By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on November 11, 2023.
Entrepreneurial endeavours are known for being challenging. Whether it be starting a business or developing new technology, the logistics of funding, licencing, and organizing are not for the faint of heart. Fortunately, for members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) community across western Canada, the BIPOC Foundation is equipped to help, and this week the organization hosted its “For the Arts” Festival.
In the warmth of the atrium at the Sandman Signature Hotel, creators, activist/social groups and performers gathered in a celebration of the vibrant and ever-growing community of under-represented entrepreneurs in the Lethbridge area. A precursor of sorts to the gala and awards event on Friday night, the space featured artists and vendors selling their work and products.
The BIPOC foundation began in 2020 hosting virtual events and facilitating peer-to-peer support relationships, but it went public in 2022 after it received an investment from the Government of Canada to launch a program designed to offer relevant training for Black-owned businesses while continuing to facilitate connections between entrepreneurs and a variety of investors and leaders in the community.
The program aims to accelerate entrepreneurs and business owners in the community and prepare them for investors. To date, the BIPOC foundation has had 60 people/organizations graduate from their 10-week program and boasts over 1,000 members and contacts.
Although its headquarters is in Lethbridge, the organization works with people living across western Canada in various industries. Co-founder Sinmi Adeoye-Esene said the non-profit organization was born out of a desire for community leaders to make an impact and create more representation.
“We want to be able to create that ecosystem where nobody is left behind, where people are able to thrive when they decide to take the risk to start a business,” Adeoye-Esene said.
She said the foundation has members – both recently developed businesses and mentors – from a variety of industries, but noted retail, consumer goods, and technology, with an emphasis on artificial intelligence, are recently some of the most represented within the organization.
With facilitators who have ties with organizations such as Forbes, Google, and Harvard University, there’s an emphasis within the foundation on looking forward and continuing to build rather than centering the trials of being a Black business owner or entrepreneur. Though there is no denying the existence of racism in any Canadian community, it’s not their focus.
“Society has more conversations around the problems, around the challenges and there are few people taking on the solution. We want to be one of the key stakeholders who are taking that lead, and hopefully it has a ripple effect on the influence and on the future. For us it’s really about aligning about our supporters, aligning with our community, building more of that community.
Friday night’s gala and awards event was a celebration of Black women in business, Black businesses, and Black entrepreneurs. With nominees such as Genesis Exotic Market, Shirah immigration technology, InTuitionPay, and Brotherz Kutz barber shop in Calgary, the night highlighted a diverse and growing community that has been brought together thanks to the BIPOC Foundation.