to move quickly to initiate the program.
Minister Ng responding to questions about the time-frame was not ready to give start date as to when entrepreneurs can start to access the program because, she says, of the need to coordinate the information that they have been gathering from the various community advocates from across Canada.
“But the government truly understands the urgency of the situation and is doing all we can to make it available as soon as possible.”
Asked about the unique challenges faced by English-speaking Black entrepreneurs in Quebec, the minister says she quite aware that they may face additional obstacles but reiterated the program’s national scope and urged these businesses to be proactive in making their voices heard and need met.
Ms. Ng says the $ 6.5 million that will be invested in creating the knowledge hub for Black entrepreneurship, will also be an important step in understanding the challenges faced by Black entrepreneurs.
“Because we have to know what works and what doesn’t work for Black entrepreneurs and Black businesses.”
The data collecting initiative that will be run Black-led community and business organizations, in partnership with educational institutions will “help identify Black entrepreneurs’ barriers to success as well as opportunities for growth.”
The government has also involved Statistics Canada to assist in analyzing and disseminating data collection on Black entrepreneurship.