How a competition helps break down barriers for black entrepreneurs

Jackie Kasandy, founder of the Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada Society, created the competition to give the black community more opportunities to grow their businesses.  (Yasmine Ghana/CBC - photo credit)

Jackie Kasandy, founder of the Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada Society, created the competition to give the black community more opportunities to grow their businesses. (Yasmine Ghana/CBC – photo credit)

Two British Columbians have been shortlisted for a $25,000 prize in a new national competition for black entrepreneurs.

It’s an opportunity provided by Jackee Kasandy, founder of the nonprofit Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada Society, who says there aren’t many opportunities for the black business community to access finance to scale their businesses.

“It’s important to have programs like this that break down barriers because we’re just trying to be as fair as everyone else,” said Kasandy of her Vancouver retail store.

Over 120 entrepreneurs entered the competition by submitting a short video talking about their business and how the money was used.

Five finalists have been selected, including Deress Asghedom from Vancouver and Mwenda Dyck from Abbotsford, who will present their ideas to a panel of judges at the Black Business Summit 2023 later this month.

Barriers to Black Entrepreneurs

Kasandy said the pitch competition is “barrier-free” because it’s easier to access than other grants.

Many other programs require applicants to submit a complete business plan. Kasandy’s contest called for a two-minute video and was open to people at every stage of their business.

Kasandy says black entrepreneurs face many obstacles when trying to start or grow their business, from race to bad credit to difficulty qualifying for a loan.

She says members of the black community also need to take extra steps when trying to showcase their business and its viability.

“I have to prove myself first. I have to prove my humanity. I have to prove my cleverness before anyone can look at the deal. But my other colleagues will just come in with their business plan and someone will look at them and they will trust them,” Kasandy said.

A recent African Canadian Senate Group poll conducted by Abacus Data found that three out of four black entrepreneurs surveyed believe their race has made it difficult for them to succeed as entrepreneurs in Canada.

Kasandy says other factors, like lack of collateral or not owning a home, make it difficult for people to get a loan from the bank to boost their business.

Black Canadians have some of the lowest homeownership rates in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.

Less than half of the black population lived in a home owned by a member of their household in 2018, while the national homeownership rate was 73 percent.

“[A] The majority in the black community has no collateral, and if you don’t have collateral, you can’t get funding,” Kasandy said.

Yasmine Ghana/CBC

Yasmine Ghana/CBC

Finalists from BC

Asghedom and Dyck say the competition helped them network with other black business owners.

“I wasn’t aware that there was such an extensive support network of people,” said Dyck, a 22-year-old who works at a vertical farming operation that specializes in growing microgreens — tiny, vegetable-based vegetables that will be growing very soon harvested after sprouting will add sweetness or spiciness to dishes.

Yasmine Ghana/CBC

Yasmine Ghana/CBC

Asghedom, 46, works on an app called Vaster that aims to give people information about cannabis products. Users scan the product with their phone camera and the app pulls information like CBD levels and side effects.

He says it’s important to him to be involved in the cannabis space, which has disproportionately criminalized black people.

“I wanted people to see that there was another side to the industry. There’s another side to the opportunities that people who look like me can have.”

He says beyond the prize money, winning means recognition and validation.

“It helps to show other people that despite all the hardships and hurdles, it is possible, that there is a way to persevere.”

Kasandy hopes to raise more money to help more black entrepreneurs in the years to come.

“My dream is that we can give this amount to five to ten companies a year.”



For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians – from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community – click here Being Black in Canadaa CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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