When Mona-Lisa Prosper saw the job posting for director of the Black Entrepreneurship Startup Program in March 2021 she decided to “take a jump.”
Prosper, a lawyer, co-founded her own law firm in Montreal in 2015, aimed at helping small business owners navigate the legal landscape. Her career shifted more into the business world, working as a project director at MTL International, an economic promotion agency.
But she was always involved in community organizations that centred around women’s empowerment, and diversity and inclusion efforts. She wanted to further those pursuits, which is why being director of BESP seemed like a good fit.
“Accessing funding for any startup is extremely difficult,” Prosper said. “But what happens with more marginalized communities? Black entrepreneurs say their race limits them from accessing funding, resources, and networks.”
The Black Entrepreneurship Startup program is part of Futurpreneur Canada, a non-proﬁt organization that provides ﬁnancing, mentoring and support to aspiring business owners aged 18-39.
The program is one that has been needed for some time.
A 2019 study from the Canadian Venture Capital Association showed that of 132 partners at venture capital firms, 18 per cent were visible minorities.
“It makes it that much harder for young Black entrepreneurs to be at the same level as everyone else. By creating this program, we’re digging deeper to be more equitable and break down barriers,” Prosper said.
In the year the program has been in place, it has helped more than 110 Black entrepreneurs obtain funding for their startups and provided access to mentorship and resources.
Eligible entrepreneurs can receive up to $60,000 in funding, provided by RBC Royal Bank and Business Development Bank of Canada. After that, participants keen to scale up their business can apply for up to $40,000 in followup financing based on the first two years of successful business performance.
Mekisha Banks, founder of skin care company Everbella, was referred to the program by the Brampton Entrepreneur Centre in 2021 after she quit her job as an educator and photographer to delve into her skin care business full-time.
Before submitting the application, the program allows people to take educational classes to prepare them.
Banks said she enrolled in two business courses offered by the program: understanding cash flow and how to make a business plan. She was assigned a mentor who helped fine tune her business idea before submitting her proposal to the Black Entrepreneurship Business Program. Shortly after, her application was approved and she received the funding to kick-start Everbella.
With the loan comes two years of weekly or biweekly sessions with a mentor to ensure the business is hitting monthly targets. Successful applicants have five years to pay back the loan.
“Getting the opportunity was one of the biggest things for me. It gave me the capital that I needed,” said Banks. “Getting the opportunity was one of the biggest things for me.”
It’s no coincidence that the program launched during the pandemic, Prosper said as COVID exposed existing inequities in society.
While Futurpreneur was aware of working on diversity and inclusion in the workplace before Prosper signed on to the position, the pandemic accelerated the non-profits efforts to help visible minorities who were disproportionately impacted.
A November 2020, Statistics Canada report looked at the impact of COVID-19 on businesses majority-owned by visible minorities. It found that more than 24 per cent of businesses owned by visible minorities reported a decrease in revenue of 40 per cent or more compared to August 2019. During the same period more than 21 per cent of all businesses in Canada said the same.
To address the problem, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $221 million in public and private funding for Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs.
“COVID-19 shone a light on the Black community and this gives a platform,” Banks said. “There are programs out there to help us, there’s actual resources, backing … there are people who want to assist us and give us that helping hand.”
For program participant Saint Amoah, creator of clothing brand SFSXINC, accessing funding for a startup was difficult.
When he would apply for a small business loan either at the bank or through grants, sometimes $5,000 to $10,000 in monthly revenue is needed, which isn’t possible for young people starting out.
“The program removes the barrier to access funding. It’s more based on your idea and integrity as a person and not so much your dollar value,” said Amoah.
He finds the program’s repayment timeline to help grow the business “generous” as it ensures there isn’t a financial strain.
In addition, the mentorship program allows access to knowledge from successful business-owners, providing networking opportunities and expertise in the field.
“Having a program like this is crucial,” Amoah said.
Written by Clarrie Feinstein