'It really is about access': Business incubator for Black entrepreneurs to launch in Waterloo region

The Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region (CCAWR) will launch a new incubator aimed at Black entrepreneurs, with the first cohort of aspiring business owners set to begin in early 2022.

LiftOff business incubator to accept first cohort in early 2022

The Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region is launching a new business incubator for Black entrepreneurs in Waterloo region and Wellington County. (Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region)

The Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region (CCAWR) will soon launch an incubator aimed at Black entrepreneurs, with the first cohort of aspiring business owners set to begin in early 2022. 

"We're beyond excited," said Trevor Charles, a board member with the CCAWR and professor of biology at the University of Waterloo. 

The LiftOff incubator will employ six full-time staff, along with a number of part-time coaches and mentors, and will be based out of the University of Waterloo's Velocity space in downtown Kitchener. 

Trevor Charles is a board member with the Caribbean-Canadian Association of Waterloo Region and a professor of biology at the University of Waterloo. (Submitted by Trevor Charles)

Velocity, along with the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre, Conestoga College and the Laurier Women's Entrepreneurship Centre will help deliver the programming. The incubator has also received $2.9 million in funding from the federal government's Black Entrepreneurship Program, Charles said. 

It's hoped the incubator will boost representation of Black entrepreneurs in the world of business, by connecting them with the resources and networks they need to succeed. 

"A lot of it really is about access, and getting out some of those barriers that have excluded Black Canadians from being involved in these networks," said Charles. 

Programming based in part on 'universal' incubator

Much of the LiftOff programming will be based on Conestoga College's Venture Lab, which Rose Mastnak described as a "universal business incubator" that can work with any type of business. 

"That's pretty critical for the LiftOff program because they're going to be getting entrepreneurs coming in with everything from restaurants, to tech ideas, to e-commerce — it's going to be a wide range," said Mastnak, director of the Conestoga Entrepreneurship Collective. 

Rose Mastnak is director of the Conestoga Entrepreneurship Collective. (Submitted by Rose Mastnak)

At a basic level, the Venture Lab works by pairing entrepreneurs with coaches who work with them on short-and-long-term goals. 

"We all need a person," said Mastnak. "There are a lot of resources that I can download, even as someone who's an experienced entrepreneur, but it's not the same as being able to have the conversation with someone to work out all of your strategic questions." 

In the next few months, Mastnak said Conestoga College will work with CCAWR to refine the program for LiftOff. 

Anyone who wants to apply for LiftOff can contact CCAWR, who will interview candidates to make sure the program is a good fit. 

Candidates can apply if they identify as Black and have an idea for a business — even if it isn't fully formed just yet. 

There are no age restrictions, though Charles said the incubator has a particular emphasis on female entrepreneurs. 

"We would like to encourage as many women as possible to apply," he said.

The incubator ultimately hopes to work with about 40 individuals or teams per year. 

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.



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