Having access to resources makes a world of difference. This also rings true for Black entrepreneurs in Canada.
“There are many layers of challenges that Black entrepreneurs face in Canada but the main issues they face are limited access to funding, a lack of mentorship and a shortage of key professional backgrounds,” explains Mona-Lisa Prosper, Director of the Black Entrepreneur Startup Program at Futurpreneur Canada. In response, Futurpreneur Canada rolled out its country-wide program called the Black Entrepreneur Startup Program in March of this year. It’s funded by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) with additional loan financing from the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC).
Futurpreneur Canada is a national non-profit organization based in Toronto and has a presence in every province in Canada. The organization has been operating for the past 25 years and helps young Canadian entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 39 access funding, mentorship, and support tools. The Black Entrepreneur Startup Program launched by Futurpreneur aims to create more inclusive and equitable financing opportunities for entrepreneurs who are between the ages of 18 and 39 and self-identify as Black, as long as they have a business idea or are working toward a business plan. Being the first program of Futurpreneur targeted at the Black community, the new tailored program is believed to widen the spectrum of ways that Futurpreneur can support young Black entrepreneurs to thrive.
In connection to the program, Futurpreneur's CEO, Karen Greve Young says, “I am very proud of the resilience of our team who quickly and successfully adapted to virtual environments. At the same time, we created brand new financial and other support programs to help our young startup clients survive the business closures.” According to Young, they’ve also redoubled their commitment to diversity and inclusion, by establishing more diverse leadership and through the launching of the new program. “Small businesses will play a vital role in Canada’s inclusive economic and social recovery in the months ahead and we are proud to support diverse, young entrepreneurs launching new companies on main streets from coast to coast,” says Young.
In July 2020, RBC announced that it would allocate $100 million for business loans to assist Black entrepreneurs for the next five years. Futurpreneur’s Black Entrepreneur Startup Program is part of that pledge.
The program offers startup loan financing, expert mentorship and business resources. It also facilitates networking opportunities with a national network of Black entrepreneurs, Black-led community organizations, and others who self-identify as Black with lived experience. For this, Futurpreneur will be working with several community partners across Canada.
Assuming the applicant fulfills the criteria, the startup loan is accessible in amounts to applicants in the range of $5,000 to $60,000 per project. Of the initial $60,000 loan, $40,000 is funded by the RBC and Futurpreneur, and the remaining $20,000 is funded by the BDC. In cases where the initial loan is anything lower than $60,000, the split will depend on various key factors. If the business is successful over the next 2 years, the business may also be eligible for another $40,000 in follow-up financing.
The entirely free mentorship programme allows for experienced mentors to spend up to four or five hours every month with an applicant. The role of the program is to properly match mentors with entrepreneurs so they’re the right fit for each other, however, The applicant-entrepreneur can be specific about their mentorship preferences. Ultimately, the goal is to build positive mentor-mentee relationships that will add valuable insight to the entrepreneur’s business.
“The program is now open on Futurpreneur’s website and entrepreneurs are already applying and going through the process,” mentions Prosper. “The Black Entrepreneur Startup Program will be ongoing for the foreseeable future, aiming to reach as many entrepreneurs as it can, and evolving as it measures the trends and evaluates the needs.”
The Value of Supporting Emerging and Young Entrepreneurs
As both an entrepreneur and as someone with experience supporting entrepreneurs, Prosper loves the innovation, energy, and creativity of young entrepreneurs. “There are different reasons why people choose to become entrepreneurs, but from what I’ve heard from many of them is it's about making an impact on society while using their passions and creative skills while bringing a team together.”
She believes that entrepreneurship is akin to growing and developing oneself while helping the local, or even the larger, economy.
Prosper sees a focus on young entrepreneurs as a very concrete way of creating impact because they have less working experience and capital for starting a business. They also struggle with access to solid credit history and financial standards, making them fall behind other age groups. For this reason, the Black Entrepreneur Startup Program is very close to her core values of supporting and encouraging Black entrepreneurship.
“This position is a dream come true because it merges my professional background with my volunteering involvement, and I get to do a little bit of everything within Futurpreneur,” Prosper states. “As a proud, Black Canadian woman of Haitian roots, I've always been very involved with all matters regarding diversity and inclusion, and I encourage Black people to be whoever they want to be even if we’re not as represented as we should be.”
Finally, Prosper has some partings words for young, aspiring Black entrepreneurs. “If you self-identify as Black, your age is between 18 and 39, and you have a business idea or you're working already on a business plan, let’s see how we can work together. The program is great, and the access to funding is amazing.”
For more information, go to www.futurpreneur.ca/en/besp/