August 9, 2022

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Business summit intends to breaks barriers for Black entrepreneurs

Event seeks to empower Black entrepreneurs to challenge the business status quo.

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Jackee Kasandy’s “Aha moment” in reaching the conclusion she could help Black entrepreneurs to obtain a bigger voice came during the COVID pandemic when she learned her fair-trade import and retail business didn’t meet the criteria for a lot of available assistance programs.

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Although she had grown to a medium-sized business before the pandemic, Kasandy had struggled to find financing, as an immigrant without a lot of collateral to show banks or funding organizations. She also knew of peers in the same situation.

“A lot of Black businesses went through that just because of the sizing (of their enterprises). Because we have to do most of our businesses as a side hustle, they don’t meet the criteria that ended up (being set up),” Kasandy said.

Jackee Kasandy at her Granville Island shop.
Jackee Kasandy at her Granville Island shop. PNG

So, to Kasandy, part of the solution to getting Black businesses into the “ecosystem” was to create the Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses Society of Canada to bring more voices of Black-owned businesses together and get to that table where those criteria are set.

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And the society is hosting its first-ever virtual summit on Feb. 24 with the dual purpose of “introducing the ecosystem to Black businesses, and Black businesses to the ecosystem,” Kasandy said.

The hope is to help “dismantle discrimination and empower the Black business community,” which has faced systemic barriers to mainstream business, according to a society media release.

Keynote speakers include playwright Trey Anthony and sports executive and former Canadian Football League star Mike (Pinball) Clemons. MP Hedy Fry will be in attendance, as will Ravi Kahlon, B.C.’s minister of jobs and economic recovery, and federal Minister of International Trade and Small Business Mary Ng.

Sponsors for the event include TD Bank, the Business Development Bank, and Export Development Canada. Anyone interested in attending can find details at Blackentrepreneursbc.org.

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The summit is inviting participants from across the country, but events will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT, with sessions on leveraging grants, taking advantage of advisory boards, and removing barriers to equity.

A 2021 study commissioned by the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce and Business Development Bank found that more than a third of Black entrepreneurs didn’t qualify for funding programs because they didn’t meet eligibility requirements, and generally hadn’t had positive interactions with financing institutions.

The study, which included a detailed survey of 53 business owners across Canada, found that 71 per cent “bootstrapped” the start up of their businesses and only 30 per cent felt comfortable talking to their financial institutions about funding options.

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It concluded that “actionable and measurable progress” is needed to create “a more equitable and sustainable business ecosystem for intersectional entrepreneurs,” which Kasandy said is an objective of the summit.

“So the job that we have through (the Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses Society of Canada) is, how do we get to the table with government and the banks to really look at the system,” Kasandy said. “Are these systems working for the times now?”

The summit is a separate effort to other B.C. initiatives, such as the launch earlier this year of a national online business directory by the Black Business Association of B.C.

For Chilliwack importer and distributor Linda Adimora, the summit will be a chance to connect with other business owners like herself and build a sense of community.

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“This summit is so critical because it is providing a platform for us as Black entrepreneurs to learn, to connect,” said Adimora, founder and CEO of the firm Batiqua, which distributes home decor items such as pillows and table runners.

Kasandy said the summit’s intent is to “bring Black and (people of colour) businesses into the ecosystem.” It will be free to Black business owners, but will also be open to anyone who wants to attend.

“If you can’t see someone else who looks like you who has made it in a world you’re trying to be in, it’s hard to become that,” Kasandy said. “(But) if you can see someone like me, you can see someone like other people who are coming to give speeches, all of this amounts to, ‘You can do this.’”

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