by Chris Hannay, Independent business reporter
Published December 16, 2021
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 entrepreneurs.
“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 Black businesses.
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 ecosystem.
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 systemic issues.
“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