Montreal·Black Changemakers

This entrepreneur wants to level the playing field for people of colour

Frantz Saintellemy believed there were barriers preventing people of colour from participating to the fullest of their abilities in the economy. So, he co-founded Groupe 3737, a non-profit that tackles the lack of diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship.

Frantz Saintellemy's Groupe 3737 has worked with 700 entrepreneurs and built close to 100 different businesses

Frantz Saintellemy says he takes great pride in giving others a helping hand. 'Helping others be successful is probably my gift.' (Pierre Dorais)

CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province's Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.

It was March of 2012, Frantz Saintellemy was in the midst of forging his successful business career when he decided to do something about the lack of diversity, inclusion and equity he was noticing in Canadian entrepreneurship.

He believed there are barriers that prevent people of colour from participating in the economic development of the country, and that Groupe 3737, the non-profit he co-founded, could help. But some people weren't keen to buy in because they perceived the playing field as level.

"Well, no, it's not always equal, because where you come from sometimes limits your ability, your upward mobility. It shouldn't happen, but it does," Saintellemy said.

He said it took the police killing of George Floyd last summer for society to start waking up to the fact people of colour have something to contribute to social and economic change. And now that the switch has been flipped, he is "very optimistic" about what's to come.

Groupe 3737 creates programs specifically tailored to the needs of what they call "migranpreneurs," people who have immigrated to Quebec in the last five years. They also work with young people who are looking for guidance.

Mentors provide participants with coaching, advice and access to their investors and financing contacts.

Saintellemy said the main obstacles faced by people from marginalized communities looking to start their own businesses are threefold: they often don't have a network, they don't know how best to take advantage of the systems, programs and tools that will help them be successful, and they have trouble securing capital.

The group has worked with 700 entrepreneurs and built close to 100 different businesses, generating about $100 million.

One of the goals is to leave a positive imprint on Saint-Michel, the neighbourhood in the northern portion of Montreal where the group is headquartered, and where many residents live in poverty.

Saintellemy was born in Haiti but moved to Montreal as a child. He grew up in Saint-Michel with his family, which included a tireless, industrious mother and extremely competitive siblings.

"I had to live up to my name," he said.

He studied computer engineering at Northeastern University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, and business at McGill University and HEC Montréal. His first job was at Analog Devices, a Boston-based company where he co-founded one of the largest divisions, focused on in-car entertainment for passenger vehicles.

He has since worked at and founded a number of other companies.

Saintellemy is currently president and chief operating officer of LeddarTech, which develops technologies to make advanced driver assistance systems safer, and is helping in the push toward highly automated or fully autonomous vehicles.

As a child, Saintellemy said, he never came across business leaders or entrepreneurs who looked like him. With Groupe 3737, he's trying to create those role models for the next generation of businesspeople, so they believe they can do something extraordinary, no matter where they're from.

A mentor once told Saintellemy great leaders achieve success through the success of others, a message he said stuck with him.

"I take great pride in seeing people that I work with being successful. Helping others be successful is probably my gift," he said.

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.

Written by Kamila Hinkson, with files from Maya Lach-Aidelbaum