The Black Entrepreneurship Alliance (BEA) – founded with community partners, including York University’s Yspace — creates 240 new business ventures

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Starting a business is challenging enough, but for Black entrepreneurs, the hurdles can seem particularly high

Starting a business is challenging enough, but for Black entrepreneurs, the hurdles can seem particularly high. To better face these persistent systemic challenges, the Black Entrepreneurship Alliance (BEA) works tirelessly to equip Black entrepreneurs with the tools and support they need to thrive.

Funded by Canada’s Federal Economic Development Agency (FEDA) for Southern Ontario, the BEA is a co-designed initiative by the Black Creek Community Health Centre, York University’s YSpace, TD Community Engagement Centre, and Schulich ExecEd.  The BEA’s goal is to nurture entrepreneurship amongst its members, working together to combat inequality and foster community resilience and success through targeted investments and resources.

Statistics show that just 2.1 percent of Canadian businesses are Black-owned, with Black women-led businesses accounting for only a quarter of a percent. Olu Villasa, a program manager with the Black Entrepreneurship Alliance, says that the historical disenfranchisement of Black businesses from access to capital, networks, and knowledge resources must be addressed directly for these barriers to entry to ever be broken.

“The absence of funding for Black-led companies negatively impacts the resilience and competitive edge of the Canadian economy,” says Villasa.

The BEA recently established the Alfred Anucha Award in Entrepreneurship (A3E), dedicated to empowering young Black men under 30 to pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations. Funded by an initial $50,000 donation from the Anucha family, the award honours the memory of Alfred Anucha, a visionary entrepreneur who passed away at an early age. Alfred’s mother, York University Associate Professor Uzo Anucha, participated in establishing the award. Professor Anucha now holds the York Research Chair in Youth and Contexts of Inequity and teaches classes at the School of Social Work.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the inaugural announcement of the Alfred Anucha Award this past winter, alongside York University President Rhonda Lenton and other dignitaries. Four winners were announced, all of whom received $2,500 along with a personalized entrepreneurship and mentoring program through the BEA and YSpace.

In addition to the A3E, York and the BEA are further supporting Black entrepreneurship through initiatives like the Investment Bootcamp program. Designed to assist Black founders in securing funding and navigating the startup landscape, this program offers a comprehensive four-month curriculum covering everything from fundraising strategies to mentorship opportunities.

David Kwok, Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at YSpace, emphasizes the program’s goal of creating a robust pipeline of investment-ready Black ventures. “We want to build a network of investors that are committed to investing in Black-led ventures,” says Kwok.

These collaborative efforts between university programs, nonprofits, and government funding sources are proving to be effective methods in paving the way for a new generation of Black-led businesses to thrive and contribute to Ontario’s economy.

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