New innovation hub to help Black entrepreneurs grow businesses

A new innovation hub in the region aims to better support Black entrepreneurs through mentorship, funding and acceleration programs. The Waterloo Region Black Innovation Centre hopes to support 40 entrepreneurs every year.

Black entrepreneurs can feel discouraged without peer mentorship, says Vincent Bowry

Vincent Bowry is co-founder of the Waterloo Region Black Innovation Centre, a new innovation hub that wants to support local Black entrepreneurs through mentorship, funding and acceleration programs. (Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region)

A new innovation hub in Waterloo region will focus on helping Black entrepreneurs grow their ideas into businesses.

The Waterloo Region Black Innovation Centre was formed by members of the Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region (CCAWR) with the goal of encouraging and supporting local Black entrepreneurs through mentorship, funding and acceleration programs.

"We'll serve as a launch pad to increase the number of Black-led businesses," Vincent Bowry, co-founder of the innovation centre told The Morning Edition Wednesday.

New entrepreneurs, for example, will learn the skills needed to start and grow their business through mentorship and coaching supports with the centre's lift off incubator program, Bowry said, who's also a board member with the CCAWR.

"For 12 months, entrepreneurs will receive hands-on mentorship and supports in a number of different areas, like identifying their ideal customers, and validating their ideas in how to grow a profitable business," he said.

Bowry said in time, he hopes this will lead to a local Black business eco-system — first in the region, and then across the province and the country.

The organization is also focusing on specific programs for youth and women. Bowry said the innovation centre plans to support 40 entrepreneurs a year, once it is fully up and running by late summer or early fall.

Brent Parke, a third-year student in the bachelor of community and criminal justice program at Conestoga College, said he's looking forward to taking part in the programs WRBIC will offer. 

Brent Parke, a third-year student at Conestoga College said starting a business is something he's wanted to do all his life. (Submitted by Brent Parke)

"I have another year of college, but I don't want to put off starting my own business because this is something I've wanted to do for the majority of my life," he said, hoping to launch a business that fills a need in the community.

Parke also sees the innovation centre as a way to help new Canadians build their own businesses, or find work with businesses created with the help of the innovation centre.

"It's about getting the word out and saying, 'This exists and if you have some ideas, this is a safe place to test them out,'" he said.

Access to funding and mentorship key

Bowry says Black entrepreneurs can end up discouraged when they go to access funding and mentorship, two areas the organization is trying to tackle directly.

"I'm lucky enough to be a third generation entrepreneur," Bowry said, who founded EduThink, a consulting management  organization. He recalls growing up having conversations about profit and loss with his father, who had a consulting firm for 30 years.

"A lot of people in our community don't have that and when we talk about financial literacy and business education there just isn't as much access as a lot of people would like," he said.

"Mentorship is really at the core of this program."

For a forthcoming entrepreneur, Parke said it's important to have someone help guide ideas and brainstorm. He said he hopes to eventually become a mentor for youth as a way to give back to the community.

Bowry said they will look to government grants and partnership with other local businesses to fund the different programs the innovation centre will offer.

He said the centre will also work toward creating an economic fund to provide new businesses with startup funding to help them launch. 

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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