by Chris Hannay, Independent business reporter
A new federally funded organization is hoping to paint the first
comprehensive, national picture of Black-owned businesses in Canada.
The federal government announced this week that it has chosen Carleton
University and the Dream Legacy Foundation to establish the Black
Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, which will launch in the new year. The hub will
receive $5-million in federal funds.
This is the third part of a three-pillar Black Entrepreneurship Program that
the Liberal government unveiled last fall in the midst of a wave of renewed
attention to systemic racism, including the barriers faced by Black-owned
businesses. The other two pillars provide nearly $400-million in funding and
loans to support the growth of Black-owned businesses.
Gerald Grant, a professor at Carleton’s Sprott School of Business and a
co-leader of the university’s knowledge hub team, said there is not enough
information available about the state of Black-owned businesses in Canada, such
as data on the industries or locations in which they operate. He said the hub’s
goal is to fill that data gap and be an inspiration to budding Black
“Black entrepreneurship is not new in Canada,” he said. “It’s been here. The
challenge is that much of it is not known.”
Fixing the lack of race-based data has been a key call from many Black
business leaders. The Parliamentary Black Caucus, in a statement on systemic
racism released in June, 2020, said addressing this lack of data should be a
top priority for all levels of government. “It is hard to change what one
cannot measure,” the group said.
And a report released earlier this year by the Canadian Black Chamber of
Commerce, produced in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada
and Pitch Better, highlighted the lack of data as a key obstacle to supporting
Prof. Grant said his group will work with a grassroots network of other
organizations across the country, including some universities. The hub will
produce two studies – one qualitative, one quantitative – and will work with
Carleton’s department of geography to create a map of the Black entrepreneur
He said this work will help produce a nuanced understanding of the different
barriers that Black entrepreneurs face across the country. For example, an
entrepreneur immigrating to Toronto may have a different experience than a
businessperson whose family has lived in Nova Scotia for generations.
“Oftentimes when we talk about Black entrepreneurship, we think of it as a
monolithic community,” Prof. Grant said. “But it is not, as we know. Across the
country, across the regions, there are different issues.”
An Abacus Data survey of more than 300 Black entrepreneurs, commissioned
earlier this year by Senator Colin Deacon and the African Canadian Senate
Group, found that race was a barrier in gaining access to funding and business
networks. Fewer than one in five respondents said they trusted banks to do what
is right for them and their communities.
Isaac Olowolafe Jr., a Toronto property developer and founder of the Dream
Legacy Foundation, a non-profit that works with Black businesses, said he has
often been the only person from a Black community in venture-capital spaces.
He said he is excited to partner with the Carleton team to manage the hub,
because the project is an opportunity to build a strong foundation for tackling
“You can only do so many loans, so many programs, but if you don’t
understand the root of the problem, you’re not going to have a permanent
solution,” he said.
Prof. Grant said the hub will build its organizational and digital infrastructure
in the first quarter of 2022. He is planning a programming launch for April.
Image courtesy of Ashley Fraser/The
Globe and Mail