A local organization is working to support Black, Indigenous, and racialized entrepreneurs by offering networking events and programs.
Alfred Burgesson is the founder and CEO of Tribe Network, which held a series of networking sessions across Atlantic Canada this spring.
“We wanted those people that signed up to play a role in actually informing the design of our program. And so we did the roadshows to give them that opportunity,” Burgesson said.
Burgesson said they’re still in the process of sifting through the feedback from those networking events and hope to have a final report available online by mid-July. He said there will soon be courses on the network’s platform so people can access training at their own pace.
“This is one thing we heard from the roadshow: ‘We don’t want to just sign onto a zoom meeting once a week,’” Burgesson said about the feedback. “We want to be able to access the content at our own pace. If we can’t make the Zoom meeting on a Friday, we want to be able to access the content at 3am on Sunday.’”
The Black Start-Up Project is one of the programs offered by Tribe Network. That project includes three streams for those who sign on: start, build, and accelerate. Entrepreneurs could be eligible for mentorship and funding through the project. Burgesson said that more than 280 Black entrepreneurs have signed up for the Black Start-Up Project.
“I would say by August we should have money flowing out to support Black entrepreneurs in terms of covering some of their business needs,” said Burgesson.
He said the roadshow networking events were also meant to help shape how the Black Start-Up Project and future programs will be implemented and rolled out.
“If you want to do it, do it.”
Clinton Davis is a former independent hip-hop artist and has a degree in audio engineering. His first business was a recording studio in Toronto. Davis and his wife, Saly, now own and operate a salon, spa, and online store in Moncton.
Davis was one of the many Black Canadian entrepreneurs who took part in the networking events hosted by Tribe Network. He was also one of three panelists for the inaugural networking event in April in Moncton.
That event included a networking session, talks by guest speakers, and breakout tables where groups would discuss the challenges Black entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada face.
“It was just meant to bring people together,” Davis said. “There was a lot of names, numbers, and business cards exchanged.”
Davis said he’s since met with several people who reached out for mentorship.
“My main message was never be afraid to go out there and do it, to be an entrepreneur. I talked about some of the challenges, some of the lessons I learned. But my main message was: if you think you want to be an entrepreneur, if you want to do it, do it. It’s not as scary as it sounds.”
“Two out of 10 businesses maybe fail. In most cases entrepreneurs might stop running a business, they might move onto other ventures, but even if the business fails it doesn’t mean it destroys the person.”
Burgesson’s interest in entrepreneurship started in high school, but he said it was while he was in university and taking part in programs to help build his digital media business that he found his needs weren’t being met as a Black entrepreneur.
“I think a lot of Black entrepreneurs that are trying to venture out into the ecosystem face some problems where all these accelerators and incubators and innovation hubs, a lot of them are funded by tax dollars,” Burgesson said. “And when you go into them they don’t make up what Canada looks like.”
He said he often felt like he didn’t belong and the experience was isolating.
“If I’m building a business that is supposed to serve Black people, how can I get advice on how to serve Black people from someone who’s not Black or [doesn’t know] the Black experience? It’s very difficult to get relevant advice to build a business when the people giving the advice don’t know anything about the community you’re trying to serve.”
In the summer of 2020, Burgesson worked on a contract with the Senate of Canada and the African Canadian Senate Group. Through that program, they worked with Black organizations across the country to identify the barriers. Burgesson helped develop a survey the organizations gave its members.
“We identified some of the gaps in the entrepreneurship ecosystem for Black entrepreneurs,” he said. “And they were all things I knew existed. Government needs reports to justify some of its actions.”
When the contract ended, Burgesson said having his experience as an entrepreneur validated by other Black Canadian entrepreneurs across the country through the data he collected inspired him to start Tribe Network.
In the fall of 2021, Tribe Network received a federal grant for three years’ worth of funding to hire staff and run programs such as the Black Start-Up Project.
“A lot of these organizations that are serving entrepreneurs have programs that will often be set up in such a way that there’s one case manager in the whole organization that works directly with all the entrepreneurs,” said Burgesson. “There are rarely opportunities for the entrepreneurs to work together and support each other.”
Burgesson said he personally learned much more when he met with other Black entrepreneurs to understand the barriers they face.
“We’ve been able to create a network where Black and Indigenous people are signing up on the platform and we can service them by providing them resources, but I think there’s a lot of value in the members themselves also being able to share information with each other and sort of overcoming that isolating feeling of being an entrepreneur, but also being a Black entrepreneur in Atlantic Canada.”