Starting any new business is hard. But if you’re Black it can be even more daunting, particularly if you’re an immigrant.
Recognizing this, the non-profit Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada Society started the Black Pitch Contest, where Black entrepreneurs pitch their idea for a business. The winner takes home $25,000, which can be crucial getting a small business off the ground.
“It could be a game-changer to get the $25,000,” explains Jackee Kasandy, CEO and co-founder of the society. “You can pay your taxes, you can pay your staff members. If you’re a juicing company, you can buy the juicer. That allows you to scale your business and place your juices in Loblaws and Superstore and all the other places.”
Kasandy knows this first-hand — she found it extremely hard to get funding for her business, Kasandy, which sells fair-trade goods made by artisans in Africa on Granville Island.
“Even now, even though my business is medium size to large, I still am not able to access funding easily here,” said Kasandy, who is originally from Kenya.
The first Black Pitch Contest attracted 130 entrants from across Canada. This year they hope to match that number or even double it. Details on how to enter are on the Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada Society website, and five finalists will be chosen to give their pitches in person at a Black Business Summit at Emily Carr University on May 24-25.
Nadine Umutoni is one of the people who is entering this year.
“I moved to Canada 17 years ago,” said the immigrant from Rwanda. “I’ve always wanted to start a coffee company, and finally in 2021 I launched Neza coffee. We’re an organic and fair-trade coffee from Rwanda; we roast and package (the coffee) here.”
Coffee is in Umutoni’s heritage; her family farmed it in Rwanda.
“Rwanda is called a country of 1,000 hills — we’re surrounded by hills,” she said. “Because of that (geography) we get really good coffee, premium coffee. The feedback I get from my clients is that they don’t need cream to fully enjoy a cup of Neza coffee. That’s the main difference.”
She gets her coffee from her family and neighbours in Rwanda who still operate farms there.
Many members of her family were killed in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsis were slain.
“During the genocide against Tutsis I lost a huge portion of my family,” she relates. “I lost my three brothers, my two sisters, my mom, my grandmothers. But Rwanda right now is doing really, really good. It’s one of the safest and cleanest countries in Africa.”
Like many immigrants, she’s done a lot of jobs since moving to Canada — she still works another job, besides her coffee company.
She has found it hard to get funding for her company.
“I talk with my other entrepreneur friends that are non-Black and non-immigrant, and it’s definitely hard (for them),” she said.
“But for a Black person it’s harder. There are some systemic biases in place that makes it difficult for us to get funding.”
But she’s determined to make Neza coffee a success. The company does a medium and dark roast that is available online, at the Vancouver Farmers Market and at select Safeway stores.
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When Vancouver entrepreneur Jackee Kasandy moved to Canada from Kenya as a student, she was eager to launch her own business.
Two British Columbian entrepreneurs have been selected as finalists in a Canadian contest aimed at helping members of the Black community access funding for their business plans.
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